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Standing Up for UConn

UConn Health faculty and staff attend a public hearing over state funding for UConn. (Photo provided by Andrea Keilty)

UConn Health faculty and staff attend a public hearing over state funding for UConn. (Photo provided by Andrea Keilty)

Last night in a show of solidarity against millions of dollars in proposed state budget cuts facing UConn and UConn Health, nearly 100 students, doctors, faculty and staff attended the Appropriations Committee hearings at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

UConn had several diverse panels of speakers sharing their personal perspectives with legislators about the detrimental impact any potential budget cuts could have on their education, research or care of patients.

UConn is currently facing up to $28 million in budget cuts while UConn Health is facing $13.2 million.

UConn Health’s five-person panel discussion was kicked-off by Evan Woodford, a second-year student in the UConn School of Dental Medicine. He told the committee, “I worry what message will be sent to future students if that vital support needed to continue to provide their educations…is withdrawn. I urge you to minimize the amount of the proposed budget cuts in order to maintain our excellent progress.”

Bayan Abunar, a second-year student in the UConn School of Medicine, testified, “It is through the state funds to UConn Health and your regular investments to our School of Medicine and Dental Medicine that have made it an affordable and accessible place for students of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds, including myself, to learn to be compassionate health care providers. I urge you to continue to invest in these entities by restoring funding to the FY16-17 level which provide tremendous benefit for the students, patients and Connecticut’s economy.”

Michel Gueret of Canton, a stage IV lung cancer survivor, also spoke about the cutting-edge and lifesaving immunotherapy clinical trial he had access to at UConn Health’s Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“My survival, literally against all odds, is the real testimony,” Gueret said. “It is evidence of what a research-driven UConn Health can and will continue to deliver to the people of Connecticut with your continued unwavering support. I thank each member of the committee for standing up to safeguard UConn Health. With your support–one day in the future–they will be there to save your life or that of your loved one in need, just like they saved my life.”

Mark Driscoll, a biotech entrepreneur who started the company Shoreline Biome at UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) in 2015, told the lamwakers, “UConn and UConn Health are vital components of the foundation of a robust ecosystem that is needed for the high tech life science businesses and industries of today to be successful. I urge you to consider that continued strong investment in UConn and UConn Health as part of our economic growth plan should remain a high priority as we look for long term solutions to our budget problems in Connecticut.”

UConn Health researcher Caroline Dealy spoke about the various ways she serves the state as a UConn alumnus, UConn Health scientist, entrepreneur, business owner and educator of students.

“UConn needs resources for research so that scientists like me and others who are speaking tonight can continue to bring new knowledge into the world, while engaging in the process of discovery, the next generation of change-makers: UConn’s students,” Dealy said. “I urge you, please don’t cut UConn’s resources. It’s just too important.”

Earlier in the day UConn leadership, including President Susan Herbst and Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, UConn Health CEO and executive vice president for health affairs, also shared in-person testimony with the Committee.

“I ask for your support to protect the viability of your public academic health system and to do what you can to minimize cuts to UConn Health so that we can continue to deliver on the investments and provide Connecticut and its people with excellent service,” shared Agwunobi.

Prestigious Fellowship, Grant for UConn Health Postdoc

Leslie Caromile is a senior postdoctoral fellow in UConn Health’s Center for Vascular Biology. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health Photo)

Leslie Caromile is a senior postdoctoral fellow in UConn Health’s Center for Vascular Biology. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health Photo)

UConn Health postdoctoral fellow Leslie Caromile is celebrating two major accomplishments.

Caromile, who studies prostate cancer in the Center for Vascular Biology, is one of six members of the Keystone Symposia Fellows Class of 2015-2016. Additionally, she has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for her research.

The Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology offers this fellowship program for postdocs as it seeks to draw researchers from underrepresented populations to study life sciences. Fellows must demonstrate a commitment to inclusiveness in the life sciences and mentor young scientists from underrepresented populations.

“I have been passionate about science for as long as I can remember,” Caromile says. “I spent my childhood at natural history museums and science fairs, on camping trips and nature hikes, in vegetable gardens and green houses, and with telescopes and microscopes.”

Caromile’s research on the transmembrane peptidase prostate specific membrane antigen (PSMA) and its function in prostate cancer tumor behavior is supported by the NIH/National Cancer Institutue K01 Mentored Research Scientist Award to Promote Diversity, amounting to more than $500,000 over five years.

