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Cancer survivors’ party celebrates hope

A decade ago, Ellen Smith went through the “traditional three” therapies for her lung cancer — radiation, surgery and chemotherapy — but still her cancer progressed to Stage IV and the prognosis was bleak. Her physician said he’d done all he could do.

Her three adult children did some online research and found the website for the CU Cancer Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus. Also, a former co-worker who performed research at CU Anschutz strongly suggested Smith visit the CU Cancer Center. “She probably suggested it five times, and that saved my life,” Smith said. “I say the Lord and CU Anschutz are a good combo, because they saved my life.”

Smith and many other multi-year survivors of lung cancer recently gathered with friends and family for a celebration at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, director of Thoracic Oncology in the CU School of Medicine’s Division of Medical Oncology, said the Cancer Center recognized it had reason to celebrate — plus a compelling story to tell.

‘Hope is real’

Dr. Camidge at cancer survivor party
D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, at left, is pictured with longtime lung cancer survivor Ellen Smith and her husband, Ben, at the inaugural cancer survivors celebration.

After survivors and their family enjoyed appetizers, dinner and cake — decorated with “And Many More” — along with appearances by the Rockies’ and Avs’ mascots, Camidge addressed the gathering. “We are celebrating the proof, demonstrated by all of you here, that long-term survival after a diagnosis of lung cancer is possible,” he said. “We are all here to show people that hope is real. It has a face and friends and family and a plan for next week and next month and next year.”

Survivors at the party had survived at least five years beyond their initial cancer diagnosis, but several had reached 10 years and a few even more. Others congratulating the group included Tom Gronow, chief operating officer at UCHealth; John Mitchell, MD, UCHealth’s chief of thoracic surgery; and Brian Kavanagh, MD, MPH, chair of radiation oncology.

The CU Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the state of Colorado. It is known for its personalized cancer treatments and its robust and diverse clinical research and clinical trials program.

Expert care

Ben Smith said the treatment options, including clinical trials, made all the difference for his wife. “Early on, Dr. Camidge said it in the best, clearest and gentlest way: ‘If we proceed and work together on this, we’ll do everything we can do to put it to sleep. And when it wakes up we’ll do everything we can to put it to sleep again.’ He’s done it five different times; five different strategies.”

cake at cancer survivors party
A cake offers an uplifting message for the many longtime lung cancer survivors at the party.

Gronow called the CU Cancer Center a gem that remains under-utilized in Colorado. “We have people who leave the state to seek care elsewhere, and I know in talking with many of you that you probably couldn’t fathom that, based on the experience you’ve had with the great team here,” he said. “It’s based on the foundation of Drs. Camidge, Mitchell and Kavanagh and a lot of other wonderful scientists who support the trials we do, the research we do, so that we can hopefully one day completely defeat cancer.”

Camidge said the lung cancer program’s success at the Cancer Center is attributable to:

  • Its relatively small size, allowing patients to receive very personalized and responsive care.
  • An outstanding track record in determining which clinical trials to pursue. Camidge estimates he turns down about five trials a week, waiting to choose the “pick of the litter … We do pretty good at picking those winners.”
  • A track record of putting about 40 percent of its patients on clinical trials, which is about double the next-best cancer center and about 10 times the national average.
  • A patient catchment area that is much larger than Colorado. Of all the programs at the Cancer Center, the lung cancer program has the highest proportion of patients, about 20 percent, from out of state. It now offers a remote second-opinion program, allowing patients to call and speak directly to an expert physician in the program from anywhere in the United States or the world.

Leader in major discoveries

Camidge said the Cancer Center has helped to either lead or contribute to “pretty much every major discovery in lung cancer disease in the last 10 years.” Given all the success Ellen Smith has had with her treatments — now a 10-year survivor (nine of those at the Cancer Center) — Camidge jokes, “Ellen has almost as many publications as I do.”

Hank Baskett from Clovis, N.M., a seven-year survivor, was the featured speaker and his story and life-affirming message left the room with nary a dry eye. Baskett said he loves everyone at CU Anschutz. “I’m just saying that from day one, the staff, the hospital, the center — from top to bottom — everyone here I’ve met has been beautiful,” he said. “I love the people; I’m blessed.”

Baskett said the keys to fighting cancer, besides the incredible health care offered by the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, is to fight and keep living, to not bow to the diagnosis. He concluded his remarks by saying: “To the Cancer Center staff, just keep on doing what you’re doing. And to all you survivors, keep living. You’ve got all that life that’s left to be lived!”

