Research Opportunities

Research During Residency

A resident-oriented research curriculum, extending across the three years of residency, provides a structure for residents to be involved in meaningful, longitudinal research projects. Beginning intern year, we supervise and guide the selection of mentors and help cultivate informal relationships that develop on the wards. During the PGY-1 year, residents participate in a special course to learn research basics including topics such as IRB application, practical biostatistics and study design.

We also offer the ABIM Research Pathway Track for qualified applicants with previous research experience. After completion of two years of Internal Medicine, residents on this track go directly into fellowship, typically with additional research years during fellowship (please note that a separate application is required for this option).

All Internal Medicine residents are required to perform a research project during their residency. This fosters an understanding of research techniques, biostatistics and interpretation of the literature. Research opportunities are available within all subspecialties and in the basic sciences. Quality improvement, clinical research, and basic science research projects are all commonly sought after, and mentors are readily available in all fields to assist from project inception to conference presentation or publication.

All residents present their research at the end of their third year at the Carey-Marshall-Thorner Research Conference, a university-wide research day. Many residents also publish and present their work at state and national meetings (e.g., American College of Physicians).

Note: If you would like to explore basic or clinical research in greater depth during your residency, please indicate this at the time you arrange an interview and identify one or two subspecialty areas that interest you. We will arrange a tour of our research facilities and a time for you to meet with faculty investigators in your areas of interest.

Resident Testimonials

I had an interest in clinical research, but not much experience before residency. I am grateful for the opportunities UVA offered me to do research during my residency.

Manu Mysore, MDDuring the fall of my intern year, I developed an interest in pulmonary hypertension after working in Dr. Mazimba’s and Dr. Mihalek’s joint pulmonary hypertension clinic. Later I met with Dr. Mazimba and together we came up with a clinical question of interest to me. By that time the chiefs had organized a research course, exposing us to the basics of clinical questions, literature searches, the IRB application, and biostatistics, which was very useful for my project. Dr. Mazimba gave me access to his pulmonary hypertension database and together we looked at various echocardiographic and hemodynamic parameters that affected mortality in patients with pulmonary hypertension. I was able to present this project and many others at various national conferences including ACC, HFSA, and ACP, and I learned how to navigate the manuscript publication process from beginning to end with help from my mentors, including those above. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunities offered to me here at UVA.

As someone who never had a significant interest in research in medical school, I was a bit nervous about the research project requirement at UVA.

LeAnn Denlinger, MDBut this was quickly overcome. During the spring of my intern year, the chiefs organized a research course, exposing us to the basics of clinical questions, literature searches, the IRB application, and biostatistics. In addition, they generated a large database of current and potential projects as well as willing research mentors at UVA. Towards the end of my intern year, I contacted a well-known mentor, Dr. Ellen Keeley, regarding a potential project in Cardiology. I immediately  connected with her energy and enthusiasm. Dr. Keeley helped guide me through the research process by obtaining IRB approval and granting me access to a large, multi-year database. Together, we are looking at delays in care regarding the treatment of NSTEMIs and developing an algorithmic approach to ensure patients get the care they need as quickly as possible. Hopefully, with faster and more guideline-based care, we will be able to improve the morbidity and mortality rates in patients presenting to UVA with NSTEMIs. Overall, it was easy to get involved in a structured and substantive research project. Thankfully, my project is more than just “crunching numbers” but is focused on making a real difference in patient care.

It was really amazing to take a study from idea to protocol to enrollment by the end of my intern year.

Daniel Stein, MDThere are lots of opportunities to get meaningfully involved in research at UVA. Everywhere I looked, senior attendings were happy to go out of their way to get residents involved. Most people start looking for projects by the end of the first year as the research methods course gets started. I was lucky enough to get started early in my first year with the GI department, and had more opportunities than time to pursue after that. My research primarily focused on the “luminal” side of GI.

I completed a project early in intern year looking at outcomes with Remicade in ulcerative colitis from a database at UVA. This was an opportunity to see the department’s commitment to providing the opportunity to present my work. I had time off to travel to a national conference (during a busy inpatient rotation) and funding for transportation and lodging from my PI.

I was then lucky enough to take advantage of one of the residency program’s departmental grants to start a pilot trial of linaclotide (Linzess) in use for preparation for capsule endoscopy. This funding allowed me to pay for the medication and pharmacy costs and made the work possible. It was really amazing to take a study from idea to protocol to enrollment by the end of my intern year. I loved the opportunity, and everyone in the department was really supportive along the way, from volunteering to help enroll subjects to interpreting the tests. In some spare time, I worked on two chapters for the 2016 version of the 5-minute clinical consult.

Overall, it is typical for residents to have at least one first author manuscript or publication, and this was my goal. Scholar’s Day provides a great opportunity to see this in action — I’m amazed by all the great work people have done. Even for those with no previous research experience, the great mentorship combined with the research course mean that you will have ample help here at UVA. Overall, opportunities are everywhere you look!

