The following announcement is from UConn Health leadership:
We are pleased to announce that Lynn Kosowicz, M.D., FACP, has accepted the appointment as Interim Chair of Department of Medicine and Interim Chief of Medical Services. Dr. Kosowicz, currently the director of the Clinical Skills Assessment Program, completed medical school, internal medicine residency and a year as chief medical resident at UConn, and then joined the faculty in the Department of Medicine in 1991. A dedicated and respected primary care internist, Dr. Kosowicz has focused her academic contributions on improving patient care by enhancing the clinical skills of learners and practitioners through simulation, mentorship, and research. Examples of grant-funded research include the design of a novel approach to teaching physical examination skills that has been disseminated to many institutions across the nation, and an AMA-sponsored project that prioritizes social determinants of health to improve chronic disease prevention and management. Dr. Kosowicz has been recognized within the institution by appointment to the Academic Affairs Subcommittee of the Board of Directors, as well as the Education Council, Faculty Review Board, and LCME self-study task forces and steering committees. Dr. Kosowicz has received several awards, including the NEGEA/AAMC Distinguished Service & Leadership Award; the Thornton Award, Connecticut Chapter of American College of Physicians, in recognition of outstanding contributions to medical education; and the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award. Internationally, she was invited to train and mentor faculty at the Universidad de Chile Escuela Medicina as they developed a successful interprofessional Clinical Skills center in Santiago.
Dr. Kosowicz’s family is a multigenerational UConn Health family. Her father introduced her to UConn in 1968 when he joined the faculty of the new School of Dental Medicine. Three of her four daughters are health care professionals – one a gastroenterologist, who graduated from UConn’s School of Medicine, and two are nurses, one of whom graduated from UConn’s School of Nursing.
Please welcome and support Dr. Kosowicz in her new roles.
Bruce T. Liang, M.D.
Dean, School of Medicine
Andrew Agwunobi M.D., MBA
CEO UConn Health and EVP for Health Affairs
The Dr. Richard Simon Excellence in Clinical Neurosciences Award will be given annually to celebrate Dr. Richard Simon’s distinguished career at UConn Health and his pioneering contributions to medicine. The award will be given to a clinician, staff member, or student who exemplifies excellence in any area of the neurosciences at UConn Health. The awardee will be chosen in the Spring by a selection committee lead by Dr. Hilary Onyiuke following a call for nominations.
Richard Simon was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a neurologist/psychiatrist. Dr. Simon graduated from Stanford University, class of 1965 and from St. Louis University School of Medicine class of 1970 and a Masters in Mathematics in 1988. He trained in General Surgery and Neurosurgery at the University of Colorado, completing his neurosurgical residency in June 1976.
Dr. Simon has spent his entire postgraduate career at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine where he is now Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery). Formerly, he was Chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and Director of the Department of Neurosurgery at Hartford Hospital and the Program Director for the University of Connecticut/Hartford Hospital Neurosurgical Training Program.
An endowed fund has been established at the UConn Foundation to receive gifts from those who wish to honor Dr. Simon and award excellence in the neurosciences at UConn Health. It was launched by generous gifts from Dr. Simon’s colleagues and former students.
“Our vision is for UConn to be a global center for excellence in neurosurgery in the context of the world class care that is already being provided at UConn Health. Dr. Simon has dedicated over 40 years to UConn Health. I can think of no greater honor for him than the knowledge that this award had been established by his colleagues, friends and former students whose careers he helped to launch.”
—Ketan Bulsara, M.D., MBA Chief, Division of Neurosurgery, UConn Health
UConn Health geriatrics researcher Jenna Bartley has won a $120,000 grant from the American Federation of Aging Research for her study of the effect of a diabetes drug on the immune system.
Bartley, a new assistant professor in the UConn Health Center on Aging and Department of Immunology, was one of eight postdoctoral fellows in the United States to receive a 2018 Irene Diamond Fund/AFAR Postdoctoral Transition Award in Aging.
She is preparing a study of the drug metformin, approved by the Food and Drug Administration to influence metabolism in people with type 2 diabetes, to determine its potential relationship to immune response.
“I will explore how altered metabolism contributes to poor immune responses in older adults, as well as explore a potential therapeutic intervention to improve flu vaccine responses in this vulnerable population,” Bartley says. “Since methods to enhance vaccine efficacy in older adults are limited, this research could provide the groundwork to develop metabolic adjuvants to improve vaccine responses and reduce infectious disease related morbidity and mortality in this population.”
