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Students devise strategies to combat prevalence of suicide

The fifth Rocky Mountain Region Public Health Case Competition was held at the Health Science Library at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus earlier this month.

Fifteen teams received a realistic case-study about suicide prevalence, a public health issue especially relevant to Colorado. Each team had approximately 24 hours to analyze the case, create a public health solution and present it to a panel of judges.

First-place team in Public Health case competition
The first-place winning team in this year’s competition focused on veteran suicide prevention. Team members are, from left, Sujeith Barraza, Kacy Lorber, Phuong Banh, Elizabeth Ko and Morgan Nestingen. Photo by Katie Brumfield, Colorado School of Public Health.

The prizes for the top three teams were varying amounts of scholarship money up to $1,000. Three teams were chosen as the people’s choice recipients, with each member receiving $100.

The teams were specifically chosen to include different disciplines surrounding healthcare, including the Colorado School of Public Health (Colorado SPH), the CU School of Medicine, College of NursingCollege of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Public Affairs, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School.

“Public health stretches across all disciplines,” said Tonya Ewers, director of communications and alumni relations for the ColoradoSPH. “This is a great practice-learning opportunity for these students to learn to work together to solve health problems.”

This year’s winning team included three graduate public health students from the ColoradoSPH — two from its program at CU Anschutz and one student from their program at the University of Northern Colorado — as well a graduate student in pharmacy and another in nursing. Fitting for Veterans Day, their focus was on veteran suicide prevention with a project title of “Serve and Support: You Stood for Us, Now Let Us Stand for You.” Their project included media outreach ads and posters with grabbing headlines like “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” and a peer navigation program that enrolls veterans at the time of discharge. Their case competition plan also included a mobile app and social media outreach to stay top of mind for veteran health.

First-place team member, Kacy Lorber (ColoradoSPH) posted photos of her experience on Instagram and said: “I got to present to so many important people but specifically two House Representatives in Colorado! The highlight was when state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet told us that she got bill ideas from our presentations. I am so grateful for this experience.”

Judges panel at public health case competition
Judges in the final round of the case competition are, from left, Carol Runyan, PhD, director of PIPER in the ColoradoSPH; state Rep. Kim Ransom; state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet; Larry Wolk, MD; and Jon Samet, MD. Photo by Katie Brumfield, Colorado School of Public Health.

Diana Ir, current president of the case competition planning committee and student in the ColoradoSPH, participated in the competition last year.

“I had such a great experience,” said Ir. “I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to be a part of putting it together this year. I encourage everyone to participate in the future. Between the potential scholarship money and the awesome collaborative environment, you shouldn’t miss it!”

RESULTS – Rocky Mountain Regional Case Competition 

1st Place ($1,000 each student scholarship)

“Serve and Support

You Stood for Us, Now Let Us Stand with You!

Comprehensive Veteran Suicide Prevention”

Team Members and Affiliations

Sujeith Barraza, ColoradoSPH (UNC home campus)

Phuong Banh, ColoradoSPH

Elizabeth Ko, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science

Kacy Lorber, ColoradoSPH

Morgan Nestingen, College of Nursing

2nd Place ($500 scholarship to each student):

“PACT: Patience Assistance Continuing Treatment: Expanding CDPHE’s Warm Handoff

Team Members and Affiliations

Angie Kim, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science

Alison Hoffman, ColoradoSPH

Cheryl A. Jones, ColoradoSPH (UNC home campus)

Randy Xun, ColoradoSPH

3rd Place ($250 scholarship to each student):


Team Members and Affiliations

Charlotte Whitney, School of Public Affairs

Naga Srinija Gummadi, ColoradoSPH

Johnny Williams, ColoradoSPH

Vikasini Mahalingam, School of Medicine

Three teams received People’s Choice Awards ($100 scholarship to each student):

People’s Choice

“Hometown Platoon: A Mobile Mentorship Program”

Team Members and Affiliations

Heather Hergert, ColoradoSPH (CSU home campus)

Hailee Griffin, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science

Isaiah Francis, ColoradoSPH

Hannah LaDow, ColoradoSPH

Scott Cao, School of Medicine

People’s Choice ($100 scholarship to each student):

“Welcome to My Life: CO Health Care Workers’ Wellness Program”

Team Members and Affiliations

Jenny Duong, ColoradoSPH

Heather Marshall, ColoradoSPH (CSU home campus)

Meena Mattamana, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science

Hailey Hyde, ColoradoSPH

People’s Choice ($100 scholarship to each student):

“It’s Okay, To Not Be Okay”

Team Members and Affiliations

Madeline Huey, School of Medicine

Victoria Laskey, School of Public Affairs

Allison Seidel, ColoradoSPH

Katie Schweber, ColoradoSPH

Mackenzie Wilderman, College of Engineering and Applied Science (Bioengineering)

Editor’s note: Tonya Ewers, director of communications and alumni relations for the Colorado School of Public Health, contributed to this report. 

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Performance explores Beethoven’s mental, physical struggles

On Nov. 9, the Arts and Humanities in Healthcare Program at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at CU Anschutz welcomed Richard Kogan, MD, to discuss Beethoven’s deafness through musical performance and historical lecture.

Kogan was trained in the piano at The Juilliard School, and received his MD at Harvard Medical School. He uses his exceptional skillset to combine healing, medicine and the arts.