“I am tremendously honored to receive both these awards and to be included in these groups of highly motivated researchers,” Caromile says. “I am looking forward to not only an active role as a scientist here at UConn Health but also as an active mentor and mentee.”

Caromile is of Eastern Cherokee heritage. She works in the laboratory of Linda Shapiro, director of the Center for Vascular Biology.

“Leslie Caromile is a gifted and innovative researcher who has independently developed an observation into a fascinating story unraveling critical mechanisms driving prostate tumor progression,” Shapiro says. “The award of the mentored training grant from the National Cancer Institute and her selection as a Keystone Fellow exemplify the caliber of her research and her dedication to promoting science education.”

New Clinicians, Researchers at UConn Health

Meet some more of the clinicians and researchers who recently joined UConn Health.

Dr. David Karimeddini, radiology

Dr. David Karimeddini, radiology

Dr. David Karimeddini leads the nuclear medicine section of the Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Therapeutics. His clinical interests include radiology, nuclear cardiology, thyroid disease and oncology imaging. His training includes a nuclear radiology fellowship at Yale University, a diagnostic radiology residency at Hartford Hospital, and an internship in medicine at UConn Health. His M.D. is from the Temple University School of Medicine. He is board certified in nuclear medicine and diagnostic radiology.

Dr. Keri Discepolo, pediatric dentistry

Dr. Keri Discepolo, pediatric dentistry

Dr. Keri Discepolo is a dentist who is board certified in pediatric dentistry. She sees patients in several locations, including Farmington and West Hartford, and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Discepolo completed a pediatric dentistry residency at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, where she remained as a clinical instructor for nearly seven years. Her interests are in infant and adolescent oral health interventions, with a focus in hospital dentistry. She holds a D.D.S. (doctor of dental surgery) from the New York University College of Dentistry and a Master of Public Health from Columbia University.

Dr. Saira Cherian, primary care

Dr. Saira Cherian, primary care

Dr. Saira Cherian is a primary care physician seeing patients in the Outpatient Pavilion. Her clinical interests include preventive medicine and osteopathic medicine, including treatment of back and neck pain. Cherian stayed at UConn Health, joining the faculty after completing an internal medicine residency here. She holds a D.O. from the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Cherian is board eligible in internal medicine and speaks English, Spanish and Malayalam.

Lyla Natt, family medicine nurse practitioner

Lyla Natt, family medicine nurse practitioner

Lyla Natt is a family medicine nurse practitioner who sees patients in West Hartford. Her experience includes medical-surgical, step down, psychiatry, and long-term care. Other clinical interests include primary and preventive care, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition to being licensed as an advanced practice registered nurse, Natt holds a Master of Nursing from the Quinnipiac University School of Health Sciences.

Dr. Cristina Sánchez-Torres, psychiatry

Dr. Cristina Sánchez-Torres, psychiatry

Dr. Cristina Sánchez-Torres is now a member of the UConn Health psychiatry faculty, with whom she trained as a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry. She sees patients in Farmington and West Hartford. Her clinical interests include electroconvulsive therapy, autism, attachment, psychotic disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Sánchez-Torres completed medical school and a psychiatry residency at the University of Puerto Rico before her fellowship at UConn. She is board eligible in both psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry, and speaks English and Spanish.

Kristyn Zajac, psychology research

Kristyn Zajac, psychology research

Kristyn Zajac is a researcher in the Behavioral Cardiovascular Prevention Division of the Calhoun Cardiology Center. She earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Delaware, then completed a National Institute of Mental Health-funded postdoctoral research fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina’s National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. Zajac’s research focuses on the development and evaluation of interventions for substance abuse and mental health disorders among high-risk adolescents and young adults.

 Photos by Janine Gelineau/UConn Health (except Zajac’s, which was submitted)

Finish Line in Sight for UConn Health’s New Hospital Tower

  • New UConn Health hospital tower as it appears Oct. 15, 2015 (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)
It’s only a matter of months now until UConn Health’s new hospital tower changes from a construction worksite to a building ready for occupancy.

The new building, which will feature 169 single-bed inpatient rooms, is widely considered to be the centerpiece of UConn’s share of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Bioscience Connecticut initiative, an $864 million package of state investments designed to be a catalyst for economic growth in the health care and biomedical research industries. As of Sept. 1, the total number of construction jobs associated with Bioscience Connecticut was 4,540.

