Cutter lecturer with Michelle Williams and David Hunter

(L-R) David Hunter, Bruce Psaty, and Michelle Williams

Adaptability key to success of cohort studies

December 17, 2013 With federal research dollars declining, investigators must think of creative and flexible ways to keep their long-running cohort studies running and funded, said Bruce M. Psaty, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Washington, at the 158th Cutter Lecture on Preventive Medicine at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) on December 5, 2013. Some of the ways he mentioned included being more willing to share data and seeking out new collaborations.

Cohort studies follow and compare groups of people generally for years, tracking disease risk factors, health outcomes, and other factors (such as smoking habits or diet). Psaty, who has served as principal investigator of many large epidemiological studies, shared his recent experience successfully overcoming federal funding challenges as an investigator with the Cardiovascular Health Study. The long-running study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, has tracked cardiovascular risk factors in people age 65 and over since 1988, producing 1,000 papers and 200 ancillary studies.

“Adaptation is a way to keep the cohort alive, vital, and functioning,” Psaty said in his talk, “Cardiovascular Cohort Studies in Times of Big Data and Financial Austerity: The Cardiovascular Health Study as One Model.” Sharing data and collaborating with new investigators can help keep these studies thriving during challenging economic times, he said. “Take small steps and be crafty along the way.”

Michelle Williams, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Stephen B. Kay Family Professor of Public Health Chair, described the history of the Cutter Lecture, founded in 1912 as one of the most respected institutionalized lectures in the fields of preventive medicine and epidemiology. The lecture is administered by the Department of Epidemiology under the terms of a bequest from John Clarence Cutter, a graduate of Harvard Medical School. David Hunter, Vincent L. Gregory Professor in Cancer Prevention and dean for academic affairs at HSPH, introduced Psaty.

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– Marge Dwyer

photo: Emily Cuccarese

Learn more

Epidemiology at HSPH: Celebrating an ‘adventurous discipline’ (HSPH News)