Current Pilots

Anastacia (Tasha) Garcia, PhD

Dates of funding: 2020-2022

My long-term research interests are focused on understanding the molecular adaptations governing pathological myocardial remodeling, exercise intolerance, and the progression to heart failure in patients with congenital heart disease. The lab utilizes several unique tools to address the mechanisms of cardiac dysfunction including whole animal and cell culture-based models, as well as access to a meticulously preserved Pediatric Tissue and Blood Bank here at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. My research objective is to improve our molecular understanding of heart failure in the pediatric congenital heart disease population with the goal of identifying efficacious therapies through basic science and clinical investigations and improving outcomes in this vulnerable group . I plan to accomplish these goals through several avenues including: 1) better understanding the molecular adaptations of pediatric heart failure, 2) identification of novel therapeutic targets, 3) animal and cell-based model development, 4) diagnostic and prognostic biomarker assessment, and 5) multi-omics data integration. My ultimate career goal is to be an independently funded full-time professor with expertise in pediatric cardiovascular disease, who runs a lab that contributes to the treatment and prevention of heart failure, and who participates in the training and mentoring of a diverse set of budding researchers.

Seth A. Creasy, PhD

Dates of funding: 2020-2022

I am currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado-Anschutz Medical Campus (CU AMC) in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes. I hold an NIH Career Development Award (K01 HL145023) investigating the extent to which patterns and timing of behaviors (physical activity, food intake, and sleep) influence body weight regulation. To date, my career has focused on identifying and improving strategies to treat and prevent overweight and obesity by linking behavioral and bioenergetic outcomes. My NORC pilot project aligns with my career focus as it seeks to examine the effects of exercise timing on weight loss and components of energy balance (energy expenditure and energy intake). This pilot study stems from our prior findings that morning and evening exercise result in different amounts of weight loss. We hope that this preliminary work will lead to future clinical and mechanistic studies on how the timing of exercise affects energy intake, energy expenditure, sleep, and ultimately body weight regulation. 

Srividhya Iyer, Ph.D

Dates of funding: 2020-2022

My research interests lie in understanding to the contribution of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) health and unfolded protein response (UPR) in maintaining skeletal homeostasis in physiologic and pathological conditions. I have broad background and training in the domains of genetics, molecular biology, microscopy, skeletal biology and mechanistic studies in osteoporosis. I have extensive experience in generating and leveraging conditional mice knockouts relevant for studying mechanisms of bone loss in osteoblast lineage cells. During my post-doctoral training, I focused on understanding mechanisms that mediate bone loss with sex steroid deficiency and age and role of senescence as their mediator. Specifically, I examined the role of FoxO family of transcription factors and sex hormones and their receptors in skeleton in particularly in osteoblast progenitor cells. As a faculty at University of Arkansas Medical Sciences, I generated genetic mouse models to specifically address the role of UPR sensors in osteoblast lineage cells and bone health. I was funded by P20 NIGMS COBRE project as junior PI in Arkansas for one year, during which I developed expertise in various microscopy techniques for imaging bone including TEM to visualize ER of osteoblasts on tissue sections. In the context of this proposal, I will focus on the effects of high-fat diet on osteoblast progenitor cells and actions of the UPR sensor Perk in these cells as a contributor to obesity-related skeletal changes. The present application leverages my strong background in osteoblast biology to examine the role of fundamental cellular pathways to define the molecular basis of skeletal fragility in setting of obesity.

Rebecca Scalzo, PhD

Dates of funding: 2020-2022

I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes and a VA research scientist at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center. The objective of my research is to better understand the diabetes burden in premenopausal women through the investigation of the cycle between type 2 diabetes and estrogen signaling. The primary themes of my research program are 1) to determine the interaction of diabetes and estrogen signaling on skeletal muscle mitochondria and 2) to elucidate the mechanisms by which endocrine therapies for breast cancer increase type 2 diabetes risk in cancer survivors. I am currently funded by a VA Career Development Award (CDA2) to investigate the interaction of diabetes and estrogen on metabolic flexibility and exercise tolerance in rats with hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia. My NORC pilot project aligns with my research program and provides added value to my CDA2 by exploring how the diabetic environment alters the gene expression signature associated with estrogen in skeletal muscle. The goal for the data generated with this NORC pilot award is to identify potential therapeutic targets in estrogen signaling that are disrupted in women with type 2 diabetes.

