Patients will see direct benefits from a new agreement connecting physicians with university researchers in northern Colorado.
Joint research at Colorado State University, Poudre Valley Hospital and the Medical Center of the Rockies already has spawned development of several medical improvements, including a new arterial stent that helps prevent blood clotting and a hernia patch that fights infection.
Now, as part of a newly signed memorandum of understanding, the organizations have agreed to combine resources and personnel to bring CSU research to patients faster and more efficiently. The entities will collaborate in several areas, including clinical trials, funding opportunities, technology transfer, employee education/training and marketing.
“We’re translating academic research into real-world solutions,” said Melissa Reynolds, an associate professor of chemistry at CSU who is collaborating with local physicians on products that promote healing. “We get to have discussions about what the actual needs are at the clinical level. And that’s a value that can’t be replaced by anything else.”
Dr. Gary Luckasen, medical director of research at the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland and a CSU alumnus, added that the agreement promotes new partnerships between CSU and the two hospitals’ parent organization, University of Colorado Health.
Luckasen said that the organizations need each other: The hospitals rely on the research that is done at CSU, whether it be with animals or in a chemistry lab, and CSU requires access to the doctors and human patients who will use the products and treatments that emerge from the research.
More funding opportunities
Reynolds said the agreement improves the entities’ chances of landing research grants, since funding agencies look more favorably on existing collaborations than proposals for creating new partnerships from scratch. Having to draw new agreements and non-disclosure arrangements for each collaborative project creates delays, she said, so the partnership also streamlines and speeds the process for launching and funding new initiatives.
“It really breaks down a lot of barriers to interdisciplinary and translational research,” Reynolds said. “When you bring this group together, you break down the obstacles and merge the academics with the clinical side. It benefits students, too, because they’ll have access to the end users of what their research is focused on.”
She added that too often research ends at the academic level because there is no connection to real-world applications and manufacturing. The new agreement allows CSU faculty to work alongside doctors and understand their needs while developing realistic solutions that will be cost-effective in the marketplace.
“Does the chemistry and engineering get us all the way to the bedside?” Reynolds asked. “If it costs the consumer 100 times more, that isn’t going to happen.”
Dr. Julie Dunn, medical director of trauma research and education at the Medical Center of the Rockies, started collaborating with Reynolds after the two met in August 2012. They were at a gathering organized by CSU Professor Stuart Tobet, director of the School of Biomedical Engineering, to discuss unmet medical needs and ways that CSU researchers might help meet those needs. It was also at that meeting where Dunn met Jennifer Mueller, a professor of mathematics and biomedical engineering at CSU. Together, they are now studying the effectiveness of a new non-invasive method of monitoring lung function in real time using electrical impulses measured on the skin, without the need for radiation and dye. They are conducting a study on the technology, called electrical impedance tomography, in the intensive care unit at MCR.
The agreement will give the hospitals and CSU access to each other’s clinical trials, and hospital physicians will be able to act as co-investigators for sponsored research at the university.
The initial areas targeted for research are cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, diabetes and metabolic disease, neuroscience, sports medicine, and women’s health issues
The entities also will engage in joint marketing, business development and research funding opportunities.
The agreement also calls for improving and increasing funding and peer-reviewed publications by sharing “complementary knowledge, skill sets, laboratories, equipment and other applicable resources” as well as providing joint seminar/lecture opportunities or even an annual research symposium.
Under a separate agreement, CSU’s tech transfer and commercialization entity CSU Ventures will provide service, training and assistance to the hospitals.
Kevin Unger, president and CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies, said the agreement is a step forward in the progression of a long-standing relationship between the hospitals and university.
“Northern Colorado and, for that matter, the nation have greatly benefited from research projects that we and CSU have done together over the years,” he said. “Our fruitful collaboration has enhanced the quality of care for our patients while helping CSU continue to be successful with its research.”
“CSU has a longstanding commitment — crossing many disciplines and academic colleges — to transformational research that advances our understanding of human health and well-being,” said CSU President Tony Frank. “This agreement builds on that strength, laying the groundwork for important advances in treatment and patient care. We’re proud of what we’ll be able to achieve and grateful to Kevin Unger for his willingness to explore new ways for us to work together to serve our community.”