Early Career Pilot Awards

This award is intended to support pilot studies by early stage investigators to obtain preliminary data for an extramural grant submission.

This award is only open to investigators in the early stage of their career, or investigators who are transitioning into a new area.

Applicants must identify a mentor to assist with the investigator’s training. A maximum of $25,000 will be awarded for a period of 12 months.



2023 Awardees

  • Jonghyuck Park, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy

    Enhancing nanoparticle-mediated immunotherapy for spinal cord trauma

    Jonghyuck Park, PhD
  • Hisashi Sawada, MD, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, College of Medicine

    Regeneration of elastic fibers in chronic aortic dissection

    Hisashi Sawada, MD, PhD

2022 Awardees

  • Gaurang Vaidya, MD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Cardiology, College of Medicine

    Cardiac Amyloidosis Research Program

    Gaurang Vaidya, MD

2021 Awardees

  • Suzanna Attia, MD, MScPH

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine

    Enhancing breastmilk quantity and quality by Moringa oleifera leaf supplementation to lactating mothers for improved infant health: a pilot randomized controlled trial

    Suzanna Attia, MD, MScPH
  • Robert Helsley, PhD

    Robert Helsley, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine

    CPT1a: A Novel Regulator of Cholesterol-Driven Liver Injury

    Robert Helsley, PhD
  • Justin Karr, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

    The Chronic Sequelae of Repetitive Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Women Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: A Biopsychosocial Approach

    Justin Karr, PhD
  • Kathryn Showalter, MSW, PhD

    Assistant Professor, College of Social Work

    Kentucky Nursing Qualitative Study: Follow-up Conversations with Survey Participants Regarding Employment During COVID-19, Intimate Partner Violence, and Workplace Support

    Kathryn Showalter, MSW, PhD
  • Stacy Stanifer, PhD, APRN, AOCNS

    Assistant Professor, College of Nursing

    Evaluating Radon and Tobacco Smoke Co-exposure Risk Messaging with Patients at High-Risk for Lung Cancer during the Primary Care Visit

    Stacy Stanifer, PhD
  • A. Catalina Velez-Ortega, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, College of Medicine

    Role of TRPA1 Channels in the Medial Olivocochlear Reflex

    A. Catalina Velez-Ortega

2020 Awardees

  • Brittany Bissell, PhD, Pharm D

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep, College of Medicine

    Opioid Immodulation in Translational Sepsis Models

    Brittany Bissell headshot
  • Sara Pasha, MD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, College of Medicine

    The INSPIRE study: AssessINg The Role of Obstructive Sleep APnea In CRitical IllnEss Recovery. A Pilot Study

    Sara Pasha, MD headshot

2019 Awardees

  • Tom Adams, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Arts & Sciences

    Synergistic Effects of Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation and Behavior Therapy on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Symptomatology and Associated Brain Connectivity: A Pilot Study

    Tom Adams, PhD headshot
  • Lisa Koehl, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, College of Medicine

    Lisa Koehl, PhD headshot

    Craig van Horne, MD, PhD

    Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, College of Medicine

    Beta-Amyloid Accumulation in Parkinson’s disease: Characterizing Atypical Cognitive
    Profiles and Identifying Deep Brain Stimulation Clinical Outcomes

    Craig van Horne, MD, PhD
  • Jennifer Miller, PhD, MSNEd, RN

    Assistant Professor, College of Nursing

    GAMification to Encourage End-Of-Life Discussions between Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator Recipients and Family Members (GAME-EOL)

    Jennifer Miller headshot

2018 Awardees

  • Elie Abu Jawdeh, MD

    Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine

    Intermittent Hypoxemia and Inflammation in Preterm Infants

    Intermittent hypoxemia is ubiquitous in preterm infants (occurring up to hundreds of events per day) and has been associated with increased occurrence of neonatal morbidities including poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. The overall goal of this pilot project is to identify markers of injury associated with intermittent hypoxemia events in preterm infants less than 30 weeks gestational age.