Martine Saint-Cyr, MD

Dates of funding: 2020-2022

My specialized clinical training in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition has cultivated my research
passion to understand how nutrition contributes and affects clinical outcomes of pediatric patients with
inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which includes Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC).

Isabel Schlaepfer, PhD

Dates of funding: 2020-2022

The goal of my research is to elucidate how cancer cells use lipid to their benefit, leading to the design of more
effective therapies. As a background, I worked as a PRA in molecular and lipid metabolism for more than a
decade while caring for my young family. In 2005 I started my doctoral studies in physiology and genetics at CU
Boulder, under a NIDA pre-doctoral training grant. At the completion of my PhD, I returned to CU medical
campus and obtained a 3-year ACS fellowship to initiate my training in cancer and lipid metabolism. This cancer
training led me to secure a 5- year K01 award from NCI to continue my cancer research studies and to obtain a
tenure-track faculty position in the Division of Medical Oncology.

Jaime Moore, MD

My long-term research career goals include studying novel approaches to personalize obesity treatment using a combination of tools (e.g. nutrition interventions, pharmacotherapy, bariatric surgery) to achieve optimal weight-related health outcomes, and to minimize disparities driven by the social determinants of health and stigma.

Following an Internal Medicine/Pediatrics residency, I completed a one-year fellowship in pediatric clinical nutrition at the University of Colorado, which provided a broad training experience across the growth and development spectrum (from severe malnutrition to micronutrient deficiency evaluation to acute management of severe obesity comorbidities). I was then was accepted into the University of Colorado’s 3-year NIH T32 Nutrition fellowship (PI: Krebs). After a year working with Dr. Janet Snell-Bergeon in nutritional epidemiology, in August 2017, I transitioned to working with Drs. Richard Boles, Thomas Inge, and Megan Kelsey in the Bariatric Surgery Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado. This transition allowed me to pursue research questions within the patient population that I am most passionate about: adolescents and young adults with severe obesity. This work has included receiving an Investigational New Drug application through the FDA and a 2019-2020 Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) pilot & feasibility award to study anti-obesity medications (phentermine and topiramate) among adolescents and young adults who do not achieve adequate risk reduction after bariatric surgery. My ongoing desire to effectively address health disparities, has also led me to pursue a Master in Public Health (MPH) during fellowship. This MPH program has complemented my fellowship training with experiential learning in areas of health behavior theory, health care equity, qualitative methods, and program planning/implementation/evaluation. 

I am interested in conducting clinical trials that evaluate the effects of adjunctive treatments (to lifestyle-based and surgical interventions) for adolescents and young adults with severe obesity, and in particular, the use of anti-obesity pharmacotherapy. Testable questions that are unanswered in the field of anti-obesity pharmacotherapy among adolescents include: Can anti-obesity medications additively or synergistically augment the effects of bariatric surgery? When in the perioperative timeline is it most effective to use pharmacotherapy? Which medications are best for improving specific obesity co-morbidities before and after surgery? What individual patient and psychosocial characteristics predict a positive response to one agent (or combination) over another? And, how should “success” of anti-obesity medications be defined in pediatrics? To advance my understanding of anti-obesity pharmacotherapy, I attended the Advanced Therapies for Pediatric Obesity Workshop presented by the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital Pediatric Weight Management Program in October 2017. And I am currently completing a pharmacogenomics certificate program, to better understand how we may be able to personalize anti-obesity medication regimens. I have created standardized clinical protocols for use of anti-obesity pharmacotherapy for the entire Lifestyle Medicine Program (including the Bariatric Surgery Center). And I am the clinical lead for initiating and monitoring anti-obesity pharmacotherapy before and after bariatric surgery. I recently transitioned to faculty as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Section of Nutrition and was hired as the second medical provider within the Bariatric Surgery Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Jennifer Blankenship, PhD

