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CU Anschutz Graduation 2018

The CU Anschutz Spring 2018 Commencement was held May 25 at Boettcher Commons. Additional school and college graduation ceremonies took place across campus. Graduates from a wide range of health care disciplines received their degrees and celebrated their achievements with friends and family.

Congratulations to all graduates! Scroll down to see images and messages from the day.

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Fantastic Female Faculty team places second at Colfax Marathon

A group of fleet-footed runners from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus finished second in their relay category at the recent Colfax Marathon, resulting in a boost to the charity of their choice.

The squad, Team CU Anschutz Fantastic Female Faculty, clocked the 26.2 miles, which started and finished in Denver’s City Park, traveling throughout the city and parts of Lakewood, in three hours, 34 minutes and 38 seconds to finish runner-up in the women’s corporate division.

For its strong overall finish in a field of 67 relay squads, Team CU Anschutz received $2,000 to designate to a charity. The team will donate its winnings to Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Members of Team CU Anschutz Fantastic Female Faculty are:

Emily Bates (team captain), PhD, Section of Developmental Biology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Kristin Artinger, PhD, Department of Craniofacial Biology, University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine

Katherine Fantauzzo, PhD, Department of Craniofacial Biology, University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine

Lori Sussel, PhD, Barbara Davis Center, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Olivia S. Rissland, PhD, RNA Bioscience Initiative and Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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skaggs pharmacy graduate

Growing up with a pharmacist for a grandfather, Megan Wary always knew she wanted to work in the medical field. So, after earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas, she had a crucial decision to make: Where would she call home for the next four years and continue her education?

Ultimately, the pull of Colorado’s outdoors coupled with the high reputation of the pharmacy school and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus attracted Wary to the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Today, Wary will join her fellow graduates in the 2018 Spring Commencement Ceremonies. Looking back, she said she’s glad she chose the top-ranked veteran-friendly university and the outdoor-oriented state, both of which helped shape Wary’s future.

Ticket to outdoor paradise

Wary enjoyed spending her spare time at Breckenridge snowboarding with classmates.

“I knew I was ready to move out of Arkansas,” Wary said. “I wanted to be able to hike and snowboard, to spend time in the sunshine.
There’s no better place.”

In between studying for her challenging courses, Wary enjoyed all that Colorado has to offer, especially hiking fourteeners and snowboarding Peak 6 at Breckenridge.

“There is such a special vibe about Coloradans,” she said of meeting new friends. “Everyone that moves here has something in common, whether it be hitting the trails or the slopes.”

Overcoming injury

While taking full advantage of Colorado’s outdoor sports and recreation two years ago, Wary slipped during a kickball match and tore her ACL.

She didn’t let her serious injury hold her back. One year after the tear, Wary participated in a “Tough Mudder,” a grueling race that involved trudging through thick mud while tackling a challenging obstacle course.

“This was something that I was really proud of,” she said. “If soldiers can recover from traumatic injuries and live their everyday lives, then I can heal from this ACL injury and finish this race.”

The symbolic victory highlights Wary’s passion for working with veterans.

Service through pharmacy

“It has always been a sweet spot for me,” she said. “I have a lot of family members in different military branches. I just really love working with that population. I know that I want to be with these people and serve them as they have served us.”

Faced with leaving Colorado, she will miss the great outdoors and the people she’s met along her journey, said Wary, who intends to complete a pharmacy residency with the Veterans Administration, her top choice.

“It’s going to be tough to leave this wonderful place,” she said. “But, I know that my education and training will help me achieve my goals in the years to come,” said Wary, who advises incoming pharmacy students to keep their studies first. “But, enjoy Colorado. Denver and the surrounding areas have so much to offer. Keep the faith. You will make it.”

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Epperson named Chair of Psychiatry at CU School of Medicine

C. Neill Epperson, MD, an expert in women’s behavioral health, particularly the relationship of hormones and the brain, has been named chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus, effective Sept. 1.

