Growth, collaboration and COVID-19 marked the second annual State of Research Address on Dec. 7, with Thomas Flaig, MD, vice chancellor for research, highlighting some of the groundbreaking science that netted the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus nearly $654 million in research awards this year.
With over 450 campus community members watching the virtual event live, Flaig noted the ‘substantial, ongoing growth’ and impressive breadth of collaborative research conducted across campus.
“We have many successes to celebrate this year, and I am very proud to share the numerous ways that our research community and all of our campus partners continue to collaborate and lead the way in advancing new discoveries,” Flaig said.
Growing talent builds strong foundation
As the awards total illustrates, research on campus has been strong and includes all areas, from clinical research and trials to grants and funding to the addition of talented scientists and leaders, Flaig said.
One of those outstanding leaders was recently recruited to head a critical area of emerging research on campus: Melissa Haendel, PhD, chief research informatics officer, he said.
Thomas Flaig, MD
Having Haendel in the new role affords CU Anschutz a “wonderful opportunity with all her expertise,” Flaig said. “Melissa is so prolific in her academic endeavors – it’s really very impressive. She’s truly an internationally recognized leader.”
Haendel, backed by a strong team, promises to take CU Anschutz to the forefront of the data, informatics and AI (artificial intelligence) research arena, Flaig said.
Campus leading COVID-19 research
CU Anschutz has led groundbreaking research throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Flaig said, noting an awards ceremony to honor the countless researchers who have contributed to the CU Anschutz research mission during the pandemic.
Flaig described the awardees as those who “stood up and helped our community to continue to flourish” over the last 18 months. The review committee received over 126 nominations, eventually distributing 17 awards in nine categories.
Flaig also called attention to the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI) and its work on responding to COVID-19, which included:
- Leading a statewide study to provide monoclonal antibody treatment across Colorado, with focused outreach to underrepresented groups.
- Playing a part in a major National Institutes of Health initiative to identify the causes and optimal treatment of Long COVID.
- Being a part of the Community Engagement Alliance, a partnership between the university and community-based organizations to improve engagement, diversity and inclusion in COVID-19 research.
Video: multi-school, collaborative efforts
Collaborative efforts like those of CCTSI are critical to the university’s future, Flaig said. “The way we go on and do big and great things – and make the biggest impact possible – is through multidisciplinary, inter-school inter-college activities,” Flaig said.
From left to right: Devatha Nair, Lee Newman, Jeff Stansbury, David Ross, Krishna Mallela
Noting how the important contributions every school and college makes to CU Anschutz is a “great example of the collaborative spirit” found on campus, Flaig shared a video, found below, that illustrated the breadth of that research. Highlighted researchers and their work included:
School of Medicine
- Joaquin Espinosa, PhD, executive director for the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, studying Down syndrome from childhood to adulthood. The research conducted also led to several corollaries, demonstrating the collaborative and interconnected nature of campus.
Colorado School of Public Health
- A new Centers for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health grant was awarded to Lee Newman, MD, and Liliana Tenney, DrPH, MPH, to continue operations at the Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health. The new grant includes multidisciplinary and multi-campus collaborative work.
School of Dental Medicine
- Devatha Nair, PhD, whose work on photoactivated tooth coating that can eliminate biofilm and bacteria on teeth that cause dental caries (tooth decay) has strong prospects in both dental office and home care.
Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
- Krishna Mallela’s, PhD, work bringing new insights into how mutations in SARS-CoV-2 drives virus stability, infectivity and the ability of the virus to evade antibody response.
- New high-throughput and screening infrastructure and technology, and a new campus center in drug discovery led by Daniel LaBarbera, PhD, that will help cut screening times for new drug therapies significantly.
College of Nursing
- Large focus on COVID-19’s impact on nursing, including a project led by Amy Barton, PhD, RN, evaluating the shift to telehealth across Colorado that will inform the future and sustainability of nurse-led models of care.
From left to right: Cathy Bradley, Peter Buttrick, Daniel LaBarbera, Teri Hernandez, Joaquin Espinosa, Amy Barton
Special projects and planning for the future
Flaig noted the great impact of COVID-19 and what it means for the future. “I think what we found during COVID was that much of what we were doing could be done remotely, done electronically,” Flaig said, announcing the upcoming formation of a working group to study virtual clinical trials.
Flaig then provided an update on the COVIDome Project, an open database project whose goals are to develop better preventative care, diagnostic tools and treatments for COVID-19. To date, COVIDome has led to publications including in Cell Reports, while the explorer tool has had a global reach of over 1,400 users in more than 60 countries.
COVIDome “represents one of the greatest collaborative things - across schools, and institutions and the hospitals - to keep our research samples and mission going in a very difficult time," said Flaig.
Flaig also gave an overview on an exciting “new realm” and “significant step forward” for CU Anschutz -sponsored cell therapy trials. Thanks to the Cellular Therapy Operations Program and Gates Biomanufacturing Facility, the campus has the ability to take these new therapies full circle, from bench to manufacturing, he said.
Flaig concluded by reiterating his commitment to working together to advance new discoveries, noting again that collaboration fosters “the greatest progress and greatest impact” to our campus and community.
Below you can watch the entirety of Flaig's State of Research presentation: