Vermont rural landscape photo (Adobe Stock)
Vermont and Maine have the oldest populations in the U.S., which coupled with rurality, predisposes northern New Englanders to health challenges including cancer, substance use disorders, food insecurity, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Thanks to a $20 million-dollar renewal grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), residents in Vermont and Maine – and particularly the elderly, New American and Indigenous populations – will receive greater support to address chronic and life-threatening diseases.
Established five years ago, the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network (NNE-CTR) focuses on providing researchers in rural communities with the tools they need to develop and implement innovative medical treatments for chronic diseases. Since then, members of the NNE-CTR from the University of Vermont (UVM), MaineHealth Institute for Research (MHIR), and the University of Southern Maine have built a strong foundation for conducting clinical research, and by linking primary care practice centers with academic centers, have been able to develop innovative approaches to conducting community-based research.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic became a threat to health throughout the region, the NNE-CTR also supported the NIH-funded RECOVER study of long COVID, a study of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, as well as the National COVID Cohort Collaborative registry that shares clinical data as a part of national COVID research.
“The NNE-CTR has exceeded expectations,” said Gary Stein, Ph.D., NNE-CTR principle investigator and UVM chair of biochemistry. “We are optimistic that this grant will provide the resources necessary to make chronic and life-threatening diseases preventable and curable. The program will capture immense opportunities available through the emerging power of precision/genomic medicine, and coupled with our important partnership with the Vermont Department of Health, we are poised to meet the obligation of responding to disparities encountered by our underserved populations.”
Clifford Rosen, M.D., Stein’s collaborator and NNE-CTR principle investigator and director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research at MaineHealth, said, “In just a few years, we are seeing the impact that access to clinical research has on rural communities. This new grant will help us build on this success and do more to address health equity and disparities encountered by at-risk populations.”
This new funding will both expand the transformative work of the NNE-CTR and reinforce the network’s capacity to provide essential guidance and support for health and healthcare as the region emerges from the pandemic. In addition, the program aims to restore the momentum for prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivorship with chronic disease. The funding will also allow the NNE-CTR to invest in new pilot programs to develop innovative disease treatments, community engagement throughout Northern New England, and improved data collection and research navigation capabilities. The NNE-CTR also aims to ensure that the research reflects Northern New England’s race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, and socioeconomic diversity.
“The Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network provides outstanding support of our College priority to conduct biomedical investigation that addresses health and healthcare capacity and capabilities in our community and beyond,” said Richard L. Page, M.D., dean of UVM’s Larner College of Medicine.
Other benefits of the new funding include support for providing “training and mentorship for primary care physicians to develop partnerships with colleagues in academic medical centers to establish and sustain programs required for health and healthcare in northern New England,” said UVM Professor of Medicine Renee Stapleton, M.D., Ph.D., who serves as the UVM translational research coordinator for the NNE-CTR.
In addition to Stein, Rosen, and Stapleton, key leaders on the project include Thomas Gridley, Ph.D., senior faculty scientist at MHIR and associate director of the MaineHealth Center for Clinical & Translational Research, who will serve as the MaineHealth program coordinator. Other UVM members of the NNE-CTR are leading cores focused on the following areas: Community Outreach and Engagement; Translational Research and Technology; Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design; Professional Development; and Tracking and Evaluation, as well as the Pilot Projects Program.
“Our state’s diverse population and geography require a commitment of will and resources to ensure health equity is not just a priority, but is established as the foundation for public health in Vermont,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, M.D. “This substantial grant will help provide the resources needed for the work to reduce health disparities in our rural and urban areas. We look forward to continued work with NNE-CTR and community partners to protect and promote the health of all Vermonters.”
Learn more about the UVM NNE-CTR