C. Neill Epperson, MDEpperson is currently professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She was recruited to Penn from Yale School of Medicine in 2009 to launch and serve as director of the Division of Women’s Behavioral Health. In that capacity, Epperson founded and serves as the director of two clinical, research, and education programs: the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness and Penn PROMOTES Research on Sex and Gender in Health.

“My career mission as a psychiatrist and physician-scientist has been to promote the centrality of the brain, with respect to all other areas of health,” Epperson said. “By doing so, I believe we can substantially reduce the stigma related to psychiatric conditions and improve uptake and utilization of behavioral medicine to improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and our society at large.”

Extensive research

Epperson’s research has been continuously funded for more than 20 years with grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Aging, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) and private foundations and companies.

Epperson is committed to educating and training young clinician-scientists who draw their inspiration for research from the patients they treat.

“If our research does not ultimately lead to interventions that improve patient care and outcomes, we are not doing our job as scientists,” Epperson said. “I emphasize that we must listen to our patients and ask ourselves how we can better utilize research to address their particular clinical issues.”

She noted that some health problems, such as autoimmune disorders, migraines, depression, anxiety, and dementia, affect women to a greater degree than men.

Advancing science of gender issues

“So many of our current drug therapies were tested primarily in male populations, which means that we often do not know if these medications work as well or are as well-tolerated by women compared to men,” Epperson said. “This is one of the primary reasons it is critical for women to participate in clinical research studies whenever they can.”

Within two years at Penn, she was awarded one of nine Specialized Centers of Research focusing on sex and gender issues in health-related research from the ORWH and NIMH and is the principal investigator for Penn’s Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health, also funded by ORWH.

“We are fortunate that Dr. Epperson will be joining the CU School of Medicine,” said Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD. “She has been a leader in advancing the science of sex and gender issues in psychiatry and improving our understanding of women’s behavioral health. She will continue to make outstanding contributions as a leader at CU Anschutz Medical Campus.”

Epperson said the role of reproductive and stress hormones on lifelong health has been a productive area of research.

“I first became interested in hormonal effects on the brain and behavior when I was a psychiatry resident at Yale and treating my first patient with postpartum depression,” Epperson said. “I had been taught throughout medical school that reproductive hormones are important for menstrual cycles, pregnancy and childbirth as well as breastfeeding. My professors never mentioned the growing literature that reproductive hormones have a profound impact on the brain and complex human behaviors.

Hormones and the brain

“This experience treating a new mother with postpartum depression inspired me to study how hormones effect the brain and behavior during periods of hormonal change across the female lifespan,” she said. “Some 26 years later, I continue to be astounded by the importance of reproductive hormones in complex human behaviors and how millions of women worldwide experience adverse mood and cognitive changes during these periods of hormonal flux.”

Having attended undergraduate and medical school at the University of North Carolina, Epperson said she understands the important role a state medical school plays in promoting health for the citizens of that state. She also connected with executive and faculty leadership at CU School of Medicine and affiliated hospitals, who understand the importance of brain health to all other areas of health.

“In my experience with a number of medical schools and health systems, these key stakeholders at CU School of Medicine, UCHealth, and Children’s Hospital of Colorado are extraordinary in their commitment to expanding and integrating behavioral medicine in primary and specialty care settings as well as in their outreach beyond the boundaries of the Anschutz Medical Campus to promote psychological well-being for all of Colorado’s citizens.”

Finally, Epperson said it is an honor to serve as chair for a Department of Psychiatry with faculty who have demonstrated commitment and accomplishment in all areas of the academic mission: clinical care, education and training, and research. She said she expects to continue interdepartmental and transdisciplinary collaborations with scientists and clinicians on campus to expand knowledge and improve care.

Epperson earned her MD from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1991 and completed her residency in the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine. She also served as a fellow at the Yale Child Study Center in its National Institute of Mental Health Training Program in Neuropsychiatric Disorders with Childhood-Onset. She was on the Yale School of Medicine faculty from 1999 to 2009.

Guest contributor: Mark Couch, chief of staff and director of communications, CU School of Medicine.

