UConn Health Hosts State Contest for Junior Scientists

Genetics researcher Stormy Chamberlain giving the keynote talk during the JSHS event held March 24, 2018. (Photo by Brittany Knight)

By Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. candidate Brittany Knight and JSHS  event organizer

For the second year in a row, UConn Health hosted the statewide competition of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS).  This year around 200 students, teachers, and parents representing 40 schools took part in the all-day conference. It’s designed to provide high schools students with a forum to share ideas about how to solve real world problems with STEM education. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics which are all essential to the future of our technology-driven world.

In preparation for the competition, students submitted research proposals several months in advance that recognized a significant problem pertaining to human affairs. About 80 proposals were then rated by a panel of professionals in STEM science to be presented as oral or poster presentations. Needless to say, the scientific merit and rigor that went into these projects exceeded expectations and it was challenging to decide which projects were to be a part of the competition.

The symposium included a keynote presentation by Stormy Chamberlain, an associate professor in genetics and associate director of the Genetics and Developmental Biology Graduate Program at UConn Health. Her talk focused on her research using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from patients with Angelman syndrome, Prader-willi syndrome, and 15q duplication syndrome.

Following the keynote, students were divided into groups to present or attend the poster and oral presentations. Students were also given the opportunity to attend a career panel session with young professionals in social work, nursing, pharmaceutical science, medical science, research, public health, and dentistry. Students asked the panel questions pertaining to career motivations, challenges with career decisions, college or high school course preparation, internships, college planning, loans, etc.

Another option for students was touring some of our research labs, including the virtual anatomy lab, to participate in hands-on activities and learn about the exciting research being done here. Graduate students in the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program, including Matthew Sticco (Neuroscience), Nicholas Wasko (Immunology), Rajamani Selvam (Neuroscience), and Shubham Khetan (Genetics) led the tours. They each created a short module that consisted of hands-on activities as well as career advice for students interested in pursuing a career in research.

At the end of the event, top presentations were announced. The effort and scientific merit that went into this year’s projects was nothing short of amazing. It’s important to note that last year’s first place national winner was one of Connecticut’s JSHS winners last March.

JSHS is nationally organized by the Academy of Applied Sciences with sponsorship from the U.S. Army, Naval, and Air Force. Connecticut’s program would not have been made possible without the dedication of Connecticut Area Health Education Center Network (AHEC) and the staff at UConn Health. We wish the best of luck to the five Connecticut representatives at the national competition in May.

New Developments in Stroke Research

As we near the end of heart disease and stroke awareness month, Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. candidate Brittany Knight offers some insights into the exciting developments in stroke research at UConn Health. She met with Rajkumar Verma, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center to discuss a recent conference he attended and his research studying potential therapeutic targets for protecting the brain following stroke.

To understand the exciting new discoveries in stroke research, we first need to know what stroke is and what happens to the body following stroke. Stroke is an incidental disease that affects the entire body (systemic disorder) when blood supply is prevented from reaching the brain. Lack of blood supply decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients required to keep brain cells healthy and functioning properly. Other areas of the body beyond the brain are also affected by stroke, for instance pneumonia and urinary tract infections are the most common complications following stroke. Recently, the effect of stroke on gut microbiota axis has drawn serious attention. The microbes that inhabit your gastrointestinal system can transport toxic substances and exacerbate the inflammatory response following stroke. When a stroke occurs or if you see someone having a stroke you may notice some odd things that occur as a result of this blood/oxygen loss. These symptoms are important to know and are easily remembered by memorizing the acronym F.A.S.T. –  Facial drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulties; and Time. If you notice any of these symptoms in another person or yourself – call 911!

Rajkumar Verma Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience, in his research lab. (Brittany Knight/UConn Health)

Within the first 5 minutes  of discontinued blood supply, brain cells start to die. This rapid cell death results in inflammation and increases the risk of additional brain damage in surrounding regions. Damage increases progressively in the absence of reestablished blood flow or drug treatment. Currently, tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) and thrombectomy, the removal of a blood clot, are the only FDA-approved available treatment for stroke. TPA treatment works by breaking down blood clots and is beneficial if administered within a narrow 4-5 hours following a stroke, similar to thrombectomy. This time frame emphasizes the importance of T in the F.A.S.T. acronym. However, sometimes individuals that have a stroke do not seek immediate medical attention and wait until the following day to see their physician or go to the emergency room. This unfortunately can result in more brain damage and impede the recovery process.

