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Top Stories from the CCTSI

Researchers made an impact across disciplines in 2022

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Written by Wendy Meyer on December 19, 2022

In terms of science, 2022 was an extraordinary year. Nuclear fusion finally made more energy than it used. NASA scientists intentionally smacked into an asteroid with a spacecraft, altering its orbit and illustrating a strategy that could one day save humanity. And evolutionary biologists observed bumble bees rolling small wooden balls around for no other reason than to have fun.

It was also a remarkable year for science at the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI). Researchers were studying Long COVID in the young, old and everyone in between. Data scientists made news by unleashing innovative machine learning models on the largest HIPAA-limited dataset in US history (and advising the White House about what they were finding). Pediatric pulmonologists learned about a rare genetic disease in children; their discoveries could lead to better treatments. So, before we bid adieu to 2022, take a look at some of CCTSI’s most impactful news. 

1. Nationwide Study of Long COVID to Launch at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested nearly $470 million to build a national study population of diverse research volunteers and support large-scale studies on the long-term effects of COVID-19. The CCTSI is playing a major role in the initiative called REsearching COVID to Enhance Recovery or RECOVER. Kristine Erlandson, MD, is leading this effort to study a Colorado cohort of approximately 370 adults that will be followed over four years. Most of the study will take place in the CCTSI’s Adult Clinical Translational Research Center (CTRC) at CU Anschutz. Erlandson says the depth and breadth of the CCTSI’s research infrastructure make this project possible.

2. Data Scientists in the Spotlight

Melissa Haendel, PhD, Anita Walden, MS, and Tell Bennett, MS, MS, serve in leadership roles in the CCTSI. All three were part of the team that created a machine-learning algorithm to identify potential long COVID in patients before they receive a diagnosis. “Using the machine-learning model, we have identified over 150,000 adult patients in N3C with high confidence who may have long COVID,” Haendel said.

Haendel, Walden and the N3C team have also been looking into the effectiveness of the antiviral treatment Paxlovid. Coronavirus experts from President Biden’s administration approached Haendel and her colleagues to tell the White House about the effectiveness of Paxlovid in keeping individuals out of the hospital, the effects of the drug on the kidney and the rebound phenomenon of whether patients still test positive after treatment. 

3. Older Adults Embrace New Careers in Research

Kady Nearing, PhD, is leading an innovative solution to the problem of a lack of participant diversity in clinical trials. Her NIH-funded project is training Older Adult Research Specialists (OARS) to help educate and recruit other adults over fifty who may want to participate in clinical studies. The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute has been focusing on recruiting diverse participants in clinical research—the OARS program is key to this effort.

“We are training and promoting the hiring of Older Adult Research Specialists to increase the inclusion of older adult peers in clinical trials,” said Nearing, assistant professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at the CU School of Medicine.
4. Researchers Shed Light on a Rare Genetic Disease in Children

Children born with primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), a rare inherited disease, have problems with the cilia that prevent them from moving mucus and inhaled particles and germs out of their airways, causing mucus to build up, leading to ear, sinus and lung infections.

People with PCD suffer from repeated respiratory infections, pneumonia and even respiratory failure. Men with PCD are usually unable to have children, and women with PCD may have problems getting pregnant.

“We have helped to shed light on something we did not know about or understand in a rare disease population, which is that airway inflammation contributes to lung disease in those with PCD,” said Scott Sagel, MD, PhD, lead author of a study in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

5. CU Anschutz and Children’s Hospital Colorado Lead National Pandemic Response Project

Researchers are working to better prepare for the next pandemic.

One of those researchers is Kevin Messacar, MD, PhD, an infectious disease expert and physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado and associate professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Messacar is leading an innovative, nationwide pilot study focusing on enterovirus D68, a virus that is linked to a rare polio-like illness in children called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).

The Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) Pilot Study is part of the Pandemic Response Repository through Microbial and Immune Surveillance and Epidemiology (PREMISE) program, an initiative of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center.

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