Malloy was on the UConn Health campus 14 months ago to sign the steel beam that would top out the tower. Construction started on the building and an adjoining 400-space parking garage April 2013.

Clinical staff and administration have started touring parts of the building and seeing finished mock-ups of patient rooms, emergency department bays and operating rooms. The new tower will include:

  • An expanded emergency department
  • Four 28-bed units that will house surgery, orthopedic, oncology and medical patients
  • A 28-bed intensive care unit with expanded surgical, medicine and neurology critical care services
  • A 29-bed intermediate unit

Once the new tower construction is complete and the hospital opens, there will be a second phase of work to make the final connections to the main building through the existing emergency department. There will also be additional exterior site work to complete near the existing ED entrance that cannot be done until after the ED moves.

Outpatient Pavilion

The UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion has one final milestone ahead: the establishment of a women’s health center on the top floor, with services including a women’s radiology center, obstetrics and gynecology, maternal-fetal medicine, and advanced women’s ultrasound.

The first practices moved in to the new building in February, and by early summer floors 1 through 7 were operational. The result has been the movement of nearly all outpatient services into a single place on the lower campus, in a patient-friendly environment, with convenient parking in a connected garage.

With its abundance of natural lighting, energy efficient design, and shower facilities to encourage employees to bike to work, the pavilion is on its way to earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Additionally, the Connecticut Green Building Council has just named the building the winner of its 2015 Institutional Award of Merit.

Academic Building

Construction is well underway at the academic entrance, where a modernization and expansion of space for the medical, dental and graduate schools is taking place. Bioscience Connecticut calls for a 30 percent increase in class sizes and the addition and renovations will provide space to support this growth. UConn Health held a groundbreaking on convocation day. The academic entrance will remain a construction site through May.

L Building

Though less visible than the projects already mentioned, a rebuild of UConn Health’s laboratory space in what’s known as the L Building is a significant portion of the Bioscience Connecticut construction. The renovations are being accomplished under two separate projects. Project 1 started in late 2012 and is complete. Project 2 is scheduled to be complete by early 2017, at which time UConn Health will boast modern lab layouts that are open plan and conducive to collaborative research.

Cell and Genome Sciences Building

The addition of incubator laboratory space continues at the Cell and Genome Sciences Building, 400 Farmington Ave., which will enable UConn Health to attract more biotech startups. It’s another aspect of the vision of Bioscience Connecticut to create a worldwide biomedical research/biotech hub in the state. This project is scheduled for completion by the end of November 2015.

Clinic Building

The design work is complete for major renovation to the Dental School clinical space, the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center, and the Main Lobby. This phased renovation will take more than two years to complete but when finished will provide state-of-the-art dental clinical space and an expanded cardiology center with additional exam space. The Main Lobby will also be given a significant update that enhances the patient flow and provides easy access to the renovated spaces. The renovations are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2016.

CT-Based Startup Biorasis Wins Big at MassChallenge

Glucowizzard implantable sensor (Photo provided by Jessica McBride)

Glucowizzard implantable sensor (Photo provided by Jessica McBride)

Connecticut-based medical device startup Biorasis recently was awarded the MassChallenge’s top prize at its annual awards ceremony. The company was one of only four “Diamond Winners,” receiving a cash prize of $100,000. It was also one of two teams to receive the Sidecar Award, providing an additional $200,000 in non-dilutive funding.

The technology developed by Biorasis, the GlucowizzardTM, is an ultra-small implantable biosensor for continuous, reliable glucose monitoring. This needle-implantable device wirelessly transmits glucose levels to a watch-like unit for real-time display, which in turn communicates with personal digital accessories like a smartphone. The device measures only 0.5 x 0.5 mm and vastly improves the quality of life for patients with diabetes. It eliminates the need for surgical sensor implantation and extraction, restores active lifestyle, and enables remote care for young people and the elderly. The technology can also function effectively for three to six months without user intervention and saves between 50 and 70 percent in annual health care costs.

Professor Faquire Jain, Institute of Materials Science

Professor Faquire Jain, Institute of Materials Science

Professor Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos, Institute of Materials Science

Professor Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos, Institute of Materials Science

“We’re thrilled with our experience at MassChallenge, and are grateful to have received such a clear vote of confidence from the organization about the quality and potential impact of our technology,” say cofounders Faquir Jain and Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos, professors in UConn’s Institute of Materials Science.

