Croker JulyForum2018Dr. Jennifer Croker highlighted the many benefits of a CCTS panel, including a higher chance of NIH funding that is three times the NIH pay line.“Whatever stage your research is in, a CCTS panel will give you an edge,” said Dr. Jennifer Croker, CCTS Research Commons Administrative Director, to the more than 40 attendees at the July Monthly Forum. “Our panels sharpen science in a measurable way, bringing together scientists from many different disciplines, which echoes what happens in a real NIH study section.” It is no coincidence, she said, that CCTS panel recipients are funded at three times the NIH pay line.

All CCTS pilot awardees receive panels as condition of the program, said Dr. Kent Keyser, UAB Vice President for Research and Co-Chair of the CCTS Interdisciplinary Network Program. The combination of the two programs is “unbeatable,” he said, as well as “fun.” “You meet lots of people, you learn about other areas of science you might not otherwise be exposed to, and you are surrounded by a group of people who want you to be as successful as possible—this is not a ‘gotcha’ situation but rather team science at its best,” he emphasized.    

Harris JulyForum2018Dr. Tom Harris credited his research success to the unbeatable combination of CCTS panels and pilot funding early in his career.Rather than ask attendees to take their word for it, Croker and Keyser turned the floor over to Dr. W. Thomas Harris, Assistant Professor, UAB Division of Pediatric Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine, who shared the story of his experience on the “CCTS runway to translational research success.” As both a CCTS panel and pilot recipient, Harris was well-prepared to describe their advantages to the audience.   

Harris’ journey began with a K08 that was essentially “too big to take off,” his CCTS Nascent Project Panel (NPP) told him. The initial aims of his career development proposal were too broad: train in cystic fibrosis (CF) preclinical drug development and translation of in vitro data into preclinical CF models and in vivo measurement of CFTR. His panel encouraged him to focus on miRNA science, assuring him that “career development will follow the science.”

His research aims were also broad and, again, the NPP advised narrowing the focus, as well as taking a more hypothesis and mechanistic driven approach. Harris “listened to his captain,” made a few “in flight corrections,” and was ultimately funded not only by CCTS, NIH, and the CF Foundation, but also two pharma companies. He gave the CCTS panel five stars for refining his focus, helping organize his aims, encouraging him to take the long view, and introducing him to a collaborator at a CCTS Partner Network institution who was an expert in the genetic research technique Harris wanted to learn. 

“CCTS support is beneficial at any stage, but is truly an outstanding infrastructure to assist junior investigators,” he concluded. “Panel discussions offer a wealth of expertise that will benefit any proposal.”

Wende JulyForum2018Dr. Adam R. Wende discussed the impact of CCTS panels on his transition from the lab to translational science.Dr. Adam R. Wende, Assistant Professor, UAB Dept. of Pathology, Division of Molecular and Cellular Pathology, presented next. His experience with CCTS Panels taught him an invaluable lesson—to “follow the data,” he said. Wende came to CCTS as a bench researcher who wished to become a translational scientist so he could study the relationship between nutrient excess and heart failure, an association he had noted in the lab.

Wende’s panels helped him ask the right questions of the data, leading to the breakthrough discovery that there is a distinct difference in cardiac methylation in response to diabetes and heart failure. The initial project has matured into studies looking at how this finding is linked to gene expression changes associated with RNA regulation, metabolism regulation, and DNA demethylation. Most recently, his lab has found there are inverse racial differences in heart failure gene expression, with methylation increased in African American men with diabetes vs a decrease in Caucasians with diabetes.

CCTS not only helped launch Wende’s new career path, but has also resulted in the successful “take off” of several students in Wende’s lab, from undergrad to postdoc. He is now managing six different grants, including several from NIH as well as CCTS and the Center for Healthy African American Men through Partnerships (CHAAMPS). His advice, in addition to requesting a CCTS panel to help finetune applications, was to “write a lot of grants, don’t be afraid to find out who the expert is, and follow the data even if it doesn’t fit your hypothesis.”

CCTS Director Robert Kimberly thanked both presenters, adding “Partner with us for methodological expertise—even if your project is not aligned with the CCTS mission and we cannot fund you, we will direct you to appropriate funding mechanisms. We will also help you develop your science for another go with a different funder.”

Now that’s team science! Where can you go but up?

CCTS launched its 2019 Interdisciplinary Network Pilot Program at the July Forum. It is not too late to submit a pre-application! We strongly encourage applicants to review the complete RFA prior to submission. Pre-applications are due by August 15, 2018. We also invite you to request a CCTS panel. To learn more about the different types of panels we offer and to access our request form, visit our CCTS Panels page. To watch our July Forum presentations, visit the CCTS YouTube channel.