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Dr. Laurencin Invited to Participate in the UNESCO Virtual Online Ministerial Dialogue COVID- 19 and Open Science- International Scientific Collaboration

The UNESCO Director-General invited Dr. Laurencin to participate and share his thoughts during the UNESCO Virtual Online Ministerial Dialogue COVID- 19 and ‘Open Science’ – International Scientific Collaboration. The meeting is scheduled for later today and will tackle COVID-19 lessons learned from various countries throughout the world as well as interventions and next steps.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture. UNESCO develops educational tools to help people live as global citizens free of hate and intolerance. UNESCO works so that each child and citizen has access to quality education. By promoting cultural heritage and the equal dignity of all cultures, UNESCO strengthens bonds among nations. UNESCO fosters scientific programmes and policies as platforms for development and cooperation. UNESCO stands up for freedom of expression, as a fundamental right and a key condition for democracy and development. Serving as a laboratory of ideas, UNESCO helps countries adopt international standards and manages programmes that foster the free flow of ideas and knowledge sharing.

Dr. Laurencin Receives a Convergence Award for Research in Interdisciplinary Centers (CARIC)

The Connecticut Convergence Institute is proud to announce that the Office of the Vice President for Research recently approved Dr. Laurencin’s proposal for the Convergence Awards for Research in Interdisciplinary Centers (CARIC) entitled Convergence Center for Regenerative Engineering- A Science and Technology Center.

The new center will advance the science and engineering foundations of tissue regeneration such that the ultimate goal of whole-limb regeneration is within reach. The goal of the center is to establish an infrastructure that can forge new areas through long-term multi-institutional relationships and allows experts in various disciplines to explore innovative approaches to new challenges through considerable financial support.

The center will allow for:

  1. Collective expertise from developmental biology, stem cell science, biophysics and mechanobiology, advanced biomaterials, computation, and related disciplines in a multidisciplinary research program
  2. The integration of research, education, workforce development, knowledge transfer, and broad participation from groups underrepresented in STEM field

Through the preexisting infrastructure of the Connecticut Convergence Institute, the Regenerative Engineering Society and its associated journal Regenerative Engineering and Translational Medicine, the grant will help identify the gaps in knowledge in order to assemble the convergent regenerative team and also enable us to identify the most efficient strategies to increase awareness in order to build effective programs for empowering future generations in science and engineering.

On behalf of Dr. Cato Laurencin and The Connecticut Convergence Institute we would like to thank the Office of the Vice President for Research for making this possible.

YIIP Scholar Gets Accepted to Quinnipiac University School of Medicine

Garcia, John

 

The CT Convergence Institute is proud to announce that current YIIP Scholar, John Garcia, has been accepted to the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University! John is currently in the Biomedical Sciences Masters program in the Skeletal Biology and Regeneration area of concentration, and studying miRNA regulation of bone formation. He is also a Graduate Research Assistant for the Center for Molecular Oncology. In the future, John hopes to grow his career as an orthopedic resident.

The Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP) is a program of the Connecticut Convergence Institute which aims to develop the next generation of innovative scientists by providing academic training to individuals dedicated to pursuing careers as scientists and scholars in biological and biomedical science. The program is specifically focused on recruiting underrepresented students to contribute towards developing a sustainable pipeline to increase diversity among the pool of academic scientists. YIIP provides tools for scholars to conduct research, succeed in an academic environment, and become competitive candidates for medical school or graduate school.

Dr. Grady Mentored Student Who Placed 1st at the CT Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium

CT-JSHS-Rachel Brooks
Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium top finishers Rachel Brooks, Ashley Granquist, Shun Sakai, Halla Clausi, Sam Florin, and Kenneth Choi with Director Joy Erickson (Photo by Ellen Ravens-Seger)

 

Dr. James Grady, Assistant Director of the Connecticut Convergence Institute, Biostatistics Center is proud to announce that one of his Mentees, Rachel Brooks, of Christian Heritage High School took 1st place at the Connecticut Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium! Dr. Grady and his Graduate Assistant Chaoran Hu provided guidance to Rachel in regards to the development and design of her winning product.