One miracle at a time

Between bites of cake and chats with patients they’ve treated for many years, Camidge, Mitchell and Kavanagh took in the festive scene that, as they said, is “really inspiring and keeps us going.”

Camidge expects that such longtime survivor gatherings of CU Cancer Center patients will become commonplace in future years. He ended his speech with this message:

“To be clear: no one is pretending that we have beaten this disease …. But together — the whole clinical team, the hospital, the university and the patients and their families — we are changing the world, doing things that no one thought possible, making hope possible one person, one little miracle at a time.”

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First-ever event showcases research

More than 200 community members learned about healthy lifestyle habits as well as the many research studies taking place on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus at the first-ever 9Health Research Fair.

The half-day event took place Sept. 29 at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. The goal was to educate the community about the research being done at CU Anschutz, encourage healthier living, attract new research subjects and enhance ties between CU Anschutz and the community.

Kevin Deane, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the CU School of Medicine, who helped organize the event, called it a great success. “We are planning to hold the Research Fair again in 2019, with participation from even more research projects as well as increased numbers of community participants,” he said.

Spotlight on research

Culinary demonstration
From left, Lisa Wingrove, a registered dietician, and Hannah Van Ark, a dietetic intern, provide healthy cooking tips at the 9Health Research Fair.

Attendees chatted with some 50 researchers and 45 volunteers — learning about more than 35 research studies — and also received health screenings. Delicious and healthy dishes were prepared — and free samples handed out — during cooking demonstrations.

Areas of study the attendees learned about included asthma research, healthy aging, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, appetite regulation and physical activity.

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Career Day offers exciting view of health care for high school girls

A group of 50 girls from Colorado high schools explored health care careers at the fourth annual Girls’ Career Day, hosted by the Center for Women’s Health Research (CWHR) at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The girls were exposed to numerous fields and chatted with successful women across campus.

Girls' Career Day
The girls were shown how to suture by medical residents in the Center for Surgical Innovation.

The all-day event started at a parent-daughter breakfast, where participants met representatives from the CU School of Medicine (SOM), College of Nursing, School of Dental Medicine, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the SOM’s Physical Therapy Program. After hearing from CWHR Director Judy Regensteiner, PhD, the group embarked on a tour of CU Anschutz’s bioengineering labs. They learned about pulmonary structure, vascular mechanics and, through a live monitor, observed how a rat’s brain functions.

Chatting with surgeons

In the Center for Surgical Innovation, the group practiced sutures and other fine motor skill tasks in one of the region’s most high-tech training facilities. The girls practiced their newly learned skills on a cadaver’s leg and observed the different parts of a human head while asking surgeons about their day-to-day lives. An 11th-grader from Vista Peak Prep said she liked “having (the medical residents) both teach actual technique and attest to their lifestyle as residents.”

At a “lunch and learn” the girls heard neurosurgeon Aviva Abosch, MD, PhD, speak about her educational journey and her current practice. Since most of the girls are starting to think about post-secondary education, they enjoyed hearing from a successful woman who had gone through almost 20 years of education and additional years of training.

The afternoon was full of hands-on activities. CWHR researcher Sarah Perman, MD, explained why she enjoys Emergency Medicine and demonstrated CPR on a mannequin, all the while discussing how important it can be to someone’s life to be able to perform CPR.

Practicing on a ‘patient’

Girls tour labs at CU Anschutz
The girls got to hold human brains as part of their tour of labs and surgical facilities at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

The girls also visited the ambulance bay, where Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) revealed the similarities between an ambulance and emergency room.

After seeing a job that takes place more in the field, the girls saw other side of the job in the WELLS Simulation Center where they experienced a simulation with a high-fidelity mannequin/“patient” that was having respiratory problems. The girls took turns performing CPR, shocking the “patient,” and using teamwork skills. A girl from Manitou Springs High School said she enjoyed “interacting with people in the career rather than just having an informational booklet.”

The CWHR is committed to introducing high school girls to careers in health care and looks forward to hosting the event again next summer.

Guest contributor: The story was written by Kat Libby, Center for Women’s Health Research.

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Lack of diversity in medical studies can cost lives

Two welcome guests
Lina Cheuy, chair of PDRD and chief communications officer for the Postdoc Association, and Jennifer Major, member of this year’s PDRD planning committee and next year’s PDRD chair, welcome guests with a smile.