Early next summer, Bartley will start recruiting older adults who don’t have diabetes or prediabetes. The study will randomly place each participant in one of two groups: One group will receive metformin and the other will receive a placebo.
The Irene Diamond Fund/AFAR Program provides full-time research training and flexible and portable grant support to senior postdoctoral fellows as they transfer to faculty positions.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is up to date on UConn Health’s MS research following a recent visit with biomedical students and faculty. One of the students, Brittany Knight, shares her account of the meeting.
Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the Neuroscience and Immunology departments used a variety of models and techniques to identify molecules that can improve myelination and ultimately provide therapies for those diagnosed with MS.
Myelination is when cells in the nervous system called oligodendrocytes produce myelin, a fatty substance that coats neurons and enables the fast transmission of electrical signals throughout the nervous system. Myelin is extremely important for everyday function including motor coordination (i.e. walking), sensory perception (i.e. eyesight), and thinking (i.e. remembering where you left your keys). MS causes myelin loss, which increase fall risk, impair vision, and lead to physical disability requiring a wheelchair.
One student shared is using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) derived from patient-specific brain cells to screen potential drugs. Another student is harnessing the power of the body’s microorganisms to preserve myelin using an animal model of MS.
Backed by a recent National Multiple Sclerosis Society grant, UConn Health neuroscience faculty members David Martinelli and Stephen Crocker are studying the myelin-producing cells.
“We are studying whether a signaling protein expressed by oligodendrocyte progenitor cells initiates a previously unappreciated signaling pathway that can lead to the maturation of oligodendrocytes,” Dr. Martinelli said. “This could potentially lead to a therapy for MS patients to replace lost oligodendrocytes.”
Another NMSS grant is funding a research collaboration between the Neuroscience Department and UConn Center on Aging, led by Dr. Crocker and assistant professor Rosaria Guzzo. They are examining the effect of aging on the “regenerative capacity of the brain in MS using iPS cells that were generated from progressive MS patients,” Dr. Crocker said.
The Crocker lab previously has shown that cellular aging, or cellular senescence, is an active process in MS that may open new therapeutic opportunities to stimulate brain regeneration.
Although MS is a debilitating disease, most people who have it do not develop severe disabilities and can appear unaffected. One of the discussions during the visit was about the challenges of living with MS.
It was stressed that MS, unlike other conditions, is not an obvious condition from an individual’s mere physical appearance. This can create discord between the public perceptions of a person diagnosed with MS and the reality of the disease. For example, myelin loss can cause people to have poor control over their gait or body, which can appear similiar to being under the influence of alcohol.
Current treatments for MS are a tale of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good news is, treatments for MS have change drastically over the past 10 years. There are now at least 12 disease-modifying therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The bad news is, identifying which medication is best for each individual is a challenge and requires a trial-and-error period.
The ugly part: Although MS treatments have been shown to improve the quality of life, they are very expensive and are increasing in cost every year. In 2004 the average annual coast of MS treatments was between $8,000 and $11,000, but now that same medication can cost upwards of $60,000. Adding to the challenge is the fact that newer MS treatments are starting at 25 percent to 60 percent higher in cost than the pre-existing medications, and these costs in the U.S. alone are higher than other countries. One reason for the inflation of MS treatment costs is the current status of the U.S. health care system, which doesn’t place limitations on drug prices. A national health care system that can negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies would impact the future of MS treatments, as well as the treatments of other medical conditions.
UConn graduates in biomedical sciences are thinking outside of the academic/tenure track box and considering alternative career paths. Ph.D.s are finding unique ways to apply their scientific skills in government, pharma, industry, business, as well as law. Brittany Knight, Biomedical Sciences graduate student, interviewed recent graduate John Wizeman, Ph.D., about his choice to pursue intellectual property law.
Patent law is an area of the greater field of intellectual property law (IP), which also includes trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Patents provide exclusivity for inventors which can allow individuals to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create while encouraging creativity and innovation for public interest. In the last few years, patents in the biomedical sciences have earned a lot of attention. One example is the long-standing dispute over the IP rights to the revolutionary gene-editing technology known as CRISPR.
Wizeman initially learned about careers in intellectual property during a seminar coordinated by the graduate school. Cambria Alpha-Cobb, a technical specialist from Dilworth IP in Trumbull, came to UConn and discussed the field. Wizemen says he would not have known about this potential career avenue without UConn setting up the seminars.