Ms. Brook’s research is titled “Increased Prevalence of Gastrointestinal, Cardiovascular, and Immunologic Conditions in Hospitalized Patients with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: A Case-Control Study.” She has been awarded UConn’s Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Scholarship, which provides recipients one half of the in‐state tuition for each of four years, or a total of over $30,000.

JSHS is organized to encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM related disciplines and to provide recognition for their achievements. About 10,000 secondary students nationwide participate through 46 university‐based regional symposia.

Multiple Pre-K Scholars Receive K Awards

The Connecticut Convergence Institute is proud to announce that two Pre-K Scholars have officially received K awards! Eliane Dutra of the 2018 cohort and Alicia Dugan of the 2014 cohort both received NIH Research Career Development Awards (K awards).

The Pre-K Scholar Career Development Award Program is a 2-year interactive program designed to equip junior faculty with the knowledge and competencies to effectively apply for an NIH Research Career Development Awards (K award) as well as become leaders in clinical and translational science. The long-term goal is to increase the pipeline of researchers applying for a K award and a culture that supports this goal.

 

Eliane Dutra

Eliane Dutra, D.D.S., M.S.D., Ph.D.

Eliane received her D.D.S. from the Federal University of Santa Maria and her M.S.D. in Orthodontics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Parana, in Brazil. She then moved to the United States and obtained her Ph.D. and an Orthodontic Certificate from the Uconn Health. She is currently a full-time Assistant Professor in the Division of Orthodontics and the Program Director of the Orthodontic Predoctoral Curriculum. Eliane continues to devote her career to undergraduate and graduate education, as well as to research and patient care.

 

KO1 Project Abstract

Temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis (TMJ-OA) is a degenerative joint disease characterized by cartilage loss and sclerosis of the subchondral bone, causing pain and disability. There is an unmet clinical need to develop therapeutic interventions that are anabolic for the TMJ which could prevent or reverse degeneration of the TMJ cartilage. We have identified that the FDA approved treatment, intermittent parathyroid hormone (I-PTH), promotes anabolic responses in the osteochondral tissues of the TMJ. Our goal is to gain insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which these effects are exerted. Our central hypothesis is that FGFR3 is the master regulator of the anabolic response observed in the TMJ due to I-PTH administration. This hypothesis will be tested by following specific aims: Specific Aim 1A: To determine the role of FGFR3 signaling in the anabolic effects of I-PTH administration in the MCC of the TMJ. We will delete FGFR3 in aSMA expressing cells in the mandibular condylar cartilage (MCC) and determine the effects of FGFR3 loss-of-function with and without I-PTH. We will also inject a soluble FGFR3 to rescue the FGFR3 conditional deleted to confirm that this signaling is the master regulator of the effects of I-PTH. Aim 1B: To define the molecular mechanism by which FGFR3 regulates the anabolic effects of I-PTH in vitro. FGFR3 in the primary chondrocytes from the MCC of triple collagen transgenic reporter mice will be inhibited using RNA silencing and specific FGFR3 inhibitor. Specific Aim 2: Evaluate the role Intermittent PTH plays in a model of cartilage injury and repair. The MCC of triple transgenic reporter mice will be injured and animals will receive either injected with I-PTH or saline to understand the role of I-PTH in early and delayed healing of the MCC.

Future Research Direction

To develop a deeper collaboration with multidisciplinary team in the UCONN School of Dental Medicine and School of Medicine, who are studying TMDs in generalized musculoskeletal disorder patients. To translate the basic research findings and strategies into clinical applications that can benefit patients with painful and disabling degenerative TMD disorders.