However, exciting new developments in the field of stroke research show new promise for individuals who do not receive immediate treatment. This January, Dr. Verma attended the world’s largest conference for cerebrovascular disease: the 2018 International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles. More than 4,500 individuals in the field of stroke and some 1,500 presentations were given on the pathophysiology and potential treatments for cerebrovascular diseases, including stroke. Attendees consisted of researchers, clinicians, nurses, and therapists as well as other professionals from around the world. During the International Stroke Conference, it was revealed that the time that thrombectomy is beneficial is now extended to 16-24 hours following a stroke in an eligible patient. Time is still important, but this means surgical intervention can be administered later thus, more people can receive medical attention.

In the clinic, doctors seek to reach several goals: increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the brain to preserve tissue that may become damaged during the inflammatory process as well as rehabilitate patients post-stroke to improve and maintain both physical and mental health. The conference also discussed that starting rehabilitation more than 2 months and even as late as 6 months following a stroke can still provide benefit to the recovery process. In other words, if you or someone you know suffered from a stroke in the last 6 months and has not been physically active, the benefits of starting physical therapy are still warranted.

The National Institute of Health funds a variety of research aimed at providing more effective therapies for stroke. One method thought to help decrease the amount of damage that occurs following stroke, during the inflammatory process, is by decreasing core body temperature. Researchers have shown that during hibernation, reptiles (as well as other animals) can decrease their core body temperature which slows cellular metabolism. Essentially, this method slows down the speed of reactions inside the body to protect the brain from additional damage post-stroke.

Similarly, Dr. Verma is interested in finding a candidate target that can be pharmacologically inhibited following stroke to decrease brain damage. Excessive ATP release, which occurs during mass cell death or when oxygen is cut off from part of the brain, can increase the activity of brain cells and the release of inflammatory mediators causing further damage. He has found a candidate, called P2X purinoceptor 4 (P2X4). P2X4 binds ATP which is released by stressed or dying cells and leads to the inflammatory process. This vicious cycle of cell death and inflammation can cause significant detriments to physical and mental function if untreated. By targeting P2X4, Dr. Verma hopes to disrupt this pathway and potentially improve outcomes following stroke.

Brent Graveley Named Chair of Genetics and Genome Sciences

Professor Brenton R. Graveley, Ph.D., is the new chair of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences in the UConn School of Medicine. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

I am pleased to announce that Professor Brenton R. Graveley, Ph.D., has accepted the position of chair of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, in the School of Medicine. Brent will begin in his new leadership position effective February 2, 2018.

Since the inception of his School of Medicine faculty appointment in 1999, Brent has enjoyed a distinguished career. He is the current associate director of the Institute for Systems Genomics, director of the UConn Stem Cell Institute, and John and Donna Krenicki Professor in Genomics and Personalized Healthcare. He has attained national and international recognition for his work on RNA biology, a notable example of which is his accomplishment in developing a comprehensive map of functional human protein-RNA interactions. Among a number of other scientific achievements, Brent has authored over 100 research articles, 16 of which have appeared in Cell, Science or Nature. As a further recognition, he is also a member of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research. This has enabled Brent to have a keen insight into and steer the genomic funding priorities of the NIH. Brent has been funded by multiple NIH R01, R21, U54, U41 and R35 grants, representing both individual and large multi-investigator, multidisciplinary consortium projects. In fact, he has just received a large project grant from NIH titled, “A Comprehensive Functional Map of Human Protein-RNA Interactions” with a total cost of about $10M.

I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks to the entire search committee for its excellent work during the search and selection process. Led by its chair Dr. George Kuchel, the committee included Drs. Stormy Chamberlain, Rachel O’Neill, Travis Hinson, Kimberly Dodge, Christopher Heinen and Andrew Winokur.

Please join me in extending an enthusiastic welcome to Brent as he assumes his new role in the School of Medicine.

Bruce T. Liang, MD, FACC
Dean, School of Medicine

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.