For Physicians Thought Leadership

A Decade of Discovery - Reflecting on the Research and Innovation at the AdventHealth Translational Institute

This Physician's View opinion piece is written by Steven R. Smith, M.D., chief scientific officer and senior vice president at AdventHealth.

At the AdventHealth Translational Research Institute (TRI), our clinicians tackle some of today’s biggest health problems – obesity, diabetes, exercise and healthy aging.

AdventHealth staff and the community celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Translational Research Institute at the recently opened Innovation Tower.
AdventHealth staff and the community celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Translational Research Institute at the recently opened Innovation Tower.

No matter the study, TRI bridges the gap between scientific discoveries and clinical care. In fact, AdventHealth is one of only a few hospital systems in the country to combine a state-of-the-art 54,000 square-foot facility with unique equipment to conduct clinical research, connecting practicing physicians and their patients to active clinical trials designed specifically for their condition.

For example, in one recently completed study, participants spent over 24 hours in an air-sealed room while researchers monitored every breath to determine exactly how much energy they burn.

In another current study, participants exercise with a personal trainer and have blood and biopsy samples taken to determine how their body responds to exercise.

We are even studying cells in space, in particular, how microgravity of spaceflight alters muscle function.

Steven R. Smith, M.D. speaking at TRI 10-year anniversary event
Steven R. Smith, M.D., is the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of AdventHealth. He was the original scientific leader of TRI, which is now under the leadership of Bret Goodpaster, Ph.D.

When TRI opened its doors 10 years ago in 2012, we had two primary goals. The first was to advance the science and our understanding of metabolic diseases. The second was to advance research at AdventHealth as a means of attracting the best and brightest physicians to our community.

Over the past decade, TRI has conducted over 200 studies and produced over 350 peer-reviewed published works. Last year, AdventHealth’s translational researchers took part in 22 studies and produced 50 published works and in 2020, which happened to be our most productive year to date, the TRI research team conducted 30 studies and had 56 publications.

I was initially hired 13 years ago to create the TRI and serve as the first scientific director. Looking back now, I’m most proud that our researchers have the ability to bring medical discoveries from the laboratory to the communities we serve for further testing, through various clinical trials. This is what AdventHealth leadership envisioned back in 2008; they believed we have an obligation to learn from our patients in order to tackle the diseases of the 21st century – and it’s thriving today.

Milestones Over the Last Decade

TRI has built on the foundation laid each year by adding accolades in key areas, such as grant funding, innovation, growth and published papers. Crowning achievements of the institute’s portfolio include:

  • 2010 - First National Institute of Health (NIH) grant funded
  • 2011 - Recruited key investigator Richard E. Pratley, M.D.
  • 2012 - Current TRI building opens
  • 2012 - First time published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
  • 2012 - First phase one study conducted, a combination product targeting diabetes, in partnership with Takeda
  • 2013 - Bret Goodpaster, Ph.D., joined TRI
  • 2016 - Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC) study awarded; largest targeted NIH investment of funds into how physical activity can improve and prevent disease
  • 2017 - First time published in New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)
  • 2019 - TRI opened the Cancer Translational Research Lab

Leading the Way in Ground-breaking Studies

At the moment, TRI has several groundbreaking studies underway, providing patients hope and quality care through research:

  • RECODE study, Richard E. Pratley, M.D., underway through January 2023
    • Researchers examine how long COVID-19 affects those with diabetes using MRI images to measure changes to various organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, pancreas and spleen. Read more here.
  • SOMMA-AT study, Lauren Sparks, Ph.D., underway through May 2024
    • This multi-center study investigates how role of adipose tissue changes with age.
  • MoTrPAC study, Bret Goodpaster, Ph.D., underway through summer 2023
    • Researchers in this landmark study explore what happens deep within the body during and after exercise and map molecular changes. Read more here.

The Future of Research and Medicine

At TRI, our mission is to improve the quality of life through world-class, innovative research that leads to discoveries – and ultimately cures – for diabetes, obesity, and diseases of aging. These discoveries prosper as we find ways to translate research into the practice of medicine.

The research conducted at TRI lays the foundation for future studies to find new ways to better prevent and treat diseases using precision medicine — prescribing and customizing care to each individual to achieve the best possible health outcomes.

In fact, the exemplary work done at TRI gave AdventHealth a reason to believe in research and now additional areas are part of our hospital system portfolio. For example, neurological and orthopedic research reside at a new 300,000-square-foot facility called Innovation Tower. Over the next few months, the 12-story building will also include space for Orlando Neurosurgery; the new home of AdventHealth’s Neuroscience Institute, with two floors dedicated to the Center for Brain Health; research; sports medicine and rehab space; and an outpatient surgery center.

I’m continually inspired by the creativity and rigor of TRI research and proud to be a part of TRI’s growth beyond its original focus and into aging and aging-associated diseases. Our studies have integrity, efficiency and impact and aim to solve some of the most pressing needs in medicine today, advancing the quality of health care into the future.

To learn more about TRI, click here.

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