Tag Archives: Research

Yicheng Bao’s award-winning diabetes study puts new focus on autoimmune conditions

Yicheng Bao, left, with his research study co-authors, Dr Janet McGill, professor of medicine at Washington University-St. Louis, and Dr. Maamoun Salam, a graduating endocrinology fellow at Washington University.

Yicheng Bao, a third-year medical student at the UMKC School of Medicine, conducted a research study that shows adults diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are at greater risk of developing additional autoimmune conditions.

Bao received an Endocrine Society Outstanding Abstract Award for his work. He was then invited to give an  oral presentation of his results at the March annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Chicago. This was a special and rare opportunity, as most selected abstracts are designated for poster presentations.

Much of Bao’s research took place during his summer medical student research program at Washington University in St. Louis. The program was sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Bao continued working on the study when he returned to school at UMKC.

Following his presentation in Chicago, Bao’s results have been reported in a number of health-care and diabetes-related media outlets.

“I came to work on this particular project because of my interest in diabetes and its complications,” Bao said. “Diabetes is a growing public health concern, and it is very debilitating for patients. It has multifaceted complications that confound their care, and this area in particular requires more research.”

His study found that people with type 1 diabetes can develop multiple autoimmune diseases. And, those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult run a greater risk of developing them.

Bao’s study collected patient data on 29 autoimmune conditions. He found that the overwhelming majority of additional conditions developed in adults after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

These results of could lead health-care providers to give closer attention to symptoms of autoimmune diseases in diabetes patients diagnosed with the disease as an adult.

Bao said he developed skills from the experience that have lead him to continue his research efforts. He now intends to pursue a career in academic medicine and research.

“I learned to ask scientific questions that have significant clinical implications, and to answer these questions with biostatistics and data analysis,” he said. “Using these skills, I am working on several other studies about diabetes and its complications that will be submitted for publication soon.”

Links to media reports of Yicheng Bao’s research study on type 1 diabetes in adults:

Notable research project featured in SOM video series

A new School of Medicine video looks at two important research projects addressing health disparities among African Americans. These projects are spreading the gospel of good health … at church.

The research is led by Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., associate professor of Biomedical and Health Informatics, who works with area churches and pastors to bring health education and screening to African-American congregations. Attention is given to issues of HIV, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Research plays a critical role at the UMKC School of Medicine – for students, faculty, residents and fellows. Today, nearly 100 faculty are involved in research projects with some, like Berkley-Patton’s, awarded significant federal grants and national foundation funding. Medical students are encouraged to engage in research and scholarship activities, and the school supports residents and fellows looking to embrace research as part of their medical careers.

To highlight its leadership role in research, the School of Medicine is producing a research video series. The first film features Berkley-Patton and her National Institutes of Health grants: Faith Influencing Transformation and Taking it to the Pews.

View the video

SOM researcher develops technology for early detection of Alzheimer’s

Patients can be tested for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease with a microperimeter, a machine already used regularly in eye exams.
Koulen, Peter
Peter Koulen, Ph.D.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5-million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. At UMKC School of Medicine, researcher Peter Koulen, Ph.D., has found an innovative way to diagnose the early stages of the disease – with an eye exam.

The test was developed at the School of Medicine’s Vision Research Center, where Koulen serves as director of basic research. It provides a non-invasive, fast-screening tool for early detection of Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s.

Koulen’s work received a patent in January and has been attracting attention since. With support from the university’s Office of Technology Commercialization, it is now drawing interest from local manufacturers and diagnostic companies.

Koulen said the technology has received overtures from local investors interested in forming a startup company to license and further develop it, as well.

“There are business people now on our doorstep,” he said.

The test uses a microperimeter, a machine routinely used in eye exams to evaluate retina function, and typically takes less than half an hour.

And it is a relatively simple test for patients. One looks into the machine and presses a button when they see a flash of light. A computer program progresses through a series of flashing lights in various locations and intensities to measure the person’s retinal function.

“This is a technology that is already widely used by ophthalmologists,” Koulen said. “Over the years, we’ve found some different uses for it, and the Alzheimer’s diagnostics is one example of that. It’s basically a boring video game that you play for a few minutes.”

Because it was developed through clinical studies with patients and subjects, the transition from discovery to use in clinics could be relatively short. Compare that to other research, like creating a cancer drug, which could take decades of development.

