Chancellor tours GCHS Clinical Research Unit

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC strategic communications | February 22, 2021

Image with caption: From left, Christopher Kratochvil, MD, executive director of clinical research for the Global Center for Health Security; Maj. Tiffany Welsh, C-STARS deputy director; UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD; and Matthew Lunning, DO, medical director of the Clinical Research Center, cut the ribbon on the center during a ceremony on Feb. 18.

From left, Christopher Kratochvil, MD, executive director of clinical research for the Global Center for Health Security; Maj. Tiffany Welsh, C-STARS deputy director; UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD; and Matthew Lunning, DO, medical director of the Clinical Research Center, cut the ribbon on the center during a ceremony on Feb. 18.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, last week joined a ribbon-cutting ceremony and toured a $1.8 million renovation establishing a new state-of-the-art Global Center for Health Security Clinical Research Unit (CRU) near 40th and Dewey streets. The campus community may know the site as the home of the Lions Eye Clinic, which will continue to occupy some space on the building's first floor.

The CRU, which boasts negative pressure exam rooms, a pharmacy, lab, and, most important, separate "hot" and "cold" zones (more below), gives UNMC and Nebraska Medicine the infrastructure necessary to serve as a host site in a national clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of an investigational COVID-19 vaccine for adults, said Matthew Lunning, DO.

It also allows medical center investigators to conduct crucial clinical research of a new disease in real time.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic drove home the need for clinical research facilities to safely work with participants who are infected with high-consequence pathogens but not requiring admission or are no longer admitted, said Dr. Lunning, medical director of UNMC's Clinical Research Center (CRC) and associate professor in the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine.

That the CRU went from an idea to a first-rate reality in a short time, in the midst of a pandemic, is a triumph of teamwork and dedication. Leadership made it a priority, content experts worked together to ensure it matched needed specifications, and staff stood up a clinic, and a trial, from the ground up.

"It's this kind of effort and trust that can lead to something great that wasn't available just a few months ago," Dr. Lunning said.

The CRU's "hot zone," which includes two negative pressure clinic rooms, safely keeps infections out of the "cold zone" in the manner of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. Separate entrances/exits and a unidirectional flow space also prevent contamination.

The CRU facility and the vaccine study opened almost simultaneously, at the end of 2020. Hundreds have since been enrolled through a group effort between the UNMC Division of Infectious Diseases and CRU staff.

A handful of other clinical research projects also are being conducted thanks in part to the CRU, with more planned.

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Maj. Tiffany Welsh, deputy director of C-STARS, stands in the renovated C-STARS offices.

The renovated facility includes permanent office and administrative space for the Global Center for Health Security (GCHS), the umbrella encompassing biopreparedness, infectious diseases and high-consequence infections research, education and clinical care at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine. The CRU is a GCHS facility.

The renovation also includes offices for C-STARS. The U.S. Air Force has designated UNMC/Nebraska Medicine as one of its four Centers for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills (C-STARS) and the only one dedicated to specialized training for Air Force medical teams managing highly infectious disease threats.

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