Before the 1980s, doctors overlooked heart attacks in women, sending them home, often to die, instead of rendering life-saving treatment. More recently, young African-American athletes were misdiagnosed during routine physical exams as being at-risk for a deadly heart defect, with some players placed on dangerous medications or referred for invasive pacemaker implants they didn’t need.

Those are just two examples of how bias in medical research can have dire consequences, a message echoed throughout the ninth annual Postdoc Research Day (PDRD) on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Held this summer, the event’s theme was “Mosaic: Representing All Elements” and included postdoctoral researchers from the CU Denver, CU Anschutz and CU Boulder campuses and National Jewish Health.

Postdocs with congresswoman
Left to right: Matthew Davidson, PDRD planning committee member and government relations chair for Project Bridge Colorado; Leslie Herod, state representative for House District 8; Lisbet Finseth, Project Bridge Colorado member; and Erin Golden, vice president of the Postdoc Association and president of Project Bridge Colorado.

“The bottom line of our mission is to improve the health and well-being of Colorado and the world,” Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Brenda J. Allen, PhD, told the audience gathered in Hensel Phelps West for the keynote address. Meeting that mission demands inclusion of people traditionally excluded in scientific endeavors, Allen said.

Postdoctoral researchers also snacked, networked and delivered more than 80 oral and poster presentations depicting their work. The day-long event, organized entirely by postdocs and one of the largest in the country, attracted more than 300 people, including State Rep. Leslie Herod, who attended for the second year in a row through the Project Bridge Liaison Program.

Who is at the table?

Women in STEM table
Jessica Ponder and Allison Porman of Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) represented just one of many student groups that took part in PDRD.

“You are here to do impactful research,” said Mónica Feliú-Mójer, PhD, keynote speaker and scientist-turned-communicator focused on making her field more accessible. “You want to solve difficult medical problems.” To do that, she said, requires diverse and multidisciplinary teams. “You have to ask the question: Who is at the table?”

Non-diverse research lacks perspective, she said, using the effect heart-disease guidelines written by white men and based on white-male studies had on women as an example. Because of research, death from heart attack in men began a steep decline in the ‘80s. For women, a similar drop in death rates didn’t occur until after 2000, when research finding gender-specific differences began catching up with medicine.

“When research is not representative of the society we seek to serve, it limits who is benefiting,” said Feliú-Mójer, pointing to the life-altering misdiagnoses of young African-American athletes. The players, whose gene frequencies differ from their white counterparts, were erroneously told after a biased genetic test that they suffered from a heart defect that could kill them instantly on the court or field.

Both sides of the microscope

Noting that fewer than 13 percent of racial minorities make up the workforce in science and engineering, Feliú-Mójer said that diversity must increase on both sides of the microscope and include multiple identities and disciplines in order for meaningful research to occur.

A 2016 report by leading researchers argued that multidisciplinary work was becoming critical for addressing the biggest challenges facing biomedical sciences, Feliú-Mójer said. And studies show that more diverse research teams have increased productivity, innovation and paper citations, she said.

Both Allen and Feliú-Mójer emphasized that inclusion and diversity, which is more about numbers, are not the same thing. “Inclusion,” Allen said, “refers to ways that, no matter who you are, you feel valued and respected and have a sense of belonging.” Ensuring inclusivity in the research enterprise falls on everyone involved, Feliú-Mójer said. “We all have that responsibility,” she said. “It will be challenging, but it will be worth it.”

Highlighting innovation

PDRD was conceived by postdocs nine years ago to showcase their work on campus and its imprint on the community. Other highlights of the day included:

“I was tearing up a few times during his talk,” said Allison Porman, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine. “He’s had to deal with a lot from birth (when he nearly died and was abandoned by his biological parents in the hospital)  to now. But to see him present what he’s gone through and accomplished is really inspirational to me.”

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New discovery on T cell behavior has major implications for cancer immunotherapy

Scientists at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have discovered that disease-fighting T cells, elicited from vaccines, do not require glucose for their rapid reproduction, a finding with major implications for the development of immunotherapies for cancer patients.

In the study, published today in the journal Science Immunology, researchers at CU Anschutz along with colleagues from the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pennsylvania, examined T cells that arose in the body’s immune system after they received a subunit vaccination – a vaccine that uses just part of a disease-causing virus.

They found that these critical white blood cells, which attack and kill infection, did not rely on glucose to fuel their rapid division which occurs every two to four hours. Instead, they used another cellular engine, the mitochondria, to support their expansion.

