Children’s Book Drive

reading2For a second year during this holiday season of giving, the University’s Study Coordinators Organization for Research and Education (SCORE) participants are hosting donation stations to accept your contributions of NEW Books for the Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Donation dropoffs are in the following locations:
-Saunders Research Building, CTSI Director’s Office (1.200)
-Clinical Research Center (G-5035)
-Miner Library (1-6222)

The drive will run until Dec. 18. Thanks for your donation!

From Hawaii to Rochester: CTSI Welcomes Dongmei Li

With winter having descended on Rochester, the view out Dongmei Li’s office window is decidedly different than it was earlier this year, when she was looking out across beaches and the Pacific Ocean from her office at the University of Hawai’i at Mᾱnoa.

Dongmei Li, Ph.D.

Dongmei Li, Ph.D.

If Rochester gets a dose of the weather that hit Buffalo last week, her opinion might change. But so far, she has no regrets about leaving the Aloha State to join the University of Rochester.

“Rochester has many, many excellent investigators and fantastic computing resources,” said Li, Ph.D., interim associate professor of clinical and translational research. “And Tim Dye is an excellent leader.”

Li, who joined the CTSI’s bioinformatics team earlier this year, adds to the institute’s fast-growing informatics team. Led by Tim Dye, Ph.D., the group has been incorporated into the foundation of the CTSI.

And while many doctors and scientists spend a portion of their time working within the CTSI, Li is the first faculty member ever appointed to the CTSI.

“I think this designation will be more and more useful going forward as more faculty join the institution whose remit is to conduct and assist with team science, crossing disciplinary boundaries,” said Dye. “Bioinformatics is one area that very naturally fits within this team science and cross-disciplinary space, so her appointment makes a lot of sense.”

Li received her doctorate in biostatistics from The Ohio State University, and spent time in Hawaii as an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Science. While there, she used her expertise to help a variety of researchers tackle biostatistics problems and write grants.

“I had collaborations with the faculty across the Mᾱnoa  campus and down in the kaka’ako campus,” said Li. “The investigators come from multiple schools such as the John A Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawai’i Cancer Center, School of Nursing & Dental Hygiene, Center on Disability Studies, Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and College of Education. I also collaborated with investigators in VA Pacific Islands Health Care System for research related to PTSD.”

She also previously collaborated with Dye in Hawaii, where the duo worked on the RMATRIX grant, which stands for RCMI Multidisciplinary And Translational Research Infrastructure eXpansion, and supports translational research, similar to the CTSI.

“Dongmei has worked at the cutting edge of bioinformatics and biostatistics, and was instrumental in working with biomedical investigators in Hawaii conducting genomic research aimed at reducing health disparities,” said Dye. “In addition to this unique expertise, she also was a key team member of a wide range of population health projects, so could work with large population health databases as well.”

Li spends her weekends with her husband and two children, where they often partake in family karate classes. Her office is in the CTSI Director’s Suite; stop by and say hello.

New Ph.D. program bridges gap between bench research and population health

Curing infectious diseases requires extensive knowledge of the microscopic cells that make up the body. Ensuring the population embraces those cures necessitates a deep understanding of the massive, 7-billion-strong human populace.

A new Ph.D. program at the University of Rochester Medical Center will train scientists to think small and big at the same time.

The program, called Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Populations (IIMP), will develop scholars who are adept with both bench research and population health, in the hopes of providing a shorter path between basic science advances and health improvements for the community at large. IIMP is supported by $2.5 million from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and aims to bridge the gap between bench research and population health.

“We have a strong pipeline for basic scientists, and we train many physicians and doctoral students in population health science,” said Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., co-director of URMC’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, where the new program will be housed. “But the great scientists of tomorrow are going to have to do both, and to participate on teams including scientists at both ends of the spectrum of research.”

URMC was selected by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund from dozens of applicants in part due to the university’s history in infection and immunity, as URMC researchers have previously expanded on bench research to develop vaccines that prevent childhood meningitis, pneumonia, and human papillomavirus infection.

The program also leverages unique URMC resources in both laboratory and population science – including the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center, the New York Influenza Center of Excellence, the Center for Community Health and its Rochester Emerging Infections Program, and the UR’s National Vaccine Surveillance Site – as well the University’s new Institute for Data Science.