“The Pre-K Scholar Career Development Award Program has helped me to succeed in so many ways. From protecting my research time to guiding me in every single step of my KO1 application, the commitment of the program directors was invaluable in this whole challenging process. The interaction with other pre-K scholars has also helped to ease the struggles of grant application.”- Eliane Dutra


Alicia DuganAlicia Dugan, Ph.D.

Alicia G. Dugan, PhD, is an industrial-organizational psychologist and assistant professor in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine.  Dr. Dugan’s research focuses on worker well-being and work-life interface and the contextual factors that affect these experiences (i.e., self-care behavior, social support, resource availability). She uses community-based participatory research to develop interventions that improve worker well-being, and conducts dissemination and implementation research to understand factors that determine the successful translation of evidence-based health interventions into real world settings.

KO1 Project Abstract

The number of working-aged cancer survivors is 3.8 million and growing. Survivors are at risk for poor health and work outcomes, and are vulnerable to the competing demands of work and disease management (i.e., work-health conflict). Post-treatment job retention and other work-related outcomes have been only sparingly studied, falling between the fields of occupational medicine and cancer care. The available data suggest that about 40% of survivors do not successfully return to work, and that factors intrinsic to the workplace may explain this. The types and extent of formal and informal organizational support provided to cancer survivors at work are largely unknown. Moreover, existing return-to-work interventions are mainly designed for individuals (e.g., survivors) rather than administered at an organizational level. Our primary study goal is to determine how formal and informal organizational support at work influence health and work outcomes for survivors. A secondary goal is to assess whether and how cancer clinicians address return-to-work issues with patients. This study will investigate factors that promote or inhibit a successful return to work for breast and colorectal cancer survivors and may provide novel evidence that organizational support is an effective mechanism for enabling survivors to better manage their jobs and their health as they re-enter the workplace after primary treatment. It will translate disease management precepts from the Healthy Workplace Participatory Program, an evidence-based tool developed by investigators at our Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace (CPH-NEW). For Aim 1, we will investigate survivors’ return-to-work experiences of formal and informal organizational support, quality of life, cancer management behavior, and work-health conflict. Survey data will serve as a needs assessment for survivors and allow hypothesis testing. For Aim 2, we will convene a design team of survivors, clinicians, and managers to generate interventions using the Healthy Workplace Participatory Program step-by-step protocol which includes root causes analysis of RTW challenges, brainstorming and vetting of solutions, and plans for disseminating study outputs. For Aim 3, we will disseminate study outputs including an assessment tool and critical study findings.

Future Research Direction

Dr. Dugan’s plan is to initiate a new career trajectory that addresses the problems of workers with chronic disease, and her initial focus will be on patients returning to work after cancer treatment. She will redirect herself to a new line of independent research on the secondary prevention of work disability, building upon her existing strengths in worker health and well-being, self-care, and intervention design.

“I truly appreciate the support that I received from the CICATS Pre-K Scholar Career Development Award Program. It gave me the protected time and know-how to write a compelling grant application – one that I was proud to submit.”- Alicia Dugan

 

Learn more about the Pre-K Scholar Award Program here.

The CT Convergence Institute Tackles the Winter Blues

Health Cafe- Glenn Konopaske

 

On Thursday, February 27th The Connecticut Convergence Institute combated the winter blues by hosting a Health Café on Seasonal Affective Disorder in conjunction with the YWCA Hartford Region. The event attracted over 35 attendees eager to learn more about the widespread disorder. While enjoying dinner, attendees engaged in the presentation of Glenn Konopaske, M.D. of UConn Health, as he touched upon the who, what, where, when, why, how to prevent and treatment options for Seasonal Affective Disorder. The session concluded with an interactive Q&A session.

On behalf of the CT Convergence Institute, we would like to thank everyone who came out to support, the YWCA Hartford Region and the Aetna Foundation for making this event possible.

