Director’s Update – September 2014

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors.

Below, Karl Kieburtz discusses the CTSI’s growing biomedical informatics team and how it can support university researchers.

Karl Kieburtz, director of the CTSI

Karl Kieburtz, director of the CTSI

On the growing need for biomedical informatics:

One thing we focus on in the CTSI is population health, meaning the overall health of a city, a county, a region, and so on. And we want to know, when we do something — when we educate people, when we develop new programs, when we open Strong West — does it make any difference? Does the population do any better?

Nana Bennett talked a little bit about this last month, but right now, there are a lot of agencies that collect health information on the population, and could potentially answer that question. We do it, the other health agencies in town do it, Rochester RHIO (Regional Health Information Organization) does it, the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency does it. We all have databases. But it’s almost like they’re different bank accounts: The information is structured in different ways and lives in different places, and the data collected is everything from how much people are using hospitals, to vaccination rates, to transmission of infectious diseases, to obesity rates.

So we have a lot of different numbers, a lot of data, but we don’t always have a ton of usable information from that data. The only way to truly understand it is to establish some common rules around it, so people are comfortable with others going into the databases and pulling data out.

This takes a tremendous amount of effort. The business section of the New York Times recently had a piece on big data, and it talked about how 50 to 80 percent of the time spent with big data is just spent getting the data together — reconciling different data sets. And when I read that I said, “Of course! That’s what we’re doing here!”

On how we’re doing it:

Bioinformatics isn’t one of our pillars — it’s actually part of the foundation of the CTSI, and we think it’s important enough that we’re creating a faculty position in the CTSI around it. We’ve hired Dongmei Li, who will join us shortly, and she will be the first faculty member who is actually based in the CTSI.

Dr. Li will join Tim Dye, who got here in January; Jack Chang, who got here in June; Meg Demment who started in August; as well as Kathleen Holt, who is joining shortly; and Adam Tatro, who has been our EMR (Electronic Medical Record) expert for a while. Carrie Irvine and Amanda Davin in Academic IT are also part of the team.

So we’re going to be a robust resource for people who are looking to sort through nearly any kind of big data. Whether it’s small, in-house research projects that use the EMR, or a project that looks at patient information across populations and across datasets, or something as big as national utilization data of Medicare — we can help with all of that. And that’s what we want people to know.

Previous director’s updates:

August 2014 – Nana Bennett talks about the new Population Health pillar.
July 2014 – Harriet Kitzman offers her takeaways from the Mini Summer Research Institute.
June 2014 – Karl Kieburtz gives an overview of the CTSI’s six pillars.

CTSI Trainees, Awardees and Faculty Members Recognized During 2014 Opening Convocation Ceremony

The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry 2014 Opening Convocation Ceremony will beAwards2 held on Thursday, September 11th, 2014 at 4:00 pm in the Class of 62 Auditorium. A reception will follow the ceremony in the Flaum Atrium. Click here for the event flyer. Congratulations to CTSI program trainees, awardees, faculty members and alumni who will receive awards at this year’s ceremony:

Medical and Graduate Student Achievement Awards

Faculty Teaching, Mentoring and Diversity Awards

  • Kerry O’Banion (CTSI Research Education leadership and Director of the MSTP Program)
  • Nancy Chin (Alumna of CTSI Research Education Leadership)
  • Theresa Green (Director of Community Health Policy and Education, Center for Community Health)

Named Professorships

“Promoting” team science — URMC on the leading edge

During the lunch break at the Mini Summer Research Institute in mid-June, Beau Abar, Ph.D. and KL2 scholar, sat at a table in the Saunders Research Building lobby, swapping ideas with Harriet Kitzman, Ph.D., co-director of the CTSI.

“As a younger researcher, I want to be a team player, because the best science seems to come from strong collaborations,” said Abar. “But the best way to move up is to win those grants on your own — to be the P.I., to be the lead author. How can one do both?”

“That’s an issue that we talk about all the time,” acknowledged Kitzman.

As it turned out, the university was only weeks away from implementing updated tenure and promotion criteria specifically designed to reward talented team scientists for their contributions to collaborative research groups.

JeffLyness

Jeffrey M. Lyness, M.D.

