New KL2 Scholars Tackle Diabetes, Radiation Safety and Depression

Three junior faculty members at Duke receive support to develop careers in translational medicine

July 17, 2014

Applications for the 2015 KL2 Program Due by Dec. 31, 2014

Three more Duke investigators have been selected to benefit from the resources available through the Duke Translational Medicine Institute’s (DTMI) KL2 Scholar Program.  This program, supported by Duke’s Clinical and Translational Science Award, offers three years of funding, didactic coursework in clinical and translational research, mentorship, and research assistance.

The three researchers receiving this award effective July 1, 2014 are:

• Ranee Chatterjee, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine

• Zhi-De Deng, PhD, Medical Instructor, Division of Brain Stimulation and Neurophysiology

• Kevin Hill, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Cardiology

Each scholar will take courses and conduct a research project that furthers patient care but also provides the scholars with the skills, mentoring, knowledge and experience they need to become successful, independent researchers.

The scholars have chosen three exciting research topics:

Ranee Chatterjee will work on a project titled, “The Effects of Potassium on Glucose Metabolism and Diabetes Risk in African Americans.”  The project involves the study of African Americans with pre-diabetes and explores the hypothesis that low or low-normal potassium levels increase their risk of diabetes.  African Americans suffer disproportionately high rates of diabetes and the complications that can result from this disease.  Chatterjee is passionate about finding ways to reduce racial disparities.  “This is why I’m focusing on African Americans,” she said.  “If we can intervene early and establish healthy lifestyle and prevention factors, it may make a big dent in the diabetes epidemic and the racial disparity in diabetes risk.”

Zhi-De Deng’s project, “Individualized Optimal Targeting for Seizure Therapy,” will develop a new way of performing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for the treatment of severe major depression to reduce the negative side effects of seizure therapy (also known as electroshock therapy), one of which is amnesia.  By individually optimizing the placement of electrodes and the electrical dosage using computational modeling, he hopes to target therapeutic areas of the brain, while avoiding areas that contribute to cognitive side effects.  Deng sees the KL2 program as an avenue to help change the lives of some of the millions of Americans who suffer from major depression. “With the KL2 program, I will be able to get more clinical research training in order to translate some of the brain stimulation technology I have developed to the bedside,” he said.

Kevin Hill will use his KL2 scholar status to expand upon his work researching the safety of children undergoing treatment for heart problems. His project, “Improving Radiation Safety during Cardiac Catheterization,” aims to reduce radiation exposure to children by 50 to 70 percent by manipulating the imaging equipment.  Hill knows that the effects of radiation can be greater in children because their cells are multiplying faster than adult cells.  Hill will advance his understanding of physics and radiation exposure through coursework and from his mentorship team, which includes experts from the radiation safety group at Duke as well as from imaging and cardiology.  “My mentors have told me that it is key to have a good overlap between research and clinical interests,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to work closely with Duke’s Radiation Safety Group, which is one of the leading groups in the world, and to apply what I learn to what I do clinically.”

Laura Svetkey, MD, director of the KL2 Program, and Kimberly Johnson, MD, the KL2 associate director, say that the first three KL2 Scholars, selected earlier this year, are making excellent progress. They are eager to help these three new scholars achieve their career goals.

“We know they will make important contributions through their clinical and translational research,” Svetkey said.


The KL2 Program

The KL2 program is part of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) initiatives to help new researchers navigate the complicated world of research.  It is a program available to clinical investigators from various fields who have recently completed professional training and are commencing basic, translational and/or clinical research.

The formal coursework teaches the skills of developing research questions and conducting studies.  The formal mentorship aspect provides guidance on career development from established research experts.  The additional infrastructure support guides new investigators through the rules and regulations surrounding this type of work.

The NIH provides support for this program through Duke’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).