Life doesn’t move in a straight line and neither does a career in clinical and translational research. Such is the truth for ICTS investigator Lindsay Kuroki, MD, MSCI, associate professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. As a research clinician working to improve health equity among medically underserved populations, Kuroki’s trajectory to scientific independence is more than just a career path. It is a journey with bends and curves and a testament of perseverance as she pursues her long-term career goal of building a research program that identifies and tests strategies that reduce cancer disparities by addressing unmet social needs among individuals who are at risk or who are diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer. Supported throughout by the ICTS, Kuroki has navigated training opportunities, resources, services, and funding programs to enhance and develop her research career as a gynecologic oncologist looking to make an impact in health equity and cancer prevention.
Career development training at the start
Kuroki’s clinical and translational research training started with the Clinical Research Training Center (CRTC), a key component of the education and workforce development arm of the ICTS. The CRTC provides the infrastructure and staff to manage the KL2 Mentored Clinical Research Scholar Awards and the TL1 Predoctoral and Postdoctoral programs.
In 2006, as a first-year medical student at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Kuroki received the T32 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award which granted her a summer stipend to attend Washington University School of Medicine as a predoctoral, interdisciplinary clinical research training program scholar. Sponsored by the CRTC, this program provided her first exposure to clinical research design and methodology. After medical school, she completed her obstetrics and gynecology residency at WashU and went on to become a gynecologic oncology fellow, all the while pursuing training in clinical and translational research. During this time, she completed the Mentored Training Program in Clinical Investigation (MTPCI) and then a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) degree.
Kuroki looks back on her training. “As a MTPCI program scholar, I learned about the KL2 career development award program. I applied, was accepted in June 2018, and quickly found that it provided a strong foundation for early investigators like myself, to not just engage in mentored research, but to take the coursework that builds a foundation for a career in clinical research.”
Kuroki’s KL2 research was focused on cytokine-induced depression in ovarian cancer patients. As she worked to implement findings from her award into real-world practice, she naturally broadened her network, integrating herself into the Washington University Implementation Science Center for Cancer Control among other research partnerships. These connections resulted in various research collaborations leading to over 21 publications during her KL2 award period.
Kuroki taps ICTS resources to advance research
During her training in the MSCI program and then as a KL2 scholar, Kuroki utilized a variety of ICTS resources to improve her grantsmanship and prepare her for critical next steps in her trajectory as an independent investigator. “I observed a few of the ICTS NIH Mock Study Sessions during my time as a MSCI scholar,” recalls Kuroki. “I found it so helpful to understand the process and how valuable that would be when I eventually submitted my own proposals.”
And, during her KL2 research work, Kuroki sought additional funding through the ICTS Just-In-Time (JIT) Core Usage Funding Program. She utilized the Metabolomics core to analyze metabolites in the kynurenine pathway that may contribute to cytokine-induced depressive symptoms in ovarian cancer patients. The JIT funding allowed for protocol and method development that ultimately was used to analyze patient blood samples.
Inaugural R03 Small Grant Program
On the heels of her KL2 research, in early 2021, Kuroki learned about a new funding opportunity announcement, an R03 Small Grant Program supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), targeted specifically to CTSA program scholars seeking scientific independence from a KL2 award.
“This new R03 was an ideal way for me to build off of my KL2,” said Kuroki. “And I was excited about the opportunity to show how I’ve taken the next step to develop into an independent investigator focused broadly on cancer prevention.”
To prepare, Kuroki again turned to the ICTS Research Development Program NIH Mock Study Section, this time as a formal participant. With feedback from her first submission to this R03 in hand, Kuroki was reassured to find that the responses she received from the ICTS NIH Mock Study Section reviewers echoed the input she received from NCATS. Incorporating all this feedback, Kuroki submitted again and was funded in July 2022 for her project, “Evaluating the Impact of Basic needs Assessment and Support to Improve Colposcopy Show Rate: The BASICS Trial”. The study focuses broadly on cervical cancer prevention, by testing and assessing the readiness for implementation of a colposcopy clinic-based social needs navigator program focused on five social determinants of health.
Kuroki’s transition from her KL2 project, aimed more on patient-centered psycho-social outcomes related to distress and quality of life, to this current R03, shows how the two awards bridge the spectrum of her research career focused on cancer prevention, control, and survivorship.
The road ahead
Today, Kuroki is giving back with her continued involvement with the ICTS. Recently, she’s volunteered with the ICTS’ Center for Community Health Partnership and Research as a reviewer with Pitch Partners, a program where community organizations and researchers submit proposals to an expert panel of reviewers for feedback. Kuroki has since helped several groups further develop their proposals ahead of applying for funding.
As Kuroki reflects on her training and research to this point, she recalls the perspective that her KL2 mentor shared with her on career development. “He reinforced how we all make career moves that refine our focus and niche,” recalls Kuroki. “And I think that is what career development awards like the KL2 are all about. It’s not to make you commit to just one path, but to keep your eyes open for the unexpected research opportunities on the horizon.”
Looking back, Kuroki feels the ICTS was there to guide and help her pivot along the way. And looking forward, Kuroki hopes to continue to utilize the ICTS. “It has certainly helped to build my story and shape my career.”