In three iterations, he alternated between masterfully performing pieces composed by Beethoven, and speaking about the deterioration of Beethoven’s mental health due to hearing loss.

Medical students visit with Dr. Richard Kogan at CU Anschutz
Second-year medical students Josten Overall and Priya Krishnan chat with Richard Kogan, MD, during his visit to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“The performance was amazing,” said Danielle Sansone-Poe, student in the Graduate School. “I brought my whole family to this performance. The passion and diversity of pieces was captured beautifully by Dr. Kogan. The transitions between playfulness and rage were especially captivating.”

Kogan previously presented and performed Gershwin at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in spring 2013, and he has promised to return in September 2019.

“During his last visit, Dr. Kogan inspired us to create a Music and Medicine Initiative,” said Therese Jones, PhD, associate director for the Center of Bioethics and Humanities.  “He oversees the Music and Medicine program at Cornell, and we wanted something similar on in the CU system.”

This initiative hopes to assist patients with healing though music, offer musical performances to the community, and educate the community about the benefits of music in healthcare. It includes the CU Anschutz Campus Choir and CU Anschutz Campus Orchestra. There is also a new partnership with the College Music at CU Boulder.

“Music has an extraordinary capacity to reduce pain, to soothe anxiety, and to lift spirits,” said Kogan. “In order provide the best care, we shouldn’t overlook these unique capabilities. The humanities deserve to have a role in the medical community.”

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Physicians’ book ‘Enviromedics’ explores link between climate change and human health

The adverse impacts to human health from global warming are undeniable and on track to worsen, without significant interventions, in the coming decades.

Jay Lemery, MD, of CU Anschutz
Jay Lemery, MD

This is the view of Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of medicine in the CU School of Medicine, and the wider scientific community. Lemery co-authored a recently published book, “Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health” with Paul Auerbach, MD, professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Lemery, who is also section chief of the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Section in the SOM’s Department of Emergency Medicine, has a strong interest in the interplay of the environment and human health.

Asked why he and Auerbach wrote the book, Lemery said, “It’s clear there’s been a conspicuous absence of physicians and health care providers engaging in the dialogue on climate change and its impact on human health. We also felt the science was being politicized and risk assessments for most Americans were skewed. So we wanted to take a step back and weigh in from the physicians’ point of view, essentially saying, ‘We know sickness – this is what we do every day,’ and point to what we see coming down the pike.”

The book takes the reader to the bedside, providing vignettes of the sicknesses physicians are seeing across the globe. The book’s message is clear: Climate change is and will be a driver to make these health problems worse.

‘Changes in vector-borne diseases’

Lemery chatted with Today about “Enviromedics” and the dire prognosis for the planet and its inhabitants if climate change continues unchecked.

Today: What are the effects of climate when it comes to human biology? What are physicians seeing in that regard?


  • Extreme heat events are real and becoming more prevalent and intense. We’re seeing heat illness, heat stress – acute conditions – but we also see things like chronic kidney disease spiking in vulnerable places, like among field workers in central America and south Asia. We’re seeing pre-existing health conditions – diabetes, heart disease, congestive heart failure – all exacerbated by extreme heat. In general, we’re seeing exacerbations of chronic disease with vulnerable populations – the very old, the very sick, the very young.
  • We’re also seeing changes in vector-borne diseases – infectious diseases like malaria, dengue, even Zika – and the range of these diseases is increasing in altitude and latitude. Also, the life cycles of the vectors – the mosquitoes and ticks that carry the diseases – are being altered by climate change.
  • After extreme weather events, we see not only the trauma from flooding and extreme damage to infrastructure – causing hundreds of deaths like this summer with the hurricanes – but also the breakouts of water-borne disease. This happens after the fact, when water supplies, sewage systems and food-growth areas are all mixed and spread out after these weather events.
  • We’re seeing degraded air quality over huge swaths; even in the U.S., huge swaths of the American West have been affected all summer from wildfires, which are now more intense and long-lasting than anytime in the historical record.
  • For people who suffer from allergies, the aero-allergen seasons are longer and the pollen counts are higher than we’ve ever seen.
  • From the sea-level rise caused by global warming, we’re seeing higher storm surges, and there’s been a slow erosion, particularly of low-lying areas in the low-lying nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans. These are communities, and in some cases nations, that are looking at the best science and saying, ‘We probably won’t have a home in 100 years.’ So we are now actually seeing migrations of people who are resettling in places like Australia and New Zealand.
  • There are also force multipliers. Food security is affected by extreme weather; extreme precipitation events, extreme drought events and extreme heat events all disrupt food supply. In poverty-stricken areas, when the food supply is disrupted, food insecurity and the consequential malnutrition or even starvation becomes more at risk than it was previously.

‘We know this is coming’

Today: Someone may say, “Even though you’re a scientist, you’re not a climatologist, you’re not a meteorologist. Why should we listen to you on the subject of climate change?” If someone were to say that to you, what would be your response?

Book "Enviromedics"
Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of medicine in the CU School of Medicine, co-authored “Eviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health.”

Lemery: That’s exactly right. It’s time that we as physicians, as health care providers, as the people who deal with injury and sickness and even death, step forward and say, ‘This is the same thing. What we’re seeing and what we can anticipate as drivers of morbidity and mortality, we know this is coming.’ So it’s important to hear it from your doctor, from those of us who wear the metaphorical white coat, and say, ‘This is a big deal.’ We’ve spent a lot of time delivering altruistic-oriented messages – ‘Save the whales’ or ‘Love mother Earth’ – or abstract messages – like ‘There’s 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere’ – but I don’t think those messages have worked.