    Abu Jawdeh
  • Michael Samaan, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, College of Education

    Associations of Hip Joint Stresses with Bone and Cartilage Health in Patients with Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome


  • Kathi Harp, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Health Management and Policy, College of Public Health

    Leveraging Claims Data to Identify Linkages between Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Long- Term Patterns of Care and Health Outcomes


    Kathi Harp
  • Piotr Rychahou, MD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, College of Medicine


    Guoqiang Yu, PhD

    Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering

    Quantitative Imaging of Tumor Hemodynamics for Cancer Response Assessment to Radiation Therapy

    Guoqiang Yu, PhD

2017 Awardees

  • John Gensel, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, College of Medicine

    John Gensel, MD

    Brandon Miller, Md, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, College of Medicine

    Macrophage phenotyping and white matter injury in preterm intraventricular hemorrhage

    Brandon Miller, MD, PhD
  • Johanna Hoch, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, College of Health Sciences

    Improving Functional and Self-Reported Outcomes in Females with History of Musculoskeletal Knee Injury

    This project will examine the effectiveness of an 8-week home based rehabilitation program on strength, balance, function and self-reported outcomes in individuals with a history of ACL reconstruction. Participants randomized in to the intervention group will receive an 8-week guided exercise program, all equipment necessary to complete the exercises, and will be sent on-line videos when it is time to progress exercises. All participants will have weekly check-ins with an investigator. Additional information will be collected regarding physical activity and dietary intake to support future investigations that will include educational modules related to these topics. We hypothesize an 8-week intervention focused on strength and balance will improve outcomes in this population, and support the need for continued rehabilitation and education after formal rehabilitation has ceased and the patient is no longer under direct supervision by a medical provider.

    Johanna Hoch, PhD
  • Javier Neyra, MD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, College of Medicine

    Klotho: A novel biomarker of acute kidney injury recovery

    Javier Neyra, MD
  • Jamie Sturgill

    Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, College of Medicine

    The ASTERS Study: Assessing the Role of Sphingolipids in AcuTE Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

    Acute lung injury (ALI) and the more severe manifestation, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) describe syndromes of acute onset, bilateral, inflammatory pulmonary infiltrates and impaired oxygenation. ARDS/ALI are a continuum of disease which results in a life threatening, rapidly progressive illness and occurs in critically ill patients. Recent reports in JAMA highlight the significant public health impact ARDS/ALI has on the critically ill population in that despite robust research efforts, these illnesses continue to be underdiagnosed, undertreated, and continue to have a high mortality rate (≥ 40% of all confirmed diagnoses). The estimates for ARDS/ALI incidence vary due to inconsistencies with proper diagnosis and lack of valid biomarkers of disease; however, it is expected that anywhere from 20-50% of patients on mechanical ventilation will develop this disease. Previous work by our group has shown that sphingolipids play a multifaceted role in lung inflammation. Sphingolipid are a class of bioactive lipids that play a role in cellular processes such as apoptosis, cell migration, and adhesion. Ceramide is one species of sphingolipid we have investigated in both man and mouse. Our laboratory has shown that ceramide is upregulated in pulmonary inflammation in mouse models of pneumonitis and is elevated in the exhaled breath condensate of mechanically ventilated patients at risk for ARDS/ALI. Our work coupled with the work of others highlighting a role for ceramide in COPD, surfactant dysfunction, and infectious disease make ceramide a logical candidate biomarker that warrants further investigation. To our knowledge, there are no studies examining the role of ceramide as a biomarker in ARDS/ALI. Thus, our overarching hypothesis is that ceramide is elevated in the lungs of patients who develop ARDS/ALI. This lipid dysregulation accounts for the pathophysiology seen in this disease and may be a potential pharmacologic target for clinical treatment. Thus the purpose of this exploratory research is to maximize existing specimens to further evaluate ceramide as a biomarker for acute lung injury.

    Jamie Sturgill, PhD

2015 Awardees

  • Ana Maria Linares, PhD

    Associate Professor, College of Nursing

    Early Childhood Obesity Risk-Reduction Program in Hispanics (ECOR-H)

    Ana Maria Linares, PhD
  • Michael Wesley, PhD

    Regular Faculty, Department of Behavioral Science, College of Medicine

    A laboratory study of brain stimulation as a treatment for cannabis use disorder in young adults

    Michael Wesley, PhD
  • April M Young, PhD, MPH

    Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology, College of Public Health

    Sexual and Drug Co-usage Partnerships among Men who have Sex with Men (MSM): A Pilot Study on the Influence of Mobile Apps and on the Spatial Distribution of Partner-seeking MSM