The world’s biggest startup accelerator, MassChallenge accepts only 128 startups out of more than 2,000 that apply each year to participate in the nonprofit organization’s four-month program. During their time at the accelerator, startups receive educational programing and mentorship to advance their early-stage ventures. Since 2010, startups accelerated by MassChallenge have raised $1.1 billion in funding, generated $520 million in revenue and created 6,500 jobs.

Biorasis plans to build on this momentum.

According to Biorasis’ chief operation officer, Dr. IIze Krist, the next step for Biorasis is to develop the animal data needed to allow for clinical trials and FDA approval.

“This recognition by MassChallenge provides external validation of our product concept and its value to patients,” Krist says.

R&D facilities for Biorasis are currently housed in the UConn Technology Incubation Program in Storrs.

–Jessica McBride


UConn a National Leader in Pain Education

UConn is now a Center of Excellence in Pain Education, as designated by the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH Pain Consortium, which is tasked with developing an agenda for, identifying key opportunities in, and increasing the visibility of pain research, has awarded funding to 11 health professional institutions as Centers of Excellence in Pain Education. UConn and Harvard are the only ones in New England.

“This topic is very important for medical education and for our interprofessional partners in health education,” says Dr. Suzanne Rose, UConn School of Medicine senior associate dean for education. “Being a Center of Excellence in this area is an outstanding accomplishment and will provide many opportunities for our learners and benefits our patients.”

The 11 centers are to serve as hubs for the development, evaluation and distribution of pain management curriculum resources for medical, dental, nursing, pharmacy and other schools. The objective is to enhance and improve how health care professionals are taught about pain and its treatment.

Renee Manworren of the UConn Schools of Medicine and Nursing is principal investigator in a grant that makes UConn one of 11 NIH Pain Consortium Centers of Excellence in Pain Education. (Photo provided by Renee Manworren)

Renee Manworren of the UConn Schools of Medicine and Nursing is principal investigator in a grant that makes UConn one of 11 NIH Pain Consortium Centers of Excellence in Pain Education. (Photo provided by Renee Manworren)

The principal investigator for the UConn is Renee Manworren, nurse scientist, assistant professor of pediatrics at the UConn School of Medicine, and assistant professor at the UConn School of Nursing.

“Over 100 million Americans suffer everyday with pain; and our current prescription pain medication abuse epidemic is an unintended consequence of poorly coordinated efforts to treat their pain,” Manworren says. “We’ve known for a long time that the best treatment approach for relieving pain is multimodal and multidisciplinary; but we’ve been training our health care professionals in separate schools.

“In recent years we’ve shifted our thinking: We should be providing interprofessional training—engaging and educating medical, dental, nursing, pharmacy, psychiatry and physical therapy students—as a team so we can do a better job partnering with patients to manage their pain and build our pain research expertise.”

Manworren, a nurse practitioner who also holds a doctorate in clinical research, is part of the UConn School of Nursing’s Center for Advancement in Managing Pain and a member of a medical school curriculum redesign task force that focuses on interprofessional education.

“We’ve leveraged the redesign of our curriculum to offer training in new, better, and interactive ways to educate future physicians coming from UConn,” Manworren says.

The initial NIH award to UConn is nearly $78,000, with the potential for up to four annual renewals.

“We are committed to developing and testing interprofessional pain educational methods and modules that will lead to better pain management education across the nation and ultimately, better patient outcomes,” Manworren says.


Get Flu Shot, Contribute to Science

Study nurse Carlene Bartolotta applies a bandage after giving the flu shot to Nick Cesaro, who regularly has participated in the UConn Center on Aging's flu vaccine research for a decade. "We're really dependent on one another, it's as simple as that," Cesaro says. "I've lived long enough to have the opportunity to help, and it's nice to be able to help." (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health)

Study nurse Carlene Bartolotta applies a bandage after giving the flu shot to Nick Cesaro, who regularly has participated in the UConn Center on Aging’s flu vaccine research for a decade. “We’re really dependent on one another, it’s as simple as that,” Cesaro says. “I’ve lived long enough to have the opportunity to help, and it’s nice to be able to help.” (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health)

Now is the time to get the flu vaccine, especially if you’re older.

UConn Health researchers urge those who haven’t gotten this year’s flu vaccine yet to consider coming to the UConn Center on Aging to receive the vaccine as a participant in a flu shot study.

