NEWS | July 25, 2018

Dean's fellowships in entrepreneurship, informatics and precision medicine announced

Projects focus on developing 'living' endothelium, predicting COPD exacerbations, improving safety of new antiarrhythmic drugs and tailoring breast cancer genomic testing for Latinas

(SACRAMENTO)

The Dean’s Fellowship Awards offer a unique opportunity for promising junior- to mid-career level faculty to further develop their careers as independent research investigators and academic leaders. This year's awardees are developing new methods, tools and outcomes as well as institutional infrastructure in the areas of entrepreneurship, informatics and precision medicine. The fellowship supports two-to-three years of research and includes resources, salary and benefits.

Entrepreneurship Fellow – Aijun WangAijun Wang
Associate professor of surgery
Co-Director, Surgical Bioengineering Laboratory

Wang is a bioengineer who is developing a novel coating technology, a “living” endothelium, to reduce thrombosis, stenosis and infection when the blood interacts with vascular and intravascular devices such as vascular grafts, patches, stents, cardiac valves and intravascular catheters.

In collaboration with Kit Lam using the One-Bead One-Compound combinatorial high-throughput screening technology, Wang’s laboratory identified a cyclic octapeptide, LXW7, which binds to integrins on the surface of endothelial cells and endothelial progenitor cells while not binding to undesirable cells such as platelets and monocytes. Using his innovation, he will develop best practices to facilitate career development for UC Davis Health scholars based on product development and industry involvement.

“The goal is to create the infrastructure that recognizes and supports researchers who produce translational work that can quickly move to clinical use,” Wang said. For more information, Wang can be reached at aawang@ucdavis.edu

Informatics Fellow - Brooks Kuhn
Assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine

Brooks Kuhn

Kuhn specializes in the care of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a common, life-threatening disease marked by acute exacerbations for many patients that demand intensive resources. Identifying patients at high risk for COPD exacerbations traditionally uses spirometry and vital signs, which have poor predictive power.

With support from Nicholas Anderson, Jason Adams, and other members of the UC Davis Critical Care Informatics Lab group, Kuhn is incorporating natural language processing (NLP) to tap the unstructured data found in electronic health record notes and radiology reports to better inform predictive models. He believes that a prognostic model that uses novel NLP-derived features will be better at predicting severe COPD exacerbation than traditional predictors alone.

As the informatics fellow, Kuhn plans to collaborate with members of the UC Davis informatics team to define and validate data tools both for his COPD research and future researchers and clinicians in the School of Medicine.

For more information, contact Kuhn at btkuhn@ucdavis.edu

Precision Medicine Fellow - Eleonora Grandi
Associate professor of pharmacology

Eleonora Grandi

Grandi is working to better understand individual variability in drug effectiveness and susceptibility to side effects. For example, the prediction of drug-induced Torsades de Pointes, a rare but potentially fatal ventricular arrhythmia, remains a critical issue in drug development. The condition is a leading cause of drug withdrawal and relabeling, not only for cardiovascular drugs, but also other categories including antibiotics, chemotherapies, tricyclic antidepressants, phenothiazines, and certain antivirals and antifungals.

As a precision medicine fellow, Grandi is using mathematical models of cardiac myocyte electrophysiology and statistical approaches that harness the power of big data to understand mechanisms of safety or toxicity of antiarrhythmic therapies in male and female patients.

“Knowledge of the mechanisms that drive drug response variation and adverse events can help guide the tailoring of pharmacotherapy – a fundamental step toward precision clinical pharmacology,” Grandi said.

For more information, contact Grandi at ele.grandi@gmail.com

Precision Medicine Fellow - Luis Carvajal-Carmona
Associate professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine

Carvajal-CarmonaCarvajal-Carmona specializes in the study of genetic susceptibility to cancer, identifying novel cancer-causing genes and mutations in human populations and in multi-case cancer families, especially among Latinos. While breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Latinas, more research is needed to identify the specific genetic variants and optimal methods to identify mutation carriers and at-risk relatives to improve health outcomes.

As a precision medicine fellow, Carvajal-Carmona wants to make genetic testing for breast cancer in Latinas more effective. His previous studies conducted in Latin American populations found that testing for BRCA1/2 mutations and assessing family history alone are not specific enough to capture many of the cases of breast cancer in Latinas. He is expanding his research to estimate the prevalence of cancer gene mutations among Latinas in the Sacramento area and will develop a research program that will offer genetic counseling and provide gene sequencing for those recently diagnosed with breast cancer. He also will mine publicly available genome sequence data to estimate the carrier frequency of mutations in breast cancer genes among healthy Latinos.

“Better understanding of Latino breast cancer genetics will ultimately lead to precision prevention approaches that improve outcomes in this growing minority population,” Carvajal-Carmona said.

For more information, contact Carvajal-Carmona at lgcarvajal@ucdavis.edu