We need to bring it back to a simple message: This is about the health of your parents, your kids’ risk of asthma and other health issues that affect the people you love. This comes down to the very basic health issues of humanity – and if that’s not a fulcrum for change, I’m not sure what is. That’s why we wrote the book.

Today: Where does the science stand on the direct link to these kinds of health issues right now?

Lemery: The science is pretty clear, and frankly no one is really debating this anymore: Human-caused climate change is driving a lot of these health issues. Now, some of them are direct, but many more are indirect. So, where public health was tenuous as first, force multipliers are making the situation worse. I think it’s important to understand that the data is clear, and the people who spend their careers studying this across all spectrums of environmental earth science have been saying the same thing: This is real; the change is real; and the historical record has never shown anything near this. It’s beyond historical fluctuations.

‘Trajectories going up across all metrics’

 Today: Will climate change affect people in the next five or 10 years, or the next 50 years? How fast will these effects get worse?

Also written by Dr. Lemery

In 2015, Jay Lemery, MD, co-authored “Global Climate Change and Human Health” with George Luber, PhD.

Lemery: We’re seeing the effects now. This summer has seen some of the strongest storms on record in the Atlantic basin. In the last few years, we’ve seen absolutely the most extreme storms on record. We know that the heat waves we’re seeing now are all beyond historical precedent. The majority of the warmest years on record have been in the last 10 to 20 years. Meanwhile, the Arctic sea ice is at its lowest point on average than has ever been recorded.

The fact that these effects are cumulative is very worrisome. We know that the data tell us that if we stop producing carbon now, it will be a long, long time before the Earth equalizes. And of course we’re not stopping carbon production, so I think the trends we’re seeing are going to worsen and last centuries into the future. To what degree will be the trajectory? I think that’s being postulated as varied, but, unfortunately, the trajectories are going up across all metrics.

Editor’s note: Matthew Kaskavitch, digital engagement strategist, contributed to this report. 

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Pianist to Discuss Beethoven’s Triumph over Tragedy

The CU Arts and Humanities Program at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities 2017 Henry Claman Visiting Professor in Medical Humanities will be the distinguished psychiatrist, lecturer and musician Richard Kogan, MD.  Dr. Kogan will visit  CU Anschutz to discuss the tempestuous life of legendary composer Ludwig van Beethoven and perform a free concert on November 9, 2017.

“Beethoven was a man of vile moods, violent rages and eccentric behavior,” explains Kogan.  “He’s the quintessential example of the mad genius, the tortured artist, but I prefer to look at him as the ultimate example of resilience and the ability to transcend limitations.”

Kogan, a psychiatrist who received his MD from Harvard Medical School and trained in piano performance at Julliard, has combined his love of music and medicine into a lecture concert series on influential composers who may have exhibited signs of mental illness.

Beethoven began to notice symptoms of hearing loss in his late 20s around the turn of the 19th century. Two decades later, Beethoven, almost totally deaf, composed his greatest works. These include the last five piano sonatas, the Missa solemnis, the Ninth Symphony, and the last five string quartets.

“Deafness, a hardship for anyone, is a catastrophe for a musician,” states Kogan, explaining his admiration for the composer. “Locked in the silent world of his imagination, Beethoven created a musical language that was different from anything that had previously existed.”

Tess Jones, PhD, Associate Director of the CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities and Faculty Sponsor of the Music & Medicine Initiative, is thrilled to have Richard Kogan at CU Anschutz.  “His combination of storytelling and performance will inspire the audience and make them connect with Beethoven’s music in a new way,” says Jones. “Given the late Dr. Henry Claman’s love of music as well as his lifelong commitment to both medicine and art, Dr. Kogan is a perfect fit for the visiting professorship named to honor Dr. Claman.”

The concert is free and open to the public with a suggested donation of $20 to benefit the Music and Medicine Initiative.  This will be Kogan’s second performance at CU Anschutz, following a Fall 2013 lecture concert featuring the works and life of George Gershwin.

Kogan has led a distinguished career as both a professional pianist and as a physician. He is currently a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and Artistic Director of the Weill Cornell Music and Medicine Program.

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Study to probe impact of marijuana legalization

Does legalizing recreational marijuana in a state lead its residents to use it, or other substances, more? How does legalization impact careers, family life and mental health? Are some people more vulnerable to its negative impacts than others?

These are some of the questions University of Colorado researchers hope to help answer via a sweeping new $5.5-million study of 5,000 twins funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It is the first and only study of its kind in the nation.

“Increasing numbers of states are legalizing recreational marijuana, but we know almost nothing about the health and social consequences of this dramatic and rapid shift in public policy,” says John Hewitt, director of the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at CU Boulder and a co-principal investigator of the study. “There is clear need for solid scientific evidence, and the experiment now unfolding in Colorado provides a rare opportunity to accumulate such evidence.”

Results of marijuana legalization

For the study, Hewitt and co-principal investigator Christian Hopfer, MD, a professor of psychiatry at CU Anschutz Medical Campus, will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Minnesota to study 1,250 sets of twins ages 23 to 29 there, where recreational use remains prohibited, and 1,250 sets of twins in Colorado, where it has been legal since 2014.