“Every older person should be getting the vaccine,” says Dr. George Kuchel, director of the UConn Center on Aging. “By volunteering for one of these studies, you do what’s good for you anyway, it doesn’t cost you anything, and at the same time you contribute to helping us develop vaccines that are going to work better in future years.”

Kuchel says most flu-related deaths in the U.S. each year are among the elderly. He and professor of immunology Laura Haynes, also an investigator in the Center on Aging, are leading two studies. One focuses on the differences in the way younger people and older people respond to the traditional flu vaccine. The other compares the traditional flu vaccine to the high-dose vaccine, which has four times the antigen. Both vaccines are proven effective, but the degree of their effectiveness varies by individual.

Dr. George Kuchel is director of the UConn Center on Aging. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

Dr. George Kuchel is director of the UConn Center on Aging. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

“The purpose of that study is to identify—using very innovative blood tests, some of which were first developed here, and also frailty measurements—the older adults who require the high-dose vaccine, as opposed to those who’d do better with the regular vaccine,” Kuchel says. “As we age, we get more and more different from each other, with some people remaining very robust and highly functional, other people becoming frail and even disabled, and everything in between. We know that on average, the high-dose vaccine may be better for the elderly. What we don’t know is, who are the people who get that greater benefit?”

Influenza manifests itself differently in older patients than in younger ones. Although the symptoms in older patients usually are actually milder, that brings other problems.

Laura Haynes studies the efficacy of the flu vaccine in older patients at the UConn Center on Aging. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

Laura Haynes studies the efficacy of the flu vaccine in older patients at the UConn Center on Aging. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

“When older people get the flu, it’s much more serious,” Haynes says. “Since the symptoms are less severe, people may not go to the doctor, they may not take the care that they need to when they get sick. This is even more problematic with the older population because they’re going to have more co-morbidities. They’re going to have more secondary infections that would then develop, which is really what the issue is, especially secondary pneumonia after flu. And that’s really what leads to death.”

“Dr. Haynes’ work is the first to show that a type of blood cell called T-lymphocyte plays a role in the declining ability of the aging body to respond to flu infection,” Kuchel says. “Because of that, we still need to give the vaccine to the elderly. If we want to make more progress, prevent more death, and prevent more hospitalization, we need to get even better vaccines.”

While the researchers don’t expect their studies to lead to the perfect vaccine for everyone immediately, participants at least can expect an immediate benefit this flu season.

“Even though the flu vaccine doesn’t work as well in older people as it does in younger people, using it becomes even more important in the elderly as a way helping to stay out of the hospital,” Haynes says.

The UConn Center on Aging flu vaccine studies are not limited to older patients. Researchers are seeking study volunteers as young as 20 years old. All participants receive an FDA-approved flu shot at no cost to them, nominal compensation for their time, and free, convenient parking for study visits. To learn more about the studies, call 860-679-3043.

UConn Health Helps Smokers Quit With Personalized, Multifaceted Approach

Dr. Jayesh Kamath

Dr. Jayesh Kamath

A recently started smoking cessation program at UConn Health offers individualized treatment as it seeks to treat both the physical and psychological aspects of tobacco addiction.

“Physical dependence plays an important role in smoking cessation, but I think a lot of the difficulty is also related to psychological issues that come up when one tries to quit” says Dr. Jayesh Kamath, psychiatrist and medical director for the Wellness and Smoking Cessation Program.

“It’s important to try to quit, because smoking cessation is one of the most important changes you can make to improve your health,” says Dr. Cheryl Oncken, an internist and scientific director of the program. Oncken is an internationally recognized tobacco researcher who holds several leadership positions at UConn Health including interim chair of the Department of Medicine.

Dr. Cheryl Oncken

Dr. Cheryl Oncken

The program is part of a grant from the Department of Public Health to the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, but anyone who smokes is a candidate to join, either individually or by referral.

Patients begin treatment with pulmonary medicine nurse practitioner Diahann Wilcox, who has specialized training in smoking cessation through the American Lung Association. Kamath provides mental health care when appropriate.

“We start with a very comprehensive assessment to determine the physical and psychological issues related to smoking,” Kamath says. “That will be our guide to determine the course of treatment, including what types of interventions we use and how often the patient needs to come in. We will spend the necessary time with each patient, as the treatment is individualized. We use evidenced-based treatments, but it’s also personalized to the patient depending on co-occurring medical and psychological conditions.”

