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​CU and CSU researchers collaborate on Novel Methods

Leah Villegas, PhD and MyPhuong Le, PhD
Drs. Villegas and Le of CU Anschutz
By Wendy S. Meyer

The CCTSI aims to encourage research collaboration. One of the more targeted ways the Institute does this is through its Novel Clinical and Translational Methods (NCTM) Pilot Program. Recently, one of the groups of NCTM awardees included two researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and one researcher from Colorado State University: Leah Villegas, PhD, MyPhuong Le, PhD, and Daniel Gustafson, PhD.

“We (the review committee) select the scientific questions we think are the most important, and which are lacking a technology to answer them,” says NCTM Pilot Program Chair Natalie Serkova, PhD. “Then we announce these questions to all CCTSI members to see if there is anyone who can develop a new technology.” The program has two phases. Posing the important scientific questions is phase one. Phase two invites researchers on the more technological side to apply their particular solutions to the questions that have been chosen. Dr. Serkova says the review committee selects the phase two projects they find to be the most technologically sound. 

Dr. Le says she sought to work with Dr. Gustafson at CSU because he is an expert in pharmacology and the development of assays for pharmacokinetic (PK) and pharmacodynamics (PD) studies. These assays are essential to the drug development process. “With our collaboration with Dr. Villegas, we will develop new methods to more accurately evaluate the PK/PD of drug therapies targeted to the lung. This will potentially help other investigators interested in developing lung therapeutics and will also allow comprehensive sampling of disease biomarkers from the pulmonary circulation,” Le says.

Each group who is selected gets $25,000 with the expectation that within one year they will come out with the finished assay, technology, device, etc. to answer the scientific question.

In the five years this program has been in operation, there have been other collaborations between CU and CSU. However, this is the first time that researchers from CU and CSU will work together in the phase two portion of the program to answer a question posed by a CU Anschutz researcher in phase one.  

“You don’t often have two PIs applying together from CU and CSU. In this case they realized the combination of animal models and analytics will provide the most reliable and innovative approach,” Serkova says. 

Daniel Gustafson, PhD of CSU

And if past collaborations are any indication, Gustafson, Le and Villegas may be working together far into the future. Serkova is a former phase two NCTM awardee herself. She developed an MRI technology for phase one recipient Traci Lyons, PhD, Division of Medical Oncology. And as proof that the collaborative goal of the NCTM works, the two researchers have continued to develop the technology further and even applied together for NIH funding. “We are working on imaging of breast cancer and the inflamed microenvironment.” Serkova says.

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