Collaboration between the University of South Florida and Reliance Medical Centers leads to a groundbreaking Research, Brain Health and Cognition, and Enrichment initiative that will be of significant benefit to the community of Polk County and beyond.

Following the announcement of the collaboration between Reliance Medical Centers (Reliance) and the University of South Florida (USF), Mayor Bill Mutz made the following statement. “The City of Lakeland unites with Polk County in recognizing the rapidly growing behavioral health and brain research needs of our residents. The recent collaboration between USF and Reliance Medical Centers provides both intern and employment opportunities for cutting edge research to maximize brain health. Recent studies reveal dramatic benefits from appropriate brain health screenings, comprehensive cognitive evaluations, and consistent monitoring. This research provides preventative exercises enabling a therapeutic reduction in the pace of degradation for highly predictable Alzheimer’s participants. Patients gain primary care solutions at much more affordable costs with quantifiably higher success in treatment.” This statement comprehensively sums up the critical importance of this collaborative initiative and how it will benefit the community.
The collaboration between USF and Reliance originated because the two organizations identified shared objectives in terms of promoting scientific investigation into cutting edge preventives, diagnostics, and therapeutics, and applying (or translating) research findings into practice. Both organizations recognized that working together would give rise to better quality research, the opportunity for translation and application of research findings into practice and, ultimately, provide numerous benefits to patients which will extend to the community. As a result, Reliance generously founded the USF Optimal Aging & Brain Health Research Fund which is housed in the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences. Established in 2008, the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences is breaking new ground by combining knowledge gained through the behavioral sciences with knowledge gained from the community; it emphasizes science with a commitment to community impact.
The specific objective of the research fund is “to support all aspects of brain health research among older adults including preventive strategies, cognitive assessment, cognitive monitoring and diagnostics, cognitive training, sensory processing and cognition, neurophysiological indicators of cognitive impairment, and innovative interventions and treatments to promote optimal aging and potentially protect against mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and related dementias, and to expedite the translation of research findings into practice.”
The value of the collaboration extends far beyond the generous financial donation provided by Reliance. Reliance has also donated space and additional resources for an in-house research facility in collaboration with USF at its medical centers in Lakeland and Winter Haven. This means that Polk County residents will have access to brain health research; they will have the opportunity to participate and also benefit directly from research findings. At present, opportunities to participate in optimal aging research in Polk County are extremely limited; until recently, older adults who were interested in participating had to travel to Tampa or Orlando. The collaboration between USF and Reliance aims to provide research opportunities and maintain a cutting-edge research presence in Polk County. With dementia being one of the most feared conditions older adults face, this collaboration is an incredible benefit to Polk County residents.
The most significant barriers to research are funding and gaining access to research participants (i.e., recruitment). The USF-Reliance Optimal Aging Research Laboratory at the Reliance Medical Center in Lakeland provides a direct connection to the community through Reliance’s medical centers. This partnership means that the number and diversity of potential research participants will likely be greater than if research locations were limited to traditional university sites. Increased access and accessibility to research participation opportunities will enable the collection of more representative data, making the studies more generalizable and applicable to a broader number of individuals. It will also allow the USF Optimal Aging and Brain Health Research Fund to meet its objective of “translation” by providing both existing and alternative preventative, diagnostic, and therapeutic innovations that can positively impact individuals’ brain health and, ultimately, benefit the greater community.
As noted by Mayor Mutz, the USF-Reliance collaboration will strengthen professional collaborative opportunities across the USF system that will help put innovative science into action by bridging the gap between academia and primary care. In addition, the medical center will provide internship and employment opportunities for USF students and graduates. Many USF students commute from Lakeland to Tampa. Therefore, having a USF presence in Polk County will allow them local research and applied opportunities to be involved in their own communities and hopefully remain local, as opposed to being recruited elsewhere. This will help us retain talent in Polk County, and it will allow us to recruit talent to Polk.

This is just the beginning–a truly unique collaboration with obvious immediate benefits to community health and great potential for future innovations.