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Researchers win National Science Foundation grant to study brain

Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the University of Colorado Boulder have won an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to try and reconnect neural communication between parts of the brain where it has been severed.

If successful, this could have major implications for those suffering brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological problems.

Diego Restrepo, director of the Center for NeuroScience at CU Anschutz.

The team of neuroscientists and engineers will use a special lightweight microscope, which they designed, to peer into and control the living brain of a mouse as they try to reconnect parts of the brain that no longer communicate with each other.

The miniature microscope, using a unique electrowetting lens, is mounted on the head of a mouse and with its high-powered, fiber-optic light can actually view and control neural activity as it happens.

Emily Gibson, assistant professor of bioengineering at CU Anschutz

“Adaptive optical devices that are included in a miniature microscope are a game changer,” said grant co-investigators Juliet Gopinath, assistant professor in electrical, computer and energy engineering and Victor Bright, professor of mechanical engineering, both at CU Boulder.  “They enable truly miniature 3D imaging devices without mechanically moving parts.”

According to Gopinath and Bright, the electrowetting lens is compact, low power and has good optical quality making it ideal for this kind of research. The liquid lens can change shape when voltage is applied.

The team will use an optic fiber to disrupt the signals between the olfactory bulb of a mouse, which receives information on odors, and the olfactory cortex, the part of the brain that allows it to smell. In essence, they will shut down its ability to smell and then try to restore it by activating the olfactory cortex using the miniature microscope.

The mouse will be awake and behaving normally throughout this while the team views and controls what is happening in the brain with the electrowetting fiber-coupled microscope. They can stimulate the animal’s brain activity using powerful laser light that flows through the microscope’s fiber-optic bundle.

“One major problem with the brain is that with certain diseases or injuries, one part of the brain stops talking to another,” said co-investigator Diego Restrepo, professor of cell and developmental biology and director of the Center for NeuroScience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “If someone has a stroke they may no longer be able to speak.”

Once connections between brain areas are lost, it is difficult to get them communicating again.

Restrepo said if researchers are successful reestablishing brain connections in a mouse, they may be able do the same in humans with brain injury or disease.

 

“For example, if there is loss of connection between the retina that detects the image in the eyes and the visual cortex, in the back of the brain the patient has a problem detecting images that in the worst case leads to blindness,” Restrepo said.  “That loss of connection between the retina and visual cortex can be due to neural problems such as stroke, neuro-immune disease or traumatic brain injury.”

If this experiment is successful, he said, this microscope could eventually be modified to activate neurons in the visual cortex based on the visual input. In other words, creating a bridge between two parts of the brain where communication has stopped.

“This is an interdisciplinary grant which combines bioengineering with neurological applications,” said Emily Gibson, assistant professor of bioengineering at CU Anschutz. “The idea is to use this device which can image individual neurons and stimulate those individual neurons in that 3D volume.”

She also noted that two of the principal investigators on the grant are women, a rarity in the field of engineering.

“This particular grant is for high risk, high payoff approaches,” she said. “And this is a very high risk project. We are pushing the technology farther and seeing if we can use these optical tools to ultimately make an impact on humans.”

The grant is funded under a program from the National Science Foundation known as the “Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems (NSF-NCS).”

It is one element of NSF’s broader effort directed at Understanding the Brain, (http://www.nsf.gov/brain/) a multi-year activity that includes NSF’s participation in the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

The team also won a second NSF grant of $200,000 to be used in the dissemination and commercialization of its microscope.

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Vital conduit between campus research and private industry

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus brims with the best health care, technologies and research. Now the campus has taken a bold step forward to accelerate the transfer of world-class research and ideas to the marketplace.

CU Anschutz recently launched its own technology transfer office and rebranded the group to become CU Anschutz Innovations to align and leverage campus-specific expertise with key industry partnerships. Similarly, CU Boulder launched its own technology transfer office that’s focused on exploring innovation through its exceptional physics, biosciences, aerospace and engineering programs.

Previously, the CU Technology Transfer Office operated at the CU system level and quickly became an integral part of Colorado’s innovation ecosystem. But even more streamlined support and expertise is available now that the campuses, as of July 1, operate their own tech transfer offices. CU Anschutz Innovations will serve the transfer needs for CU Denver, while CU Boulder will handle requests for the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Richard Weir robotic hand research CU Anschutz
Doctoral student Jabob Segil and Richard Weir, PhD, associate research professor in the Department of Engineering work on a robotic hand in a lab on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. Their research is illustrative of the kinds of patient-centered innovations that take place regularly on the campus.

Steve VanNurden, executive director of biotechnology relationships at CU Anschutz and CEO of the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority, said the change will result in more streamlined services to meet the needs of inventors that will hopefully lead to bringing more technologies to market for the betterment of patients worldwide. “What’s exciting about being at an academic medical center is you can play a role in these technologies getting to patients,” he said. “I’ve seen it in my career: certain technologies that I worked on ended up benefiting a family member or friends.”

Another key leader in CU Anschutz’s growing research and tech transfer capacity is CU Anschutz Innovations Director Kimberly Muller. Muller came to the campus in June 2015 from Yale University, where she served as deputy director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and associate director of New Ventures.

