Please join the NUCATS Institute in welcoming three new KL2 scholars who are participating in the Multidisciplinary Mentored Career Development Program (KL2). The KL2 Program is designed to train a diverse workforce of early career investigators needed to drive future innovation and implement effective clinical and translational research. The awardees and their projects are:
- Amanda Saratsis, MD, assistant professor in Neurological Surgery at Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; her project is focused on investigation of histone modifications in pediatric brainstem glioma.
- Lisa VanWagner, MD/MSc, assistant professor in Medicine-Gastroenterology and Hepatology and Preventive Medicine at Feinberg School of Medicine; her project is focused on prediction of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease using a lifecourse approach.
- Robert Gregory Webster, MD/MPH, assistant professor in Pediatrics-Cardiology at Feinberg School of Medicine and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; his project is focused on evaluation of first-degree relatives after sudden cardiac death.
Dr. Saratsis’ project will use KL2 funding to complete high-throughput molecular analysis of the histone protein to understand how histone modifications affecting gene regulation lead to Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). She aims to find genes that slow tumor growth as a target for pharmacological or genetic-based therapy.
“DIPG is the most morbid pediatric solid cancer, and we don’t have a treatment for it despite 40 years of clinical trials. One of the reasons it’s so difficult to study and treat is because it lives in the brainstem and can’t be surgically removed,” said Dr. Saratsis. “We’ve found a clever way of looking at the biology of the tumor using human tumor cells and we’re just now scratching the surface of this discovery. I think our analysis will apply to other pediatric tumors too. This support from NUCATS is going to have a much wider impact.” Prior to the KL2 award, Dr. Saratsis received the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation (NREF) Inaugural Clinician Investigator Award that helped her generate initial data and submit a competitive KL2 application.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the build-up of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol. Using data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, Dr. VanWagner aims to understand how dynamic changes in serially measured lifestyle (e.g. diet) and physiologic (e.g. insulin resistance) factors throughout adulthood effect the development of NAFLD and heart disease in middle age. If she can identify which patients are on the fast track for developing NAFLD she may be able to more effectively target individuals for prevention of NAFLD and heart disease. The KL2 will provide Dr. VanWagner with mentoring in epidemiology and support from the Biostatistics Collaboration Center to complete trajectory analysis of the data.
“The prevalence of NAFLD in the United States is about 30% and, of those diagnosed, the majority die from cardiovascular disease not liver disease. I’m fortunate that Northwestern is one of the CARDIA sites with access to a one-of-kind database that has followed and examined over 5,000 adults for the development of cardiovascular disease for the past 25 years,” said Dr. VanWagner. She explains that study participants completed computed tomography (CT) scans of the fat in their abdomen at year 25 allowing researchers to assess whether there is fat deposited in the liver. “This is a systemic disease and the project involves experts from all over the county in cardiology, epidemiology, biostatistics, radiology, imaging, and adolescent health. It’s how research was designed to be completed, by using a team science and a multidisciplinary approach.” Before receiving the KL2 award, Dr. VanWagner’s work in this area was supported by an individual Postdoctoral Research Grant (parent F32) from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the American Liver Foundation, the Alpha Omega Alpha Foundation and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.
Dr. Webster is investigating first-degree relatives who have had a sudden, unexplained death in the family. He has a unique collaboration with medical examiners in Chicago and Northeastern Illinois who will be alerting his study team when someone 1-35 years old has an unidentifiable cause of death. His team will then interview the relatives and, if they agree, complete genetic testing and a medical exam.
“Previous studies suggest that 30-50% of the victims suffered from a cardiac disorder. We’re trying to determine how genetic testing can help us identify relatives who need to be protected from a second death in the family,” said Dr. Webster. He will utilize KL2 funds to secure protected time for a team of researchers and a genetic counselor to complete the interviews and exams. “The KL2 award will enable me to build the skills necessary to grow and contribute to the cardiology mission of Northwestern.”
About the NUCATS KL2 Program
The Multidisciplinary Mentored Career Development Program (KL2) is funded as part of the Institute’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) which is supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health. It provides support for two years which includes salary support, 75% protected time for mentored research, tuition, travel, mentor materials and supply support, and mentorship across areas such as community stakeholder engagement and research analysis and design methods for selected scholars. Learn more