At the Wright Center Mentorship Academy on May 3, nearly 50 faculty researchers from eight schools and colleges across the Virginia Commonwealth University MCV and Monroe Park Campuses gathered to discuss mentorship best practices.
“We set out to identify leadership from across the university to attend the Mentorship Academy, with the ultimate goal of using this as a starting point from which to foster a culture of mentorship at VCU,” said Wright Center KL2 program co-director Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D. The VCU School of Medicine professor and division chair organized the daylong conference at which attendees discussed ways to create and nurture a culture of mentorship within their schools, colleges and departments.
The workshop was facilitated by the Center for Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research, which is a nationally recognized leader in providing mentoring and training resources. The evidence-based program was developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help mentors develop skills for engaging in productive, culturally responsive research mentoring relationships that optimize the success of mentors and mentees. “We are here to help VCU faculty promote their own mentoring initiatives by thinking strategically about their mentoring practices and leveraging the experiences of their colleagues to learn from one another,” said program facilitator Kelly Diggs-Andrews, Ph.D.
Throughout the day, VCU faculty members learned skills and developed tools to help them build, increase and improve departmental mentorship infrastructure. “The culture of mentoring is complex,” said Gregory Triplett, Ph.D. The associate dean for graduate studies and research at the VCU College of Engineering attended hoping to learn mentoring strategies that he could bring back to his colleagues. “Workshops such as this provide important details for frameworks that we can further expand upon at our individual units,” he said.
“In order to achieve our goal of fostering a culture of mentorship throughout VCU and VCU Health, we need buy in from senior leadership,” Nana-Sinkam said. “We want to help create a sustainable pool of senior faculty mentors and incentivize those mentors to create a community.”
The day included presentations and facilitated discussions on topics including maintaining effective communication, aligning expectations between mentors and mentees, addressing equity and inclusion, and promoting professional development and work-life integration.
In the afternoon, Nana-Sinkam and Wright Center Director F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., presented on training opportunities within the Wright Center, including grant writing seminars, mock study sections, and assistance with bioinformatics and biostatistics. They highlighted the Wright Center’s newest program, Faculty Mentor Office Hours, where early career faculty can sign-up to meet with senior faculty mentors and discuss topics ranging from promotion and tenure to professional development and grant applications. They also discussed several research training programs administered by the Wright Center, including the Emerging Scholars program, Translational Science Scholars program and KL2 Program, which provide early career researchers with the opportunity to participate in mentored research and career development activities. They ended the presentation with a review of the research supplements that are provided by the Wright Center through the National Institutes of Health to promote diversity and re-entry into biomedical and health-related research professions.
“There is a huge need for leadership in the biomedical research space,” said Moeller, adding that the Wright Center programs he presented on are intended to address that shortage. “We need mentors who are equipped to train the next generation of researchers because without mentorship, junior faculty are not going to succeed.”
The program was made possible through the $21.5 million Clinical and Translational Science Award that the Wright Center received from the NIH in 2018. The largest NIH grant in VCU’s history allows the Wright Center to facilitate collaboration among diverse expertise within the university.
“The Wright Center’s mission is to translate basic science to having an impact on the health of the community and we need translational researchers in the pipeline to carry that mission forward,” Moeller said. “By training a new generation of interdisciplinary clinical and translational scholars, we can work toward ensuring our vision is sustained.”
Infants born very preterm, at or before 28 weeks gestation, are at high risk for developmental impairments. Physical therapy and medical specialists from Virginia Commonwealth University are leading a study in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Virginia to determine how early, evidence-based physical therapy intervention can enhance physical, social and cognitive outcomes.
The team of researchers was awarded a $2.84 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to facilitate the multi-site clinical trial, “Efficacy of Motor and Cognitive Intervention for Infants Born Preterm (SPEEDI2).”The program is based on two smaller studies using Supporting Play, Exploration and Early Developmental Intervention (SPEEDI) developed through a series of studies at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., a board-certified pediatric physical therapy specialist and associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at VCU and the Department of Pediatrics at CHoR, is the principal investigator for the project and the impetus behind the study concept. Read More
Check out this month’s NIH-NCATS Website and Newsletter!
CTSA Program-Supported Researchers Test Low-Cost Treatment for Deadly Illness
Alpha “Berry” Fowler III, M.D. Virginia Commonwealth University.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) researchers have discovered a low-cost and potentially lifesaving treatment for sepsis, a life-threatening condition in which the body’s immune system produces an extreme response to an infection. Support from NCATS’ Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program helped streamline translation of this promising therapy to multisite clinical studies.
The VCU researchers demonstrated in pre-clinical studies that high-dose vitamin C improved survival after sepsis in mice. Vitamin C treatment also reduced inflammation and led to better lung function. The results from a small Phase I study in patients were also positive, but larger studies were necessary to test the effectiveness of high doses of intravenous vitamin C.
Alpha (Berry) Fowler III, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the VCU School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study, credits CTSA Program hub resources and tools with helping move the therapy into a large, multicenter Phase II trial(link is external). This support included grant writing and biostatistics analysis expertise from the NCATS-funded VCU Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research. The sepsis trial will conclude in early 2018. If the treatment is successful, it could save countless lives around the world.
The Wright Center is helping Dr. Fowler continue his research and make national news
Collaboration and Community Core leader, Dr. Alpha “Berry” Fowler, is in the news for his work with Vitamin C and Sepsis. He is making headlines locally and nationally for his continued research and success with the treatment of sepsis using high doses of Vitamin C.