Anthony Sabatelli (Yale Ph.D. 1984, chemistry) a firm partner at Dilworth IP, created the internship program in 2014 to provide “meaningful real-world experiences” for Ph.D. students considering non-academic careers. The position at the firm is referred to as a Technology Specialist which allows interns to research the technical and legal aspects of IP-related cases, as well as publish articles on Dilworth’s IP online blog. Under the supervision of Sabatelli, Wizeman published two articles on Dilworth IP’s blog, one of which was picked up by “Patent Docs” – a patent law weblog for attorneys.
Since 2014, several Yale alumni have utilized the internship to pursue law degrees, technology specialist positions in law firms in the Boston-area, as well as to attend law school in New York City. One student even used the position to eventually transition to a career in scientific publishing.
“Based on connections with graduate students at both UConn and Yale, we decided to run an experiment at Dilworth IP to bring in a graduate student in the latter phase of their Ph.D. program – either in chemistry or one of the life sciences – to give them an opportunity to see what a career in patent law entails,” said Sabetelli. “In structuring the program, we realized for it to be mutually beneficial for both the student and Dilworth IP, it would have to be more than just a mere shadowing opportunity. We would have to provide the student with actual projects and provide them with opportunities to interact with other colleagues in the firm and even, as appropriate, with clients. The opportunity that we came up with is one of Technology Specialist where the student can research both the technical and legal aspects of various intellectual property-related projects in our law firm. As seen from the track record of the students coming through our program, it has given them a meaningful leg up making them highly competitive in the job market.”
In the Biomedical Sciences program, Wizeman completed his doctoral work in the lab of Royce Mohan in the Department of Neuroscience. He studied a form of vision loss that is prevalent in older individuals, called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). “UConn was helpful in not only exposing me to this path, but to prepare me as well,” said Wizeman. “The training I received in the neuroscience department helped keep me knowledgeable about a wide range of scientific disciplines, as well as the newest and most groundbreaking research. I’m excited to bring this training to my new position.”
Students in graduate programs, such as those in the biomedical sciences, develop a broad skill set including comprehensive understanding of subject matter, oral and written communication, time management, project management, data analysis, and critical thinking. These skills, apart from wet lab or bench science techniques, are organic products of intellectual rigor and scientific discovery.
Wizeman adds, “This internship has given me an opportunity to work on my writing as well as introduce me to the IP field. Under Anthony Sabatelli’s guidance, I have been able to write several articles for the Dilworth blog. This experience helped me understand the field and find a position as a Technical Specialist for Lathrop and Gage, where I will begin an IP career in the coming weeks.”
“The program has truly been a win-win for both the students and Dilworth IP,” said Sabatelli. “The students have had a great learning experience while we have benefited from their help on numerous projects. Students like John that are taking the opportunity to learn about patent law, as well as other fields, are helping to strengthen the collaboration across universities and businesses such as UConn, Yale University, and Dilworth IP, which has been shown to be mutually beneficial.”
By Stephanie Rauch, Biomedical Science Program Coordinator
Tucked away in their labs, researching and studying, Biomedical Science graduate students on the UConn Health campus can be easily overlooked. But at the 35th Annual Graduate Student Research Day held on June 26, graduate students from the PhD program, as well as combined degree programs and other graduate degrees across the campus, had a chance to bring their hard work out into the light, celebrating their research achievements and inspiring each other to continue working to discover the next pieces of complex biomedical puzzles.
The day-long event included poster and oral presentations by graduate students, a scientific talk by 2017-18 Lepow award winning student Ashley Russo (Immunology AoC, Rathinam Lab), and a keynote address by invited speaker Christine M. Disteche, Ph.D., director of the University of Washington Regional Cytogenetics Laboratory, professor of pathology, University of Washington. She spent the day interacting with over 30 students during their presentations in the Academic Rotunda before her own talk, “3D Structure of the Inactive X Chromosome and Role in Sex Differences.”
“As graduate students at UConn Health, we are the basic science behind our mission of “the power of possible,” said third-year neuroscience student and Leadership Award winner Robert Pijewski. “A day such as Graduate Student Research Day really highlights what the graduate program at UConn Health is all about. The student’s passion, creativity, and hard-work was truly showcased in what was an informative event.”
The day ended with an awards ceremony recognizing a wide variety of students for their achievements throughout the year.
