Boettcher Investigator Profiles

The following individuals were selected as Boettcher Investigators for 2017. For detailed profiles of their research, click on their names. Colorado School of Mines Andrew Petruska, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering – Magnetic manipulation for medical applications Colorado State University Erin Osborne Nishimura, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology – Gene expression, chromatin and developmental biology Kelly S. Santangelo, DVM, Ph.D., Diplomate ACVP, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Pathology – Prevention and therapy of post-traumatic osteoarthritis National Jewish Health  Camille M. Moore, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biostatistics – Statistical methods for longitudinal RNA-sequencing data University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus  Joshua C. Black, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology – Epigenetic regulation of tumor heterogeneity Angelo D'Alessandro, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of the Metabolomics Core – School of Medicine – Systemic metabolic reprogramming in health and disease Kristine A. Kuhn, MD, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology – Gut-joint lymphocyte trafficking in inflammatory bowel disease and spondyloarthritis Eric M. Pietras, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Hematology – Hematopoietic stem cell and inflammation biology John A. Thompson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery – Neurobiology of sensory-motor driven decision-making processes ...

For 2011 Boettcher Investigator Dr. Robert Doebele, the satisfying part of medicine is researching an idea in his lab, and then seeing that idea come to fruition in treating his patients. And that’s exactly what is happening in the first-of-its-kind clinical trial that he is currently leading. Dr. Doebele holds both an M.D. and a Ph.D., which allows him to spend part of his time in the lab and part with his patients, which is also what guided him to specialize in lung cancer.  “I like the patient relationship. Some doctors like healthier patients, and while I don’t like having sick patients, I don’t mind it,” Dr. Doebele explained. “I get to see my patients often, from diagnosis through treatment.” It’s that same patient interaction that helped Dr. Doebele to make a huge breakthrough in his lab. Dr. Doebele researches oncogene targeted therapy, or precision medicine, where he identifies the dominant genes that are critical for developing cancer. When those genes are specifically targeted in treatment, doctors are able to shrink tumors. “When I started working in lung cancer in 2005, the treatment for lung cancer was pretty much all the same,” Dr. Doebele said. “The treatment is now very different based on the genetic abnormalities present in each patient.” Because of this genetic research, lung cancer now has identifiable mutations that make gene-targeted therapy possible. But what happens when a patient has none of the identified mutations, is a non-smoker in her forties, and presents with stage-four lung cancer? Around that same time, Dr. Doebele realized there must be other targetable genes that can become cancer-driving cells. Thus, his most-recent research was born. His lab did not discover a new gene, but using modern techniques, they were able to identify that this specific gene was truly cancer-driving and, beyond that, they developed a method for targeting that gene in treatment. Working with Array Biopharma out of Boulder, Dr. Doebele helped develop a drug to test in these cancers. Unfortunately, Dr. Doebele’s inspiring patient passed away, but thanks to the tissue that she donated, Dr. Doebele was able to directly advance his research, initiate a clinical trial and literally save lives. The first patient to participate in his clinical trial was much like Dr. Doebele’s patient who donated tissue. She was incredibly ill with widely metastatic sarcoma in her lungs, and even moved to Denver with her family for a month to participate in phase one of the study. “I was nervous because this was the first test of my research to see if it actually does anything,” remembers Dr. Doebele. “You feel like you are laying your chips on the table, and it was my idea combined with a real patient.” Week by week during the clinical trial, his new patient improved. Now, almost two years later, she is still taking the drug he developed and has no measurable tumor in her lungs. And she’s not alone. All of the trial patients have had tumor shrinkage and most have had a highly measurable response. “This is not going to cure millions of cancer patients, but if we test patients and identify these mutations, it’s a very good start. It’s a bedside-to-bench-to-bedside approach,” said Dr. Doebele. Two companies are now developing drugs to specifically treat what Dr. Doebele identified, and are awaiting FDA approval. “It’s rare but satisfying when you get to come full-circle and see your research directly affect patients.” Dr. Doebele said. Looking back, he credits his scientific success with both luck and preparedness, plus a boost from the Boettcher Foundation. “The luck was finding a patient that had this mutation, but the Webb-Waring Biomedical research funding allowed me to prepare my lab to take on this project very quickly,” said Dr. Doebele. This combination allowed Dr. Doebele to publish his findings in approximately a year, which meant getting this treatment to clinical trial, and ultimately, to patients sooner. Since then, he has received more funding, including an R01 grant from the National Institute of Health. Looking ahead, Dr. Doebele is very interested in bringing increasingly better drugs to patients, and plans to continue testing new drugs and new ideas with the ultimate goal of saving lives.  ...

