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Researchers in Focus

Five Questions for Kristine Erlandson, MD, MSCS

Kristine Erlandson
Dr. Erlandson, clinical researcher and CCTSI advocate
Winter 2017

By Wendy S. Meyer

Walk across the CU Anschutz campus, and you will feel the brisk energy of a place that is brimming with talented and ambitious biomedical researchers. At the CCTSI, one of our primary goals is to support these researchers, especially young investigators, through education and career development training programs, pilot grants, mentorship opportunities and much more. In nearly 10 years on the Anschutz campus, Kristine Erlandson, MD, MSCS has taken advantage of many of these CCTSI programs. In that time, some of her career milestones include authorship of 50 papers, a K23 award and national and international renown for her clinical research work in the field of HIV and aging. And she has done all this under the age of 40.

When you first came to the Anschutz Medical Campus, how did you first interact with the CCTSI?

I came for an infectious disease fellowship in 2008. During the second year of the fellowship, I developed a research project. Drs. Tom Campbell and Wendy Kohrt [both CCTSI pillar program directors] were my mentors. They are superstar examples of really strong clinical researchers that maintain leadership positions and always try to advance the field while connecting others to the right resources. My research project involved enrolling 360 older HIV patients, and I looked at falls, frailty, advanced directives and medications to create an aging database. Patients who were part of the study came to the CCTSI’s Clinical Translational Research Center (CTRC ) for visits, nursing blood draws, biomarkers and DEXA scans. This was pre-Microgrant days and junior investigators were eligible for a certain amount of funding from the CCTSI for their studies. [Today, junior investigators can apply for a Microgrant and receive up to $10,000 per year for 3 years during the course of their study.]  

Another way you interacted with the CCTSI was through the Master’s degree program in clinical science. Do you feel that degree gave you an edge in any way?

Through the Master’s in clinical science program I took two grant-writing classes, which I found to be very beneficial. I wrote my K award through those classes. I also took Biostatistics and a clinical trials course. It was fabulous. The degree has really helped my understanding of clinical trials and interpretation of data. It has been particularly beneficial for understanding large database analyses. One of the most interesting classes I took was in public health and aging that included concepts of aging from a public health standpoint. The degree was extremely helpful in terms of grant writing and designing clinical trials for my K award. I would recommend it to others. I would also suggest that researchers should be open to taking a course through the program even if they don’t complete the degree. Or they can take the courses as needed and ultimately earn the degree over a longer period of time. Another great benefit was the fact that I did the degree when I was a faculty member and used the tuition waiver credits! 

Tell me about your K award and what it is you are investigating? 
My current K23 NIH Career Development Award is focused on the relationships of physical function, the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) pathway and chronic inflammation, tested through an exercise intervention. The trial involves an exercise intervention in older adults with or without HIV. We are trying to determine the ideal exercise intensity for folks with HIV. There is some belief that it could be bad to have higher intensity exercise for those with a chronic inflammatory disease. We want to find out if high intensity exercise:
  • Helps them improve
  • Results in more injury
  • Helps endurance and strength
  • Has an effect on body composition
  • Has a different effect in HIV infected older adults vs adults without HIV infection.
The findings may be generalizable to other inflammatory diseases. We have submitted an abstract to the Conference on Retroviruses Opportunistic Infections (CRoI) with some of our preliminary results. I won’t be able to share any data until we find out if the abstract has been accepted and we present the findings at the meeting in March. 

What do you like about clinical research?
I love working with patients and actually seeing the benefits of the research I do. Particularly when you see patients in clinic, and then you see them in the community, and they are excited about the research. With my exercise study, my patients and our other study participants are so excited to tell you they are still exercising. I enjoy the direct feedback I receive from people in the study. I particularly enjoy doing studies where we are improving care. 

A lot of the participants in my studies also are active in the Community Advisory Board (CAB) for the Colorado AIDS Clinical Trials Unit. They have a lunch-and-learn conference once a month and are very active in research. They are great advocates for research. 

Do you have any advice for young investigators just starting out?
I would say to learn about the breadth of opportunities that are available through the CCTSI, from the exercise lab to the treadmill testing, to biopsy resources to clinical trials training and formal course work through the Master’s degree and clinical trials support. Understand how much is available, far beyond support for standard clinical trials and pharma studies. Realize there is support through Microgrant funding and understand how can be supported through the CCTSI resources here. The CCTSI has facilitated my ability to do clinical, hands-on, community, patient oriented research. And it jump started a fellowship project that probably would not have moved forward without the support of the CCTSI.

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