Author: Melanie L Burnat

Professor Cato T. Laurencin Has Been Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Laurencin is the first surgeon in history to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors.

FARMINGTON, CT– On April 26, 2021 the National Academy of Sciences announced that Dr. Cato T. Laurencin was elected as a new member, making him the first surgeon to be elected to membership in the three National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Laurencin is known as a world leader in biomaterials, polymeric materials science, nanotechnology, stem cell science, drug delivery systems, and a field he has pioneered, regenerative engineering. His breakthrough achievements in science, engineering and medicine have resulted in transformative advances in improving human life.  Laurencin’s papers and patents have had broad impact on human health, including pioneering the use of nanotechnology in musculoskeletal regeneration and ushering in a new era in orthopaedic therapies. For this work, Dr. Laurencin received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor bestowed in America for technological achievement, from President Barack Obama.

Laurencin has also pioneered work in the development of systems for soft tissue regeneration. He invented the Laurencin-Cooper ligament (LC ligament) for ACL regeneration, and engineered grafts for shoulder rotator cuff tendon repair and regeneration. National Geographic Magazine featured the LC Ligament as part of its “100 Scientific Discoveries that Changed the World” edition. Dr. Laurencin received the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) “for signal contributions to the advancement of science in the United States.”  He is the first person in history to receive both the oldest/highest award of the National Academy of Medicine (the Walsh McDermott Medal) and the oldest/highest award of the National Academy of Engineering (the Simon Ramo Founders Award).

A role model in science and champion of social justice, Laurencin has two awards named in his honor. The Society for Biomaterials established The Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D. Travel Fellowship given at its opening ceremonies. In addition, The W. Montague Cobb/NMA Health Institute and the National Medical Association (NMA) established the Cato T. Laurencin Lifetime Research Achievement Award, given during the opening ceremonies of the NMA Meeting. He received the 2020 Herbert W. Nickens Award from the AAMC for work in promoting justice, equity and fairness.

Dr. Laurencin is the Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Chief Executive Officer of the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering. He is a University Professor at UConn, the school’s highest academic rank.  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and an elected member of the American Surgical Association. He has been named to the list of America’s Top Doctors for the past consecutive 15 years.

Dr. Laurencin received his B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, his M.D., Magna Cum Laude, from the Harvard Medical School, and his Ph.D. in Biochemical Engineering/Biotechnology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was named a Hugh Hampton Young Fellow.

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

The Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities reports on the scholarly progress of work to understand, address, and ultimately eliminate health disparities based on race and ethnicity. Efforts to explore underlying causes of health disparities and to describe interventions that have been undertaken to address racial and ethnic health disparities are featured. Promising studies that are ongoing or studies that have longer term data are welcome, as are studies that serve as lessons for best practices in eliminating health disparities. Original research articles as well as evolutionary reviews presenting the state-of-the-art thinking on problems centered on health disparities will be considered for publication.

  • The leading journal dedicated to examining and eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities
  • Official Journal of the W. Montague Cobb – NMA Health Institute, whose mission is to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities
  • Original research, systematic reviews, and commentaries presenting the state-of-the-art thinking on problems centered on health disparities will be considered for publication

Connecticut Addiction Research Education with Emphasis on Diversity Outreach (CARE WE DO)

Fentanyl, Heroin and Cocaine Overdose Fatalities are Shifting to the Black Community: An Analysis of the State of Connecticut

Z Helen Wu, PhD1,2; Qiao Yong, MS1,3; Joanne M. Walker, MS1; James J. Grady, DrPH1,4; Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD1,5-9


The IDEAL Pathway

Addressing racism is key in moving forward as a nation and creating a more equitable environment. Within this paper, Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D. describes the critical need to shift from diversity, inclusion, and equity (D.I.E.) to inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and learning (I.D.E.A.L.)

View publication here


The IDEAL Pathway Video

Dr. Laurencin Discusses Health Disparities on Major Media Outlets

Dr. Laurencin discusses various aspects of health disparities with reputable media outlets.

View media segments here

Organizations Consider Adopting Dr. Laurencin’s IDEAL Pathway for Creating a Fair and Just Society

Farmington, CT- In receiving the Herbert W. Nickens Award for Social Justice from the American Association of Medical Colleges in December, 2020, Dr. Laurencin, University Professor and Van Dusen Distinguished Professor at UConn, presented his vision for the creation of a fair and just society.  Dr. Cato T. Laurencin described the IDEAL Pathway, characterized by inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and learning (IDEAL).

Various organizations are looking closely at adopting the IDEAL Pathway approach as they work create or enhance intentional systems that promote diversity.

Dr. Laurencin states “Part of the impetus for the IDEAL Path is my belief that to truly have an inclusive society we must address racism, and be open to creating an environment of learning for all.”

