Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

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Tue, Aug 7 10:20am · Mentorship program makes research aspirations a reality

@aarmas Thank you for your question. Information about Mayo's KL2 program, including eligibility requirements, can be found here on the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science website: https://www.mayo.edu/research/centers-programs/center-clinical-translational-science/education/kl2-mentored-career-development-program.

There may be an institution offering a KL2 program in your area. Here is more information on the program, overall, from the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences website: https://ncats.nih.gov/ctsa/about/training/programs

Wed, Aug 1 6:00am · Mentorship program makes research aspirations a reality

Mrinal Patnaik, M.B.B.S.

Mrinal Patnaik, M.B.B.S., is a physician in the Department of Hematology at Mayo Clinic with a keen interest in the clinical management of blood cancers. In recent years, however, Dr. Patnaik realized he wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the disease biology of these cancers and the ways that precision genomics could be used to improve therapy and quality of life for patients.  “I was looking for more training and mentorship, and to learn the skills to become an independent researcher,” says Dr. Patnaik, “so I applied to Mayo’s KL2 program.”

Mayo Clinic Public Affairs recently sat down with Dr. Patnaik to ask him about his experience in the KL2 program and his future goals in patient care and research.

What is the KL2 program and why did you apply?

The KL2 Mentored Career Development Program is a program offered through the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science for people who want to pursue careers as clinical researchers. It lasts for three years and, if you get accepted, you receive 75 percent protected research time and full salary, plus mentorship from a senior Mayo investigator.

I applied because the life of a clinician is busy. Sometimes I had research ideas I wanted to pursue, but I didn’t have the time or skills to develop them. Through the  KL2 award I have had time to dedicate to research and I have had access to mentors who can teach me what I need to learn to be successful. I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to develop in-vitro and in-vivo models, how to use genomic tools and how to analyze results, and how to write grants. I don’t think any of this would have been remotely possible without the KL2 award.

Tell us about your KL2 research project.

I was inspired to pursue research to help find solutions to unmet patient needs I saw in my work as a clinician in hematology. In my research I’m focusing on a blood cancer called chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. Patients with this condition often need blood transfusions, their livers and spleens enlarge, and most die within two years of diagnosis. It’s a rare disease and it presents a good opportunity to use individualized medicine to understand the heterogeneity of the disease. We all know that no two people are alike—and their cancers aren’t either. I want to find ways to customize therapies to the type of tumor as well as to the individual patient.

The KL2 program recruits a diverse team of research scholars from many biomedical disciplines. Why do you think that’s important?

I think the diversity aspect is critical. If you’re trying to advance the field of medicine, you need to understand more than “just cancer” or “just hematology.” You need to understand how different disciplines are connected and how they can work together.

At least once a month, all of the KL2 scholars get together and we talk about our work. It’s fascinating. I’m working in cancer epigenetics. There are other people in the group working on cancer survivorship, biostatistics, and neurodevelopmental disorders. To bring all that diversity under one banner and be able to understand development across all fields of medicine is very important. That kind of sharing of knowledge and exposure to different disciplines helps speed translation.

Why do you think clinicians and scientists should apply to the KL2 program? And why should departments support participation?

I understand why departments and individuals may be reluctant to take part in a program like KL2. It’s a big investment: time away from patients, projects and regular duties. Here’s the thing, though, I think there’s actually a huge incentive for them to take part in career development programs like this. When patients come to Mayo Clinic, they’re looking for something they can’t get anywhere else. They’re looking for innovation, excellence, cutting edge clinical trials—something unique that can really, truly help them.  To find solutions for unmet patient needs, we need to take full advantage of Mayo’s research pool and we need to hone our own talent. KL2 gives clinicians and scientists, like me, the knowledge and skills we need to do this important work.

What’s next for you after KL2? Will you continue to be a clinician-researcher?

Dr. Patnaik’s research focuses on myeloid neoplasms, especially myelodysplastic syndromes and chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.

Yes, I think I’ll continue to be a clinician researcher. I think the two go hand-in-hand. I want to take what I’ve learned and apply it to patients in general. If you understand epigenetics and precision genomics, you don’t have to focus only one thing, like blood cancer. You can apply it broadly across the field of medicine.

