NIH Renews UM Grant for Work in Nationwide Pediatric Clinical Trial Network

UM’s Montana Pediatric Clinical Trials Site research members are (left to right) Curtis Noonan, site faulty development leader; Sara McClure Cox, research nurse coordinator; Paul Smith, site principal investigator; Erin Semmens, site co-investigator; and Jennifer Faiella, research nurse.

MISSOULA – The National Institutes of Health has renewed a grant to the University of Montana to continue its participation in a nationwide pediatric clinical trials network for the next five years.

This network is one component of the NIH-funded Environmental Influences on Childhood Health Outcomes (ECHO) program, whose mission is to provide children in rural states such as Montana access to health-related and prospective clinical research.

UM’s Montana Pediatric Clinical Trials Site (MPCTS) is a member of a component of ECHO, called the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trials (ISPCTN) and is the first such program in Montana centered solely on clinical research for children.

“This renewal is a clear indication of our success during our initial four years in the network,” said MPCTS Director Dr. Paul Smith. “This is an exciting opportunity to serve the children of Montana in a truly unique fashion.”

Smith, a pediatric pulmonologist at Community Medical Center who serves as a research faculty member within the UM School of Public and Community Health Sciences and UM Center for Population Health Research, said the program already has exceeded network expectations for study participation and engagement with rural and Native American communities.

“We built this program from the ground up with outstanding guidance from the public health faculty,” he said. “Our clinical research capacity also provides complementary infrastructure for the newly established Center for Population Health Research here at UM.”

MPCTS has been engaged in several network projects, including neonatal opioid exposure, use of vitamin D in asthmatic children and the pharmacokinetics of understudied drugs in children, all of which are important areas of need for rural children.

In the process, the trials site engaged with hospitals, practices and researchers outside Missoula. In addition to providing opportunities for Montana children to participate in cutting-edge clinical trials, MPCTS provides clinical research professional development opportunities for UM faculty, as well as graduate students and research nursing staff.

“I had been a registered nurse working in newborn and pediatric intensive care units for 15 years before serving as research nurse coordinator for MPCTS,” said Sara McClure Cox, a registered nurse. “The MPCTS program is an exciting opportunity to improve infant, child and adolescent health across Montana and nationwide through clinical trials research.”

In addition to its existing studies, MPCTS has applied to participate in studies of the impact of COVID-19 on children. Only a few sites within ISPCTN will be chosen, and the site’s track record, resources and community relationships make it an ideal site for such work.

They also are leading efforts to organize a study of ways to prevent development of asthma in children by targeting indoor air pollution with air purifiers. Ultimately, MPCTS seeks to improve the health of all children and bring issues that impact Montana children to the forefront of pediatric research.

Dr. Erin Semmens, associate professor of epidemiology in the SPCHS and an MPCTS investigator, said the new funding will allow them to build on the valuable capacity established over the past four years.

“We are enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue to grow and provide training opportunities for students and clinicians and, most importantly, to increase the access of rural and underserved populations to state-of-the-art clinical trials aimed at improving health,” she said.


Contact: Paul Smith, director, Montana Pediatric Clinical Trials Site, UM School of Public and Community Health, 406-327-4237,