As part of several ongoing longitudinal studies of twins, the researchers have already been following the participants for 15 to 20 years, collecting data on their use of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs in adolescence, as well as about their psychological health and social functioning. Via phone and internet surveys over five years, they’ll now collect data from the twins again looking at changes in behavior from prior to legalization to after legalization in the Colorado cohort.

By including twins living in Minnesota, the researchers can control for factors – aside from legalization – that might influence outcomes regardless of what state one lives in. In addition to looking at how frequently subjects are using marijuana, the researchers will also look at the methods by which people are using it (edibles, dabbing, smoking, etc.) and how potent – in terms of THC levels – it is.

“There is a big cultural change of how marijuana is being used as a result of legalization,” says Hewitt. “Dabbing is just as legal as smoking your grandmother’s grass, but the consequences could be very different.”

Long-term studies of twins

“Some people will be fine. Some people may benefit. But for a subset of people, we suspect there will be adverse consequences.”

They’ll also ask questions about whether participants – all at an important developmental window of life full of role transitions – are fulfilling their career goals, how their relationships with their family members are, and any legal or psychological challenges they may be facing.

By looking at pairs of twins, including identical twins (who are genetically identical) and fraternal twins (who are not genetically identical), they’ll also be able to explore what genetic or environmental factors may play a role in making some people more vulnerable than others to any negative impacts of legalization.

“Some people will be fine. Some people may benefit. But for a subset of people, we suspect there will be adverse consequences,” Hewitt says.

Health impacts of marijuana use

The researchers note that in the past 15 years the prevalence of past-year adult marijuana use has doubled in the United States, yet little is known about how much is too much and which populations should be advised to abstain.

“If you go to a doctor’s office, there are established guidelines for what you might call safe and appropriate use for alcohol. But doctors have no idea what they should be telling patients when it comes to marijuana use,” says Hopfer.

By pulling the data together, the researchers hope to ultimately paint a more accurate picture of how usage changes as a result of legalization and how those changes may impact health in the long run.

Minnesota department of psychology researchers Scott Vrieze, Matt McGue and Bill Iacono are also principal investigators on the project.

Guest Contributor: Lisa Marshall

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Project takes AIM at rural students’ health and wellness

Elaine Belanksy of Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center
Elaine Belansky, PhD, Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center director, and co-principal investigator

After years of partnering with K-12 schools in the most impoverished area of the state, enhancing exercise and nutrition programs for healthier learning, a Colorado School of Public Health research team on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has gained more than $3.5-million in funding to take its project to the next level.

Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center were recently awarded two grants from The Colorado Health Foundation (TCHF) to continue their work in southeastern Colorado and San Luis Valley schools. The money allows for a significant expansion of the center’s strategic planning process, Assess, Identify, Make it Happen (AIM XL), through which district-level comprehensive health and wellness plans can be developed.

“What is most exciting to me is that this grant gives us a chance to continue our longstanding partnerships with these rural school districts and to expand our work to now support children’s emotional health in addition to physical activity and healthy eating,” said Elaine Belansky, PhD, RMPRC director and co-principal investigator of the Working to Improve School Health and the Healthy Eaters, Lifelong Movers (HELM) projects. “We’ve been focused on the obesity-prevention side of things, which is really important and a significant issue in rural Colorado, but so is emotional well-being.”

Longer reach, broader focus

Health project serves rural Colorado schools
The current RMPRC project encompasses 27 school districts in rural Colorado.

In HELM’s first three years alone, moderate to vigorous activity levels in elementary school PE classes increased by 66 percent, and nearly 100 evidence-based environment and policy changes to combat childhood obesity were implemented in the southern Colorado study area. The current project, which encompasses 27 school districts, now will align with the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model.

WSCC’s holistic focus with attention to 10 components, ranging from physical education and physical activity to counseling and social services, could have a dramatic effect in the region, Belansky said.

“We’ve heard from so many principals and superintendents that their No. 1 concern about students is their mental health,” said Belansky, adding that the region’s high poverty levels bring stressors that can sabotage children’s learning. In the largely agricultural San Luis Valley, an area the size of New Jersey with a population so sparse it could not fill Mile High Stadium, health-care resources are also stretched thin.

Benjamin Ingman
Benjamin Ingman, PhD, principal investigator of AIM-XL.

“There is a lot of need there,” said Benjamin Ingman, PhD, principal investigator of AIM-XL. “Being able to bring this focus to the kids’ well-being is really important. Kids need to feel safe and be well-fed before they can start thinking about being successful and happy in school. I hope that this program will help these schools focus on some of these baseline concerns.”

Happy kids, better learners

During her years focused on southern Colorado’s rural areas, Belansky has heard many heart-wrenching stories related to hunger, parents in prison, family addictions and poor living conditions, all matters that make focusing on school difficult for students and place huge burdens on teachers and administrators.

The RMPRC, with the help of project manager Shannon Allen, PhD, and others, aims to ease those burdens by helping school districts bring all players  ̶  including community agencies, staff,

teachers, parents, administrators and students  ̶  to the table to build programs and partnerships that support students’ overall well-being. Ingman, who wrote the recent grant proposal, said he hopes lessons learned from the team’s work eventually will reach beyond rural boundaries and influence other schools to broaden their educational aims.

