New research center brings more clinical trials to Rutgers

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Clinical research is essential to preventing and treating diseases, but barriers such as cost, staff and space can create challenges to investigators. 

Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s newly opened Adult Clinical Research Center (CRC) is working to make research more accessible to investigators and convenient for participants, paving the way for increased clinical trials at the university.

The 11,000-square-foot-plus center, adjacent to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, replaces the previous center, which had operated on the hospital’s third floor for 16 years, and sets the stage for growth. Currently, there are 36 active and 20 pending trials with participants who come from as far away as Boston.

“Over the past two years, the number of studies has already doubled. With our increased capabilities, we expect to experience continued growth, doubling the number of studies within three years,” said Sunanda Gaur, CRC director. “The center is available to researchers throughout Rutgers. We are also open to supporting outside investigators.”

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The dedicated space makes scheduling tests more convenient for trial participants. In CRCs located within a hospital, investigators are subject to the hospital’s schedule: A delay in hospital patient appointments could push back the appointment times for clinical trial participants.

“While hospitals embrace research, they understandably focus on patient care first. Researchers and clinical trial participants are often last in line to use the hospital’s equipment,” said Reynold Panettieri, vice chancellor for Translational Medicine and Science and director of Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science. “The new CRC takes scheduling out of the equation by providing sophisticated equipment that the investigator can use when convenient for the participants. Having a dedicated space also better serves our trial sponsors — and attracts new sponsors — by assuring a certain level of quality.”

Comfort for trial participants is a priority for Vivien Hsu, a rheumatologist at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School who studies autoimmune diseases and scleroderma, a connective tissue disease.

“Our patients come to us because we can provide more than the standard of care for many of these diseases that currently have no cure — as we work together to advance our medical knowledge,” she said. “The new CRC is a well-designed, efficient space with equipment all on one floor. The rooms are comfortable, with beautiful, sunlit views.”

Monique Castro of Toms River has been involved in Hsu’s studies since 2013 and appreciates the ease the new center brings to her as a study participant. “Being close to — but not in — the hospital makes the center feel like its own entity. It’s more private and since it’s on one floor, I do not have to walk down stairs for different treatments,” she said. “It makes participating in trials much easier.”

The CRC allows investigators to share resources — such as research-trained nursing coordinators and staff, administrative services and space — which keeps costs lower than if they had to supply these functions on their own. It has four examination rooms, four long-stay rooms, two infusion rooms, a phlebotomy station and offices. It also includes a pulmonary function lab, which measures how well patients’ lungs take in and exhale air and how efficiently they transfer oxygen into the blood, and an investigational drug pharmacy, which stores maintains, prepares and dispenses investigational products according to strict guidelines, assuring confidentiality and study integrity.

“Although many academic medical centers have similar facilities, most are not as extensive and have features like the research pharmacy or pulmonary function lab,” Panettieri said.

The Adult Clinical Research Center is one of five research units at Rutgers, which is the lead academic partner for the New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science. The other adult units are based at Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health, New Jersey Medical School and School of Dental Medicine; the Pediatric Clinical Research Unit at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is one of very few in the nation devoted exclusively to pediatric clinical investigation.

 

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