“We’ve worked about half a decade on this,” Koulen said.

The technology evolved through researching therapies for glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, major eye diseases affecting the retina. These have been the focus of much of Koulen’s work at UMKC since joining the Vision Research Center in 2009.

The retina, a light-sensitive tissue, is part of the body’s central nervous system and is connected to the brain. Koulen and his team spent about seven years developing a still-growing database to define a baseline for healthy retina function. Using microperimetry, they were able to recognize subtle deviations from those baseline figures beyond normal aging. They linked those deviations to what they realized could be indicators of early-stage Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment.

“We were able to pick up that these patients very likely had the neurological disorder before the neurologist was able to diagnose the very earliest forms of the disease,” Koulen said.

There is no single exam for diagnosing Alzheimer’s. The current method is an often cumbersome, time-consuming process of eliminating other potential causes of a neurological disorder. Results can be inconclusive until the disease has progressed to a more-advanced stage. By that point, treatment and patient care has become a primary concern.

A more rapid and conclusive diagnosis is possible with the test Koulen has developed. It can easily be given in a clinic or other settings. That could make the technology enticing for investors.

“The nice thing about conducting the diagnostics in the clinic is that they’re non-invasive,” Koulen said. “You don’t have to draw blood. You don’t need anesthesia. It’s basically a very complicated eye exam, but it’s still an eye exam.”

UMKC students co-author abstracts selected for presentation at Experimental Biology

Six medical students from the School of Medicine are co-authors of research abstracts or posters that have been accepted for presentation at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting this spring in San Diego.

Experimental Biology is an annual invitation-only meeting of five scientific societies made up of more than 14,000 scientists who focus on anatomy, biochemistry and molecular biology, investigative pathology, pharmacology, and physiology.

Elizabeth Onishchenko, fourth-year student, is the second author of an abstract selected for a poster and oral presentation. The abstract is Minimal Effect of Aliskiren on Mast Cells Count and Renal Vascular Damage in Acute Rat Model of Triolein Induced Pulmonary Fat Embolism. Authors are Farnaz Khalafi, Onishchenko, Mohammad Pour, Daud Arif, Paula Monaghan, Alan Poisner and Agustino Molteni.

Fourth-year students Thomas Haferkamp and Taylor Lind are co-authors of the poster, Mast Cell Heterogeneity in Rat Lungs in a Model of Fat Embolism After Treatment with Drugs Related to the Renin Angiotensin System. Authors are Ahsan Siddiqi, Saba Siddiqi, Dauod Arif,  Haferkamp,  Lind, Mohammad Pour, Paula Monaghan, Soheila Hamidpour and Agostino Molteni.

Michael Van Dillen and Ariana Fotouhi are fourth-year students who co-authored Pulmonary Cell Stained in a Rat Model of Fat Embolism for Renin and Prorenin are Increased After Aliskiren Treatment, Which Ameliorates the Fat-Induced Inflammatory Process. Poster authors include Ethar Al-Husseinawai, Jordan Dane Colson,  Van Dillen,  Fotouhi, Mohammad Asan, Lucille White, Mohammed Pour, Daud Arif, Paula Monaghan, Alan Poisner, Agostino Molteni.

Abigail Spaedy, fourth-year student, is a co-author of the poster, Mast Cell Numbers of Rat Lungs in an Acute Model of Fat Embolism are Reduced by Aliskiren and Losartan But Not By Captopril. Authors of the poster include Dauod Arif, DayneVoelker, Spaedy, Soheila Hamidpour, Alan Poisner, Mohammad Pour, Paula Monaghan, Farnaz Khalafi, Agostino Molteni.

Experimental Biology takes place in San Diego, California, on April 21-25.

New event introduces third-year students to medical research

Faculty members judged the student teams’ research posters.

On Dec. 5, more than 100 third-year medical students presented research findings at the UMKC School of Medicine as part of their coursework in medical neuroscience.

Students, in teams of four, used data from the Cerner HealthFacts database to try to answer a unique question they identified related to various disease and conditions. Those examined included Alzheimer’s Disease, stroke, obsessive-compulsive disorder, epilepsy and diabetes. After analyzing the data and drawing conclusions, each team made a poster displaying its question and hypothesis, telling how the team members went about testing their hypothesis, explaining their findings, and identifying questions for further study.

