Sep. 24—POTTSVILLE — People in Schuylkill County can register for five state-of-the-art medical research studies not normally available in the region.
Care Access, a decentralized research organization, is seeking participants for a series of national studies being conducted at its Pottsville site.
The studies address major diseases, such as Lyme disease, Alzheimer's disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis — conditions that are increasingly prevalent both in the region and nationwide.
The Pottsville site, located at 100 Schuylkill Medical Plaza, is one of dozens of Care Access sites across the nation taking part in the studies, with local gastroenterologist Dr. Glenn Freed overseeing the research at the local level.
Freed said Care Access gives people in rural areas much-needed access to clinical research studies.
"In the past, people had to go to the larger centers — the Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, Sloan Kettering in New York, et cetera — to be involved in any type of research studies," he said.
The studies also give pharmaceutical companies a broader and more accurate sampling of the population, Freed said, as many "inner-city" studies are represented largely by city residents.
"They haven't had a chance to reach out to the (other) communities," Freed said. "With people here, it's difficult to travel to those different areas — and that was, I believe, the beginning of Care Access."
All Care Access studies in Schuylkill County will be conducted at Freed's office, located at Lehigh Valley Health Network-Schuylkill Medical Plaza.
Anyone interested in participating in one of the studies can call the office at 570-622-3366 and will be directed accordingly.
Along with Freed, Sherri Dutter, a clinical research coordinator for Care Access, will help direct the studies in Pottsville.
Among the most important of the research initiatives is the one addressing Lyme disease. The study will test an investigational vaccine for the tick-borne disease that has long afflicted people in the northeastern United States.
Open to anyone aged 5 or older, the study consists of approximately seven visits across a 2 1/2-year period consisting of vaccine doses, blood work and checkups.
As Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast, the vaccine aims to remedy the six most prevalent strains in the region, according to John Weikel, regional patient educator for Care Access.
Weikel said that several participants in previous Care Access studies were found to have Lyme disease.
"They live in these more rural areas, where tick populations are high," he said.
Lyme disease is caused by tick bites and can cause serious long-term damage if left untreated. Though there are no approved vaccines for the disease, the Care Access study aims to test the investigative vaccine to see if it can help prevent the disease in people ages 5 and older.
"We're reaching out to people who like to hike, have dogs that they take on long walks, live close to forests, in the areas like that," Freed said. "I strongly recommend that they consider this Lyme disease vaccination."
For best test results, the study will administer the proposed vaccine to 50% of the participants, with the other half receiving a saline-based placebo.
Anyone interested in participating can register online at LymeTrial.com or call Freed's office.
Another study involves an investigational blood test that seeks to determine if participants are likely to develop or are in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
The study is open to people ages 65 to 80 who have not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, dementia or other conditions affecting memory and thinking skills.
Each participant in this study will receive blood tests detecting the level of the phosphorylated tau, or p-tau, protein in their system.
"If that (p-tau) is elevated in people, the study then goes on to do an MRI of the brain looking for increased amyloid deposits," Freed said. "If they're there, and the patients agree to treatment, there's a medication that we're giving to decrease those amyloid deposits."
Dutter said the study is a "game-changer" for Alzheimer's research.
"We could see this p-tau protein in their blood 20 years before their symptoms start," she said, "so we're trying to get them before they lose their minds."
Another Care Access study will address nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, a disease caused by fat accumulation in the liver.
Fatty liver is currently among the leading contributors to cirrhosis, which has traditionally been correlated with alcoholism and infections such as Hepatitis C, according to Freed.
The study — open to people 18 and older — will test whether semaglutide, an antidiabetic and weight loss medication, can slow or reverse NASH to a less severe stage.
Freed said that NASH is particularly prevalent in the eastern United States.
"People don't eat properly and exercise properly and stuff, and have had issues," he said.
Another study will evaluate an investigative drug for treatment of Eosinophilic esophagitis, or EoE, a disease that affects the ability to swallow food.
"It presents itself many times with patients who have difficulty swallowing and feel like things get caught in their esophagus," Freed said.
Common contributors to EoE are gastroesophageal reflux disease, as well as the buildup of eosinophils in the lining of the esophagus, which leads to inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus.
Care Access will also conduct a study evaluating the effectiveness of a Cologuard, a colon cancer screening tool, as compared to a colonoscopy.
"They've combined it with a third test in which they're obtaining a blood draw from the patient," Freed said, "looking for markers in blood for early polyps and/or cancers."
Care Access is accepting registrants for the studies through December. Though people from all regions are encouraged to apply, Freed favors Schuylkill County residents for the Pottsville site.
Along with the Pottsville location, Care Access has nearby sites in Hazle Twp., Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Scranton conducting similar studies.
Care Access sites include both office locations — including the ones in Pottsville and Scranton — and pop-up sites consisting of vans and mobile equipment.
For more information, visit careaccess.com.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-628-6085