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Research Update

June 2019

Dr. Richard Kurten Receives Fiser Research Achievement Award

Richard Kurten, PhD, is the 2019 recipient of the Dr. Robert H. Fiser, Jr., Research Achievement Award.

At the 2019 Ruth Olive Beall Service Awards banquet, Richard Kurten, PhD, received the Dr. Robert H. Fiser, Jr., Research Achievement Award. The award was created to honor the accomplishments of an Arkansas Children’s Research Institute research scientist who has distinguished himself or herself through extraordinary scientific research that will have lasting impact on the health, development, and well-being of children and their families. 

Dr. Kurten received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Texas A&M and his PhD in cell biology from Baylor College of Medicine. Upon completion of a postdoctoral fellowship in endocrinology at the University of California San Diego in 1996, Dr. Kurten joined the UAMS Department of Physiology and Biophysics in which he is now a Professor. He is the Co-Director of the Lung Cell Biology Laboratory at ACRI, which he and co-director Stacie Jones, MD, Chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology established in 2003 with support from the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (funded by Tobacco Settlement Proceeds to the State of Arkansas). 

Dr. Kurten’s laboratory work at ACRI is focused on better understanding human lung disease and improving clinical therapy. A critical element in this work is the use of viable human lungs collected from deceased organ transplant donors. Lungs from across the country are routinely received and processed in the Lung Cell Biology Laboratory to provide material for use in research for use in a variety of collaborative projects at ACRI and nationwide. Dr. Kurten and his colleagues are studying mechanisms by which medications commonly used to treat asthma may lose their effectiveness and what can be done to mitigate this problem.

In the award presentation video, Rick Barr, MD, MBA, Chair of Pediatrics and Robert H. Fiser, Jr., MD Endowed Chair in Pediatrics, and Associate Dean for Child Health at UAMS and Pediatrician-in-Chief for Arkansas Children's, stated, “Dr. Kurten was nominated for this award because he is a true team scientist.” Josh Kennedy, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, described Dr. Kurten as “the consummate scientist.” Dr. Jones noted, “He is innovative, collaborative, creative, humble, and someone that is just a pure, excited scientist every day of his life.” The award presentation video shown at the banquet to introduce Dr. Kurten can be seen at https://www.archildrens.org/for-healthcare-professionals/ruth-olive-beall-recognition-awards/ruth-olive-beall.

The award is named for Dr. Robert Fiser, Jr., Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics from 1975 to 1994. At age 32, he became the youngest pediatric department chairman in the US. Under his leadership the Department of Pediatrics grew from a five-member faculty to a faculty of more than 100 full-time physicians. Dr. Fiser strategically used the relationship between the department and ACH to position our state as a leader in superior health care. In his professional career, Dr. Fiser was a successful researcher in the area of endocrinology and continued that work while being the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics. His commitment to research and the academic missions of the Department of Pediatrics was outstanding and laid the foundation for many of the research programs in place today.

ACRI Celebrates International Clinical Trials Day

ACRI celebrated International Clinical Trials Day on May 20.

On May 20, ACRI held a celebration of International Clinical Trials Day at the Pediatric Clinical Research Unit (PCRU) at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. ACRI hosted Arkansas Children’s and UAMS staff and championed clinical research at Arkansas Children’s. 

Clinical research is a cornerstone of health and medical care advances with discoveries that lead to new and better ways to care for children. Since ACRI’s establishment in 1989, over 6,300 participants have volunteered in over 950 clinical research projects. Currently, over 140 clinical research projects are underway at Arkansas Children’s. Clinical research at Arkansas Children’s extends beyond the PCRU to clinics and sites across the ACH campus. It occurs in departments such as allergy, asthma, critical care, otolaryngology, general pediatrics, injury prevention, hematology and oncology, immunology, and neurology. Success of clinical trials often requires collaboration across numerous organizations and the participation of children and their families.

During ACRI’s International Clinical Trials Day celebration, PCRU staff provided tours of the unit, located on the 2nd floor of ACH. They described the work and successes of the PCRU. ACRI provided cookies and ACRI logo items to guests.

