School of Medicine, VA Hospital improve understanding of disease through clinical research collaboration
Marta Van Loan, a research physiologist with the UC Davis Department of Nutrition and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture Western Human Nutrition Research Center, was ready to start an exciting new
study. She would investigate whether women who took estrogenlike compounds derived from soy could avoid
bone loss during the important years just after menopause.
For the 117 women participating in the study over a three-year period, Van Loan needed an X-ray room
where the women could get periodic bone scans, a laboratory where they could have blood tests processed,
and a comfortable, friendly sitting area where they could meet with the study staff to fill out questionnaires,
receive instructions, and have their questions answered.
The new General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) fit the bill perfectly for Van Loan, as well as for other
investigators from both the UC Davis School of Medicine and the Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The facility is now home to some 63 approved studies from both institutions. Clinical topics cover fields
as diverse as Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, cancer and bariatric weight reduction.
"I'm delighted with the facility," says Van Loan, whose study was the first to commence in the new building.
"There's simply no other place available to run a project as large as this one."
The facility's recent designation as a GCRC was awarded by the National Center for Research Resources,
part of the National Institutes of Health. It joins a network of 80 centers nationwide and is the first
one in Northern California outside of the Bay Area.
"We are pleased to support the collaboration between these two esteemed institutions so that they can
create a vibrant and dynamic clinical research community in the Sacramento area," said the National Center
for Research Resources director Judith L. Vaitukaitis. "It is our hope the new GCRC will serve as a critical
catalyst to expand and focus the many research initiatives already in place at UC Davis and VA."
Lars Berglund, GCRC program director and professor of endocrinology, clinical nutrition and vascular
medicine, is enthusiastic about the center's prospects. "It will enhance the work of UC Davis programs
such as the Alzheimer's Disease Center and the Cancer Center. And it benefits our community by providing
a place to better carry out studies," he says. Berglund is responsible for the day-to-day functioning
of the facility and was instrumental in obtaining the federal designation.
The facility includes a study kitchen for protocols with particular dietary requirements, an exercise
room with a "Bod Pod" a state-of-the-art machine for assessing body composition, and outpatient and
inpatient bedrooms, some set up with one-way mirrored windows connecting to observation rooms for sleep
studies. A full-time nursing staff is on site.
Personnel for support services in biomedical informatics also have offices in the facility. Staff evaluate
each protocol and work with investigators to determine their needs in handling data.
The GCRC is located at the former Mather Air Force Base in Rancho Cordova, in the new Sacramento Veterans
Administration Hospital. It is one of only four General Clinical Research Centers to be housed in any
of the nation's 158 VA medical centers.
"This was an important collaborative effort from both institutions," says Berglund, who labored for a
year and a half to put together the 1,400-page application for the designation.
Any researcher from the Veterans Administration or UC Davis can apply for use of the GCRC. An advisory
committee consisting of an equal number of representatives from each institution reviews each protocol.
Van Loan directly reaps the benefit of the collaboration in her study. To ensure their safety, her subjects
undergo regular ultrasounds of estrogen-sensitive tissues, a procedure that is handled onsite at the VA
"I like this ‘one-stop shopping'," says Van Loan. "We don't have to send women to various sites they
can do everything right here."
Van Loan was also pleasantly surprised with how smoothly the collaboration between the two institutions
has functioned. "Having the first study at the GCRC, I was concerned about the inevitable bureaucratic
uncertainties," she says. "But everyone has had a wonderful attitude one of ‘we can do it.' It has been
a great cross-collaborative effort."