The following individuals were selected as Boettcher Investigators for 2016. For detailed profiles of their research, click on their names. Colorado State University  Rushika Perera, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of RNA Virology – Exploiting vulnerabilities in mosquito metabolism for prevention of human arboviral transmission Timothy J. Stasevich, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology – Imaging cancer epigenetics in living cells   National Jewish Health  James L. Crooks, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics – Wildfire smoke and pediatric asthma   University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus  Wen-Yuan Elena Hsieh, M.D., Assistant Professor of Immunology & Microbiology and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Allergy and Immunology –Immune dysregulation in pediatric SLE pathogenesis Ethan G. Hughes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology – Intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms regulating cortical remyelination Bernard L. Jones, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medical Physics – Achieving safe and effective dose escalation in pancreatic SBRT through tumor tracking and robust treatment planning Cristin Welle, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and Bioengineering – Development of high-density neural sensors for bioelectronics therapeutics Hongjin Zheng, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics – Mechanical studies of disease-related substrates entering mitochondria via protein import machinery TOM-TIM   University of Colorado Boulder  Sabrina Spencer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry – Elucidating the causes and consequences of slow-cycling cells within isogenic population   University of Denver Schuyler van Engelenburg, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Department of Biological Sciences – Site-specific targeting of engineered retroviruses to the Interleukin 2 Receptor locus for correction of genetic immunodeficiency ...

This past summer, the Boettcher Foundation launched a “collaboration grant” program that paired 12 Boettcher Scholars with Boettcher Investigators at Colorado institutions. The students had the opportunity to assist with research, while the Boettcher Investigators benefitted from having highly skilled and dedicated students in their labs. For 2011 scholar Lucas Suazo, a student at Colorado State University, it meant studying damaged lung cells and shadowing patient visits with Dr. Rachel Zemans at National Jewish Health. “In the lab, he would take lung cells and expose them to cigarette smoke. You put them in a chamber, light a cigarette, let them breathe and watch the damage,” Rachel said. “Then he did studies on the cells to see how they repaired themselves.” Lucas also joined Rachel on clinic visits and helped her review x-rays, CAT scans and breathing tests results.  Not only did he learn how to examine patients, but with Rachel’s help, he set up an entirely new technique for testing lung cells. For Rachel, the collaboration grant was a unique way to pass on her enthusiasm for the field of research. For Lucas, it was both an opportunity to transfer his classroom learnings into a real lab setting, as well as develop a relationship with a great mentor. “It was one of the most unique and remarkable experiences I’ve ever had,” said Lucas. “She took the extra time to explain every detail to me. It was incredible for my learning.” Meanwhile, 2014 scholar Maddie Walden collaborated with Boettcher Investigator and Boettcher Scholar alum Amy Dounay at Colorado College. Together, they worked on synthesizing new drug compounds that will hopefully treat African Sleeping Sickness. Because of her chemistry background, Amy was excited to invite CC chemistry major, Maddie, into her lab. “She’s very enthusiastic and skilled. Boettcher has already vetted these students as being ambitious, hardworking and having a lot of potential, and that was definitely reflected in Maddie,” Amy said. For Maddie, the collaboration grant experience was “fantastic. It was better than I ever expected.”...

Downtown Denver transformed into a festival of cultures and ideas when delegates from the United States, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Cuba convened during the 2015 Biennial of the Americas in July. In 2007, Boettcher Foundation helped establish this festival of ideas as a signature event in Denver and helped to restore the McNichols Building as part of the lead-up to the Biennial. The event’s unique ability to connect a wide variety of leaders from across the world and bring them to Colorado to discuss solutions for current issues motivated the foundation to increase its partnership for the 2015 festival. Boettcher Scholars and alumni were invited to attend a variety of events, including international speakers, panel discussions, art exhibits and musical performances. Six Boettcher Scholars interned for the Biennial—bringing their talents to the coordination and execution of the busy week. Healthcare and research was a primary topic during the Biennial, providing a unique opportunity for Boettcher Investigators and their international peers to participate. “Bioscience is a highly collaborative field. Investigators regularly join forces—many of them with researchers from other countries. So the international forum that the Biennial provided was a great opportunity for them to share ideas,” said Julie Lerudis, grants program director for the Boettcher Foundation. Investigators from several Colorado institutions invited their colleagues from Canada, Uruguay and Brazil to attend the events with the Boettcher Foundation. Boettcher Investigator Shoadong Dai had been working with Gustavo Salinas from Uruguay remotely for five years, but they had never actually met until the Biennial of the Americas. Investigator Abigail Person invited her Canadian colleague and expert in the field, Kathleen Cullen. As a result, Kathleen learned about the many scientific advancements being made in Colorado and plans to initiate even more collaborations with the state’s researchers. As part of the Biennial week, investigators and their guests had the chance to meet with Boettcher community members, speak as part of an expert panel, tour the state’s research institutions and of course, experience the vibrant culture of Denver. During a brainstorming session to enhance Boettcher Foundation’s Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards, the investigators and their guests suggested ideas that could further advance the Colorado bioscience community. Additionally, the Boettcher Investigators and their colleagues were able to give back to the life science community at the various Colorado institutions, as many of them hosted presentations for fellow researchers. ...

