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Pharmacy Research Conference Underscores the Value of Team Science

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Written by Lori Westermann on December 5, 2023

The spirit of collaboration and achievement was front and center at this year’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Annual Research Conference. The conference, in its 27th year, was under the direction of Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, Manisha Patel, PhD. 

“Team science and health care equity were two overarching themes for this year’s Research Retreat,” said Dr. Patel. 




The event featured campus-wide research projects, new funding opportunities, team science presentations, student poster sessions and several distinguished awards. 

Heim Awards Honor PhD Students 

One such award category was the annual Heim Awards. The award honors the legacy of former Pharmacy Dean Harold C. Heim and was presented by his son Warren Heim. In his presentation remarks, Heim shared stories of the impact that his father had made on the lives of countless individuals. He encouraged the recipients to ask difficult questions and “get their ticket punched” by contributing to the betterment of humanity through scientific discovery. 

This year’s Heim honors were accompanied by $2000 cash awards and presented to three outstanding PhD candidates: Pharmaceutical Sciences student Lana Salah, Toxicology student Paige Anton and Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research student Vanessa Patterson. 

L-R: Drs. Krishna Mallela and Laura Saba with Lana Salah, Dr. Heather Anderson with Vanessa Patterson, Dr. Rebecca McCullough with Paige Anton, and award presenter Warren Heim.

Keeping with the theme of teamwork and collaboration, four faculty/student research teams made presentations on their ongoing research projects, each of which relied upon high levels of partnership with other researchers, labs, clinical environments, and more. 

From Funding to Findings  

Associate Professor Kristofer Fritz, PhD, opened up his presentation with a clear nod to the role that collaboration and support play in all areas of research, chief among those being grant writing. Dr. Fritz recalled how his early days of research were heavily influenced by the mentoring that he received from others related to successful grant-writing strategies. 

Fritz’s Senior Professional Research Assistant Peter Harris, BA, discussed their current work which examines acute kidney injury resulting from chronic alcohol use. The team-based research harnessed expertise from not only the Fritz Lab, but from other researchers within the School of Pharmacy, as well as specialists from the CU School of Medicine. 

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Kristopher Fritz, PhD, presents along with professional research assistant Peter Harris.

The Cost of Care 

Assistant Professor Brett McQueen, PhD, educated the audience on the unique type of research conducted in the Pharmaceutical Center for Outcomes Research (PCOR). Unlike the traditional tools of wet lab research, Dr. McQueen and team rely on the multi-criteria analysis of data, statistics and patient feedback to make a case for drug accessibility and coverage. This outcomes-focused work is particularly relevant since for the first time in history, Medicare will have the ability to negotiate lower prescription drug prices because of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. McQueen’s work has already had an impact on Colorado’s priority setting for drug utilization. 

Nicholas Mendola, PhD candidate in the Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research Program, followed up McQueen’s presentation with a discussion of the patient-level research he is working on related to a rare inflammatory disorder of the nervous system called Neuromyelitis which causes inflammation in nerves of the eye and the spinal cord. 


Brett McQueen, PhD, presents with Nicolas Medola, PhD Candidate.

Therapy at the Cellular Level 

Assistant Professor Rebecca McCullough, PhD, began her presentation with an acknowledgment that chronic liver disease is increasing across the U.S., as well as in the state of Colorado. Currently, there are no FDA therapies to prevent the disease, and the only “cure” is a live liver transplant. That reality fuels her work to better understand how the body reacts to alcohol at a cellular level, with the prospect of discovering ways to activate liver regeneration. 

Lauren Rutt, PhD candidate in Toxicology, discussed the details of their NIH-funded work, which involves examining gene expressions in mouse models exhibiting severe liver injury. And, as with previous contributors, the presentation ended with a recognition of the collaboration with researchers within the School of Pharmacy, across campus and from the University of Connecticut. 


Rebecca McCullough, PhD, presents with Lauren Rutt, PhD candidate.

Optimizing Treatments for Viral Diseases  

Assistant Professor Kristina Brooks, PharmD, along with her postdoctoral fellow Vincent Mainella, PharmD, discussed how drugs cannot be developed in isolation. They highlighted the multiple clinical trial networks that their lab supports to evaluate therapies for HIV, Hepatitis C, and other viral diseases. Much of their work partners with the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Network (IMPAACT), AIDS Clinical Trial Group (ACTG), and HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN).   

Their lab’s research helped establish adherence benchmarks for HIV prevention during pregnancy in Africa, led to regulatory approvals for a new pediatric HIV formulation across the globe, and helped demonstrate that remdesivir can be given at the same doses during pregnancy as given in non-pregnant adults. Dr. Brooks’ team science collaboration extends across the U.S., South Africa, Thailand, and beyond. 

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Kristina Brooks, PharmD, presents with postdoctoral fellow Vincent Mainella, PharmD.

Generating Dollars and Accolades 

All that intentional synergy resulted in a banner year for the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. During the research retreat, Dean Ralph Altiere announced that the School of Pharmacy ranked second only to the CU Immunology Microbiology Department for generating the highest number of research dollars among basic science departments on campus during FY23.

Recognizing Outstanding Contributions 

The conference culminated with awards that underscored the mutual admiration that exists between faculty and students. 

Student Awards

Faculty judged and awarded Best Research Poster or Presentation by a Graduate Student to Lauren Thompson, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Nicholas Mendola, Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research and Alexandra Ward, Toxicology. Best Research Poster or Presentation by other professional participants (PRAs, Masters, and Undergraduate students, postdocs) was awarded to Jeffrey Kearns, Biomedical Sciences and Biotechnology Master’s Program.    

The Best Research Poster Pitch Award was presented to Hannah Work, (Pharmaceutical Sciences), while the Above and Beyond Service Award went to Casey Patrick (Pharmaceutical Sciences). 


L-R: Lauren Thompson,  Nicholas Mendola, and Alexandra Ward receive awards from David Bain, PhD.


L-R: Dr. David Bain presents awards to Jeffrey Kearns, Hannah Work, and Casey Patrick.

Faculty Awards

The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences recognized the following teaching awards: David Kroll, PhD, received the Excellence in Pharmaceutical Sciences Masters Teaching Award, Tom Anchordoquy, PhD was presented the Excellence in Pharmaceutical Sciences Doctoral Teaching Award, and Rebecca McCullough, PhD, was honored with Excellence in Toxicology Doctoral Teaching Award. The Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies recognized the Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Award presented to Jared Brown, PhD. 


L-R: Faculty award winners David Kroll, PhD, Tom Anchordoquy, PhD, Renecca McCullough, PhD, not pictured Jared Brown, PhD.  Special thanks were extended to Rochelle Cassell, administrative assistant,  Karen Kimes, director of research administration and Isabella Jaramillo graduate programs coordinator for helping to put on the conference.

“The research retreat celebrated our school’s cutting-edge research in areas of drug discovery, toxicology, clinical pharmacology and pharmaceutical outcomes,” said Patel. “It was inspiring to not only honor our talented faculty, but also their trainees who are poised for distinguished careers in academia and the pharmaceutical industry.”

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