New Training Grants

Einstein Faculty Receive NIH Career Development Awards

November 30, 2018—(BRONX, NY)—The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers career development grants to advance the careers of young researchers—usually senior postdoctoral fellows or early-career faculty members. These grants, known as K awards, enable recipients to conduct independent research and eventually compete for major grant support. Seven Einstein researchers received K awards in federal fiscal year 2018.

Five of the awardees will use the funding to further their existing research projects:

Ava Liberman, M.D.
Ava Liberman, M.D.
Minimizing Stroke Misdiagnosis—Each year, some 800,000 stroke patients arrive in the emergency rooms of American hospitals. Up to nine percent of these patients are initially misdiagnosed. One problem is that some stroke patients have non-specific symptoms including headache, yet most emergency room headache cases are benign. The National Institutes of Health has awarded Ava L. Liberman, M.D., a five-year, $1 million grant to quantify the rate of stroke misdiagnosis among patients reporting to emergency rooms with headaches. Dr. Liberman will use information from the emergency department of John Hopkins and the Montefiore Medical Center to identify both patient- and physician-related factors that contribute to stroke misdiagnosis to develop new clinical tools to improve stroke and headache diagnostic accuracy. Dr. Liberman is an assistant professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology at Einstein and an attending physician at Montefiore and the Stern Stroke Center.

Shivani Agarwal, M.D., M.P.H.
Shivani Agarwal, M.D., M.P.H.
Improving Type 1 Diabetes Outcomes—Young adults with type 1 diabetes (T1D) often experience poor outcomes transitioning from pediatric to adult medical care at a time rife with other developmental challenges. For minority young adult T1D patients who are economically disadvantaged, the transition can be especially precarious, leading to worsening of their diabetes and to higher mortality later in life. Shivani Agarwal, M.D., M.P.H., has been awarded a five-year, $988,000 grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to address the health disparities faced by this high-risk T1D population. Dr. Agarwal will identify how social factors affect the health outcomes of minority disadvantaged young adults with T1D. She will also evaluate the effectiveness of a newly developed healthcare transition intervention that has been tailored to meet the needs of this population. Her findings may help improve health outcomes among high-risk young adult T1D patients. Dr. Agarwal is an assistant professor of medicine at Einstein.

Aluko Hope, M.D., M.S.C.E.
Aluko Hope, M.D., M.S.C.E.
Helping Patients With Respiratory Failure—Acute respiratory failure (ARF) is a common and often deadly condition from which survivors often suffer both mobility and cognitive impairments. Cognitive Motor Interference (CMI) is an emerging risk stratification approach that merges mobility and cognitive assessments (e.g. walking while talking) to better predict adverse outcomes. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has awarded Aluko A. Hope, M.D., M.S.C.E., a five-year $884,520 grant to conduct a research project that will validate novel CMI tests in ARF patients. Dr. Hope will leverage his work with the NHLBI-funded Prevention and Early Treatment of Acute Lung Injury (PETAL) network to become expert in long-term outcomes in ARF patients and aims to use the knowledge gained from the project to test new strategies for improving physical and cognitive disability outcomes in ARF survivors. Dr. Hope is associate professor of medicine at Einstein and critical care specialist at Montefiore. 

Wei Chen, M.D., M.S.
Wei Chen, M.D., M.S.
Testing Heart Risk in Patients with Kidney Disease—Patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) often have vascular calcification (VC)—mineral deposits in the vessels that contribute to cardiovascular disease, a leading cause of death among CKD patients. No treatments can slow the progression of VC, in part because valid biomarkers of VC are lacking. Wei Chen, M.D., M.S., has received a four-year, $791,000 grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to help validate a novel assay that uses dynamic light scattering to measure calcification propensity. Dr. Chen will use the assay to see if hemodialysis patients with higher propensities for calcification have greater coronary artery calcification and increased cardiovascular mortality. She will also investigate whether higher calcification propensity is associated with greater RNA expression of the promoters and inhibitors of VC in arterial tissues.  Dr. Chen is assistant professor of medicine and a nephrologist at Montefiore.

Thomas Ow, M.D.
Thomas Ow, M.D.
Targeting Head and Neck Cancer—Each year, approximately 60,000 Americans develop head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and 12,000 people die from it. For patients with laryngeal, hypopharyngeal, and oropharyngeal cancers—which represent half of the cases— radiation with cisplatin is the standard of care. Unfortunately, this treatment fails to help 20-30 percent of patients and there is no way to identify those individuals in advance. The National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research has awarded Thomas Ow, M.D., a three-year, $516,780 grant to examine the correlation between key genetic and molecular characteristics of HNSCC and resistance of tumor cells to cisplatin and radiation. The findings may result in a predictive model that identifies patients who are at high risk for treatment failure. Dr. Ow is associate professor of otorhinolaryngology at Einstein and a head and neck surgeon at Montefiore.

Xiao Dong, Ph.D.
Xiao Dong, Ph.D.
Tracking Aging Cells—Genome instability has long been considered a major cause of aging, but little is known about the actual number of genome alterations that occur per cell and how they affect aging. The National Institute on Aging has awarded Xiao Dong, Ph.D., a two-year, $271,890 grant to use single-cell, whole-genome sequencing to identify the most common types of somatic mutations in human B lymphocytes as a function of age. Using samples of lymphocytes from people aged 30 to 100 years old, Dr. Dong will determine the genome-wide frequency and location of different types of mutations in multiple cells from each individual. The study’s goal is to uncover, for the first time, how somatic mutations affect cellular function and lead to aging. The results should increase understanding of genome instability as a basic aging mechanism. Dr. Dong is an associate in the department of genetics.

Joanna Starrels, M.D., M.S.
Joanna Starrels, M.D., M.S.
One faculty member received a K award to mentor junior faculty:

Safely Curbing Opioid Use—Risk-mitigation strategies for stemming the opioid epidemic include prescription opioid (PO) tapering, which involves reducing or discontinuing POs. But evidence is needed to show which strategies are effective and won’t lead to other problems such as illicit opioid use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded Joanna Starrels, M.D., M.S., a five-year, $943,300 grant to mentor clinician-investigators to conduct patient-oriented research on PO use. Using existing study cohorts, Dr. Starrels and her mentees will examine the positive and negative outcomes of PO tapering among HIV+ and HIV- patients in chronic pain and will identify the PO tapering strategies that patients prefer. The goal is to translate those findings into effective clinical practice and health policy. Dr. Starrels is an associate professor medicine at Einstein and an internist and addiction medicine specialist at Montefiore.