Children are at heart for investigator funded by Wright Center’s pilot imaging grant

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU spoke to Uyen Truong, M.D., about her research into pediatric pulmonary hypertension.

Last year, Truong received a Wright Center Pilot Imaging Fund award, supported by the National Institutes of Health, for her project titled “The impact of bariatric surgery on adolescent cardiovascular function.”

The fund supports pilot work that uses the Wright Center’s research-dedicated MRI. The submission deadline for applications is Feb. 21.

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Uyen Truong, M.D.

The goal of this study is to show that MRI is a safe and accurate method to assess the cardiovascular function of children with pulmonary hypertension. Success in this study has the potential of shifting the paradigm of pediatric pulmonary arterial hypertension care towards a safer, non-invasive monitoring modality and significantly improving quality of life in children with pulmonary hypertension.

Read more at the hospital’s website.

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Wright Center informaticist leads international team for COVID-19 research

Organ transplant recipients, people with HIV, those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis – the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially scary for people whose immune systems are compromised or suppressed.

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Amy Olex, M.S.

They’ve fought or are fighting battles against other diseases – or even their own immune systems. And the newness of the virus means no one is sure how they would fare against it.

“There’s very little data on how immunocompromised patients will respond to COVID-19,” said Amy Olex, M.S., senior bioinformatics specialist at the VCU Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research. “It’s resulted in patients wondering if they should suspend life-altering treatments.”

To help fill that gap in data, Olex is leading a team that will leverage a national platform of COVID-19 clinical data to guide and support research into immunocompromised patients.

The National COVID Cohort Collaborative, or N3C, led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), securely collects and organizes clinical and diagnostic data from patients across the country to create a dataset broad enough to engage in meaningful study of the novel coronavirus.

The Wright Center joined the collaborative last summer, and VCU researchers can access the data for their studies.

“The N3C initiative and data repository has sparked national collaborations with the goal of answering many of these yet unanswered questions about COVID-19,” Olex said. “It’s already yielding vital research.”

Within N3C, a collection of Clinical Domain Teams enable researchers with shared interests to analyze N3C data and collaborate efficiently. The teams provide researchers an opportunity to collect pilot data for grant submissions, train algorithms on larger datasets and learn how to use N3C tools. With teams, researchers can build off each other’s work, collaboratively and efficiently working to improve outcomes for patients affected by COVID-19.

Olex leads the Immunosuppressed or Compromised Clinical (ISC) Domain Team. Initial research will focus on people with HIV, organ transplants and those with autoimmune disorders, including skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis and eczema. And the team will identify areas that warrant additional study.

“The ISC Team will mine the N3C data to identify how different types, levels, and durations of immunocompromise may affect severity and outcomes of infected patients,” Olex said. “The hope is that our research brings much needed clarity to healthcare providers and people who are immunosuppressed or compromised.”

Teams like ISC welcome new members. They feature researchers and experts like statisticians, informaticists and machine learning specialists who collaborate across disciplines to tackle COVID-19 and its health impacts.

N3C is hosting an open house to engage CTSA members, newcomers, and the wider translational research community beginning on Jan. 19. The event will kick off with a 1-hour symposium, followed by a week of open Clinical Domain Team meetings, including the Immunosuppressed/Compromised Domain Team.

VCU researchers can contact Amy Olex at with questions about immunosuppressed or compromised COVID-19 research.

Update 1/26/21: VCU researchers interested in learning more about N3C can attend two orientation sessions on Feb. 2 and 9. 

N3C key metrics dashboard Visit for information
Image credit: NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences
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The Wright Center is here to help with your research resolutions

Last year did not go as planned for anyone. But 2021 will slowly, we hope, bring a return to the new normal in our professional lives.

If more or better health-related research at VCU is one of your 2021 resolutions, the Wright Center can help. Find your research resolution below and see how.

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Wright Center events bring together VCU research leaders, health care providers and research professionals on timely topics.

Upcoming events include:

Bookmark the Wright Center’s calendar and make sure you’re signed up for the regular newsletter to be alerted of more upcoming events.

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The Wright Center’s funding opportunities include a few with upcoming deadlines:

  • The Endowment Fund for grant to individuals and small groups of investigations has a Feb. 1 deadline for its up-to-$50,000 award.
  • The Pilot Imaging Fund for grants up to $25,000 is accepting applications until Feb. 21 from investigators looking to use the Wright Center’s Collaborative Advanced Research Imaging (CARI) facility.
  • And the Clinical Research Voucher Program has a rolling deadline for investigators looking for funding to use VCU Health clinical research facilities and services.

Find more funding opportunities at the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation’s website and in RAMS-SPOT.