Already, she has launched the Center for Innovation at Children’s Hospital Colorado, which is providing an opportunity for innovators to develop groundbreaking ideas that will enrich and save lives through better technology and health care.

“We really needed a different type of person to run CU Anschutz Innovations, not just someone from a licensing background,” VanNurden said of Muller. “Kim is also a patent attorney and has run startup companies, so she’s quite skilled in developing new approaches.”

In every approach, the CU Anschutz Innovations office will provide the vital conduit between the inventors and innovators on campus and the decision-makers in private enterprise.

“How do you best deliver technologies to patients? You match the business side to the science side,” VanNurden said. VanNurden came to CU Anschutz in 2012 from the Mayo Clinic, where he oversaw a patient-focused technology licensing and commercialization enterprise.

For instance, he said, physicians and other health care providers regularly come up with ideas that will advance care or fill an unmet need. “The goal is to make it easy for them to bring in an idea and then have a team evaluate it and get an early read from industry or key external groups,” VanNurden said. “As an academic medical center, there’s a lot of great science, research and health care that happens here. If we match that up with great business, then you really have something.”

Bioscience 2 Building at CU Anschutz
The 112,000-square-foot Bioscience 2 Building opened in 2015. A groundbreaking on Bioscience 3 is planned for next year.

The CU Anschutz Medical Campus has emerged in the past decade a major economic engine in Colorado, providing more than $5.6 billion total economic impact. Since 2002, over 1,900 patent applications and more than 50 startup companies have been formed based on intellectual property developed on the campus.

VanNurden said 65 companies already operate out of the two Bioscience buildings at the Fitzsimons Redevelopment, with a groundbreaking for Bioscience 3 planned for next year.

The CU Anschutz Medical Campus is renowned for its direct links between academia and industry. For example, bioengineering students can connect their classroom work to the real world by taking advantage of the existing companies on campus or maybe they even start their own company.

“Those are the kinds of things we can do on this campus when we start to connecting different groups together,” VanNurden said. “It’s pretty unique, because there’s nothing that’s related to life science and medicine that we can’t do on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. To accomplish much of it, you don’t even have to move your car.”

Because CU Anschutz Innovations is focused on life sciences and medicine, it will refer any non-medical ideas from CU Denver researchers to the CU Boulder tech transfer office.

The opportunities for technology transfer are seemingly boundless, and VanNurden and Muller are excited to create collaborative, yet streamlined, pathways between the research bench and a patient’s bedside.

“In the future we want to look at new models and different ways of doing things,” VanNurden said. “So how can a tech transfer office add value to a campus? Let’s reimagine that.”

To reach the Technology Transfer Offices, email ttocontact@cu.edu.

Story was written by University Communications and the Office of University Relations.

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Five good ways to manage stress

Joshua Scott
Joshua Scott, Director of Continuing Education at the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Health, Work & Environment

When Joshua Scott was asked to give a presentation on workplace stress at CU Anschutz, he anticipated an audience of 20 or 30—40 maximum. Within two hours of the announcement, the workshop had filled—with 130 on the roster. That only confirmed what Scott, Director of Continuing Education at the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Health, Work & Environment, knew already—many people feel the need to reduce stress in their lives … especially at work.

“Attempting to cultivate a ‘stress-free’ life isn’t possible,” Scott said.  “But ‘stress-managed?’ Now that’s something worth working towards.”

‘Stress … has changed’

Scott has stress management in his DNA. His father was an educator and lecturer on the subject for 30 years—a good indicator, Scott points out, that the “good old days” were also not stress-free even though 75 percent of employees believe that today’s worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.

“Stress is not new, but it is different,” Scott said. “The pace and type of changes we’re experiencing do create stress.”

Scott points out that stress can be created by perceived threats (Am I going to lose my job?) and/or by real conflicts (I’m being attacked by a bear). Perceived threats like job loss can feel as real to a person as a real threat like the bear. So regardless of the type of stress, humans have a “fight or flight” instinct which causes the human body to react in much the same way. Increases in epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) cause blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate to increase at a level comparable to the real or perceived threat.

“There’s no doubt that cumulative perceived stress response over time has detrimental health results,” Scott said. “It could affect digestion, sleep, really any system in your body.”

Tips to reduce stress

At the Stress Management Workshop, Scott used a smartphone app to poll participants about where they perceive their stress originates. The results were unequivocal and landed in one of two categories:

  • My stress comes from managing expectations, whether they originate with myself, my coworkers, manager, clients or leadership.
  • My stress stems from difficulty disconnecting, because the same tools that help me communicate also prevent me from taking time off from communication.

Acknowledging these stressors are realities, which often cannot be changed, Scott defines stress management as the ability to alter how a person reacts and responds to life’s irritants and challenges. He offers five strategies to manage stress at work … or at home:

  • Keep moving. Whether it’s with walking meetings, sit/stand desks, stretch breaks, regular exercise—whatever it takes, keep moving.
  • Set clear boundaries for periods when you are available to work and times when you are offline. Use “away” messages to clear time to get work done. Consider taking email off your phone.
  • Humor, fun and celebration of achievements can help reduce stress.
  • Stay mindful. Remember to breathe. Eat healthfully and pay attention to nutrition. Consider meditation.
  • Express gratitude. Think about why you are thankful and increase expression of gratitude in all communication. 

