Get to Know the 2021 CCTS Trainees & Scholars

Over the next few months, we will be introducing each of the 2021 CCTS Trainees & Scholars, to allow the greater CCTS community to get to know more about these investigators and their research. To learn more about the TL1 and KL2 programs, please visit

  • Kristy Broman, MD, MPH
    Kristy BromanKristy Broman, MD, MPH
    2021 KL2 Scholar
    The University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical Oncology
    Co-Leader, UAB Women in Surgery
    Vice Chair and Associate Cancer Liaison Physician, UAB Cancer Committee
    Associate Director for Quality, O'Neal Cancer Service Line

    Research Focus: “I am a surgical oncologist and scientist seeking to improve delivery of high quality, evidence-based oncologic care within healthcare systems. I have prior focused training in health services research, quality improvement, and implementation science through the Veterans Affairs Quality Scholar Fellowship and a Master of Public Health degree. I seek to understand determinants of health system performance on measures of implementation of evidence-based care for common cancers. My long-term research objective is to design, implement, and study system-level interventions to improve quality of cancer care and implementation of new evidence within integrated health systems”.

    How do you plan to leverage this time with the CCTS? “Having protected time with the CCTS is critical to my success as a surgeon scientist. During this time I will evaluate the impact of treatment within a health system on quality and cost of surgical cancer care in a SEER-Medicare patient population using multilevel modeling. I am using a novel tool for defining health systems that was recently developed by AHRQ. These data will form the basis for my future mixed methods and intervention proposals.”

    Research Impact: “Health systems have become the dominant organizing framework of care delivery. There is immense opportunity to leverage systems to increase access and improve quality of cancer care through improved access to oncologic expertise, clinical trials, and broader dissemination and implementation of evidence-based practices. Health system integration may also decrease cost of care through improved utilization of system-level resources including de-centralization of low-complexity treatments and discontinuation of low-value care. These potential benefits are not currently being achieved. The impact of health system integration on quality and cost varies widely by system, and within individual systems there are disparate outcomes for patients treated at hub versus affiliate hospitals. My team has previously demonstrated that location of surgical cancer care determines whether evidence-based practices are implemented or non-evidence based practices de-implemented. We hypothesize that variability in evidence-based implementation and de-implementation may explain observed variation among integrated systems in quality and cost of surgical cancer care. Further, we seek to understand system organizational characteristics and activities that are associated with evidence-based implementation and de-implementation so that we can develop and test effective system-level interventions.”

    What keeps you motivated? “My daughter, Charlotte – I try to remind myself to be the person I would want her to see, even when she’s not around.
  • Hope Gray
    Hope GrayHope Gray
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    The University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Health Services Administration – Health Informatics

    Research Focus: “For the CCTS TL1, I proposed to research Self-Reported COVID-19 Symptoms for Public Health Surveillance utilizing the data which the community provided at The purpose of this research is to understand the utility of self-reported data with communicable disease outbreaks. I will assess if patients from underserved communities in Jefferson County received Spiritual Care while they were hospitalized at UAB Medical Center during the pandemic from March 2020 through March 2021.  In addition, I will analyze the self-reported social determinants of health amongst these data that have been collected while participants reported their COVID-19 symptoms.”

    How did you become interested in this opportunity with the CCTS? “I became interested in CCTS when Dr. Eta Berner held a Biomedical Informatics Summer Series in 2016 and 2017 which met in the old PCAMS building. I would notice all the CCTS flyers for various program offerings on the table upon entry and exit. Once I became a Ph.D. student, I took advantage of these programs such as Friday Fellows. Being a board-certified Chaplain and having a background in Systems Analysis, CCTS is the perfect fit for me to do interdisciplinary research and translational science.“

    Research Impact: “This research can give us a window into the self-reported social determinants of health (SDoH) experienced by our community participants of Jefferson County and help us determine if there are any associations between SDoH, COVID-19, and/or Spiritual Care once hospitalized for specific underserved communities identified by zip code. This research could also become a primer for similar research on self-reported symptoms regarding future communicable diseases outbreaks and public health surveillance.”

    Favorite movie? “My favorite movie is Hidden Figures. I loved how Octavia Spencer’s character led all the African-American women to learn FORTRAN, so they became the human computers group at NASA. I learned FORTRAN and assembler during my undergraduate studies. Hence, it was powerful to see a version of me on the big screen and to witness the untold impact of these women who were in effect behind the scenes.
  • Sydney Weir
    Sydney WeirSydney Weir
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    The University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Heersink School of Medicine

    Research Focus: “I am interested in studying the impact that Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) related pain has on quality of life. HS is a chronic disease that is oftentimes extremely distressing to those affected due to accompanied pain and psychosocial implications. Pain secondary to HS is complex, and usually requires multimodal regimens. African American and/or Black females are disproportionately affected by HS. Historically, African Americans have been systematically undertreated for pain, and I am interested to learn about how race may or may not affect HS related pain management. A better understanding of HS related pain is necessary to better treat patients with HS. Identifying disparities in HS related pain management is important so that clinicians may address the gap and better serve this patient population.”

