According to the census bureau, 12% of people living in the United States were 65 years old in 2004 and that number has been projected to increase by 147%, to 86.7 million by 2050. This increase represents 21% of the population. In 2005, over half of this same group had a physical disability with the prevalence rate increasing to 70% for those aged 80+ years. Older individuals without physical limitations live significantly longer and have fewer health care costs than those who are disabled and institutionalized. With this important public health challenge in mind, the goal of the Translational Science Center is to develop an interdisciplinary team of scholars from biology, chemistry, health and exercise science, physics, and psychology who integrate their areas of expertise to create better ways to promote and maintain functional health in aging.
The emphasis of the center is on the development of a broad range of clinical and community based behavioral interventions that target physical and cognitive health. An underlying assumption of the center is that basic scientific advances in the laboratory are critical to developing and explaining why particular components of these interventions are effective; however, interventions often precede basic scientific knowledge. Thus, interventions both inform and lead to new developments in basic science. It is important to recognize that this effort transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries and the problem of reductionism in translational science.
Another aim of the center is to provide initial funding for competitive pilot projects that lead to externally funded interdisciplinary efforts. Over time, this approach will allow the center to grow into an internationally recognized research program aimed at determining the biochemical, physiological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms involved in the maintenance, deterioration, and therapeutic amelioration of mobility and cognitive health in aging. Part of the commitment to improving functional health through translational science includes educating future translational scientists. To this end, the center will have an active junior scholars program, develop a translational science minor for undergraduate students, and work with the existing graduate program in Molecular Medicine and Translational Science at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
In addition, the center administers a summer program for undergraduate research fellows from Wake Forest University, Bennett, Guilford and Salem Colleges, and Winston-Salem State University and holds seminars featuring top scholars in the field of functional health. Thus, the center will not only stimulate research on an important topic in public health, but also provide a vehicle for training and education.