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NCATS Day

The Translational Research Institute’s Camille Hart, program manager for community engagement, attended NCATS Day with an eye for information that would be of interest to community partners — both organizations and individuals — back in Arkansas. Daniel Soñé Photography.

To gain more insight about patients’ needs and discuss opportunities to integrate the patient perspective into translational research, NCATS convened the first NCATS Day on June 30, 2017, on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. More than 150 people attended, including patients, their families and other caregivers, and representatives of more than 75 patient and disease advocacy groups.

With a theme of “Partnering with Patients for Smarter Science,” the all-day event enabled participants to learn more about NCATS and research supported by the Center. It also served as a forum for NCATS staff and researchers to hear directly from patients about their needs, establish new communication channels or strengthen existing ones and identify ways to enhance patient participation in research.

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Strong Mentorship Helps Researcher Discover Success

UAMS’ Craig Forrest, Ph.D., (left), credits his former mentors, Usha Ponnappan, Ph.D., and Xuming Zhang, Ph.D., D.V.M., with his early success.

Craig Forrest, Ph.D., recalled the day four years ago when one of his Department of Microbiology and Immunology mentors, Xuming  Zhang, Ph.D., D.V.M., came looking for him.

Forrest had sought input from Zhang and mentor Usha Ponnappan, Ph.D., on his first NIH National Cancer Institute grant application. Zhang found him in a fifth-floor lab of the Biomedical One building. There, standing at the freezer, the two had one of the more consequential mentoring sessions of Forrest’s early career.

“This is all wrong,” Zhang said, presenting his marked-up copy with an outline and arrows showing Forrest how to more effectively make his case.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Forrest said.

Ponnappan, who joined UAMS 25 years ago, and Zhang, who joined UAMS 20 years ago, said their approaches to mentoring are grounded in their own experiences as junior faculty.

Zhang, as an early career researcher, recalled his own need for the kind of detailed review he gave Forrest’s application. He loved getting thorough critiques from his mentors and colleagues because it gave him a better chance of being funded. Today, Zhang can bring to bear his expertise in the field and experience as an NIH reviewer to help mentees.

“Based on my own experience, for basic science faculty you have to have an NIH grant to be successful,” he said. “Without a grant, you can’t get promoted.”

Leading up to his grant submission, Forrest would pop into the offices of Ponnappan and Zhang to ask questions. “I bothered them constantly.”

Their advice was incorporated into his application, which achieved a rare perfect grant score and a five-year NCI grant totaling $1.83 million. The grant is helping further work on his discovery of a protein with a significant role in controlling herpes infections. Forrest’s early data gathering and a surprise discovery that were cornerstones of his grant application were supported by a UAMS Translational Research Institute pilot award and a COBRE grant.

The NIH application reviewers said they anticipate that his research “may reveal novel therapeutic targets,” and concluded, “In sum, there is considerable enthusiasm for the talented new investigator (Forrest) and the proposed work ….”

Forrest and his team have published three papers so far, and have three more in the works. He’s also filed a patent application through BioVentures.

Mentoring traditionally has been an informal practice, although some departments, such as Microbiology and Immunology in the UAMS College of Medicine, have a prescribed process. Department Chair Richard P. Morrison, Ph.D., started an official mentoring program eight years ago.  He describes it as “simple, straightforward and non-overbearing.”

Each junior faculty member has a three-person mentoring committee. The committees meet with the mentees once a semester to discuss progress and goals, followed by a written report.

Over the program’s eight years, the department’s five most senior junior faculty have produced five R01’s, three R21’s and three K22 awards – and all have received promotion and tenure, Morrison said.

Ponnappan and Zhang also helped Forrest become an associate professor, marking the official end of a six-year mentor-mentee relationship.

“Once they got me through the tenure process, it was kind of over,” Forrest said. “I’m on my own now, although I haven’t completely been away from them.”