    How did you become interested in this opportunity with the CCTS? “My colleagues in medical school told me about research they were conducting during protected time with the CCTS. I remember them being passionate about their research questions and excited about the learning they were able to accomplish during their TL1 years. This inspired me to learn more about the program and develop a research question that excited me as well.”

    Research Impact: “My hope is that my research sparks conversations about the importance of addressing pain in individuals who are suffering from HS. If racial disparities are identified in my research, this will highlight the need to address the underlying causative factors that may be contributing to these disparities. This will also emphasize to clinicians the importance of equality in the treatment of pain in all patients suffering from HS, even though pain is a complex and difficult topic to address.”

    What is your dream job/career? “My dream job is to be a pediatric dermatologist. I developed an interest in dermatology after an internship at a dermatology office during my undergraduate studies. I remember being fascinated by the variety of skin diseases and found it satisfying how most of the time you can physically see what the patient was concerned about. During medical school, after shadowing in a pediatric dermatology office and experiencing my pediatric rotation at UAB, I further realized I loved working with kids and that was patient population I wanted to serve in the future.”
  • Courtney Brock
    Courtney BrockCourtney Brock
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    Tulane University
    School of Medicine
    Physician-Scientist Program

    Research Focus: “Obesity is profoundly influenced by the social determinants of health and is associated with a higher risk of developing many diseases, including cancer. Women who are obese have an increased risk of developing triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), and their tumors are more likely to be clinically aggressive, with a higher rate of recurrence. I’m interested in examining the cellular interactions in the breast tumor microenvironment that contribute to these different outcomes, specifically the interactions between obese-imprinted adipose stromal cells (obASCs) and TNBC cells. Previous work has shown that obASCs secrete higher levels of adipokines and cytokines (including leptin) that promote epithelial to mesenchymal transition in TNBC cells. My project focuses on leptin signaling in the obese tumor microenvironment. As obesity becomes more prevalent, it is critical to understand complex signaling events that contribute to the obesity-cancer axis, so that effective treatments for breast cancer patients that have obesity-linked malignancies can be developed.”

    What are your long-term goals/plans? "I’m in Tulane University School of Medicine’s Physician-Scientist Program, and I would like to be an oncologist that also does breast cancer research."

    What keeps you motivated? "I’m very inspired by Krewe de Pink! They’re a local breast cancer research fundraising and advocacy group led by breast cancer survivors, and they support breast cancer research in New Orleans. Through the Burow Collins-Burow lab, I’ve gotten to meet many of the women in Krewe de Pink, and I’m so inspired by their advocacy and dedication."

    Do you have a favorite podcast? "It’s hard to pick just one, but I’d have to go with Bedside Rounds! It’s an extremely nerdy podcast about the history of medicine. But a close second would have to be Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, NPR’s news quiz show."
  • Katherine Hebert
    Katherine HebertKatherine Hebert
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    Tulane University

    Research Focus: “My research focus is on a breast cancer microphysiological system (BC-MPS) in which human breast tissue (HBT) is sandwiched between two confluent layers of adipose stem cells (ASCs). Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) are placed on top of the HBT to mimic how breast cancer acts in the human body. My research aims to explore the effects of different chemotherapeutic drugs on the system compared to current breast cancer cultured systems.”

    Why my science matters to me: “I love my research because I am passionate about breast cancer. Since breast cancer runs in my family, I have a strong desire to help contribute to the effort to cure cancer.”

    What are your long-term goals/plans? "My long-time goal is to cure cancer!!"

    What’s your dream job/career? "My dream job is to own my own biotech start-up company."

    What’s your favorite thing to do in your spare time? My favorite thing to do in my spare time is to run. I enjoy running marathons and half marathons."
  • Maryl Wright
    Maryl WrightMaryl Wright
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    Tulane University
    School of Medicine
    Section of Hematology & Medical Oncology
    IGERT Bioinnovation Program

    Research Focus: "My research focuses on developing and utilizing a patient-derived decellularized tumor scaffold model to identify extracellular matrix protein and/or kinase targets in triple negative breast cancer. My goal is to create a 3D tumor model that better recapitulates the tumor microenvironment in vitro and in vivo. I intend to development a product that can be used by research labs and drug companies to aid in tumor research and drug screening."

