MaineHealth and Partnering Institutions Awarded 20 Million Grant by the NIH

August 2022

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced a five-year, $20 million research grant to the MaineHealth Institute for Research (MHIR) and its partnering institutions, the University of Vermont and the University of Southern Maine, to expand the transformative work of the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network (NNE-CTR) in improving community health through biomedical research in rural New England.

The NNE-CTR was established five years ago to give researchers in rural communities the tools they need to develop and implement innovative medical treatments for chronic diseases common in Northern New England such as cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and substance use disorder. Principal Investigators Cliff Rosen, MD, Director of the NNE-Center for Clinical and Translational Research at MHIR, and Gary Stein, PhD, Chair of the Department of Biochemistry at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, established a set of research cores to support clinical and translational research in Northern New England, with one focus being the engagement of rural providers and practices in research. Some of the pilot projects that researchers developed, such as using telemedicine to quickly identify newborns at rural hospitals who need treatment with therapeutic hypothermia, have now become standards of care in Maine.

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.

“In just a few years, we are seeing the impact that access to clinical research has on rural communities,” Dr. Rosen said. “This new grant will help us build on this success and do more to address health equity and disparities encountered by at-risk populations.”

Funding from the new grant will allow the NNE-CTR to invest in professional development for young researchers, 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 is focused on ensuring that the research reflects Northern New England’s diversity in race, gender and socioeconomics.

“The MaineHealth Institute for Research is invested in improving the health of all members of our community,” said Liz Jacobs, MD, MPP, Vice President for Research at MaineHealth. “We appreciate that the NIH recognizes the importance of engaging our rural and at-risk populations as we search for treatments to chronic disease in our region.”

Maine’s Congressional delegation has shown strong support for the NNE-CTR and biomedical research in the state.

“We welcome this funding, which will help spur the advancement of treatments, means of prevention, and cures for diseases that affect nearly every American family as well as improve the delivery of health care in rural communities. The establishment of this consortium five years ago has already yielded a number of benefits for Maine patients, and its continuation is a true credit to the skilled scientists at the MaineHealth Institute for Research and its partnering institutions, including the University of Southern Maine,” said Senators Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement. “By helping to foster collaboration among researchers and implement innovative medical treatments, this investment will help us conquer so many diseases that take both an emotional and financial toll.”