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CU Anschutz faculty recognized for 25 years of service

Thirty-nine faculty members who have served the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (and its predecessor, the CU Health Sciences Center) for 25 years were honored at a reception at Fulginiti Pavilion on May 10.

Also attending the event were CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman and Provost Roderick Nairn, as well as the deans from the CU Anschutz schools and colleges.

The leadership team lauded the faculty members – 15 were able to attend – for their lengthy service to the university. Each faculty member received a commencement medal, emblazoned with the seal of the University of Colorado, in appreciation for their service.

The 39 awardees:

Tamara Tobey, School of Dental Medicine

Anne Wilson, School of Dental Medicine

John Carpenter, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Steven Anderson, School of Medicine

Linda Barbour, School of Medicine

Kenny Chan, School of Medicine

Elisabeth Cheney, School of Medicine

Mark Earnest, School of Medicine

Raymond Estacio, School of Medicine

Bifeng Gao, School of Medicine

Edward Gill, School of Medicine

Roger Giller, School of Medicine

Brian Greffe, School of Medicine

Jennifer Hagman-Hazell, School of Medicine

Brack Hattler, School of Medicine

Karen Helm, School of Medicine

Vernon Holers, School of Medicine

Pamela Johnson, School of Medicine

Elizabeth Kozora, School of Medicine

Andrew Liu, School of Medicine

Kelly Maloney, School of Medicine

Connor McBryde, School of Medicine

James McManaman, School of Medicine

Samia Nawaz, School of Medicine

David Nowels, School of Medicine

David Olds, School of Medicine

David Price, School of Medicine

Tracy Price-Johnson, School of Medicine

Mona Rizeq, School of Medicine

Cordelia Rosenberg, School of Medicine

Steven Rosenberg, School of Medicine

Irene Schauer, School of Medicine

Deborah Seymour, School of Medicine

Albert Singleton, School of Medicine

Gary Thieme, School of Medicine

Thomas Whitehill, School of Medicine

Michael Wilson, School of Medicine

Michael Woontner, School of Medicine

Madalynn Neu, College of Nursing

Guest contributor: Kelly Mason, assistant director of events and partnerships, contributed the photo.

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Once a troubled teen, now a physician in training

William Mundo called it a “miracle” that he graduated from high school in 2012. Now the aspiring physician is graduating with his master’s degree in public health from the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoSPH).

“I almost dropped out of high school,” said Mundo, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in public health and ethnic studies from the CU Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “No one was expecting me to graduate.”

Now, the once-at-risk student is enrolled in the CU School of Medicine for the fall.

A child’s admiration

The son of Mexican immigrants, Mundo was born in Los Angeles and moved with his family to Leadville, Colo., when he was 6 years old.

“No one in my family had gone to college.”

He remembers, as a child, watching visitors arrive at his house to see his father. They came with sicknesses and injuries. They came to be healed.

Mundo thought his father was a doctor, and he wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“When I got older, I discovered that no one in my family had gone to college,” Mundo said. “My father didn’t have his medical doctorate. He’d dropped out of school in the sixth grade.”

But, Mundo learned, his father was a curandero, a community healer who provided traditional, indigenous forms of treatment. He decided he wanted to heal people, too.

A painful goodbye

When Mundo was 16, his father left the United States. He returned to his hometown in southern Mexico to take care of his own ailing father.

Mundo didn’t know if he would ever see his father again. He fell into despair and began getting into trouble. He was on the verge of dropping out of school when a mentor reached out to get him back on track – and took him to visit CU Denver.

The mentor knew of Mundo’s interest in health care and thought CU Denver would be a welcoming environment for him and – with its relationship to CU Anschutz – would help him on the path to med school.

“He was 100 percent right,” Mundo said. “From the moment I stepped foot on campus, I knew this was where I wanted to go.”

With his mentor’s support, Mundo applied to CU Denver and was accepted. He called his father in Mexico to share the good news. His father was proud of him and said he was making plans to come back to the United States and see him succeed in college.

But during Mundo’s very first week of college, his father passed away in Mexico.

