CENTER OF EXCELLENCE FOR THE STUDY OF HEALTH AND CHRONIC ILLNESSES

DIRECTOR: Robert J. Gatchel, Ph.D., ABPP, Nancy P. and John G. Penson Endowed Professor of Clinical Health Psychology. Google Scholar Profile
     The Center of Excellence for the Study of Health and Chronic Illnesses was established in response to the changing health care landscape in the United States. It reflects marked changes in major health threats, as well as renewed interest in prevention and evidence-based treatments across medical disciplines. One important factor that has prompted these changes is the now dramatic differences in the major health threats and problems over the past century. At the turn of the 20th century, major causes of mortality were predominantly infectious, including pneumonia and influenza, polio and tuberculosis. One hundred years later, modern medicine has conquered many of these diseases, and chronic illnesses (such as heart disease, hypertension, cancer and diabetes) have taken their place. Unlike infectious diseases, modern chronic illnesses are caused in part by aging and lifestyle, and they present management as well as prevention a
Robert Gatchel
Robert Gatchel, Ph.D., ABPP
nd treatment problems. To a great extent, stress, lifestyle, exercise, diet, drug and tobacco use, and other psychosocial factors appear to contribute to "wear and tear" on the body, and to an acceleration of the aging process. Most of these factors are modifiable, and offer important new ways to reduce illness risks, as well as the personal, financial, and medical toll of many chronic illnesses. These changes in the nature of serious chronic illnesses, highlighted by the emergence of chronic illnesses caused by maladaptive behaviors and lifestyles, pose a number of very important challenges for systematic study, evaluation, and intervention. The importance of environmental and genetic factors also needs to be addressed.
     It should also be noted that the goals of our Center are perfectly aligned with the very important and influential Institute of Medicine's (IOM) Report on "Living Well and Chronic Illness: A Call for Public Health Action" [Committee on Living Well with Chronic Disease: Public Action to Reduce Disability,Improve Functioning and Quality of Life. Institute of Medicine (2012), Washington D.C. The National Academies Press http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13272. This major IOM report was written as "… a guide for immediate and precise action to reduce the burden of all forms of chronic illnesses through the development and implementation of cross-cutting and coordinated strategies to help Americans live well…" (A-1).
     Indeed, our Center has been developed to coordinate and stimulate biobehavioral/medical research and community-based education and prevention efforts pertaining to the causes, treatment and management of chronic illnesses. For example, one of the most frequently cited reasons for patients in the U.S. to seek medical care is due to pain. According to recent statistics from the National Academy of Sciences, the societal costs of chronic pain and related disability in the U.S. alone is $560-635 billion each year. Unfortunately, many chronic pain conditions cannot yet be successfully treated. We need more clinical research to develop better treatment methods. This is just one of the many chronic illnesses that the Center addresses. For many reasons, social, economic and biobehavioral research have become increasingly important in medicine and health care. As a consequence, the primary focus of this Center is on the integration of the social and biobehavioral sciences with more traditional biological sciences and chemistry at the interface with biomedical research. Finally, illness-health issues associated with aging is also being studied. Indeed, currently, there are approximately 35 million Americans, 65 years of age or older, accounting for 12.4% of the population. By the year 2030, it is projected that about 20% of the population will be 65 years of age or older. Unfortunately, the current health care system and government policy-makers are not being proactive in preparing for this "great surge" of older citizens and their chronic illnesses who will make up a significant proportion of the population in the United States. This Center will begin to fill this important "preparation void." Some examples of disorders/areas to be studied in the Center include the following:
• aging issues (e.g., cognitive and motor functioning)
• early intervention for dementia
• chronic pain and disability
• cancer
• cardiovascular disorders
• diabetes
• fibromyalgia
• multiple sclerosis
• traumatic brain injury
• wound healing
     Because of the great prevalence and scope of these chronic illness problems, the Center is now well positioned to seek Congressional earmark funds, as well as other federal/state extramural funding, for its' further development. Moreover, the Center has access to the most recent "cutting edge" biotechnology for the study of these chronic disorders and health – genetics, brain imaging, immune system functioning, stress system measures, as well as various psychosocial measures such as emotional distress and coping.
     In 2010, the College of Science at The University of Texas at Arlington made an initial major commitment to this Center, with the allocation of 1,100 square feet of space, an allocation of $35,000 for renovation of that space, and the allocation of $300,000 from the very competitive UT System-wide STARS/Emerging Technology Fund program competition awarded to Dr. Gatchel for the development of a comprehensive bioassay/genetics laboratory for the Center. These have been state-of-the-art renovations/developments (http://www.uta.edu/psychology/bcrl/index.htm). Subsequently, as another more significant commitment to this Center, the University also provided an endowment of $1 million to help "jump-start" the administrative infrastructure of the Center in order to make it a highly visible Center of Excellence. Of course, only the income from this endowment can be used for the education, research and consultation goals of the Center. The vision of the Center is to now make it nationally and internationally "recognized" for clinical and medical research, institution and public education, as well as a treatment referral resource, for the study of health and chronic illnesses. We are now ready to continue to grow and initiate more programs. Of course, an ongoing task for this Center will be to obtain some gifts from the private sector to further grow the monetary base of the Center that will actually support the many costs associated with conducting the important biobehavioral/medical research needed, as well as its' other educational goals.