Ponnappan said Forrest was a like a sponge and a pleasure to mentor. “He lives science,” she said. “His success is his own success. We just pointed him in right direction, that’s all.”

Forrest is now breaking new ground as a mentor himself, sitting on mentoring committees where he can learn from senior faculty.

He already has a key piece of advice for junior faculty, telling them, “Make sure you use your mentors.”

Seats Still Available for TRI-Sponsored Mentoring Workshop

UAMS researchers are invited to a free, day-long workshop June 22 to help improve their mentoring skills.
The workshop will be 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the Reynolds Institute on Aging, Room 1190.
Lunch will be provided.
Sponsored by TRI, the mentor training workshop is modeled after the nationally recognized University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) curriculum. Facilitators Mary Aitken, M.D., M.P.H., and Beatrice Boateng, Ph.D., have received CIMER certification to offer mentor training at UAMS.
Contact: Donna Mattingly, dmattingly@uams.edu, or (501) 614-2287.

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May/June TRIbune

The May/June TRIbune features our recent Patient Scientist Academy, which is an outgrowth of an idea put forth by our Community Advisory Board. We also feature translational research successes with roots in TRI, such as our TRIbutary story about Amanda Stolarz, Pharm.D., Ph.D., whose team won the Governor’s Cup for commercialization of a discovery. We also highlight Camille Hart, program manager for our Community Engagement Program and include publication citations from your colleagues who have received support from TRI.

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Newsletter Archive

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.

Faith, Community Leaders Address Health Disparities

Pacific Islander health in Arkansas

Karen Yeary introduces Wana Bing, Nia Aitaoto, and Sheldon Ricklon to discuss Pacific Islander health in Arkansas.

The importance of partnerships and networking to reduce health disparities was emphasized April 7 at the Community Campus Partnership Conference to address health disparities held at the Four Points by Sheraton in Little Rock.

The conference, presented by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), brought together over 200 faith and community leaders, educators, health care providers and researchers to discuss health equity in Arkansas.

“This is an opportunity for us, as researchers, to explain to community leaders what community-based participatory research is, as well as an opportunity to share the research we’ve been working on with the faith community and what we have found along the way,” said Keneshia Bryant-Moore, Ph.D, R.N., associate professor in the UAMS College of Public Health’s Health Behavior and Health Education Department and conference planning committee chairperson.

Attendees are able to utilize the conference to identify potential partners, as well as tie already existing community programs to ongoing research.

Keynote speaker Joshua Dubois, former White House director of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships under President Barak Obama, discussed how effective it is for people in health care to partner with hospitals, the community and other leaders to reduce health disparities.

Dubois offered the “Memphis Model,” as an example of a community working together for health equity. The model shows that by engaging faith-based communities in partnerships, health care providers can build relationships with communities and determine how to reduce those existing health disparities.

The morning session featured Wana Bing, project manager for the UAMS Office of Community Health and Research; Nia Aitaoto, Ph.D., co-director of the UAMS Center for Pacific Islander Health; and Sheldon Ricklon, M.D., associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

Northwest Arkansas is home to the largest population of Marshall Islanders outside of the country itself. The panel gave an overview of the history of this population coming to Arkansas and discussed the importance of the Marshallese community engaging in research.

The Marshallese in northwest Arkansas have high rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases, as well as disparities such as access to health care and healthy food options. This makes it even more important for them to engage with researchers so these disparities can be addressed.

The afternoon closed with breakout sessions on six main topics: service learning, brainstorming on addressing health issues in the community, community-based participatory research training, faith and government collaborations for health equity, mental health in faith communities, and best practices to engage faith communities.

The conference was supported by grants from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Nursing Workforce Diversity grant, the UAMS Translational Research Institute, and the Arkansas Minority Health Commission. It was held in collaboration with the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, the Arkansas Department of Health and Baptist Health Physician Partners.

How TRI Became a Catalyst for a Governor’s Cup Victory

Governor’s Cup

Winners of the Governor’s Cup business plan competition are (l-r): team members Joshua Phillips, Tiffany Jarrett and Amanda Stolarz. They are joined by (back left) Rush Deacon, CEO, Arkansas Capital Corporation; Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Carol Reeves, team adviser, and Kevin Burns, chairman of the board, Arkansas Capital Corporation.

UAMS’ Amanda Stolarz, Pharm.D., Ph.D., recently celebrated her team’s victory in the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup business plan competition. The team, Rejuvenics Technologies, won the $25,000 top prize with its idea for commercializing a drug-delivery system to reduce the harmful side effects of chemotherapy.

Just under a year ago, the business side of research was hardly on her radar. Her mindset was: “I don’t want to do business at all; I want to do science.”

But Stolarz, having just received her Ph.D. last summer, soon gained new perspective.

As a postdoctoral fellow, she was encouraged to attend last summer’s Health Sciences Entrepreneurship Boot Camp by Nancy Rusch, Ph.D., who explained that discoveries don’t magically go from the laboratory to the clinic. Rusch chairs the College of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and leads the Translational Research Institute’s (TRI) educational efforts.

“The boot camp opened my eyes,” Stolarz said. “It showed me that if you want to see what you discover in the lab actually help people, you have to go through this process.”

So when she was invited to be part of the business-plan team that won the Governor’s Cup, she was more inclined to participate.

“Without the boot camp, it would have been a much harder sell for me to join the Rejuvenics Technologies team,” she said.

The idea of establishing entrepreneurship training for researchers, Rusch said, stems from TRI. Laura James, M.D., TRI director and vice chancellor for clinical and translational research, broached the idea and it was included as a key feature of TRI’s application for a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).

When Philip Mayeux, Ph.D., alerted Rusch about a funding opportunity that could support an entrepreneurship boot camp, Rusch was able to borrow from the work she had done for the CTSA application. Working with Nancy Gray, Ph.D., director of BioVentures, they received $50,000 in supplemental funding tied to the National Institute of General and Medical Sciences T32 Systems Pharmacology and Toxicology Training Program grant led by Mayeux.

Entrepreneurial luminaries were brought in to the boot camp, including Carol Reeves, Ph.D., associate vice provost for entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (UAF). Reeves, who has a national reputation for developing entrepreneurs, was excited to be part of the UAMS boot camp and predicted it would lead to meaningful collaborations between the sister institutions.

Stolarz is the chief science officer for Rejuvenics Technologies, a startup at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Its other officers and team members are Joshua Phillips, Tiffany Jarrett and Mary Rivard, all full-time Executive MBA students at the UAF Walton School of Business.

The startup initially worked with a product that didn’t pan out in their market validation study. What they found next turned out to be a great fit for Stolarz: technology with a potentially broad application for preventing a multitude of chemotherapy side effects.

“I got really excited because my dissertation was on finding ways to treat and prevent side effects from chemotherapy,” she said.

The technology being commercialized was developed as a joint collaboration between UAF and UAMS. The lead inventor is Daniel Fologea, Ph.D., formerly at UAF and now at Boise State University, who worked with Michael Borrelli, Ph.D., in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Radiology.

Rejuvenics Technologies is working with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and hopes to also collaborate with Houston-based M.D. Anderson Cancer Treatment Center.

Stolarz is hopeful they can develop a product that will lead to improved quality of life for cancer patients.

“This technology is designed to decrease the toxic side effects of chemotherapy while potentially increasing efficacy against tumors so we can beat cancer without beating down the patient,” she said.

The TRIbune is Here!

TRI’s March-April newsletter, The TRIbune, features a breakthrough success in research collaboration with the adoption of SMART IRB by all the CTSA sites across the country, including UAMS. This new single IRB capability is expected to spur inter-institutional collaborations for multisite clinical trials and help avoid trial delays. We also note the numerous cross-CTSA collaborations that involve UAMS researchers and TRI.  Along those lines, we highlight a recent retreat on data available to researchers through the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. The retreat was enlightening for research leaders from UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Research Institute and the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. Our TRI & Me feature spotlights Donald Mock, M.D., Ph.D., who leads our Pilot Studies Program, and you can view the latest TRI-cited publications.