The idea behind the exercise was to give students an early research experience, and for many it was their first medical research.

By all accounts, the assignment was a success. Several students said that before the exercise they were worried about how difficult it would be to do research, but now they looked forward to being able to do more.

Shafaa Mansoor, whose team studied possible seasonal effects on strokes, said she is interested in community health and now sees research as a way to further that interest, identify the real effects of medical conditions and test possible treatments.

Her teammates Rebecca Kurian and Tom Matthews agreed that the project was a good, hands-on way to learn how to do research.

“The process was as important as the results,” Matthews said. “Learning how to do this and present our findings was valuable.”

More than 40 faculty members collaborated to make the project a reality, including several who judged the presentations. Each team also had a faculty mentor and a supporting biostatistician from the Department of Biomedical & Health Informatics, Children’s Mercy Hospital or the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

One of the judges, Maria Cole, M.Ed.L., Ph.D., an associate professor in biomedical sciences, very much liked what she saw.

“I had these students in class in January and it’s something to see how far they have come since then,” she said. “Their ability to analyze data and explain their findings, and to link their results to what they learned in class, is impressive.”

Jennifer Bickel (second from left), M.D. ’01, associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the headache section at Children’s Mercy Hospital; was one of three faculty members who devised the exercise. She circulated among the student research teams to get their thoughts on the exercise.

The exercise was devised by Jennifer Bickel, M.D. ’01, associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the headache section at Children’s Mercy Hospital; Julie Banderas, Pharm.D., BCPS, professor and interim chair of the Department of Biomedical & Health Informatics, professor and associate dean for graduate studies; and Paula Monaghan-Nichols, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and associate dean for research.

“There was no model for this, so we’re learning as we go,” said Bickel, who talked with the teams about their experiences. “We will make improvements and hope this is something we can eventually share with other programs. It’s exciting to be doing something completely new.”

The teams were judged for poster content, clarity, appearance and organization; their oral presentations; and demonstration of critical thinking.

The top three teams were announced Dec. 6:

First place: Jonathan Jalali, Chidera Okafor, Jacob Perera and Amudha Porchezhian, “Is Patient Sex Linked to Pharmacologic Agents that Induce Acute Dystonic Reaction?”

Second place: Caleb Spencer, Grace Arias, Debolina Kanjilal and Kyla Mahone, “Correlation Between Elevation in Inflammatory Markers of ESR and CRP in Patients Diagnosed with OCD and OCPD and Age.”

Third place: Saniya Ablatt, Vijaya Dasari, Gauri Kaushal and Andrea Pelate, “Stroke Incidence at a Young Age in Rural vs. Urban Populations.”

 

 

Surgical Innovations Lab puts patient safety at the forefront

Gary Sutkin, M.D., has established the School of Medicine’s Surgical Innovations Laboratory.

At the UMKC School of Medicine’s Surgical Innovations Laboratory, Gary Sutkin, M.D., professor of surgery and associate dean for women’s health, is taking a different approach to research.

As director of the lab, Sutkin, who also serves as the Victor and Caroline Shutte Endowed Chair in Women’s Health, has gathered an interdisciplinary team to look at ways to make surgical procedures safer for patients.

Inside the “Surgilab” — his third-floor “think tank” —  one can find a pair of large bean bag chairs sitting in a corner on a colorful rug. A portion of one wall is filled with large-screen video monitors. A rectangular conference table in front of the wall is surrounded by different colored chairs. This is all by design, Sutkin explains.

“It’s all about creativity,” he said. “The chairs being different colors represent different ideas that people bring forth. It wasn’t just convenience. The people we work with come from different backgrounds.”

Gary Sutkin, M.D., leads an interdisciplinary team that is exploring ways to make surgical procedures safer for patients.

Biomedical engineers, mechanical engineers, and even a theater instructor, gather to discuss surgical procedures and how the operating room team of nurses and technicians can more effectively work together. They do this through studying practitioners’ movements and non-verbal communications.

“We’re one big community here, trying to make surgery safer for patients,” Sutkin said. “We’re trying to make it safer by cutting down on errors and improving communication. The operating room is such a fast-paced, high-risk environment. You have all these people from different backgrounds trying to work together, all with the same goal to have an effective, safe surgery. But they have to communicate well to do that.”

