University of Iowa selected for nationwide stroke research network

University and 24 other centers will research stroke prevention, treatment and recovery

The National Institutes of Health chose the University of Iowa, along with 24 other regional stroke centers, to participate in a national research network that aims to improve care for people affected by stroke in Iowa and across the country.

The network of stroke centers will have teams research stroke prevention, treatment and recovery. The number of new strokes reported each year is about 795,000, making it the fourth leading cause of death in the United States — this number is expected to rise rapidly as the population ages over the next decade.

"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 Dr. Petra Kaufmann, associate director for clinical research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in a prepared statement.

The institute will fund and manage the NIH Stroke Trials Network, or NIH StrokeNet. 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.

Additional funds will be awarded based on the completion of milestones. Dr. Enrique Leira, an associate professor of neurology with UI Health Care and principal investigator of the University of Iowa Statewide Stroke Research Network, said these benchmarks still need to be worked out but will likely focus around efficiency in clinical trials.

"Trials can take a long time to be completed," he said. "Sometimes, when they are finished, the treatment can be obsolete."

The University of Cincinnati will manage the national clinical coordinating center, overseeing and coordinating the institutional review board and trial agreements for all of the regional centers.

The UI Stroke Comprehensive Center has established partnerships with 12 hospitals across Iowa and adjacent states, including Nebraska and North Dakota with hopes to establish an additional site in South Dakota, to create a regional network with clinical researchers, neurologists, hospital administrators, patient care advocates and other health care professionals.

"One of the important aspects of our application is that we are bringing advances in stroke care through research to communities and populations — persons in small towns and rural areas — who in the past have not have these opportunities," said Dr. Harold Adams, professor of neurology and director of the UI Comprehensive Stroke Center.

Sharing resources is another benefit of this program, the UI doctors said. Historically, centers conducting stroke clinical trials assembled large teams of researchers and infrastructure, which were then disassembled once the trial was completed.

This method often led to delays in patient recruitment and additional costs when new trials were initiated, Leira said, because patients can only participate in one clinical trial at a time, which leads doctors to compete internally for patients.

"Clinical studies that definitively evaluate promising therapies must enroll a large number of patients," Adams said. "The numbers usually are too large for any one institution to be successful in recruitment in a relatively reasonable period of time."

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