    Why my science matters to me: "My decision to pursue scientific research stems from my passion to address health disparities in the African-American community. As a Black woman, I recognize the importance of representation in STEM research and I hope to make along-lasting impact in science and in my community."

    How do you plan to leverage this time with the CCTS? "I hope to continue to build on leadership and mentoring skills, develop strong writing and oral communication skills, and gain insight from investigators in a collaborative research environment. I believe that the CCTS will provide me with the necessary tools to achieve these goals."

    Research Impact: "My lab’s patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models represent the under-represented minority groups that have a propensity for triple negative breast cancer. Utilizing our novel decellularization techniques, we are able to investigate the unique extracellular composition and cell-matrix interactions in PDX models from understudied patients with diverse clinical presentations. This research can help broaden knowledge and treatment of this aggressive disease."
  • John Bode
    John BodeJohn Bode
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Heersink School of Medicine

    Research Focus: "My research is centered around the assessment of an EMR integrated insulin infusion calculator designed to achieve tighter glycemic control and reduce human error for patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Instead of using cumbersome dosing charts, this tool allows nurses to enter the value of a previous blood glucose, insulin drip rate, and medications affecting blood glucose into to an electronic calculator. This calculator’s algorithm then gives the new appropriate insulin drip rate based on the information entered. This insulin infusion protocol was implemented successfully in the TBICU at UAB and is now being rolled out into the world of cardiac surgery with the hopes of achieving similar efficacy. This project involves several studies and will follow patients during their time in surgery all the way to discharge in order to evaluate the efficacy of this tool across a patient’s entire admission."

    How did you become interested in this opportunity with the CCTS? "During my time in medical school I didn’t have as many meaningful research experiences as I would have hoped. With the pandemic looming last year, along with all the uncertainty it brought, it seemed like a natural choice to take a year off and immerse myself in a quality research endeavor. Thankfully, I had some amazing advisors at the school of medicine who pointed me towards this program and helped show me the ways it could fulfill the research desires I have."

    What are your long-term goals? "In the future, I want my research endeavors to focus on where the development of new standards of care meet large scale implementation of these new standards. Ensuring that discoveries in the clinical realm are translated into the real world accurately and efficiently is a task that continues to grow larger as healthcare expands and I want to be at the forefront of these projects."

    What’s your favorite thing to do in your spare time? "My first love will always be basketball. It has been an excellent outlet during the stresses of school and a great way to exercise. However, in true science enthusiast fashion, I have recently taken up home brewing. This new hobby is a great blend of biology, chemistry, and creativity which really appeals to me. It’s been a great new skill to learn and an excellent way to entertain friends and family."
  • Monica Abdul-Chani, MA
    Monica Abdul-Chani, MAMonica Abdul-Chani, MA
    2021 CCTS TL1 Trainee

    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Department of Pediatrics | Department of Psychology

    Research Focus: "Imagine you travel to a new home from a distant land to seek better care for your child. When you arrive, you find you are ostracized from the community because you cannot understand their language and they cannot understand yours. You are isolated because those around you don’t understand that your child’s behaviors are due to a disability not “bad parenting.” You are shunned because this new culture is vastly different than yours and you aren’t sure how to navigate societal expectations. You begin to feel that the care you came looking for is further away than you expected. What do you do?

    This is what Latinx parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience when seeking care for their child in the United States. High levels of stigmatization and discrimination from the community, providers, and family can result in social withdrawal, isolation, lack of service access, and poor quality of life for those with ASD and their families. My research aims to characterize every aspect of this experience, from all key players: individuals with ASD, families, community, and providers. By understanding the multifaceted nature of stigmatization, we will be better suited to target discrimination from a linguistically- and culturally-sensitive standpoint with the aim of increasing quality of life and access to services for Latinx individuals with ASD and their families. "

    Why my science matters to me: "
    Raised in a Latinx family in rural New Jersey, I witnessed the difficulties my family faced in seeking adequate health care and experienced challenges accepting my cultural identity while avoiding stigmatization. As an undergraduate, I realized the impact that stigmatization had on my acceptance of my cultural identity and began fully embracing my roots. Academically, I conducted clinical, cognitive, and social psychology research and later completed a clinical internship with adults with developmental disabilities. This combination of personal, clinical, and research experiences has resulted in my passion to pursue research aimed at understanding the presentation and impact of stigma on underrepresented groups in ASD, particularly focused on Latinx and Spanish-speaking populations. An additional area of interest is the intersectionality of gender and culture in females, women, and girls with ASD."

