Inside the Elmore Research Wing at Noll Laboratory there is what looks like a mini hospital: a nurses' station, exam rooms, a specimen processing lab, ultra sound machines, metabolic carts, EKG machines, and crash carts.
But this is not a hospital; it is a place for research.
What makes this center unique is that at any given time, with the guidance of a certified medical team, dozens of researchers are conducting studies with a common goal: to improve public health.
Lowering the risk for heart disease with healthy foods and recommended dietary patterns, monitoring fetal growth in pregnant women, and analyzing the impact of concussions in athletes are just some of the major health questions investigators analyze through studies at the Penn State Clinical Research Center (CRC).
The CRC at University Park provides a resource for clinical studies to researchers across colleges at Penn State. Researchers can conduct studies that require oversight by trained medical professionals, including routine procedures like drawing blood and measuring blood pressure or less common procedures, such as exercise testing under stress conditions and adipose tissue or taste bud biopsies.
A service unit in the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the CRC is part of a National Institutes of Health funded initiative led by the College of Health and Human Development and College of Medicine. A second CRC is located at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey.
The University Park CRC includes clinical research physicians, a nurse practitioner, and registered nurses on staff, who work with investigators to safely and effectively conduct studies. Additionally, the CRC Advisory Committee provides oversight and reviews protocols before any study is conducted.
Tracey Allen, a registered nurse practitioner, manages daily operations at the CRC. She and her staff provide training and guidance to the investigators, research staff and undergraduate and graduate students who work in the CRC. If a study requires a technique or procedure not yet utilized in the CRC, Allen and her staff undergo training in order to meet a researcher’s needs.
“I feel like I’m always learning,” Allen said.
The CRC also features a metabolic kitchen for food and nutrition studies. Investigators from both Hershey and University Park campuses conduct feeding trials. In these studies, participants are provided individual test foods or an entire daily menu of food to meet the study specifications, and then undergo specific testing procedures to determine the effects of the diets on various health outcomes.
Amy Ciccarella, a registered dietician and research nutritionist, manages day-to-day operations for the metabolic kitchen. She plans menus, oversees staff members who prepare the food, counsels study subjects, and works with the investigators to conduct these challenging studies.
“I’m always learning new things from all of the research studies and I wouldn’t get that from a traditional dietetic job,” Ciccarella said.