“Did you know that bacterial, viral, and fungal sepsis kills more than 350,000 Americans each year?” Dr. Fowler says to think of two fully loaded 747’s crashing every day. “That will you give you an understanding of the number of lives lost each year.”
The Wright Center, he says, has helped him move forward with the performance of a double blind, placebo-controlled trial, examining the extent to which a simple intervention with intravenous vitamin C can save lives for sepsis.
He credits the Wright Center for providing the necessary resources for everything from interdisciplinary human health research at VCU, to grant writing and biostatistics support to data resources and clinical research services support.
“I was able to use several Wright Center Research Innovators.” Adding, “I used the amazing grant writing services of Bonnie Quearry-together we addressed the problem of sepsis and began the process of writing.” Fowler says, in the end, the grant was broad-based and expertly written. He goes on to say, Dr. Pamela Dillon, Research Liason, helped write the budget for the grant, and Dr. Leroy Thacker, biostatistician, helped with the statistics needed from our Phase 1 drug trial and knowing the proper outcomes to use.
Finally, he says, “I have made great use of the Wright Center’s RedCap Database capture system to log all the clinical data obtained from patients enrolled at each study site.” The study sites are as follows: Virginia Commonwealth University (lead), The Cleveland Clinic, The Medical College of Wisconsin, and the University of Kentucky.
After a 3 year, 3.2 million dollar grant from NIH, obtained with the help of Wright Center professionals, 140 patients have been enrolled in the trial, which is still ongoing.
The VCU Wright CCTR reviewed research definitions set by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the services offered by the CCTR Research Innovator, Clinical Research Services policies, and institutional information.
“You are not alone,” said Shirley L.T. Helm, MS, CCRP, manager of clinical research administration for the VCU Wright CCTR’s Clinical Research Services. “We are here to help you with a team of experts in the areas of research, biostatistics, informatics, study conduct, regulatory development…you name it.”
The team went on to explain how the VCU Wright CCTR caters to investigators at many levels and functions as an umbrella center for various hubs, which includes the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry, the Community Engagement Core, and the Collaborative Advanced Research Imaging (CARI) program, among others.
“As the School of Nursing is ramping up it’s own clinical research projects, it was good to identify areas of concern and educate them as to the services the CRS provides to the greater research community here at VCU,” said Art Carpenter, senior financial analyst for the VCU Wright CCTR. “I was happy to walk the audience through requesting quotes for services and procedures from our identified ancillary services.”
The VCUC. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research(Wright CCTR) is proud to support the creation of the Biostatistics Consulting Laboratory (BCL) at VCU. The BCL offers assistance with study design, data analysis, and biostatistical education services free of charge to members of VCU and VCU Health System. It will complement the biostatistics services already offered by the Center by allowing Wright CCTR biostatisticians more flexibility to keep up with the ever-growing demand for their services.
The BCL is a recently launched student-led organization that is housed with the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Biostatistics. It offers statistical assistance for clients across the university while simultaneously providing students with the ability to receive first-hand consulting experience, a career-critical skill.
“The communication of statistical results is extremely important, because even the best projects can fall through if the results are not conveyed in a meaningful manner,” said Adam Sima, Ph.D., biostatistician for the Wright CCTR’s Research Innovator and supervisor of the BCL. “Teaching the next generation of biostatisticians this valuable skill is important for both their job prospects as they graduate, but also for their professional development. We aim to not only produce statistical products that are requested by investigators, but to communicate these results as effectively as possible so the investigators can use the results to further the translational aspect of their research.”
The lab will be primarily run by five BCL assistants and two BCL associates: Brian DiPace, a 3rd year Ph.D. student and winner of the VCU Biopharmaceutical Applied Statistics Scholarship and the Karl E. Peace Biostatistics Award for Excellence and Scholarship; and Viviana Alejandra Rodriguez, 2nd year Ph.D. student and Fulbright Foreign Student Program scholar from Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.
“I am looking forwarding to seeing how we conduct the BCL at VCU so I can eventually bring back the mechanisms and administrative policies to my institution in Colombia,” said Rodriguez.
In addition to research assistance, VCU faculty often receive requests for introductory lectures on biostatistics, a service the BCL will now be able to offer on its website.
“I think it’s important that the VCU community knows not only about the research aspect of the BCL, but also of the educational assistance we can provide,” said DiPace. “Graduates students can now offer lectures and seminars through the lab, something that hasn’t been offered in the past.”
On Thursday, Jan. 14, the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR) at VCU and Tompkins-McCaw Library co-hosted a research speed networking lunch event.
This program was just one of the more than 40 activities that made up “Ready, Set, Grant!,” a four-day event aimed at helping researchers learn competitive grant writing skills.
More than twenty individuals from across a variety of VCU disciplines attended the event. Representation included the CCTR, the School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing, School of Dentistry, VCU Life Sciences, the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, and the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, among many others.
Participants were assigned a designated color (red, green or blue) and asked to sit at any of the corresponding colored seats. They were then given three minutes to talk about their research and background before an alarm sounded, signaling either the green or red-designated researchers to move to the next table. Participants were provided lunch and a list of fellow attendees to keep notes on as they rotated.
“After participating in the speed-networking event, I was amazed at the breadth of research that is being conducted across VCU,” said Adam Sima, assistant professor for the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Biostatistics, and CCTR faculty. “It was fantastic to hear of such diverse research areas and what each researcher was seeking in terms of collaborators. Judging from my own conversations as well as the engaged conversations that raged around me, I have no doubt that most of the researchers found a fellow researcher with shared interests or compatible expertise.”