The Duke CTSA KL2 program provides training opportunities and protected research effort for junior investigators. KL2 scholars will leave the 3-year program equipped with the skills to be successful, independent investigators, making contributions across the spectrum of clinical and translational science. This year, two new investigators will join the program: Joshua Thaden, MD, PhD; and Michelle White, MD, MPH.
Dr. Joshua Thaden is an infectious diseases physician-scientist at Duke. His research focuses on gram-negative bacterial infections, and in particular how bacterial genetic variation influences patient outcomes. Understanding why some patients recover well from infections while others do not is complicated in that clinical outcomes depend on patient, treatment, and bacterial factors. Of these, the role that bacterial variation plays in patient outcomes is particularly understudied.
“For example, in E. coli infections we found that presence of particular E. coli genes resulted in increased patient mortality. And when we investigated these genes in the lab we found that they are involved in functions that are critical in bacterial virulence. These types of studies have been made possible by technologies such as whole genome sequencing coupled with sophisticated bioinformatics approaches.”
Dr. Thaden heard about the KL2 Scholars program from his research mentor, Dr. Vance Fowler, and from Dr. Stacey Maskarinec, a current KL2 scholar. He believes the program will provide the mentorship, training in clinical and translational research, and career development activities he needs at this stage of his career.
“The KL2 program is perfect for an early stage investigator like me,” Dr. Thaden said. “I’m looking forward to receiving training in things like statistics and healthcare disparities. It will help me carry out research and learn skills I need to be an independent researcher.”
Dr. Michelle White is a pediatrician physician scientist whose research has focused on geographic factors contributing to health disparities in children, particularly obesity and cardiovascular disease. As a KL2 scholar she plans to focus on developing and testing a mobile health intervention that enhances modifiable family and neighborhood factors that promote healthy weight.
“I started my research journey doing international work and saw dramatic differences in health outcomes,” Dr. White said. “When I came back to the U.S., I saw disparate outcomes exist here, too, particularly in lower-income communities. I’m now interested in affecting those outcomes by developing interventions based on geographic data.”
Dr. White graduated from Duke Medical School in 2010, and returned in 2018 after residency, fellowship, and postdoctoral training to work closely with her research mentor, Dr. Eliana Perrin. She is looking forward to developing the skills she needs to become an independent investigator driving intervention to eliminate health disparities in children.
“There is great work going on at Duke,” Dr. White said. “I’m looking forward to growing as a researcher and making the transition from descriptive research to intervention development in a community-engaged manner.”