UConn Health Helps Smokers Quit With Personalized, Multifaceted Approach

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

–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 For further information about the “Preventing Obesity in Early Childhood Grants, please visit

–Julie Tacinelli

Raising Sickle Cell Disease Awareness

The Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Hartford and New England Sickle Cell Institute faculty and staff pose for a photo at the First Annual Ride for Sickle Cell Research. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health)

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder that can cause severe pain and permanent damage to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, bones and spleen. SCD is most common in Africans and African-Americans, however, it is also found in other ethnic and racial groups, including people from South and Central America, the Caribbean, Mediterranean countries, and India.

Individuals who have SCD need multidisciplinary care throughout their lives to treat and prevent complications from the disease and manage their pain. Most institutions provide only pediatric sickle cell treatment. At UConn Health, Dr. Biree Andemariam, assistant professor of medicine, is among a small number of physician-scientists nationally who specialize in caring for adults living with SCD. She leads the only comprehensive adult sickle cell program in northern Connecticut. The team-based approach includes a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and community-based patient navigators working together.

Mary Samson in infusion room #0037
The New England Sickle Cell Institute welcomes its newest staff member, nurse practitioner Mary Samson. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

The New England Sickle Cell Institute (NESCI) attracts patients and families from across Connecticut and beyond. NESCI is also home to basic, translational, and clinical research aimed at elucidating basic mechanisms of the disease and developing novel therapeutic options for this orphan disease. NESCI’s success rests in its unique, heartfelt dedication of it’s staff: nurse coordinator Nayre Greene, social worker Teresa Works, infusion nurse Ruby Faye Noviasky, medical assistant Iris Reyes, clinical research assistant Sasia Jones, in addition to its newest member, nurse practitioner Mary Samson.

“The New England Sickle Cell Institute provides a full range of comprehensive care that focuses on prevention as well as acute care,” says Andemariam. “We are the only site in the region to offer erythrocytapheresis, a procedure commonly used to remove red blood cells in patients experiencing sickle cell crisis,” added Andemariam. “The support of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, John Dempsey Hospital and UConn School of Medicine has been instrumental in our ability to provide desperately needed care for a long-neglected subset of our community. This is evidenced by newly designated space to provide dedicated acute and chronic disease management. With this support, the future of adults living with sickle cell disease is bright.”

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 860-679-2100.

Commissioner Visits UConn Center on Aging

From left: Drs. Gail Sullivan and George Kuchel from the UConn Center on Aging discuss geriatric research, education and clinical care with Connecticut Department on Aging Commissioner Elizabeth Ritter. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)
From left: Drs. Gail Sullivan and George Kuchel from the UConn Center on Aging discuss UConn Health’s geriatric research, education and clinical care with Connecticut Department on Aging Commissioner Elizabeth Ritter. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

The exact numbers may vary by projection, but all point to a critical shortage of geriatricians as the U.S. elderly population continues to grow.

It’s what was on the mind of Elizabeth Ritter, commissioner of the Connecticut Department on Aging, on her recent visit to UConn Health.

Ritter met with faculty at the UConn Center on Aging to get a sense of what the University is doing to produce more physicians and other providers who can meet the growing needs.

“It was an opportunity for me to see one of the country’s foremost centers,” Ritter says. “I was interested in learning about geriatrics and where we’re going with it, particularly the projected shortages of people who will be caring for us as we age.”

Dr. George Kuchel, director of the UConn Center on Aging, says while people have been aging since the beginning of time, aging as a field of endeavor for clinical care is relatively young.

“We have major shortages of providers in geriatric medicine and geriatric psychiatry, and not just doctors, but all levels of clinical care,” Kuchel says. “Connecticut does much better, but we’re still facing a shortage.”

According to American Geriatrics Society data from 2014, Connecticut had a shortfall of 113 geriatricians, and has a projected shortfall of more than 200 by 2030.

“In the 30 years the UConn Center on Aging has been here, it has produced research and educated those who will care for the most quickly growing part of our population,” Ritter says. “It was incredibly far-sighted of the founders more than 30 years ago to create this, and now, even more so.”

Her visit included a conversation with Dr. Suzanne Rose, the UConn School of Medicine’s senior associate dean for education.

“We discussed the importance of continuing to integrate geriatrics in all levels of the medical education program,” Ritter says. “There’s no way geriatrics is not going to be integrated in everything we do in medicine.”

Ritter also had lunch with geriatric fellows and got a tour of the UConn Health campus.


