From the Director

FEBRUARY 1, 2018

PHS steps into the new year

As PHS steps into the new year, I welcome newcomers to the site, and remind our loyal friends to fasten their seat belts—our already busy calendar is bulging with new events and initiatives almost daily.

Our annual Fall symposium, highlighting several of our research partnerships, had the intended effect of fostering new interest and projects around the highlighted partners: Alcoa, Clalit Health Services, Gates (gender norms), the Federal Statistical Research Data Center and Recetox in the Czech Republic (from whom data are forthcoming). What we did not anticipate has been the remarkable spillover onto other projects. Our relationship with Denmark, via the Aarhus colleagues (who returned to campus this January) and the Danish Biobank, has spawned a host of new collaborations. Born in Bradford has submitted an application, with PHS as partner, entitled ActEarly: A city collaboratory approach to early prevention, and has started collecting research ideas.  We are excited to announce Liam Hill, a developmental psychologist from Leeds, will be a visiting scholar with PHS in the late spring to explore collaborations in that space. Once little more than a hope, we stand on the brink of a new relationship with the VA as we explore strategies to assist in the early analysis of the Million Vet Program, as well as a disability project already underway. Final legal agreements on the work plan, as well as a two-day conference in the early winter have teed up the Solano County Health Information Exchange “sandbox” for early exploration, and initial projects have begun. And as if there were not enough, a series of exchanges with government and large foundations has raised the fabulous prospect of a PHS thrust into the health and development space in India.

At the same time, many of our working groups continue developing new programs. The Gene and Environment working group is developing a mini-symposium for the spring around the theme of complex genetics across populations, in collaboration with the Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genetics. The Immigration and Health working group is organizing a broad proposal to study immigration and child health in Santa Clara County. The Work-Life, Retirement, Disability, Aging and Cognitive Decline working group will also be hosting a day-long conference in the spring, centering on the role of the GiG Economy in the evolution of labor markets.

Perhaps most newsworthy is the coalescence of a new working group which we are calling “Diseases of Despair.” In response to a growing portfolio of projects focused on suicide and disability involving the VA and other partners, and accelerated interest in the opioid crisis, we will soon be calling on PHS members across the campus and beyond to encourage very broad, multi-dimensional study of a problem which encompasses perhaps a larger swathe of intellectual territory than any other in modern America: the healthcare system, the economy, our culture, federal and state laws,  governance and inevitably politics. It will likely be a dominant theme for some time to come.

—Mark Cullen, MD, PHS Director