    What are your long-term goals/plans? "
    My long-term career goals focus centrally on academic research and direct clinical services. Ultimately, an academic research position which allows for at least a half day of clinical work would be my ideal work situation. I plan on continuing my program of research, as well as teaching and mentoring students from underrepresented populations interested in ASD and developmental disabilities, as well as serving their communities."

    Favorite Podcast:
    "The fall, Halloween, and spooky season are my absolute favorite times of the year. Naturally, my favorite podcast circles these themes. And That’s Why We Drink is a paranormal and true-crime podcast with just the right touch of humor and a whole lot of social activism. I discovered it at the start of my Ph.D. journey and look forward to listening to the new episodes weekly as I work on my dissertation!"
  • Kristen S. Smith, MS, RD
    Kristen SmithKristen S. Smith, MS, RD
    2021 CCTS TL1 Trainee

    Auburn University
    Deparment of Nutrition, Dietietics, and Hospitality Management

    Research Focus: "Recently, we are learning that the bacteria residing in our gut can influence overall health, including the immune system, hormone levels, and signaling and communication within the brain. Following various types of cancer treatment, diversity within the gut and presence of certain beneficial bacterial species can be diminished or reduced, both of which are associated with chronic diseases and mood disorders. Breast cancer survivors already experience greater declines in health-related quality of life and greater levels of anxiety, therefore, this imbalanced gut microbial environment is an important therapeutic target. Current evidence suggests the introduction of commensal bacteria and their food source to the gut of breast cancer survivors, via synbiotics (a combination of pre- and probiotics), will alleviate anxiety symptoms with minimal side effects compared to current treatment options. "

    Why my science matters to me: "I have always had a natural curiosity about why and how the world works, in the interest of understanding and solving problems. Science provides a structured, systematic approach to organize our knowledge, test our predictions, and build on our current information and evidence. Scientific endeavors not only advance knowledge but address societal needs and overcome global issues to enhance quality of life."

    Research Impact:
    "This research will expand our current understanding of the relationship between the gut microbiome and anxiety symptoms in humans. Results from our synbiotic supplementation trial could have promising potential in clinical populations suffering from mood disorders, including cancer survivors. Current treatments are often accompanied by unpleasant side effects, while synbiotics may provide therapeutic alternatives with minute side effects and overall health benefits."

    My historical hero:
    "Pat Summitt’s determination and integrity has always been an inspiration. She was a pioneer to elevating women’s sports, yet her legacy expands beyond athletics. The combination of her tenacity and graciousness led to her abundant successes and undoubtedly opened the door for demanding and passionate women across all career paths."
  • Carmen E. Capó-Lugo, PT, PhD
    Dr. Capo-LugoCarmen E. Capó-Lugo, PT, PhD | Assistant Professor
    2021 KL2 Scholar
    Certified Healthcare Interpreter
    Department of Physical Therapy
    The University of Alabama at Birmingham

    Research Focus: “Through this award I plan to improve the way we identify patients at risk for falls during hospitalization. We know that preventing falls is important for both patients and hospitals. However, the tools that we currently use to identify people at risk for falls were developed using sub-optimal research methods. These tools identify most patients as “high fall risk”, even when patients can walk. When patients are labeled as “high fall risk” the strategies used to prevent falls often times also prevent patient mobility (e.g. bed alarms) which leads to deconditioning. If I can develop and implement a better way to identify patients with a real risk of falls, we will be able to better prevent falls, allow more patients to walk during their hospitalization which will hopefully lead to better patient outcomes and reduced costs of care.”

    Research Impact: “The impact of my research becomes evident when we consider multiple quality initiatives in the hospital. For example, a more targeted identification of patients at risk for falls would be useful to (1) develop more targeted interventions to prevent falls, (2) implement mobility programs that consider the patients’ risk for falls, and (3) improve safe patient handling strategies that better protect staff from injuries.”
    How do you plan to leverage this time with the CCTS? “The protected time provided by this award will allow me to complete a Masters in Healthcare Quality and Safety (including courses in Health Informatics), engage in training on advanced statistical methods for measurement development, as well as explore the fields of improvement and implementation science which I will need for future projects.”

