Purposeful Collaboration in Early-Stage Medical Research

The goal of The Karen Toffler Charitable Trust (KTCT) is to find solutions to humanity’s most difficult problems. But how do we find these solutions that have evaded us for so long, especially in the area of medical research? While great strides have been made by dedicated specialists in a wide variety of fields, many problems have resisted medical advances for decades. 

To achieve the world-changing breakthroughs needed to solve these intractable problems and create a better future for all of us, we have designed a future-focused framework, one that hinges on early-stage research, high-impact ideas, and cross-disciplinary problem-solving.

Our recent post covers the importance of funding early-stage research and innovative, momentous ideas. This post will explain how cross-disciplinary problem-solving drives breakthroughs, and how we’re creating new opportunities for collaboration among some of the brightest researchers in the country.

The Hazards of Research Silos

There are countless articles, books, and talks about the importance of collaboration. But collaboration in medical research hasn’t always been common. Research often was, and is sometimes still, carried out in silos. 

Toffler Scholar Dr. Daniel Tward, Assistant Professor in Neurology and Computational Medicine at UCLA, identified this problem in his recent interview: “Research communities being isolated from each other is a problem because there are problems where the solution is obvious to people in one field but not another. Some of the models that I used to evaluate image quality had literally been solved years earlier by electrical engineers and statisticians.”

The detailed and specific knowledge needed to advance scientific research is vital for progress. However, it is sometimes this focus and painstaking attention to detail that can prevent the type of creative thinking that can lead to new interventions for difficult, multi-pronged problems.

The Importance of Putting Heads Together

This is where purposeful, strategic collaboration comes into play. Dr. Bradley Hyman is the John B. Penny Chair in Neurology at Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Massachusetts Alzheimer Disease Research Center and Memory Disorder Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. He emphasized the importance of collaboration in his recent interview. He explains that research has changed and “the idea that an individual contributor can make major contributions isn’t really present anymore. Today’s science is about collaboration. It takes a multidisciplinary attack from different types of expertise to solve problems.”

While there is still a necessary role for individuals, the importance of collaboration is becoming more clear and leading to more breakthroughs. Persistent problems need advanced, creative minds who are pushing the envelope, challenging current thinking, and coming up with new solutions to long-standing problems by working together instead of independently. It’s not just that two heads are better than one; it’s the more heads the merrier. 

The Intersection of History and Future-Focused Work

Alvin and Heidi Toffler were the embodiment of strategic collaboration. A chance encounter in Manhattan in 1948, where they were introduced by a mutual friend, led to a first date and an inseparable partnership and marriage that lasted 66 years. They shared a love of science and technology, a gift for writing, and an insatiable curiosity. 

It is this legacy of dedication and passion that drives The Karen Toffler Charitable Trust to help today’s promising investigators challenge conventional thinking and improve the future for all humanity.

“It is a mistake to regard advances in science and technology as stand-alone events. The truly big intellectual and financial payoffs occur when two or more breakthroughs converge or are plugged together. The more diverse the projects, the more scientists involved and the more advances made, the greater the potential for novel juxtapositions that yield huge results.” 

-Alvin Toffler

Exeloop: Facilitating Collaboration and Breakthroughs

It is with this focus on collaboration that we are excited to announce Exeloop, a center point for a network of relationships between KTCT, past and present Toffler Scholars, University partners, and investors. These secure, collaborative, cross-connection events are designed to advance the progress of investigators and research supporters from diversified backgrounds.

Exeloop sessions, held in both virtual and in-person, will provide a platform for attendees to share their findings from their groundbreaking research projects, make connections to others inside and outside their field, and brainstorm new approaches. We believe Exeloop has the potential to lead to staggering advancements in medicine. Our first Exeloop is scheduled for October 15th, 2021.

Toffler Scholars Are Pushing the Bounds Research and Collaboration

Toffler Scholars are recognized for their keen intellect, innovative thinking, meticulous planning, and demonstrated passion for their work. 2021 Toffler Scholar Dr. Vijaya Kolachalama exemplifies the power of purposeful collaboration. 

His team is comprised of a medical school student, a data analyst, a graduate student, and a dental school student. This diverse group is researching, building, and testing AI models that can aggregate brain imaging and multimodal health data from patients at various stages of Alzheimer’s as well as patients experiencing normal cognition. 

Once this data is aggregated, the AI model begins identifying, analyzing, and comparing patterns across the data. Finally, the AI model categorizes these patterns into datasets, enabling it to identify criteria that differentiates the data. It can then use these criteria to generate a “diagnosis” of each dataset. For Dr. Kolachalama and his team, the penultimate result of this work would be AI models being used in memory clinics, both independently and alongside physicians, to diagnose or detect cognitive diseases and disorders. 

This kind of groundbreaking thinking and approach is possible because of Dr. Kolachalama’s collaborative team. 

Pushing Humanity Forward

Our audacious goals are only possible with the support of our partners. To maximize our impact on the world, we strive to connect our network more deeply to foster new ways of thinking and problem-solving. 
By focusing on early-stage medical research and cross-disciplinary connections, we hope to push the future of humanity in a brighter, more hopeful direction. We see great potential in the young medical researchers making that vision of a healthier humanity. And we welcome you to join us.