Developing vaccines

Ross Kedl, PhD
Ross Kedl, PhD

“The knowledge that this magnitude of cell division can be supported by mitochondrial function has a number of potential practical implications for the development of future vaccines,” said the study’s senior author Ross Kedl, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Kedl said T cells responding to infection usually depend on glucose for fuel. So do cancerous tumors. When T cells come up against tumors, they end up competing for glucose and the T cells often lose.

But when a T cell doesn’t need glucose, he noted, it has a better chance of defeating tumor cells.

“T cells generated by subunit vaccination are ideally suited for use against cancer in conjunction with drugs that block aerobic glycolysis, a metabolic pathway to which the cancer is addicted,” Kedl said. “Tumor growth can be inhibited while the T cells are free to attack the tumor instead of competing against it for access to glucose.”

Lead author Jared Klarquist, PhD, explained that scientists have historically studied T cell responses to infection with the idea that if they could understand how the cells respond, they could create better vaccines. Kedl and colleagues had already discovered a non-infectious vaccine method that could induce the same level of T cell immunity as those using infection.

Since then, researchers in Kedl’s lab have found that the rules governing T cell responses to an infectious agent are very different from the cell’s response to a subunit vaccine. And the fact that T cells derived from subunit vaccines don’t require glucose to reproduce is a major finding.

Understanding immune response

Jared Klarquist, PhD
Jared Klarquist, PhD

“Prior to these findings, it was generally thought that whereas the mitochondria are good at making energy, T cells need glucose to produce the raw materials like proteins, fats and nucleic acids (like DNA) required to turn one cell into two,” said Klarquist. “Knowing how the immune response is fueled after vaccination provides potential opportunities for metabolic or nutritional interventions for boosting a vaccine-elicited immune response.”

Kedl agreed. “Perhaps most intriguing, however, is the application of this knowledge to cancer immunotherapy,” he said.

The lab is currently exploring how these strategies might positively influence the outcomes of immune-based cancer treatments that are already in the clinic.

The study’s other co-authors include Alisha Chitrakar, Nathan Pennock, Augustus Kilgore, Trevor Blain, Connie Zheng, Thomas Danhorn, Kendra Walton, Li Jiang, Jie Sun, Christopher Hunter and Angelo D’Alessandro.



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Adolescents seeking abortions without a parent’s consent face numerous hurdles

Adolescents under the age of 18 seeking abortions without a parent’s consent often undergo a series of humiliating, burdensome and unpredictable hurdles as they try to navigate the legal system, according to a new study led by Kate Coleman-Minahan of the University of Colorado College of Nursing.

As part of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, Coleman-Minahan, PhD, RN and other researchers investigated the judicial bypass experience by which adolescents seek legal permission to obtain an abortion without parental consent. The study was published online today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Currently, 37 states require parental involvement in obtaining an abortion. This study focused specifically on Texas.

Judicial bypass

“This is the first study to describe adolescents’ experiences with a judicial bypass,” said Coleman-Minahan, assistant professor at the CU College of Nursing and lead author of the study. “We found that the bypass process functions as a form of punishment for adolescents.”

The researchers conducted interviews with 20 adolescents between the ages of 16-19 about their experiences trying to obtain bypass. Those interviewed were 16-17 years old at the time they went to court. Many had experienced family trauma, adverse childhood experiences including household substance abuse, or a general fear for their own safety if they told their parents about their decision to seek an abortion.

Once they began the bypass process, they were confronted with more obstacles. Just arranging transportation to the courthouse was sometimes difficult. When they got inside, they faced an often unpredictable process. One young woman spoke of being intimidated by the criminal defendants sitting in the room. Judges, on occasion, would ask for a detailed sexual history which she had to explain within earshot of multiple court staff including a court reporter who records the hearing.

Personal opinion enters judges’ decisions

Each adolescent was issued a court-appointed guardian-ad-litem (GAL), ordered to act in her best interest. In four cases, the GAL appointed by the judge was a pastor or deacon at a church. One respondent recalled her GAL “telling me it’s never the right option to have an abortion.” This GAL also brought staff from an adoption agency to court with her, breaching the young woman’s anonymity and exposing her to more judgment, the study said.

The researchers found that several judges didn’t hide their personal disapproval of the adolescent’s decision to seek an abortion. Sometimes they denied the bypass request altogether.

“Some judges and GALs based their decision or treatment of adolescents on their own personal opinion of abortion,” Coleman-Minahan said. “Multiple participants cried during the interview when describing the hearing, saying they still think about it, even months later.”