Henderson Memorial Prize for Outstanding PhD Thesis in Biomedical Science: Dr. James Fink, Neuroscience AoC, Levine Lab
Lepow Award for Outstanding Rising Fourth Year Biomedical Science PhD Student: Andrea Wilderman, Genetics and Developmental Biology AoC, Cotney Lab
Biomedical Science Program Service Award for Mentorship: (tie) Dipika Gupta, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry AoC, Heinen Lab and Brittany Knight, Neuroscience AoC, Baumbauer Lab.
Biomedical Science Program Service Award for Leadership:
Robert Pijewski, Neuroscience AoC, Crocker Lab
Raisz Award for Excellence in Musculoskeletal Research: Henry Hrdlicka, Skeletal Biology and Regeneration AoC, Delany Lab
It is with profound sadness that I inform you that my dear wife, Nancy M. Petry, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine in the Calhoun Cardiology Center and Editor-in-Chief of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, died on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 from breast cancer. She was 49 years old.
Nancy joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in 1996 after receiving her Ph.D. from Harvard University and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Vermont School of Medicine in clinical addiction research. She became an academic superstar at UConn School of Medicine as she developed unique methodologies to treat addictive disorders with a treatment known as contingency management. She received 2 accelerated promotions and after only 6 years on our faculty was the youngest full professor with tenure in the history of the School at age 34. Nancy was internationally known for her work in behavioral treatments and impulsivity disorders. During her career at UConn she garnered over $40 million in funding as a principal investigator from the National Institutes of Health, wrote and published over 300 original articles and single-handedly wrote a number of books in the areas of pathological gambling, contingency management and internet gaming disorders. Nancy was very proud that her proven methods to treat addiction disorders from her NIH trials were successfully disseminated to the Veteran’s Administration Medical Centers across the USA and over a multi-year period showed large successes of contingency management in real world practice. She always told me that it was one of the largest translational demonstration projects in the field of experimental psychology.
Despite her enormous successes during her career, Nancy was very modest and willing to mentor and help others in their careers. She trained a large number of post-doctoral fellows during her 22 years on the faculty, many of whom became successful faculty members at academic institutions around the country.
On a very personal note, Nancy was a loving wife, my best friend, and a wonderful mother to our two young children Hannah and Noah. They will truly miss growing up without her. When Hannah developed type 1 diabetes at the age of 1, Nancy became a ‘clinical expert’ in her management while maintaining a busy academic career. Hence, in lieu of any material items of any kind to our family in these trying times, please send donations in Nancy’s honor to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, 20 Batterson Park Road, #302, Farmington, Connecticut 06032.
By Brittany Knight, graduate student at UConn Health
You’ve heard of speed dating? Well, how about speed networking? An inaugural event was held this spring at UConn Health’s academic rotunda with positive reviews. Graduate students and post-doctoral fellows met one-on-one with industry representatives who included start-up CEOs, venture capitalists, patent agents, technology transfer professionals, and scientists.
“I loved the energy and the curiosity of the students and post-docs I met. They all seemed excited about their science, but wanted to learn more about the business of biotech,” said Barry Schweitzer Ph.D., partner at Elm Street Ventures and entrepreneur-in-residence at UConn. “Their number one question was ‘How do I get my first job at a biotech company?’ Unfortunately, there is no easy answer – it’s really hard to get that job. Nevertheless, my advice is to network, network, network. Most often, getting a position in industry (like in academia) comes about through personal connections and recommendations. It takes time to build that network, so start now.”
Marcia Fournier, Ph.D., CEO of Bioarray Genetics, said, “It was refreshing talking to UConn Health graduate students and to share my experiences with them.”
One of the students that attended said, “It was really great to have several professionals together in one room just to talk to us. I really appreciated how friendly and open they all were, and they provided some great career advice.”
In a survey conducted among the student attendees after the event, 71 percent of the respondents found the event informative and 86 percent said they are likely to recommend it to others.
“These types of events are incredibly insightful and productive for students and the business community,” said Carrie White, senior investment associate at Connecticut Innovations. “As the innovation ecosystem continues to grow in Connecticut, we look forward to seeing more of these vibrant events at UConn and at other universities around the state.”
Biomedical scientists and biotechnology companies have been collaborating since 2003 through the Technology Incubator Program (TIP) at UConn. The program has sponsored 96 independent start-up biotechnology companies.