Many additional resources within URMC will further support the IIMP program, which will be a track within the Translational Biomedical Science doctorate. Scholars in the program will cross-train in both basic research and population sciences, and will have dual mentors drawn from each discipline. They will also have the opportunity to take courses from a wide range of departments and disciplines, and to learn from other scientists working at the interface between laboratory and population sciences. Students can choose to do internships and externships with scientists in a variety of settings from academia, to industry, to public health.

“Team science is the wave of the future,” said Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for research. “This grant builds on URMC’s exceptional contributions in vaccine science and public health, and gives us the opportunity to launch a new kind of training program that will prepare our students to be leaders of the interdisciplinary scientific teams that are going to advance public health in years to come.”

The IIMP program is now accepting applications for the Fall 2015 semester. Visit the IIMP homepage for more information.

Year Out Scholar selected to participate in Kidney STARS Program

Kyle Rodenbach

Kyle Rodenbach

UR Medical Student and CTSI Year Out Scholar, Kyle Rodenbach, has been selected to participate in this year’s prestigious Kidney STARS Program, part of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) Kidney Week 2014 in Philadelphia, PA (November 11-16, 2014). Kyle will be participating in the program’s “clinical nephrology track” and is looking forward to learning more about clinical aspects of nephrology, hot topics in clinical research and career opportunities.

The Kidney STARS (Students and Residents) Program provides interested medical students and residents an opportunity to learn more about all aspects of nephrology. The program features “Meet the Experts” sessions with leaders in the field, a guided tour of innovative research abstracts, and a number of networking events.

As a CTSI scholar, Kyle is also earning a stipend through the Year Out Program and gaining valuable research experience between his third and fourth years of medical school. He is working with internationally-known researcher, Dr. George Schwartz on a funded project, “Cystatin-C-based renal reserve in children with history of hemolytic uremic syndrome-associated acute kidney injury.”

Director’s Update — November 2014

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

Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., co-director of the CTSI.

Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., co-director of the CTSI.

Below, Nana Bennett discusses the plans for the expansion of the role of the Community Advisory Council, which advises the Center for Community Health and URMC.

Tell me a little bit about the history of the council.

The Center for Community Health was created in 2006, and at that time, we knew we needed a Community Advisory Council (CAC) to help guide the Medical Center on all aspects of community engagement. We knew we needed their advice on how best to approach the community and use best practices to engage the broader community in an effective and meaningful way.

Why is it necessary?

Academic health centers have not always had good reputations in their communities. Sometimes, community members feel like they are being used for academic research — that investigators come into the community, get what they want, and then leave them without any benefits from the research. Communities want researchers to involve them in all phases of research and to work WITH them, rather than give the impression that they are simply doing things TO them.

How is that best accomplished?

The best practice is to involve the community to establish the research priorities that will best meet the needs of the community, and to involve them in meaningful ways on the research team from the development of an idea to the design of the project to dissemination of the research findings. I can’t stress enough how important it is to let the community know: “This is what we learned” and ideally to enhance the capacity of the community through the research.

Why is the expansion happening now, and how is it going to work?

As a result of the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine report on the CTSAs, Karl Kieburtz, Harriet Kitzman, and I have been eager to increase community engagement across the spectrum of translational science. So, we approached the CAC and asked that they consider how to have more meaningful involvement in the CTSA.  Recently, the CAC had a retreat during which numerous ideas were discussed re the contributions of the CAC to research at the URMC.  It is likely that a subset of the CAC will meet regularly with CTSI leadership, providing advice and input similar to that provided by the national members of the CTSI External Advisory Committee. In addition to increasing the input of the CAC to the CTSI, we hope that investigators throughout the UR will make use of the community input in developing and implementing their research.  These meaningful relationships will likely improve the quality and relevance of UR research.

Have the members of the CAC embraced the larger role?