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Request access to a cohort discovery program that helps investigators test feasibility and collaborate with other institutions.

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Through the Wright Center, you can access Protocol Builder, a secure, cloud-based technology that helps investigators write interventional or observational research protocols. Find links and resources on protocol development. Read More

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Highlighting the Work of Richmond’s Community Health Workers and Advocates

The health of our community plays a key role in our personal well-being, which is why the work that community health workers and advocates do is so impactful. Public health warriors are on the front lines serving Richmond City’s vulnerable populations by advocating and educating their communities about their health and helping them navigate to services they need to improve their lives.

With funding from the Wright Center, the VCU Center on Society and Health and Initiatives of Change created an interactive story featuring Richmond’s community health workers and advocates. The story explores their work and their personal stories of overcoming adversity, as well as the importance of fostering community relationships.

Click here to explore the story.

This post originally appeared on the Center on Society and Health’s website.

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Wright Foundation gifts $16 million to the Wright Center

The C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research has received a $16 million gift from the foundation of its namesake benefactors.

The funds are part of a $24 million gift from the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Foundation, announced on Friday. Four million dollars will go to the VCU College of Engineering, and another $4 million supports the VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion.

The Wright Center’s $16 million will support the mission of the center — to advance science and foster partnerships that accelerate translational research for the betterment of human health. Plans to develop specific programs and scholarship around that vision are underway.

“We’re humbled by and grateful for the generosity that the Wrights and their foundation have shown our center,” said F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., director of the Wright Center. “This year has shown us how important clinical research is for the health of our community. And this gift will help the Wright Center promote important collaborative, community engaged research.”

C. Kenneth Wright made a $16 million gift in 2015 to name the Wright Center. The gift established six Distinguished Chairs in Clinical and Translational Research and a physician-scientist scholars program. Wright’s support has enabled the university to recruit distinguished researchers from around the country and helped VCU prepare scholars for careers along the spectrum of translational science.

In 2018, Wright renewed his support with a $5 million gift to expand the Wright Center’s biomedical informatics program.

The Wright gifts have helped the center leverage the support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its 2010 Clinical and Translational Science Award of $20 million. The NIH renewed the award in 2018 with a $21.5 million grant — the largest NIH grant in VCU’s history.

Kenneth Wright passed away in 2019, and his wife, Dianne, died in 2013. Their foundation continues their dedicated work to fund research and education.

Read more at VCU News.

Image at top: C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright

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2020 clinical research by the numbers

The researchers and study teams that make clinical research happen at VCU have gone above and beyond this year. They worked quickly to adapt ongoing research. They started new studies hoping to contribute to knowledge of COVID-19. They joined national and international studies. And they continued their important research on all the other diseases that didn’t take a break during the pandemic.

The Wright Center crunched the numbers on VCU researchers’ work this year.

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2,108 participants enrolled in studies


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1,403 VCU and VCU Health study team members


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885 studies active during the year



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576 multi-site studies




183 studies opened



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43 COVID-19 studies opened



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36 departments represented


Thank you to all the clinicians, researchers and study teams that make clinical research at VCU possible.

Numbers current from OnCore as of Dec. 9, 2020. Special thanks to Robert Moulden, manager of clinical trials management systems at the Wright Center.



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Wright Center Director contributes to public health messaging on vaccines

As the nation gets closer to authorized COVID-19 vaccines, VCU Health is gearing up to be part of the unprecedented distribution in central Virginia.

Wright Center Director F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., joined other researchers and health care providers to offer fact-based perspective on the safety and efficacy of vaccines for a story in VCU Health News.

“I’ve been doing clinical trials and clinical research for over 20 years,” said Moeller. “My experience with the FDA is that they have safety and efficacy at the top of their minds. People have been working there a long time through different administrations, and while they might change slightly in their approach to things, I have never seen them change their approach to safety and efficacy.

Read more at VCU Health.

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New K Award Seminar Series will help VCU early career faculty apply for NIH grants

The Wright Center introduces a new seminar series that will serve as an insider’s guide to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) K Awards.

Successful K Award applicants will share tips and tricks that attendees can apply to their own writing in a five-part series beginning in December. Attendees will be prepared to tackle their own application with confidence.

K Awards are career development awards, designed to help scientists, physician-scientists and clinicians conduct research while working toward independence and competitiveness for major grants. The awards develop the foundation for a productive scientific career in the fields of biomedical, clinical and behavioral science.

The hope is to increase the number of successful K Award applications by VCU junior faculty and create the infrastructure that keeps junior faculty on track to application. The series is part of the Wright Center’s many services designed to support early career researchers across the translational science spectrum.

The live, online series will occur on third Wednesdays from December to May. Attendance at all five is encouraged.

