Wright CCTR Endowment Fund Application Deadlines Approaching!

The deadline is quickly approaching for awards!
Submit your multi-school awards by May 1st!
The VCU Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research’s Endowment Fund supports meritorious pilot and feasibility research. Multi-disciplinary research teams may apply for up to $130,000 to support research that involves collaborators from at least two different VCU schools. Applications including researchers from multiple disciplines are not only encouraged, but highly desirable. Application information and materials may be found at https://cctr.vcu.edu/resources/funding.html

Q&A with Wright Center ClinicalTrials.gov Program Administrator, Alanda Perry Jones

Q&A with ClinicalTrial.gov Program Admininstator, 
Alanda Perry Jones, MA, CCRP
During recent workshops, she reviewed a summary of the 2017-2018 changes, delved into case studies to better understand NIH’s expanded interpretation of the definition of a clinical trial, and provided resources for researchers to use as they develop their proposals.
What are the takeaways you want from these workshops?
The main takeaways are these: NIH has implemented many policy changes over the past year to improve transparency and accountability in human subject research, especially clinical trials. NIH uses a broad interpretation of the definition of a clinical trial. This includes certain mechanistic studies, which are designed to explore or understand a biological or behavioral process, the pathophysiology of a disease, or the mechanism of action of an intervention.
What are the major changes?
  1. The funding opportunity announcement (FOAs) will specify whether clinical trials are required, optional, or not allowed.
  2. NIH has revised their proposal form to consolidate and streamline human subjects information. Investigators must use the new Form E.
  3. Multi-site studies must use a single IRB.
What are some of the questions you are getting?
Many investigators are asking whether their particular study qualifies as a clinical trial. Research administrators at VCU can provide guidance on this, but with so many changes occurring at once, the best source of truth is the NIH program officer.
What is your role at the Wright Center for changes like these?
My specific role is ensuring that VCU is compliant with ClinicalTrials.gov regulations, which require outreach and education, as well as input from the research community. The influence of ClinicalTrials.gov over research will likely continue to grow as long as transparency and accountability remain a priority. My goal is to make sure that we’re meeting our important reporting obligations in a way that is as painless as possible.
If you need additional information please visit the National Institute of Health website at:  grants.nih.gov/policy/clinical-trials.htm or contact Alanda Perry Jones at: perryar@vcu.edu

Ayesha Chawla, Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, Ph.D. candidate in the Cancer and Molecular Medicine concentration (CaMM), is featured in VCU News!

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in Mumbai, India, in 2011, Chawla came to the United States to pursue a graduate degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Mumbai native’s interest in cancer research eventually led her to VCU’s Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, where she has been performing intensive research in colon and pancreatic cancer at Massey Cancer Center since August 2013. “Understanding the complexity of the disease is my key interest,” Chawla said. The 28-year-old researcher works in the laboratory of Steven Grossman, M.D., Ph.D., who is chair of the School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care. Grossman is also the deputy director and Dianne Nunnally Hoppes Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Chawla’s favorite memories at VCU have come from the time she spent with VCU’s Indian cultural organization, Tiranga.

“I love this organization,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of it because it would not only bring me closer to the VCU community, but it would also groom my organization and interpersonal skills.”

Through Tiranga, Chawla worked with other students to organize cultural events and participate in International Student Orientation. They also hosted fundraisers and welcomed new Indian students to VCU.

“As part of [Tiranga] I spent time with people from different cultures and organizations,” Chawla said. “It was the richest experience I got at VCU.”

Chawla will continue at VCU as a post-doctoral researcher in the same laboratory where she did her doctoral research. Eventually, she hopes to work as a research scientist at a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company.

“Cancer research is the need of the hour with increasing incidence rates of the disease,” Chawla said. “I want to contribute my part to the science of cancer by developing mechanisms for curing it.”

Read about more talented VCU students here: news.vcu.edu.