The process, researchers said, seemed like punishment itself, for having sex, getting pregnant and having wanted an abortion.

Emotional harm

“Proponents of parental involvement and bypass laws claim they protect adolescents from alleged negative emotional consequences of abortion, yet our results suggest the bypass process itself causes emotional harm through unpredictability, humiliation and shame,” the study said.

According to Coleman-Minahan, the fact that this is happening in Texas means it’s probably happening in states with similar laws as well. Colorado requires parental notification and also has an option for a judicial bypass.

She said all of these findings should be weighed when considering forced parental involvement and judicial bypass policies. States, she said, should consider the real-life consequences of policies that are purportedly created to protect adolescents.

The study co-authors include: Amanda Jean Stevenson, PhD, University of Colorado Boulder; Emily Obront LMSW, University of Texas at Austin; Susan Hays JD, Law Office of Susan Hays, P.C. Austin, Texas.

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Diverse cohorts immerse in pediatric psychiatry as part of PURPLE

Undergraduates are rarely exposed to a mentored research experience where they interact with patients. Yet that is exactly what a group of students enjoy each summer in a select program rich in opportunity.

PURPLE — Pediatric Psychiatry Undergraduate Research Program and Learning Experience — is shaded in several unique qualities. It is the only program at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus that provides: 1) clinical research mentorship, 2) to undergraduate students and 3) with a focus on pediatric mental health.

The program typically receives an average of 50 to 60 student applicants with a 10 percent acceptance rate. Students who are accepted into the cohort are paired with faculty to work on a range of real-life clinical research projects. This year’s group of six students were immersed in projects looking at topics in pediatric psychiatry and psychology such as:

  • Dental care for patients with autism;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Pregnancy-related depression;
  • Family’s influence on pediatric obesity.

Diverse cohorts

2018 PURPLE cohort
2018 PURPLE cohort: top row (from left): Robert Evans (coordinator), Emmaly Perks (co-director), Kristen Torres and Austin Chavez. Bottom row (from left): Haley Dellinger, Maria Torres-Dominguez, Merlin Ariefdjohan (co-director), Eve Delao and Brianna Barkocy.

The applicants represent universities nationwide and have a diverse background (e.g., first-generation college students, underrepresented ethnic minorities, DACA recipients and others).

“Within a span of 12 weeks, we also provide in-class sessions on scientific communication, professional development (writing resumes and cover letters, interviewing, etc.) and sessions on clinical observation,” said Merlin Ariefdjohan, PhD, MPH, one of the co-directors of PURPLE and assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine (SOM). “On the research side, it’s a clinical experience where the students are supervised and mentored to collect data from patients and databases, rather than conducting experiments in a laboratory setting.”

Emmaly Perks, MA, co-director of PURPLE and Innovations Center Research Education and Training Manager in the psychiatry department, said it’s “pretty unheard of” for undergraduates to get this kind of contact with patients and their families along with mentoring and professional development. An undergraduate research project typically means working through experiments in a basic science-oriented lab with informal guidance from faculty.

Multifaceted experience

In PURPLE, “students are getting a multifaceted look at pediatric mental health so they can make a more informed decision of the kind of career they would like to pursue after graduation,” Perks said.

The program takes place at Children’s Hospital Colorado, but is housed within the Department of Psychiatry in the SOM. The students get access to the CU Anschutz Health Sciences Library as well as opportunities to shadow their mentors on rounds at Children’s. “All of our faculty are clinicians in an academic medical setting. They see patients but do research on the side,” said Ariefdjohan, who is also director of the Pediatric Mental Health Institute’s (PMHI) Innovations Center within the Child and Adolescent Division of the psychiatry department.

Thanks to donors, students also receive a bit of green — a stipend — during PURPLE, which hosted its third cohort this summer. Organizers cobble together funding sources, including donations from the Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute, private donors and the chair of the PMHI, and are hopeful to establish a more sustainable funding system. Such a scenario would allow PURPLE to offer more student positions each summer, especially to students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who might not otherwise be able to afford attendance in the program.

Building a pipeline

“Every year we get a lot more deserving applicants than spaces, so funding has always been a bit of limiting factor for us,” Ariefdjohan said.

Efficiencies are part of PURPLE, starting with the faculty and staff who donate their time to the program. They get rewarded, though, when they see students’ eyes light up from new discoveries. This year, two-thirds of the cohort will continue to contribute to CU, staying on campus into the school year with jobs as research interns. “We want this to be a pipeline,” Perks said. “We hope they’ll come into our department eventually as psychiatrists, psychologists, research assistants or others who care for children’s mental health.”