Dr. Lo Provides Lecture on Bone Regenerative Engineering

Kevin Lo

 

On February 21st, Dr. Kevin Lo, Assistant Director of Education for the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering, visited the UConn Department of Mechanical Engineering in Storrs to discuss his regenerative engineering research as well as the educational programs of the CT Convergence Institute. Dr. Lo’s seminar discussed “Harnessing Small Signaling Molecules for Bone Regenerative Engineering: A Convergence Approach”.

Abstract- Clinicians and scientists working in the field of regenerative engineering are actively investigating a wide range of methods to promote musculoskeletal tissue regeneration. Small-molecule-mediated tissue regeneration is emerging as a promising strategy for regenerating various musculoskeletal tissues and several small molecule compounds have been recently discovered as potential signaling molecules for skeletal tissue repair and regeneration. However, a major challenge associated with utilizing these small molecules to regenerate a specific tissue/organ is the delivery of the therapeutic compounds directly to the target site to minimize potential systemic side effects. The presentation will focus on our recent work with small molecules that have the capacity to promote osteoblast differentiation and mineralization. Several proactive controlled delivery approaches have been developed in order to minimize off-target side effects of small molecules and will also be discussed.

 

The Connecticut Convergence Institute is committed to promoting the professional development of UConn/UConn Health faculty and students, and embracing the diversity of human talent in the community. Here are a few of the offered programs:

Dr. Laurencin Develops New Classification System for Regenerative Cell-Based Therapies

Doctors at UConn Health have developed the first classification system for regenerative cell-based therapies designed to stratify therapies based on scientific evidence and potential for harm. Today, there are concerns regarding the clinical safety and efficacy of cell-based therapies throughout the scientific community and within public discourse. The unregulated U.S. stem cell market has been widely reported as it offers potentially harmful therapies to patients without FDA approval. Currently, there are no regenerative cell-based therapies approved by the FDA, although high demand for such treatments is ongoing.

In light of these concerns, the current climate has generated demand for a systematic method to assess potential therapies. Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, CEO of The Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering at UConn Health, has created a new classification system for cell-based therapies. The objective was to create a strategy that will benefit patients, encourage regulatory efforts, and further inform the scientific community.

“The rapidly expanding direct-to-consumer marketplace allows for public consumption of unregulated treatments, so we identified an opportunity to enhance regulation and ensure greater public health,” says Laurencin.

The new system will aid in categorizing proposed interventions to determine suitability for immediate clinical use or therapies that require further investigational studies prior to clinical use. Utilization of this system will result in increased regulation and widespread standardization, which in turn decreases patient health and financial risks associated with unregulated treatments.

To learn more about the new classification system, view the newly published article here.

The CT Convergence Institute’s Own Leila Daneshmandi Presents at Digital Health CT’s Inaugural Demo Day

Leila Daneshmandi

 

The Digital Health CT accelerator is a partnership among Hartford HealthCare, Trinity College, and UConn’s School of Business. The program provides startups the opportunity to work alongside health care providers, research institutions and investors to scale and accelerate their healthcare innovations. This MedTech Accelerator which is focused on Digital Health is designed to attract medical and healthcare technology companies to Hartford, and to expand economic development.

During an event on February 7th, ten healthcare startups presented their medical technology innovations that offer unique solutions for some of medicine’s greatest challenges. Among the presenters was Leila Daneshmandi, the co-founder of a cancer battling biotech company called Encapsulate, as well as a current Graduate Student of The Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering. Encapsulate offers the ability to replicate a patient’s cancerous tissue outside of the body, allowing oncologists to pinpoint the most effective medications to combat them. The innovation has the potential to speed delivery of lifesaving treatments, spare patients from ineffective medication, and save money for insurance companies. The startup has been awarded the Technology in Space Prize by the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory and Boeing.

On behalf of the CT Convergence Institute, we would like to congratulate Leila and the entire Encapsulate team. We are excited to see where this momentum will take them!