Diahann Wilcox

Diahann Wilcox

The program does not cover the costs of medications that may be prescribed, but participants will be directed to resources that may help cover their costs if not covered by their insurance plans. There is no out-of-pocket expense to patients for office visits.

Participation also can contribute to a greater understanding of tobacco addiction and how to beat it.

“There’s a significant research component to this,” Kamath says. “Patients will be offered to participate in a research project, a data repository. The repository will gather clinical data, genetic samples and certain biomarkers on patients participating in the project. This data will help us investigate which patients respond well to treatment, and for those who have difficulty, what are the reasons?”

To learn more about UConn Health’s Wellness and Smoking Cessation Program or to register, call 860-679-2100.

(Photos by Janine Gelineau)

Accelerate UConn Welcomes 1st Class of Entrepreneurs

The first class of Accelerate UConn entrepreneurs learns about customer discovery at their kickoff session Oct. 2. (Photo provided by Jessica McBride)

The first class of Accelerate UConn entrepreneurs learns about customer discovery at their kickoff session Oct. 2. (Matt Dunn for UConn)

Accelerate UConn, a National Science Foundation (NSF) entrepreneurship program at UConn, has selected 10 faculty-student teams to receive seed grants and business training aimed at more quickly and successfully commercializing early-stage technologies developed at the University.

Accelerate UConn is one of the NSF’s I-Corps sites, which are housed at academic institutions around the country. I-Corps is a key initiative established in 2011 to increase the volume of commercially viable technologies coming out of academic labs. The program provides a framework for entrepreneurial faculty, staff, and students to join with industry mentors and participate in special NSF-endorsed curriculum. Participants learn to assess the market potential of their technologies, and win funds to support early customer contact to validate concepts and market strategies.

“There is a wealth of technologies coming out of UConn labs that could be commercialized with the right set of tools,” says UConn Vice President for Research Jeff Seemann. “Accelerate UConn allows early-stage ideas to move beyond the lab and join the ranks of other successful Connecticut startups.”

Despite being a new initiative, many faculty and students with diverse backgrounds recently applied to be part of the program’s first class in order to improve their chances of success, according to UConn business professor Timothy Folta, director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI).

“We are thrilled with the quality of both the applicants and their technologies,” Folta says. “We’re confident that the positive response to Accelerate UConn’s initial application round attests to the program’s value and a desire within the UConn community for additional entrepreneurial support.”

The winning technologies are at varying degrees of development in several different industries. Some of the teams have already formed startup companies based on their technologies, while others may seek to develop licensing opportunities with existing industry. Among the winning teams:

Dr. Robert Kelly, developed the artificial salivary gland that is being commercialized under the Acclerate UConn entrepreneurship program. (Lanny Nagler for UConn Health)

Dr. Robert Kelly of the UConn School of Dental Medicine developed an artificial salivary gland that is being commercialized under the Accelerate UConn entrepreneurship program. (Lanny Nagler for UConn Health)

  • Oral Fluid Dynamics is commercializing an artificial salivary gland that provides a solution for patients suffering from a lack of salivary flow, and was developed by Dr. Robert Kelly, professor of reconstructive sciences at the UConn School of Dental Medicine.
  • 3D Array Technology will leverage the program’s educational component and seed funding to continue to develop a high performance, low cost catalytic converter based on nano-structured materials. This technology was developed in the lab of Puxian Gao, associate professor of materials science and engineering.
  • ParrotMD, a student startup developed through the University’s Innovation Quest competition, is aimed at providing a solution for medication adherence in developing countries.

Other teams are still at the very initial stages of development, including those seeking to explore commercialization of innovations for:

  • composite materials
  • carbon nanotubes
  • scientific slide imaging
  • environmentally friendly flame retardants
  • topical skin treatment
  • surface sanitation

Each has the potential to become a successful startup according to the panel of industry experts who reviewed the applications. The program aims to make the road to successful commercialization a little less bumpy for all of the teams in Accelerate UConn’s first class.

Accelerate UConn launched in May 2015, and is the only NSF I-Corps site in Connecticut. The program serves all of the UConn campuses, including UConn Health, and is jointly operated by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation housed in the School of Business. Accelerate UConn supplements many other initiatives at UConn focused on commercialization, like the Technology Incubation Program, the CCEI Summer Fellowship Program, the construction of the UConn Tech Park at Storrs, and the growing relationship with The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine.