    My historical hero:
    “I think history is made every day and since I don’t like the word hero… I’ll refer to the warriors I know are working towards change. So, some of the Birmingham warriors that I admire are Celida Soto for her daily work towards community empowerment, Dominique Villanueva for her amazing urban farming at Fountain Heights Farm, and Nina Morgan for her relentless work for climate and environmental justice. These are just 3 examples of warriors for justice, change, and peace who deserve to have their stories told.”
  • Natalie Hohmann, PharmD, PhD
    Dr. Natalie HohmannNatalie Hohmann, PharmD, PhD
    2021 KL2 Scholar
    Assistant Professor
    Harrison School of Pharmacy
    Department of Pharmacy Practice
    Auburn University

    Research Focus:
    “I am a health services researcher with a focus in decision science, and an Assistant Professor in the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy. My research goal is to develop point-of-care tools that help patients, family caregivers, and providers make better healthcare decisions by improving risk communication, shared decision-making, and quality of care. My research portfolio focuses on patient-centered studies investigating social and behavioral aspects of health, including chronic disease self-management, cancer care coordination, and fall prevention among older adults. For my KL2 project, I will work with Dr. Salisa Westrick at Auburn University to map locations of existing dementia services in Alabama and investigate dementia caregivers’ needs, barriers to access, and current utilization of dementia services in the Deep South, and how these vary across rural/urban setting and racial minority group.”

    Research Impact:
    “Although Alabama ranks among the top states in the country for dementia prevalence, it is not clear what dementia services are available. This project will develop an interactive map of dementia services available in Alabama. The map will be a resource for those looking for assistance with dementia care, and will also pinpoint areas of the state with the most need for additional dementia services. Moving forward, this information can be used to develop tailored solutions to expand the dementia services infrastructure within Alabama, and work towards eliminating inequalities in service access.”

    How do you plan to leverage this time with the CCTS?
    “I plan to use this time to conduct a meaningful research project that can hopefully be a step towards improving access to dementia care in Alabama. With guidance from my mentors Dr. Andrea Cherrington, Dr. Olivio Clay, Dr. Carolyn Pickering, and Dr. Salisa Westrick, I will collect preliminary data to use in future grant applications focused on dementia caregiver research. I also plan to pursue a graduate certificate in Spatial Analysis for Public Health, which will provide me with skills in community resource mapping and geocoding.” 

    What keeps you motivated?
    “My students motivate me to find creative solutions to problems and think outside the box. I am always learning how to be a better researcher and teacher from my students. It is so rewarding to see students apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations in their local communities. I feel privileged to work with such great students who are passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of Alabama communities. “
  • Nathaniel Jones, MD
    Griffin WrightNathaniel Jones, MD
    2021 KL2 Scholar
    Gynecologic Oncologist
    Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Clinical Oncology
    University of South Alabama

    Research Focus: Endometrial cancer (EC) is the most common gynecologic malignancy and is the fourth most common cancer among women in the United States. An estimated 65,000 new cases of endometrial cancer will be diagnosed in 2020. It is one of few cancer types with increasing incidence and mortality, and Black women are twice as likely to die of their disease than white women. It is unclear to what extent social, economic, and biologic factors contribute to worse outcomes seen in Black women. Many studies have tried to answer this question but most do not reflect the unique patient population that we serve in the Deep South, one that is particularly affected by rurality and unequally burdened with social and economic disadvantage.

    One theory suggests that race-specific differences in tumor aggressiveness and the response to treatment result in worse outcomes among Blacks. Specifically, with an increasing proportion of African genetic ancestry we see outcomes. These race associated differences have been identified in the immune response to cancer and have shown worse outcomes for black women treated with immunotherapy (ImT). To make matters worse, black women are markedly underrepresented in ImT and gynecologic oncology clinical trials which perpetuates this inequity.

    My research is intended to more completely understand the relationship between levels of DNA damage, response to treatment, and disease outcomes for patients stratified by race. We intend to provide a novel perspective on uterine cancer health disparities and create models for personalized medicine for minority populations. We will thereby identify novel genomic/biologic etiologies of this racial disparity in Black patients with EC, and develop personalized cancer-directed ImTs to overcome this disparity.

    We will begin by measuring DNA damage levels within tumor samples and establish a scoring system for DNA damage and repair capacity. We will then create a DNA damage scoring system and apply it to tumors from patients who received standard chemotherapy and those who received ImT. For the second part of the experiment we will first establish the ability of a DNA damage score to predict survival. We will then stratify by race and determine the differences in DNA damage score and outcomes based on self-designated race and an alternative measure of race using a proportion of African ancestry as determined by genetics.

    We hope that this study will identify novel genomic and biologic etiologies for racial inequities in EC in the Deep South by employing a novel method to predict response and applying that method to overcome disparities.

    Favorite Podcast: Revisionist History
  • Seth Bollenbecker, PhD
    Griffin WrightSeth Bollenbecker
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology
    University of Alabama at Birmingham

    Research Focus: Chronic diseases rarely present in a vacuum devoid of other complications and there is a pressing need to study disease and organ crosstalk because of this. Our lab has identified several pulmonary complications resulting from mineral homeostasis disruption that occurs during chronic kidney disease (CKD). My research focuses on exploring specific mechanisms related to FGF23 and phosphate homeostasis that may contribute to higher susceptibility and severity of lung disease that CKD patients experience.

