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Setting the Stage for Success in Clinical Research

The CTSA's KL2 Program

Setting the Stage for Success in Clinical Research

Raed Dweik, MD, KL2's program director

Setting the Stage for Success in Clinical Research

Current and past KL2 scholars, as well as KL2 program leadership and mentors, at the August 2017 KL2 reunion celebration

CWRU School of Medicine’s KL2 program is training researchers who bring their hearts and minds to solving the most perplexing medical issues facing mankind.

The KL2 program is a component of the Cleveland Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative (CTSC) and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It’s a highly competitive four-year training and mentoring program for junior faculty members.

“One of our overarching goals of the CTSC is to train the next generation of clinical and translational researchers,” says Ginny Petrie, Executive Director of CTSC. “They will go on to make the discoveries that improve public health around the world.”

KL2 success stories
Since 2007, KL2 Scholars have been trained in interdisciplinary team-based, patient-oriented research. More than 90 percent are working in academic or industry research, including Dan Ontaneda, MD.

Ontaneda is a neurologist at Cleveland Clinic and assistant professor at CWRU School of Medicine. Part of the 2012 cohort, Ontaneda did a clinical study on the effect of vitamin D on MRI imaging in multiple sclerosis.

Just one year out of his KL2 training, Ontaneda is leading the research team that received a major $10.6 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to compare treatment options for MS, a leading cause of disability among young adults and affecting over 2.5 million people worldwide.

“KL2 helped me put together a project with both clinical expertise and scientific grounding,” reflects Ontaneda. “It gave me the time and education to help me form research questions and put together grants in a more effective way.”

Jennifer Sweet, MD, is another KL2 success story. A neurosurgeon in Functional and Stereotactic Neurosurgery at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and an assistant professor at the School of Medicine, she was accepted into the 2015 KL2 cohort.

Sweet’s research is focused on finding regions of the brain with “a difference in wiring” causing bipolar disorder, and to explore targeted electrical stimulation that can alleviate symptoms. More than 60 million people worldwide are afflicted with bipolar disorder, causing extreme mood shifts and affecting the ability to function.

“My greatest hope is to create a treatment for patients who don’t have options,” says Sweet. “And there’s potential for treating other disorders of wiring in the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, depression, and addiction.”

Sweet is currently applying to be an independent investigator in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business as one of their 2016 “Top 40 Under 40” for early career achievements and civic contributions.

She describes KL2 as an incredibly important program. “With MDs trying to do science on the side, it’s really difficult to find time and support,” she explains. “KL2 helps people starting out in their careers by giving them validation, financial support and resources, along with courses on how to do the science and research.”

Mentoring matters
Personal mentoring is a key element of the KL2 program – and one that Ontaneda and Sweet found to be invaluable.

“As young researchers, we get busy and start to focus on writing papers and getting projects done,” says Ontaneda. “KL2 mentors constantly remind you of the big picture. It was especially helpful having mentors outside of my field.”

Sweet chose a mentor in her field, and others in psychiatry, biomedical engineering and nursing. “My mentors are the reason KL2 has been so successful for me,” says Sweet. “They opened my eyes to bigger solutions, and how to advance our careers but more importantly how to make a difference and impact diseases.”

Lifelong impact
KL2 training includes highly-focused courses such as Introduction to Clinical Research, Research Ethics & Regulations, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Interdisciplinary Research Teams, Leadership Skills, and others.

The unique program involves faculty at CWRU, Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth System, University Hospitals, and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. The CTSC’s Petrie is proud of CWRU’s pioneer status as one of the first programs to forge these citywide collaborations.

With alumni working in their fields and more to come, KL2 has proven to be a powerful force in forming the next generation of clinical researchers.

“They make sure we’re successful as we go forward, giving us the tools and showing us others who’ve been successful,” says Ontaneda. “KL2 puts you in a position where you want to deliver.”

Sweet believes her KL2 puts her “on the map” and makes her a candidate for future NIH grants. “KL2 helps those of us who are young and have ideas to find a platform so the scientific community can take us seriously.”


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