The new policies, which went into place on July 1, allow recognition for scientists who lead a defined portion of the work done by collaborative teams. Department chairs are encouraged to ask referee letter-writers to comment specifically about the unique role on the team played by such scientists. These materials are given serious weight in tenure and promotion considerations.

This allows talented team scientists to further their careers, even if they are not always in roles such as principal investigators for grants or lead authors for publications.

“Science has gotten too complicated and requires too many different types of expertise for one person. These days, groundbreaking science of almost every discipline happens in collaborative teams,” said Jeffrey Lyness, M.D., senior associate dean for academic affairs. “Tenure systems, however, were established to recognize the achievement of an individual, and in team science not everyone can be first author, senior author, P.I., or co-P.I.”

The new system, which was established following ample input from faculty across the Medical Center, received overwhelming support from department chairs before it was put into place.

Outside organizations have appreciated the changes, too: When Lyness exchanged emails about the new system with the staff of Ann Bonham, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges, he received word that the university’s policies were on the “leading edge” in this area.

Karl Kieburtz, director of the CTSI

Karl Kieburtz, director of the CTSI

Since its inception, the CTSI has also played a lead role in supporting team science. Co-director Kitzman is currently working with several others within the Institute to learn more about what traits or characteristics make one team of researchers more successful than another. The Institute’s largest grant, the Incubator Program, is specifically designed to support research efforts that involve multiple investigators or departments.

“Translation of discoveries at the bench into care — maybe that hasn’t gone so well because people are pursuing individual awards,” said Karl Kieburtz, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CTSI. “So people may need to be educated about the benefits of team science and rewarded for that interdisciplinary approach.”

The various efforts are supportive of an environment that many faculty say sets the university apart from other academic institutions.

“Collaboration has always been key to the culture here. It’s part of what I loved about the school as a student, and part of why I came back as a faculty member,” said Lyness. “As Dean Taubman has noted publicly, our faculty turnover rate is low compared to our peer institutions, and I think that’s because of our culture.”

Scholar Spotlight: Lesley Chapman

Lesley Chapman, 5th year student in the Translational Biomedical Science program, shares her research on the role of microRNA in malaria response.


If you’d like to see your research featured in the CTSI blog, email Sean_Dobbin@urmc.rochester.edu.

More Scholar Spotlights:
Jarrod Bogue and the need for new antibiotics
Molly Jaynes and focal hand dystonia

Got a question? Ask Cindy Doane.

If you’re a researcher with a question, Cindy Doane, M.P.H., M.S., probably has the answer.

Cindy Doane, M.P.H., M.S.

Cindy Doane, M.P.H., M.S.

“E-record, vouchers and financial assistance, REDCap, access policies, needing to know when certain patients are admitted to the ER — it’s really any research-related question,” said Doane, administrator of the CTSI’s Research Navigator Program.

Doane has been helping to guide researchers to various resources both within the university since she joined the CTSI in March. Connecting with researchers either by email or in person, she assists with a wide variety of research-related requests.

In the instances where she doesn’t have an answer immediately, she reaches out to others in the CTSI, the University, or beyond to help provide support.

“If I can’t help them, I connect them,” she said.

For much of the past two decades, Doane has worked at the university, including a good deal of time as a study coordinator. She started in the Department of Pediatrics as an information analyst and worked her way up to senior project coordinator, also spending time in the Department of Psychiatry.

Her past experience in research made her an ideal fit for the position, as she is personally familiar with many of the challenges facing researchers and study coordinators.

“We were very excited to bring Cindy onto the team,” said Eric Rubinstein, J.D., M.P.H., executive director for research services at the CTSI. “With her wealth of research experience and familiarity with regulatory processes and University infrastructure, she is a tremendous resource to help teams get what they need to move their research forward.”

In addition to her work with the Research Navigator Program, Doane runs the ClinicalTrials.gov Consultation Clinics, which take place monthly in Saunders Research Building, and administers the Voucher System, where researchers can obtain small amounts of funding quickly and easily.

Doane also spent much of her first several months at the CTSI helping to develop the Research Request Dashboard, a one-stop web-based application that manages all the requests that come through the Research Navigator Program. The Dashboard, which will launch later in 2014, will allow users to log in and track the progress of their requests.

