for the kids

Houston program pockets $2.3M grant for training youth health care professionals

The program trains health care providers various youth health specialties to help them treat adolescents holistically and comprehensively. Photo via BCM.edu

A Houston-based training program focused on training leaders in adolescent and young adult health has just received fresh funding to support its cause.

The Baylor College of Medicine-Texas Medical Center Leadership Education in Adolescent Health, or BCM-TMC LEAH, training program has been awarded a five-year grant totaling $2.3 million. The program is one of only seven such training programs funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

“Adolescents make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population yet account for disproportionate rates of mortality from accidents, homicides, suicide, and other conditions related to mental illness,” says Dr. Albert C. Hergenroeder, professor and chief of the division of adolescent medicine and sports medicine and project director for BCM-TMC LEAH, in a news release. “The goal is to train and prepare healthcare professionals to assume leadership roles in the development and improvement of the system of care for adolescents and young adults locally, in Texas, in HRSA Region 6 (Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana), and nationally.”

BCM-TMC LEAH provides didactic, experiential, and research-based interdisciplinary education and training, per the news release, across core health disciplines of medicine, nursing, nutrition, psychology, social work, and public health. It's the fourth time since 1997 the program has received funding.

Along with Hergenroeder, Dr. Connie Wiemann, director of research in the division of adolescent medicine and sports medicine, based at Texas Children’s Hospital, is co-director of the program. The two medical professionals also collaborate with:

  • Dr. Diane Santa-Maria, dean and associate professor in the Department of Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Cizik School of Nursing
  • Dr. Christine Markham, chair of health promotion and behavioral sciences and deputy director for the Texas Prevention Research Center at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health
  • Dr. Sarah Norendorf, associate professor and associate dean for research and faculty development
  • Shelley Gonzales, clinical assistant professor and assistant director of field education at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.

“There has been an increased urgency during the last few years of the need to address adolescent health problems, such as suicide, eating disorders and violence in adolescents,” Hergenroeder says. “These problems require solutions for populations as well as individuals.

"For example," Hergenroeder continues, "an individual patient with an eating disorder will require treatment with an interdisciplinary team of physicians, psychologists, nurses, dietitians and social workers yet for a population, the expertise of researchers and public health experts should look at what broader interventions might be used in the prevention of eating disorders. LEAH is designed to give comprehensive training in all aspects of the threats to adolescent and young adult health in the U.S.”

The program trains pre- and postdoctoral students, medicine fellows, and residents by connecting them with faculty across a multitude of related specialized fields. The trainees then go into communities prepared to holistically treat and focus on problems adolescents and young adults are facing, going beyond just physical and mental health.

“The comprehensive training experience also includes a focus on skills to conduct and disseminate research to promote practices and policies that impact adolescents and young adults in a variety of settings,” said Wiemann. "All trainees will learn tools to engage stakeholders and identify opportunities to improve systems of care. In this way, all disciplines play an important role in improving the health and well-being of this population. And healthcare administrative training is incorporated into the LEAH program so that LEAH trainees will be able to successfully execute great research, clinical, teaching and advocacy programs to improve adolescent and young adult health."

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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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