By Brian Whepley
The mission of the Center for Clinical Research, located on the campus of KU School of Medicine-Wichita, is straightforward: increase the number and variety of clinical trials offered in Wichita so more Kansans can receive cutting-edge medical care.
"We truly want to be a center where patients come from all over the region to get care. One part of that is bringing new therapies to our patients through clinical trials," said Tiffany Schwasinger-Schmidt, M.D., Ph.D., an internist who recently became the director for the center.
"By increasing awareness that the center has options for patients to participate in research and working with physicians across the region, we can bring this care to all Kansans," she said.
The center partners with pharmaceutical companies and the National Institute of Health to study and develop new treatment options in numerous areas of medicine. Researchers include both medical school faculty and community physicians interested in conducting research. Additionally, cross-campus partnerships with investigators in Kansas City have become a focus to better serve patients across the state.
KU Wichita Center for Clinical Research is currently conducting trials in a broad range of medical disciplines, including treatment-resistant depression in adults, adolescent depression, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, personality disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), muscular dystrophy, pediatric and adult vaccines, pediatric constipation and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The center helps investigators navigate regulatory and institutional review board issues, mentors those new to research and shares its expertise with the community.
"We not only conduct studies through our center, but also support any investigator who is interested in doing clinical trials and bringing that care to their patients," Schwasinger-Schmidt said.
Administratively, the center has had several homes, but two years ago when looking at ways to build on the Wichita campus' research strengths, it was brought into the Office of Research. K. James Kallail, Ph.D., associate dean of research, notes there's a three-decade history of successful clinical trials on the Wichita campus, particularly involving psychiatric medications.
"For over 30 years, every major medication to treat depression has been tested in Wichita," Kallail said.
Internal medicine and its various subspecialties are a rich area to expand research, especially with Wichita-based doctors who draw patients from the surrounding area and across large parts of Kansas. Schwasinger-Schmidt has interests in neurology and Alzheimer's disease and sees patients at KU Wichita Internal Medicine Faculty Clinic and as a KU hospitalist, which allows her to serve as a bridge for patient care and research.
Pediatrics is another area where the center is working to expand. Outside of rare illnesses such as cystic fibrosis and pediatric cancers where the majority of care is derived from clinical trials, "there have been few available options for children in this region," said Natalie Sollo, M.D., a pediatrician and associate professor who is doing two clinical trials with the center.
One trial Sollo is working on is a phase 3 study of linaclotide, used to combat constipation in adults that currently has a "black box" warning against prescribing to children because of dehydration risks. With few therapies to combat constipation in kids, the study intends to determine if linaclotide can be safely used. A second trial involving a meningitis vaccine is underway that is intended to determine whether it is "safe when given with other routine children's vaccines."
To Sollo, KU Wichita Center for Clinical Research is valuable because of the support and expertise it provides faculty and community researchers. With research protocols, "you have to do it exactly the same way every time. It requires people who have an attention to detail so that you have results that mean something. There's a lot of infrastructure that's necessary, which is a key aspect that the center offers to investigators."
Expanding the center's scope, abilities and collaborations are all in service of providing the best medical care to Kansans. This mission dovetails with the medical school's mission of education and outreach into rural Kansas and other underserved communities.
"What's exciting is that we can bring new cutting-edge therapies to Wichita. It's good for the community and it's good for the patients," Kallail said. "Without the center, we'd be watching this happen instead of making this happen."
To learn more about KU Wichita Center for Clinical Research and see available studies, visit the Center for Clinical Research website.