     The Director of the Center is Dr. Robert J. Gatchel. Dr. Gatchel is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology, as well as the Nancy P. & John G. Penson Endowed Professor of Clinical Health Psychology, College of Science, at The University of Texas at Arlington. Before joining the University of Texas at Arlington faculty in 2004, he was the Elizabeth H. Penn Professor of Clinical Psychology, Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Anesthesiology & Pain Management, and Rehabilitation Counseling, all at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas for 25 years.
     Dr. Gatchel has always been involved in new "cutting edge" areas of science and medicine. He has conducted extensive evidence-based clinical research, much of it continuously funded for the past 30 years by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DOD). He was also the recipient of consecutive Research Scientist Development Awards from NIH, as well as the prestigious Senior Scientist Award from NIH. His grant-funding expertise will become part of the new Center as a means of infusing extra dollars into it. As of 2012, Dr. Gatchel has published over 341 scientific journal articles, 118 book chapters and has authored or edited 24 books. In addition, he has received numerous awards and honors associated with his clinical research work, including the following: the Volvo Award for Low-Back Pain Research in 1986 from the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine (which is the preeminent international research society for the study of painful spinal disorders); the 1994 Research Recognition Award from the North American Spine Society (NASS); the Award for Significant Contributions to Health Psychology, APA Division 38, 1997; NASS' 2001 Henry Farfan Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Spine Care; Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, 2002; the Award for Significant Contributions to the Field of Temporomandibular Joint and Occlusion Research, 2003; Visiting Scholar Program Awardee, Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health, Summer 2003; the 2003 Award for Outstanding Contributions to Science from the Texas Psychological Association; the 2004 Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Applied Research from the American Psychological Association; and the 2006 John Liebeskind Pain Management Research Award from the American Academy for Pain Management; the 2008 Wilbert Fordyce Clinical Investigator Award from the American Pain Society; UT Arlington's Academy of Distinguished Scholars Award, 2008; the Pain Management Center of Excellence Award in 2008 from the American Pain Society; the 2009 Health Care Heroes Award from the Fort Worth Business Press/Health Point; the 2011 Distinguished Career Contributions to Health Psychology Award (Division 38 of the American Psychological Association); the 2011 Graduate Dean's Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring Award, The University of Texas at Arlington; and the 2011 Texas Psychological Association's Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. The citation of one of his awards (the 2004 Award from the American Psychological Association) best summarizes his impact in the fields of pain and medicine:
     "For exceptional and pioneering research and training in clinical psychology.  Robert J. Gatchel's research has strengthened the biopsychosocial approach to physical and mental health disorders and made possible the early identification and successful treatment of patients at risk for the development of chronic pain.  He has led many in the medical profession to carefully consider salient psychological and social factors.  His tireless leadership in the area of health psychology has inspired his colleagues in the field of psychology and numerous medical specialties.  Most important, his work has led to the amelioration of suffering and disability of thousands of people."
     Dr. Gatchel is the ideal Director of this Center because of his long-established intra- and inter- institutional clinical research collaborations. He is also actively collaborating with many other scientists in Canada and Europe. Here at UT Arlington, he is collaborating with the following Departments/Colleges: College of Science; College of Nursing (which is one of the largest ones in the State of Texas), with its innovative SMART-HOSPITAL which has become a prototype for others  to be developed throughout the country; the Department of Kinesiology; and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He also plays a very active role as a Clinical Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where he is collaborating with many departments (Anesthesiology & Pain Management; Orthopaedic Surgery; Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation; Psychiatry; and  Oral Surgery, to name a few). He is also the Director of Biopsychosocial Clinical Research at the Osteopathic Research Center, The University of Texas Health Science Center, in Fort Worth. Thus, this active clinical research collaboration provides the synergy to gather the best "intellectual minds" of scientists/physicians in the North Texas area. Moreover, the Center is centrally located in the North Texas area, where it receives a great deal of national and international attention. As of 2012, The University of Texas at Arlington had 34,000 students (second only to UT Austin in enrollment in the UT System), and expects to grow to 50,000 students in the next 5 years. In fact the Chronicle of Higher Education lists UT Arlington as the nation's sixth fastest growing public research universities, with a more than 61% increase in enrollment from the Fall, 2000 to the Fall, 2010. Also, both the Texas Rangers Ballpark and the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington have made us even more visible because of active alliances we have made with them as well as the City of Arlington. Finally, in order to monitor the success and further development of the Center, it has an active Board of Advisors, recruited from academia and the private sector.
     In summary, the goals of our Center are perfectly aligned with the Institute of Medicine's influential Report to develop more effective approaches to reduce the increasing burden of all forms of chronic illnesses in the United States. As that Report appropriately highlights:
     "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do."
-- Goethe