    This pilot project examines drug co-usage in the sexual relationships of men who have sex with men (MSM) and explores the role of social networking applications, or “apps”, in facilitating relationships that involve HIV risk behavior (e.g., unprotected sex, injection drug use, sharing of injection equipment). The project also uses spatial data collection to map the distribution of partner-seeking MSM, which will assist in better targeting future outreach efforts. Previous studies have suggested an association between the use of partner-seeking apps and sexual risk behavior, but few have explored the relationship with drug use. Moreover, almost all studies to date have been conducted in large urban settings and have involved men recruited from online venues. This pilot study will be the first to our knowledge to explore the sexual and drug co-usage partnerships and the influence of mobile apps therein among a community-based sample of MSM from a mid-sized city in a predominantly rural state. The latter is significant as studies indicate that rural MSM often migrate to nearby urban centers to meet partners due to stigma and social isolation that they experience in their hometowns. The data generated from this pilot project will be critical to informing the development of better HIV risk-reduction strategies related to sexual behavior and substance use among MSM.

    April Young, PhD, MPH

2014 Awardees

  • Shanna Babalonis, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Behavioral Science, College of Medicine

    Analgesic Interactions of Cannabinoids and Opioids in Humans

    Opioid analgesic medications are prescribed at high rates for multiple pain conditions due to their analgesic efficacy; however, opioids are also readily abused and can produce dangerous side effects (e.g., respiratory depression).  Opioid adjuvants are medications that are administered along with opioids that could 1) enhance the analgesic efficacy of opioids, 2) allow for reduced opioid doses while maintaining effective pain relief and 3) produce minimal side effects or toxicity.  The present study is designed to evaluate the analgesic efficacy and safety of a candidate opioid adjuvant medication, an FDA-approved Schedule III cannabinoid, dronabinol, that is prescribed off-label for pain. The primary objectives of this study are to 1) determine the analgesic effects of a dose range of dronabinol, a CB1 agonist, alone and in combination with oxycodone, a prototypical µ-opioid agonist, using laboratory models of pain that are predictive of the clinical pain response, and 2) to create a sensitive battery of in vivoexperimental pain assays useful for assessing multiple pain modalities simultaneously, and explore differential sensitivity to opioids or cannabinoids amongst the models.  Secondary aims include examining the safety of these drug combinations by collecting an array of physiological, subjective, cognitive and psychomotor performance effects. Overall, this project will provide data that can help determine whether cannabinoids may represent a safe and effective adjunct for opioid analgesics.

    Shanna Babalonis, PhD
  • Matthew Bush, MD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery, College of Medicine

    Professional headshot of Matthew Bush, a smiling, middle-aged white man with buzzed, dark hair and a closely-trimmed beard, wearing a dark blue suit jacket, white shirt, bow tie, and pocket square.

    Christina Studts, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Health Behavior, College of Public Health

    Assessing and Addressing Behavioral Problems in Children with Hearing Loss

    Children with hearing loss are at increased risk for behavioral problems compared with normal hearing children. However, the literature exploring behavioral outcomes of these children is nascent and suffers several limitations, including small sample sizes, contradictory findings, and a dearth of clinically validated measures of behavioral problems. In addition, despite the well-known effectiveness of behavioral parent training interventions with families of children with normal hearing, no intervention trials with families of children with hearing loss have been reported. The objective of this innovative interdisciplinary pilot study is to collect the preliminary data to obtain future external funding to move this field forward by (1) employing improved methodology to assess the extent of disparities in disruptive behavior problems in children with hearing loss, and (2) assessing the feasibility, acceptability, and potential signal of effectiveness of an evidence-based behavioral parenting training intervention with this new population in preparation for a fully-powered randomized controlled trial. This pilot application brings together a uniquely qualified interdisciplinary team to investigate the prevalence of and intervention with behavioral problems in DHH children. Dr. Bush, an Otologist and cochlear implant surgeon, is an expert in pediatric hearing loss. Dr. Studts, a clinical social worker and public health researcher, is skilled in assessment and intervention with early childhood behavior problems. These two researchers met as KL2 scholars in the CCTS KL2 career development program and collaborated to develop this project based upon their overlapping and complementary interests and expertise.

