Basic Science, Clinical Research

THROUGH ALLIANCE COLLABORATION, DR. SHYANIKA ROSE COMBATS HEALTH DISPARITIES

This spring Shyanika Rose, PhD, assistant professor in the department of behavioral science, won an opportunity to fight for health equity.

With a five-year, $2.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to research the role of local policies limiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, Dr. Rose will gather evidence to reveal what policies are most effective in reducing marketing, and ultimately, tobacco use among vulnerable groups—people of color, youth, and low-income populations.

Although general restrictions on cigarette advertising and smoking in public areas have existed for years, little attention is paid to the effect of local ordinances on tobacco use, especially in African American communities, where tobacco companies sharply focus advertising for menthol cigarettes. “There’s evidence that menthol cigarettes are easier to start and harder to quit,” Dr. Rose explained, “and over 80 percent of Black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. This is a population that’s been left behind.”

Funded by the grant, Dr. Rose will monitor young people in eight communities with varying local ordinances regarding flavored tobacco. These subjects are “initially non-tobacco users, or not regular users.” The study will track them over six months to reveal the effects of the different community policies on their tobacco use behavior.

When she arrived at UK in the summer of 2019, Dr. Rose began to explore how she might bring “the health equity lens” to her study of tobacco control. She was recruited by the Center for Health Equity Transformation, directed by Nancy Schoenberg, PhD, professor in the department of behavioral science. “Dr. Schoenberg offered instrumental support and helped me connect with people on campus.”

Dr. Rose’s next step was with LIFT KY (Leveraging Clinical and Behavioral, Biomedical and Policy Innovations to Facilitate Tobacco Treatment in Kentucky), directed by Seth Himelhoch, MD, MPH, chair of the department of psychiatry. Funded by the Alliance Research Initiative, LIFT KY offered Dr. Rose a group of experienced colleagues to talk with about her project.

“They were tobacco control researchers from the College of Medicine and beyond. Dr. Hahn of the College of Nursing introduced me to several people who are now working on the grant.” These include Mary Kay Rayens, PhD, professor in the UK College of Nursing and Melinda Ickes, PhD, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the UK College of Education Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, and Jay Christian, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the UK College of Public Health Department of Epidemiology.

Through LIFT KY, Dr. Rose plans to continue her professional connection supported by a community of experienced scholars who share her strong interest in tobacco control and policy. She is already planning her next project, and as before, she is working with LIFT KY to clarify ideas and make connections and find collaborators.

“They’re a really great group with a strong focus on tobacco control in Kentucky and beyond.”

UK’S CLINICAL RESEARCH POWERHOUSE HELPS DR. MARY SHEPPARD KEEP PROMISE FOR KENTUCKIANS

A young Kentucky girl was in the car with her mother, traveling yet again for treatment for her rare condition, Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting the joints and the heart. They had a long drive ahead to Baltimore, Md., where her physician, Clair Francomano, MD, practiced.

“When I grow up,” she said, “I want to do what Clair does. But I want to do it in Kentucky.”

Now that girl has grown up, and she has kept her promise to her fellow Kentuckians. Mary B. Sheppard, MD, co-directs the Saha Aortic Center, where research and treatment for people with aortic disease, including those with Marfan syndrome, is located right here in the Commonwealth, drawing patients from Kentucky and surrounding states. With a recent $100,000 grant from The Marfan Foundation, Dr. Sheppard also leads an interdisciplinary team to study hip pain associated with the disease.

In the summers as an undergraduate, Dr. Sheppard performed research at the National Institute of Health with her physician— and later mentor—Dr. Francomano. But she credits UK for nurturing the skills for her current work. At UK, Dr. Sheppard received opportunities for targeted research and collaboration with talented colleagues. Alan Daugherty, PhD, DSc, chair of the department of physiology and director of the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, was an early partner. With Dr. Daugherty’s guidance, Dr. Sheppard enrolled in a doctorate program in clinical and translational research and became established as a principal investigator.

In addition to clinical research and practice, Dr. Sheppard teaches in the College of Medicine, where her work gives her the opportunity to educate future physicians about Marfan syndrome. “The medical class is now comprised of more than 200 students a year,” she said. “Over the last six years, I have been able to educate more than 1,000 future doctors about Marfan syndrome and related disorders. That’s an incredible impact.”