    Why my science matters to me
    : I am a thorough believer that the scientific method works wonders to organize and progress ideas that have the potential to alter the quality of life for humans. Having family members affected by the very diseases I am researching puts a personal connection on every experiment I do at the bench. Knowing that my findings may influence treatment strategies, quality of life, and outlook for so many people with CKD and/or lung disease is a huge motivation in my scientific endeavors.

    What keeps me motivated: Science is a field of constant trials that typically end up in a dead end, but it only takes one positive discovery to make all the work well worth it. Seeing tangible results that start to formulate a story and explain a mysterious phenomenon is beyond rewarding. Being surrounded by other successful scientists and physicians is also incredibly motivating since it provides an opportunity for me to see exactly what persistent hard work and a creative thought process can afford those who seek to pursue it.

    Favorite thing to do in my spare time: As a longtime lover of kombucha (a fermented tea drink), I took the opportunity this past year to get into making my own. Now I culture cells in the lab and culture bacteria/yeast at home! Not only is it much cheaper than spending a few dollars on a single bottle from the store, but it’s incredibly rewarding to make the kombucha yourself and experiment with different types of teas and fruits to get unique flavor profiles. Usually though, if I’m not in the lab, you can find me running the streets of Birmingham on a pursuit of improving my half marathon time now that road races are beginning to come back.
  • Griffin Wright
    Griffin WrightGriffin Wright
    2021 TL1 Trainee
    University of South Alabama
    College of Medicine | Physiology and Cell Biology

    Research Focus: My research entails uncovering a novel role of inflammation and hyperglycemia in the regulation of base excision repair, the housekeeping repair process of the cell. Changes in this critical repair pathway accumulate mutations and play a role in breast cancer development and treatment. My focus is on triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), where changes in base excision repair could contribute to therapeutic resistance and recurrence.

    Research Impact
    : TNBC is the deadliest form of breast cancer and is associated with worse outcomes in African American females. With limited treatment options, uncovering novel ways to increase therapeutic efficacy could help combat health disparities associated with this deadly disease.

    My historical hero: Dr. Rosalind Franklin

    Favorite Movie or TV Show: Star Wars Episode V and any movie directed by Wes Anderson.

    Favorite thing to do in your spare time? In my spare time I enjoy wood working, building furniture, and playing with my dogs Toulouse and Benny.

    Favorite Podcast: Stuff You Should Know (SYSK) or Bedside Rounds
  • Desalyn Johnson
    Desalyn JohnsonDesalyn Johnson
    2021 TL1 Trainee

    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Heersink School of Medicine | Medicine

    Research Focus: The Southeastern United States has the highest infant mortality rate (IMR) in the country. There are also increased rates of poverty and unemployment in the region contributing to increased rates of Medicaid coverage. These factors accumulate to make this region extremely vulnerable to poor infant outcomes. Several studies have examined disparities in infant outcomes in the context of race, education and socioeconomic status. However, few studies have analyzed disparities as a potential function of health insurance status. We will gather information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WONDER database, which includes birth and infant death records from 2016-2018. We will utilize this data to examine potential links between health insurance status and infant outcomes. This information will then be employed to establish what interventions could potentially be implemented by health care providers and within the community to decrease infant mortality rates.

    Why my science matters to me:
    My science matters to me because it will allow me to have a tangible impact within my community. Conducting this research will enable me not only to determine barriers to care, but to also develop innovational means to overcome these barriers. Specifically, I will be able to ameliorate racial and socioeconomic disparities in infant outcomes. It will be fulfilling to develop certain interventions, coordinate their implementation, and witness the meaningful impact it has on the health of the community.

    Research Impact:
    This study will provide information as to what practices can be done within low-income communities and at-risk populations to ameliorate the epidemic of infant morbidity/mortality in our country and specifically our region. The study will examine what considerations physicians should have when caring for a patient with Medicaid Insurance and what interventions should be employed. The Southeast has extreme potential, however to reach that bright future, we must ensure the health of our future generation. We can do this by guaranteeing every child has a healthy start in life.

