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DOM Announces 2017 Outstanding Early Career Scholars

The University of Colorado Department of Medicine has selected the 2017 recipients for its Outstanding Early Career Scholar Program, HIV/AIDS researcher Kristine Erlandson, MD, and cardiology researcher Kunhua Song, PhD. The program aims to accelerate the careers of promising researchers in the Department of Medicine. 
The Department of Medicine launched the Outstanding Early Career Scholars Program in 2012 to invest in talented researchers early in their careers, helping accelerate their career development. The program was designed to enable these promising individuals to devote 75% of their effort to research or other scholarly activities. Each recipient receives $75,000 annually for up to five years (including funds from the Department of Medicine and the recipient’s division) to support their research or other forms of career development and expansion.
Kristine Erlandson, MD is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases.  She received her bachelor’s degree from Augustana College, medical degree at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and completed residency and a chief residency year at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  Dr. Erlandson came to Colorado in 2008 for her fellowship training in infectious diseases.
 As a fellow, she established a new area of investigation in the School of Medicine’s HIV/AIDS research program, studying the mechanisms of frailty among middle-aged, HIV-infected adults. Her research has focused on the underlying mechanisms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of physical function impairments/frailty among older adults with HIV-infection. She became an Assistant Professor in 2013 has already published over 50 papers in her field.
She was awarded a 5 year National Institute of Aging K23 award in September 2014 to study the role of age-associated or HIV-associated declines in insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1 and test the effects of an exercise intervention on physical function, as mediated through changes in the insulin like growth factor (IGF) -1 pathway. She was the recipient of a highly competitive Gilead Sciences Research Scholars Program in HIV Grant in 2015 and was then awarded a five year NIH R01 grant in August 2016 to test the effects of pitavastatin on physical function decline through proposed mechanisms of inflammation and changes in thoracic muscle density and mass, as substudy of a large, international clinical trial.  She was also the 2016 recipient of the AIDS Clinical Trial Group’s John Carey Young Investigator Award.  Erlandson will use this award to further understand tissue-level changes that occur with an exercise intervention, using existing samples from her ongoing K23.  She will incorporate these mechanisms into more effective interventions to attenuate physical function impairments in HIV.
“I’m delighted that Dr. Erlandson has been selected for this award,” said Eric Poeschla, MD, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Infectious Diseases “Her progress has been extraordinary. She has established a leading national reputation as an expert in research on aging with HIV infection and this field is becoming a very important one as large numbers of patients with this very treatable condition grow older in this country. While they are doing great from the standpoint of their HIV, they do have increased risks of cardiovascular disease and other conditions associated with aging. The OECSP award will help accelerate her already prolific work in this area.”
Kunhua Song, PhD is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology, and in the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology. He received his bachelor’s degree in Biology from Fudan University, master’s degrees from Zhejiang University and University of Arkansas, and a PhD in Genetics & Development from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW). As a postdoctoral fellow at UTSW, Song and Dr. Eric Olson focused on converting cardiac fibroblasts toward cardiomyocyte cell fate. Their findings published in Nature, were selected as one of the “2012 top 10 advances in heart disease and stroke research” released by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
In 2013, Kunhua joined faculty of the Division of Cardiology. The Song lab has focused on better understanding reprogramming of fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes, and cardiomyocyte cell fate commitment.  Song and his colleagues have shown that pro-fibrotic signaling serves as an endogenous barrier to reprogramming of fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes. Their article published in Nature Communications was selected and highlighted in the 2016 Nature special collection “Fibrosis: Mechanisms and Targets” focusing on the latest advances in fibrosis research.
In addition to defining the axis of cell signaling – epigenetic modifications that governs cardiomyocyte cell fate decision, Song and colleagues model human cardiomyopathy by using induced a pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) approach, animal models, genome editing technology, and bioengineering advancements. Song was a recipient of a 2013 American Heart Association Scientist Development Award, a 2014 Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Award, and a finalist of 2015 Outstanding Early Career Investigator Award selected by the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences of the American Heart Association.  In 2016, Song was awarded a NIH R01 grant to dissect mechanisms underlying cardiac cell lineage decision. Song will use the Outstanding Early Career Scholars award to identify fundamental and innovative mechanisms underlying pathogenesis of cardiomyopathy and heart regeneration, and to build a platform for discovery of therapeutics for this devastating disease.
“Kunhua is an absolutely terrific choice for this award,” said Peter Buttrick, MD, professor of medicine, head of the Division of Cardiology, and senior associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Medicine.  “He is a visionary and fearless scientist whose work on cell lineage determination has already changed our approach to cardiac remodeling.  His more recent work using iPSC will provide a solid cellular platform from which to study a spectrum of genetic diseases.  We couldn’t be more pleased and are very grateful to the Department of Medicine for this recognition and support.”

A total of 12 recipients have been selected to date:

Kristine Erlandson, MD; Kunhua Song, PhD (2017)
Catherine Lozupone, PhD (2016)
Steven Bradley, MD; Daniel Pollyea, MD (2015)
Brian Graham, MD; Sachin Wani, MD (2014)
Dan Matlock, MD; Eric Schmidt, MD; Rachel Zemans, MD (2013)
Larry Allen, MD; Mario Santiago, PhD (2012)

Applicants are selected from an unbiased, NIH-style study section composed of senior faculty largely outside of the Department of Medicine. Applications for this program are accepted each year in January.​
The Department of Medicine thanks the review committee for the 2017 OECSP selection process:
Heide Ford, PhD, Department of Pharmacology, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Ronald G. Gill, PhD, Department of Surgery, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Adit Ginde, MD, MPH, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Peter Henson, MD, PhD, Department of Biomedical Research, National Jewish Health
Cynthia Ju, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Colorado, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Cara Mack, MD, Children’s Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jane Reusch, MD, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jennifer Stevens-Lapsley, MPT, PhD, Physical Therapy Program, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Raul Torres, PhD, Department of Immunology and Microbiology, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Linda Van Dyk, PhD, Department of Immunology and Microbiology, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Selection Committee Co-Chair: Craig Jordan, PhD, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Selection Committee Co-Chair: Marc Moss, MD, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine