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 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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Program paves way for nationwide single IRB model.
Developing new treatments for diseases often requires large numbers of clinical research participants enrolled in the same study at numerous geographical sites. These multisite clinical trials are well-positioned to discover whether a promising therapeutic is safe and effective, and may provide medical professionals with the information needed for treating their patients. However, the initiation of such studies may be delayed because each site typically relies on its own Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to provide ethics reviews of the risks and benefits of the proposed research.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is leading policy and programmatic initiatives to streamline this overly cumbersome process. NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) announced today that all Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program sites (including the UAMS Translational Research Institute) have signed on to the NCATS Streamlined, Multisite, Accelerated Resources for Trials (SMART) IRB authorization agreement. This agreement — which now includes a total of more than 150 top medical research institutions — will enable all participating study sites to rely on the ethics review of one IRB for each study, making it possible to initiate multisite studies within weeks instead of months. For patients waiting to enroll in a study, this could make a life-saving difference.
The SMART IRB authorization agreement serves as a model to help investigators adhere to the NIH’s policy on single IRB use for multisite studies. This policy was designed to improve IRB efficiencies while ensuring the protection of research participants so that research can proceed expeditiously.
The authorization agreement effort was led by Harvard Catalyst, University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, and Dartmouth Synergy. Through these institutions, a team of NCATS-supported SMART IRB ambassadors facilitated and provided critical guidance and support to assist institutions in joining and implementing the SMART IRB authorization agreement.
“This milestone is a giant step toward a nationwide model for greater efficiency in IRB review, which is critical to getting more treatments to more patients more quickly,” said NCATS Director Christopher P. Austin, M.D. “It was made possible by the teamwork of hundreds of experts across the country who worked together to achieve what was thought to be impossible even a few years ago.”
In addition, the SMART IRB authorization agreement will provide the foundation for NCATS’ Trial Innovation Network central IRBs. The Trial Innovation Network is a collaborative CTSA Program initiative designed to address critical roadblocks in clinical research, and to optimize and streamline the clinical trial and studies process.
Next steps for the NCATS SMART IRB Platform include the development of education, training and harmonization of best practices for a single IRB review. Learn more at https://ncats.nih.gov/expertise/clinical/smartirb and https://smartirb.org (link is external).
About the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS): To get more treatments to more patients more quickly, NCATS incorporates the power of data, new technologies and strategic collaborations to develop, demonstrate and disseminate innovations in translational science. Rather than targeting a particular disease or fundamental science, NCATS focuses on what is common across all diseases and the translational process. Learn more at https://ncats.nih.gov.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.