“My father couldn’t come back to support me in my journey,” he said. “That solidified my motivation to honor his legacy as a healer.”

A pathway to success

William Mundo, CU Denver | Anschutz student
First-generation student William Mundo earned a bachelor’s degree from CU Denver and a master’s degree from CU Anschutz. Now, he’s enrolled at the CU School of Medicine.

A standout student at CU Denver, Mundo struggled a bit to find his way in the beginning.

“Being a first-gen student, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he said. “I started as a pre-med biology major, but as I took more public health classes, I saw how it applied to my life and what I’d seen growing up in an underserved town.”

Leveraging a full-tuition scholarship from the university, Mundo completed his undergraduate education in 2016 – debt-free in spite of the fact that his family was not able to help support his education financially.

From there, he went straight to a master’s program at ColoSPH, where he studied Global Health Systems, Management and Policy.

“As I studied public health, I saw applications to my own identity and cultural heritage and opportunities to promote health equity and social justice,” he said. He graduates May 25 at the CU Anschutz Spring Commencement 2018.

“It’s been a very rewarding pathway,” said Mundo, who received both the Judith Albino Diversity Scholarship and the Hoffman Public Health Scholarship. “The university has provided me this opportunity to get an education and make history in my family and my community.”

An ultimate goal

And his pathway through the university won’t end there. Though he received offers from med schools across the country, Mundo chose the CU School of Medicine.

“It’s an excellent school,” he said. “I bleed black and gold.”

He has big dreams for helping not just his own but communities around the world.

“After I get my MD, I hope to be able to work with rural and Indigenous people around the world to preserve their culture and their health,” he said. “Then, I want to open my own clinic. I want to focus on health policy and social justice advocacy. I want to promote a narrative of creating healing spaces, incorporating restorative justice and pushing the United States to lead the world in health outcomes.

And then there’s his ultimate goal: to be the first Mexican-American U.S. president.

“I want to challenge the status quo and make a difference for others,” he said. “And I’m so thankful for everyone at the university who’s helped me out and allowed me to make something out of my life.”

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Gates Biomanufacturing Facility readies first shipment of clinical trial cancer treatments

The Gates Biomanufacturing Facility at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has passed an important landmark in manufacturing its first clinical trial-grade product for direct infusion into patients.

The groundbreaking effort by the facility represents the culmination of several years of planning and work installing the requisite quality systems and trained team to deliver its first cell therapies for patient use.

The materials for a clinical trial in multiple myeloma treatment by a private research firm will soon be followed by clinical trial processing for pioneering teams at the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“It’s the first product we’ve produced to infuse into a patient,” said Ryan Crisman, interim facility director at the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility.

The treatment, based on the production of CAR-T cells to attack cancer, is shipped to the locations of clinical trials around the nation.

“It’s a big benchmark for our facility, for the Gates Center and for the university,” Crisman said.

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman agreed.

“The Gates Biomanufacturing Facility has reached another important milestone in collaborative efforts at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus to be a leading bench-to-bedside research and treatment center,” he said. “This first material delivery should be a harbinger of opportunity and promise for our talented investigators and clinicians, for our campus and for patients. It’s exciting to be part of the safe and expedited translation of scientific discovery into new human therapies and cures.”

Gates Center Director Dennis Roop, PhD, who also conducts team research on inherited skin diseases with treatments headed for clinical trials, lauded the manufacturing success.

“Since we established the Gates Center of Regenerative Medicine in 2007, my dream has been to build a facility that would allow the translation of basic research into therapies that would benefit patients. This achievement by The Gates Biomanufacturing Facility has now brought this dream to fruition,” Roop said. “My new dream is that this is only the beginning.”

The Gates Biomanufacturing Facility also expects soon to assist recently recruited researcher Terry J. Fry, MD, in producing materials for additional clinical trials.

Fry, one of the nation’s leading cancer researchers, was named co-director of the Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Initiative on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in February.