Yes, absolutely. We are so impressed by and grateful for the level of commitment that the CAC members bring to this responsibility. The chair of the CAC is Wade Norwood, who serves as the Director of Community Engagement at the FLHSA. Scott Benjamin is the vice chair and President of the Charles Settlement House, and the rest of the council is comprised of very broad representation of community members. These are busy people, and they do this because they think it’s important. They are serious about improving health and eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities, and realize that the right community based research can be helpful in this endeavor. They believe that it’s well worth their time to work with the university and tackle these issues together. As we move into an era of increasing population health focus, we need their insights and assistance more than ever.

Previous director’s updates:

October 2014 – Harriet Kitzman discusses the science of team science.
September 2014 – Karl Kieburtz talks about why the CTSI is beefing up its informatics team.
August 2014 – Nana Bennett discusses 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.

Seminar Recap: Sex Dependent Neurotoxicity of Ambient Ultrafine Particulate Matter

Between its contributions to heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections in children, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, air pollution plays a big role in our health. In fact, the World Health Organization believes that air pollution contributes to over 7 million premature deaths annually.

Joshua Allen, Ph.D.

Joshua Allen, Ph.D.

“So they’re really making this firm statement now that air pollution is the largest single environmental health risk,” said Joshua Allen, Ph.D., research assistant professor of environmental medicine.

But the health risks don’t end there, as there are now close to a dozen studies linking autism and schizophrenia to early air pollution exposure. Hoping to expand on these findings, Allen is now studying how the ultrafine particles (UFPs) that accompany air pollution into the lungs can affect the growing brain.

His work has shown significant differences between how these UFPs affects neonatal male and female mice. He shared his results at the CTSI Seminar Series on Women’s Health on Oct. 28.

UFP study

To administer his study, Allen collected air using a device that draws in 5,000 liters of air per minute, and  concentrating it 10- to 20-fold. The resulting enriched air contained approximately 200,000 UFPs per cubic centimeter, or about the same amount present in the air around an active expressway.

He then exposed neonatal mice to the UFP-enriched air, and used a variety of tests to measure their neurological development.

In one learning test, the mice were rewarded with food after pressing a sequence of levers. Normally-developing mice would improve their test accuracy over time, but that didn’t happen for the male mice exposed to the UFP-enrich air. During the test, if they pressed an incorrect lever, a light would turn off, shutting the reward system down temporarily.

“What’s really interesting in males is that they don’t stop responding,” said Allen. “The whole box shuts down, and for a normal animal, you would expect the response to then stop, because they would never be reinforced when the lights areoff. But the males didn’t stop. They just kept whaling away on the levers.”

This effect adversely impacted their ability to learn, and also had implications for impulsivity. Allen said that it wasn’t his intention to study how the exposures affected males and females differently, but rather that the data pushed him in that direction.

Conclusions and future directions

Ultimately, both males and females did show some neurological damage after exposure, but males were significantly more sensitive to the UFP-enrich air.

“We think the protection in females is probably related to differences in microglia colonization, and it might be a testosterone-mediated mechanism,” said Allen.

Allen is now following up on several other studies that have shown certain types of air pollution, such as diesel exhaust particles, can affect males and females differently. He’s also looking at early-life air pollution exposure in humans and looking at whether home location correlates with the onset of the autism.

“This was all very surprising to us,” said Allen. “We didn’t start out as experts in this type of thing, and we’re learning as we go, but given the links between autism and air pollution, we want to know more about this topic.”

Preventive Medicine residency: Flexible and faith-restoring

As part of its Population Health pillar, the CTSI is supporting a resident in the University of Rochester General Preventive Medicine and Public Health Residency program. The Preventive Medicine Residency, which is within the Department of Public Health Sciences, places an emphasis on epidemiology andpopulation health skills, as well as the skills needed to improvedelivery of preventive healthcare to individuals.  The training program is at its core multi-disciplinary with residents itslearning by completing work central to the mission of numerousdepartments both inside and outside the Medical Center. These include the URMC Department of Patient Safety and Quality Improvement, the Center for Community Health, the National Center for Deaf Health, the Monroe County Department of Public Health and the American Cancer Society.

Elizabeth Helm, M.D., M.P.H

Elizabeth Helm, M.D., M.P.H

Elizabeth Helm, M.D., M.P.H., recently completed her Preventive Medicine residency, and spoke with CTSI Stories about her experiences.

Can you give a brief overview of the residency?

