Although research and collaboration in many clinical areas such as asthma or heart failure are supported through well-defined networks and other support systems, the Sleep Medicine field has suffered from a lack of infrastructure to support collaborative research, and thus has been limited in its ability to conduct critically needed large scale Phase 3 clinical trials, genome wide association studies, and comparative outcomes research. In 2008, the National Sleep Research Network (SRN) was established to begin to address this gap, aiming to create a forum for sleep researchers to connect and form collaborations to promote clinical and translational sleep research that require large-scale, coordinated, and multidisciplinary approaches. Initially formed as a “grass roots” initiative, the SRN secured funding by a conference grant from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and financial support of more than $50,000 from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) to hold annual meetings.
The network is currently comprised of researchers representing 39 of the 60 Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) institutions across the United States. Four annual conferences have been held, most recently in October 2011 in Bethesda, MD. Attendance at these meetings has included representatives from institutions, officials from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and representatives from partnering professional organizations. Four working groups have been assembled to help stimulate work in the areas of: Research to Inform Public Policy, Genetics and Genomics; Clinical Trials and Outcomes; and Pediatric Research. These working groups have developed projects that include proposals for clinical trials to test: a) CPAP use in pregnancy, b) the effects of limiting resident work hours on ICU patient safety, and c) a comparison of hypnotic medication with cognitive behavioral therapy for treatment of insomnia in older adults. Other initiatives include a multicenter training grant and a study of the genetic determinants of variations in the EEG during sleep and wake cycles.
A SRN priority also is to attract and support the next generation of sleep medicine investigators. In 2010, the SRN developed a training award program to support the attendance of early stage investigators aimed at highlighting the work of researchers from historically under-represented groups and providing this group an opportunity to network with senior scientists, government officials, and other young researchers. This trainee program was expanded in 2011 with support by University of Pittsburgh and a financial investment from the AASM, allowing 10 early stage investigators from under-represented backgrounds attend the SRN 2011 annual meeting.
Highlights of the 2011 SRN Conference: The most recent conference occurred on October 5-6, 2011 and was attended by 61 participants representing 43 institutions, officials from the NIH, and members of the Sleep Research Society (SRS) and the AASM. Presentations highlighted opportunities to interact with professional societies and the NIH, opportunities for cross-institutional collaboration, and research resources that may enhance sleep research. The October 2011 meeting provided new opportunities for participants to interact on panels discussing strategies for accessing resources and for sharing data and enhancing collaboration and training activities. Presentations at the 2011 conference included:
- Approaches for further improving CTSA communications and interactions, and for identifying ways to better leverage resources to support sleep research and training.
- Perspectives from the NIH on the NCRR CTSA programs and NHLBI-funded networks
- An update on the NCSDR Sleep Research Strategic Plan
- Perspectives from the AASM and SRS on funding and other collaborative opportunities
- Updates on an initiative for a multicenter T32 (training grant) in sleep genetics.
- Updates on an initiative to develop a National Sleep Research Resource (sleep informatics repository of large cohort studies.)
In addition to these presentations, several interactive sessions were held, including:
- A demonstration of a NCRR-supported informatics platform (Physio-MIMI) for supporting multicenter sleep research informatics needs.
- A panel discussion on existing databases amenable for collaborative sleep research
- A panel discussion on approaches for locally leveraging CTSA resources to support sleep research
Small groups also met and reported to the larger group. New projects discussed included a pediatric narcolepsy project and a heart failure clinical trial.
In its next phases, the SRN seeks to further enhance communications and to better leverage resources to support sleep research through encouraging greater involvement of SRN participants in working groups and in new committees (Communication and Resource Committees). Goals include the further identification or development of shared resources in informatics, biological specimen repositories and assays, data repositories and research tool kits. New multicenter initiatives identified by the broad SRN constituency will be encouraged.
Although the SRN’s goals are ambitious, and far exceed its conference budget, the network does provide an important model of a special interest collaborative group. The value of opportunities to “get together,” for early stage and seasoned investigators to interact with one another as well as with representatives from NIH and the professional societies, and for communicating and sharing resources should not be under-estimated. A strong international model for collaboration in sleep research has been the Spanish Sleep Society, which has accomplished a great deal of collaborative research, with its success partly related to the willingness of researchers and clinicians to share ideas over a bottle of wine and then to roll up their sleeves. Although material support is clearly needed to address importance clinical and scientific questions, the SRN hopefully will provide an important step in promoting US teams to more fully collaborate.
AASM members are encouraged to participate in the SRN. Further information can be obtained at: https://www.sleepresearchnetwork.com/