I’ll be in the KL2 program until July 2019, but I’m already starting to branch out and try new things. Because of my interest in precision genomics and the techniques I’ve learned through KL2, I’ve gotten linked up with some researchers at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine. I’m working on a multidisciplinary team that is looking at using precision genomics to better identify patients with short telomeres and accelerated aging syndromes. I look forward to doing more work like this in the future.

Would you like to become a KL2 research mentor to other clinicians and scientists?

Oh absolutely, I would love to do that. At some point, to be a lab mentor to someone and help them go through grant funding would be a privilege. I have seen how much I relied on my mentors. I see it as paying it forward. If you don’t give back, it’s hard for the next generation to succeed.

Wed, Jul 18 6:00am · Popular films spark community dialogue about biomedical ethics

film stripWhen was the last time a movie really made you think, changed how you viewed the world or helped you understand an important topic?

Bioethics at the Cinema, organized by the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Program and the Rochester Public Library, wants to do just that. The goal is to use popular films to create community dialogues around important, often complex biomedical ethics issues.

The Bioethics at the Cinema program began in 2017. Previous movie screenings have touched on health-related topics ranging from discrimination and intimate relationships (The Danish Girl) to gene editing and artificial intelligence (Ex Machina).

The next screening in the series will show the 2017 movie, Wonder: the story of a 10 year old boy living with a rare genetic condition who enters a mainstream elementary school. This screening of Wonder seeks to create a dialogue about genetic disorders and appreciation for difference.

Exploring issues hard to describe in words

“Through film we can explore ethical issues that can be hard to describe in words,” says Kylie Osterhus, a research coordinator with the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program. “Pop culture, like movies, is an important window on the world. It helps us think about our unspoken values and how that informs the way we live our lives—including the way we think about topics in medicine and science.”

Each Bioethics at the Cinema screening is followed by a panel discussion with local experts.  After Wonder, staff from Mayo Clinic will moderate a panel discussion that will include a Mayo Clinic genetic counselor as well as professionals who work with individuals with disabilities.

“The community discussion after the movie is key to our event,” says Osterhus. “I think Wonder is going to inspire more kindness through a healthy conversation on disability and society.  I hope lots of parents bring their kids as a way to start their own family discussions on how to respond appropriately and stand up for kids that look or act different than themselves.”

Why it’s important to talk about biomedical ethics

Richard Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program

It can sometimes be challenging for clinicians and researchers to communicate the nature of their work to their patients and to explain what genetic tests or participation in a research study might involve.

Richard Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program, calls the program’s community-facing work “incredibly important.” “We try to look ahead,” he says. “Open up the crystal ball to see what kinds of bioethics issues might be coming around the corner. One of the ways we do that is by engaging patients and communities to learn from them and so we can better anticipate the kinds of values they may bring to decisions about medicine and medical innovation.”

Science and medicine are advancing so quickly, today. Dr. Sharp and his team want the community to know that Mayo Clinic cares about making sure innovation happens responsibly. Bioethics at the Cinema helps engage the community as partners in advancing the science of medicine.

“I’m excited about our Bioethics at the Cinema program,” says Dr. Sharp. “It’s an ideal opportunity for genuine dialogue.”

The Bioethics at the Cinema film Wonder, will be shown Sunday, July 22, 2018, from 4-7 p.m. at the Rochester Civic Theater Company, in Rochester, Minn. This event is co-sponsored by the Rochester Public Library, disABILITY MERG, and the Minnesota Children’s Museum

Wed, Jun 13 6:00am · Following grant renewal, CCaTS abuzz with activity

In October 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) renewed Mayo Clinic’s Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences—an award totaling $48.8 million over five years. This renewal allows Mayo Clinic to continue pursuing its long-term goals in clinical and translational science, while also setting new short term objectives.

In the months since the grant renewal, the researchers and support staff at the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) have been constantly on the move. Their focus: to build on more than a decade of success while launching innovative programs designed to keep Mayo Clinic on the leading edge of translational research.

Cultivating the next generation of biomedical entrepreneurs

Stephen Ekker, Ph.D., director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and the Mayo Clinic Zebrafish Facility

In partnership with the Mayo Clinic Research Committee, CCaTS recently unveiled a new Office of Entrepreneurship. “Innovation and entrepreneurship are invaluable to move lifesaving technology from the bench … to the patient,” says Amanda Leightner, Ph.D., head of program development.