‘What are your options?’ 

Scott likes to tell the story of himself as a 10-year-old taking a rock-climbing course with his family. He got half-way up the rock face and froze. But when he asked his father to belay him down, his father refused and instead asked him, “What are your options?” Eventually, Scott figured out the path, and climbed to the top.

A week later, the tables were turned when his father found himself stuck on a rock. “Bring me down, Josh,” he told his son, who held the ropes. Instead, Josh asked him, “What are your options?”

To some extent, that’s what he’s still doing in his work on stress—advising people about how to react to a stressful environment they cannot change. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the conflict and what can I do about it?’” he said. “There are always options if you are willing to look.”

One of those options are the resources provided by The Center for Health, Work & Environment. The center’s team works with faculty, students and community partners on numerous projects in worker health, safety and wellness. Faculty members, students, residents and community partners are engaged in community practice, education and research. The Center for Health, Work & Environment also works with community organizations to improve health, safety and well-being through Health LinksTM, one of the largest areas of the center. Health Links is a nonprofit initiative that helps businesses support the health, safety and well-being of their employees and organizations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Collaboration brings new lodging facility to Guatemala clinic

In July, several leaders from Children’s Hospital Colorado, the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Colorado School of Public Health, the Center for Global Health, and the Centers for Disease Control traveled to Guatemala to celebrate the opening of the new lodging facility at the Trifinio Center for Human Development.

The facility was made possible in part thanks to the efforts of deans and chairs from the various schools and departments at CU Anschutz who were instrumental in raising the $100,000 needed to complete the project. As a result, up to 25 visiting students, residents, faculty members, pharmacists, nurses and community health workers now have a comfortable and safe place to stay while working on site in the community at the family medical clinic, the dental clinic or at the soon-to-be-opened birthing clinic.

Steve Berman of CU School of Medicine

Steve Berman, MD, FAAP, Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology at the CU Anschutz and Director, Center for Global Health, stands with community nurses at the Center for Human Development in Guatemala.

Several attendees expressed how impressed and inspired they were by the collaboration between AgroAmerica, the supporting hospitals and schools and the Trifinio Center for improving the lives of the children and families of those working in the banana and palm oil plantations AgroAmerica runs. Further, the quality of equipment and capabilities, including the pharmacy, made several attendees excited about how much this clinic facility can offer.

“It is exciting to think of the possibilities we have at Trifinio to improve the health not just of our community but also to create an innovative health model that can be replicated around the world,” said Stephen Daniels, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair of Pediatrics, School of Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Pediatrician-in-Chief L. Joseph Butterfield Chair in Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

But it was the degree to which the local community members were involved with the direction and planning for the clinic and its programming that struck Jodie Malhotra, PharmD, International Affairs Coordinator and Assistant Professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “I was able to truly witness the community’s support and engagement in the clinic. It was also very clear that the community leaders are very supportive of the clinic,” Dr. Malhotra shared. “We even had the opportunity to accompany the community nurses on a visit with a new mother at her home to see how they work with the mother and baby. Their means of assessing the baby and educating the mother were very inspiring.”

Spacious new lodging facility in Guatemala

The new lodging facility at the Trifino Center for Human Development will house students and medical professionals when they volunteer at the clinic.

Also during the trip, the Colorado contingent met four students from the CU Anschutz Medical Campus who were working in the clinic this summer. It was easy to see the effect that the experience would have not only on their careers, but also their professions. “This clinic provides a life-changing opportunity for health students to benefit from service learning,” said David Goff, MD, PhD, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. “It was clear that we have at least as much to gain as we have to offer in this unique collaboration with the Trifinio community.”

Look for more news in the coming months celebrating the opening of the birthing center – a key step toward improving the area’s population health.

In addition to Drs. Daniels, Malhotra and Goff, attendees included:

  • Edwin Asturias, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology at CU Anschutz and Director of Latin American Projects, Center for Global Health
  • Steve Berman, MD, FAAP, Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology at the CU Anschutz and Director, Center for Global Health
  • Richard Johnston, MD, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics, School of Medicine at the CU Anschutz
  • Jerrod Milton, Vice President of Operations, Children’s Hospital Colorado
  • Reina Turcios-Ruiz, MD, FIDSA, Director of the Central America Regional Office, Centers for Disease Control

Contributed by the Center for Global Health.

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CU Cancer Center removes 15-pound tumor from Denver Council President Brooks

Albus Brooks and Dr. Evalina Burger

Dr. Evalina Burger visits with Albus Brooks, a former player for the Colorado Buffaloes, after his July 18 surgery at the University of Colorado Hospital.

Denver City Councilman and former CU Buffaloes linebacker Albus Brooks was literally running full-tilt into summer when a diagnosis stopped him in his tracks. His busy life of work and study – he’d been working on an MBA degree – suddenly swirled with a new layer of stress. Cancer? At age 37?

Fresh off running in a couple of road races, albeit painfully, Brooks went to his doctor, who immediately ordered a CAT scan. It revealed a large mass on his lower back, and a biopsy confirmed it was malignant. When Brooks asked about physicians with expertise in this kind of cancer, chondrosarcoma, all recommendations were the same: “Go to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus; their cancer team is the best in the state.”

