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Looking into Clinical Connections (LINCC) Fellowships Awarded
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Sometimes it's difficult to propel medical discoveries from the laboratory into the clinic. The ICTS at the University of Iowa has introduced the Looking into Clinical Connections (LINNC) pilot grants to help ease the process by facilitating new collaborations between laboratory and clinical scientists. Five $50,000 pilot grant awards have been awarded recently and approximately five are still available as a result of this American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-supported CTSA administrative supplement.

The following individuals have been named LINCC Fellows:

Dr. Pam Geyer, a UI professor of biochemistry, and ICTS Director Dr. Gary Hunninghake, developed LINCC to give senior faculty opportunities to explore new research interests that partner basic science with clinical medicine. The grant may provide protected time, facilities, personnel support, or equipment to successfully partner clinically active faculty with basic science faculty to energize their research activities.

"Sometimes faculty don't have the infrastructure to do the experimentation, or have the time in our schedules to investigate new areas, so that's why this money is important," Dr. Geyer said, who is also the director of the graduate curricula in the CCOM.

Funding for LINCC is available between 2009 and 2011 to support approximately ten pairs of investigators. Dr. Geyer expects at least one publishable scientific paper from each partnership. Advertising for the second round of LINCC awards will begin at the end of spring semester with a summer due date.

LINCC serves as a catalyst for producing dynamic research pursuits. For example, Dr. Englehardt's lab has developed the ferret as a model system for understanding human disease. Dr. Parekh, a cardiothoracic surgeon, was interested in applying Dr. Englehardt's model to lung transplantation and rejection, but he simply did not have enough protected time to collect preliminary data to secure funding for his project. However, LINCC opened up time for Dr. Parekh to gain some experience and gather data in an established laboratory with a large infrastructure. These investigators are combining their expertise to tackle a really important health issue affecting lung transplant recipients.

LINCC has also facilitated the partnership of Drs. Spitz and Bhatia, both from radiation oncology, to determine whether Dr. Spitz's approach to neck cancers successfully translates to Dr. Bhatia's work with lung cancer.

LINCC provided a good platform for collaboration between Drs. Bartlett, a pediatric cardiologist, and Dr. Rubenstein, a biochemistry professor. Dr. Bartlett encountered a family with actin mutations and became interested in understanding how these might contribute to disease. She is now working closely with Dr. Rubenstein, an actin expert, who has an established experimental system in place to test how different mutations might affect actin behavior. LINCC funds enabled Dr. Bartlett to attend a professional meeting with Dr. Rubenstein in California where she met knew colleagues and became immersed in the areas of actin investigation. Now Dr. Bartlett can bring in her interesting patient population and try to actually understand the molecular detail of what might happen in these patients and how to effectively treat their disease.

Some LINCC fellows, like Drs. Wold and Bickenbach, had no obvious clinical partners in mind when they applied for the grant. Dr. Wold, a biochemistry professor, wanted to explore his ideas regarding how two specific genes affect one of the major molecules involved with DNA replication. LINCC directors and department heads identified a clinical partner for Dr. Wold. He is now collaborating with Dan Berg, an assistant professor in internal medicine, to explore the relationship between the evolution of a new gene that might help regulate a cell's cycle and cancer progression.

According to Dr. Geyer, Dr. Bickenbach had a really interesting experimental system and some intriguing observations, but she didn't have a clinical partner to really bring all of these things together into a clinical model. Dr. Bickenbach, a professor of anatomy and cell biology, has found that the stem cells in skin cells do not seem to age. LINCC has matched Dr. Bickenbach with Dr. Nyunoya, an assistant professor in internal medicine, who is interested in lung development. Together they will try to transdifferentiate skin cells into different cell types to observe whether or not the cells show aging following that procedure.

"Whether it will turn into a long-term relationship at the end of the day is unclear, but without initial motivation these interactions probably wouldn't have happened, and that's what is super cool about this," said Dr. Geyer.

We will follow-up with each of the LINCC Fellows and share their collaborative experiences in our ICTS Profiles in Translation series.

This article originally appeared on the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Iowa website. Reposted with permission.

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