I am Harvard Catalyst: Shamsah Kazani, MD, MMSc
Shamsah Kazani, MD, MMSc
HMS Instructor in Medicine
Brigham & Women's Hospital
Dr. Kazani's research focuses on the non-invasive assessment of airway inflammation and pharmacogenomics in asthma.
Tell us about your research interests and what inspired you to enter this field.
I'm seeking solutions for personalized asthma therapy, especially for patients who suffer from severe asthma. Currently, these patients are not experiencing success with available treatments and it's my hope that my research will provide future options. The preliminary work we have conducted in the examination of variations in the leukotriene pathway genes and non-invasive assessment of airway inflammation will enable us to identify unique patho-biological processes and thus provide personalized therapy for patients with asthma. Eventually, this will allow clinicians to individualize asthma therapy and obtain maximum disease control with the least side effects as quickly as possible. It is exactly what is needed to decrease morbidity due to use of ineffective medications and/or side effects and thus improve patients' outcomes.
I was attracted to these areas as soon as I joined the lab of my mentor, Dr. Elliot Israel, as a clinical research fellow at the Brigham and Women's Hospital's Asthma Research Center in 2004. Dr. Israel is a world-renowned expert in clinical and translational research in asthma. My first meeting with him was so inspiring that I wanted to participate in the development of personalized therapy for airway diseases, which was aligned with Dr. Israel's research background. I imbibed his expertise in the pharmacogenomics in asthma and integrated it with my interest in non-invasive assessment of eicosanoid mediated airway inflammation. We have developed this field to the point that today we are the core facility for exhaled breath condensate analysis for multiple clinical trials in asthma sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
How did the KL2 award advance your work?
The KL2 award has been crucial to my progress since my faculty appointment in 2009. While the American Lung Association supported the laboratory expenses for my research aims, the KL2 award enabled me to secure 75 percent of protected time to devote to my research goals. Over two years, it provided me the critical support I needed to lay the foundation for my academic career and develop my portfolio as a junior investigator. During that time, I developed a merged database of more than 2000 asthmatics who had participated in the NHLBI's asthma clinical research trials and information on 120 variations in their leukotriene pathways. I completed non-invasive characterization via exhaled breath condensate lipid mediator measurements of a cohort of severe asthmatics who participated in the NHLBI's Severe Asthma Research Program. I also designed two proof-of-concept studies and presented them to the NHLBI's AsthmaNet Steering committee, both of which were very well received. In summary, the KL2 award has been the bridge that has enabled me to grow from an eager physician scientist into a successful junior researcher well equipped to eventually transition into an independent, federally-funded investigator.
What other Harvard Catalyst resources and tools have you used?
One of the master's programs that is funded through Harvard Catalyst is the Scholars in Clinical Science Program. It is a two-year postgraduate training program in clinical investigation, consisting of formal didactic courses and a mentored clinical research project. I graduated from the program in 2007, which at that time was funded through the NIH K30 mechanism prior to the establishment of Harvard Catalyst in 2008.
More recently, I participated in Harvard Catalyst's Grant Review and Support Program (GRASP), the two-day workshop where participants receive grant-writing advice, as well as training to effectively use the resources of Harvard Catalyst's Elements of Grant Writing Program. As a participant, I receive ongoing support from the GRASP team as I continue to use the Elements to further my mentored research career and eventually transition into an independent investigator. Finally, over the last two years, I have worked very closely with Harvard Catalyst's Laboratory for Innovative Translational Technologies (LITT). The resources provided by LITT have enabled us to generate unique data from exhaled breath condensate samples which we will publish in the near future.
What was it like to work with a dedicated mentor through this program?
I have had the unique opportunity of working with Dr. Israel as my mentor for many years, including the duration of the KL2 award. It has been a privilege to work so closely with someone who is not only internationally recognized in his field, but also someone who is genuinely invested in my success. His astuteness, integrity, experience, and commitment have been inimitable and crucial in the development of my career trajectory and goals.
While we had formal meetings every week, Elliot and I worked side by side every day. A great deal of my learning and my interaction with him was during the hours we spent in his office strategizing on various projects. He made sure I received hands-on, practical training in the lab as well. In addition to this, Dr. Israel took me to all steering committee meetings attended by PIs of the NHLBI asthma networks. This was an incredible opportunity to learn how experts across the country think about critical unanswered questions in asthma. At these meetings, leading investigators in asthma would identify the gaps in the pathobiology, diagnosis, and management of asthma, and then go head to head about how they think the important questions should be answered. After extensive discussions sometimes lasting hours at a stretch, they designed and implemented unique multicenter clinical trials. Simultaneously, they encouraged junior investigators like me to design and lead proof-of-concept studies to examine innovative approaches in the treatment of asthma. Imagine being mentored by nine of the country's best investigators! Because of the exposure that Elliot gave me, I had a seat at that table.
What advice do you have for other researchers?
I think it's important to realize that we have access to unmatched resources through Harvard Catalyst. Sometimes we just need someone to introduce us to the right person in the right place at the right time. My one piece of advice to other researchers would be to seek help early and often, and take advantage of all the assets we already have in place. You'd be surprised at how far networking and communicating with experts within our research community can take us.
I wouldn't be here today if I didn't have these two years of support. In academia, you have to make your own salary. So, if I didn't have 75 percent of my salary paid for, I would be doing three times as much clinical work and that would make my research unsustainable. With accelerating research and discoveries in science, one needs to have protected time to keep up with it all. All the expertise I have had access to and the progress I have made was made possible by the structure of the KL2 award.
How has this award allowed your work to truly be translational in terms of impacting patients' health?
The support I received through the KL2 award has allowed me to dedicate two years of my research career towards advancement of non-invasive diagnosis and monitoring of airway inflammation in asthma. The data we generated has allowed us to not only diagnose and characterize asthma, but also to quantify the underlying pathobiological defects which will lead to the development of new therapies for asthma. This will be especially beneficial for patients with severe asthma, a group that suffers from poor disease control despite treatment with currently available medications.
"I am Harvard Catalyst" is a series of spotlights on clinical/translational investigators, showcasing examples of innovation, collaboration, community engagement, or professional development that have been supported by Harvard Catalyst.