Brooks, who represents District 9 on the council, is an upbeat kind of guy, and his outlook brightened when he found focused and compassionate care at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. At the CU Cancer Center, Brooks received the reassuring news that his cancer appeared treatable and he should be able to soon return to his busy life.

“I went home with tears in my eyes,” he said. The emotion was a mix of hope and gratitude.

‘I knew something was wrong’

Brooks, who played linebacker and safety for the CU Buffaloes from 1997 to 2000, was being his usual active self last spring when he felt a nagging pain in his lower back. He ran in the Colfax and Bolder Boulder 10Ks, and “in both races it was horrible,” he recalled. “I felt like I was expending a lot of extra energy. I just knew something was wrong.”

Dr. Victor Villalobos

Dr. Victor Villalobos

At CU Anschutz, Albus first met Victor Villalobos, MD, PhD, who is a specialist in sarcomas, a set of more than 50 different types of rare tumors that arise from soft tissues and bone. Villalobos introduced Brooks to the Cancer Center’s interdisciplinary sarcoma team, where he learned of the team’s deep experience in treating a variety of sarcoma cases. He met Ana Gleisner, MD, PhD, who performs surgeries on many cancers, including sarcomas, and Evalina Burger, MD, a specialist in orthopedic surgery.

“I’ve never had care like that,” Brooks said. “It was incredible.”

Dr. Ana Gleisner

Dr. Ana Gleisner

The tumor sat on Brooks’ pelvis, lodged between vertebrae in his lower back. He went in for an eight-hour surgery on July 5 at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH), where the 15-pound tumor was removed by Gleisner – a “rock star,” Brooks said. He remained in the hospital for a couple days then went home to his wife, Debi, and three children – Makai, 9; Kenya, 7; and Kaya, 4.

‘Second to none’

Work remained to fuse vertebrae from where the cancer had lodged, so Brooks returned to UCH for another lengthy surgery on July 18, this time with orthopedics specialist Burger. But this time Brooks entered the operating room with a heavy heart. His 71-year-old father, Perry, had died just five hours earlier from cardiac complications.

“This speaks, again, to the compassion of CU Anschutz doctors,” Brooks said. “Dr. Burger came in and saw that I had tears in my eyes and – not knowing about my father – she said, ‘I just want to hug you.’”

Her moment of prayer and silence in pre-op meant the world to Brooks and his family. “It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had,” Brooks said. “It’s just amazing: The relational aspect and the expertise at CU Anschutz – it’s all second to none.”

Albus Brooks at UCH

After his July 18 surgery, Albus Brooks walked daily with the help of University of Colorado Hospital nurses.

Brooks was bedridden for 36 hours after the second surgery, but, with the help of UCH nurses, he got back to his feet and walked the hospital floor each day to regain strength. He returned home on July 22.

‘Cancer chose me’

Brooks will wear a back brace for six weeks. He will then begin rehabilitation exercises for his back and return to the CU Cancer Center every three months for checkups.

Besides everything else that happened on July 18, that was the day Brooks was named president of the Denver City Council. At a recent council meeting, he recounted his experience to fellow council members. “I told them, ‘I was a Division I athlete, and I’ve never been sick. I take pride in working out. And cancer chose me. If it chose me, it could choose anyone. Get checked out.’”

Having an active and healthy lifestyle definitely helped Brooks, but so did his optimistic outlook. He recognizes that sudden illness is just part of life.

Albus Brooks will lace up his running shoes for the First Denver Race to Cure Sarcoma 5K Run/Walk on Sept. 17 at the Cherry Creek Dam Road. The goal is to raise awareness and resources for sarcoma research through the Sarcoma Foundation of America and the CU Cancer Center. You can join him and sign up here.

“Things do happen, and you’ve got a decision to make,” he said. “One, are you going to let it take you to a place where you don’t see joy, hope or optimism? Or, two, are you going to look at this as another day where I can see opportunity and hope? I chose the latter.”

As a public servant, Brooks has always focused on human-centered policy decisions and initiatives. After his experience with cancer, he’s now also a strong advocate for quality health care and everyone’s right to access it. Brooks is extremely grateful that he chose CU Anschutz for his care, and he’s running out of superlatives to describe the academic medical center’s physicians and nurses.

“I sent all my surgeons and doctors at CU Anschutz the articles (in the local media) about my cancer. Those people are all so amazing,” Brooks said. “I’m back at work now, and I’m so grateful.”

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Tanning salons seek relationships with young clientele through online ads

Indoor tanning is known to cause skin cancer yet indoor tanning businesses actively promote this dangerous behavior on social media, offering discounts and employing relationship marketing tactics, finds a national study performed by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Public health messages about the risks of indoor tanning compete with a multibillion-dollar industry that maximizes young adult consumption with messages including appeals that reduce health concerns, convey social acceptance and highlight psychological benefits.

“Indoor tanning prevention is 25-50 years behind tobacco prevention efforts,” said senior author Lori Crane, Ph.D., of the Colorado School of Public Health. “The surgeon general’s warnings about the health effects of tobacco started in 1964; for indoor tanning it was just two years ago.”