    Christina Studts, PhD
  • Moises Huaman, MD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, College of Medicine

    The Association between Latent Tuberculosis Infection and Myocardial Infarction in a High Tuberculosis Burden Setting: A Pilot Study

    We hypothesize that chronic inflammation related to latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) contributes to the pathogenesis of acute myocardial infarction (AMI). We will 1) compare the rates of LTBI in persons with and without AMI using an interferon-gamma release assay, and 2) compare the levels of key inflammatory cytokines and explore the immunophenotypes of peripheral lymphocytes and monocytes in persons with and without LTBI in the AMI and no-AMI groups. This pilot study will be conducted in Peru where tuberculosis is endemic. Our results will support additional translational immunologic studies focused on the interplay between tuberculosis, chronic immune activation and cardiovascular disease. Our research may have implications in the management of LTBI, particularly in high risk populations with traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

    Moises Huaman, MD
  • Chen Min, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Toxicology, College of Medicine

    The roles of S100A4/metastasin-1 in non-small cell lung cancer invasion, metastasis and therapeutic resistance

    The metastatic nature of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is associated with therapeutic resistance, quick time to progression, and the worst prognosis. The major challenge for treating patients is that advanced lung cancers often develop primary or secondary therapeutic-resistance. This challenge will remain until the full spectrum of mechanisms underlying this resistance is better understood and a more efficient and feasible strategy is developed. Our long-term goal is to understand the critical pathways that drive lung cancer invasion, metastasis and therapeutic resistance, and to develop novel strategies to improve patient outcome and prevent patient death. Based on our preliminary data on the pro-metastatic molecule S100A4, also known as metastasin-1, in NSCLC and the established importance of S100A4 to many of the hallmarks of cancer, the objective of the pilot proposal is to unravel the contribution of S100A4 to the invasive potential of NSCLC cells and to target S100A4 to mitigate tumor invasion, metastasis and therapeutic resistance.


    Chen Min, PhD
  • Danielle Stevens-Watkins, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Education

    Pilot Study to Test Feasibility and Efficacy of REMAS-CA (Real Men are Safe - Culturally Adapted) on Drug Using Criminal Justice Involved African American Men

    The primary goal of this funded Center for Clinical and Translational Science Pilot Feasibility Study is to examine the feasibility of the Culturally Adapted - Real Men Are Safe (CA-REMAS) intervention to be implemented in a prison setting for African American men at community re- entry. Study findings could point to implications for prison re-entry programming to include a culturally adapted HIV prevention program to reduce the risk, promote HIV testing, and reduce the spread of HIV infection within the African American community. The specific aims are (1) to determine the feasibility of implementing a group HIV prevention intervention with incarcerated African American men nearing community re-entry and (2) to pilot the CA-REMAS intervention on drug use and examine HIV risk behavior outcomes on African American men. The intervention and control groups will receive a 3-month follow-up interview after community release. Baseline data will be collected during the parent study (K08-DA-032296-PI; Stevens-Watkins) in prison and data using the KOMS (Kentucky Offender Management System) will be used for follow-up data after participants are released from prison. Data collection will occur at baseline and 3-months after release to the community. Participant interview responses, drug screening results, and HIV results are confidential and the PI has obtained a Certificate of Confidentiality. This will be the first time the CDC approved evidenced-based intervention will be tested in a prison setting and if it is feasible and demonstrates effectiveness it could potentially be extremely beneficial to department of corrections nationally. The proposed research plan will offer HIV testing and counseling to an at-risk population that has historically been difficult to engage in research and HIV testing, subsequently significantly impacting public health by possibly preventing the spread of HIV.

    Danielle Stevens-Watkins, PhD
  • Christina Studts, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Health Behavior, College of Public Health

    Assessing and Addressing Behavioral Problems in Children with Hearing Loss

    Christina Studts, PhD
  • Chi Wang, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics, College of Education

    Development of a Model-based Bioinformatics Method for Comparing Somatic Mutation Patterns between Groups, with Application to Squamous Cell Lung Cancer Data in Appalachian Kentucky

    This project (co-PIs: Drs. Heidi Weiss, Jinze Liu, Susanne Arnold, and Chunming Liu) develops novel bioinformatics methods for comparing somatic mutations between patients with varying characteristics based on whole-exome sequencing data. By applying the methods to compare mutations between Appalachian and non-Appalachian patients with squamous cell lung cancer, we aims to identify unique somatic mutation patterns that may contribute to the high incidence rate of lung cancer in Appalachian Kentucky.