None of the work would be possible without Ingman’s dedication, TCHF’s funding, and the support of school districts in the San Luis Valley and southeastern Colorado, Belansky said. “I’m so proud that we have somebody who understands schools and how important it is to focus on the health and happiness of the child, not just academic achievement,” she said of Ingman. “And I’m really proud that all of these districts in rural Colorado value working on the WSCC model to make a child’s educational experience a richer one.”

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Scientists develop new theory of molecular evolution

Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the University College London have developed a new theory of molecular evolution, offering insights into how genes function, how the rates of evolutionary divergence can be predicted, and how harmful mutations arise at a basic level.

“Molecules are the basis of all life and we wanted to find out why molecules evolve the way they do,” said study co-author David Pollock, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the CU School of Medicine.

Professor David Pollock, PhD, is co-author of the new study
Professor David Pollock, PhD, is co-author of the new study

Pollock and fellow author Richard Goldstein, Ph.D., professor of infection and immunity at University College London, published the study October 23, 2017 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Their theory of evolutionary mechanics transforms evolving molecular systems into a framework where the tools of statistical mechanics can be applied, opening a novel window into how protein evolution works.

“The approach rests on understanding proteins as integrated systems,” said Goldstein. “Too often we ignore interactions between different parts of a protein, but we know that changes in one part of the protein affect subsequent changes in other parts. It turns out this is really important for understanding why these molecules evolve the way they do.”

Proteins constantly change as mutations become fixed or eliminated depending on the protein structure, function and stability. This depends on amino acid interactions throughout the protein that cause evolution at one site to alter the chance of evolution at other sites.

The scientists discovered that they could predict rates of protein evolution based on their biochemical properties.

“This was a real surprise,” Pollock said. “Our theory accounts for well-known population genetics effects such as strength of selection and effective population size, but they drop out of the final equations that predict the rate of molecular evolution.”

For years, researchers have run up against problems with standard models of molecular evolution used in studying the evolutionary relationships among species. This led to difficulties in reconstructing important evolutionary events in ancestral organisms.

These patterns of molecular convergence were found to change regularly over evolutionary time in ways that indicated continually fluctuating constraints in different parts of proteins.

“This flips around the usual idea that the amino acids will adjust to the requirements of the rest of the protein,” Goldstein said. “But we couldn’t explain exactly why this happened, or whether there was any regularity to the process.”

But once the system was placed into a statistical mechanics framework, the magnitude of amino acid entrenchment was seen as central to understanding rates of evolutionary divergence.

The researchers said that the strength of selection in protein evolution is balanced by the sequence entropy of folding, the number of sequences that provide a protein with a given degree of stability.

“We like to think of the other amino acids as a bunch of kids jumping down on a memory foam mattress while you try to walk on it,” Pollock said. “Most of the time your feet are sunk into the mattress and you can’t step forward, but every so often the kids will create a dent in the mattress that allows you to step ahead.”

The title of the paper is “Sequence entropy of folding and the absolute rate of amino acid substitutions.”

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2017 CU Anschutz State of the Campus Address

Speaking to a very full house at this year’s State of the Campus address, CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman shared his unwavering vision for the university: “to be the place where anyone who needs it can find the finest medical care in the world; where the science of that care is being pushed to new horizons and where the health care workforce of our future is being trained.”

About 250 faculty, staff and students came to the Hensel Phelps West Auditorium in the Research 1 North Building Wednesday afternoon to hear Elliman discuss university progress, strategies and goals. He began his speech with a memory of the 2016 CU Anschutz State of the Campus address, which took place one week before the U.S. presidential election.

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman
CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman

“I think it’s fair to say that the last nine months have brought the potential for some very challenging changes in health research and health care,” he said. “With national uncertainty as a caveat though, the headline on the state of our campus and our institutions is that we are in good shape and growing stronger all the time.”

He then laid out his nine strategies for university success, which remain consistent since last year’s address.

1. Invest in clinical excellence

As a testament to the university’s ever-expanding and improving clinical care offerings, Elliman cited several U.S. News & World Report rankings, including University of Colorado Hospital rising five spots to No. 15 and the CU School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics achieving top 10 standing in five specialties.

“As we strive to be the best, these rankings need to continue to rise. What makes it happen is very simple: the recruitment and retention of great faculty. That is you.”

2. Boost NIH funding

Total research sponsorship funding at CU Anschutz increased by 8 percent last year to just over $490 million. About 42 percent of that total – 4 percent more than last year – came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“I believe our focus needs to be on increasing that stream. Most pundits opine that the number of serious players among academic medical centers in research is bound to decline. We have to be one of the winners.”

3. Diversify the university research portfolio

He was there:

“I’m pleased to hear that the campus is making an economic impact. It’s also good to see that
some grass roots initiatives now seem to be coming from the top down.”

Ryan Holland

Ryan Holland, Director of PreAward and Contracting Services

More than 200 companies from around the world have applied to come to this campus and engage in university partnerships that lead to diverse research and innovation projects. Elliman praised the recently established CU Innovations team for helping make this possible. To accommodate this increase in research enterprise initiatives, the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority Board approved the plan and design of a 120,000-square-foot Bioscience 3 Building – construction should begin in spring 2018.

“We are seeing success in research diversity with growing industry funding and clinical trial revenues. Invention disclosures and patent applications are both growing … We’ve become a test bed for commercial innovations.”

