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Prevention Research Center Provides 20 Years of Leadership
Taking research findings to the community is greatest challenge - and potential
Pioneers in disease prevention for the nation returned recently to The University of Texas School of Public Health to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the UT Prevention Research Center (PRC).
Created in 1986 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the UT PRC was one of the first three of the 33 centers that now make up the national program. The other two were located at the University of North Carolina and the University of Washington.
“We had a lot to do with the success of the national program,” said Guy Parcel, Ph.D. Now dean of the School of Public Health, Parcel was the third director of what is now the UT Prevention Research Center. The UT center served as a model and “provided leadership for development of the whole Prevention Research Center program,” Parcel said.
The center was originally known as the Southwest Prevention Research Center, recalled Darwin Labarthe, M.D., now director of the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the CDC. Labarthe founded epidemiology research at the UT School of Public Health and co-founded the PRC, along with Lawrence Green, Dr.P.H., who is now adjunct professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, University of California at San Francisco Medical School.
“The Southwest Center for Prevention Research had vast scope, vast plans,” Labarthe said. He and Green defined southwest as the whole area south of the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi River, “a region not necessarily bounded by coastlines or national borders.”
“While the name has changed, while the scope has changed, while the number of collaborating centers has grown immensely, one thing has remained remarkably constant,” Labarthe said. “That is the theme for this center that Larry and I struck upon as we began to think about the opportunity to create a prevention research center – ‘From Healthy Children to Healthy Adults,’ anticipating the whole concept of a life stages approach to disease prevention.”
The center’s core research focuses on improving child and adolescent health through Healthy Passages, a community-based longitudinal study of child health behaviors and attitudes.
In addition, the UT PRC currently has 14 Special Interest Projects funded by the CDC on topics ranging from increasing cancer screening to preventing teen pregnancy.
The “greatest potential” for the prevention research centers is taking research findings out into the community “from the bedside and beyond,” said Green, who has been termed the most prolific health education scholar in the last 30 years. After serving in positions across the U.S. and Canada, including a stint at the CDC, Green is co-director of the Society, Diversity and Disparities program at UC San Francisco Comprehensive Cancer Center.
As the prevention research centers have molded a community of researchers across the country, Green said, “they constitute in many ways a practice based research network, through which we can generate the sample sizes and heterogeneity of population we need to study in order to make generalizations about the research and in order to export the findings to other populations.”
Other speakers included:
- Jo Anne Grunbaum, Ed.D., team leader for evaluation and research, Prevention Research Centers Programs, CDC. Hired as field supervisor of the first PRC project, Grunbaum spent 10 years at the center and was deputy director from 1991-94.
- Susan Tortolero, Ph.D., current director of the UT PRC. Hired originally by Labarthe as a data collector and research assistant, Tortolero has had impact on the entire PRC program as a past chair of the directors of all the PRCs.
- Linda Forys, director of the Health Education Division, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services. Forys chaired the UT PRC Community Advisory Group from 2003-05.
The February event included a reception, project displays and presentation of a proclamation from Mayor Bill White of “The University of Texas Prevention Research Center Day: Celebrating 20 Years of Purpose, Prevention and Partnerships.”
By Ina Fried, Institutional Advancement
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