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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Power of Research Not Lost on Graduates of Patient Scientist Academy

Patient Scientist Academy graduates and Translational Research Institute academy leaders, (back, l-r) Dr. Kate Stewart, Richelle Brittain, Tamika Keener, Sharunda Henagan and Camille Hart; (front, l-r), Nicki Spencer, Cheri Thriver and Dr. Bonnie Hatchett. Not pictured are graduates Allene Higgins, Kaiden O’Suilleabhain and Veronica Warren.

Learning how research is done at UAMS and how they can be a part of it was an eye-opener for the nine new graduates of the Translational Research Institute’s inaugural UAMS Patient Scientist Academy.

Over four two-hour sessions in April, the academy covered research basics such as the difference between blind and double-blind trials, research ethics, and translational research. It was taught by Kate Stewart, M.D., M.P.H., with guest researchers who provided their unique perspectives, from biostatistics to working with heart patients and cancer patients.

“I didn’t know about translational research,” academy participant Cheri Thriver said during one of the classes prior to the graduation ceremony on May 4. “I didn’t realize how much we can be involved in the research process.”

UAMS’ Dr. Tiffany Haynes encouraged the graduates to continue their involvement in research.

UAMS honored their participation with a brunch and an inspirational talk from Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D., an assistant professor and researcher in the College of Public Health.  She noted that UAMS conducts research across the health spectrum, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental health.

“What’s at the heart of that research?” she asked. “Y’all!”

“That’s why it’s so important that you took this first step of coming to this Patient Scientist Academy and learning more about the research process and learning how to get involved because it really doesn’t work without you,” said Haynes, also a graduate of TRI’s KL2 Scholar program.

At the end of the ceremony, when the graduates were asked if they would like to share any thoughts before leaving, several expressed their appreciation for UAMS.

“UAMS saved my life,” said Tamika Keener, a lupus survivor who said she was turned away from other treatment centers. “I always say, ‘thank God for UAMS.’ Kudos to the staff and everyone who was a part of this academy. I have a new part of my family – new friends.”

Graduate and cancer survivor Shalunda Riley spoke of her gratitude for research.

Shalonda Riley shared a short video about her battle with late-stage throat cancer, and her successful treatment at UAMS.

“Those treatments came from research,” Riley said. “That’s why this has become so important to me. I am so glad to be here.”

Bonnie Hachett, Ph.D., described herself as a life-long learner and a breast cancer survivor. “I have survived because of research,” she said. “I am thoroughly excited about this opportunity and plan to continue my involvement with UAMS.”

“I’ve already been telling everybody about it,” Thriver said. “I appreciate everyone in here. It was great.”

Shalunda Riley, Cheri Thriver and Kaiden O’Suilleabhain work on a class exercise.

Stewart, a professor in the College of Public Health who leads the Translational Research Institute Community Engagement Program, said the graduates will have the opportunity to become involved in a number of ways, including serving on research advisory boards, patient advisory boards, and as citizen reviewers of research grant applications.

“We had a great group of participants,” Stewart said. “We hope the academy has given them knowledge that will enrich their involvement and really make a difference in the quality of our research and patient care.”

The graduates are: Richelle Brittain, Bonnie Hatchett, Ph.D., Sharunda Henagan, Allene Higgins, Tamika Keener, Kaiden O’Suilleabhain, Shalonda Riley, Cheri Thriver, and Veronica Warren.400

Fire Alarm Disrupts, Does Not Deter TRI ‘A-Team’

Despite a fire alarm evacuation, the TRI study team kept testing on schedule in UAMS Parking 3 for research participant Homer Paul (center). Team members are (l-r) Cynthia Witkowski, Angela Moore, Ashley Sides, Dr. Rohit Dhall and Shannon Doerhoff. (photo courtesy Homer Paul)

Homer Paul, a research participant, was in the midst of a 10-hour series of blood draws and neurological tests for a new Parkinson’s disease drug when the fire alarm sounded at the UAMS Translational Research Institute’s (TRI) Clinical Trials Innovation Unit on the fifth floor of the Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute building.

