The Duke CTSA KL2 program provides training and research opportunities for junior investigators. KL2 scholars will leave the program equipped with the skills to be successful, independent investigators, making contributions across the spectrum of clinical and translational science. This year, four new investigators will join the program: Carlene Moore, Noreen Bukhari-Parlakturk, Stacey Maskarinec, and Lavanya Vasudevan.
Carlene Moore, PhD
Growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, Carlene Moore watched her mother struggle with back pain. When Carlene was in elementary school, her mother suffered a slipped disk and had to travel to England for surgery. After seeing the effects chronic pain can have on people, she knew it was something she wanted to help alleviate.
Carlene’s research focuses on deconstructing the molecular mechanisms in the skin for pain and inflammation. She hopes to use this information to compare how people of different ethnicities experience pain.
“Chronic pain can be debilitating,” Carlene said. “Many treatments for pain involve opioids, but due to the opioid overuse epidemic, I’m hoping to identify novel treatment options to control pathologic pain through the skin and launch rationally-based topical anti-pain treatments that move us forward toward personalized medicine, also taking into account ethnicity”
As a member of the KL2 Scholar program, Carlene is excited about the health disparities curriculum she and her fellow scholars will pursue. There is emerging published evidence that documents the disparities in pain treatment among different ethnic groups. Knowing that all humans have intrinsic biases, Carlene is hoping this curriculum will help to alleviate some of her intrinsic biases as she approaches her research agenda.
“As scholars, we all will benefit from training and growth,” Carlene said. “I know I have more growth potential. The KL2 program is all-around advantageous to me—it provides me the funding and mentoring I need to pursue my research questions and to achieve my goals.”
Noreen Bukhari-Parlakturk, MD, PhD
As a KL2 Scholar, Noreen Bukhari-Parlakturk will focus her research on writer’s cramp dystonia, a neurological condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions in the arms, hands, and fingers. Specifically, Noreen’s research will investigate treatment using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a procedure that stimulates nerve cells and is currently FDA-approved for treatment of depression.
Noreen’s training is in neurology and neuroscience and she’s found a complimentary skill set in her research mentor, Dr. Nicole Calakos.
“Dr. Calakos and I have synergistic research interests,” she said. “If we can demonstrate efficacy of TMS in dystonia patients, this will provide a readily available therapy for patients and has implications for disease modifying therapy that can help move the field forward.”
To advance this investigational therapy, Noreen hopes to begin a research study and collect data to demonstrate the feasibility of this brain stimulation approach. That’s where the KL2 Scholar program came into play - the dedicated research time and career development opportunities that come with the program are attributes Noreen believes will greatly affect her research moving forward.
“I’m excited to be more exposed to soft skills like grant writing and health disparities research,” she said. “The KL2 program is so relevant to my career, and it could not have come at a better time.”
Stacey Maskarinec, MD, PhD
Throughout her studies, Stacey Maskarinec has grown interested in biomaterials—how cells can stick to them, how to make them more biocompatible - how to design them using smarter materials. This led her to take up her current research project, where she is looking at patients who develop cardiac device infections, including infections of pacemakers, artificial heart valves, and other cardiac devices.
“When people with cardiac devices develop a bloodstream infection, some people also develop an infection of their cardiac device while others do not. We are trying to figure out why this happens,” Stacey said. “When these devices work properly, they can really improve a patient’s way of life.”
As a member of the KL2 Scholar program, Stacey is excited about how the program’s offerings will help her and her research evolve. She is looking forward to interacting more with her fellow scholars and taking advantage of the unique resources, including grant writing seminars.
“The KL2 program will give me all the didactic elements to serve as a compliment to my PhD training,” she said. “You can tailor the program to fit your needs, and that sets you up to be successful.”
Lavanya Vasudevan, PhD
Through Lavanya Vasudevan’s research, she’s come across an interesting statistic; in Tanzania, approximately 80 percent of women bringing their children in for doctor’s visits have at least one concern about vaccines. From Lavanya’s perspective, there are currently no systematic tools or processes within the clinical workflow to mitigate these concerns.
“A parent’s understanding and acceptance of vaccines is going to have an impact on how quickly—or even whether—they choose to vaccinate their children,” she said.
As a KL2 Scholar, Lavanya hopes to understand the range of parental concerns, as well as develop job aids that providers can use to offer tailored counseling on vaccines. A unique aspect of her research is its focus on pregnant women. Her hope is to learn about this population’s concerns and improve understanding before a child is even born to impact vaccines needed at birth.
Lavanya has been interested in the KL2 program for the last few years. She applied to the program last year, and the positive feedback she received reinvigorated her to try again this year.
“I’m really attracted to the close mentoring and structured format offered in this program,” she said. “The KL2 program is helping build a community of scholars at Duke, and I think that allows us to better learn from each other as we move forward in our careers.”