The National Institutes of Health created a national network earlier this month to streamline the research and treatment of strokes, one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and the University of Michigan Health System will play a prominent role in its implementation and administration.

The NIH Stroke Trials Network, referred to as StrokeNet, encompasses 25 regional networks, including nine hospitals in the state of Michigan. Michigan StrokeNet will be coordinated by UMHS, led by two co-principal investigators: Neurology Prof. Devin Brown and Emergency Medicine Prof. Phillip Scott.

Scott said a network to standardize stroke clinical trials is overdue, since research teams in the past were often disbanded every time a clinical trial was complete.

“Every time we have a drug come out, we have to rebuild a clinical network — a group of hospitals, investigators, clinicians, researchers,” Scott said. “Trials can last anywhere from two to five years on average. After that, the results are published, but the network falls apart, and waits for the next drug to come out. The broad picture is to streamline that process so that we don’t have to rebuild the wheel every time we want to do a trial.”

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing brain cells in the area to die due to lack of oxygen. Strokes are the the fourth largest cause of death and leading cause of disability in the United States. StrokeNet has set out to improve stroke care through research in three main categories: acute treatment, prevention and rehabilitation.

As the leader of Michigan’s StrokeNet, UMHS will be responsible for the conduct of clinical trials at all of the StrokeNet sites in the state.

Brown and Scott have worked together for over a decade and they will work side by side to manage the network. Even so, their research concentrations will differ slightly. While Scott will focus on the acute treatment or emergency phase of stroke care, Brown will focus on prevention.

Brown will also be responsible for educating future researchers. StrokeNet hospitals will be provided funding to create fellowships that will prepare younger doctors for a future in clinical trials related to strokes. With these fellowships, UMHS hopes to attract residents and fellows not only from within the University, but from around the country.

“We are actually leading the next generation, hopefully not having to make them redo what we spent 20 years doing.” Scott said. “Not only speeding the process of clinical trials for patients, but speeding the process of clinician scientist development. ”

Scott said StrokeNet is innovative because it is the first stroke network that will focus on Phase III clinical trials. Phase III trials often include a thousand or more patients and decide conclusively whether the new treatment is a success or a failure.

The NIH already has a network for Phase I and Phase II clinical trials, which it set up roughly a decade ago. These types of trials ensure the safety and efficacy of new stroke drugs, but include a relatively small number of human patients. The network is called Spotrias and has 10 regional centers that perform early clinical trials.

With StrokeNet, more Phase III trials will be performed with hope that a larger number of stroke treatments will become widely available to patients.

In the future, Scott said he hopes to see stroke clinical trials mirror the success cancer clinical trials have shown in recent years.

“My personal vision that I would love to see is every stroke patient everywhere having the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial to help advance the science, and reduce disability and mortality of stroke in their children and their children’s children,” Scott said.

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