Robert Pijewski, president of the Graduate Student Organization, and Cory Brunson, Ph.D., president of the UConn Health and Jackson Laboratory Post-Doctoral Association, coordinated the inaugural speed networking event. Robert and Cory received encouragement and mentorship from Vaibhav Saini, Ph.D., who is the licensing director for Life Sciences, Office of the Vice President for Research.
The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the induction of Liisa Kuhn, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering at the UConn School of Dental Medicine to its College of Fellows. Kuhn was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for advancing the translation of bone biology and mechanics to its application in regenerative medicine. Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top
two percent of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education.”
A formal induction ceremony was held during the AIMBE Annual Meeting at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. on April 9. Dr. Kuhn was inducted along with 156 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2018.
What makes the Colon Cancer Prevention Program successful?
The idea of prevention is what’s novel. There aren’t any other prevention programs that do what we do. If you Google “colon cancer prevention program,” we come out as the top listed patient centered resource.
Our process is very longitudinal. It’s not a one and done. We follow more than 6,000 people who return, at least annually, for both the latest information and for modulating their level of risk. Lowering risk is what we, the patient and Program, do. We are always learning how to do that more effectively. Indeed, we have not seen a colon cancer develop in someone who has been in the Program in about eight years. Put another way, if you come to us without colon cancer, we start by identifying risk and, then, follow you accordingly. If we reduce whatever risk level you have, we have not had a patient develop colon cancer on our watch.
The exceptions, so important to us, are patients who, on first visit, we find have colon cancer. Many patients are referred because of a positive FIT test (fecal immunochemical test). We introduced the quantitative FIT test to UConn Health and continue to study the test, over time, as an early marker for polyps or cancer. We work with the wonderful genetics group to identify those patients and families with inherited risk. Very few patients who have colon cancer in the family have actual inheritable risk (3 percent) but they are important to identify. These patients are followed closely, expecting them to develop colon cancer as a risk of their disease. We cannot as of yet prevent it in those inherited risk families, but we still can take steps to reduce risk by about half.
Prevention chose our program to feature in its “Guide to Preventing Disease” in its April issue. What do you see as the implications of that?
This is one of the largest magazine readerships in the world. The increasing recognition of a program dedicated to prevention is encouraging. Therefore we are at the tip of that spear and grateful to the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center for supporting us from the outset.
We have a program whose purpose is to think about the disease. We are migrating from just doing colonoscopy, which is still important, to what do you do before and after the colonoscopy—how you define risk and how you then modulate the risk—and that’s prevention. In recent conversations with Dr. Dorado Brooks, who leads the colon cancer division of the national American Cancer Society, we plan to forward this more broad-based and lifelong strategy to lower the frequency and mortality of this disease. The evidence is emerging and our approach that combines the latest in scientific thought to patient care is shaping how we see the problem and solution.
What’s happening on the academic side?
We are publishing and hoping to influence thought. I just co-wrote an editorial for a leading GI journal with Dr. Joseph Anderson [former UConn Health colleague, now at Dartmouth] in which we discuss a particular type of colon cancer pathway. The emphasis is on how long it takes for that pathway to go from one level of risk to another. Young people can have polyps in that pathway but do not commonly develop colon cancer; it is only when they are much older do you see the colon cancers appear, so you have a long period of time in which the disease evolves. There are even specific risks, because this pathway involves DNA methylation, a biologic process that can silence key genes. This occurs progressively as you get older but can be increased cigarette smoking, a behavior we really fuss about. Dr. Anderson’s study of smoking risk, begun here, is very well recognized and regarded.
How has the approach to mitigating colon cancer prevention evolved over the program’s 10 years?
It’s really colonoscopy-plus, with super-sensitive blood stool testing, better understanding of the colon’s microbiome, and an ever-growing knowledge of modifiable risk factors. In this regard, Dr. Ethan Bortniker, who directs new approaches in clinical research, studies how other lifestyle factors (cardiovascular health, metabolic fat in the liver) influence colon polyps and cancer. Our patients know this and are proactive participants in their own well-being. They fastidiously stick with the program.
Overall the colon cancer attack rate is still low. If you have a 5 percent attack rate in a disease, your anxiety says, “Show me I don’t have the disease.” We hope to focus more on those who are likely the 5 percent. Early prediction of biologic and then clinical risk is the name of the game. Dr. Dan Rosenberg, who is the director of our basic research, is a leading authority and invaluable to our clinical approach. We hope to be able to understand the biology of early cancer risk and keep it from becoming a clinical reality. So far, we are making progress.