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Children's Clinical Research Center officially opens with remarks, open house celebration

June 13, 2013

Eighteen months ago, Jeff Waibel was racing by night from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis to join his newborn daughter, Tillie, who had been airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

Tillie’s mother, Margo, had just undergone an emergency C-section, and Tillie had required nine minutes of emergency resuscitation. Jeff was contacted en route to the hospital to learn the IU School of Medicine was conducting a clinical trial to help newborns deprived of oxygen during delivery.

Now, children such as Tillie, whose prognosis is strong, as well as the 6,500 other children currently participating in pediatric clinical trials at the IU School of Medicine, have a new place they can go for the trials or return checkups. The Children’s Clinical Research Center, an $8.5 million, 18,500-square-foot facility designed to support pediatrics clinical research at IU, celebrated a grand opening May 31 with an open house and ceremony.

“This center is vitally important to children’s care at the IU School of Medicine,” said D. Craig Brater, M.D., dean of the IU School of Medicine and vice president for university clinical affairs at IU. “Really, it’s been 20 years in the making, and it’s important to the School of Medicine as well as symbolic of the progress we’re all trying to make in our research.”

The standard form of treatment used on babies such as Tillie, pioneered at IU in collaboration with several other pediatric research centers across the country, involves cooling a baby’s body to 33.5 degrees Celsius, or 92.3 degrees Fahrenheit, to prevent brain damage following oxygen deprivation. Tillie’s treatment, which involved being cooled to 32 degrees Celsius, or 89.6 Fahrenheit, to learn whether lower temperatures result in greater protection, was overseen by Brenda Poindexter, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine.

“It was a terrifying time for us,” Jeff said, recalling that late-night drive to the city. “But today she’s happy and healthy. She’s hit all her milestones -- she’s done everything she should at the right age -- so we’re very hopeful.”

Funding for the new clinical research center, obtained through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was announced in May 2010 by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins during a visit to the IU School of Medicine. They also toured the space for the center, the previous home of the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research, which has since moved to the Cancer Research Building on Walnut Avenue on the IUPUI campus.

“The goal of all us who care for children is to constantly improve care, and the way we do that is with clinical trials, and we’ve had thousands of children participate,” said Scott Denne, M.D., director of the center and professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine. “This place will now make it so much easier for them and make it possible to have so many more clinical trials to improve therapies for all children in Indiana and beyond.”

The center will especially benefit the 6 percent of children in Indiana who experience chronic health care conditions, added Wade Clapp, M.D., chair and Richard L. Schreiner Professor of Pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine. “Only 15 to 20 places in the United States have sufficient research infrastructure to do meaningful research for these children -- research that actually brings things forward to new therapies,” he said.

Also speaking to the significance of the center was Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for translational research at the IU School of Medicine and director of the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, which administers clinical research space at IU and Purdue University.

“This is a great moment for children’s research,” he said. “I look forward to watching this center carry out its mission by creating new methodologies and new discoveries to enhance children’s research.”

An Indiana CTSI-managed lab that processes clinical research samples from across the university will also relocate to the new center from University Hospital at IU Health.

Among the research cited in the speaker's remarks was a trial to optimize drug treatments for children with cancer conducted by Jamie Renbarger, M.D., Nora Letzter Scholar in Pediatrics and associate professor of pediatrics, medicine and OB-GYN, whose lab will be in the new space.

"There are a lot of great things about this space,” said Dr. Renbarger, whose clinical research also involves collaborative investigations into juvenile idiopathic arthritis, cystic fibrosis, bone marrow transplants and “chemo brain” in children with leukemia. “I’m so much closer to the families I treat and who enroll in my trials, many who are very uncomfortable traveling outside Riley to be in a study. Our being here will make a huge difference.”

Dr. Renbarger also pointed out that the center brings together many researchers from different fields working on clinical and translational research in children, including Kirsten Kloepfer, M.D., a visiting clinical professor of pediatrics; Kathleen O'Neil, M.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics; and Mark Rigby, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics.

“I think we will really benefit from being around each other more and having an opportunity to do more collaborative work,” Dr. Renbarger said.

Other children and families who joined the Waibels to celebrate the center’s opening were Zac Archibald of Hancock County, son of Anita and Don Archibald, who participated in a drug trial for children with hepatitis C; Bailey Scahill of Indianapolis, daughter of Samantha and Mike Scahill, who helped pioneer the use of insulin pumps in toddlers; and Cameron and Andrew Hudson of Indianapolis, sons of Brenda Hudson, who participated in an autism drug trial.

“Of everyone here, I most want to thank the children and parents who participate in clinical trials and help improve care for all children,” Dr. Denne said. “This place is a dream come true for all of us.”

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