Fry was among the first scientists to investigate the potential to insert modified genes into a child’s own T-cells to combat lymphoblastic leukemia. Approved by the FDA for pediatric use in August 2017, the therapy achieved an astonishing 80 percent remission rate in kids with otherwise unresponsive cases of the leukemia. Fry is now working to develop targeted treatments to decrease resistance and increase durability of remission. He’s also working to apply CAR-T technology to other types of cancer.

The Gates Biomanufacturing Facility is one of six combined cell therapy and protein manufacturing facilities in the United States and the only one of its kind within an 800-mile radius: http://gatesbiomanufacturing.com/ The facility has been a key element in the recruitment and retention of some of the nation’s top regenerative medicine researchers for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“It’s a very highly regulated field,” Crisman said. “Any time you are doing cutting edge research and clinical trials, you want to make sure the process is not in question. We are proud of our efforts to eliminate the process as a variable, so we can focus on the clinical efficacy for the patient.”

About the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine

The Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine was established in 2006 with a gift in memory of Denver industrialist and philanthropist, Charles C. Gates, who was captivated by the hope and benefit stem cell research promised for so many people in the world. The Gates Center aspires to honor what he envisioned – by conducting leading-edge research in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine to accelerate discoveries from the lab through clinical trials leading to effective cures and therapies for patients.

Led by Founding Director Dennis Roop, PhD, the Gates Center is located at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, 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.

The Gates Center shares its services and resources, with a growing membership of researchers and clinicians at the Anschutz Medical Campus, which includes University of Colorado Hospital, Children’s Hospital Colorado and the future Veterans Administration Medical Center, as well as the Boulder campus, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and business startups. This collaboration is designed to draw on the widest possible array of scientific exploration relevant to stem cell technology focused on the delivery of innovative therapies in Colorado and beyond.

Guest contributor: Article submitted by Michael Booth, Gates Center.

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Lindau Nobel Laureate 2018

At the prospect of meeting her role model, Rushita Bagchi is at a loss for words. Selected through a national competition to attend the prestigious Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting this summer, Bagchi has the chance to interact with top scientists from around the world, including Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Rushita Bagchi, PhD, has been with the university since 2015.

Bagchi, who received her PhD from the University of Manitoba in cardiac pathophysiology, said she hopes she will be able to calm her excitement enough to gain insight from the renowned woman scientist. Bagchi recently spoke with CU Anschutz Today about her path to the notable meeting invitation. She has worked in Dr. Timothy McKinsey’s lab on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus as a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Cardiology since 2015.

What do you study, and what do you like most about it?

Currently, I am researching the epigenetic regulation of cardiometabolic disease, with a special focus on chromatin modifying enzymes known as histone deacetylases (HDACs). This area is fairly lesser explored than broad cardiology. Any novel findings from this area of research have the potential to pave the way for the development of new therapeutics to treat patients diagnosed with diabetes and hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease associated with these conditions. The translational nature of this work is very exciting and keeps me very engaged.

What is the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting?

It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for top trainees in the world (under the age of 35) to network and learn from the experts in the field. The annual meeting is conducted in different categories, just like the Nobel Prize categories. This year’s meeting in June is in the area of Medicine and Physiology. The top 600 trainees from 84 countries have been selected to participate in this meeting and interact with over 40 Nobel laureates. This is the best platform to build networks and lay the foundation for future collaborations. Mostly importantly, I think this is the best opportunity one can have to get to know the world leaders in science better and listen and learn about their academic and personal experiences.

What is the application process like?

It starts with a nomination from a partner institution in a country, which may choose to select its nominees through competition, merit or both. The nomination letter is just one of the many components of the application process. In addition, the nominees are asked to provide detailed biodata, their significant contributions to the field of science, recognitions and awards and what motivates them to pursue scientific research. A scientific committee carefully assesses thousands of applications from nominees worldwide and selects the top 500 or so individuals to participate in the meeting.

“I think this is the best opportunity one can have to get to know the world leaders in science better and listen and learn about their academic and personal experiences.”  ̶  Rushita Bagchi, PhD

What did you think or do when you heard you were chosen? 