Dr. Sheppard’s work in the classroom isn’t confined to lecturing. “I bring patients into the classroom. I have invited people with Marfan syndrome and other genetic conditions, like sickle cell disease, to tell the medical students about their life experiences. UK has been incredibly supportive.”

The next goal for this project is a large grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

“With several million dollars,” Dr. Sheppard said, “we can conduct research that will make a huge difference in the lives of people with genetic and aortic disorders. Kentucky will be a national leader.”

In the meantime, Dr. Sheppard is preparing for a special event—a talk she will be presenting to students at IU’s medical school in Indianapolis. The host—Dr. Francomano, the physician whose care inspired her as a young girl.

As a researcher, a teacher, a practitioner, Dr. Sheppard is keeping her promise to Kentucky.

ALLIANCE RESEARCH INITIATIVE LEADS TO MENTORSHIP FOR FACULTY, TRAINEES

When it launched, the Alliance Research Initiative not only aimed to focus on scientific discovery, but also mentorship for early-career faculty and trainees so that successful research can continue for years to come. The research conducted during fiscal year 2021 created numerous opportunities for students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and early-career investigators to be mentored by well-experienced clinicians and scientists. Many of these mentees have played key roles in grant obtainment and publications as a result of the Alliance Research Initiative.

THREE NEW ALLIANCE TEAMS CREATED

The Alliance Research Initiative officially launched with 20 teams, and during the fiscal year, added three additional research teams dedicated to finding solutions for Kentucky’s most urgent health issues.

  • Artificial Intelligence in Medicine (AIM) works to advance data-driven science across health-centered research priority areas and potentially open new areas of transdisciplinary research inquiry on AI application in medicine.
  • The Radiopharmaceutical Therapy Alliance (RPTA) addresses specific topics related to genitourinary, gynecological, and gastrointestinal cancers.
  • T cells to Induce Liver Tolerance (TILT) was recently created to support translational and clinical research in transplant/immunology related to the use of cell immunotherapy to induce tolerance in solid organ transplantation.

UK CENTERS RECOGNIZED WITH
MONUMENTAL AWARDS

This past year, the tremendous work of our College of Medicine faculty was on full display as three UK centers received or maintained distinguishable honors in their respective fields. The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging received $14.5 million in renewed funding for its Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) program from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) received a $23.5 million, four-year Clinical and Translational Award from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the NIH. And the Markey Cancer Center has maintained its National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, upholding its status as a national leader in cancer care and research. Having these centers recognized with these distinctions in the same year showcases the ability of our college and University to make a significant impact on the future of health care and research in our state and beyond.

LEADERSHIP POSITION ESTABLISHED TO ENHANCE CLINICAL RESEARCH

The College of Medicine has developed into a research powerhouse, and clinical research is vital in bringing important findings from the laboratory into the clinic to improve patient treatment. To continue to strengthen its research capabilities, the college filled a newly created position, an associate dean for clinical research. Larry B. Goldstein, MD, chair of neurology, was named into this role to oversee clinical research infrastructure and space; partner with clinical chairs to establish and expand on research goals; develop clinical research mentorship opportunities and enhance pipeline programs; and provide support and guidance to clinical research faculty, staff, and learners, among other responsibilities.

BLUE RIDGE RANKINGS SHOWCASE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE RESEARCH SUCCESS

The 2020 Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research (BRIMR) rankings – which were based on fiscal year 2020 but announced in 2021 – highlighted the College of Medicine’s outstanding work in obtaining grant funding. Of the basic science departments, three were named in the top 15: pharmacology (No. 1), physiology (No. 11), and biochemistry (No. 14). Notably, the department of family and community medicine, a clinical department, reached the top 25 for the first time in its history, earning enough research funding to hit No. 22.

THE YEAR IN NUMBERS

$232,773,624

College of Medicine scientists and clinicians earned more than $232 million in total research funding during fiscal year 2021.

$90 Million

More than $90 million in total funding has been gathered from Alliances as of Sept. 1, 2021.

55 Mentees

More than 55 mentees on the Alliance research teams have gained vital scientific and clinical research experience learning from experienced faculty across departments.