The Office is dedicated to fostering the development of entrepreneurial ideas and projects along the translational science path. In particular, the Office of Entrepreneurship’s goal is to support women and minority students, who are underrepresented in entrepreneurial leadership.

Recent highlights:

  • Inspired by the TV show “Shark Tank,” the Office recently spawned Walleye Tank—a competitive event designed to educate, empower and support entrepreneurs at Mayo Clinic and from throughout the state of Minnesota. Spin-off competitions have also been launched in Florida and Arizona.
  • A novel “AirBNB for research” business model called The Hatchery has also been developed. This mobile laboratory model takes advantage of research space that is unoccupied for short periods of time (6-12 months), resulting in a net revenue gain for academic hosts.
  • Graduate and medical students at Mayo Clinic can now sign up for Case Studies in Entrepreneurship, a course that teaches the basics of launching biomedical business ventures. Many students go on to pitch their ideas at Walleye Tank.

Sponsoring innovation to meet patient needs

“Invention occurs when smart people ask smart questions and test innovative solutions. Mayo Clinic’s pool of skilled researchers and clinician-scientists regularly invent novel treatments and tools for which they need assistance to realize their full potential,” says Andrew D. Badley, M.D., director of CCaTS Office of Translation to Practice.

The Office recently created a new Advance the Practice Research Award, designed to support research projects that address unmet clinical needs of patients through innovation. The 2018 awardees were announced in March. 14 projects were selected from among more than 70 submitted, representing Arizona, Florida and Rochester campuses. Each selected project received a substantial award to fund its work as well as project management and subject matter expertise from the Office of Entrepreneurship.

Transforming career pathways for researchers

The latest data suggest that researchers who participate in Mayo Clinic clinical and translational science training go on to have more productive scientific careers. They publish more frequently in higher impact journals, compared to peers who did not participate in such a program. “All clinical researchers know that this work can be very challenging, and our CCaTS training programs equip researchers with the tools that maximize success”, says David Warner, M.D., director of CCaTS Education Resources.

In addition, the CCaTS curriculum shapes research careers in subtler ways, preparing investigators to seize opportunities “outside their comfort zones.” A new series of case-based courses have received rave reviews from students. The courses, intended for early-career scientists, emphasize hands-on learning and building adaptive skills. Students can learn about regulatory compliance and clinical trials, working with biotech startups, and translating discoveries into personalized treatments in individualized medicine.

Enhancing the clinical trials process

Adil Bharucha, M.D., M.B.B.S., director of the CCaTS Office of Clinical Trials says that improving the clinical trials process is, “all about our patients….fulfilling their expectations of getting access to newer treatments in a timely manner.” In the last year, CCaTS has introduced two vital improvements that enable clinical trials researchers to work smarter, shortening the time it takes to translate discoveries into life-saving treatments for patients.

  1. Real-time clinical trials dashboard: Mayo Clinic investigators now have access to a study management tool, EpiCenter, which provides a real-time dashboard of all the most important clinical trial study metrics, such as progress toward accrual targets, legal contract status, and financial data. In the past, investigators could only access this information by requesting a report; now, they can access it on demand. Mayo Clinic’s ability to monitor clinical trials research data in this way is unique and an important differentiator for Mayo in the research community.
  2. Accelerated clinical process now available for all studies: In 2016, the Office of Clinical Trials introduced a process designed to expedite study activation for industry-funded clinical trials, reducing the time to activation by nearly two-thirds. This new process was so successful, with 94% of studies meeting targets, that in September 2017, the Office expanded the process to include to non-industry-funded studies. The Office anticipates that the shorter timelines and increased efficiency will not only benefit researchers, but will also benefit research participants, who sometimes find it difficult to remain engaged in long studies

CCaTS helps in every aspect of research

Sundeep Khosla, M.D.

CCaTS connects investigators to the people, resources and information they need to enhance their research at every stage, from discovery science to clinical application and commercialization. In addition, CCaTS helps investigators build and enrich their careers in biomedical science.

“Discovery science is truly moving at a remarkable pace, so this is a particularly important and exciting time for translating these discoveries into new treatments for our patients, which is what CCaTS is all about,” says Sundeep Khosla, M.D., director of CCaTS and principal investigator of the Mayo Clinic Clinical and Translational Science Award.

Visit the CCaTS website to learn more about clinical and translational science activity at Mayo Clinic.

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