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ASU scientists shape medical campus vision


September 14, 2007

As an individual scientific investigator, professor Kathleen Matt, like many of her colleagues at ASU, could only do so much with research discoveries.

Educated in the field of biology with a doctorate in endocrine physiology, Matt studies the complex interactions between the mind and body; she researches the effects of stress, diet, aging and exercise on the neuroendocrine system. With more than 50 publications to her name, Matt's findings make their way into the general knowledge base, to be tapped and further studied by other scientific researchers - often with the goal of eradicating disease or improving one's health.

It's a traditional process that often takes 20 to 50 years before the discoveries have a real impact on the world, according to Matt. And, she adds, "that's leaving chance to take those discoveries all the way to delivery."

Rather than sit back and wait, Matt and other ASU scientists accelerate the process by going outside the university and seeking clinical partners in the medical community.

That's what Matt was doing for years as a faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, when in 2004 she created ASU's Office of Clinical Partnerships, where she serves as director. Matt also is ASU's associate vice president for academic affairs.

As director of clinical partnerships, Matt says her primary role is as a facilitator; someone who sees the opportunities and possible connections, between individual researchers at the university, and those in the medical communities.

"I try to be the person on the ground to connect the dots," she says.

For an individual university investigator or researcher, negotiating a partnership with a large medical institution often is a challenge. In her role, Matt steps in to bridge the two.

Similarly, medical institutions often have difficulties trying to identify someone within a large research university like ASU who can conduct research on a particular health situation.

"It might be a need for a physicist or mathematician or statistician to develop a survey," Matt says. The range of needs is broad, she notes. Matt often identifies potential partners and then manages the partnership, freeing the scientists and clinicians to focus on the research itself.

"Partnerships usually happen at the individual investigator level, not at the institution level," she says, adding it's a challenge when you're on your own. That's where Matt and the Office of Clinical Partnerships steps in.

"We create a larger platform, to make it easier for more scientists to connect with clinical partners," Matt says.

Another opportunity for clinical collaboration, and one of the newest, is the University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University, where Matt has a joint faculty appointment.

David A. Young, ASU's senior vice president for academic affairs, who also has a joint faculty appointment at the College of Medicine - Phoenix, notes: "Today the focus of research in medicine often is translational - how you take basic discoveries and translate them into clinical care as quickly as possible."

In the partnership with the College of Medicine - Phoenix, ASU brings "a number of basic scientists, doing really interesting science," Young says. "We bring biomedical informatics and a strong foundation in basic science and we link that with the strong clinical connections that the UA has built in Phoenix over the years."

Young, Matt and other faculty from ASU who now have joint appointments at the College of Medicine - Phoenix, played leadership roles in shaping the curriculum at the medical school's new Phoenix campus. The program, which welcomed it first class of freshmen students in August, has built-in connections with more than 400 volunteer physicians who work at local hospitals. These connections, according to Young, provide the potential for ASU researchers "to expand their clinical and translational research in ways that were not possible in the past."

Additionally, Young and Matt cite local medical facilities that want to expand their research capabilities and are turning to ASU for researchers.

"With the medical and health challenges in world, one discipline doesn't have the answer. There's an urgency today - to shorten that pipeline from bedside to bench back to bedside," Matt says. "Our clinical partnerships push us to reach beyond what we might do alone."