Travel to Meetings

Funding is provided to all residents, up to $1,500 over residency, for research project support or travel to meetings at which they have an abstract accepted for a poster or oral presentation. Some additional departmental research grants can be applied for (see below), and residents in specialized training tracks have additional research funding. Assistance is provided for finding coverage for their hospital commitments during the meeting to ensure they are able to attend.

Financial Support

Every year the Department of Medicine provides funding in the form of Resident Research Grants (see select examples from prior years below). These are awarded to PGY-2s to support mentored resident research projects. This year there are 9 funded proposals on a variety of topics. Current residents can also find mentors by accessing our online list of over 190 projects and ideas submitted by DOM faculty from across the divisions.

Resident: Jack Melson, MD, Class of 2019
Faculty Mentor: Richard Hall, MD

Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related mortality. Large scale genomic analyses of lung cancer have revealed both the complexity of lung cancer genetics and commonly occurring molecular alterations that represent potential therapeutic targets and prognostic indicators. Targeted therapies have dramatically changed treatment for the subset of patients with actionable driver mutations. Immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors which disrupt the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction is an important emerging therapy for the broader population of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who lack driver mutations or who have progressed on therapy. Genetic predictors of response to immunotherapy remain uncertain. One candidate is TP53, mutation of which is present in approximately 50% of lung adenocarcinomas. Several publications have suggested that TP53 mutation is positively associated with response to immunotherapy, possibly due to an associated increase in neoantigen expression. Our hypothesis is that non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients with a detectable TP53 mutation and treated with a checkpoint inhibitor-containing regimen at UVA will demonstrate a statistically significant increase in progression free survival compared to patients lacking TP53 mutations.

Resident: Kasey Little, MD, Class of 2019
Faculty Mentor: Andrew Parsons, MD

Health systems, payers, and patients are increasingly recognizing the need to reduce healthcare costs. “Value” is defined as the quotient of meaningful patient outcomes compared to the costs of care. Evidence shows that residency training influences physician ordering behavior and value-based decision making, and a joint AAIM-ACP committee as well as the ACGME have declared cost awareness an important priority for resident education. Additional research shows that providing cost data alone is insufficient—for it to have an effect on provider habits, it must also be accompanied by targeted education related to high value care. To fill this void of information for our residents, we are developing a cost-conscious care lecture series that asks residents to adequately diagnose and treat patients while ordering as few tests as possible.

Our hypothesis is that providing data about hospital charges in the context of case presentations will increase resident knowledge of healthcare costs and change attitudes toward cost-conscious care. We have collected pre-intervention data and plan to deliver cost-conscious care lectures including education on the scenario diagnosis as well as the utility and costs of tests ordered. This will be followed by repeat surveys for statistical comparison to pre-intervention data.

Resident: Thomas Dieringer, MD, Class of 2019
Faculty Mentor: Ann Hays, MD

Clostridium difficile infection remains one of the most commonly acquired nosocomial infections in the United States. These infections are responsible for billions of healthcare dollars spent each year and have been challenging to treat given their propensity for recurrence and reinfection in susceptible populations including infants, immunocompromised, and the elderly. Recently, fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) has emerged as a new therapy to better address the growing need to manage severe and complicated recurrent clostridium difficile infections. Few studies have addressed the efficacy of this treatment, especially compared to standard therapies involving antibiotic tapers and supplementation with probiotics. We aim to review current the therapeutic options including FMT and alternatives including vancomycin tapering with probiotic supplementation in severe and complicated recurrent clostridium difficile infections at the University of Virginia. Our hypothesis is that patients with severe and complicated clostridium difficile infection treated with a prolonged vancomycin taper and probiotic supplementation with Kefir do not have a higher rate of recurrence or reinfection when compared to patients managed with fecal microbiota transplantation. Outcomes for different treatment and patient populations will be analyzed with chi-square or Fisher’s exact test. Bivariate logistic regression will be used to evaluate risk factors for clostridium difficile recurrence or reinfection.