Physicians learn to do better by talking about the mistakes that take place during surgical procedures. One of Sutkin’s projects involves interviewing a number of surgeons to get their perspectives on surgical errors and how to prevent them. It’s a topic that he says surgeons think about often and are quite open to talking about with colleagues.

“I’ve told my mistake stories over and over,” Sutkin said. “It’s only by putting them out in the open and talking about them that we can learn from them and fix our ways.”

The work of the Surgilab is supported by a grant from the University of Missouri Review Board and funding from Sutkin’s endowed chair appointment.

With his research assistant, Fizza Mahmud, and a cohort of interdisciplinary colleagues, Sutkin and company are also exploring the process involved in Midurethral Sling Surgery. The procedure is a minimally invasive approach to treating a common urinary problem of incontinence in women. But it also involves surgical risks.

During a work session, Sutkin grabs a handful of playdoh and begins to form a shape to help describe to the non-medical members of his team the female anatomy and how the surgical instruments are used during the procedure.

“Human error is a part of any high-risk industry,” Sutkin said. “Whether it’s aviation, the railway industry, or surgery, it’s going to happen. You’re never going to get it down to zero, but you’re always trying to make it lower and lower.”

Research office announces eight Sarah Morrison Award recipients

October 2017 Sarah Morrison student research award recipients:
Jonah Graves, Jonathan Jalali, Kelly Kapp, Landon Rohowetz, Subhjit Sekhon, Mehr Zahra Shah, Yevgeniy Khariton and Krishna Patel.

The School of Medicine Student Research Program has announced six medical students and two students from the biomedical and health informatics program as recipients of the Fall 2017 Sarah Morrison Student Research Award.

The awards support student research efforts and help fund presentations at conferences and scientific meetings.

Medical students who received the awards are Jonah Graves, fifth-year; Jonathan Jalali, third-year; Kelly Kapp, sixth-year; Landon Rohowetz, fourth-year; Subhjit Sekhon, fifth-year; and Mehr Zahra Shah, fourth-year. Two recipients, Yevgeniy Khartion and Krishna Patel, are graduate students in the school’s Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics.

Sarah Morrison awards of up to $2,500 are presented each year in October and April. More than 100 students have received an estimated $104,669 in financial support from the program to conduct research projects at the School of Medicine.

Students interested in the Sarah Morrison awards are encouraged to apply prior to the April 1 and Oct. 1 deadlines each year. Applicants are reviewed by a committee of faculty judges and processed through the Office of Research Administration.

For complete application information, visit the student research website.

Fall 2017 Sarah Morrison Research Awards
(Recipients, Project titles, Mentors)
  • Jonah Graves, MS 5, Mechanism for FGF23 induced mechanical alternans in mouse hearts, Mike Wacker
  • Jonathan Jalali, MS 3, Retinal blood vessel morphometry as a biomarker for progression of diabetic retinopathy to diabetic macular edema and neovascular complications, Peter Koulen
  • Kelly Kapp, MS 6, Glycocalyx Production by Viridans Streptococci Causing Endocarditis: Assessment of the Tryptophan Assay as a Marker to Predict Disease, Lawrence Dall
  • Landon Rohowetz, MS 4, The role of innate immune system signaling pathways in age-related macular degeneration pathogenesis, Peter Koulen
  • Subhjit Sekhon, MS 5, Identification of Gene Expression, Ferdaus Hassan
  • Mehr Zahra Shah, MS 4, The role of estrogen hormone signaling pathways in glaucoma pathogenesis, Peter Koulen
  • Yevgeniy Khartion, DBHI, Patterns of Intravenous Fluid and Diuretic Co-Administration in Acute De-Compensated Heart Failure: Insights from the Health Facts Registry, John Spertus
  • Krishna Patel, DBHI, Imaging findings associated with potential survival benefit with early revascularization in patients undergoing stress myocardial perfusion imaging using Positron emission Tomography for suspected coronary ischemia, Timothy Bateman

New research fellowship explores pediatric headache treatment

Dane Stephens, Subhjit Sekhon

Two students at the UMKC School of Medicine have received a new award from the Children’s Mercy Hospital Philanthropy Fund to support research interests in neurology.