Digging deep into data

Aaron Wolen, left, and Tim York, right, analyze data and show others how to collaborate using Open Science Framework
By: Krista Hutchins

July 12, 2017

Hovering over a computer, VCU Data Science Lab Director, Timothy P. York, PhD, and Wright Center Bioinformatics Specialist, Aaron Wolen, PhD, scrutinize, analyze, and interpret the emerging and rapidly growing field of big data. Much of their day is spent digging deep into data in an effort to make research more transparent and reproducible.

“The Data Science Lab is an idea that grew out of conversations Tim and I were having about how the data science movement has produced amazing solutions to some of the most common pain points researchers experience while working with their data,” Wolen said.

“One of our passions, York added, “is facilitating moving raw data to publication more efficiently while ensuring the robustness of the research product.”   York, also an Associate Professor for VCU Departments of Human and Molecular Genetics and OB/GYN and the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, believes this is the wave of the future.

What is Data Science?

Data Science is both the science and art of working with data. The VCU Data Science Lab supports best practices for reproducible research using modern computational tools. The program, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, and supported by the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, aims to help researchers manage their projects and workflows.

“Reproducibility of research is key to advancing knowledge and maintaining public trust in science,” said Francis Macrina, PhD, Vice President for Research, Office of Research and Innovation.

Collaborating and sharing your research matters, according to York and Wolen.  “These techniques can dramatically improve the reproducibility and transparency of your research, which helps others understand exactly what you did to produce a result,” Wolen said.

So what exactly is Data Science?  According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, it is The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century and according to Glassdoor, it is one of the ‘Best Jobs in America’.  But it is much more than that according to York. The Data Science Lab hopes to solve the ongoing problem of managing, tracking and sharing your research with easy to use storage, data analysis and collaboration.

Open Science Framework

One of the tools in the scientific computing toolbox is the Open Science Framework (OSF).  It is a free, open source application built to help researchers manage their projects and workflows.  “The OSF is a great, free tool that provides an entry point to researchers, regardless of their technical background, to learn and adopt best practices for reproducible research, York said.  The OSF is part collaboration tool, part version control software, and part data archive.

A recent workshop, as part of an on-going OSF educational and hands-on series, provided an overview of Open Science Framework.  The workshop also demonstrated how VCU researchers can use it for securely storing data and materials, organizing projects, coordinating with collaborators and making all or part of their data public and citable.

Workshop attendee, Michael Broda, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Foundations of Education, found the information extremely helpful, “A deeper understanding of reproducibility in research is absolutely critical for education researchers.  The OSF training provided by the VCU Data Science Lab is a wonderful introduction to these issues, as well as an invaluable tool for research management and dissemination.”

Michael Broda learning how to use the Open Science Framework for research management

Roxann Roberson-Nay, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, thought the workshop contained the ideal balance of content depth and efficiency.  “I now feel much more confident in my ability to use the OSF to manage the research activity of my NIH funded grants.”

Roxann Roberson-Nay asking questions on how OSF can track her NIH funded grants

Other participants reflected on the value of sharing data, “to be able to have access to all of your data and analyses, as well as sharing, it is amazing.  I wish I had the Open Science Framework when I started 20 years ago,” Rita Shiang, Associate Professor, Human and Molecular Genetics said.

Laura Padilla and Rita Shiang, right, are collaborating to learn how to manage and analyze their data

Rigor and Reproducibility

The OSF module also falls in line with new National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines for Rigor and Reproducibility.  The NIH Guidelines advocate a commitment to promoting rigorous and transparent research in all areas of sciences…it is key to the successful application of knowledge toward improving health outcomes.

“The VCU Data Science Initiative is a university-wide solution that aims to educate and assist our community of researchers in implementing and sustaining best practices in data science,” Macrina said.

The next workshop, with participants learning how to create a reproducible project from start to finish, will be July 25th, at the Molecular Medicine Research Building from 10 am-12 pm, and is aimed at faculty, graduate students, postdocs, across disciplines, who are actively engaged in research.  If you would like to attend, please register here: https://training.vcu.edu/course_detail.asp?ID=16013.

Research Mentor Training Workshop

By: Krista Hutchins

July 12, 2017

Clinical and Translational Research Mentoring Workshop 

The Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research invites you to become a more effective mentor.

