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Dr. Julie Croff and Dr. Kyle Simmons

Hardesty Center will allow OSU researchers to collaborate more efficiently

Friday, September 17, 2021

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 |

The opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact across the country, especially in Oklahoma.

Until now, there hasn’t been an advanced institution in Oklahoma with state-of-the-art research infrastructure.

The new Hardesty Center for Clinical Research and Neuroscience in Tulsa has started inviting research participants in for trials and data collection. The staff has moved into the 49,000-square-foot facility overlooking the Arkansas River. The center officially opened
July 14.

The new building has the capacity to hold an assortment of new and previously separated departments, including the clinical trials unit of the National Center for Wellness and Recovery and the Oklahoma State University Biomedical Imaging Center.

Dr. Julie Croff, executive director of clinical and population research at NCWR, said COVID-19 pandemic isolation created more opportunities to innovate the research OSU was doing on opioid and other substance use.

With her lab back open to the public and in a state-of-the-art facility, Croff is excited to start helping Oklahomans once again.

“Isolation is a real stressor for people,” said Croff, a professor in the Department of Rural Health. “We have seen an increase in substance uses and overdoses. Some of these behaviors are new, being driven by a variety of stressors including job losses, closure of childcare facilities, or remote operations for schools. We are also concerned about these same social and economic stressors driving changes in use patterns among those still living in their addiction, and among those who have had slip-ups or relapses.”

Croff’s main projects in OSU’s Tier I Opioid Initiative are the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and increasing the number of studies conducted as part of the National Institutes of Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network.

The Hardesty Center’s research infrastructure includes clinical research exam rooms, behavioral and psychological exam spaces, neuroimaging exam spaces, a blood collection area and a biosample processing and storage lab, as well as faculty, staff, and administrative offices.

“We are making plans for the first randomized clinical trials in our new space and are currently exploring opportunities for both behavioral and pharmacological trials. This space will be used to address prevention for substance use disorders and treatment for substance use,” Croff said.

“The beauty of all of this is that we have nice overlap for the translation of science: our clinical programs are connected with the clinical research and neuroimaging. We are also connected to our outreach programs in rural communities, ensuring that we are bringing recent knowledge to Oklahoma communities.”

Dr. Kyle Simmons, director of biomedical imaging, said he is optimistic about the possibilities the Hardesty Center offers. He said that OSU’s involvement in the HBCD study required having a state-of-the-art brain imaging facility — and now it does.

“We have some fantastic scientists at OSU already that have been spread out across CHS, OSU-Tulsa, and Stillwater,” Simmons said. “Many of the scientists who are doing research that is relevant to the NCWR’s mission will be moving into this space and bringing their tools and expertise. We are augmenting their expertise by building the Hardesty Center; a clinical neuroscience platform for them to do their work, which OSU didn’t have before.”

A highlight of OSU’s biomedical imaging center is its Prisma 3 Tesla MRI that Simmons said is producing some of the most beautiful brain scans he has ever seen.

“One of the really special things about what is developing here at Hardesty is that under one roof, you have the ability to do so many different types of research,” Simmons said. “Everything from measuring genetics and epigenetics up to the level of brain systems, behavior, and population health. All under one roof. There are very few places where you can do all of that in one place. That allows you to do different types of research that are more integrative.

“Having this in Oklahoma allows OSU to step into that top tier of clinical neuroscience research institutions in the country.”
It is crucial for Oklahoma to be in that top tier as the state — and especially rural areas — continues its battle against opioid addiction.

“Most of the places that can do what we do here are clustered along the coasts, places like Yale, Harvard or NIH, or in L.A. or San Diego or Seattle,” Simmons said. “There are not a lot of places that can do what we do that are in the middle of the country, or that are positioned well to recruit from both urban and rural communities, that can do research with underserved communities like minority and Native American communities that are often overlooked. We are very excited about it and think it is a special place that is developing.”

Croff said that although research at Hardesty is still in early stages, she is hoping that the systems and expertise in place at the Hardesty Center will optimize the translation of science and reduce the time it takes for Oklahoma communities to experience the direct benefits of this research.

“It also means that if you are a research participant, what you are doing is more likely to impact your family and your community on a much shorter time scale,” Croff said. “We are not just doing this to publish it and have it go into a scientific paper that no one ever reads again. We want to be driving change, to improve the health of our communities, with all of our studies.”

Photo By: OSU Center for Health Sciences

Story By: Jordan BIshop |

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