Research Engine

The return of Anya Rader Wallack, Ph.D.

She will bring her health care expertise to Brown as the administrator of the Advanced-RI-CTR program

Photo by Peter Goldberg

Anya Rader Wallack, Ph.D.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/7/23
An interview with Anya Rader Wallack, Ph.D., upon her return to Rhode Island as the administrator of Advance-RI CTR.
Will the research about endocrine disruption and its connection to chronic diseases emerge as a priority of the Advance-RI-CTR? What opportunities are there to expand the research base to include nursing programs in Rhode Island? How can the Advance-RI-CTR program help to develop an annual Index of the Rhode Island Innovation Economy as a comprehensive economic tool of data analysis? What are the opportunities to develop new research around the work of Dr. Jill Maron at Women & Infants Hospital focused on non-invasive saliva analyses of newborns?
The National Institutes of Health announced last week that it is launching four clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness for long Covid treatments, according to a report in The Washington Post. The clinical trials will focus on several areas of treatment: reducing viral persistence; reducing excessive sleepiness; treating problems that involve the autonomic nervous system, which includes heart rate, breathing, and the digestive system; and treatments for exercise intolerance and fatigue.

PROVIDENCE – The return of Anya Rader Wallack, Ph.D., to Brown University and the Rhode Island innovation ecosystem serves as an important marker in the swing of the pendulum back toward the research enterprise in the Ocean State.

Rader Wallack had departed Rhode Island in 2021 [and her position as Professor of the Practice at the Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health at the School of Public Health at Brown University] in order to become the senior vice president for Strategic Communications at the University of Vermont Health Network in Vermont. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Speaking words of wisdom on health care reform.”]

In her new position, Rader Wallack will be serving as the administrative director of the Advance-RI-CTR translational research initiative in Rhode Island. [See link below to ConvergenceRI stories, “And the winner is: Rhode Island and its innovation ecosystem,” and “RI as a scalable, research lab in a regional universe.”]

What Rader Wallack brings to the task is a comprehensive knowledge of the health care delivery landscape in Rhode Island – she previously served as the director of the R.I. Health Insurance Exchange, director of the R.I. Medicaid Office, and interim secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

In her previous role at the School of Public Health at Brown, Rader Wallack was involved in developing a series of groundbreaking data analytics, using the state’s All Payer Claims Database to identify trends in increasing medial costs. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “How data analyses may bend the curve of health costs in RI.”]

The return of Rader Wallack is one of many ongoing shifts within the Rhode Island health care delivery system and academic research medical enterprise. Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Anya Rader Wallack,Ph.D.,  talking about her new role in administering a five-year, $25 million grant-funded project focused on collaborative, translational research.

ConvergenceRI: What is your new position at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University?
RADER WALLACK: I am the Administrative Director of the Advance-RI-CTR program.

ConvergenceRI: When did you begin?
RADER WALLACK: I started full-time on Aug. 1.

ConvergenceRI: What attracted you to the position?
RADER WALLACK: Clinical Translational Research is really cool. It’s about deploying innovations in medical practice and public health practice to improve health as rapidly as possible.

Our particular grant also aims to be community-driven: to understand what the community needs in health research. The federal government has invested a lot of money in this, but the “rapid” part of it is still hindered by administrivia and approvals processes.

I hope I can help make CTR more rapid, more relevant, and more relevant to Rhode Island’s community needs. Plus, I have lived in RI for almost 25 years and I love this place.

ConvergenceRI: How would you describe the research enterprise in Rhode Island? Dr. Jim Padbury once described it as a scalable, research lab in a regional universe? Is that still accurate?
RADER WALLACK: I think anything we do and learn from in Rhode Island is scalable. We have a diverse community with great needs, a health services research community that is top-notch, and we should be able to put those together to improve community health in ways that others can emulate.

ConvergenceRI: What do people misunderstand about the nature of collaborative research when it comes to encouraging young researchers?
RADER WALLACK: We have brilliant young researchers at Brown. And at the other Advance-RI-CTR sites. They went into this line of work to improve health, health care, and public health practice.

But they need to produce results, early in their careers, to get funded and promoted for bigger research. The purpose of Advance-RI-CTR is to put them on that path with funding and technical support and mentorship so they can be successful later in their careers. It’s really great, because young researchers need this kind of support to be successful.

ConvergenceRI: How important is managing the data flow when it comes to ongoing medical research? What are the challenges when it comes to developing a shared language of experimentation given the rapid growth of AI and the process of evaluating data? [If that is not too wonky a question.]
RADER WALLACK: Data are critical. We try to facilitate the use of data sources that might be necessary for researchers, but with which they might not have experience. Having a good data source and knowing how to analyze it are two VERY different things. We try to fill that gap.

ConvergenceRI: What ongoing research projects is your position involved with [that you can talk about]?
RADER WALLACK: I can have my staff get you a list if you want.

ConvergenceRI: You have had an incredibly varied career within the health care industry landscape. What do you see as the most important challenges ahead related to improving health outcomes and the role that advanced collaborative research can play?
RADER WALLACK: Well, the biggest problems in American health care are that we pay more than anyone else in the world and get worse outcomes. So I think health care cost analysis and cost driver analysis remains the most important and least explored frontier of health services research.

And then, you have to connect that with health care practitioners who want to do the right thing, and payers who want to pay for the right outcomes. That’s collaborative research, and I remain hopeful that it can produce great results.

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