Added Ariefdjohan, “The ultimate goal of this program is to inspire and build skills in students who wouldn’t have the means to do this otherwise. If we can somehow enable that, we find that to be the true reward of what we do.”

PURPLE comments

Alexandra Malek (student, 2016 cohort): “This was an invaluable experience for me as it provided a safe and supportive environment for me to develop my skills as a researcher, scientist and young professional in the healthcare field.”

Ayelet Talmi, PhD (faculty mentor, 2016-18): “Even more remarkable was the camaraderie and community the PURPLE program created among students, faculty mentors and past participants. You are truly creating a pipeline to engage students in possible careers in pediatric mental health and provide them with an opportunity to contribute their perspectives to the field early in their professional development.”

Kristen Torres (student, 2018 cohort): “PURPLE was really great and gave me a lot of real-world and hands-on experience that you don’t normally get in a classroom. It was so eye opening to work with patients and their families and it reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career in pediatric psychology. The experiences also led me to be more confident in my qualifications when applying for graduate school.”

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$120 million gift from The Anschutz Foundation fuels research and innovation

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has received a $120 million gift, the largest private philanthropic commitment in its history, to further elevate its stature as one of the country’s top medical destinations.

The Anschutz Foundation and its founder and chair, Philip Anschutz, made the unprecedented commitment to accelerate the campus’s growth and development as one of the newest and most prominent academic medical campuses in the United States, the only one in the Rocky Mountain region, and the largest from Chicago to the West Coast. This gift brings The Anschutz Foundation’s total investment in the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to nearly $300 million since 2000.

Anschutz gift fuels innovation

The gift will support strategic faculty recruitment and retention, innovative research efforts, industry partnerships and technology transfer, and a new 390,000-square-foot interdisciplinary Anschutz Health Sciences Building. The university will break ground later this year on the new building, which will house faculty leaders in mental and behavioral health including the CU Department of Psychiatry, as well as the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine, the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, classrooms, exhibit space and more.

Anschutz Health Sciences Building
The gift will support strategic faculty recruitment and retention, innovative research efforts, industry partnerships and technology transfer, and a new 390,000-square-foot interdisciplinary Anschutz Health Sciences Building. The university will break ground later this year on the new building.

“We are proud partners in the development of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and share an ambitious vision for further elevating it among the country’s top medical destinations,” said Mr. Anschutz. “The campus stands as a Colorado landmark and a hub of leading-edge research, innovation and education – and, perhaps most importantly, as the place to go for the highest-quality health care delivered by the best minds in medicine.”

“With this commitment, Mr. Anschutz and the leadership of The Anschutz Foundation are excited to help rapidly transform medicine and health care, not only in Colorado but across the region and beyond,” said Executive Director of The Anschutz Foundation Ted Harms. “We have a shared vision for propelling the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus even higher among the best medical campuses in the United States, and by investing in key strategic areas, we will make that vision a reality.”

Transforms health care

“Philip Anschutz and The Anschutz Foundation are helping lead a visionary transformation of health care in Colorado and beyond,” said CU President Bruce D. Benson. “This gift, combined with their previous commitments, goes a long way toward ensuring the CU Anschutz Medical Campus is one of the leading medical care, research and education facilities in the world.”

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Donald M. Elliman Jr. said the commitment from The Anschutz Foundation “enables us to fully capitalize on the momentum we have seen on this campus since our beginnings here just 17 years ago.”

“Our growth has been exponential and shows no signs of slowing, due in large part to The Anschutz Foundation’s longstanding partnership and this new commitment,” Elliman said.

“Among our initial opportunities are attracting and retaining top talent in key areas including personalized medicine, novel therapeutics and immunotherapy, and mental and behavioral health,” said CU School of Medicine Dean and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs John J. Reilly Jr., MD.

Advances personalized medicine

UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital President and CEO Will Cook said he is particularly hopeful about the impact this gift will have on recruiting and retaining top faculty who help deliver excellent patient care. “UCHealth and University of Colorado Hospital partner with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to leverage research and innovative treatments like immunotherapy to transform the future of health care. This historic donation will enable the nationally recognized physicians from the CU School of Medicine to continue inventing the health care treatments of tomorrow, helping deliver the very best outcomes for patients throughout the Rocky Mountain region.”