Understanding tanning salon marketing efforts can help the public health community to design and communicate accurate messages about the risks of indoor tanning. Five million Americans develop some form of skin cancer each year, costing over $8 billion to treat.

The study profiles current strategies used by the indoor tanning industry to reach its adolescent and young adult customer base. One-third of white non-Hispanic women age 18-25 use indoor tanning, averaging 28 tanning sessions yearly.

“Any level of indoor tanning is a contributing risk for skin cancer, and tanning just once a month can double the risk of melanoma, the most deadly kind of skin cancer,” Crane said. “All tanning is skin damage; the darkened skin produced by exposure to ultraviolet light is the skin’s reaction to harm.”

Ultraviolet (UV) exposure is the primary preventable risk factor for skin cancer and is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Indoor UV tanning appears responsible for part of the rise in skin cancer over the past several decades among young women. More frequent use, use of higher intensity devices and use over longer periods of time have all been linked to elevated melanoma risk.

Scientists subscribed to social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter in six large US cities: Denver; Austin; Boston; Pittsburgh, Penn. and Akron, Ohio, and analyzed the volume and content of messages received from 38 tanning salons using profiles imitating the online behavior of typical tanners – young white women.

In the 662 social media communications captured in the study, the most common messages related tanning to holidays such as Halloween and Christmas, and/or discount offers. Researchers were surprised to find few health or safety claims in indoor tanning ads.

A large portion of communications from indoor tanning salons had no tanning messages and instead referred to local events, pop culture themes or contained a meme – a humorous image that has been altered in some way. The tanning industry appears to use social media to maintain a presence with their customers and remind them regularly about the possibility of tanning, often without direct reference to their products.

“The idea of getting a base tan at a tanning salon to protect yourself before going to the beach is a misconception,” Crane said. “Using a good sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15-30 or higher is much more protective than a base tan, which has an SPF of only 6.” Crane added that consumers should select sunscreens that provide both UVA and UBV protection.

There are few state or local laws restricting tanning advertisements. Youth bans on indoor tanning currently exist in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

The study appeared in the June issue of Behavioral Translational Medicine.

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CU Anschutz speaks in support of its community

Representatives of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, including faculty, administration and students, gathered on July 28 in the Boettcher Commons to address the impact that violent incidents have had on the nation as well as the Aurora community.

Rhonda Fields, a Democratic member of the Colorado State House of Representatives from Aurora, wanted to speak at the event but was attending the Democratic National Convention. “Our representative here in Aurora is no stranger when it comes to violence,” said Shanta Zimmer, MD, associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion at CU Anschutz. “She and her daughter are acutely aware of the pain of losing a son and brother to gun violence.” Fields sent a message of enduring hope that it is possible to overcome violence and bring about a better world. “We’ll get there. Together,” Fields said.

No matter the circumstances, the CU Anschutz community is always willing to share, listen, reflect and support no matter the circumstances, said Dominic Martinez, senior director of Inclusion and Outreach at CU Anschutz. “This institution is only as good as the people that are here,” he said. “I truly believe we have amazing people.”

Anschutz_diversity_medium

A collection of faculty, staff, students and administrators listen intently to the presentation.

As a campus that provides medical care to the community, speakers emphasized how important it is that everyone takes the time to listen to emotional concerns of patients, students and coworkers in relation to recent violence across the nation.

“We recognize the impact this is having on the lives of the people around us on this campus,” Zimmer said. “The purpose of today is to take that time out to ask people how they are doing.”
The event included a reading of a list of names of recent victims of violence and a poetic recital of Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again,” read by donnie l. betts, who Westword named to its 100 Colorado Creatives list.

Following the reading was a discussion of how violence has affected the lives of members of the audience. During closing remarks, attendees shared personal stories and offered messages of support for diversity on campus.

Also, on Aug. 18, a group of faculty and allies from CU Denver | Anschutz convened at the Lawrence Street Center’s Terrace Room to show solidarity for LGBTQ+ members of our community. This back-to-school event, sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, is an annual occasion planned by our LGBTQ+ faculty. Together, these events are part of a continuing effort on campus to support and encourage solidarity around diversity and inclusion.

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A pathway for international scholars

There are approximately 500 international scholars contributing their expertise to CU Anschutz and CU Denver. While these individuals come from different nations, backgrounds and disciplines, they all share two commonalities—the scholars are standouts in their fields, and they have worked through Director of International Students and Scholarship Services (ISSS) Michelle Larson-Krieg and her team to bring their talents to the campus community.

Michelle Larson-Krieg

Michelle Larson-Krieg

“We’re interested in hiring the most qualified candidates for the positions we have,” said Larson-Krieg. “Our programs are world-class programs that attract world-class applicants. Those applicants are the ones we want to bring to CU Denver and CU Anschutz.”

Larson-Krieg and her team are experts in immigration and assist international students, researchers, faculty and others in navigating what can often be a complicated system. Scholars from certain countries can wait up to 10 years to receive permanent residency if they are not categorized as first preference. The ISSS team helps strong candidates for positions at the university expedite the process of obtaining a visa so that they can begin contributing to campus scholarly activities.

