When the University of Kansas Clinical Research Center opened in January, it provided a state-of-the-art facility not only for KU medical staff, but also for the members of Frontiers.
Frontiers – the regional organization comprised of three medical centers (including KU’s), 10 health systems and 15 community organizations – now has access to one of the top clinical research facilities in the country. This means that their important work in clinical and translational research can progress more quickly, more efficiently and at a higher volume.
The 82,400 square-foot Clinical Research Center (CRC), located at 4350 Shawnee Mission Parkway in Fairway, Kan., offers unique features for both researchers and those participating in clinical trials. For example, the new exercise physiology research lab offers four times the space of the former lab and advanced equipment. One of the most utilized areas of the CRC, the lab tests patients’ strength, sensation and motor functions.
“There are a number of exercise-related research programs underway and one of the most prominent is run by Dr. Jeff Burns and explores the theory that an exercise program can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Richard Barohn, director of Frontiers and professor and chairman of the department of neurology at KU Medical Center. “Now Dr. Burns is looking at the possibility that exercise may prevent Alzheimer’s or delay its onset.”
While Barohn refers to the CRC as a “state-of-the art facility,” he quickly points out that the research nurses, study coordinators, phlebotomists and other essential personnel provided at the CRC are equally critical to the success of the trials.
“Site visitors, representatives from various funding agencies and other researchers are just amazed at the capabilities and staff here,” Barohn said. One funding agency was so impressed with the facility, that it will be sending patients from New Zealand and China to participate in a study on Pompe’s disease.
“We have the ability to do complex clinical work, we have some very specialized researchers and we have this amazing facility,” Barohn said. “The combination is making the CRC a prime site to do clinical research and it’s hard for many other U.S. facilities and other countries to duplicate. This should help attract more and larger clinical trials to the region.”
At any given time, Frontiers members are involved in – and often working together on – approximately 100 clinical trials at the CRC. Frontiers has generated more opportunities for the members to work together, Barohn said, as their awareness of each other’s projects and capabilities increases.
“Children’s Mercy Hospital, with their focus on personalized medicine, and KU are working together on a study of methotrexate to determine which patients are more or less likely to respond favorably to the drug,” Barohn said. “Children’s Mercy developed a novel blood assay and is analyzing the samples drawn here at the CRC. We would have never known that Children’s had this unique capability if we hadn’t been working together in Frontiers.”
Frontiers members are currently developing a program to address another critical component of clinical trials – recruiting patients. The faster you can enroll large numbers of eligible patients, the more likely you are to be chosen as a clinical site.
KU began the project by asking all patients visiting a University clinic whether they would be willing to participate in a future research trial. Additionally, Frontiers is working to develop touchscreen devices that would be placed throughout the community, enabling people to register for research trials. The volunteers’ names will be captured in a database accessible by all Frontiers members. Collectively, the Frontiers’ partners have access to a much larger pool of potential patients than any individual institution. By working together, they are much more attractive for clinical trials requiring a large number of patients.
Dr. Lynda Bonewald, interim vice chancellor for research at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, said the CRC is unique in its “patient-friendly environment,” a feature that positively impacts the Center’s work.
“The CRC doesn’t feel like a hospital and is not associated with the things that you associate a hospital with, like disease and life-threatening illnesses,” Bonewald said. “When patients come into the CRC with the knowledge that they’re going to be part of research to advance medical knowledge, it’s a much more positive experience, and that’s the goal of the facility.”
Frontiers was the recipient of a $20 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) last year. The award recognized the Frontiers members’ work in translational research, both recent projects and the potential of what future projects could bring. Part of the grant helped fund CRC personnel and clinical trials.