4. Increase work in mental health

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman
Chancellor Elliman

The university is making strides in this area through the work of the newly renamed National Mental Health Innovation Center, as well as the growing Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center, which is utilizing telehealth to bring mental health support to rural areas. Grants from the Cohen Foundation and the Marcus Family Foundation enable CU Anschutz to give veterans and their families the mental health care they need, often free of charge.

The university has commissioned a study to catalogue its activity in the area of mental and behavioral health to help connect clinicians and researchers in the field.

“I believe we have an obligation, because of our mission, to up our game in the area of mental health. We have done just that.”

5. Expand health care workforce training

The College of Nursing has expanded its psychiatric nursing education program. Project ECHO received a new $3 million grant to continue its specialty education for physicians, nurses and other providers. And the university has, for the first time, convened a team to explore more possibilities for digital education.

“We have an obligation, I believe, to try to enhance our capacity to educate the health care work force at all levels.”

6. Enhance marketing efforts

Elliman celebrated the press coverage generated within schools and colleges and the work of the Office of Advancement to inform donors of faculty accomplishments. He gave a promise to do more work to tell the university’s story to the world.

“Although much work has been done on developing an overarching message, we have not yet been able to bring that to fruition, and as such, we remain one of the better kept secrets in the region.”

7. Leverage co-location of schools and colleges with hospitals

She was there:

“Mr. Elliman brought good energy to the address. I like the message of trying to bridge the silos,
and I think it’s exciting to hear the news of CU Anschutz building our own identity.”

Natalie Buys







Natalie Buys, Grants and Contracts Manager, Department of Family Medicine

While acknowledging efforts in this area, Elliman said we could take better advantage of the co-location of six schools and two hospital systems on one campus. The common success of CU Anschutz, UCHealth and Children’s Hospital Colorado depends on breaking down silos, building bridges, sharing information and nurturing the cross-pollination of ideas, he said.

“I would assess that, in spite of occasional and sometimes strong differences of opinion, those relationships are now either as good as or better than they have been in a long time, perhaps ever … [but] I can’t tell you how many times I hear the expression from faculty that goes something like, ‘I had no idea we were doing that.’”

8. Become more risk-tolerant

Elliman noted that he has signed more indemnification waivers in the last 12 months than he believes the university has ever granted before – and got a hearty laugh from the audience.

“The projects were all judged to be worth it on the risk/benefit ratio, and I am glad the regents delegated the authority to us.”

9. Allocate resources based on priorities

Elliman congratulated the CU School of Medicine for prioritizing work and allocating resources accordingly with its investment in Transformational Research Grants.

“I think it is clear that each school and college is establishing and pursuing its own priorities.”


The driving forces behind this strategic work, Elliman said, include clinical revenue, partnerships, innovation, philanthropy and technology.

“Our foot needs to stay on the accelerator,” he said.

From the details of the nine strategies, he moved on to updates on campus infrastructure and space, which include:

  • Aimco’s plans for a new hotel and food market near Fitzsimons Apartment Homes;
  • Approval for the university to plan the new $240 million home of the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine just west of the Research 2 Building;
  • 300 new parking permits issued in the past year; and
  • University plans for a new parking garage north of the Research 2 Building.

In light of the need for more space on campus, Elliman displayed a photograph of a construction crane and called it the “campus mascot.” Audience members laughed out loud.

Then, he addressed the matter of the university identity and announced plans for CU Anschutz to establish its own website URL, independent of CU Denver.

“I think identity is important, and we need our own: CU Anschutz,” he said. “We do not have a plan today that will get us there, but we will make one.”

Elliman concluded the address with praise and gratitude for the people at CU Anschutz.

“We are built on one simple ingredient: talent,” he said. “The quality of the faculty and staff are both the key to our success and the key to our future. You got us to where we are today. I hope you are as excited as I am, even given the challenges, of where we can be tomorrow.”

View the slideshow from the 2017 State of the Campus address.

Discussion from the audience

At the conclusion of the session, audience members watched a video about the university from the Office of Advancement. Then, Chancellor Elliman invited questions from audience members, and several individuals from different units throughout the university grabbed the microphone.

A staff member asked for more information on the recently announced CU Denver | Anschutz chancellors’ efficiencies study. Elliman said he and campus leaders are not yet sure what the results of the study will look like.

“Both campuses have important missions, but those missions are very different, and so is each campus’s business infrastructure,” he said. “At CU Anschutz, we need our own identity, and I promise that will happen.”

Another attendee raised a question about the growing need for vivarium space on campus. Elliman said a portion of the basement in the new building to be built next year has been earmarked for this purpose.

Continuing on the topic of campus space, the final questioner asked about plans for maintaining historic Building 500. The university has spent $8 million in the last two years on Building 500 renovations and has committed to renovating additional floors, as well, Elliman replied.

“It’s cheaper to build new than to renovate,” he said. “We know the need for more space exists, and we want to try to make better use of the space we have.”


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Alumni earn prestigious science policy fellowships

Two University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus alumni have earned prestigious AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships. They are among the latest class of policy fellows – 280 scientists and engineers – who will spend a year serving professionally in federal agencies and congressional offices.