Dane Stephens, a fourth-year student, and Subhjit Sekhon, a fifth-year student, are the first recipients of the Neurology Research and Scholar Award. The award is given to students who will work on research projects with the Headache Research Group in the Division of Neurology at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.

Award recipients will work closely with the research group to design, implement and present research findings in the area of pediatric headache assessment and management. Research fellows also attend the American Academy of Neurology annual conference. There they will network with other professionals in the field, and attend presentations and poster displays, as well as other pertinent educational opportunities.

Research projects, while focused on headache treatment, vary based on current studies being conducted at any given time within the group.

The research fellowship award is available to qualified fourth, fifth or sixth-year B.A./M.D. students or second, third or fourth-year M.D. students at the UMKC School of Medicine. Students must commit to at least 80 total research hours throughout a 12-month period. A medical school research elective with the Children’s Mercy Hospital Department of Neurology is highly encouraged.

Jennifer Bickel, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the headache section at Children’s Mercy, will serve as faculty mentor for the research projects.

The Headache Research Group is comprised of physicians, nurse practitioners and additional allied health professionals. Bickel leads the interdisciplinary team in its commitment to improving education, advocacy and research regarding headache care in children.

Stephens and Sekhon are part of a fast growing number of students actively taking part in research activities. Below is a list of some School of Medicine students who have recently been selected for summer and yearlong research fellowships and been invited to present their research at regional and national meetings.

Year-long Fellowships:
Grant Randall, NIH Medical Research Scholars Program
Sultan Khan, TL1 Predoctoral Clinical Research Training Program, Washington University
Carlee Oakley, TL1 Clinical Research Training Program, University of Kansas Medical Center
Dane Stephens, Subhjit Sekhon, Neurology Research and Scholar Award, Headache Research Group in the Division of Neurology at Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Summer Fellowships:
Akash Jani, George Washington University Summer Research Internship, Dept. of Emergency Medicine
Vishnu Harikumar, Pediatric Oncology Education Program, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Priyesha Bijlani, Washington University Pediatric Student Research Program
Elizabeth George, Unite for Sight Summer Program in India
Ashwath Kumar, Health Policy Fellowship Initiative (American Academy of Ophthalmology, Washington, D.C.
Ben Bernard*, NIDDK Medical Student Research Training Program in Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolic Disorders (*had to decline due to another research opportunity in Israel)
Chizitam Ibezim*, NIH Summer Internship Program (*had to decline due to other obligations)

Selected to present research at regional or national meetings:
Sarah Alshami, International Facial Nerve Symposium, Los Angeles, CA, August 2017
Noor Alshami, American Academy of Pediatrics, Chicago, IL, September 2017
Morgan Warren, Central Association of OB/GYN, Scottsdale, AZ, October 2017
Sumita Sharma, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Denver, CO, October 2017
Suzan Lisenby, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Denver, CO, October 2017
Siri Ancha, World Congress of Gastroenterology, Orlando, FL, October 2017
Ravali Gummi and Imran Nizamuddin, Clinton Global Initiative, Boston, MA, October 2017
Chizitam Ibezim, AHA Scientific Sessions, Anaheim, CA, November 2017
Amber (Leila) Sarvastani, AHA Scientific Sessions, Anaheim, CA, November 2017
Hunter Faris, AMA, Honolulu, HI, November 2017
Vaishnavi Vaidyanathan, Child Neurology Society Annual Meeting, Kansas City, MO, October 2017

UMKC researchers to present late-breaking studies at cardiovascular symposium

Research studies by UMKC School of Medicine faculty researchers at the Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute have been selected for presentation at the world’s largest educational meeting for interventional cardiovascular medicine.

The researchers are the first or senior authors of 10 original studies and contributing authors of nine other studies selected for presentation at the 2017 Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics symposium in Denver, running October 30 through November 2.

The presentations includes two major studies selected as Late-Breaking Clinical Trials. Only 12 research breakthroughs highlighting the most innovative treatments for heart disease are selected for the late-breaking presentations.

“It is rare for any institution to have even one late-breaking trial presentation at a major cardiology meeting,” said David Cohen, M.D., professor of medicine and MAHI director of cardiovascular research. “Having two of the 12 come from the Mid America Heart Institute is an incredible honor and a testimony to both the Mid America Heart Institute Clinical Scholars program and the international reputation that our research program has come to enjoy.”