International Clinical Trials Day is observed each May to recognize what is considered to be the first randomized clinical trial. The trial was conducted by James Lind aboard a British Royal Navy ship in May 1747 studying the effects of citrus on scurvy. Since then, clinical trials have been well established and useful in making breakthroughs for our current medical knowledge and practice.

ACRI Participating in Hemophilia B Gene Therapy Trial

Clinical studies supporting drug development and registration often require multiple clinical sites to obtain the number of participants meeting specific criteria in order to conduct a valid study. As ACH serves as a state-wide hospital, ACRI researchers serve as the Site Principal Investigator for these multi-site studies. Our clinical researchers have proven experience to provide these industry sponsors with suitable clinical facilities supported by a qualified, experienced clinical staff. The clinical research environment provided to these study sponsors contributes to continuing relationships with sponsors as well as building new relationships.

One team that consistently provides study sponsors with professional dedicated research staff that can fully and closely follow participants from study start to finish is the Arkansas Center for Bleeding Disorders. The Arkansas Center for Bleeding Disorders is the state’s only comprehensive Hemophilia Treatment Center. Therefore, the CDC-supported clinic treats patients of all ages, not just pediatric patients. The center currently follows approximately 150 patients with hemophilia.

Currently, uniQure, a company dedicated to developing potentially curative gene therapies for patients with severe unmet medical needs, has engaged Shelley Crary, MD, of the Arkansas Center for Bleeding Disorders as the Site PI at ACH for a gene therapy trial for a potential one-time treatment for patients with severe or moderately severe hemophilia B. Dr. Crary and her team provided not only the first clinical site for the study, but also enrolled and dosed the study’s first patient.  

The 60-month study, named HOPE-B, will require approximately 50 adult patients with hemophilia B classified as severe or moderately severe across all sites. From the Arkansas Center for Bleeding Disorders, Dr. Crary can provide adult participants from ACH, which is recognized as a leader in pediatric clinical research. She projects to enroll at least 2 eligible adult patients for the study.

Affecting all ages, hemophilia B is a hereditary bleeding disorder caused by a lack of blood clotting factor IX. Without enough factor IX, the blood cannot clot properly to control bleeding. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), hemophilia B occurs in approximately 1 in 25,000 live male births, and there are approximately 20,000 people with hemophilia (both A and B) in the US. The goal of uniQure is to develop the first gene therapy that provides durable, functionally curative benefits to nearly all patients with hemophilia B.

The study participants are seen at ACRI’s Pediatric Clinical Research Unit. The study team includes D’ann Pierce, BSN, as the Study Coordinator and Kimo Stine, MD, Director of the Arkansas Center for Bleeding Disorders. 

To learn more about the trial, you can visit www.hopebtrial.com or contact a member of the study team at 501-364-4440.

NIH Awards Research Grant to Laxmi Yeruva, PhD

Laxmi Yeruva, PhD, received a 2-year, $420,000 research grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The National Institutes of Health has presented a Notice of Award to Laxmi Yeruva, PhD, for her proposal, “Extracellular vesicles miRNA cargo induces inflammation during chlamydial infection.” Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the 2-year award of approximately $420,000 will examine the interactions between Chlamydia and proteins released by cells during infection. A better understanding of the role of these proteins in inflammation and tissue damage during infection is a new innovative approach to reveal potential novel therapeutic host targets and possibly help in vaccine development. Chlamydia trachomatis is the most common sexually-transmitted bacterial infection in the world and is especially prevalent among adolescents and young adults. A major consequence of infection is persistent inflammation and evolving damage to the reproductive organs, which in females can result in severe pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Dr. Yeruva is an Associate Professor in the Division of Developmental Nutrition of the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, and the project has a start date of June 1, 2019.

Nirmala Parajuli, PhD, received a 3-year, $300,000 research grant from the American Heart Association.

American Heart Association Awards Research Grant to Nirmala Parajuli, PhD

The American Heart Association has informed Nirmala Parajuli, PhD, of funding approval for a 2019 Transformational Project Award. Dr. Parajuli will conduct the 3-year project, “Targeting renal immunoproteasome during cold storage to improve transplant-associated cardiovascular health,” with a $300,000 grant beginning July 1, 2019. The study will examine an approach to prevent loss of a key protein tied to improved outcomes for transplant patients who receive kidneys kept in cold storage prior to transplantation. Dr. Parajuli’s overall goal is to improve the transplant outcomes by identifying cold storage-related mechanisms of renal damage and by adopting targeted therapies during cold storage, thereby decreasing poor transplant outcomes including the incidence of transplant-associated cardiovascular disease, a significant interest of AHA and the leading cause of death in patients with end-stage kidney disease. Dr. Parajuli is an Assistant Professor in the Pharmacology & Toxicology Department of UAMS and a Junior Investigator of the Center for Translational Pediatric Research (P20GM121293) at ACRI.