Mark Lucera and Juliette Petersen won the fellowships, which are operated as part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) mandate to “advance science and serve society.” Petersen graduated in December 2016 with her PhD from the CU Anschutz Molecular Biology Program, while Lucera is a CU Anschutz postdoc and finished his doctoral work in the Molecular Virology program at Case Western Reserve University in January 2016.

Application deadline

The application deadline for the 2018-19 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship class is fast approaching – Nov. 1. For more information about the fellowships, visit the AAAS website. Information is also available through the Postdoctoral & Career Development Office in the CU Denver | Anschutz Graduate School.

Since the program’s inception in 1973, over 3,600 AAAS fellows have supported congressional offices, executive branch agencies and departments and the judicial branch, seeding virtually every corner of Washington, D.C., and beyond with a high caliber of scientific know-how.

Following is a Q&A with Lucera and Petersen about how they became interested in the AAAS Fellowship, how their training at CU Anschutz prepared them for the program, and what they’re hoping to achieve in their career. 

Juliette Petersen

When did you get interested in this program?

I first got interested in the AAAS STPF in 2006 when I was volunteering on Bill Ritter’s gubernatorial campaign in Colorado. I had left a doctoral program in synthetic organic chemistry in 2005, but I knew that science was in my blood. During the campaign I was discovering a love of policy, too. At one of the campaign planning meetings, I met a PhD scientist who was working as a science advisor to someone at the national level, and he told me about AAAS STPF. I don’t even remember his name or who he worked for, but I went home and started researching the fellowship program and realized that it was exactly what I was looking for – an opportunity to meld my love of science with my desire to be involved in policymaking. With that in mind, I went back for my PhD in molecular biology (which I found much more gratifying than organic chemistry!) and the rest is history!

What are you hoping to do career-wise?

CU Anschutz graduate Juliette Petersen
Juliette Petersen

The crazy thing is that after working toward this fellowship for over 10 years, I never planned beyond the fellowship. Actually, it’s not as crazy as it sounds – everyone who has been a Fellow talks about how the experience is life-changing, and how you will meet so many people and open doors through the fellowship that you didn’t even know existed. I know that I have a strong interest in global health and I would like to explore that and food sustainability during my fellowship. After that? Well, I know I want to continue to work at the intersection of science and policymaking and to continue to bring scientific thinking into the policymaking conversation.

How did your training at CU Denver / Anschutz prepare you for this program?

Honestly, it was mostly my activities outside of my “training” at CU Anschutz that prepared me for this program, though of course you need to have a solid scientific training in order to bring scientific reasoning and thinking to the table. I was active in the Careers in Science Club ( for almost all of my time at CU Anschutz, including when we were asked to change the name from “Alternatives in Science” to something that more closely reflected the fact that non-academia career tracks are no longer “alternative.” I participated in various CU Advocacy Days at the State Capitol, and got involved in additional advocacy through the March of Dimes. I participated in as many outreach opportunities as I could, including Young Hands in Science, which brought real scientists into elementary schools to teach various science modules. I also took advantage of numerous opportunities offered by the NIH BEST grant. Basically, I did as many “extracurricular” activities as I possibly could without sacrificing my lab work.

What advice would you have for others who might want to consider this path?

Get out of the lab. Seriously. What are you passionate about? Start a club or get involved in a pre-existing one. Seek out leadership opportunities. Take advantage of the numerous outreach opportunities available through CU Anschutz or find/create your own. I know you don’t have a lot of free time in grad school, but it’s worth it for your sanity to have something outside of lab. No matter what career path you choose, you need to work on communicating clearly and concisely (without science jargon), so you might want to start thinking about that, too. You don’t have to be doing advocacy or policymaking – the Fellowship will provide you with numerous professional development opportunities to build those skills – but you DO need to be involved in something beyond your own research.  

Mark Lucera

When did you get interested in this program?

I first learned about the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship while I was a PhD student in the Molecular Virology program at Case Western Reserve University. I was in a “career exploration” phase toward the end of my training and I saw the AAAS fellowship as a unique opportunity to combine my interests. I almost applied back then but decided instead to expand my expertise in a postdoctoral fellowship. I wanted to learn from a mentor whose role as a physician lends strong appreciation for public health, so I chose to come to CU Anschutz to train within the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine. My experience as a postdoc taught me a number of skills but it also reignited my drive to apply for the AAAS fellowship.

What are you hoping to do careerwise?

CU Anschutz postdoc Mark Lucera
Mark Lucera

I thrive when I’m given opportunities to communicate, so combining my passion for science in a policy setting is a really good fit.  My training up to this point has largely been studying infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS in the laboratory. As an AAAS fellow, I’ll be approaching my field from a different perspective, working on international health and biodefense policy. I can see myself staying in the global health realm after my fellowship, whether in government, specialized agency or NGO.

How did your training at CU Denver / Anschutz prepare you for this program?

My postdoc helped me in a number of ways. In the lab, I continued research on HIV/AIDS while also branching out to study additional viruses.  I also had the opportunity to collaborate with global health folks studying disease burden in Central America. This was shortly after the wave of Zika virus, and being involved gave me a newfound appreciation for the international relationships required to combat epidemics.

Outside of the lab, I was very active in our Postdoctoral Association. I chaired of our Engagement Committee, tasked with developing programs that enriched social and professional relationships amongst postdocs.  I also helped start a scientific advocacy initiative called Project Bridge and gained direct experience building relationships with Colorado policymakers and our local community. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of these leadership roles in growing my communication skills. They’ve also been a lot of fun and I’m really grateful.