More information about Accelerate UConn is available at www.accelerate.uconn.edu.

–Jessica McBride

UConn Lands 3 Obesity Prevention Grants

Projects Focus on Preventing Obesity in Children Birth to 2

CHDI's report on preventing early-childhood obesity. (Click image to view report.)

CHDI’s report on preventing early-childhood obesity. (Click image to view report.)

The Children’s Fund of Connecticut (CFC) awarded $230,560 to fund four obesity prevention projects in Connecticut, three of which have ties to UConn.

The work will inform and advance efforts to prevent and reduce early childhood obesity by addressing risk factors in the first two years of life.

Four projects were selected from a competitive application process.

  • Health Messaging: UConn, Department of Nutritional Sciences
  • Data Development: UConn Health, Center for Public Health and Health Policy
  • Policy Development: UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy
  • Baby Friendly Hospitals: The Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition

The grants were inspired by the Child Health and Development Institute’s (CHDI) IMPACT Preventing Childhood Obesity: Maternal-Child Life Course Approach.” The IMPACT reviewed scientific research on the causes of obesity and explored implications for prevention and early intervention. Risk factors for early childhood obesity include: maternal pre-pregnancy weight and weight gain during pregnancy, infant feeding practices, weight gain during infancy, and eating habits during toddlerhood and preschool.

“Childhood obesity is a serious epidemic affecting one-third of children in Connecticut and nationwide,” says Judith Meyers, IMPACT co-author and president and CEO of the Children’s Fund of Connecticut and its non-profit subsidiary CHDI. “Research shows that that obesity may be very difficult to reverse if children are obese by 5 years of age. The grant projects funded today will help us get ahead of the curve by preventing the onset of obesity.”

Grant Awards

Health Messaging: $75,700, UConn, Department of Nutritional Sciences

Currently, there is minimal and varying outreach to parents regarding early optimal feeding practices, and the messages that are conveyed are often inconsistent. Effective messages will equip parents and caregivers and providers with the information they need to promote a healthy weight in young children. Principal investigator Amy Mobley, assistant professor nutritional sciences, and her staff will develop and test a set of obesity prevention messages for children birth to 24 months that are parent and caregiver focused, culturally appropriate, at appropriate literacy levels and evidence based, along with information for providers about strategies to disseminate these key messages.

Data Development: $80,000, UConn Health, Center for Public Health and Health Policy

The goal of this project is to establish a single, integrated longitudinal database containing child weight and other relevant data, beginning with the 2009 and 2010 birth cohorts, as a means of demonstrating the possibility of tracking population data for all children in Connecticut. Under the direction of Dr. Robert Trestman and Ann Ferris, this project creates a childhood obesity surveillance database using PATH (a HIPAA-compliant data matching software application) to link birth records from the Connecticut Department of Public Health with electronic health records at Community Health Center, Inc., with 12 sites across the state. Data will be analyzed to identify factors that increase the risk of being overweight at age 5 and to model the development trajectories to determine the probability of being overweight by age 5 based on a variety of factors, broken down by sex and ethnicity/race.

Policy Development: $14,990, UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy

The Rudd Center’s Director of Public Policy, Roberta R. Friedman, will conduct a review of relevant federal and state policies and regulations (Connecticut and elsewhere) to prevent obesity in children birth to 2 years of age. The results will be a database of policy, legislation, and regulation and the development of a Connecticut policy agenda on childhood obesity for children ages birth to 2. The proposed policy agenda will assist academics, practitioners, program staff, community coalitions and advocates committed to preventing and reducing early childhood obesity in Connecticut.

Baby-Friendly Hospitals: $59,870, The Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is an international movement launched by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to increase rates of breastfeeding through policy changes in birthing hospitals. Eight of 28 birthing hospitals in Connecticut have achieved this designation. The project goals include: 1) assist Connecticut hospitals already in the process to complete their work and achieve the baby-friendly designation; 2) recruit one or more Connecticut hospital to start the baby-friendly hospital designation process; 3) strengthen the infrastructure to support hospitals moving from start to finish including developing partnerships with physicians, community providers, mothers and families; and 4) report on the sustainability and maintenance of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Learn more about CHDI’s work to prevent obesity in early childhood at www.chdi.org. For further information about the “Preventing Obesity in Early Childhood Grants, please visit www.childrensfundofct.org.

–Julie Tacinelli