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Newsletter Archive

TRI Awards Four Pilot Research Studies

Kristie Hadden
Kristie Hadden
Atul Kothari
Atul Kothari
Se-Ran Jun
Se-Ran Jun
Bradley Martin
Bradley Martin

The UAMS Translational Research Institute (TRI) has approved four research pilot study awards totaling about $166,000.
Nine applicants sought awards of up to $50,000 for one-year projects that utilized translational biomedical informatics approaches to improve health and solve health care issues of rural and underserved populations.
The 2017 pilot awardees and their project titles are:

  • Kristie Hadden, Ph.D., assistant professor, College of Medicine, Division of Medical Humanities, “Patient health literacy screening: An informatics approach.”
  • Se-Ran Jun, Ph.D., assistant professor, College of Medicine, Department of Biomedical Informatics, “Genomic surveillance of mumps outbreak in Arkansas using third generation sequencing technology.”
  • Atul Kothari, M.D., assistant professor, College of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, “Molecular epidemiology and transmission of Clostridium difficile infections (CDI) in nosocomial settings.”
  • Bradley Martin, Ph.D., Pharm.D., professor, College of Pharmacy, “Development, validation, and implementation of an opioid risk prediction tool.”

“The purpose of our pilot awards is to help researchers develop novel technologies and methods and to test the feasibility of their approaches,” said Laura James, M.D., TRI director and associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational research. “This year’s focus on collaborations with experts in biomedical informatics will test state-of-the-art solutions to problems common in Arkansas. Each project also has high potential for extramural funding and for application to individuals beyond Arkansas.”

Applications were reviewed and scored by a study section of 23 faculty and community representatives. The study section, led by Donald Mock, M.D., Ph.D., included independent scientists from a wide range of disciplines and from across the country, and community stakeholders from across Arkansas. Inclusion of trained community stakeholders is a novel venture for this pilot program that helps realize the NIH goal of ensuring that studies have the input of the general public, clinicians and professionals in the health industry. This year was the first time that community stakeholders participated in the full review, discussion, and scoring process.

CTSA Consortium Issues Call for Inter-Institutional Pilot Award Applications

Applications Sought for CTSA Inter-institutional Pilot Awards

The Western States Consortium, which includes the UAMS Translational Research Institute (TRI) and four other Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) institutions, has issued the call to all faculty for pilot award applications.

In addition to TRI, the Western States Consortium members are the University of Kentucky, University of New Mexico, University of Kansas Medical Center, and University of Utah, all part of the national CTSA consortium, supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (Note: The University of Kansas Medical Center is not participating in this pilot program.)

The purpose of the pilot awards is to promote inter-institutional collaboration by funding innovative, translational research projects that involve two or more of the four Western States Consortium members. Awards of up to $25,000 will be provided by each participating institution.

For additional details, view the Request for Applications (RFA) document. If you have any questions, please contact Nia Indelicato at NLIndelicato@uams.edu or 501-614-2287.

Applications are due Jan. 19, 2018, at 5 p.m., (CT). Please submit to NLIndelicato@uams.edu.

The 2017 inter-institutional RFA is the fourth pilot funding opportunity by the Western States Consortium.

Key Dates:

  • IRB Submission Deadline: Nov. 24, 2017
  • Application Deadline: Jan. 19, 2018 5:00 pm Central Time
  • Notice of intent to fund at each CTSA: Feb. 2, 2018
  • Just In Time Period: Feb. 2, 2018 – Feb. 9, 2018
  • Submission to NIH for Prior Approval of Human Subjects: Feb. 12, 2018
  • Funding Cycle: April 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019

Download Request for Applications