I received an email from the meeting organizers very early morning on Feb. 27, which is also my dad’s birthday. It took me a little while to process what had just happened. I called up my husband in Canada and my parents in India immediately to inform them about my selection. I also passed on the news to my current mentor, Dr. Timothy McKinsey, and my PhD mentor, Dr. Michael Czubryt. It was very exciting, and surreal!

What are you looking forward to the most?

I am looking forward to networking opportunities and learning from the experts. I am especially excited about being able to meet Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, who received the prize for the discovery of the enzyme telomerase. I have always looked up to women scientists, and she is one of my role models.

What do you think you’ll say or ask when you meet her? 

Honestly, I don’t know how I will react when I meet her in person. I will probably be at a loss for words at the first glance, and then hopefully will be able to introduce myself and start a conversation. I will surely ask about her experience and path she took to becoming a top woman scientist and especially her advice for aspiring women scientists.

 

 

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Linda Barbour, MD, wins Norbert Freinkel Award

Linda Barbour, MD, MSPH, professor of medicine, obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (SOM) will receive the 2018 Norbert Freinkel Award next month at the American Diabetes Association’s 78th Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Fla.

The award, given in memory of Norbert Freinkel, a dedicated investigator and thought leader, honors a researcher who has made outstanding contributions to the understanding and treatment of diabetes in pregnancy.

In June, Barbour will deliver the Norbert Freinkel Award Lecture entitled, “Metabolic Culprits in Obese Pregnancies and Gestational Diabetes:  Big Babies, Big Twists, Big Picture.”

Barbour is a tenured professor in Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes and Maternal-Fetal Medicine in the SOM.  She is medical director of the OB Diabetes and High-Risk Clinics at University of Colorado Hospital and serves on the editorial board for “Diabetes Care.”  

Barbour is a clinician/translational scientist in the management of obesity in pregnancy and gestational diabetes. She has made seminal observations on the hormonal and signaling changes that increase insulin resistance in pregnancy and the intrauterine and dietary factors that contribute to nutrient excess and affect newborn body composition.  Her NIH and ADA-funded studies have prompted guideline changes to improve maternal/fetal health. And she has published more than 100 manuscripts, book chapters, and guidelines.

As previous CME Director, Barbour loves to teach medical and obstetrics students, residents, fellows, and faculty. She also supervises treatment for the majority of mothers with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.  She is a dedicated mentor for junior investigators across neonatology, maternal-fetal medicine, and endocrinology and helped to build a Colorado translational research program in Maternal and Child Metabolic Health. 

She was recently profiled in an article in CU Medicine Today magazine for her work with Teri Hernandez, PhD, RN, associate professor of medicine and nursing.

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A RaCAS boom: Annual research showcase breaks two-decade record

Students welcome at RaCAS
Joe Pham and Diana Lee, work-study employees of the Experiential Learning Center, greet RaCAS participants in raucous fashion.

Celebrating research from the sciences to the humanities, the 21st annual Research and Creative Activities Symposium (RaCAS) primed creative minds and broke records this year, as more than 500 participants and viewers from the University of Colorado Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus joined in the event.

A record 238 student presentations infused two floors of the Student Commons Building at CU Denver with passionate inquiry on April 27, delving into topics from cancer treatments to virtual learning tools. Under the guidance of a new director, it was the largest RaCAS turnout ever in the research showcase’s two decades.

“That was one of my goals when I took this job,” said Lindsey Hamilton, director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, who accepted the reins as RaCAS director on Jan. 1. “I wanted to bring more awareness to the research that’s taking place on our campuses and change the impression of RaCAS to be more inclusive of all scholarly work.”

Rather than focusing solely on outstanding completed research, Hamilton and crew advertised heavily that projects in progress and of all levels were welcome. “This is a great opportunity to practice presentation,” Hamilton said. “We told them communicating their work was a learning experience and a critical component to their education. And it worked. We had a great turnout.”

For the first time, RaCAS involved student- rather than faculty-organized mini-symposiums, with a record 15 participants. Hamilton also added an Emerging Scholar award to the honoree list, acknowledging the work of 19 students.

