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Center for Translational Systems Research

The breakdown of boundaries between scientific disciplines has led to an exciting emergence of interdisciplinary sciences that are fueling accelerated developments in technology and medicine.

Integrating various scientific disciplines has proven to be a challenging task, however, due to advancements that have caused extreme specialization in individual disciplines. The most critical ingredient in the successful integration of scientific disciplines has been learning through direct communication between scientists who represent those disciplines.

A graphic depicting the work of Penn State's Center for Translational Systems Research shows three large boxes labeled clinic, science and engineering. Near "clinic" is a circle that depicts health assessment symptoms. Between clinic and science, boxes describe raw data cataloging and modeling theory, and between science and engineering, boxes depict understanding and technology. Next to engineering are four boxes that are labeled Diagnostics, Biomarkers, Pharmaceuticals and Devices. Below all of it is a box described as Improve/Maintain Health.

The mission of Penn State Center for Translational Systems Research (CTSR) is to facilitate communication between clinicians, scientists and engineers across various disciplines through meetings, workshops, training and other programs that bring experts together to tackle complex problems associated with human health.

The ultimate goal of CTSR is to develop a deeper understanding of human health and disease, novel therapeutics and preventive care, disease biomarkers and instruments that improve quality of life. The foundational principle of the center is the recognition that basic science and engineering research are the equal partners of clinical research.

Integrating these three domains – clinical, science and engineering – is key to the progress of future translational research efforts.

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Learn More About the Center for Translational Systems Research

Structure Expand answer

Over the past century, basic science and engineering have played an increasingly crucial role in advancing technology.

Their importance is fundamental to the development of an interdisciplinary center that can translate phenomenological observations to the understanding and rational control of natural phenomena. The inherent complexity of biological systems, coupled with the input of enormous amounts of collected information, require significant research and technological development to further our understanding of these systems.

The structure of the Center for Translational Science eEsearch rests on three fundamental pillars: Clinical, Science and Engineering.

Each plays a distinct role in building unique research lines that combine observation and data collection on the clinical side, quantification and modeling of the data on the science side, and development of tools for research and clinical use on the engineering side.

Due to the wide geographical spread of Penn State, integrating science and engineering, which is predominantly housed at Penn State University Park, with the clinical side, predominantly housed at the College of Medicine in Hershey, poses a significant challenge. To circumvent this issue, center members will hold regular monthly meetings and an annual retreat at a venue located approximately halfway between both campuses. In addition, teleconference solutions will significantly reduce travel time and facilitate meetings between researchers on both campuses.

Education and Outreach Expand answer

An important function of the Center for Translational Systems Research is to facilitate the training of a new generation of scientists who can cross diverse disciplines, design research studies that integrate these disciplines and address questions of higher complexity than would be possible by scientists working individually.

The center will foster educational and training activities of students, postdoctoral scientists and professionals in integrating research from various facets of science and technology.

Provisional Goals Expand answer

The primary role of the Center for Translational Systems Research is to provide intellectual and organizational support for developing and testing hypotheses that address complex problems of human health.

Additionally, novel methodologies, common to many collaborations, will be developed and packaged for further use by the scientific community. The development of such tools is not usually supported by the current funding mechanisms, which hinders research on complex systems.

Consequently, the center will focus on new methodologies that hold the promise of significantly advancing clinical research.

The center’s provisional goals include:

  • To conduct translational systems research that spans the disciplines of science, engineering and clinical practice by promoting collaborations between experimentalists and computational scientists. The Center will engage diverse facets of research in pursuing innovative studies of human health.
  • To support integrative, multi-investigator and interdisciplinary cross-campus research collaborations, such as multi-level roadmap projects, by pursuing funding opportunities.
  • To provide scientific and educational support for Penn State faculty and students in bridging science, engineering and clinical domains.
  • To develop an integrated computational platform that combines disparate aspects of biological data on human health with the aim of uncovering, visualizing and manipulating processes associated with health and disease. Specifically, the center will develop a visual computational platform to allow non-technical scientists to design complex research workflows that encompass all facets of the research.
  • To increase Penn State‚Äôs visibility and recognition as a leader in the translational systems research and coordinate activity with other institutions in the United States and across the globe. This will be accomplished by developing tools to create new collaborations that reach outside the university.
About the Director Expand answer

Nikolay Dokholyan, PhD, MS, is director of the Center for Translational Systems Research.

Learn more about Dr. Dokholyan

Contact the Center Expand answer

To learn more about the Center for Translational Systems Research, contact Dr. Nikolay Dokholyan at