What advice would you have for others who might want to consider this path?

Two things.  First, invest time in assembling your “professional development toolbox”. Build your communication skills, get involved with advocacy or outreach, practice writing to diverse audiences, participate in the Postdoctoral Association. Your technical expertise will be a strong engine, but these other skills will actually allow you to drive the car.

Second, remain flexible. The AAAS fellowship attracts folks from many backgrounds, and placement opportunities are just as diverse. The common thread is that we’re all expert problem solvers. While I’m staying roughly in the same field, there are fellows who use this experience to explore new areas at the intersection of science and policy.

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Poverty simulation helps dental students gain compassion

In under an hour, Margaret, 57, a grandmother who suffered a stroke and is partially paralyzed, lost her foods stamps, faced eviction from her home and was robbed of her jewelry and valuables. These events left her and her son, Miles, 36, his wife, Melinda, 36, and their daughter, Mandy, 15, confused, frustrated and worried.

This was no ordinary family. First-year CU School of Dental Medicine students took on these roles during the first-ever Poverty Simulation, a three-hour session in which they experienced the same struggles as real low-income families. Having the time and money for dental and health care was often last on the list as these families worked to pay rent, buy food and take care of their children.

“My family is out working or looking for work and it’s kind of frustrating because I’m paralyzed and I have to stay here and can’t help more,” says dental student Rebecca Ryan, 24, who played Margaret, the family matriarch. “But that’s the reality of life – it can change in a second and that’s what happened to Margaret.”

The Poverty Simulation is part of Community Engagement I, a fall class that introduced 81 first-year dental students to public dental health, says William D. Bailey, DDS, MPH, CU School of Dental Medicine Chair, Department of Community Dentistry and Population Health.

“We want our students to be aware of the barriers and inequities in accessing dental and health care,” says Bailey, adding that the hands-on Poverty Simulation experience is more powerful than any lecture.

The goals of the simulation were to raise students’ awareness of the realities of poverty, while helping them understand stereotypes and misconceptions about low-income families, says Deidre Callanan, RDH, DC, MPH, a CU School of Dental Medicine Clinical Instructor, Community Engagement.

“The hope is that students now understand some of the barriers and frustrations to accessing services, including health and dental care for those with limited resources,” Callanan says. “We want our students to graduate with a deeper understanding, respect and compassion for their patients while they are out in the community, in the school clinics and when they become practicing dentists.”

How the simulation works

At the start of the Poverty Simulation, students received packets and worked in groups as makeshift families. The packets provided them descriptions of family members, their ages, employment situation, health status, income and monthly bills. Some families owned vehicles; others could only use bus passes to get where they needed to go.

Their tasks? They had to provide food, shelter and basic necessities for a month. They also received information on resources that would help them survive. About 20 community volunteers represented various agencies that could provide services for these families – from food and rent assistance to childcare. Each 15 minutes of the simulation represented a week in their lives.

There also was a bank, an employer, a juvenile detention center, utility and mortgage companies, a pawnshop, and a health care clinic, among other businesses and agencies.

Poverty simulation at CU School of Dental Medicine
Dr. Deidre Callanan hands out fake money, bus passes and other materials to dental students participating in the poverty simulation.

The students represented four different types of families during the simulation. They included a family of four or five; some had two parents and others were single parents with children. Some students posed as elderly single people with health issues and little family support.

Dental student Ryan Koster, 22, was surprised to find out he was a pregnant 16-year-old girl.

“I’m due in two months, we just got evicted and I’m not doing too hot,” says Koster, adding that he’s had no access to health care. “It’s crazy, it’s eye-opening. It’s a lot more interactive than I thought. This experience has helped me understand different people and situations. This will make me a better dentist.”

A family in crisis

For the family of Margaret, Miles, Melinda and Mandy, the struggles resonated with the dental students who played their parts.

CU dental school student Rebecca Ryan
Dental student Rebecca Ryan played the role of “Margaret,” the family matriarch, in the poverty simulation.

“It definitely gives you a different perspective of how people live,” says Hassanain Zaheer, 23, who was15-year-old Mandy. “This simulation helps us understand the hoops people have to go through. This is the first time I’ve done anything like this – it’s a unique experience.”

Stanford Smith, 29, who represented Miles, the father, said he gained new insight as the only wage earner in a large family.

“I didn’t know what we were going to do – it was hard to get things done and you had to learn to work the system,” he says. “It was so frustrating because you’re trying to do everything, but the lines were long and you couldn’t get stuff done.”

He says the experience helped him understand the complexities low-income families face every day.

“This is a great program – it really made me see what it’s like to live on minimum wage,” he says. “It makes me want to do more and help the people I see as patients.”

While her “family” faced challenging life situations and tough decisions, Messay Ibrahim, 25, said she didn’t realize life could be so difficult.

“As Melinda, I’m unemployed and I tried to get a job, but I couldn’t,” she said. “It was just so hard trying to pay our bills and we still got evicted. We just had so many things thrown at us.”

She says the experience will make her a better dentist.

“It helps us to know where our patients are coming from and all the emotions and stress that comes with living in poverty,” she says. “The one thing I did like was that our family did try to work together to overcome all our challenges – and I’m thankful for that.”


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