May 21, 2014

New Investigators Gain Footing With KL2 Awards

TRI’s KL2 Career Development Award recipients from 2009-2013 are (seated l-r) Andrew James and Keneshia Bryant; (standing) Ling Gao, Elvin Price, Anthony Goudie, Joshua Kennedy, Dennis Kuo and Tiffany Haynes. Not pictured, Holly Felix, Brooke Montgomery, and Karen McNiece Redwine.

When UAMS received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) in 2009, leadership moved quickly to invest in promising new researchers.

With the idea of “growing our own” researchers, the UAMS Translational Research Institute (TRI) has offered annual KL2 Career Development Awards, which provide salary support, research funds, and mentored training to junior investigators. Below are brief updates of the research being conducted by TRI’s KL2 recipients:

Holly Felix, Ph.D., M.P.A.
In addition to studying the impact of obesity in long-term care, Holly Felix is getting traction with her evaluation of the Community Connector Program that links Medicaid-eligible, physically disabled adults and the elderly to long-term care services. Her KL2 helped her disseminate earlier findings that the Community Connector Program could save Arkansas’ Medicaid system $2.6 million over three years. Funded by NIH, Felix is studying the program in 15 counties after Medicaid expanded it from three. She is currently pursuing NIH funding to expand her study of obesity in long-term care.

Dennis Kuo, M.D., M.H.S.
Having set out to solve the complex care needs of patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH), Dennis Kuo is thinking big: “You have to redesign the health care system,” he said. Now the principal investigator on two federally funded studies, his data-driven work is helping achieve better understanding of patients’ health needs, family needs, and their health care use patterns. As a result, ACH is developing personal care teams, especially for those with special health care needs, and Kuo was recently tapped to lead the rollout of ACH’s Patient-Centered Medical Home program.

Keneshia Bryant, Ph.D., R.N., F.N.P.-B.C.
Motivated by the patients she saw as a family nurse practitioner, Keneshia Bryant has used her KL2 to better understand the roles of ethnicity, culture and gender on depression. Her research is focused on addressing longstanding mental health barriers in rural African-American communities, including service infrastructure and stigma. She is pursing funding for a faith-based stress management intervention that she developed with the community. Bryant is also co-principal investigator of a federally funded, community-based approach to reducing health disparities and co-investigator on two other mental health studies.

Ling Gao, M.D., Ph.D.
Every Sunday, Ling Gao checks in by phone with her late-stage Merkel cell carcinoma patients. When the dermatologist and researcher recently discussed specific cases, she fought back tears, underscoring her resolve to find treatments for the rare, aggressive skin cancer. With no commercially available cell lines and limited resources, she has personally managed the challenging, daily pursuit of growing cells in her lab. Her reward is now within sight. Using tumor cells derived from her patients, she has identified potential therapeutic targets and will seek to publish her findings this year.

Andrew James, Ph.D.
Using a functional MRI, Andrew James has analyzed the brains of 53 healthy adults, providing a suitable sample size for mapping brain function. The results are most striking in the different ways that healthy people use their brains to accomplish the same mental tasks. His results are being applied to better understand cognitive deficits in a broad range of psychiatric and neurologic illnesses. This foundation is essential to his epilepsy research and has led to new collaborations. He hopes that functional MRIs will one day inform medical decision-making.

Karen McNiece Redwine, M.D., M.P.H.
Searching for ways to more effectively treat children with hypertension – one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in America with significant early morbidity – Karen McNiece Redwine used her KL2 to study the potential benefits of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring. She found that multiple blood pressure readings taken in patients’ natural environments over an extended period resulted in changes to patients’ medication regimen about 40 percent of the time. She presented the findings earlier this month at the Pediatric Academic Society in Vancouver.

Anthony Goudie, Ph.D.
Using national hospital databases, Anthony Goudie is searching for ways to improve hospital quality of care. His KL2 effort is focused on understanding the variation in rates of pediatric hospital-acquired infections such as Clostridium difficile. The challenge of producing apples-to-apples hospital comparisons prompted Goudie to develop a novel risk-adjustment algorithm that has been well received in his field. He has also identified common traits associated with hospitals with low infection rates. He hopes his findings will be used to develop fair incentives to help other pediatric hospitals improve their quality of care.

Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D.
To address mental health disparities in underserved, rural African-Americans, Tiffany Haynes reached out to the strength of the community: Churches. Haynes, a clinical psychologist, has gathered qualitative data from church leaders, other members of the faith community and rural African-Americans to design interventions in which churches can play a key role in decreasing disparities. Haynes is also co-investigator on a Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) grant that is addressing barriers to mental health care in underserved African-American communities.

Brooke EE Montgomery, Ph.D., M.P.H.
While working on an earlier project, Brooke Montgomery, a behavioral scientist, was moved as female survivors of emotional, sexual, and physical violence discussed their subsequent struggles to find safe, healthy relationships with men. Motivated by their stories, she has partner with shelters, treatment facilities, and advocacy and policy groups to design a sexual health intervention program. She is now recruiting women participants who have survived violence, trauma and abuse. Montgomery is also studying how violence against women may impact HIV risk behaviors as part of the national HIV Prevention Trials Network Scholars Program.

Joshua Kennedy, M.D.
As a new KL2 scholar, Joshua Kennedy, an allergy and immunology specialist, is excited to be part of an asthma research team that is conceiving innovative research techniques on a national scale. Using donated living lungs, Kennedy has presented preliminary findings that the airways of asthmatics react differently and perhaps more severely to the common cold than nonasthmatics. He and the team are now trying to tease out the cause of this sometimes fatal phenomenon. Human studies will come next, and Kennedy hopes their work will lead to treatment breakthroughs.

Elvin Price, Pharm.D., Ph.D.
By targeting certain nuclear receptor genes, Elvin Price hopes to someday ensure that individual patients get the safest, most effective medicines for their particular condition. His KL2 has allowed him to focus on genetic associations with blood pressure, lipid and glucose levels. He has identified genes of interest in the lab and then analyzed them in patients. Having completed his first set of analyses of clinical data, Price is seeking to replicate the results in collaboration with the University of Michigan. He is also pursuing studies of treatment-related outcomes over time.

View a chart of the KL2 recipients’ number of publications and grants since their awards.

Editors Note: Sundararaman Swaminathan, M.D., a 2010 recipient, is continuing his diabetes-related research at the University of Virginia, and Wang “Steve” Cheung, M.D., Ph.D., a 2009 recipient, is in private practice in Orlando, Fla.