“We try to provide a pathway that makes joining the campus community as seamless as possible,” Larson-Krieg said. “We are helping the institution to hire the people they need, while enabling these scholars to reach their aspirations and goals.”

Larson-Krieg and her team will be processing more than 300 applications this fall for international scholars and students interested in coming to CU Denver and CU Anschutz. Below are just a few of the extraordinary international scholars that have joined the CU Denver and CU Anschutz faculty and staff.

Meet our international scholars

Kejun Guo

Kejun Guo

Kejun Guo

Instructor, Infectious Diseases

Kejun Guo, a citizen of China, is an internationally recognized researcher in the immunogenetics of HIV/AIDS. He is doing basic research that may lead to the development of a vaccination to prevent HIV/AIDS. He is an instructor in the School of Medicine, Department of Infectious Diseases, and is working on grants that bring nearly $1 million to the university. He is also serving as a mentor to Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows to help them successfully complete their research.

Jose Mayordomo Camara

Jose Mayordomo Camara

Jose Mayordomo Camara

Professor, Medical Oncology

Jose Mayordomo Camara, from Spain, is an internationally recognized physician/scientist in the field of breast cancer and tumor immunology. As a professor of medicine and medical oncologist, his research and work with breast cancer patients focuses on developing treatment that can prevent metastasis and reduce the mortality of the disease. He is a gifted teacher and mentor to students.

Andres Lema-Hincapie

Andres Lema-Hincapie

Andres Lema-Hincapie

Associate professor, Modern Languages

Andres Lema-Hincapie, from Colombia, is an internationally recognized teacher and expert in Latin American literature and film. As an associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Modern Languages, Lema-Hincapie organizes film series on campus that are open to the public, teaches numerous courses in Latin American literature and film, and is invited to speak at national and international conferences and universities. He also writes extensively on Spanish-speaking authors and filmmakers, as well as Western philosophers.

Arunprakash Karunanithi

Arunprakash Karunanithi

Arunprakash Karunanithi

Associate professor, Civil Engineering

Arunprakash Karunanithi, from India, is an internationally recognized expert in systems engineering and sustainability. As an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Department of Civil Engineering, Karunanithi researches nationally important issues, such as designing new ecofriendly chemicals and developing ways to measure sustainability. He receives funding from U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Gates Foundation.

 

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Researchers aim to curb Zika virus in South America

Within days of graduating with a master’s in public health, Naveed Heydari flew to the tropics of Ecuador, a hot spot for Dengue virus and, just this year, confirmed cases of the dangerous and much-publicized Zika virus.

Heydari studied Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) and already has a big job to do. He’s leading a team of researchers for a long-term research program of the Center for Global Health & Translational Science (CGHTS) at the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate. The program aims to stanch vector-borne viruses by learning what environmental conditions promote these diseases.

Just months before Heydari returned to Ecuador – he performed his practicum in Machala last summer – the World Health Organization sounded the alarm over Zika, saying the virus was “spreading explosively” across the Americas. In recent studies, according to the National Science Foundation, Machala had the highest abundance of Aedes aegypti larvae (the mosquito that carries Zika, Dengue and chikungunya viruses) of all sites surveyed in 10 countries in Latin America and Asia.

Top health concern

Machala, a port city in southern Ecuador, provides perfect egg-laying habitat for Aedes aegypti, which find the crowded conditions of lower-income neighborhoods especially hospitable. “Here, especially in the coastal areas, infectious diseases and these mosquito-borne illnesses are the No. 1 health concern for the public and the Ministry of Public Health,” Heydari says. “They’re a product of lack of infrastructure and inequities in housing. You see the higher burden of the disease in the disadvantaged communities.”

This summer, Heydari led a team of 17 researchers and eight students, including three from the ColoradoSPH – Reese Garcia, Jiayi Liew, and Keith Suter. Upstate Medical University in New York is the lead institution on the collaborative project, which is outlined on this Facebook page.

Sadie Ryan and Naveed Heydari conduct Zika research

Sadie Ryan, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, and Naveed Heydari, an alumnus of the Colorado School of Public Health, deploy a mini-sensor that measures temperature and humidity in a cane-constructed house in Machala, Ecuador, as part of their study into vector-borne viruses.

The idea is to study the “risk landscape” of mosquito-borne pathogens, allowing scientists and public health officials to guard against future illness. “If you know what the risk factors are, you can predict where these outbreaks will be,” Heydari says. “And if you know that, you can use resources to stop the outbreaks before they occur.”

‘Passionate about this’

Garcia, Liew and Suter will return to CU Anschutz Medical Campus this academic year to present their capstone projects, while Heydari expects to work in Ecuador on the front lines of this public health threat for at least a couple more years. “The more you get into this work, the more you realize, ‘Wow, I love this!’” he says. “I’m really passionate about it.”

Ecuador is one of 26 countries in the Americas that has reported Zika virus transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brazil remains the hardest-hit country, with 1,600 confirmed cases of microcephaly – infants with abnormally small heads – linked to the virus. In addition to its vector-borne illness study, Heydari’s team is providing continued assistance to victims of Ecuador’s April earthquake. Heydari noted that the Upstate Foundation international funding site is still open and accepting donations.