Student with poster
Kathleen Nguyen presents her poster project on an innovative nanoparticle therapy aimed at improving detection and treatment of bladder cancer. She won a People’s Choice award for her presentation.

Targeting bladder cancer

“This is actually my fourth poster presentation this month,” said Kathleen Nguyen, a bioengineering undergraduate in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, who won a People’s Choice award for her presentation.

“I’ve met so many people. I think this experience is invaluable,” Nguyen said, adding that, in addition to culling connections, presenting at RaCAS and other symposiums helps inspire and prepare students for graduate school.

Looking at how nanoparticles can translate into medical uses, Nguyen highlighted a collaborative research effort in the Nanosafety and Nanotoxicology Lab in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. By combining gold nanorods and upconversion nanoparticles, the researchers are working on a noninvasive means of detecting and eradicating bladder cancer.

“We told them communicating their work was a learning experience and a critical component to their education. And it worked. We had a great turnout.” – Lindsey Hamilton, RaCAS director

Gold nanorods contain a property called surface plasmon resonance, Nguyen said. “Basically, that means they oscillate really fast under high-frequency lasers. So, when you shine lasers at near infrared light at these gold nanorods, they vibrate really fast and create a lot of heat, which can be utilized for thermal ablation of bladder cancer.”

By attaching upconversion nanoparticles, which will brightly fluoresce under low-frequency laser light, the aim is to detect and specifically target tumors with the complexes. “The idea is to attach these two together and insert them into the bladder in some sort of solution,” Nguyen said, explaining that the gold nanorod complexes have an anti-EGFR antibody called C225.

“It turns out that bladder cancer tumors have over expression of EGFR, so these gold nanorod complexes will only attach to the tumor,” she said. After the complex solution is allowed to sit in the patient for a short period of time, doctors would insert a catheter with a laser, detecting the tumors with low-frequency light and ablating them with high-frequency light.

Nguyen’s work is focused on how the gold nanorods could be used to activate immune responses that would detect and attack the tumor. “It’s really cool,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”

Student with poster
Angelique Dueñas stands next to her poster presentation on the educational value of 3-D embryos. Dueñas won first-place recognition for another presentation on Mapping the Body: Poetry and Anatomical Art New Student Exhibit Merges Humanities and Sciences in Higher Education Collaboration.

Bolstering embryology education

Focusing on educating future students in an area she has become passionate about but that has shown signs of declining interest, Angelique Dueñas, a master’s student in Modern Human Anatomy, presented a project weighing the value of 3-D virtual embryos in learning.

“I found it fascinating to see how we develop and why things are the way they are in our bodies,” Dueñas said, explaining her passion for embryology. After seeing a number of literature reviews on the medical curricula’s decreasing emphasis on embryology, she joined colleagues in their efforts to boost interest.

“It’s super important that medical students understand embryology,” Dueñas said. But the field has unique learning challenges. “It’s a three-dimensional subject,” she said of a fetus. “Then you add in time of a developing embryo, and it can be really challenging, especially when the classic presentation is 2-dimensional,” she said of textbook visuals.

So, her team designed 3-D printed models and virtual models and assessed their value. “You can use your mouse and look at all sides of the different organs,” Dueñas said, illustrating with a brightly colored eight-week embryo model on a computer screen. “You can click, and it will tell you what structure you are looking at,” she said, adding that the application used does have virtual-reality capabilities.

After recruiting 162 first-year medical, dental and graduate students, the researchers gave each volunteer a pre-quiz. They then assigned groups to a static pamphlet representation, a 3-D printed version and a 3-D virtual version. Then volunteers completed a post-quiz and survey.

“Students who interacted with the virtual model and the 3-D printed model seemed to increase their pre-test performance statistically significantly,” she said. “The pamphlet group did not.” Nearly 90 percent of students surveyed said they would like to see these resources in other stages and that it would enhance their understanding, Dueñas said. “They said they would even buy these resources, so it was really exciting for us.”

 

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