2019 Lyon New Scientist Development Awards

ACRI has announced the recipients of the 2019 Marion B. Lyon Revocable Trust New Scientist Development Awards. They are Nirmala Parajuli, PhD, and Graham Strub, MD, PhD.

Dr. Parajuli is an Assistant Professor in the Pharmacology & Toxicology Department of UAMS and a Junior Investigator of the Center for Translational Pediatric Research (P20GM121293) at ACRI. Her focus is on pediatric kidney transplant research. The goal of her Lyon-funded study, “Targeting Immunoproteasome during Cold Storage to Improve Renal Transplant Outcome in Children,” is to identify novel cold storage-related pathways that contribute for poor transplant outcome. Her results will provide a scientific basis for developing new therapies designed to improve the viability of donor kidneys after cold storage and transplantation with the aim of reducing the mortality of pediatric patients with kidney failure.

Dr. Strub is an Assistant Professor in the Pediatric Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Department of UAMS. His principle interest is the development of molecular biology tools to guide surgical decision making. Dr. Strub’s funded study, “Identification and Characterization of microRNA Networks in the Pathogenesis of Lymphatic Malformations,” will characterize microRNA expression in lymphatic malformations to facilitate the discovery of novel circulating miRNA biomarkers for diagnosis and treatment monitoring and the development of molecular therapies.  

The Marion B. Lyon New Scientist Development Award is possible thanks to a generous gift from Mr. Frank Lyon, Jr., honoring his mother, Marion B. Lyon. Arkansas Children's Research Institute established the Marion B. Lyon New Scientist Development Award program to support a highly promising beginning scientist in his or her efforts to become an independent investigator. For over 15 years, Lyon Award recipients have been provided up to $50,000 for the 2-year period of the award. Please join ACRI in congratulating these exceptional young investigators. 

Harding Students Mentored at ACRI Receive Arkansas Governor's Cup Award

Harding University students mentored by Tara Johnson, MD, received second place in the Winrock Automotive Undergraduate Division of the Arkansas Governor's Cup Collegiate Business Plan competition in April. The Harding students included two business students, Erin Weiss and Kayla Reed, and three engineering students, Landon Burcham, Timothy Strasser, and Jacob Scott. The student-formed team was named Xtendon, and they designed a dynamic hand brace for children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Named HyperHand, the brace allows the user to stretch and retract the hand for physical therapy and functional use. For their efforts, the Harding seniors won a $15,000 prize.

The XTendon team began their project in August by identifying a clinically relevant need then carefully defining the problem and designing a sound solution. The students worked with clinical, engineering, and intellectual property experts from UAMS and ACRI. Dr. Johnson, Founding Director, Arkansas Children's Biomedical Innovations Program, and Assistant Professor, Pediatric Neurology, provided mentorship on the clinical aspects of the students’ project. 

Dr. Johnson noted, “Multidisciplinary collaborations in such endeavors like this result in the development of technology that can be used to help patients directly. It is important for clinicians and researchers to provide relevant input to teams of students like these so that translational research projects can thrive.”

Find Out About Opportunities to Participate in Research

Information on currently enrolling clinical studies at ACRI is available at ACH's Clinical Trials Webpage. Interested families can voluntarily join ACRI’s Research Registry at https://secure.archildrens.org/ResearchContacts/ to be contacted about pediatric clinical research. To receive Text Alerts about currently enrolling clinical research studies, interested persons can text RESEARCH to 411247 (message and data rates may apply; terms and conditions at www.mobivity.com/411247terms).

ACRI Researcher-Specific Announcements

Announcements that are specific to ACRI/ACH Campus Researchers may be found at the Weekly Research Update page: https://compoint.peds.ad.uams.edu/ACRI/default.aspx.