The research team, which included TRI Director of Clinical Trials Cynthia Witkowski, R.N., Angela Moore, R.N., and Ashley Sides, a research coordinator, grabbed supplies and walked with Paul to the adjacent parking garage. Witkowski said Paul was at the two-hour point after receiving his first dose of the drug and needed neurological and blood tests every 30 minutes.

Paul, 57, who lives near Conway, recalls being impressed by their determination to complete the study that April 27. “They were pretty adamant about getting blood samples exactly on time,” he said. “We went down a walkway that connects other buildings, and we found a spot and took a blood sample right there. I still had all my IV stuff hooked up on my arm.”

“It was kind of funny because I thought, ‘these nurses are relentless,’” he said. “I started calling them the A-Team.”

He asked to have his photo taken with the research team, which is posted above.

Also present as part of the study team were Rohit Dhall, M.D., a UAMS neurologist who is the study’s principal investigator, neurologist Lotia Mitesh, M.D., sub-investigator, and Shannon Doerhoff, A.P.N.

Dhall said the study team performed exceptionally under the circumstances. “I was impressed with the team’s professionalism and how it managed the situation with the best interest of the patient at heart,” he said. “Mr. Paul also responded wonderfully. He helped ensure the integrity of that day’s results.”

Paul’s admiration for the nursing staff didn’t stop with their work during the fire alarm. He said he had also watched them figure out how to fix a malfunctioning electrocardiogram (ECG) machine. “I was impressed. From mechanics to nurses – I have so much gratitude for their dedication.”

With an extended dose, the drug being tested could potentially provide longer-lasting relief from Parkinson’s symptoms than existing medications. Dhall, Paul’s doctor, alerted him to the study, telling him he would be a good candidate for it.

Paul agreed to participate, saying it is a way for him to give back.

“This is my way of contributing to the cause – to finding new drugs that let us go through our everyday lives like a normal person,” he said.

UAMS Synthetic ‘Marijuana’ Researcher Presents Findings at National Meeting

Anna Radominska-Pandya, Ph.D., (left front) with UAMS synthetic “marijuana” research team members, including Laura James, M.D., (right), and (back, l-r) Principal Investigator Paul Prather, Ph.D., Jeff Moran, Ph.D., and William Fantegrossi, Ph.D.

LITTLE ROCK — Some people who use so-called synthetic marijuana, known by names such as K2 and Spice, may be unable to metabolize the drug, leading them to experience its most harmful effects, a UAMS researcher said at the recent national Experimental Biology 2017 meeting in Chicago.

Anna Radominska-Pandya, Ph.D., part of a UAMS research team examining how the body processes the man-made cannabinoids, presented the team’s findings on the harmful effects of synthetic marijuana at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting, which was held during Experimental Biology, a meeting that draws thousands.

Synthetic “marijuana” is a growing group of man-made cannabinoids marketed as alternatives to marijuana. Although the man-made drugs activate the same receptors in the brain as natural marijuana, they are known to have volatile effects that can lead to severe injury and death.

Radominska-Pandya is a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Medicine. Her work could identify genetic risk factors that make some people susceptible to the synthetic cannabinoids’ most harmful consequences, potentially leading to antidotes that counteract the worst effects.

Radominska-Pandya and her colleagues have found that some people are unable to metabolize and excrete synthetic cannabinoids. They now hypothesize that a person’s genetic makeup could produce the metabolism defects that cause the most harmful effects from the drug. Future genetics tests could potentially identify those people.

“It is important to understand the underlying causes and toxicity of synthetic cannabinoids so that effective treatments and antidotes can be developed,” Radominska-Pandya said.

UAMS has been a national leader of synthetic cannabinoid research since the UAMS Translational Research Institute funded the team’s work in 2011 with a $100,000 pilot award. In 2016, the team, led by Paul Prather, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, received a five-year, $2.7 million National Institute of Drug Abuse grant that builds on the work of the pilot study.

Synthetic cannabinoids come in more than 150 chemical forms and the list is growing. As new synthetic cannabinoids appear on the market, the UAMS research team will study their properties and how the body’s metabolism may contribute to their harmful effects.

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from six host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the United States and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research.