Executive Director's Column: On the Road to a Bigger and Better STS Research Enterprise

Robert A. Wynbrandt

Robert A. Wynbrandt, Executive Director & General Counsel
Robert H. Habib, Director of the STS Research Center

STS News, Fall 2016 -- As we prepare to launch an exciting new initiative that will enhance the value of the STS National Database for our members and their patients, the following is the latest installment in our series of guest columns by other members of the STS management team – this one from Robert Habib, who joined us earlier this year as the new Director of the STS Research Center. Robert comes to us from the American University of Beirut, where he was a Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, the Director of the Clinical Research Institute’s Outcomes Research Unit, Co-Director of the Vascular Medicine Program, and Director of the Scholars in Health Research Program. Robert earned a PhD in interdisciplinary studies (engineering and physiology) and a master of science degree in biomedical engineering from Boston University; as reflected below, he is making no small plans to take the STS Research Center into new and promising directions.


For nearly three decades, STS and its members have led the way with an unparalleled commitment to collect comprehensive patient data in the STS National Database and analyze these data as a means of measuring quality and providing better care to patients. The Society is again poised to lead its peers in a different, albeit related way.

STS surgeon leaders and senior staff are developing a high-quality clinical research infrastructure that would increase the options and opportunities for STS members to conduct research based on the Database. It certainly makes sense. Much like a great quarterback needs receivers capable of catching passes, a standout clinical database such as the STS National Database needs a commensurate standout research program that appropriately leverages its rich and comprehensive data.  

STS is fully committed to building a bigger and better research enterprise for the specialty. Surgeon leaders are aiming to profoundly transform STS research with a year 2020 vision featuring a forward-looking research agenda. The Society is developing a new business plan for the STS Research Center that will provide a road map for future investment and new research opportunities. We anticipate that many of these new research initiatives could be game-changers that increase productivity and expand research capacity to previously unavailable areas.

A Different Kind of PUF!

By the time STS members read this article, the STS Participant User File (PUF) Research Program likely will have been announced. The PUF Program will allow—for the first time—analysis of national-scale de-identified data from the Database at investigators’ institutions.

This STS initiative will be steered by a PUF Task Force and will be guided by three primary principles: 1) facilitating STS National Database participant research, 2) ensuring research output of the highest quality, and 3) protecting STS and participant data, as well as patient privacy. The Society was purposely deliberate in its planning because it wanted to present members with a truly different kind of PUF!

The STS PUF Program will be rolled out in three stages, starting with the Adult Cardiac Surgery Database in the fourth quarter of this year, followed by the General Thoracic Surgery Database and the Congenital Heart Surgery Database in the first and second quarters of 2017, respectively. The STS PUF Program is unique in many respects and was designed primarily as an option for investigators to pose research questions, quickly obtain quality data, analyze these data themselves given appropriate biostatistics resources, receive feedback, and develop their efforts into abstracts and manuscripts. Key features that distinguish the STS PUF Program from similar programs offered by other medical societies include:

  • PUF Task Force review of the submission materials (application and proposal) for scientific merit and appropriate analytic capacity of the investigative team;
  • Data ready for analysis—investigators will receive quality-checked data for variables that are relevant to the research question only after study inclusion and exclusion criteria have been applied;
  • Valuable feedback from the PUF Task Force on the quality and completeness of an investigative team’s analysis and interpretation of the results, as well as the ensuing abstract and/or manuscript derived from the study; and  
  • Affordable research fees—these fees will be used to offset the technical and scientific support needed for sustained high-quality PUF research productivity.

Many of these new research initiatives could be game-changers.

More STS Research Initiatives on the Horizon

STS PUF is only the beginning. Several other new research-related initiatives currently are being developed.

In 2017, STS will launch in-house analytics capabilities that will contribute to all forms of STS research. Such new data analytics services promise to be a meaningful addition to the STS Research Center, particularly for investigators interested in PUF research who do not have statistical resources at their own institutions.

Another major near-term focus of the STS Research Center is to acquire long-term follow-up data for patients in the STS National Database. This need is well recognized, and success on this front would be transformational, providing a whole new dimension to STS research. Long-term follow-up data would allow investigators to pursue clinical outcomes and comparative effectiveness questions with genuine potential for grant funding success. Please stay tuned!