    Chi Wang, PhD

2013 Awardees

  • Brandon Fornwalt, MD, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatric Cardiology, College of Medicine

    Aortic Wall Distensibility in the Growth and Rupture of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms 

    Dr. Brandon Fornwalt
  • Mandy Jones, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science, College of Pharmacy

    Transforming the culture of medical error disclosure in Kentucky through interprofessional education

    The National Quality Forum, The Joint Commission, and the Institute of Medicine expect the reporting and disclosing of medical errors to provide information that can lead to improved healthcare quality and safety, however little guidance is provided by these agencies in terms of how to effectively disclose an error or which model of disclosure is best. Relational outcomes of disclosure research demonstrate that while clinicians desire transparency and full disclosure, these attitudes are often not translated into practice; when disclosures do occur, they typically fall short of patient or family expectations. Research indicates that ineffective communication between providers and patients is the single most significant factor in explaining why patients litigate. Research also indicates that there are numerous barriers providers face that prevent error disclosure and their willingness to disclose. Given that team-based healthcare delivery improves patient outcomes and is an expectation in current healthcare delivery models, our study will determine if team-based disclosure results in more complete disclosures and more effectively enables clinicians to overcome barriers affecting willingness to disclose versus individual-provided disclosure.

    Mandy Jones, PhD
  • Daniel Moore, MD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, College of Medicine

    Force requirements for instillation of common topical glaucoma medications and correlation to hand grip strength in a representative glaucoma patient population

    Glaucoma, the second leading cause of global blindness, is a multifactorial disease that currently has only one therapeutic target - lowering of intra ocular pressure.  Multiple well designed studies have demonstrated that decreasing intra ocular pressure through topical eye drop therapy slows disease progression, and that patients participating in long-term therapy experience better outcomes.  However, numerous reports suggest patients comply with only 70% or less of prescribed topical treatments with several described risk factors.  Two facets of glaucoma therapeutics that have not bee previously investigated include the amount and variability of force required to deliver a single drop from a glaucoma eye drop bottles and the grip and pinch strength of glaucoma patients.  It is my hypothesis that the multitude of unregulated brand and generic topical medication bottles require a high variability of force to deliver a single drop and representative glaucoma patients have difficulty with the grip and pinch strength requirements to successfully instill their medications.

    Daniel Moore, MD
  • Sridhar Sunderam, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering

    Development of a Brain-Machine Interface to Facilitate Motor Recovery from Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

    Sridhar Sunderam directs the Neural Systems Laboratory, which is focused on the diagnosis and tracking of brain state using physiological measurements for applications in epilepsy therapy. A more recent endeavor is directed toward the development of brain-machine interfaces to assist in the rehabilitation of individuals with severe motor impairment following spinal cord injury or stroke.

    Sridhar Sunderam, PhD
  • Philip Westgate, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics, College of Public Health

    Improving Statistical Inference and Power for the Analysis of Very Small Samples of Repeated Measurements Data

    Dr. Westgate’s research for the CCTS pilot involves novel statistical methodologies to improve statistical inference in clinical and translational science studies that involve the analysis of repeated measures experiments based on a very small number of subjects.  Specifically, his research is expected to identify statistical methods that lead to valid statistical inference and improved statistical power.  This research is very important with respect to maintaining the desired probability of a Type I error, while increasing the probability of finding statistically significant treatment effects when these effects do indeed exist.

    Philip Westgate, PhD
  • Frederique B Yiannikouris, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional sciences, College of Medicine

    PRR as a new biomarker of obesity

    The epidemic of obesity has contributed to an increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the US population. Therefore, the identification of novel biomarker involved in obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance will allow us to better understand the link between obesity and type 2 diabetes and find novel therapeutic treatments for these highly prevalent diseases. Studies on the pilot research grant focus on elucidating the role of adipose prorenin/renin receptor (PRR) during the development of obesity-associated inflammation, fibrosis and insulin resistance. Based on our preliminary data demonstrating an increase of adipose PRR and soluble PRR (sPRR)  during the development of obesity in rodents models, the pilot research aim to determine whether adipose PRR activates an intracellular signaling pathway and initiates processes of inflammation, fibrosis and insulin resistance and whether plasma sPRR is a biomarker of inflamed adipose tissue in humans.

    Yiannikouris, Frederique B, PhD