New National Center for Bio-NMR at UConn Health

The National Center for Bio-NMR Data Processing and Analysis will open at UConn Health in December. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)
The National Center for Bio-NMR Data Processing and Analysis will open at UConn Health in December. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

UConn Health is establishing a national data processing and analysis center for a powerful research tool, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). NMR technology allows researchers to analyze biological molecules at the atomic level, and is used in scientific research, medicine, and industry.

“UConn Health is ideally suited for this type of prestigious national center,” says UConn Vice President for Research Jeffrey Seemann. “It builds on substantial investments made by the University in network infrastructure, and allows investigators from UConn and across the U.S. access to high performance tools to drive technology development and research breakthroughs.”

NMR spectroscopy is used by chemists and biochemists to investigate the properties of organic molecules. It has biomedical applications in structural biology, diagnostics, drug discovery and metabolomics, which is the study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind.

An abundance of powerful computer programs for rapid data collection, sensitive and high-resolution signal processing, and analyzing complex spectra have advanced NMR capabilities in recent years. However, these advances present new challenges.

“Due to the complexity of data processing needed for bio-NMR, dozens of separate software packages from different sources are sometimes necessary. We’re building the ‘app store’ for bio-NMR software – and all that software is free,” says Jeffrey Hoch, director of the Gregory P. Mullen NMR Structural Biology Facility at UConn Health and head of the new National Bio-NMR Center. “The Center ensures that different packages function correctly together and that software remains viable long after development.”

The new Center and its main feature, “NMRbox,” provide software support for hundreds of NMR programs used in biomedical research, such as drug discovery and structural biology. Supporting software from hundreds of academic and commercial developers ensures that current research studies can be completed and reproduced in the future.

Awarded $6.4 million in grant funding from the National Institute for General Medical Sciences within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Center will provide U.S. investigators access to a single, downloadable package through a cloud-based platform. UConn Health and University of Wisconsin investigators will collaborate to operate the national center.

The National Center for Bio-NMR Data Processing and Analysis is set to launch in December and will be housed at UConn Health’s Farmington campus. UConn Health is home to the School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine and John Dempsey Hospital, as well as a thriving research enterprise.

 -Jessica McBride

National Honor for UConn Prosthodontics Chair

Dr. Thomas Taylor will receive the American College of Prosthodondics Education Foundation Founders Society Award at the ACP's annual meeting in October. (Lanny Nagler for UConn Health)
Dr. Thomas Taylor will receive the American College of Prosthodondics Education Foundation Founders Society Award at the ACP’s annual meeting in October. (Lanny Nagler for UConn Health)

When the American College of Prosthodontics meets next month in Orlando, it will present UConn Health’s Dr. Thomas Taylor with a medallion for its education foundation’s highest honor.

Taylor, a professor who heads the UConn School of Dental Medicine’s Department of Reconstructive Sciences and chairs the Division of Prosthodontics, is the co-recipient of the 2015 American College of Prosthodontics Education Foundation (ACPEF) Founders Society Award.

The award recognizes those who have made a significant impact on the growth and development of the ACPEF and who “have demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment” to the advancement of the specialty of prosthodontics, according to the Foundation.

“It is wonderful that external organizations like the ACPEF see in Dr. Taylor what we have recognized here in the School of Dental Medicine for many years,” says Dr. R. L. “Monty” MacNeil, dean of the UConn School of Dental Medicine. “He’s a thought leader, inspiring teacher and a strong advocate for our profession.”

In addition to his academic, clinical and research work at UConn Health, Taylor has published extensively in the prosthodontic literature and is a past editor of the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Implants.

“Prosthodontics is the most wonderful—and most challenging—specialty to be a part of,” Taylor says. “Our parent organization, the American College of Prosthodontists, has been supportive of me throughout my career. I feel that I couldn’t possibly give back the value of what my chosen specialty has done for me. I’m so very proud to have been able to support the ACPEF in its efforts to further our specialty and the patients we serve. It is truly an honor to be recognized with this award.”

Taylor serves as executive director of the American Board of Prosthodontics and is president of the Greater New York Academy of Prosthodontics. He is a past president of the International College of Prosthodontics and the International Team for Implantology.

“His leadership is the breath and the heartbeat of our vital organization,” says Dr. Lyndon Cooper, ACPEF chair. “The recognition of Dr. Thomas Taylor by the ACPEF is an inspiring testimony to his level of generosity and dedication as a leader, educator, and clinician.”

Taylor also is a past president of the ACP, whose president, Dr. Frank Tuminelli, says, “His passion makes him a trailblazer for our specialty in the 21st century.”