Part of the 2-year program is a Masters in Public Health, which definitely gave me a better appreciation of the health care system, epidemiology in general, and the changes from the Affordable Care Act.

Another core components of the residency are the practica rotations, including two required rotations. One is at the County Department of Health, which was a 3-4 month rotation, and that was incredibly useful. We learned about the resources available to the public in terms of immunization, tuberculosis, STD screening, treatment, and so on. It’s important as a physician to know what types of things are available to people, especially those without insurance, but I didn’t really know about all ofthose services from any previous curriculums.

The second required rotation is quality improvement, which lasted about 3 months. From that, I got a much better understanding of how quality improvement works within individual practices and a hospital system, as well as the governing bodies that require these quality improvements. We did this rotation on quality improvement with Dr. Panzer. It was eye opening to me because I didn’t realize that a lot of this stuff is mandated by CMS and Medicaid services. So if we want to remain accredited, these quality improvement projects aren’t optional. More importantly, quality improvement projects allow us to take better care of our patients and help others do so as well, potentially with less effort as system changes can make our jobs easier by providing automatic reminders or minimizing the likelihood that a human error gets through to a patient.

Aside from those two, the rest of the rotations are flexible?

Yes, and that ties into one of the most important things I want to share about this residency: The administration is incredibly supportive. Whatever you want to get out of this, they will help. For example, my co-resident really wanted to do occupational health and ended up focusing many of her elective rotation around this subject (which is a sister specialty to Preventive Medicine focusing on the different types of workers as individuals and populations) For me, that didn’t end up being as much of an interest, but I got to focus more on global health. In fact, I did my thesis on a global health issue, regarding the diet of pregnant women in Tibet, analyzing data collected by Tim Dye, Ann Dozier, Nancy Chin and others at the medical center and in Tibet.

So what other rotations did you end up selecting?

I did do one in occupational health, where we learned how people’s exposure at work can relate to their health, and how you can use the workplace as an opportunity to provide health care teaching and health screenings and things like that.

I did a rotation at Passport Health, a travel clinic run by the University of Rochester School of Nursing,which is where people go before they go abroad. When I came to URMC, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to live and work abroad,so that rotation helped me because it helped familiarize me with the health risks in various countries.

I also did a rotation at the American Cancer Society, which helped me understand nonprofits, how they function, and some of the extremely useful work that goes into it.

Another favorite rotation was at the Center for Community Health. I learned a lot about community engagement and enjoyed the opportunity to teach medical students about how to keep involved with community health improvement efforts throughout their careers.  I also spent time at the Healthy Living Center learning how to apply Self-Determination Theory to help people quit smoking, lose weight and follow healthly lifestyle habits under the direction of Geoff Williams, M.D., Ph.D and his staff.

Finally, I also enjoyed my mini-rotation at the National Center for Deaf Health.  I learned a ton about the barriers that the Deaf face in learning about healthy lifestyle habits let alone obtaining quality health care.

When you started, you already had a residency in family medicine. Why did you decide on a residency in preventive medicine as well?

When I finished my family medicine residency, I did kind of struggle with whether I should do this because I was already boarded in one thing. But, at that point, I was really burnt out clinically — I wasn’t loving the day-to-day work, because it seemed really constrained by the system. So I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to get more of a big-picture look, and that maybe a better understanding of the system would help me appreciate the day to day more. And I do think it really broadened my perspective on health care in general and what some of the problems were, and how we can work on solutions even in small units and in individual practices.

It really helped me renew my faith in the health care system, because I saw how big and complicated it is. Instead of being frustrated at how quickly I had to see patients, or how limited I was in addressing their issues, I saw that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and change is slow because the system is so big, so you can’t just get frustrated. You’ve got to work with what’s available instead of saying “The system doesn’t work.” Because it’s the system we live in, so we all have to make the best of it.

Who would you recommend this program to?

For medical students I would say that if you know you’re interested in a broad picture — in treating a population rather than an individual — this might be a good fit for you, especially if you’re finding the day-to-day clinical work frustrating. And for people who have done a clinical residency, like I did, then I’d recommend it for those who want to have a good understanding of clinical research and epidemiology and public health interventions, and how you can improve the health of a community, not just the health of your patients.