NEWS | July 27, 2018

NIH renews UC Davis Health's clinical research work in neurological disorders

Research teams will continue NeuroNEXT initiative for five more years


The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) announced this week that it has renewed  UC Davis Health in Sacramento for another five years as one of just two locations on the West Coast for its NeuroNEXT Network for Excellence in Neuroscience Clinical Trials.

The network, which was launched in 2012 and now has 26 sites around the nation, supports high-quality clinical trials for neurological disorders ranging from brain injury, multiple sclerosis and stroke to movement disorders and neuromuscular diseases. The initiative leverages UC Davis’ major research and clinical care strengths in neurosciences and makes available the latest treatment options for patients in the region.

"This grant renewal enables us to continue the vital patient care we’ve been providing over the years as well as maintain the important collaborations between our clinicians and clinical investigators in neurology, neurosurgery, pediatrics, and physical medicine and rehabilitation," said Craig McDonald, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and principal investigator for the project. "Being a NeuroNEXT site has been a catalyst for advancing neuroscience research excellence. It’s expanded opportunities for new treatment approaches that otherwise might not have occurred.”

As an initiative funded through the National Institutes of Health, NeuroNEXT was launched six years ago to make neuroscience clinical trials more efficient and to help increase the number of treatments available to patients. The program is designed to encourage collaborations between academic centers, disease foundations and industry.

With NeuroNEXT, UC Davis Health has leveraged existing resources and expertise to establish a key research hub for implementing multicenter neuroscience clinical trials. It also has provided local and regional community outreach for improved patient recruitment and retention in clinical trials, and been a leader in helping community partners find better and more effective ways to partner in the translational research efforts.

For example, the renewal continues work at the UC Davis MIND Institute, where investigators are pioneering research in Fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. Co-investigators Randi Hagerman and Leonard Abbeduto are leading a NeuroNEXT trial that uses an innovative design for targeted FXS treatments to determine whether it can improve language learning in very young children (ages 3-6 years).

Under the university’s guidance, the national initiative also was able to take advantage of the University of California’s BRAID Drug Discovery Consortium, which now serves as a core resource for NeuroNEXT and functions as a catalyst for innovative therapeutic development. In addition, over the next five years of the project, UC Davis plans to further utilize innovative telehealth and informatics resources for clinical trials and provide models or research and care for others.

"The road from the research laboratory to the patient bedside is a very long one," McDonald added. “UC Davis’ NeuroNEXT research work continues the NINDS mission to reduce the burden of neurologic diseases and expand the network’s capability of getting promising new therapies to patients with neurological disorders as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

McDonald noted that the other important attribute of the NeuroNEXT mission is in the clinical research training opportunities and supportive academic environment it provides, especially with its emphasis on the development of young, early-career investigators. The new grant funds a NeuroNEXT fellowship, which provides potential young physician investigators with mentorship and dedicated time to gain skills and experience as clinical trial investigators and translational researchers. It provides fellows access to the expertise of successful physician-scientists at UC Davis’ Clinical and Translation Science Center (in the Mentored Clinical Research Training Program) as well as research experts in other departments throughout the health system.

“To discover and develop the best care possible requires the best in training opportunities,” said McDonald. “Being mindful about the next generation of clinical researchers is always crucial for advancing new therapies and, hopefully, potential cures.”

The Sacramento campus location comprises a number of core research and care facilities, including the UC Davis MIND Institute, UC Davis Center for Neuroscience, the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, and the UC Davis Imaging Research Center, as well as the health system's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, which is highly regarded for its research and clinical care support to patients with neuromuscular and neurodevelopmental disorders. The program also benefits from its proximity to UC Davis' Clinical and Translational Science Center, which is part of a national consortium working to transform how American biomedical research is conducted. It, too, is designed to speed the translation of laboratory findings into treatments for patients.