Hengameh Raissy, PharmD, listens to a young patient's lungs
Hengameh Raissy, PharmD, Pulmonary, is a research professor in pediatrics and conducts research at the UNM Clinical & Translational Science Center.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center will become part of a network of universities to conduct clinical trials of drugs and treatments for children, thanks to a new four-year $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the support of the UNM Clinical & Translational Science Center (CTSC).

“The UNM Pediatric Clinical Trial Site will allow us to bring new therapies and treatments to children in New Mexico and throughout the Mountain West more quickly than ever,” said Richard S. Larson, MD, PhD, the Health Sciences Center’s executive vice chancellor.

Coordinating research over multiple sites will also provide a larger pool of study subjects and accelerate the pace at which new drugs and therapies can be made available to children, Larson said.

The Pediatric Clinical Trial Site will be directed by Hengameh Raissy, PharmD, a research professor in the Department of Pediatrics and associate director of the UNM CTSC, and Alberta Kong, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics.

“Our site will be a portal to our diverse patient populations, including under-represented racial and ethnic groups, as well as geographically isolated and under-resourced rural communities,” Raissy said.

UNM CTSC’s seasoned, highly skilled research team includes investigators who are trained to conduct pediatric clinical trials, Raissy said. The team will draw on existing connections 13 other state universities in the Mountain West states.

Both directors have extensive research experience. Raissy has participated in a variety of pediatric clinical trials, such as Childhood Asthma Research and Education, AsthmaNet and large cohort studies, while Kong has conducted community-based intervention clinical trials for metabolic syndrome prevention.

The NIH hopes the new network will give children living in rural and underserved areas great access to potentially life-saving therapies in state-of-the-art clinical trials. Faculty pediatricians and support teams, such as research nurse coordinators and data managers, will gain greater expertise in clinical research.

The new network of clinical trial sites will support the objectives of the NIH Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program, a seven-year, $157 million initiative. They will prioritize research in upper and lower airway conditions, obesity, pre-, peri- and postnatal outcomes and neurodevelopment.