“New discoveries in the realm of personalized medicine and novel therapeutics are rapidly changing the pediatric health care landscape,” said Children’s Hospital Colorado President and CEO Jena Hausmann. “This generous gift infuses valuable resources into that work and will translate into more effective, highly tailored treatments for children battling a range of illnesses and diseases.”

In addition to funding bright minds in research, education and clinical care, the campus will dedicate philanthropic funds to invest in CU Innovations, a new approach to technology transfer launched in 2016 to facilitate the translation of science and innovation into marketable products and services that improve lives.

“Our proud history of innovation has led to important new discoveries, and through CU Innovations, we are capitalizing on our deeply rooted entrepreneurial spirit by connecting University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus inventors with innovators and industry partners who can take their breakthroughs to market,” said Elliman.

About the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is the only comprehensive academic health sciences center in Colorado, the largest academic health center in the Rocky Mountain region and one of the newest education, research and patient care facilities in the world. Home to 21,000 employees, more than 4,300 degree-seeking students and two nationally ranked hospitals, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus trains the health sciences workforce of the future and fuels the economy, with more than $3.9 billion in annual economic impact. Skilled physicians and providers at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado see 2 million patient visits each year, caring for people and families of all ages from across the state of Colorado and around the region. Children’s Hospital Colorado is one of the top 10 children’s hospitals in the U.S., and University of Colorado Hospital is ranked among the top 25 in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.

About UCHealth

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. UCHealth combines Longs Peak Hospital, Memorial Hospital, Poudre Valley HospitalMedical Center of the RockiesUCHealth Medical GroupBroomfield HospitalGrandview Hospital, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Pikes Peak Regional Hospital and University of Colorado Hospital into an organization dedicated to health and providing unmatched patient care in the Rocky Mountain West. With more than 100 clinic locations, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.

About Children’s Hospital Colorado
Children’s Hospital Colorado is a leading pediatric network 100 percent dedicated to the health and well-being of children, adolescents and young adults. Consistently acknowledged as one of the nation’s top pediatric hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s Colorado is recognized nationally and internationally for its medical, research, education and advocacy programs. It is at the forefront of research in childhood disease and pioneering treatments that are shaping the future of pediatrics, as well as offering everyday care for kids throughout Colorado and surrounding states. Founded in 1908, Children’s Colorado offers a full spectrum of family-centered care at its urgent, emergency and specialty care locations throughout Metro Denver and Southern Colorado, including its location on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Scheduled to open in Spring 2019, the new Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs will be the first pediatric-only hospital in southern Colorado. For more information, visit, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Guest Contributor: This report was written by Trisha Kendall, director of communications, Office of Advancement.

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Drug prices not always aligned with value, CU Anschutz researchers say

In many countries, health care reimbursements for drugs are directly related to their value or net health benefits in treating disease.

But a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences , in collaboration with a group of international clinical and economic experts, shows that’s not the case in the U.S.

Jon Campbell, PhD, of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is senior author of the study
Jon Campbell, PhD, associate professor at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is lead author of the study.

The study was published Monday in the August issue of the journal Health Affairs.

“In the United Kingdom, for example, cost effectiveness is a driver of decisions to pay for, or decline to pay for, health interventions,” said the study’s lead author Jon Campbell, PhD, associate professor of pharmacy. “They generally do not pay more than £30,000 to £40,000 per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) for new medical interventions, thus signaling to manufacturers and other innovators what their country is willing to pay for additional health improvements.”

Melanie Whittington, PhD
Melanie Whittington, PhD, research faculty at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is-co-author of the study.

QALY is used to measure one year of perfect health.

In the U.S., there is no formally agreed-upon cost-effectiveness threshold, due mostly to its fragmented health care system.

Using a forecasting model, they calculated the cost-effectiveness for commonly reimbursed cardiovascular drugs by estimating the cost per health outcome achieved. They wanted to see if the U.S. had an observed payment threshold, if even implicitly.

Instead they found a wide spectrum of cost-effectiveness, suggesting that drug prices are not consistently associated with what they produce in terms of health gains. Prices were, in short, not consistently aligned with value.

“When we purchase a medical treatment, we expect to get something in return, such as living a longer life or having fewer symptoms,” said study co-author Melanie Whittington, PhD, research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy. “The results of our study show the amount insurance providers pay to get one more unit of health, such as one additional year of life in perfect health, varies considerably and can exceed what is considered good value in other parts of the world. This contributes to higher-priced medical treatments.”

She noted that the study used data from 1985-2011 and that in recent years health care leaders have been talking more about value-driven health care.

