Eligibility Requirements

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2021 KL2 Scholars

Wendy Battinor, Jiong Li and Mathula Thangarajh

Wendy Bottinor, M.D.

Wendy Bottinor, M.D., specializes in cardiovascular disease and is an assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine. Her research focuses on heart failure in people who had cancer in their childhood or adolescence. About 10% of early cancer survivors develop heart failure by age 40, and little is known about why. By using innovative cardiac imaging technology available at VCU, Bottinor hopes to understand the underlying reasons in order to develop clinical interventions and medical therapies. Bottinor is a VCU Massey Cancer Center research member.

“The KL2 program provides individualized, programmatic career development from highly experienced mentors in clinical and translational research. I am fortunate that such a tremendous team of mentors is committed to supporting my goals as a clinical and translational physician-investigator.”

Jiong Li, Ph.D.

Jiong Li, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at the School of Pharmacy and a Massey Cancer Center researcher, focuses on understanding the key regulatory mechanisms of cancer stem cells to develop a more effective treatment for head and neck cancers. Cancer stem cells have been shown to induce resistance to chemotherapy and a recurrence of cancer and how to eliminate them has been an obstacle to successful treatment. By taking advantage of a new technique, called PROTACs, Li aims to eradicate cancer stem cells and improve the efficacy of cancer therapy.

“The KL2 Program will be a great opportunity and a tremendous help for me to develop my research program in translational studies." He added that his career goal is to use multidisciplinary approaches to develop effective therapeutic strategies for the eradication of human cancers.

Mathula Thangarajh, M.D., Ph.D.

Mathula Thangarajh, M.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor of neurology in the School of Medicine's Department of Neurology and sees pediatric patients with neuromuscular diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. Her long-term research goal is to develop highly impactful therapeutics that will improve the quality of life for children with muscular dystrophy, using novel approaches to obtain a better understanding of neurobiological mechanisms that underpin cognitive problems in these children.

“The KL2 offers a very structured mentoring plan, and my mentors bring transdisciplinary experience that will help me create novel methodological approaches to solve some unanswered questions in this field. Plus, the program has very specific milestones, like obtaining federal funding for one’s research. For someone like me who is goal-oriented and deadline-driven, I like having those goal posts. And there is an experienced and invested team helping me to reach them.”

2018 KL2 Scholars

Mario Acunzo and Elizabeth Wolf

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on research, the National Institutes of Health granted an extension to 2018 KL2 Scholars, extending their support until April 2022. (2018 Scholar Guizhi Zhu received an R35 grant in Sept. 2021 and is now an alumni of the program.)

Mario Acunzo, Ph.D.

Mario Acunzo, Ph.D., assistant professor of pulmonary disease and critical care medicine at VCU School of Medicine, will investigate the role of microRNA in lung cancer progression. In particular, he will focus on elucidating the role of post-transcriptional modifications as drivers of malignant progression. His line of investigation will integrate fundamental mechanisms of disease and biomarker discovery with a goal of informing diagnostic and therapeutic decision making.

“Being a KL2 scholar represents a great opportunity to advance my career as a researcher. The KL2 program is committed to helping young investigators reach independence. I look forward to having the protected time and support required to build a successful research program.”

Elizabeth Wolf, M.D., M.P.H

Elizabeth Wolf, M.D., M.P.H, assistant professor of pediatrics at VCU School of Medicine, plans to identify the geographic and patient-level risk factors for inadequate prenatal care and well-child care in the Greater Richmond Region. She will partner with the VCU Center on Society and Health and Engaging Richmond to develop strategies to improve attendance of well-child and prenatal appointments and reduce health disparities for vulnerable women and children.

"The KL2 award will give me the skills I need to conduct this study and will support the growth of pediatric health services research at VCU. The grant will further my career development with my mentor, Dr. Alex Krist, in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health."