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Updated: August 15, 2022

MaineHealth and partners awarded $20M by NIH for research in rural New England

sign and parking circle File photo The funding from the National Institutes of Health will strengthen and expand metabolic disease research at MaineHealth, whose flagship hospital is Maine Medical Center in Portland.

A five-year, $20 million research grant to the MaineHealth Institute for Research will go toward a project that could improve community health in rural New England. 

The money comes from the prestigious National Institutes of Health and will help fund a program called the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network.

The network was established five years ago to give researchers in rural communities tools to develop and implement innovative medical treatments for chronic diseases common in northern New England, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and substance use disorder. 

MaineHealth is partnering with the University of Southern Maine and the University of Vermont on the new research. Principal investigators are Dr. Cliff Rosen, director of the network, and Gary Stein, chair of the department of biochemistry at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

Funding from the new grant will allow the network to invest in professional development for young researchers, new pilot programs to develop innovative disease treatments, community engagement throughout northern New England, and improved data collection.

One focus of the research is on the engagement of rural providers and practices in research. The researchers have developed pilot projects, such as using telemedicine to quickly identify newborns who need treatment with therapeutic hypothermia at rural hospitals. The pilot projects are now standards of care in Maine, according to a news release.

The network has already supported an NIH-funded study of "long COVID" as well as a study of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and other research related to the ongoing pandemic.

“In just a few years, we are seeing the impact that access to clinical research has on rural communities,” Rosen said. “This new grant will help us build on this success and do more to address health equity and disparities encountered by at-risk populations.”

MaineHealth, headquartered in Portland, is the largest health care system in northern New England. The system comprises nine local health care systems, a behavioral health care network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, 1,700 providers working together through the MaineHealth Medical Group, and 22,000 employees.

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