A class in his MPH program at ColoradoSPH – Infectious Disease and Environmental Context, taught by Beth Carlton, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, and Rosemary Rochford, PhD, professor of Immunology-Microbiology, SOM, and Environmental and Occupational Health – fueled Heydari’s passion for this project. Meanwhile, Ecuador feels familiar to Heydari as his mother is a native Ecuadoran and he visited the country previous to his practicum.

Heydari, who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University, focused his capstone study on the economic burden imposed on households in the prevention of mosquito control. One of his findings: in general, households in Machala spend about 2 percent of their total income on mosquito control.

By collecting weather data and social information, such as household income and how much is spent on mosquito control, the team hopes to learn the socioeconomic and environmental conditions that put people most at risk for the vector-borne illnesses.

Multi-pronged study

Heydari says his team is conducting a multi-pronged study:

  • Diagnostics of Zika, Dengue and chikungunya viruses in community members who are suspected of possible infection.
  • Mosquito collection by using vacuums mounted on backpacks. The vectors are classified and sent to a lab in Quito, Ecuador, where viruses carried by the mosquitoes are identified.
  • Household surveys that provide insight into risk factors that predict infectious disease: Factors include homes that have interruptions in water supply, forcing the use of standing water containers that attract mosquitoes; trash around the house; number of people living in the home; amount of shade around house. Also, surveys asking residents how seriously they take threats of vector-borne illnesses and what interventions they use to control mosquitoes.
  • Install climate sensors in homes. The sensors provide information about micro climates – temperature, humidity, etc. – that make homes conducive to mosquito exposure.

The research is focused on environmental factors such as climatic conditions that translate to human exposure and socio-economic factors such as housing type, household size and wealth.

Naveed Heydari in Ecuador

Naveed Heydari, an alumnus of the Colorado School of Public Health, studies how conducive a house in Machala, Ecuador, is for the transmission of vector-borne pathogens.

“It all comes together to paint a nice narrative of the burden of the disease here,” Heydari says. “We’re really trying to capture just what is the economic burden of the diseases and how we can strengthen our surveillance system.”

The Upstate Medical University research project is among nine projects to collectively receive $1.7 million in rapid response, or RAPID, grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Upstate’s study, which received nearly $200,000, is led by Anna Stewart Ibarra, PhD, MPA, a faculty member in the Department of Medicine and director of the Latin America Research Program in the CGHTS.

Stewart Ibarra is joined in the project by co-investigators Timothy Endy, MD, MPH, chief of infectious disease at Upstate and a founding member of the CGHTS; Marco Neira, PhD, assistant professor at Center for Infectious Disease Research, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador; and Sadie Ryan, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Florida.

‘Good research platform’

Heydari says the project has provided a “good research platform” on which to apply interdisciplinary research – clinical-, sociological survey- and mathematical model-based approaches – toward the overall goal of safeguarding human health.

“You don’t get this kind of coordination and universities coming down to this part of Ecuador doing this kind of project,” Heydari says. “The researchers understand they’re doing work that has really significant implications. That’s what brought me back.”

The team received permission from the Ministry of Health to expand its work into two other southern Ecuadoran cities. The sites allow data collection in cities of varying elevation, climate and socioeconomic factors, as well as amount of vector-borne illnesses.

The scientists hope to discover when and where interventions might be most effective. The vaccine for Dengue is found to have a 60 percent efficacy rate. Heydari says he and Suter, continuing last year’s economic study, are asking residents if they’d be willing to pay for the Dengue vaccine. They will forward their findings to the Ecuador Ministry of Health and other stakeholders.

Safeguarding worker health

The collaboration extends to the local university – Technical University of Machala – where Heydari’s team uses an entomology lab and provides English lessons to the locals, who return the favor by teaching Spanish to the research group.

Heydari wants to expand on the research platform in Machala by bringing in more investigators to perform clinical trials on potential vaccines. He enjoys the freedom he’s been given by Upstate, and wants to branch out into new areas of study. “Another of my interests is worker health,” he says. “I’d like to look into pesticide use and see how it’s affecting workers in this hot, tropical climate.”

He hopes to return to Colorado next spring when Suter, Liew and Garcia present their capstones in their final semester. Heydari flourished at the ColoradoSPH and he looks forward to visiting his many friends on the CU Anschutz campus.

“I took one class (in the ColoradoSPH) and that was enough to get me hooked,” he says. “I had such a good relationship with the faculty and my peers. We had that shared vision of wanting to help others.”

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CU Anschutz Researcher Receives Alzheimer’s Association Grant

The Alzheimer’s Association, in partnership with a fundraising initiative led by philanthropist Michaela “Mikey” Hoag, announces a new $7 million investment in clinical trials that target brain inflammation as an innovative avenue for Alzheimer’s disease therapy. Among the four clinical trials included in the newly-funded research is one led by noted Alzheimer’s researcher Huntington Potter, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The Part the Cloud Challenge on Neuroinflammation targets a critical gap in understanding and treating Alzheimer’s, and absorbs some of the financial risk associated with advancing these studies across a space in drug development where many promising ideas stall due to lack of funding. This innovative funding program is the vision of Mikey Hoag, of Atherton, California, whose family is affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“When my father passed away with Alzheimer’s, I decided to use my personal story to rally others in support of Alzheimer’s research. When my mother started to show signs of the disease, I knew I had to kick these efforts into high gear,” said Hoag. “We hope the competition we’re creating for additional funding will speed the rate of discovery and deliver a new and effective treatment or prevention strategy to doctors’ offices and people’s medicine cabinets more quickly.”

