By Lauren Koffman, DO, MS
This is the second installment in a Currents series featuring neurocritical researchers who have been awarded K awards. Each person was asked to describe their research background, experience with the application process and a bit about their research project. The recurrent advice of these successful researchers is to establish a supportive network of mentorship, and collaborate within and outside of your department/institutions. Thank you again for your insight and participation in this series.
Susanne Muehlschlegel, MD, MPH
Susanne Muehlschlegel, MD, MPH, is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She describes writing the K application process like “learning a special code” language.
"I learned a lot by reading other researchers’ K applications, which had been funded (with permission), and regularly attending the 'K-Club' at my institution, where a group of peers and a group of experienced K mentors reviewed and gave feedback on pieces of the K as I wrote it,” she says.
In addition, she notes that having a team of mentors was important, each lending her a piece of their expertise.
Because Dr. Muehlschlegel had to wait for a green card to be K-eligible, this allowed her time to build a track record of papers and smaller grants. She also completed a graduate program, the MPH included a focus on clinical effectiveness for additional clinical research training and conducted a small investigator-initiated clinical trial (funded by AHA).
“This experience is very useful now as I’m conducting a feasibility trial of the decision aids, which I created during my K,” Dr. Muehlschlegel says.
She conducts family- and patient-centered research with expertise in shared decision making and outcome prognostication (mostly TBI).
Interventions to improve clinician-family communication and decision quality for incapacitated severe acute brain injury patients (TBI/ICH/AIS) have the potential to decrease the psychological burden of surrogate decisions and ensure patients receive treatments they would choose, thereby increasing healthcare quality and potentially decreasing associated costs.
“We have developed a decision aid intervention for families of SABI patients, which is based on the concept of shared decision making and is consistent with the principle of family-centered care. Field testing in families recruited from our neurological ICU waiting rooms yielded excellent acceptability and usability, and we anticipate a multi-center clinical trial testing the efficacy of our decision aid in a two-year timeframe,” she says.
Her exciting work was recently featured in a Women in Science video series and can be viewed here.
For further information on Dr. Muehlschlegel's research work and lab, click here.
Soojin Park, MD, FAHA
Soojin Park, MD, FAHA, is an assistant professor of Neurology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She has had an interest in the “analysis and innovative visualization of physiologic data for critical care clinical decision support.” She recalls that at her first institution after fellowship, she developed multi-disciplinary collaborative relationships with computer scientists, engineers and brain physicists (mostly external to the institution). Through this network, she was able to acquire a good amount of physiologic data, co-develop visualization software and generate diverse publications, but there were no relevant research mentors available locally.
“After my sixth year of being junior faculty, I moved to Columbia on the tenure-track with a reset clock for promotion. With the support of my division and department, I was introduced to several potential mentors in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Mailman School of Public Health," she says.
Within six months of arriving at Columbia, she was matched with a mentor and was able to submit a successful application to the NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Initiative for a K01 Mentored Career Development Award in Biomedical Big Data Science. Her research program combines signal processing and machine learning in the featurization of physiologic and electronic medical record data for the detection and prediction of delayed cerebral ischemia after subarachnoid hemorrhage.
“The advice for K applications seems cliched at this point, and I have found all to be true: It’s about the (wo)man, the plan and the fan," Dr. Park says. "It’s important to have a track record yourself of focus in your area of research, with an achievable and appropriate training and research plan. It’s important to have a local research mentor who is well-versed in the process, with a track record of funding and prior successful mentorship. Adequate research mentorship shows in the quality of your application; he/she should be able to help you understand what is innovative in your field, what is important to a study section and how to avoid common pitfalls. And, finally, it’s important to have senior faculty in your division or department who can advise, encourage and remove barriers for you."
Brandon Foreman, MD, FACNS
Brandon Foreman, MD, FACNS, is an assistant clinical professor of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine, as well as the associate director for Neurocritical Care Research at the University of Cincinnati. He says the application for his K23 was challenging, but he was supported by an excellent team of mentors and collaborators.
“The process took approximately 18 months between initial submission, response to the section and resubmission and finally getting the word that the application was funded," Dr. Foreman says. "I thought the NINDS R25 course was helpful in learning the process and, of course, nothing can serve as a substitute for having as many experienced eyes as possible to review and refine the aims and other portions of the application throughout the process."
Dr. Foreman says he has performed clinical research throughout his medical education and residency, learning from clinical scientists whom he was able to establish as mentors. He has a B.S. in psychology and went from his undergraduate degree to medical school; while he didn't have formal scientific training nor bench science experience, he is leveraging his clinical training and experience to learn how to develop the science behind the questions that come up during clinical care as an important part of his K23.
“I am fortunate to have the chance to collaborate with the multicenter Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury (TRACK-TBI; PI: Manley) study and with the Spreading Depolarizations II (SDII; PI: Hartings) study in order to achieve my aims.”
His primary objectives include investigating the potential impacts of intracranial pressure elevations on cognition in survivors of severe TBI and evaluating if elevations in intracranial pressure impact cortical functioning as measured by a depth electrode placed in the nearby cortex. This will help answer ongoing questions about the use of intracranial pressure as a biomarker of secondary brain injury.