Sylvie Naar’s mission is to train the next generation of researchers in methods for developing behavioral interventions that can mean the difference between life and death for many people.
That’s no exaggeration: The National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), supports that goal with a four-year grant totaling nearly $1 million.
Naar is director of the Florida State University Center for Translational Behavioral Science, which focuses on translating research results into patient treatment. She is the principal investigator of the grant project and she is passionate about the subject.
“It is estimated that 40% of premature deaths are attributable to preventable behavioral factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, sexual risk, poor diet and sedentary lifestyles, which have been linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” said Naar, a distinguished and endowed professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine at FSU’s College of Medicine. “Accelerating the development and optimization of treatments to improve health behaviors is an urgent public health priority.”
Until now, much of the research has focused on the traditional design of clinical trials. Naar will create a course that teaches rigorous and reproducible new methods for early behavioral intervention for cancer prevention and treatment.
“The past decade has seen significant progress in innovative methodologies to translate into new and more powerful behavioral treatments,” she said. “Using different methods to answer targeted questions promotes creativity, prevents premature abandonment or testing of a method’s efficacy, and encourages optimization.”
Jeffrey Joyce, senior associate dean for research and graduate programs at the College of Medicine, said the need for training in methods for rigorous early-stage behavioral intervention research is critical to truly impact chronic disease.
“The importance of training cannot be overemphasized, and Dr. Naar has been at the forefront of the science of behavioral interventions,” he said. “This will have a lasting impact on the future of behavioral research and implementation.”
Researchers will use the ORBIT model for behavioral treatment development. The model was originally used to study teenage obesity in South Carolina, hence the acronym Obesity-Related Behavioral Intervention Trials.
ORBIT is a flexible and progressive process that uses pre-specified, clinically important milestones for forward motion, and a return to earlier stages for refinement and optimization as needed. Naar developed the model with the NIH and was part of the obesity research team that first codified ORBIT and the team that explored expanding its use to treat chronic diseases and conditions. She is also a co-author of many other research projects that use the method.
Each year of this study, 25 fellows from multiple disciplines will be selected for a six-month course that teaches a variety of skills enhancement methods and techniques to encourage more effective collaboration across the research spectrum. Fellows include emerging researchers in the field of behavioral interventions and established researchers looking to expand their focus.
The fellows will have a substantial minority representation to ensure that the project team trains researchers who are reflective of medically disadvantaged populations to improve health inequalities. The course will be a combination of in-person workshops and bi-monthly webinars, and frequent evaluation will contribute to the continued development and refinement of the curriculum.
“The hope is that this can become an annual conference, a self-sustaining entity,” Naar said. “I want to train the next generation of scientists in this field.”