The ACP Annual Session is Oct. 21-24.

Pearson Named Editor-in-Chief of Nursing Scholarly Journal

Geraldine Pearson starts as editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association Jan. 1, 2016. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Center Photo)
Geraldine Pearson starts as editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association Jan. 1, 2016. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Center Photo)

UConn Health’s Geraldine Pearson will serve as editor-in-chief for the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (JAPNA) starting next year.

JAPNA is a bi-monthly peer-reviewed publication with an international circulation of nearly 13,000.

“At an exciting time of growth and increased visibility for the journal, it was paramount to secure an editor who could build upon current momentum,” says APNA President Susie Adams. “With her prior experience as an editor as well as her clearly defined vision for developing JAPNA, the Board of Directors feel confident that Dr. Pearson will be successful as editor-in-chief of JAPNA in meeting readership interests across diverse settings and roles while retaining the quality and rigor of the journal.”

Pearson, associate professor of psychiatry at the UConn School of Medicine, has been the editor of Perspectives in Psychiatric Nursing since 2008.

“My appointment as the editor-in-chief of JAPNA presents an exciting opportunity to work with an association journal that includes a membership from all ranges of psychiatric nurses involved in practice, education, administration, and research,” Pearson says. “I hope to craft a journal that meets a broad range of member needs while maintaining a professional, evidence-based focus.”

Pearson is an advanced practice registered nurse and has a doctorate in nursing research from the UConn School of Nursing. She serves as chair of the medical school’s admissions committee, as director of UConn Health’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic in West Hartford, and as director of the HomeCare Program for adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system.

“Dr. Pearson adds this achievement to several other accomplishments in her career,” says Dr. David Steffens, UConn Health psychiatry chair. “This is a recognition of her longstanding leadership in the field of academic nursing, and it speaks volumes about the important roles that nursing leaders play at UConn Health.”

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association focuses on the specialty practice of psychiatric-mental health nursing and wellness promotion, prevention of mental health problems, and the care and treatment of those with psychiatric disorders. Its journal publishes clinical and research articles intended to promote psychiatric nursing, shape health care policy for the delivery of mental health services, and improve mental health care for culturally diverse people, families, groups and communities.

National Presence for UConn M.D./Ph.D. Program

M.D./Ph.D. student Alex Adami shares the American Physician Scientists Association’s Research Residency Program Database at the National M.D./Ph.D. Association Meeting in Keystone, Col. (Carol Pilbeam for UConn Health)
M.D./Ph.D. student Alex Adami shares the American Physician Scientists Association’s Research Residency Program Database at the National M.D./Ph.D. Association Meeting in Keystone, Col. (Carol Pilbeam for UConn Health)

UConn Health’s M.D./Ph.D. Program was well represented this summer at two national meetings to advance physician-scientist training, including a presentation to M.D./Ph.D. program directors and administrators by one of its students.

The National M.D./Ph.D. Association Meeting is for program directors, and students don’t often attend. But Alex Adami, a sixth-year M.D./Ph.D. candidate, was invited to this year’s conference to present the database project he spearheaded – one that quickly got the attention of M.D./Ph.D. programs throughout the country.

M.D./Ph.D. student Alex Adami in the lab (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health)
M.D./Ph.D. student Alex Adami in the lab (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health)

Adami has long held leadership roles in the American Physician Scientists Association (APSA), the national M.D./Ph.D. Student Association, and has overseen many initiatives within APSA, serving previously as its technology chair and currently as APSA’s president-elect.

One of his APSA initiatives was the development of a database of research-intensive residency programs, those with goals of training future physician-scientists, including graduates of M.D./Ph.D. programs.

“Many residency programs targeting physician-scientists exist, but there was no easy way for a physician-scientist trainee preparing to apply for residency to find them,” Adami says. “With this project, we aim to correct that. Residency is a critical period for physician-scientist trainees, one where many become discouraged and leave the career path. By connecting more trainees to programs designed for them, we hope to reduce those losses and increase the number of physician-scientists who go on to make important advances in understanding human health.”

In addition to his presentation, Adami joined a panel of M.D./Ph.D. program and residency program directors focusing on postgraduate physician-scientist training.

“I am so proud to see our students representing UConn, not just at the national level but on the same stage as directors of M.D./Ph.D. programs and other very senior physician-scientists,” says Dr. Carol Pilbeam, director of the UConn M.D./Ph.D. Program, who was also at the meeting. “It is a testament to Alex’s leadership and accomplishments and to the caliber of student that the UConn M.D./Ph.D. program attracts.”

