TREC Cancer Initiative Launches New Collaborative Relationships
The cancer research community faces a new challenge for the new century: the rising incidence of obesity worldwide and the suspected role that obesity plays in the development of many types of cancer. In response, NCI launched the Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) initiative to fund collaborative research - on how weight, diet, exercise, the environment, and other factors affect physiologic systems and intracellular pathways - to see whether and how they influence the development of cancer.
An essential component of the TREC initiative is the creation of a separately funded coordination center, located at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which promotes data sharing, evaluation, and collaboration among TREC investigators at four funded research centers, as well as with non-TREC investigators. Through this information hub, TREC is expanding opportunities for biospecimen banking, standardizing research methods across sites, and exploring ways to share data collection efforts at different centers.
In a traditional research framework, researchers at separate centers work independently and share their findings after all data has been gathered and analyzed. The TREC model ensures that data are pooled and progress is shared regularly so that research dollars are maximized and questions that will help guide public health efforts are answered in the shortest time possible.
"By creating the coordination center, we've not only capitalized on what worked well from earlier initiatives, but we're also looking at ways to improve our ability to develop transdisciplinary, trans-site partnerships," explains Dr. Linda Nebeling, chief of NCI's Health Promotion Research Branch of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. "We're bridging new transdisciplinary partnerships from areas of science that have not commonly worked together."
At a recent meeting on how best to integrate their research and maximize collaboration, TREC investigators found that respective programmatic goals could be leveraged to investigate a possible association between sleep disorders (sleep phenotype and gene-environment interactions) - which have been linked to obesity - and cancer. The TREC coordination center immediately helped organize a working group in this area, and research collaboration began. As research continues, the center will assist by providing collaborative study support for the development of common data elements and standardized measures, knowledge dissemination, network coordination, and evaluation.
The coordination center also assesses the overall effectiveness of the TREC research model. The center leads a unique evaluation research project, which includes a questionnaire to gather substantive evaluative data, in contrast to traditional self-reported measures. The data will be analyzed to measure the success of the individual centers, as well as the entire initiative.
"This evaluative effort looks at the productivity and impact of the TREC centers more extensively than has ever been done before for a large-scale transdisciplinary initiative," notes Dr. Nebeling. The evaluation results will have broader implications for NCI research models as a whole because the data will validate whether this type of transdisciplinary research mechanism is one that moves science forward.
"NCI is committed to developing better measures of team science processes and performance, and we hope to eventually use this information to inform decisions about the management of large initiatives such as TREC," says Dr. Nebeling.