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Tufts researchers leave to launch Brown University center on evidence-based medicine

Three prominent researchers at Tufts Medical Center who specialize in analysis of medical research will leave this year to start a new center focused on evidence-based medicine at Brown University.

The researchers lead the evidence-based practice center at Tufts, part of the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies. Director Dr. Joseph Lau, who attended medical school at Tufts and has worked there since 1997, said the move will be bittersweet. But, he said, it will allow the group to broaden its scope.

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The researchers are now situated at the medical center. At Brown University, they will have opportunities to work with affiliated hospitals and in fields outside of medicine. That will include collaboration with the departments of computer science and biostatistics.

Lau and co-director Dr. Thomas Trikalinos will trade roles at Brown, with Trikalinos leading the center there. Statistician Christopher Schmid also will move to Brown. Two other colleagues, Dr. Issa Dahabreh and computer scientist Byron Wallace, will join them there as research faculty members.

Trikalinos said he looks forward to the opportunities the group will have to apply its methodological work in medicine to other fields, such as ecology and education.

“The common language between all those different scientific disciplines is the language of methodology,” he said.

The launch of the center is part of Brown’s efforts to build a school of public health, said Terrie Fox Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health. It will also further connections between the university and physicians at affiliated hospitals who will work with Trikalinos and his colleagues.

“This is a way to strengthen those bridges,” Wetle said. “It’s not often that you get to make this kind of transformative recruitment.”

The Tufts group has long been designated an evidence-based practice center by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That status has allowed researchers to do projects for the agency such as analyzing the effects of vitamin D and calcium for a panel that was developing intake recommendations for the American public and evaluating the cost and effectiveness of genetic tests used to target drugs to particular patients.

Such work is in high demand right now, as health care costs grow and industry leaders put a greater focus on patient safety.

Dr. Richard Karas, chief scientific officer at Tufts Medical Center, said in an e-mailed statement that he wished Lau and other departing colleagues well in Rhode Island. Drs. Ethan Balk and John Wong, long-time researchers at Tufts, will lead the center “as it continues the important work of investigating which therapies are best for which patients,” Karas said.

The contract cycle for the AHRQ centers -- there are 14 nationally, including one at the University of Connecticut -- starts over this year. That means the Tufts center and the new group at Brown will be competing for the same designation.

“Hopefully we will both come out winners,” Lau said.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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