Further accolades for UConn at the association meeting went to Tracy Dieli, admissions coordinator and M.D./Ph.D. program administrator. Dieli received a plaque from the National M.D./Ph.D. Association recognizing 10 years of dedicated service to the program.

M.D./Ph.D. student Jeremy Grenier in the lab (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health)
M.D./Ph.D. student Jeremy Grenier in the lab (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health)

As the directors and administrators were wrapping up in Denver, the 30th annual M.D./Ph.D. Student Conference was just beginning. Featuring presentations by internationally-prominent physician-scientists and networking opportunities between students from programs nationwide, the student conference is one of the premier gatherings of M.D./Ph.D. trainees. As part of its mission to train physician scientists, UConn’s M.D./Ph.D. program annually sponsors students to travel to the conference. This year’s representatives were Adami and fifth-year student Jeremy Grenier.

Several sessions of the conference are devoted to research presentations by current M.D./Ph.D. students. Grenier’s work in the Department of Immunology was featured during one of the poster sessions. His project examines the impact of viruses on stroke outcomes. Infection is a leading cause of mortality following stroke. Grenier is pursuing his thesis work in the laboratories of Drs. Kamal Khanna and Louise McCullough.

“I am continually amazed by the scientific achievements of our students,” says Dr. Suzanne Rose, UConn School of Medicine senior associate dean for education. “The accomplishments of students like Alex and Jeremy demonstrate our institution’s ability to foster mentorship, discovery, and excellence.”

Adami was selected to give an oral presentation on his project that explores the relationship between the host microbiota, the microorganisms that dwell on and inside of each of us, and the development of asthma.

“Asthma is becoming more and more common in every region of the world,” Adami says. “The increase in asthma has been linked to overuse of antibiotics, particularly in children, and my research supports this. Our hope is that by understanding how the microbiota interacts with our immune system, we can better treat infections in childhood without promoting the development of asthma later in life.”

Adami is pursuing his thesis work in the immunology laboratory of Dr. Roger Thrall.

Research Spotlight: Improving Communication in STEM Training

By: Jessice McBride

An interdisciplinary group of UConn researchers has collaborated on an innovative graduate training program to achieve an important and ambitious goal: teach science and engineering students to successfully communicate technical concepts to diverse audiences.

Margaret Rubega and Robert Capers from UConn’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Robert Wyss from the Department of Journalism, recognize that for scientists in all disciplines, the ability to effectively convey the importance of their research to non-scientists is critical to the success of research projects. That is why they developed a novel science communication program to prepare scientists to talk about their work and a way to measure their success.

“Effective communication in STEM is incredibly important for many reasons,” said Rubega. “Whether a scientist is trying to explain technical findings to a policymaker to enact change at the governmental level, to describe a technology’s potential to commercial partners to spur economic development, or just help a kindergartener understand a scientific concept—a STEM practitioner who can clearly transmit complicated, technical concepts to any audience is a valuable asset to her discipline and to society.”

The program, which has already seen successes in the classroom, pairs graduate students from STEM fields and journalism to increase verbal communication skills through interviewing. It also teaches the STEM students written and multimedia communication skills that can be applied to traditional, digital, and social media. Innovative assessment tools have been developed to allow researchers to validate that the program successfully increases both the activity and quality of communication amongst STEM graduate students.

“Science isn’t just about designing experiments and collecting data,” said Jessie Rack, a PhD candidate in EEB who took the course last year. “You need to be able to explain what you did and why, why you need money to do more or why the public should care. Unfortunately, scientific training doesn’t often include courses on communication, so this type of training is hugely useful and necessary.”

Rack is currently in Washington, D.C. for the summer where she is interning at the National Public Radio Science Desk, thanks to an AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. She credits the science communications course with preparing her for this opportunity

The National Science Foundation has provided substantial funding to continue to grow the program over the next three years in the form of a $500K Research Traineeship Award. The highly competitive program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training.

“For years, we have felt there was a need to do more to help students, both in journalism and the STEM fields, better communicate complex issues to the public,” said program collaborator Robert Wyss. “This NSF grant gives us that opportunity, and we are both grateful and excited by the opportunity.”

Both the NSF and the UConn researchers expect that this program will enrich, improve, and extend the knowledge base in STEM graduate student training, and are confident that it will serve as a model for universities nationwide.

UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research applauds the researchers for their innovative project. The development of improved communication skills in STEM graduate education will ultimately produce a more informed citizenry, expanding public engagement and fostering greater understanding of some of the world’s most pressing scientific concerns.

For more research news and information, visit UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research.