Each study will receive $1 million to advance current research to the next stage of clinical trials. A unique, goal-driven competition offers an additional $3 million to the clinical trial that demonstrates the most promise for treating this devastating disease.

“The importance of the Part the Cloud Challenge from the Alzheimer’s Association cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Potter, who is director of the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center and professor and director of Alzheimer’s disease research, Department of Neurology, Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, University of Colorado School of Medicine. “The million dollars, with a potential for another $3 million after two years, will certainly propel novel research forward towards a therapy for Alzheimer’s. For my research, the hope is that Leukine, an FDA-approved drug, may slow or even prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  That would be a home run for everyone.”

“There has not been a genuinely new Alzheimer’s drug in more than a decade, and there is currently no drug that stops or slows the progression of this devastating disease,” said Linda Mitchell, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “The Association’s Part the Cloud Challenge is a much-needed and inventive approach to complement mainstream drug development that we hope can change the current situation.”

Increasing evidence suggests neuroinflammation plays an important role in the brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. By further understanding the role and the timing of neuroinflammation and immune responses, there is an opportunity to further accelerate novel candidate Alzheimer’s therapies.

Inflammation is a natural immune system response to infection and injury where defense cells are directed to fight infection or repair damaged tissue. However, persistent or misdirected inflammation can damage otherwise healthy tissue, such as the destruction of joint cartilage that occurs in arthritis or nerve damage in multiple sclerosis. Similarly, inflammation in the brain may help protect it from harm, such as the formation of the hallmark amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s, but too much inflammation may damage the brain’s delicate nerve cells and intricate connections.

The four selected projects will receive $1 million over two years for either a Phase I or Phase II trial. Projects will be evaluated for their ability to advance in human testing, such as being safe for use in people and the ability to influence the underlying biological process they are meant to target. The project that demonstrates the most viable translation to advanced clinical trials will be eligible to receive an additional award of up to $3 million to further therapy development. Three of the four studies are testing potential therapies developed for other conditions that are being repurposed for Alzheimer’s.

“This funding from the Alzheimer’s Association is a testament to the incredible potential that Dr. Potter’s work holds for the future,” said CU Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Donald M. Elliman, Jr. “As the director of the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center, he is ideally positioned to bring together teams of the brightest minds in medicine across the University of Colorado system to unravel the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease. This generous investment will accelerate Dr. Potter’s work, bringing us closer to novel therapies that could impact countless lives in Colorado and around the world.”

“I like to think we have the brightest, most hard working scientists who also have huge hearts for our families,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, president and CEO of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation – an affiliate of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome. “We are so pleased Dr. Potter has received $1 million from the Alzheimer’s Association to advance his research.  His work is shining a light on the link between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, and his team is focused on several innovative paths towards better treating and preventing Alzheimer’s.”

The funded projects are:

  • A Phase II clinical trial of the FDA-approved drug Leukine, to determine whether it is safe and can help slow or prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s, led by Huntington Potter, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Alzheimer’s disease research, Department of Neurology, Linda Crnic Institute for Down syndrome, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Leukine is approved for reducing and preventing infection in people who have received chemotherapy.
  • A Phase II clinical trial to determine if the drug Sativex, a cannabis-based liquid medication that was previously tested for the alleviation of cancer-related pain, reduces brain inflammation and helps slow the progression to Alzheimer’s disease in people with mild cognitive impairment, led by Isidro Ferrer, M.D., Ph.D., Coordinator of the group Neuropathology at CIBERNED (Network Center for Biomedical Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases), Institute of Health Carlos III, Barcelona, Spain.
  • A study to test if treatment with the drug Senicapoc can reduce brain inflammation, alter the rate of brain amyloid accumulation, and improve memory in people with early Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. In previous research, a drug similar to Senicapoc helped to reduce brain inflammation, prevent nerve cell damage, and improve memory in mice with an Alzheimer’s-like condition. The project includes a Phase II clinical trial led by John Olichney, M.D., Professor and Neurologist at the University of California, Davis. Senicapoc has been shown to be safe in clinical trials of sickle cell anemia and asthma, but has yet to be tested in people with Alzheimer’s.
  • A Phase I clinical trial to examine the safety and efficacy to reduce brain inflammation of a novel therapy manufactured by Longeveron LLC using stem cells derived from healthy adult donors and that are delivered into the bloodstream of people with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Anthony Oliva, Ph.D., senior scientist at Longeveron, will serve as principal investigator, and Bernard Baumel, M.D., will serve as the clinical investigator of the trial at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Longeveron is a life sciences company located in Miami, Florida. In past research, this type of stem cell has demonstrated the ability to target and reduce inflammation, promote tissue repair, and improve brain function in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.

Individuals interested in applying to participate in the research should register for the Alzheimer’s Association’s TrialMatch program or call the Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

 

 

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