NIH Awards $20M to UVM and Maine Medical Center To Address Rural Health Challenges

July 13, 2017 by Jennifer Nachbur

Clockwise from top left: Gordon Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., Gary Stein, Ph.D., Frances Carr, Ph.D., Bernard Cole, Ph.D., Kim Luebbers, M.S.H.S., R.N., Jan Carney, M.D., M.P.H., Jane Lian, Ph.D.

Federally-funded Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network will engage academic medical centers and primary care networks across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The Northern New England population will be the beneficiary of a new partnership between academic medical centers and primary care practices in rural communities, which will focus on health problems endemic to the region, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, as well as the unique challenges of effective rural health care delivery.
A five-year, $20 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Research (CTR) Network grant will fund a joint program between the University of Vermont (UVM) and Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine to develop and sustain a clinical and translational research infrastructure improving rural and community health for residents of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The grant, awarded through the federally-funded IDeA program, enhances research efforts in states where NIH funding levels have traditionally been lower and rural and medically-underserved communities are a priority.
The program will be collaboratively led by principal investigators Gary Stein, Ph.D., UVM Cancer Center director and Department of Biochemistry chair, and Clifford Rosen, M.D., director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research at Maine Medical Center Research Institute. UVM Larner College of Medicine Senior Associate Dean for Research Gordon Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., and Thomas Gridley, Ph.D., interim director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at Maine Medical Center Research Institute, will serve as the grant’s program coordinators.
According to Jensen, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine have a similar geographic distribution of patients. This will allow participating primary care physicians to work in partnership with academic medical centers to carry out the program’s research initiatives and to meet the needs and challenges throughout the northern New England region.
As a cancer center director, Stein emphasizes the capabilities of the network’s six program components to address the underlying causes of the region’s greatest health threats from multiple perspectives using a rich variety of expertise and collaborative resources and to make related diseases preventable and treatable. 
“This grant will allow us to investigate the most effective ways to address shared health care issues,” said Stein. “The program will derive great benefit from maximally engaging the breadth of expertise we have at the University in concert with our primary care partners.”
UVM faculty will co-lead five of the six program areas with faculty from Maine Medical Center. Jan Carney, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for public health, will co-lead Rural Health Research and Delivery; Frances Carr, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, will co-lead Translational Research Technologies; Bernard Cole, Ph.D., professor of mathematics and statistics, will co-lead Clinical Research Design, Epidemiology; Jane Lian, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, will co-lead the Pilot Projects Program; and Kim Luebbers, M.S.H.S., R.N., assistant dean for clinical research, will co-lead Professional Development, Clinical Research Design, Epidemiology. The Tracking and Evaluation program will be led by faculty from the University of Southern Maine.
“This $20 million grant reinforces confidence in the tremendous resource that is provided by the University—not just in education, but in promoting and protecting the overall health and well-being of our citizens,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “Collaborations with the Department of Health will leverage these capabilities to make a difference for Vermonters wherever they live.”