Cullen Joins CTSI to Bring Renewed Focus on Diversity and Inclusion

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John P. Cullen, PhD

Prostate cancer affects a disproportionately high number of black men — occurring at an incidence rate nearly twice any other race or ethnicity. So during research study recruitment, it behooves researchers to recruit a higher percentage of black men.

But it rarely happens.

“Only 5 percent of prostate cancer research subjects are black men,” said John Cullen, PhD, director of diversity and inclusion at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “This can lead to great disparities in health outcomes, as the effectiveness of drugs can vary based on a patient’s race.”
Despite a Congressional mandate that NIH-funded research include minorities, a recent study found that less than 5 percent of NIH-supported trial participants are non-white.

Cullen, who joined the CTSI in January, is tasked with narrowing some of these gaps that can affect and sometimes stymie medical research. He is also looking at ways that the medical center can encourage diversity among staff and faculty.

“Studies have shown that a more diverse workforce is a more productive workforce,” said Cullen. “You get a wider array of ideas, which leads to better and quicker advances.”

The former chair of the University’s Pride Alliance, Cullen became interested in diversity and inclusion early in his career and has extensive experience working with both the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and the Office for Inclusion and Culture Development. In recent years, he received his graduate certificate in LGBT health policy and practice, and began working at the Susan B. Anthony Center, where he serves as coordinator of outreach and works to translate research into policy, with a focus on healthcare disparities and vulnerable populations.

Previously, he spent 15 years in the Department of Surgery, conducting both basic science and clinical research into how alcohol consumption affects cardiovascular disease and trauma.

Within the CTSI, Cullen hopes to spread the message among researchers that focusing on diversity – specifically studying diverse populations or ensuring that a study cohort is adequately diverse – is a worthwhile endeavor. On a broad level, Cullen will support the University’s strategic plan, which includes a sustained effort to promote diversity and inclusion by developing a central infrastructure that enables consideration of issues of diversity in workforce development and trainee education. A more diverse culture helps with recruitment and retention, as well as scientific impact.

“Studies have shown that journal papers are cited more likely to be accepted and cited more often if the authors’ names have diverse origins,” said Cullen. “A line of authors with all Anglo names is less likely to be cited than a mixed group.”

Cullen’s office is in the CTSI Director’s Office of the Saunders Research Building. Stop by and say hello!

CTSI Director’s Update February 2016: URMC and UB Create a New Collaborative Genomics Pilot Funding Program

genomicsThe University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and the SUNY University at Buffalo (UB) released a request for applications last week seeking submissions to a new Collaborative Genomics pilot award program. The goal of this program is to fund projects that will lead to accelerated collaboration between UB and URMC in the area of large-scale, collaborative genomics. In particular, the program is seeking projects that will build on established strengths at both institutions and leverage the collaboration to apply for future NY state opportunities for regional collaborative centers.

This is not the first time that the CTSI has collaborated with the University at Buffalo. UB has been a member of the CTSI’s UNYTE translational research network since its inception in 2006. Also, Tim Murphy, MD, the PI of the Buffalo CTSA, is chair of the CTSI’s External Advisory Committee. When the Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center was established in 2015 with a new NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), Buffalo and Rochester began conversations about how URMC and UB could build new collaborations in translational science and leverage resources and expertise at each institution. The first step in this direction is the new Collaborative Genomics pilot funding program.

The program is designed to fund projects that will make rapid progress over a 12-month period. Projects must use human tissue, primary cells, or primary human microbiome samples. Proposals with a high chance for funding will address one or more of the following areas:
• Collaborative biobanking that includes pilot genomic data generation and analysis
• Analysis of established and unique patient cohorts with existing and extensive clinical data, phenotype data, and existing locally banked biospecimens
• Predictive genomic analysis, especially projects that have existing outcome measures and actual or potential tissue samples for analysis
• Projects that will utilize high performance computational analysis of the resulting genomic data

If you are interested in learning more about the Collaborative Genomics program, please click here to read the complete RFA. Abstracts and initial application cover sheet and cover letter should be submitted by 5 PM, February 29, 2016 in PDF form via e-mail to Tricia_DiQuattro@urmc.rochester.edu.

2015-16 Faculty Pilot Program Awardee: David N. Herrmann, MD

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David Herrmann, MD

David Herrmann, MD, Professor of Neurology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine will conduct a “Pilot Study of Mexiletine for Muscle Cramps in Charcot Marie tooth Disease” over the next year. Dr. Herrmann is Unit Chief of the Neuromuscular Unit & Director of the Peripheral Neuropathy Clinics and Cutaneous Innervation Laboratory at the University of Rochester. Dr. Herrmann is also the Principal Investigator in Rochester for the NIH sponsored Inherited Neuropathy Consortium Rare Disease Clinical Research Center. Dr. Herrmann’s research focuses on new gene identification for inherited neuropathies, development of novel neuropathy outcome measures and biomarkers and experimental therapeutics.

Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT) is a family of inherited peripheral neuropathies which affects 1/ 2500 individuals. CMT Type 1A (CMT1A) is an autosomal dominant disorder that accounts for 50% of CMT and manifests in childhood or early adulthood with progressive muscle weakness and atrophy, sensory loss, impaired ambulation, pain and disability. Muscle cramps affect about 85% of adults with CMT1A and impact quality of life and have been identified as an important therapeutic target in CMT1A. Mexiletine is an oral sodium channel blocker that in low doses has shown promise for prevention of muscle cramps, but data is lacking on its effectiveness in CMT1A. The overall goal of this pilot study is to obtain preliminary data on the efficacy and tolerability of low dose Mexiletine for muscle cramps in adults with CMT1A.

Dr. Herrmann received funding to complete this research project through the CTSI Investigator-initiated Pilot Studies for Faculty program. Click here to learn more about this program and how to apply for funding.

2015-16 Faculty Pilot Program Awardee: Emily Carmody, MD

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Emily Carmody, MD

Emily Carmody, MD, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics and Assistant Professor at the Wilmot Cancer Center will lead a team of investigators through an exciting pilot project over the next year. Dr. Carmody specializes in treating both benign and malignant musculoskeletal tumors in adults and children. She has a particular interest in limb-sparing surgery and endoprosthetic reconstruction for treating bone sarcomas. Dr. Carmody also specializes in metabolic bone disorders including osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Dr. Carmody, along with Michael Zuscik, PhD (Associate Professor of Orthopaedics) and Christopher Ritchlin (Professor of Medicine) on a pilot project entitled “Assessment of Forteo as a Therapeutic to Treat Knee Osteoarthritis.” Traditional treatment strategies for Osteoarthritis are palliative, with the focus on pain management and joint replacement. Development of disease-modifying agents that can rejuvenate cartilage is a great unmet need. Thus, development of an effective treatment for Osteoarthritis is a vital public health initiative with potential for tremendous impact.

Data mined from the NIH-sponsored Osteoarthritis Initiative revealed improved WOMAC knee function scores in arthritic subjects coincidentally prescribed Forteo to treat osteoporosis. These preclinical and human data provide compelling rationale to study Forteo as a novel Osteoarthritis therapy directed at improving joint structure and function. The central Aim of this research study is to challenge the paradigm that cartilage loss in Osteoarthritis is irreversible.

Dr. Carmody received funding to complete this research project through the CTSI Investigator-initiated Pilot Studies for Faculty program. Click here to learn more about this program and how to apply for funding.

Apply Now: Certificate of Advanced Study in Biomedical Data Science

The Clinical and Translational Science Institute and Department of Public Health Sciences are datascience_1accepting applications for the 2016 Summer cohort of the Certificate of Advanced Study in Biomedical Data Science (CAS-BDS).

Enrollment is open and classes begin on Monday, June 27.

The program, centered around a two-semester analytic project, prepares researchers to conduct “big data” analytics for health services, clinical, and public health research. This program prepares researchers for careers in data analytics, data wrangling, and clinical and health services research using large complex datasets.

“We consulted with people from industry and in academia, and looked at the state-of-the-art in terms of what people were teaching,” said Tim Dye, Ph.D., director of biomedical informatics at the CTSI. “We created this Certificate specifically to fit with all that.”

The CAS-BDS is a stackable data analytic credential for researchers and analysts with biomedical, computer science, statistical, or health service backgrounds. The curriculum draws on a range of courses that cover the fundamentals of disease biology, health care systems, and big data management and analytics.

Coursework begins with an intensive summer session that will give researchers a solid background in data science, data management, human biology, and team science. About a half dozen courses are new, having been created specifically for CAS-BDS.

“It’s pretty intense — starting with a summer Boot Camp that familiarizes everyone with the basics,” said Dye, who worked with faculty in the Institute for Data Science and elsewhere to make sure the Certificate complements other university data science offerings. “But we thought all these topics were required to have a good foundation in data science applied to the biomedical area.”

Several possibilities exist for the two-semester mentored project, which can have a basis in basic science, clinical work, health services, population health, or other fields. Projects will include attention to specific aim formulation, background, analytic plan development, database creation, data analysis, and reporting.

For more information on the CAS-BDS, visit https://urmc.rochester.edu/biomedical-data-science.aspx or contact tim_dye@urmc.rochester.edu.