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OB physician becomes first KL2 research scholar

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
After three years of focused and guided research, maternal fetal medicine physician Christopher J. Robinson, M.D., is poised to stand on his own. In five months, he formally will join a corps of highly trained clinical and translational researchers nationwide who work as independent investigators with the goal of  developing promising new treatments.
Dr. Chris Robinson

By August, Robinson, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will become the first research scholar as part of MUSC’s first National Institutes of Health (NIH) Mentored Research Career Development Program Award (KL2 and formerly the K12 program). Robinson’s success paves the way for other talented doctorate-level physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and allied health professionals on campus who are interested in a clinical and translational research career through MUSC’s South Carolina Clinical Translational Research Institute (SCTR).
The program is part of several activities developed through MUSC’s $20 million Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) to enhance health care, research and training. The component’s goal is to support the career development of talented junior faculty by fostering clinical and translational research through advanced training and mentoring within a supportive and collaborative environment.
The KL2 program serves as a pipeline for junior faculty interested in clinical and translational research and who seek to become independent researchers, said Randal Davis, SCTR project director. “The SCTR KL2 Scholar’s Program is a self-designed training program that supports qualified junior faculty and provides participants with valuable training through mentoring, research experiences and guided expertise.”
The program concludes when a scholar submits a federally-supported grant application to the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other appropriate body for extramural funds, said Davis.
Built into the program’s curriculum is a scholar’s opportunity to pursue a master’s of science in clinical research (MSCR) degree. This requires scholars to attend classroom lectures and seminars, and equips them with the tools, study design and research support to become principal investigators on grants.
Robinson, who is a Class of 2000 medicine alumnus, said that he has always been attracted to research. As an Erskine College chemistry undergraduate, he conducted analytical research and in medical school, he studied hypertensive rats for kidney markers. He later collaborated with Donna D. Johnson, M.D., professor and director of maternal fetal medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and following his residency at MUSC, went on to complete a maternal fetal medicine fellowship in 2007.
Robinson’s research, which focused on women suffering from early-onset, severe preeclampsia (a condition affecting pregnant women marked by high blood pressure, swelling of feet, legs and hands, and presence of high levels of protein in urine), got him interested in pursuing research full-time again. About that time, MUSC was competing for the CTSA, and the K12 program was announced. With support from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Robinson applied and was offered the position.
An early requirement of the KL2 was to establish mentors. Robinson’s initial mentors included—Dan Knapp, Ph.D., Distinguished University Professor of Pharmacology and Proteomics Center director; John Baatz, Ph.D., Department of Pathology; and Kevin Schey, Ph.D., former professor, Department of Cell and Molecular Pharmacology; Donna D. Johnson, M.D., and Roger Newman, M.D., both professors in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In the first year, scholars focus on collecting data and working in the lab.
“My biggest concern was not to disappoint,” said Robinson, who also earned his MSCR in 2009 under the KL2 program. “I wanted to do a good job, get recognized for my hard work and just be part of the process. The team approach to mentoring was a good match for me.”
Robinson is currently wrapping up his third year in the KL2 program, writing grants and pursuing funding. He just submitted his first grant to the Doris Duke Charitable Trust in November and a second, to an NIH-funded grant this June. He credits his success to the support of mentors and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which continues to value the growth of research and career development among its junior faculty. Throughout this experience, Robinson’s department agreed to provide up to 80 percent protected time for him as a faculty member.
“Achieving the master’s in science for clinical research degree provided me with a good feel of what tools were available and what I needed to conduct my research. It doesn’t make one totally independent, but it gives participants some good insight into what’s needed,” Robinson said.
Established in 2007, the KL2 program supports three components—meeting the NIH’s K12 required training and research components, didactic training and mentor-guided research. It provides scholars with start-up research funds, salary support, an annual supply budget and core faculty access to such critical areas as expertise in research design, biostatistical analysis and grant writing. The program is under the direction of Marc Chimowitz, M.B., ChB., associate dean for faculty mentoring in the College of Medicine. Part of Chimowitz’s focus is to develop and expand institutional mentoring on campus to support the KL2 and other programs for junior investigators. He is establishing  a mentor leadership council and created the Society of Clinical Research and Translational Early Scientists (SOCRATES) program, consisting of MSCR faculty-graduates and other campuswide investigators.
“An important component of the KL2 program is the ongoing need for good communications between the scholars and their mentors,” said Chimowitz. “We remind our scholars to seek advice, learn, participate in career development, write papers, collaborate with their colleagues, but most importantly remain focused on the science. Dr. Robinson’s talent, passion and commitment as an investigator will help him guarantee success.”
SCTR’s KL2 program is currently seeking scholars for 2010. Completed applications are due by noon, April 30. Scholars will be notified by July 1 with an appointment start date of Aug. 1. For more information, visit the SCTR Web page at

MUSC’s KL2 Mentored Research Career Development Program Award Scholars
Christopher Robinson, M.D., assistant professor in Maternal Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Keith T. Borg, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine; Michael G. Hughes, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery; and Peter Tuerk, Ph.D.,  assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

MUSC’s KL2 Mentored Research Career Development Program Award current scholars are:
  • Christopher Robinson, M.D., assistant professor in Maternal Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Robinson was admitted to the 2009 cohort (matriculation 2007) of the MSCR program as a result of support from the MUSC KL2 Scholar’s Program. His project seeks to discern alterations in the plasma proteome of patients affected by early-onset, severe preeclampsia (EOS-preeclampsia) versus healthy, gestational age-matched controls. He will also confirm whether the placenta serves as a source for differentially expressed proteins in maternal plasma through evaluation of placental gene and protein expression. His mentoring team includes experts in gel proteomics and mass spectrometry and clinical mentors with expertise in hypertensive OB/GYN research.
  • Keith T. Borg, M.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. Borg’s project investigates biomarkers of oxidative stress in patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). He also proposes to validate the reliability of existing methods to measure the severity of TBI in emergency medicine. He seeks to determine a biomarker that guides treatment and diagnostic strategies in TBI patients. His mentoring team includes experts in emergency medicine, neurosciences, pharmacology and rheumatology.
  • Michael G. Hughes, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery. Hughes’ project focuses on increasing the understanding of the pathogenesis of hepatitis C viral (HCV) recurrence. As part of his project, he will determine the contributions of quasispecies selection and receptor density in relation to HCV recurrence. He will use results of his study to target the development of interventions that could slow or potentially prevent HCV recurrence. He is supported by a mentoring team that includes experts in microbiology and immunology.
  • Peter Tuerk, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Turek’s project focuses on the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through a combination of Prolonged Exposure therapy and yohimbine. He will also investigate the ability to habituate to aversive non-trauma-related stimuli and this effect in patients with PTSD. He is backed by a strong mentoring team composed of well-established and highly qualified researchers with extensive experience in the field of interest.

Friday, March 12, 2010

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