Growing UNMC research network expands opportunities for rural research collaboration

Matthew Rizzo, MD

Matthew Rizzo, MD

The Great Plains Primary Care Practice-Based Research Network (PBRN), a collaboration between clinicians and researchers across the region, was developed to expand research into rural and medically-underserved populations.  

Led by the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Matthew Rizzo, MD, Jeffrey Harrison, MD, Paul Estabrooks, PhD, others, the group looks to expand the network, which was launched in 2016 to improve access to health care resources and promote primary care research across the region.

“We are working to improve and strengthen the network to build connections for doing translational research in communities,” said Dr. Rizzo, who serves as the Frances & Edgar Reynolds Chair and professor in UNMC’s Department of Neurological Sciences. “Clinical research is typically done at large academic health science centers, which is part of our mission, but we want to include more physicians in the community where most of the population is getting most of their care, most of the time.” 

He said collaboration provides an opportunity to expand knowledge of health issues in the community, for example Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, drug and alcohol misuse and exposure to toxins. 

A recent renewal of the Great Plains IDeA-CTR – a collaborative effort between eight partner institutions across Nebraska with links to institutions in North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas will increase opportunities for UNMC faculty to collaborate with rural physicians on investigator-initiated studies and clinical trials, as well as expand recruitment of under-represented communities.  

Already, more than 60 primary care sites across the region participate in the network. The majority of these are in Nebraska, but there also are participating sites in North and South Dakota. 

“Rural community physicians have much to contribute," Dr. Rizzo said. "They have their ear to the ground on what health problems affect their communities, have research ideas to explore and provide value on what’s happening outside of an academic medical center.” 

Participating in the PBRN also yields additional benefits, he said. “It’s an opportunity for intellectual curiosity and growth, contribution to science, a chance to collaborate with likeminded clinicians and researchers, share ideas and hypotheses, and contribute to science-based care through authorship in publications.” 

To learn more, visit            

Current research projects include:  

Funding and Training Opportunities 

The Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network recently announced pilot and early-career research funding opportunities for 2022-2023. For more information, see

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