Campbell said the U.S. pays up to twice as much for branded drugs and health care services compared to other wealthy nations.

The reason, he said, may be due to the difference in price paid with little difference in the quantity of drugs or health services actually used.

“The U.S. gets very little in terms of additional health outcomes for this added price paid,” said Campbell, director of the pharmaceutical outcomes research graduate track at the Center for Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research at CU Anschutz. “In the pharmaceutical space, the U.S. has done a poor job at signaling to manufacturers what we are willing to pay for improvements in health and what improvements in health we care about.”

He and Whittington hope the study will stimulate more debate in this country about what constitutes an acceptable cost per unit of health gained for drugs and how to achieve value-driven health care delivery in the U.S.

“Solutions toward fair drug pricing include the U.S. sending more signals about what we value in health and U.S. decision makers being willing and able to walk away from unfair pricing,” Campbell said.

The study co-authors include Vasily Belozeroff, health economist at Amgen Inc., Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Robert Rubin, distinguished professor of medicine at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.; Paolo Raggi, professor of medicine at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the University of Alberta in Edmonton; Andrew Briggs, professor of health economics at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and visiting investigator at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, N.Y.

The study can be found here: Prices for common cardiovascular drugs in the U.S. are not consistently aligned with value






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Researchers develop model on how brain reward response may impact anorexia nervosa

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that the brain’s response to taste stimuli is linked to high anxiety and a drive for thinness that could play a role in driving anorexia nervosa.

The study was published last week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The researchers, led by Dr. Guido Frank, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, monitored a large group of patients with anorexia nervosa as they tasted sugar during brain imaging.

Dr. Guido Frank, associate professor of psychiatry, is an expert in eating disorders
Dr. Guido Frank, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, is an expert on eating disorders

They found their brain response was higher than those in the control group, representing a biological marker for the illness. At the same time, this brain response was related to high anxiety and less weight gain for those being treated for anorexia nervosa.

Frank found that as these patients restricted their diet, a brain reward circuit associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine becomes more active but also triggers anxiety. This makes food avoidance worse and perpetuates the often deadly disease.

“When you lose weight your brain reward response goes up,” said Frank. “But instead of driving eating, we believe it elevates anxiety in anorexia nervosa, which makes them want to restrict more. This becomes then a vicious cycle.”

Using brain scans, the researchers examined 56 female adolescent and young adults with anorexia nervosa between the ages of 11 and 21 and 52 healthy control participants of the same age. They all learned to associate colored shapes with either getting or not getting a sugary solution. Sometimes when they expected sugar they got nothing, and sometimes when they didn’t expect sugar they received it.

Those with the eating disorder responded more strongly to the unexpected getting or not getting of sugar water, perhaps due to the release of dopamine.

The researchers found that the higher the brain response, the higher the harm avoidance in those with anorexia nervosa was. Harm avoidance is an anxiety measure for excessive worrying and fearfulness. In these patients, it pushes the drive for thinness and furthers body dissatisfaction.

Frank discovered that the higher the brain response, the lower the weight gain during treatment.

This brain reward response acted on the hypothalamus, which stimulates eating, in the anorexia nervosa group. The researchers hypothesized that this could make it possible to override and fend off signals to eat.

“An enhanced dopamine reward system response is an adaptation to starvation,” the study said. “Individuals vulnerable to developing anorexia nervosa could be particularly sensitive to food restriction and adaptations of reward response during the [mid-adolescence] development period.”

According to Frank, anorexia nervosa behavior could alter the brain circuits and impact its taste-reward processing mechanisms. Those who are already worried about shape and weight become even more concerned. And a strong response that says “feed me” might be overwhelming and trigger more food restriction instead of eating.

The study noted that while most people like sweet tasting things, those with eating disorders associate the taste with weight gain and try to avoid it. Frank found that the brain activation among the anorexia group was inversely connected with any pleasant experience of eating sugar.

“Our data raise the possibility that adolescents with anorexia nervosa in this study were negatively conditioned to sweet taste and may have developed an inverse association with dopamine release across the larger (brain) reward circuitry,” the study said.

Frank believes these insights could lead to new treatments for eating disorders.

“I hope we can use these findings to manipulate these biomarkers and design better treatments for this often-deadly disease,” he said.

The study’s coauthors include: Marisa C. DeGuzman, BA, BS; Megan E. Shott, BS; Mark L. Laudenslager, PhD; Brogan Rossi, BS, all from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. And Tamara Pryor, PhD, of Eating Disorder Care, Denver, Colorado.

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