Resident: Sumner Abraham, MD, Class of 2019
Faculty Mentor: Ryan Gentzler, MD

Immunotherapy (check-point inhibitors, CPIs) are now widely used in the treatment of both metastatic melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Brain metastases frequently occur and are treated with localized central nervous system (CNS) radiation therapy (RT). We have built a database patients treated at UVA with melanoma and NSCLC brain metastases treated with CNS-RT from 2011 to present. Given the mechanisms of action of both CPI and RT, there is likely to be a synergistic effect of these two therapies in catalyzing the immune system and its response. The exact nature of this interaction has not yet been elucidated, and there is minimal data on the side effect profile of using these two therapies in intracranial metastases from melanoma or NSCLC primaries. There is data to support the efficacy of these CPI therapies and their effectiveness in patients with NSCLC brain metastases, but combination with any kind of RT is not included in this data. While all data present shows improvement in OS, there is little to no data present as to the timing of adverse effects from these therapies that are likely due to an amplification of a patient’s immune response. Additionally, the variable timing of SRS in relation to systemic CPI therapy makes different definition of the study endpoints exceedingly difficulty to draw any valuable conclusions. Since both CNS-RT and CPIs can cause neuro-inflammation, our study is aiming to analyze clinical outcomes of patients treated with CPI therapy in combination with RT for patients with brain metastases from melanoma or NSCLC- specifically testing the hypothesis that concomitant treatment with CPIs and CNS-RT results in an increased risk of central nervous system adverse events.

Resident: Daniel Stein, MD, MPH, Class of 2017
Faculty Mentor: Stephen Caldwell, MD

Gastric varices are present in up to 25% of patients with cirrhosis, and form as a compensatory shunt to reduce blood flow through the portal vein. Bleeding is seen in around a third of patients in a 3-year period. My project is a retrospective review of all of the UVA experience with two methods for management of bleeding – cyanoacylate glue (superglue) injected directly into the vessel and an IR procedure call BRTO (balloon retrograde transvenous obliteration) involving embolization. We plan to compare both clinical outcomes and further delineate the rationale for choosing one procedure vs the other.

Resident: Eric Holland, MD,, Class of 2017
Faculty Mentor: J. Randall Moorman, MD

The incidence and impact of atrial fibrillation (AF), particularly new-onset AF, remains poorly characterized in critically ill patients. We hypothesize that new-onset AF is a poorly recognized condition and is associated with worse outcomes in the coronary care unit (CCU). Patients will be grouped into four main categories: No AF, known AF, new-onset AF, and undiagnosed new-onset AF. Categorization will be based on 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) reports, continuous ECG data, and diagnosis code. We will implement a novel heart rhythm pattern recognition technique developed at UVA to further aid in detecting AF. Multivariable analysis will be performed to investigate if new-onset AF, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, has any impact on LOS and mortality compared to known AF. Multiple other risk factors, including age, post-operative status, heart failure, valvular heart disease, sepsis, and other co-morbidities will be explored as possible contributing factors to new-onset AF.

Resident: Sean Fortier, MD, Class of 2017
Faculty Mentor: Borna Mehrad, MD

Progression of interstitial lung disease (ILD) is unpredictable. The ability to predict progression of disease and outcomes would help identify at-risk patients that may benefit from pre-emptive care. As of yet, there exists no clinical biomarker(s) to make such predictions and guide management in ILD. Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome (HPS) is a rare autosomal recessive disease that manifests as a triad of albinism, platelet storage defects, and development of ILD in early adulthood. As such, individuals with HPS represent a unique population to develop biomarkers for ILD that can be tested in other ILD populations. We hypothesize that subjects with HPS will display a combination of peripheral blood molecular biomarkers that correlate with the progression and outcome of ILD. To test this hypothesis, we will utilize our existing database of 68 HPS patients followed longitudinally (with data including PFTs, chest CTs, lab tests, and serial exams) and process aliquots of frozen plasma from these patients for measurement of candidate biomarkers described in the literature as correlating with ILD and other fibrotic diseases. Candidate biomarkers will then be analyzed individually and in combination for correlation with decline in pulmonary function test parameters and death.

Resident: Bryan Lawlor, MD, Class of 2017
Faculty Mentor: Sula Mazimba, MD, MPH

Renal insufficiency is common in patients with advanced heart failure and is a risk factor for higher morbidity and mortality. While left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation may provide hemodynamic support, LVAD recipients are at a high risk for post-operative renal insufficiency. Recent studies by Sandner et al. (2009) and Hasin et al. (2012) have demonstrated overall improvement in renal function with Sandner’s study showing an association with improved survival after continuous-flow LVAD implantation. Despite these encouraging results, both studies did demonstrate a trend that as patients were followed further out from LVAD implantation, their renal function began to worsen again.  It is currently unclear how this decline in renal function impacts mortality outcomes. To further characterize changes in renal function after LVAD implantation and the effect on mortality outcomes, a retrospective cohort study will be conducted reviewing all patients at the University of Virginia Health System who underwent continuous-flow LVAD implantation with the Heartmate II device. Multivariate analysis will be conducted to determine significant predictors of developing improved and worsened renal function after implantation, including patients who require renal replacement therapy. Mortality at 1, 3, and 6 months will also be reported and multivariate analysis will similarly be conducted to determine significant predictors with attention to mortality in patients with preimplantation renal insufficiency, patients without improvement in renal function after LVAD implantation, and patients without sustained improvement in renal function.