Most recently, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AICHE) adopted the IDEAL Pathway as their diversity platform. They stated, “AIChE is committed to promoting a fair, just, and equitable profession and society. Groups that have faced discrimination continue to encounter challenges when entering into or participating in engineering and science professions. We encourage inclusion and intentional representation of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences because it is ethical and honorable, and it enhances the innovation and creativity necessary to find solutions to current and future challenges. We aim to eliminate disparities in treatment, racism, and any form of discrimination from our profession — recognizing that specialized strategies will be required for distinct groups, and that long-standing narratives will need to be combated. As members of our AIChE Community, we have an obligation to support and celebrate our advancement along an IDEAL path.”

Dr. Laurencin stated “I hope to be able to work with individuals across the country in the area of inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and learning, as we put into place an IDEAL path for achieving a better society.”

For more information on the IDEAL Pathway, click here for a short video.

The Imhotep Connecticut National Medical Association Society Announces Its Historic Re-Launch and Inaugural Meeting

Farmington, CT- The Imhotep Connecticut National Medical Association Society held its first inaugural meeting with leadership of the National Medical Association, hospital executives, and legislative leaders on March 17th, 2021. Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, President of the CT NMA, recently announced the re-launch of the society.

“The goal in terms of the society is to work to create a welcoming environment for Black physicians, fellows, students and residents in the state of Connecticut. We aim to create an ecosystem that supports the work and concerns inclusive of all of these individuals. The society hopes to promote a sense of well-being through various programming, events and other venues that create comradery amongst the group,” stated Dr. Laurencin. “The society encourages the support of allies to this goal. It is gratifying to see the support of the leaders of all the major health systems in the state.”

The President of the National Medical Association, Dr. Leon McDougle, attended this inaugural meeting. It was noted that he was the first individual to donate to the society.

“Coming in as President Elect of the NMA, my charge was to visit as many state and local societies as possible. Due to Dr. Cato Laurencin’s efforts here we are today, moving forward in addressing very necessary issues within the Black community,” said Dr. McDougle.

The CT NMA Society serves as a networking platform for Black physicians and plays a significant role in the dissemination of health information to the Black Community. The CT NMA is a community-based affiliated organization which represents “a collective voice of Black physicians and will be a leading force for parity and justice in medicine and the elimination of disparities in health”, according to its mission statement.

National Medical Association (NMA) Region I Chair, Dr. Gary Butts of New York indicated, “Nothing matters more in my mind than the work we do for others and the support of the NMA. This society enables us to come together on behalf of the community that we have committed our professional lives to. This is just the beginning.”

Dr. Marja Hurley, the Vice-President of CT-NMA and Professor of Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, stated, “I always felt it was critical that Black physicians be available to mentor students and residents. I also think given COVID-19 and the amounting health disparities we have seen over the past year, we need to be at the forefront, our voices need to be heard, and having this organization will allow us to be more engaged and welcome all of our allies who are willing to push forward.”

In July 2020, Dr. Laurencin assumed the role of the new President of the Society, and since has already made great advances in the organization’s development. Dr. Laurencin, along with the entire society, officially secured support and funding from all major Connecticut hospital healthcare systems including:

  • UConn Health
  • Hartford HealthCare
  • Connecticut Children’s
  • Trinity Health of New England
  • Yale New Haven Health
  • Eastern Connecticut Health Network
  • Nuvance Health
  • Waterbury Hospital/ Waterbury Health

Executives representing Connecticut hospital systems were present and reiterated their support for the CT NMA and its mission.

Chief Executive Officer and the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs for UConn Health, Dr. Andrew Agwunobi was in attendance and showed his support for the newly formed group. “Dr. Laurencin’s achievements at UConn have certainly raised the bar. He is a powerhouse for diversity and inclusion for the community. COVID-19 has shone a light on healthcare disparities, and now more than ever, diversity and inclusion is critical in the healthcare arena. The newly formed society and Dr. Cato Laurencin converging together will create a historic moment for Black healthcare.”

President and Chief Executive Officer of Hartford HealthCare, Mr. Jeffrey Flaks stated, “Hartford HealthCare is committed to making sustained and measurable progress to address, and ultimately eliminate, inequities in healthcare. Drastic changes are needed, and working with the CT NMA Society is an important step on this journey.”

Chief Executive Officer of Waterbury Health, Mr. Lester Schindel stated, “We are committed to improving the quality of healthcare. By being part of this organization it is consistent with our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. This society will enable our medical staff and leadership to continue to learn throughout this journey.”

Legislative leaders were also present, and confirmed their support. “This society will enable doing what needs to be done to change the health conditions of the people in our communities. This society will undoubtedly yield action and outcome,” commented State Senator Douglas McCrory.

The Imhotep Connecticut National Medical Association Society looks forward to tackling the challenges that lie ahead to create a better environment for Black doctors and to ultimately address health disparities in the State of Connecticut. For more information and to be a part of this growing society, please visit CTNMA.ORG.

Dr. Grady’s High School Mentee Publishes First Peer Reviewed Paper

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 published her first paper entitled “Prevalence of gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, autonomic and allergic manifestations in hospitalized patients with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome: a case-control study” in the peer-reviewed journal Rheumatology. Published by Oxford University Press, Rheumatology is one of two official journals of the British Society for Rheumatology.