The Boettcher Foundation invests in Boettcher Investigators as a way to support the best minds in scientific innovation. Similarly, we support the best students in Colorado with the Boettcher Scholarship. So when Boettcher Investigators and Boettcher Scholars collaborate, it’s no surprise that they achieve amazing results. By applying to participate in a “collaboration grant,”12 Boettcher Scholars had the opportunity to conduct research alongside Boettcher Investigators this past summer. Whether researching cancer therapeutics and tissue regeneration at Colorado School of Mines, working on the African Sleeping Sickness drug-discovery project at Colorado College or studying lung disease while also examining emphysema patients at National Jewish Health, Boettcher Scholars left their research internships with much more than just technical skills. “Through the collaboration, I developed my personal and scientific skills, gained access to a network that will help me immensely and kindled lasting curiosity for science and discovery,” said Andrew Pham, a 2013 Boettcher Scholar at the University of Denver. He spent the summer in Dr. Chad Pearson’s lab at University of Colorado Anschutz Campus, studying how cell structure affects various bodily functions. Last fall, Boettcher Investigators applied to the Boettcher Foundation with a collaboration grant idea. If the idea furthered research and fostered collaboration with a Boettcher Scholar, the proposal was approved and the investigator was awarded a grant to use for research supplies or as a scholar stipend. Next, Boettcher Scholars were invited to the competitive application process, which required a letter of interest and an interview. Once selected, scholars had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a field they plan to pursue after college. “I was not just given simple tasks--which I honestly do not mind; instead, I was allowed to completely renovate a project and bring it a step closer to publication. It was experiencing this that assured me that I have chosen the correct path as a researcher,” 2012 scholar and DU student, McKenzie Ramirez said of her experience. For other scholars, it solidified an interest in going to medical school, and likely gave them a leg up in the process. Typically, undergraduate students are not offered hands-on lab internships. Collaboration grants allowed participating scholars the opportunity to take their knowledge from the classroom and directly apply it to experiments like cell culturing. But it was building relationships with investigators that the scholars valued most. “The best part of the collaboration was the mentorship I received. This was completely invaluable,” Andrew said. The investigators equally enjoyed the experience of having highly-skilled Boettcher Scholars working in their labs. “The best part of a [collaboration grant] was having a hard working, thoughtful and intelligent young scientist working in my lab. She was simply remarkable,” Dr. Keith Neeves at Colorado School of Mines said. Dr. Tingting Yao at CU Boulder agreed, citing the best part as “seeing the growth of the student during the three months and sharing the passion for laboratory research.” Together, the investigators and scholars achieved real results and made significant headway on important research. A few examples include: Scholar Lucas Suazo and Dr. Rachel Zemans designed and carried out an experiment examining which, if any, cellular proteins are involved in lung cells exposed to cigarette smoke at National Jewish Health. McKenzie Ramirez and Dr. Keith Neeves created a new protocol for growing endothelial cells at Colorado School of Mines. Scholar Maddie Walden and Dr. Amy Dounay, who is both a Boettcher Scholar alum and a Boettcher Investigator, designed and synthesized 21 compounds that will be tested against the parasite that causes African Sleeping Sickness. “The uniqueness of the collaboration grants is that it bridges the best students and best young investigators who are interested and able to closely mentor the students in their early career stages,” said Dr. Yao. *If you are a current scholar interested in applying to work with a Boettcher Investigator as part of a collaboration grant in 2016, email Marisa@boettcherfoundation.org to request an application and a list of proposed projects.  ...

The following individuals were selected as Boettcher Investigators for 2015. For detailed profiles of their research, click on their names. University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus James Costello, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology – Cancer systems biology and pharmacogenomics Santos J. Franco, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatric Stem Cell Biology – Brain stem cells in development and disease Melanie Cree Green, M.D., Ph.D., Instructor of Pediatric Endocrinology – Fatty liver in adolescents with polycystic ovarian syndrome   University of Colorado Denver Aaron N. Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology – Molecular mechanisms of congenital myopathies Erik B. Oleson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology – Dopaminergic contributions to behavior and psychopathology   Colorado State University Tai Montgomery, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology – MicroRNA regulation of drug resistance ...