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New clinical research unit shows ‘forward thinking’

By combining cutting-edge technology with disease-specific populations, the Duke Clinical Research Unit may provide a novel basis for understanding and treating medical illnesses.

The DCRU is an early phase research unit located in Duke Hospital South. Research at the center began in December and the official ribbon cutting ceremony was held earlier this month.

“It’s a marvelous, forward thinking opportunity that the Board of Trustees allowed us to be able to build this unit so the faculty can level it to the benefit of their patients that they see every day in the clinics,” said Dr. Barry Mangum, director of clinical pharmacology for DCRU.

In either March or April, the unit will launch a clinical trial in which volunteers will inhale dihydroergotamine, a drug designed to alleviate migraines, said DCRU Medical Director Dr. Robert Noveck. The drug is currently only administered intravenously.

Currently, the unit is pursuing research on a new class of anti-diabetic drugs, pediatric seizures and adolescent asthmatics, Dr. Noveck said. The unit is also seeking to match aspirin doses to individual phenotype and provide treatment that desensitizes people with peanut allergies.

DCRU, which collaborates with pharmaceutical companies, is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s $53 million Clinical Translational Science Award and approximately five million dollars from the medical school, said Dr. Mangum.

The CTSA award was granted in 2006, and the grant must be renewed for DCRU to continue to receive funding in 2011. Duke was one of the first five centers to receive the award, and of those five, it received the highest score in the CTSA’s evaluation process, DCRU Program Director Dr. John McHutchison said.

The unit totals 17000 square feet and is home to 30 new beds. There is a pediatric unit on the second floor and an adult unit on the third floor, Dr. Noveck said. About 40 employees work in both units, Dr. McHutchison said. The center is an expanded replacement of Duke’s General Clinical Research Center, another program NIH started in the late 1960s to bring research centers to academic medical research institutions, Dr. Noveck said.

“GCRC had over time developed a number of rules and regulations that almost prevented the entry of clinical research into Duke,” Dr. Mangum said.

DCRU is also partnering with Medanta, a global translational research facility in India, and a research unit in Singapore. Dr. Noveck said it is important to understand how people in different cultures respond to drugs. He added that this international collaboration is an educational opportunity for all parties involved.

“It’s very exciting—we’ve got an opportunity to really approach clinical trials in a different way and try to improve the process of understanding how drugs work,” Dr. McHutchison said.

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