The National Institutes of Health (NIH) award of two grants totaling more than $4.3 million highlight SUNY REACH as a model for collaborative research success at SUNY. These grants will support neuroscience and pediatric pharmacology and vision research.
SUNY REACH (Research Excellence in Academic Health) is a phased investment in the people, core facilities, and information technology. SUNY REACH brings SUNY Upstate Medical University, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Stony Brook University, the University at Buffalo and the College of Optometry together to form one super research institution. While the campuses are all part of the SUNY system already, SUNY REACH is helping those partners make much more tangible connections.
“Building on SUNY’s strengths in four research areas — 1) cancer, 2) diabetes and cardiovascular disease, 3) disorders of the nervous system, and 4) infectious disease and emerging pathogens — SUNY REACH aims to get hard-to-do but valuable research projects going, to attract funding, and to benefit the people of New York,” says Steve Goodman, director of SUNY REACH and vice president of research at Upstate.
Early efforts focused on bringing researchers together -- physically or virtually in the same room – and brainstorming how they could combine their efforts to answer bigger questions. The initial funding was contributed by the five campus presidents and the Research Foundation. The initial funding allowed investigators at the campuses to hold conferences, carry out pilot studies and buy videoconferencing equipment with the idea that by increasing cross-talk and brainstorming sessions, SUNY REACH could truly achieve more than the sum of its parts.
“The most important thing here is that the presidents of the SUNY academic health centers, the Research Foundation and the College of Optometry put seed money into their vision,” says Sharon Nachman, the associate dean for research at Stony Brook University and head of the SUNY REACH Focus Group on Clinical and Translational Research. “This is all the SUNYs on the same page pulling their resources together.”
The initial $1.1 million investment in SUNY REACH has already paid off. “We have received over $8 million in extramural grants in just two years,” said Dr. Goodman. “That’s a current return of $8 for every dollar invested with more to come from this initial investment.” Most recently, the National Institutes of Health have awarded two large grants to SUNY researchers to investigate new medical treatments.
The first award is a $3.7 million grant to support research on retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that affects the tiny blood vessels in the eyes of premature babies. “It is the most common cause of blindness in children,” says Jacob Aranda, professor and director of neonatalogy at SUNY Downstate and is principal investigator on the grant. Projects will include basic research on the molecular events that occur and clinical interventions, and will integrate the complementary strengths of the SUNY campuses involved.
The second award is a $650,000 grant to create the infrastructure to be able to run clinical trials on new treatments for neurological diseases more nimbly. “It creates a pipeline for rapidly and effectively testing new treatments in phase 2 trials, after phase 1 safety trials have be done,” says Steven Levine, vice-chair of neurology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. The clinical trials network covers any neurologic disease, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
Research efforts resulting from SUNY REACH are tapping into new strengths that come from interdisciplinary collaborations. “But the primary thing is that it says we are one university,” Goodman says.
The RF and SUNY are exploring ways to build on the success of SUNY by supporting more multi-campus research collaborations.