August 8th from 8 am-4 pm – The Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research will host a research mentor training workshop facilitated by master facilitators from the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) in the Robert Ball Conference Room of the BioTech One building.  The NRMN is an initiative supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to diversify the biomedical workforce through mentoring.

This workshop is based on the published curriculum of Mentor Training for Clinical and Translational Researchers that was developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR). Through a process-based approach, participants will explore an intellectual framework for research mentoring, have opportunities for reflection on mentoring skills, participate in a forum to solve mentoring dilemmas, and share strategies for success. Core competencies such as maintaining effective communication, aligning expectations, and promoting research self-efficacy will be addressed.

Last year, more than 35 faculty attended the first translational research mentoring workshop sponsored by the Wright Center in partnership with ICTR. Facilitated by Dr. Kelly Diggs-Andrews, NRMN master facilitator and Stephanie House, Co-Director of the Master Facilitator Initiative at ICTR, the workshop was geared for developing mentoring relationship skills of early career, mid-level, and senior clinical and basic biomedical faculty. Attending faculty members represented a diverse assemblage of clinical and basic research departments at VCU.

This year’s mentoring workshop will be facilitated by both Dr. Diggs-Andrews and Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Wisconsin and co-investigator of the NIH grant that funded the National Research Mentoring Network.

RSVP is required for this event at:


For registration questions, please contact T’Keyah Johnson at 804-628-5414 or johnsontc3@vcu.edu

For content questions, please contact Dr. Teraya Donaldson at tmdonaldson@vcu.edu

Speaker Biographies:

Dr. Angela Byars-Winston

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Counseling psychologist and Associate Professor in the UW Department of Medicine, And Director of Research and Evaluation in the UW Center for Women’s Health Research.

Dr. Byars-Winston investigates cultural influences on academic and career development, especially for racial and ethnic minorities and women in the sciences, engineering, and medicine with the aim of broadening their participation in these fields. Dr. Byars-Winston was Principal Investigator on an NIH R01 grant to measure and test critical factors in research training interventions for mentors of ethnically diverse mentees in biological science. She is currently co-leading (multi-PI with Dr. Christine Pfund) a renewal of that R01 grant to investigate and intervene on research mentors’ cultural diversity awareness. She is co-investigator on the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) grant from the NIH in the Mentor Training Core in which she leads the Culturally Aware Mentorship (CAM) team that is launching innovative training interventions nationwide to build capacity of research mentors to effectively navigate cultural diversity matters in their research mentoring relationships. Dr. Byars-Winston was selected as a 2011 Champion of Change by the White House through President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative for her research efforts to diversify science fields, received the University of Wisconsin’s 2014 Outstanding Woman of Color Award, and is an elected Fellow in the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Byars-Winston is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Board of Higher Education and Workforce (BHEW) and the STEM Equity Pipeline National Advisory Board. She is a graduate of San Diego State University (bachelor’s and master’s degrees) and Arizona State University (doctoral degree).

Dr. Kelly Diggs-Andrews

Diggs-Andrews Consulting, LLC

Kelly Diggs-Andrews, PhD is the founder and CEO of Diggs-Andrews Consulting, LLC, a consulting and media company who goals is to broaden accessibility to science careers through science outreach, diversity training, and professional development. Dr. Diggs-Andrews is a trained neuroscientist and cell biologist who earned her PhD in Biology and Biomedical Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis. She was also the recipient of the NIH-Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, Chancellor’s Diversity Graduate Fellowship, and a National Cancer Institute Postdoctoral Supplement. In her previous role, she served as the Education and Mentoring Fellow with the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and spearheaded an NSF-funded program to develop ASM’s mentoring capacity, to advance investigator-educator collaborations and interdisciplinary research, and to broaden participation of underrepresented individuals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. She is also a Master Facilitator with the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and has organized and co-facilitated Research Mentor Training workshops for graduate trainees, postdoctoral fellows, and junior and senior faculty.

NRMN Email: nrmn.kandrews@gmail.com