UI Selected for Nationwide Stroke Research Network

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The University of Iowa has been selected to participate in a national research network funded by the National Institutes of Health that aims to improve care for people affected by stroke in Iowa and across the United States.

The network of 25 regional stroke centers working with nearby satellite facilities will span the country, have teams of researchers representing every medical specialty needed for stroke care, and will address the three prongs of stroke research: prevention, treatment, and recovery. The participating centers were announced today by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The new system is intended to streamline stroke research by centralizing approval and review, lessening time and costs of clinical trials, and assembling a comprehensive data sharing system," said Petra Kaufmann, M.D., associate director for clinical research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in a prepared statement. NINDS will fund and manage the NIH Stroke Trials Network, or NIH StrokeNet.

"This award is wonderful news for improving stroke care in the state of Iowa," says Enrique Leira, M.D., associate professor of neurology with UI Health Care and principal investigator of the University of Iowa Statewide Stroke Research Network. "It endorses our comprehensive approach to stroke care and highlights the decades of research studies from the UI Comprehensive Stroke Center."

Each center will receive five-year funding, with $200,000 in research costs and $50,000 for training stroke clinical researchers per year over the first three years, and additional funds driven by the completion of milestones. The University of Cincinnati will manage the national clinical coordinating center, which will oversee and coordinate the institutional review board and master trial agreements for all of the regional centers. NIH will announce the award of a national data management center in February.

NIH StrokeNet investigators, working with the broader stroke community, will propose, develop and conduct stroke protocols to be administered within the network and train future generations of clinical researchers in stroke.

The UI Stroke Comprehensive Center has established partnerships with 12 hospitals in Iowa and adjacent states and created a statewide multidisciplinary team that includes basic scientists, clinical researchers, the UI Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, neurologists in practice, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, geographers, computer scientists, emergency medical services, AeroMedical Transport staff, hospital administrators, public health officials, hospital organizations, and patient care advocates.

Leira notes that in rural states like Iowa, people affected by stroke often live far from tertiary stroke centers. He says the statewide network supported by this new funding will be a tremendous resource to serve those patients.

"I am moved by the level of widespread collaboration we have seen at the state level to support this project," he says.

In addition to Leira, the leadership of the UI team includes co-primary investigator Harold Adams, M.D., professor of neurology and director of the UI Comprehensive Stroke Center, Donald Heistad, M.D., professor of internal medicine and basic science group leader, and regional coordinator Heena Olalde R.N., M.S.N.

Historically, centers conducting stroke clinical trials assembled large teams of personnel and infrastructure, which were then disassembled once the trial was completed. This led to delays in patient recruitment and additional costs when new trials were initiated, with some stroke clinical trials lasting many years longer than anticipated and costing millions of dollars more than the original estimate.

"This network will facilitate the translation of ideas between basic science and clinical researchers and will make future clinical trials in stroke more efficient. It should also improve our ability to recruit enough participants to each trial to properly evaluate the effectiveness of new therapies," Leira says.

NOTE: A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing brain cells in the immediate area to die because they stop getting oxygen. Stroke can also occur when a vessel breaks and bleeds into the brain. The number of new strokes reported each year is 795,000, making stroke the fourth leading cause of death in the US. Because stroke is age-linked the incidence is expected to rise rapidly in the next decade.