Suzanne Baron, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, is the lead author of a study that describes the long-term quality of life outcomes of nearly 2,000 patients enrolled in a landmark multi-center trial. The research compared everolimus-eluting stents and bypass surgery for the treatment of left main coronary artery disease. Cohen is the lead author of the second study that evaluates the cost effectiveness of transcatheter aortic valve replacement compared with surgical aortic valve replacement in intermediate risk patients.

Four of the MAHI studies to be presented at this year’s meeting are the direct result of a groundbreaking OPEN-Chronic Total Occlusions (CTO) registry. The registry is led by Aaron Grantham, M.D., associate professor of medicine, with assistants from  Adam Salisbury, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, and the support of the MAHI Outcomes Research group. The studies define the success, safety, health benefits and cost effectiveness of novel techniques to open blocked coronary arteries that are considered untreatable through minimally invasive techniques.

Brain tumor research follows unusual path

Tom Curran, Ph.D.

A promising therapy to combat brain tumors in children has emerged from a confluence of bold research, scientific insight and luck, a Children’s Mercy research director said Aug. 30 in the latest installment in the UMKC Health Sciences Deans’ Seminar Series.

The research aims to block a pathway that mutant cells often take when forming tumors near the brain stem. The work’s progress and hurdles were detailed by Tom Curran, Ph.D., who is the executive director and chief scientific officer of the Children’s Research Institute and a professor of pediatrics at the UMKC School of Medicine.

His presentation was titled “How mice, sheep, corn lilies and a beer helped children with brain tumors: Targeting the hedgehog pathway in medulloblastoma.”

When he started the hedgehog inhibitor work, Curran already had contributed extensively to the understanding of tumor formation – and knew plenty about mice. He discovered the Fos-Jun tumor-generating complex, and had identified reelin, the gene responsible for reeler, the mutation that makes mice lose muscle control.

Curran wanted to extend his mutation research to the tumors that form during brain development, “so we made the decision that we would take a take a precision medicine approach to medulloblastoma, even though we knew nothing about it at the time.”

He said his team came up with “a very naive concept” for proceeding: to identify molecules involved in tumor formation and then develop inhibitors for them, confirming both the mutations and their inhibition in mouse studies. After cause and prevention were demonstrated in mice, clinical drug trials in humans would follow.

The plan, however naive, has generated significant research success.

“That’s what translational research is about,” he said. “You have to develop a simple model … with milestones that let you know you’re making progress toward the goals.

“The other factor that is really important to this kind of science is luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time.”

The project’s first indication of good timing came quickly.

“Three weeks after we decided we were going to target medulloblastoma, the very first paper came out linking the sonic hedgehog pathway and … these tumors.” (A family of mutant genes with a spiky appearance is called hedgehog genes, and one of those was named after the Sonic Hedgehog computer game a Harvard researcher’s son was fond of.)

Sheep and corn lilies entered the picture when Curran was looking for a hedgehog-path inhibitor to work with and recalled a story about sheep giving birth to one-eyed lambs. What might have been a genetic defect was determined instead to be caused by a chemical in the corn lilies the ewes had eaten. The chemical, named cyclopamine, was found to block the sonic hedgehog path, the effect Curran was looking for. But it also was toxic and eventually seemed unlikely to lead to a suitable drug for humans.

Fortune intervened again when Curran was having a beer with a colleague after a conference in Taos, N.M. The friend was an expert on the sonic hedgehog pathway and referred Curran to another researcher whose team was doing similar work but running out of money for testing. Curran got in touch with the other team and was able to do the testing, which produced good results.

The project also has had its share of challenges to overcome, including recurrence of tumors after initial success in a human trial. That often happens in cancer treatment, Curran said, as drug resistance develops. But a biopsy from that case has provided further information, and trials continue.

Besides his positions at the Children’s Research Institute and UMKC, Curran is the Donald J. Hall Eminent Scholar in Pediatric Research and a professor of cancer biology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

Before coming to Kansas City, he led the Translational Brain Tumor Program for a decade at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; was deputy scientific director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute for another decade; and set up the multi-institution Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium.

Curran earned his doctorate for studies at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories in London. His work has been published in nearly 300 papers and cited more than 50,000 times.