Part I: So you want a K Award?

Participants are offered an overview of K awards: the different types of K Award, their eligibility requirements, suggestions for packaging a successful K application and things to consider when moving from ideation to submission.
Dec. 16, 2020
1 – 2 p.m.
Facilitator: Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D.
Register now

Part II: The Science: tips and tricks for your K’s specific aims and research strategy

Participants are offered tips and tricks for drafting compelling specific aims and subsections of the research strategy (Significance, Innovation, Approach). Participants will explore the intersection of the proposed research and the career development plan, and they will learn strategies to organize research design while avoiding common mistakes.
Jan. 20, 2021
1 – 2 p.m.
Facilitator: Danielle Dick, Ph.D.
Register now

Part III: All about you and your team: tips and tricks for your K’s candidate/career plan and mentor team

Participants are offered best practices on constructing the candidate section (background, career goals/objectives, career development/training, and mentoring plan/team) as it intersects with research strategy. Participants will learn strategies for mentor letters, organizing information and understanding relationships between/among goals, objectives, activities and specific aims.
Feb. 17, 2021
1 – 2 p.m.
Facilitator: Ananda Amstadter, Ph.D.
Register now

Part IV: The nuts and bolts

Participants will learn how to draft the abstract, project narrative, cover letter and facilities/resources section. In addition, participants will explore best practices in addressing human subject research, constructing a budget and organizing biosketches. Finally, participants  will review the grant submission/review process and what to expect from the moment of submission to receipt of a summary statement.
March 17, 2021
1 – 2 p.m.
Facilitator: TBD
Register now

Part V: You got it. Now what?

This session is offered to recent recipients of K awards and hopeful recipients of K awards.  Participants will learn tips and tricks on how to maximize their award and ensure milestones are met. Participants will discuss strategies to leverage the K award for transitioning to independence. Finally, the participants will explore the need for and sources of funding for their research beyond the K awards $25k allocation.
May 19, 2021
1 – 2 p.m.
Facilitator: Suzanne Mazzeo, Ph.D.
Register now

For more information about the series, contact Rob DiRenzo.

Subscribe to the Wright Center’s newsletter for reminders about upcoming events.

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MCV Foundation’s NEXT magazine features Wright Center researchers, studies

The latest issue of MCV Foundation’s NEXT magazine is out, and the Wright Center plays a big role. The issue focuses on COVID-19 research and highlights the innovation and resourcefulness shown by VCU researchers, including many from the Wright Center and those funded by center grants.

Director F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., and the Wright Center frame the lead story, “The Great Shake Up: How COVID-19 upended and refocused research at VCU Health.”

“Our researchers and administrators really stepped up to the plate in every way,” Moeller told NEXT. “It’s not a scenario that individual researchers can really plan for, but they have really managed it well.”

Also featured in that story are:

  • John Ryan, Ph.D., a professor of biology who serves on the Wright Center’s Operations Committee
  • Somaya Albhaisi, M.D., whose COVID-19 registry is funded in part by the Wright Center
  • Translational Scholar Caitlin Martin, M.D.

Other Wright Center leaders and researchers featured in stories include:

  • Arun Sanyal’s, M.D., in “Remdesivir: Establishing a Standard of Care for COVID-19”
  • Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., and Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., in “Calming the Cytokine Storm of COVID-19”
  • VCU Massey Cancer Center Director Robert Winn, M.D., in “Access & Equity: Combating Health Disparities and COVID-19 through Community Engagement”
  • KL2 Scholar Julian Zhu, Ph.D., in “Big Things in Small Packages”
  • Stephen Kates, M.D., in “Amid Crisis, Inventing Solutions”
  • Alpha “Barry” Fowler III, M.D., in “Follow up: Applying Previous Research to the Current Crisis”

And Kathy White, who serves on the COVID-19 Clinical Trials Oversight Committee, shared her experience surviving COVID-19 and participating in a clinical trial led by Abbate.

Read NEXT here.
Or download the pdf.

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VCU joins national trial testing three new drugs for COVID-19

As a Clinical and Translational Science Award hub, the Wright Center was key to bringing a new clinical treatment trial for COVID-19 to VCU Health. Arun Sanyal, M.D., the education core director at the center, will lead the ACTIV-1 trial, testing three immune modulator drugs on people hospitalized with COVID-19.

“The hope is that these drugs might restore balance to the immune system,” said trial lead Arun Sanyal, M.D., a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in the VCU School of Medicine. “The cytokine storm can lead to respiratory distress, organ failure and other life-threatening complications, so a drug that counteracts these symptoms could reduce fatalities, shorten hospital stays and lessen the need for ventilators.”

Read more at VCU Health news.