The overall goal of my research program is to understand the biological mechanisms by which exercise, sleep, and nocturnal metabolism influence risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Sleep has emerged as a key behavior that influences the risk of obesity and obesity related co-morbidities (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease). During sleep, there are many dynamic changes in hormones and metabolites, such as secretion pulses in growth hormone and oscillations in glucose concentrations. Recent studies by my mentors have demonstrated that nocturnal free fatty acid concentrations and nocturnal fat oxidation are related to next day insulin sensitivity and risk for future weight gain. Further, disruptions in sleep quality, independent of sleep quantity, may cause many impairments in metabolism (e.g. insulin resistance, hyperglycemia) and increase the risk of weight gain. Collectively, these data indicate that nocturnal fat metabolism and sleep quality are related to clinically relevant health outcomes and represent an important and understudied area in the field of nutrition and obesity research.

Individuals with obesity and metabolic syndrome (MetS) have an increased risk of chronic disease and frequently report sleep problems. Disrupted sleep quality may exacerbate the metabolic defects already present in individuals with MetS, thus, determining methods to positively impact sleep in this population is of great importance. Exercise has been a cornerstone of behavioral modifications to treat obesity for decades. There is evidence to suggest exercise improves sleep quality in healthy populations. However, the effect of exercise on sleep quality in individuals with underlying metabolic disease (e.g. obesity, MetS) is not known. Understanding whether exercise positively impacts sleep quality in this population is key in managing chronic disease risk. My current research is investigating how exercise impacts sleep quality and nocturnal metabolism in individuals with MetS.  I expect my findings will provide insight into how exercise and sleep interact to reduce chronic disease risk.

Owen Vaughan, PhD

My research to date has focused on the regulation of utero-placental function by environmental and endocrine factors and its role in the determination of fetal growth and offspring health. This interest began at the Centre for Trophoblast Research at the University of Cambridge. During my PhD I gained extensive experience of in vivo techniques in rodents, including experiments in pregnant animals and large-cohort, multigenerational studies investigating the feto-placental effects of glucocorticoids. In this period, I also obtained proficiency in gene and protein expression and morphometric analyses. I continued my research in this area during postdoctoral training at Cambridge, gaining additional experience of large animal metabolic studies and chronic catheterization techniques in sheep whilst also investigating more deeply the molecular actions of glucocorticoids in the placenta as part of a transcriptomic and bioinformatic project funded by a personal award from the British Society for Endocrinology. My rodent studies culminated in the publication of a series of papers on placental function during maternal stress which garnered interest in the scientific and UK national press. Subsequently, I took up a second postdoctoral position at University College London working upon a more translational project, aiming to develop a therapy for severe intrauterine growth restriction by targeting gene therapy to the uterine arteries in pregnant women. As part of this project, I expanded my expertise in cardiovascular physiology, overseeing protocols for measurement of blood pressure and cardiac morphology in guinea pigs. I moved to the University of Colorado in 2016 in order to gain additional experience in translational reproductive science, in particular capitalizing upon the enhanced opportunities for collaboration with clinical colleagues and access to human tissue available at Anschutz Medical Campus. As a result of this research, I have published 21 research papers (10 first author, including 2 based on my work in Colorado), 8 review articles and over 20 conference papers since 2010. The focus of my current research is the molecular mechanisms by which offspring cardiac dysfunction is programmed in utero in maternal obesity and I have recently reported that normalization of maternal adiponectin levels in obese pregnant mice prevented the development of diastolic dysfunction.  Thus, my research links maternal obesity and nutrition during pregnancy with the long term programming of metabolic disease in children.

