Miami CTSI

CTSI Announces New Cohort of KL2 Awardees for FY21


From left: Merline Benny, M.D., Marissa DeFreitas, M.D., Yelena Drexler, M.D., Katlyn Meier, Ph.D.

The Miami CTSI has named four new scholars to its Mentored Translational Research Scholars Program (KL2) for fiscal year 2021.

CTSI’s KL2 Scholars program provides a structured research training environment that allows early stage faculty to acquire the skills and experience needed to become outstanding independent clinical and translational investigators.

These faculty will receive mentorship, an individualized research and career development plan, experiential training with established faculty, and access to educational programs and supportive resources through CTSI’s various programs.

Funding is awarded to those who demonstrate a commitment to a career in clinical and/or translational research and whose proposals are translational and have the highest potential for success.

NCATS Scholars

Merline Benny, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Project Title: Protective role of CXCR7 in neonatal hyperoxia induced systemic vascular dysfunction in adulthood
Primary Mentor: Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., University of Miami, Professor and Chair, Department of Surgery

Dr. Benny will study the early origins of vascular morbidities in preterm survivors. With the improvement in perinatal and neonatal care, preterm survivors are reaching adulthood who have increased incidence of cardiovascular morbidities. Dr. Benny’s research aims to provide insight into the molecular mechanisms linking prematurity and these morbidities.

Marissa DeFreitas, M.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
Project Title: Soluble klotho as a predictor of reduced nephron endowment and kidney injury in preterm infants
Primary Mentor: Carolyn Abitbol, M.D., University of Miami, Pediatrics, Nephrology, Professor, Division Chief

Dr. DeFreitas will investigate whether reduced levels of soluble klotho (an anti-oxidant protein) at birth is related to smaller kidney size and impaired kidney function in preterm infants. Dr. DeFreitas says soluble klotho has shown promise both as a biomarker for diagnosing kidney injury and as a therapeutic target to reduce acute and chronic kidney injury in animal and adult human studies.

Yelena Drexler, M.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine
Project Title: Apolipoprotein M and S1P as Novel Biomarkers of Glomerular Lipotoxicity in Nephrotic Syndrome
Primary Mentor: Alessia Fornoni, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Division of Nephrology and Hypertension, Department of Medicine, University of Miami

Dr. Drexler will investigate whether apolipoprotein M (ApoM), a protein involved in the transport of cholesterol out of tissues, is a biomarker of lipid-induced kidney injury in patients with nephrotic syndrome (NS). Her research may open the door to new treatment strategies for patients with NS.

Institutional Scholar

One of the awards is jointly funded by the CTSI and the College of Arts & Sciences/ Department of Chemistry.

Katlyn Meier, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Project Title: Metal-centric approach to medicine: Combining spectroscopy, in vivo imaging, and quantum-chemical calculations to define metal-protein interactions in the progression and treatment of neurodegenerative disease
Primary Mentor: R. Grace Zhai, Ph.D., University of Miami School of Medicine, Department of Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology, Associate Professor

Dr. Meier will investigate the role of copper in Huntington’s disease (HD), an autosomal dominant disorder. Dr. Meier says one of the hallmarks of HD is elevated concentrations of iron and copper in the brain. Her research aims to provide the insight needed to evaluate the suitability of metals as a druggable targets, and push forward the development of mhtt-selective therapeutic options.

Program Leadership & Administration

The KL2 Scholars program is led by CTSI’s Institutional Career Development Core Multi-PI Tatjana Rundek, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Rundek is Professor of Neurology and Public Health Sciences, Executive Vice Chair for Research and Faculty Affairs in the Department of Neurology, Scientific Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, and Evelyn F. McKnight Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging at the Miller School. She is also the Director of CTSI’s Master’s of Science in Clinical and Translational Investigation Program.

It is also led by Multi-PI Gwendolyn Scott, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology.

It is Co-Directed by Alessia Fornoni, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Fornoni is Professor of Medicine and Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at the Miller School and Chief of the Katz Family Division of Nephrology and Hypertension. She is a Co-Director for the Miami CTSI’s Translational Workforce Development Program and a Research Mentoring Leader.

Patricia Avissar, CTSI Director of Research Support, is the KL2 Administrative Program Director. She oversees the application process, reviewer process and onboarding of the awardees.

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