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[October 6, 2011]                                                  



Chancellor Zimpher Announces $4.3 Million Grants for SUNY Research in Neuroscience, Pediatric Pharmacology & Vision:

National Institutes of Health Grants Support SUNY REACH, A Collaborative Research Consortium of SUNY’s Five Academic Health Campuses; Research Will Focus on Preventing Blindness in Infants, Enhancing Infrastructure for Clinical Trials on Neurological Conditions

For Immediate Release: Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011
Contact: Morgan Hook; morgan.hook@suny.edu; 518-320-1311

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher today announced that SUNY 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.

“These grants provide an outstanding example of SUNY campuses working together to produce ground-breaking advances in research and medicine, generating new technologies, and ultimately, jobs, for New York State,” said Chancellor Zimpher. “The power of SUNY soars in the collaborative efforts and impacts of SUNY REACH.”

John C. LaRosa, MD, president of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, said, “These grants extend Downstate’s strong research presence in these fields. They also demonstrate that an investment in SUNY REACH can yield strong returns.” The lead researchers on both grants will be headquartered at SUNY Downstate.

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

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.

“It is heartening to see the potential of SUNY REACH and the SUNY Eye Institute to act as catalysts for strategic collaboration begin to yield positive results for our faculty and for the University as evidenced by these awards,” said David. A. Heath, OD, EdM, president of the SUNY College of Optometry.

“The power of SUNY is our ability to connect researchers from Buffalo to Long Island so that New York and beyond can benefit from the advancements and breakthroughs we make in medical science,” said David R Smith, MD, president of SUNY Upstate Medical University. “We are seeing the rewards of SUNY REACH in this significant funding by the National Institutes of Health."

“The University at Buffalo is proud to be partnering with other SUNY institutions in developing interventions against the leading cause of blindness in children and in developing the Clinical Trials Network in neurology,” said Michael E. Cain, MD, UB vice president for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “This success of the SUNY REACH initiative has proven the power of the SUNY system in biomedical research.”

“We are pleased to be a part of SUNY REACH to advance biomedical research within the SUNY academic health centers, says Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, senior vice president of the health sciences, and dean of the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University. "The influx of this NIH funding will involve our research and clinical experts in the neurosciences and pediatrics. Stony Brook's expertise in basic, translational, and clinical research in these areas will help to maximize the goal of the collaborative SUNY network to lead in the development of promising treatments and clinical trials."

“SUNY REACH is the platform on which research collaborations between the SUNY Academic Health Centers and College of Optometry faculty have been built,” said SUNY REACH Director Steven Goodman, who also serves as vice president for research at SUNY Upstate Medical University. "Thus far these collaborations have been in the focus areas of neuroscience, vision research, and clinical and translational research. With these two new NIH awards to Dr. Levine and Dr. Aranda added to previous funding awarded to Dr. Jian Feng (SUNY Buffalo), SUNY REACH collaborators have led to approximately $8 million in research funding in two years. This funding within the three focus areas will result in research that will directly affect the health and well being of the people of New York State, the US and the global population.”

Preventing Blindness in Infants

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 and director of neonatology 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.”

Dr. Aranda’s study is closely aligned with the SUNY Eye Institute, which is part of SUNY REACH. By integrating the complementary strengths of the SUNY academic health centers and the College of Optometry, more than 350,000 patients -- representing a cross section of all of New York State -- benefit from translational research on eye diseases.

Enhancing Infrastructure for Clinical Trials on Neurological Conditions

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 of clinical research 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.”

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive university system in the United States, educating more than 467,000 students in more than 7,500 degree and certificate programs on 64 campuses with nearly 3 million alumni around the globe. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit www.suny.edu 

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