    My historical hero:
    Dr. Vivien Thomas, the grandson of enslaved people, was the laboratory assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock. While working with Blalock, he mastered anatomy, physiology, and surgical techniques. Thomas contributed significantly to Blalock’s research in hemorrhagic shock and was essential in developing the surgical technique to correct “Blue Baby Syndrome”. During the first operation in 1944, Thomas coached Dr. Blalock through the procedure. However, at the time he was not credited for his role. Thomas went on the become director of Surgical Research Laboratories at Johns Hopkins, a role in which he mentored various African American lab technicians and residents. Johns Hopkins awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1976.
  • Samantha Hill, MD, MPH
    Dr. Samantha HillSamantha Hill, MD, MPH
    2021 CCTS KL2 Scholar
    Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics
    University of Alabama at Birmingham

    Research Focus: My research interests include improving the overall health and wellness of adolescents and young adults.  My specific research focus is on improving the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and young adults at-risk for HIV with an emphasis on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV and improving the health of young people living with HIV.  My research is community-informed and incorporates qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

    Research Impact: 
    My research has the potential to elevate the needs of adolescents, which is a group of individuals traditionally underrepresented in research.  In addition, my expertise and focus on this group has the added potential to change the way the world views and conducts research among this population.

    Why my science matters to me:
    I believe we cannot address health disparities without being intentional in focusing on health equity and incorporating and elevating researchers underrepresented in research, all of which are what I focus on in my research career.

    How I became interested in this opportunity with the CCTS:
    CCTS has a strong reputation for having established connections with numerous researchers in many disciplines.  As someone who pivoted into researcher at the end of my training, it was important for me to place myself in a position where I can learn from as many people as possible to fill gaps in my knowledge.

    What are your long-term goals/plans?
    My goal is to successfully transition into an independent physician scientist who is able to provide a platform and resources to early stage investigators seeking to conduct research on topics that are often overlooked or not part of mainstream research in an effort to address health equity.

    Favorite thing to do in my spare time:
    Compete in sports competitions like Tough Mudder and Spartan events.
  • Keonte Graves
    Keonte GravesKeonte Graves, MS
    2021 CCTS TL1 Trainee
    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Division of Infectious Diseases

    Research Focus: My research to date has focused on investigating the pathogenesis of trichomoniasis. The causative agent of trichomoniasis is Trichomonas vaginalis, a parasitic protozoan that affects over 200 million people worldwide. Since beginning my PhD studies in Biology, my research has extended to investigating 5-nitroimidazole resistance in T. vaginalis and identifying genes related to resistance mechanisms. 5-nitroimidazoles (i.e., metronidazole and tinidazole) are the only class of drugs approved for the treatment of trichomoniasis in the United States. Resistance to metronidazole is observed in 5-10% of cases and may be rising. This presents a problem since all 5-nitroimidazoles share the same mode of action for drug activation. With this in mind, resistance to the others in the same drug family may soon follow. In addition, prior data suggests that metronidazole-resistance in T. vaginalis is not absolute but relative; meaning that in some cases, clinical resistance can be overcome by increasing the metronidazole treatment dose, which could also present problems with patients who are allergic or have metronidazole sensitivity. Therefore, identifying new targets for drug development is an area of focus I am very interested in.
    How did you become interested in this opportunity with the CCTS? I first became interested in the CCTS as I was writing my very first grant in 2020. My mentor suggested that I look at the website in order to help me with the grant writing process. The amount of resources available was amazing to me. The grant library was a great resource and it peaked my interest in what else was offered.
    How will do you plan to leverage this protected time with the CCTS? This much-needed protected time will provide me the opportunity to develop the skillsets and investigative techniques needed to become a successful researcher. I have a chance to focus on my research, employ new techniques I have learned, and take some relevant courses that could increase my understanding of infectious diseases. I hope to publish my findings and successfully submit a F31 grant and receive more funding to continue research into drug resistance. I also hope to use this foundation as a springboard to make meaningful scientific contributions in the future.
    Favorite thing to do in your spare time? In my spare time, I try to find a spot to myself at home and relax when I can. I could turn on a movie or make some art/drawings. More recently, my wife and I have been working our way through a list of the best seasons of Survivor. We are 5 seasons deep right now and I’m kicking myself for not watching it all these years. In reality, most of my spare time is spent with my two sons (5 years and 10 months old) and keeping them entertained. It’s like another full time job, but I love it.
  • Claudia Edell
    Claudia EdellClaudia Edell
    2021 CCTS TL1 Trainee
    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Division of Nephrology

    Research Focus: My research focuses on how diet induced organ damage, specifically the gut and kidneys, can be reduced through specific timing of food intake. We believe that  T cells are driving this damage, however time restricted feeding, or intermittent fasting, can be used to regulate the inflammatory T cell response to minimize target organ damage.

    How did you become interested in this opportunity with the CCTS?
     I have had the privilege of working closely with a clinical trial during graduate school, and this got me interested in pursuing a career in translational research. I was excited about the networking opportunities available through the TL1 and I think it will be extremely beneficial to prepare me for my future career.

    Research Impact: Our main goal is to be able to use food as therapeutics for diseases such as hypertension. Understanding how food can be used to treat specific diseases can ideally reduce the need for medication by altering dietary habits.

