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SUNY receives $4.3 million for research in neuroscience, pediatric pharmacology and vision

The State University of New York has received two grants totaling more than $4.3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support neuroscience and pediatric pharmacology and vision research as part of SUNY REACH, a collaborative research network of SUNY's four academic health centers and the College of Optometry. The lead researchers on both grants will be headquartered at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.

SUNY REACH (Research Excellence in Academic Health) is comprised of SUNY Downstate, University at Buffalo, College of Optometry, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and Upstate Medical University.

The first grant, $3.7 million from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development will support research into Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a condition that contributes to vision loss (and in the most serious cases, blindness) in premature infants. Jacob V. Aranda, MD, PhD, professor or pediatrics and director of neonatalogy at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and principal investigator on the grant, notes that the condition affects 50 to 80 percent of preterm babies born weighing less than 1250 grams.

Dr. Aranda's research will help define the molecular events that lead to ROP and develop drug strategies to prevent it. Dr. Aranda and Kay Beharry, director of the Perinatal-Neonatal Pharmacology Translational Lab at SUNY Downstate, along with Dr. William Jusko at Buffalo, will provide overall administration of the complex project, with two pre-clinical science protocols and one clinical protocol. These two protocols will focus on the hypothesis that caffeine and ibuprofen, used together, can be used to regulate the overgrowth of vessels that lead to ROP in animal models.

Once studies on the safety, efficacy, and timing of intervention are completed, randomized clinical testing will begin at multiple clinical sites. In addition to Downstate, these will include the University at Buffalo, Stony Brook University, Columbia University, Kings County Hospital Center, Maimonides Medical Center, New York Hospital Queens and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

Collectively, these centers form the New York Pediatric Developmental Pharmacology Research Consortium, which will study and develop novel drug therapies in newborn babies, focusing on those that will prevent blindness in preterm newborns. This is the only center focused on pediatric ocular pharmacology in the country, and one of only four pediatric pharmacology centers funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Regarding the retinopathy grant, Dr. Aranda said, "Retinopathy of prematurity occurs in two out of three small babies born prematurely and treated with oxygen, and can lead to blindness. In fact, it is the most common cause of blindness in children. Understanding the molecular events leading to retinopathy of prematurity and providing novel, effective and safe drug interventions will avert a lifetime of blindness, disability, and darkness."

The second grant, $650,000 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), positions SUNY's academic health centers to participate in the NIH NINDS Network for Excellence in Neuroscience Clinical Trials (NeuroNEXT) project, which aims to speed up early phase clinical trials on new therapies. Steven R. Levine, MD, professor of neurology and associate dean for clinical research and faculty development at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, is the principal investigator on this project.

Dr. Levine's project will be one of 25 across the U.S. designed to create the infrastructure necessary to develop and implement research protocols in neurological disorders. It uses the SUNY REACH template for developing a statewide network of patients and research infrastructure to expand the SUNY Clinical Trials Network. Dr. Levine's initial focus will be a multi-center approach to identify biomarkers and predictors of stroke across New York State.

"By combining four SUNY campuses into one application, we have created an innovative and very large network of patients with extremely diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds that will facilitate a sustained and powerful influence on neurological clinical trial performance," says Dr. Levine. "It shifts the paradigm for collaborative structuring of clinical trials and will lead to a faster pipeline to Phase 3 trials."

"NeuroNEXT will expand the capability to test the most promising new therapies for a wide range of neurological disorders affecting children and adults," said Elizabeth McNeil, MD, the NIH/ NINDS program director who will oversee the nationwide program. "Through 25 clinical sites across the US, as well as a clinical and a data coordinating center, the NIH will provide the expertise and infrastructure needed to rapidly assess treatment options as they become available from both academic and industry investigators."

SUNY REACH aims to make SUNY a competitive leader in biomedical research that significantly affects the health of New Yorkers. The consortium provides a unique research opportunity by involving campuses that are geographically spread across New York State, and capitalizing on their collective access to urban and rural populations that are racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse. As these latest grants demonstrate, SUNY REACH also leverages the power of the individual SUNY academic health centers to obtain grant funding.

Member campuses of SUNY REACH each contributed approximately $180,000 to fund the consortium. Federal research dollars from the National Science Foundation and NIH at these campuses account for 60 percent of all federal research dollars awarded to SUNY.


Contact: Ron Najman
SUNY Downstate Medical Center

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