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A new, free statewide initiative will help researchers and corporations thrive in neuroscience


By Leha Byrd
University Public Affairs

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Both Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health are part of a new, statewide consortium designed to make it easier for neuroscience researchers to investigate, discover, and collaborate in the field — free of charge. The Virginia Neuroscience Initiative includes seven academic institutions and five major medical centers that specialize in neurological or neuroscience based research, and can offer their research prowess to doctors, other institutions, biotechnology companies and clinical research organizations.

With funding from the Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation, each institution can potentially facilitate clinical trials, conduct research for doctors or provide other means of support. In addition to VCU and VCU Health, the University of Virginia and its health system, Sentara Health Care Norfolk, Carilion Clinic Roanoke, Inova Hospital Fairfax, Eastern Virginia Medical School, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, William and Mary, and Virginia Tech are part of the initiative.

Randall Merchant, Ph.D., VCU professor of anatomy and neurobiology, neurosurgery, and physical medicine and rehabilitation, is the VNI project manager. The level of collaboration the initiative offers is a big step in furthering the field of neuroscience, by combining the expertise and resources of universities and medical centers, he said.

“These collaborations will lead to a better understanding of how to treat neurological disorders or discovering how a neurological illness might happen or progress,” Merchant said. “Our job is to make that research easier to do by our scientists and physicians here in Virginia.”

The VNI has created a Clinical Trials Network involving the five largest medical centers in the state and a Neurological Disorders Registry that lists nearly 500,000 individuals diagnosed with one or more neurological conditions. The HIPAA-compliant registry includes each patient’s complete medical record, and can be used to quickly identify and recruit patients who meet the specific eligibility criteria for an Institutional Review Board-approved study. This is just one of the ways the VNI looks to be inclusive and inviting of all levels and scopes of research.

“The VNI facilitates clinical, translational, and basic research in neurological disorders, and provides economic opportunities and benefits for the commonwealth,” Merchant said.

Raymond Colello, Ph.D., VCU associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, is the initiative’s principal investigator at VCU. Since March, he has been encouraging the VCU faculty and clinicians to visit the VNI website and join the Neuroscience Registry in an effort to boost new collaborations.

The initiative is a purposeful channel between scientists, physicians and pharmaceutical companies for the good of neuroscience, he said.  

“Our goal is to ensure that federal and private sources of research funding, as well as the pharmaceutical industry, and clinical research organizations, are made aware of the many assets, scientific and clinical expertise, and databases, that are available in the Commonwealth to undertake meaningful research in the neurosciences and neurological disorders,” Merchant said. “Through the VNI and the strength of our collaborative efforts, Virginia will be known as the place to conduct neuroscience and neurological research.”


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