Rachel decided to publish this paper after her research took first place at the 2020 CT Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Oral Research Competition, and more recently, her abstract was featured at the international Ehlers-Danlos Society ECHO Scientific Summit for Medical Professionals.

She began her medical research study in 2019. After independently developing a research plan and aims, she reached out to Dr. Grady, and he agreed to mentor her as she learned SAS statistical analysis software programming.

Rachel’s interest in Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) peaked because the group of rare connective tissue disorders runs in her family. In the past, a number of small cohort studies and previous observations have suggested a potential association between EDS and additional abnormalities affecting the digestive, cardiovascular, autonomic, and immune systems. Due to the nature of these small sample sizes and their fragmented, sometimes contradictory findings, prior to her study, an incomplete understanding of the true prevalence and frequency of these conditions in EDS patients remained. To provide a more cohesive and definitive picture—using a larger sample size and looking at a wider range of conditions—her project sought to explore whether a diagnosis of EDS is associated with a higher prevalence of gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, autonomic, and allergic manifestations.

“It is my hope that my research and words will reach physicians, patients with EDS, and undiagnosed individuals suffering from unexplained comorbidities or searching for more definitive answers.” says Rachel

Rachel’s research found a higher prevalence of these conditions in EDS patients. These findings should prompt physicians in hospital settings to consider connective tissue abnormalities in patients presenting with multiple unexplained conditions.

Honoring Dr. Eric N. James, a Former Institute of Regenerative Engineering Graduate Student

Eric James
Dr. Eric James and Dr. Lakshmi Nair

It is with profound sadness that we inform you of the passing of Dr. Eric Nathaniel James, Assistant Professor of the University of Hartford, and a graduate of the Skeletal Biology and Regeneration Area of Concentration in the Biomedical Science Ph.D. program at UConn Health.

Dr. James earned his Bachelors of Science from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He then joined the Professional Science Master’s Program at the University of Connecticut, followed by the Graduate Certificate Program at UConn Health, under the mentorship of Dr. Marja Hurley. He later went on to join the Institute for Regenerative Engineering as a graduate student in 2010. Dr. James displayed a strong passion for teaching and pursued a career in research combining genetics and regenerative engineering. In collaboration with Dr. Anne Delany’s laboratory, he focused his thesis work on nanostructured scaffolds for microRNA-mediated bone regeneration. He graduated with his Ph.D. in 2015, and performed a post-doctoral fellowship at Tufts University. During that time, he also served as an adjunct professor of Newbury College and Quinnipiac University. In 2018, Dr. James joined the University of Hartford as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Biomedical Engineering.

Dr. James was a kind, thoughtful and beloved member of our group, who had a tremendous passion for teaching and research. He touched the lives of many through his sustained commitment to mentoring, elevating others, and paying it forward. Throughout his career, he was particularly involved in mentoring at risk underrepresented minority students. Dr. James’ commitment to helping others is his everlasting legacy. He will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.

By Dr. Lakshmi Nair

Dr. Lakshmi Nair Elected as a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

Dr. Lakshmi Nair, Associate Director, Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering and Associate Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Connecticut has recently been nominated and elected to become a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).  Dr. Nair was elected for her outstanding contributions in the field of biomaterials, injectable hydrogels and exceptional contributions to teaching, mentorship and service. Dr. Nair’s research focus on developing minimally invasive therapeutic strategies for managing musculoskeletal pain.  Dr. Nair is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and fellow, Biomaterials and Artificial Organs, India.

This elite group currently consists of approximately 2,000 individuals all over the world who are outstanding bioengineers in academia, industry, clinical practice, and government. Fellows are nominated each year by their peers and represent the top 2% of the medical and biological engineering community. The most accomplished and distinguished engineering and medical school chairs, research directors, professors, innovators, and successful entrepreneurs comprise the College of Fellows.

Dr. Nair joins Dr. Laurencin and has now become the 9th AIMBE Fellow in UConn’s history, and the 3rd at the Medical School. A formal induction ceremony will be held during AIMBE’s 2021 Annual Event on March 26th, 2021. Dr. Nair will be inducted along with 174 colleagues who make up the AIMBE Fellow Class of 2021.

Link to official AIMBE Press Release

Dr. Laurencin’s “The COVID-19 Pandemic: a Call to Action to Identify and Address Racial and Ethnic Disparities” Publication Made Springer Nature’s 2020 Highlights

In April 2020, Dr. Cato Laurencin and Dr. Aneesah McClinton published the first peer reviewed paper outlining the disproportionate levels of COVID-19 in the Black community. Since then, the paper has had such an impact that it made Springer Nature’s 2020 Highlights.

The Highlights represent a selection of the most popular articles and book chapters published and reflect top research that made an impact throughout the year. The COVID-19 Pandemic: a Call to Action to Identify and Address Racial and Ethnic Disparities was one of six in the public health space to be highlighted.