Sean Iwamoto, MD

Transgender (trans) people have a gender identity and/or gender expression that does not align with their sex assigned at birth (SAB). Many trans people experience associated distress known as gender dysphoria. Health care disparities among trans people are prevalent, related to gender dysphoria, fears of discrimination, access to medical/surgical care and other barriers. Among the many health care disparities faced by trans people, studies have reported on decreased physical activity and healthy eating habits as well as increased tobacco smoking, alcohol use and drug use. My quality improvement project during endocrine fellowship revealed higher rates of obesity among both trans women and trans men compared to the general adult population of Colorado. Research locally and around the world tries to better understand the basis for and evaluate solutions to reduce differential health outcomes based on gender identity.

As an early career endocrinologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (CUSOM), my academic trajectory is to explore the impacts of obesity, aging and gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT, or using sex hormones of the affirmed gender) on cardiometabolic risk in trans people. My current research compares vascular endothelial function and aging in trans women and men on chronic GAHT with the same parameters in cisgender (cis) women and men, individuals whose gender identity aligns with their SAB. These data will provide preliminary data for further investigations on the effects of sex steroids in trans and cis people. My interest in trans research has a foundation in years of volunteer work within the trans and other sexual/gender minority communities. Over the years, I have also heard from trans patients about continued stigma within medicine regarding access to culturally sensitive and comprehensive care. Trans patients deserve evidence-based best practices for health care delivery, particularly in the setting of GAHT, which has been associated with weight gain and an increased risk cardiovascular disease (CVD) and venous thromboembolism in trans women and possibly trans men. Whether gonadectomy (after GAHT, based on clinical practice guidelines) affects CVD risk is yet to be determined.

In September 2017, I co-founded the UCHealth Integrated Transgender Program (ITP) with my mentor, Dr. Micol Rothman, and other specialists in psychiatry, internal medicine, gynecology and plastics and reconstructive surgery, to provide safe and comprehensive care to our trans patients during a single clinic visit within the Endocrinology Clinic. ITP also educates providers, staff and learners across the hospital system and within the community. We received a 2018 University of Colorado President’s Diversity & Inclusive Excellence Grant, the 2019 University of Colorado Hospital Medical Staff Award for Excellence in Clinical Innovation and a 2019 One Colorado Ally Award. We are collecting qualitative (e.g., patient and provider needs assessments) and quantitative (e.g., Pap test and other cancer screening compliance, hormone monitoring, body mass index [BMI] and body composition changes, laboratory trends, pre-/post-Provider Education Day knowledge differences) data. We are establishing a Community Advisory Board to engage stakeholders in developing ideas for future research collaborations and participant recruitment. I am also spearheading the creation of a registry of trans patients at UCHealth and will collect prospective data on health outcomes. Working with the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, a new plastic surgeon will join the ITP team in Sept 2019, increasing access to gender-affirming surgery to our patients.

To learn more about trans health research, I met Dr. Guy T’Sjoen (Ghent University Hospital, Belgium) and Dr. Martin den Heijer (Amsterdam University Medical Center, the Netherlands) as part of a 2017 American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists/American College of Endocrinology (AACE/ACE) Dr. Lewis E. Braverman Educational Fund Travel Grant. Both are endocrinologists and primary investigators of the European Network for the Investigation of Gender Incongruence (ENIGI), the first collaboration to create a multicenter, multinational, standardized treatment and follow up protocol to prospectively investigate the effects of GAHT in trans people. Since then, we have collaborated on a workshop about GAHT outcomes at the European Professional Association for Transgender Health (EPATH) in April 2019 and wrote a narrative review on feminizing GAHT. I have also submitted a proposal to conduct subgroup analyses on existing ENIGI data to see if/how BMI and age influence various health outcomes in that cohort of patients. I am serving on the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health (USPATH) 2019 Conference Scientific Review and Awards Committees, while also part of a symposium on screening tests in trans people.

I have ongoing support of my mentorship committee and the CUSOM Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism & Diabetes to help achieve their vision of cultivating interdisciplinary trans research. Though early in my career, I have already established myself as a physician advocate dedicated to improving health care/outcomes for trans patients through interdisciplinary clinical translational research and international collaboration, with a focus on obesity and aging.