    Favorite Movie or TV Show?

    Favorite thing to do in your spare time?
    Playing golf
  • Sara Davis, PhD, RN, PCNS-BC
    Sara Davis, PhD, RN, PCNS-BCPhD, RN, PCNS-BCSara Davis, PhD, RN, PCNS-BC
    2021 CCTS KL2 Scholar

    Assistant Professor
    University of South Alabama College of Nursing

    Research Focus: "I’m interested in studying stress in children, especially in high-risk children. Children with type 1 diabetes experience high levels of stress and diabetes distress related to disease management and this may be exacerbated in minority children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. These children also have worse health outcomes related to diabetes, including a 2x higher mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black children. A better understanding of stress and its relationship to inflammation and glycemic control in children with type 1 diabetes may help researchers and clinicians understand underlying mechanisms to tailor treatments to improve health outcomes."

    How did you become interested in this opportunity with the CCTS? "The CCTS provides tremendous support and resources for early-stage scientists. I’ve attended a number of events over the last couple of years, and I’m always thankful I did because I learn so much. I’m grateful to participate as a KL2 scholar because I know I will become a better researcher and make meaningful contributions to science."

    How will do you plan to leverage this protected time with the CCTS? "With the protected time provided by the CCTS, I plan to earn a Graduate Certificate in Applications of Mixed Methods Research. I will also complete a mentored research project examining perceived stress, diabetes distress, cortisol, and inflammatory biomarkers in school-age children with type 1 diabetes. My mentors and I also have plans to develop a number of abstracts, manuscripts, and externally funded grants to disseminate and support this research."

    What keeps you motivated?
    "My family keeps me motivated. I have a sister with type 1 diabetes, and stress has played a big role in the management of her disease. I strongly believe that early identification and management of stress can improve the health of individuals with diabetes."

    Favorite thing to do in your spare time? "
    I love to run! I’ve completed 2 marathons and hope to complete more! It’s a great way to make friends and reminds me that difficult things can be worth the challenge."
  • Kayla Frey
    Kayla FreyKayla Frey
    2021 CCTS TL1 Trainee

    University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Heersink School of Medicine | Otolaryngology

    Research Focus: "My research project under the guidance of Dr. Erin Buczek in the UAB Department of Otolaryngology (ENT) will analyze for health disparities in outcomes of head and neck cancer surgery patients requiring microvascular free flap repairs. We chose this project because of the complexity of these patients’ care and their unique medical requirements in the hopes of positively impacting a population of great need. We will be working in conjunction with the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery to build a database of both outcomes and health disparities information for this patient population. These two departments conduct the vast majority of microvascular free flap repairs in Alabama so the database we will be creating will be comprehensive and representative of our state’s population, allowing us to meaningfully analyze health disparities in this group in the Deep South."

    Research Impact: "It is our hope that the database we will create and our findings from it can be used to guide future endeavors to improve the outcomes of disadvantaged groups and alleviate health disparities for those who undergo microvascular free flap repairs."

    How will do you plan to leverage this protected time with the CCTS? "During my time with the CCTS program, I hope to produce meaningful and actionable research that can improve the lives of patients in the long term. I believe the project my mentors, Dr. Erin Buczek, Dr. Jessica Grayson, and Dr. Yedeh Ying, and I have designed has the potential to do just that. As far as personal development, I hope to gain experience in project design, statistical analysis, scientific writing, as well as participate in events that allow me to present our results. The program will additionally be funding my Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) so that I can further develop the knowledge base and research skills that will allow me to become a productive, independent physician scientist in my future career."

    What keeps you motivated? "
    Envisioning my future is what keeps me motivated. Pursuing a career as a physician is a waiting game and it’s all about delayed gratification. I try to celebrate every milestone, even the little ones, and consistently remind myself how far I’ve come when things get tough. The reality is I’m not always motivated! There are a lot of days where I don’t want to study for that next boards exam, work long hours, or read more papers. But I am always dedicated to the end game, and that’s serving my future patients. One day I’ll get there, and that’s enough more than enough to keep me going."

    Favorite thing to do in your spare time? "
    My favorite thing to do by far is to travel. I’ve adventured through five continents and over thirty countries since graduating college, doing everything from kayaking in a Puerto Rican bioluminescent bay, hot air ballooning over Turkey, walking through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, camel riding in Morocco, to chasing the northern lights in Norway! I’ve even lived in Costa Rica as a sea turtle conservation worker and in Poland as a Fulbright grantee before starting medical school. I have spent so much of my time either saving up to go see new places or exploring different parts of the world and I don’t think the feeling of wonder and excitement I get when I go somewhere new will ever get old!"