CTSI Announces 2014 Pilot Program Trainee Awardees

Two URMC trainees are beginning new research projects in 2014-2015 that are funded by the CTSI Pilot Studies Program. The CTSI pilot grant program is intended to provide seed funding to facilitate new research and future funding. Multidisciplinary research is strongly encouraged, as well as translational and clinical research that moves new discoveries along the translational continuum to humans and the community. Clinical and community based research, practice-based research, and health services research proposals are also encouraged. The CTSI Pilot Studies program is currently accepting applications for all of its funding mechanisms. Abstracts are due on September 2nd and the full RFA can be viewed here. This year’s trainee awardees are:

Amanda Croasdell

Amanda Croasdell

Amanda Croasdell (Medical Student)

Project: Specialized proresolving mediators act as novel therapeutics against infection

 

 

 

Daniela Geba

Daniela Geba

Daniela Geba (PhD Candidate)

Project: Comparative effectiveness of screening methods for type 2 diabetes: a pilot study

Two CTSI Scholars receive F31 awards from NIH

Lesley Chapman and Molly Jaynes, who are students in the CTSI’s Translational Biomedical Science Ph.D. program, recently received F31 awards from the National Institutes of Health. These individual grants will fund travel and equipment purchases to further their research studies while providing them with living stipends for the duration of the award.

Read more about what Chapman and Jaynes are studying below.

 

A novel approach to malaria

Lesley Chapman

Lesley Chapman

When it comes to fighting malaria, a deficiency can be an advantage.

That’s what Lesley Chapman discovered when studying mice who were missing a specific strand of microRNA.

“Mice that don’t have this particular microRNA have more immature red cells, so it’s definitely essential for life — you can become anemic without it,” said Chapman, a fourth-year student in the CTSI’s Translational Biomedical Science Ph.D. program. “But therapeutically, if you’re able to target this cell type, you can enhance the host response to malaria.”

The disease, which kills hundreds of thousands per year, is the leading cause of death in many developing countries. Chapman began studying it as an undergrad, when she researched the role of microRNA in red blood cells. As a graduate student, she wanted to take the idea one step further, and was able to show in cultures that if microRNA 451 was altered in platelets, then the cells were able to clear a malaria infection out more quickly.

The next step is to test the results at the next level, by taking the T-cells of mice without microRNA 451 and transplanting them into other mice to see if they have an improved response to malaria.

“This is very novel,” said Chapman. “I don’t think anyone has looked at microRNA in regulating T-cell response during infection.”

Should her hypothesis prove true, the therapy has tremendous potential for humans down the line. Chapman believes that by removing blood from a patient and targeting the proper cells, the modified blood could then be reintroduced into a patient’s body, giving them a much higher resistance to malaria.

Her award, which began on July 1 and spans the next year, will allow her to perform additional tests and travel to conferences that focus on the disease.

Helping musicians with dystonia

Molly Jaynes

Molly Jaynes

Imagine playing an instrument and then, suddenly, feeling your fingers lurch off in a new direction.

“It’s really devastating, because as a musician, you self-identify with what you do, and then when you can’t do it any more, it alters your whole self-perception,” said Molly Jaynes, a third-year student in the CTSI’s Translational Biomedical Science Ph.D. program.

For several years, Jaynes has been studying focal hand dystonia, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary hand motions that regularly ends the careers of musicians who develop it.

The rare disorder, as mysterious as it is devastating, has no cure, though Jaynes is working on new approaches to studying it. By having affected musicians execute a series of finger-tapping tasks — whereupon a number appears on a computer screen and the musician must press a button with the corresponding finger — Jaynes is hoping to establish a link between cognitive and automatic muscle control in people with the disorder.

“We want to see if musicians have a problem in that transition,” said Jaynes. “And if we find that they do, which we think they might, it could pave the way for interventional therapies and maybe cognitive rehabilitation strategies.”

Jaynes’s award, which spans the next two years, has already allowed her to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, for a conference on neurological disorders. She’s also hoping to bring her experiment on the road with her and visit musicians with focal hand dystonia in other cities — the rarity of the disease makes it impossible to get an adequate sample size if she only stays in Rochester.

Watch Jaynes talk about her research here.