Fall 2020


iTHRIV Funds Data Driven Efforts to Combat COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the lives of millions worldwide, many folks have answered the call to help combat the spread of the virus through social distancing, quarantine, and in some cases provide crucial health and wellness data. For researchers studying the COVID-19 data has become crucial to understand the spread and effects of the virus. Two unique projects out of the Integrated Translational Health Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) seek to provide researchers with valuable data gathered from residents of Virginia.

Dr. Natalie Cook, Assistant Professor of Public Health at Virginia Tech (VT) noticed that the present health crisis has seen a rise in conflicting information. Contradictory information from multiple sources, leads to misunderstanding and confusion. Many Virginians are wondering what to do to protect themselves and their families from the virus while others may not be taking the pandemic seriously thereby putting themselves and others at risk. Dr. Cook created an online survey to better understand how Virginians perceive COVID-19 communication and how it affects their actions. The goal of this state-wide effort will be to create a better understanding of how to communicate critical messages and reduce harm to Virginians.  The study team includes public health professionals, healthcare providers, educators, and researchers.

Meanwhile, at the University of Virginia (UVA), Principle Investigators Don Brown and Johanna Loomba partnered with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) as well as a cross-state advisory group to create an online tool to collect COVID-19 related health and wellness information from residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The project, titled “COVID and the Commonwealth: an iTHRIV Health Status Registry” aims to fill an information gap by collecting self-reported data from individuals who may be healthy and or convalescing at home. “It’s difficult for health researchers to know what’s happening in the state," Loomba said. "And the iTHRIV registry gives us a way to gather all that information in one place, which is more efficient.” The information collected will pertain to simple demographic identifiers such as age and gender, social questions regarding job loss and stress, as well as more detailed inquiries surrounding health. The registry is not designed to address one specific question, but rather is an ongoing effort to collect and pool this valuable data. 

Dr. Natalie Cook

iTHRIV announces incoming 2020 Scholars Program Cohort

Today the integrated Translational Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) announced its fourth class of iTHRIV Scholars. The eight selected researchers from the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech will participate in a structured two-year research training and mentorship program. The curriculum emphasizes data science training and interdisciplinary research collaboration.


The iTHRIV Scholars program, launched in 2017, helps early career faculty members advance their careers. For the first time in the program’s history, the incoming cohort includes three Virginia Tech faculty members, all from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, representing the full integration of the Virginia Tech Carilion partnership into the Scholars program.

The 2020 – 2022 cohort includes:


Laurie Brenner, an assistant professor in the department of neurology at the UVA School of Medicine. Mentored by Kevin Pelphrey, Jaideep Kapur, and Karen Johnston, Brenner will study if “Autism-plus-epilepsy is an autism subtype with a focal neurobiological basis.”

Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, an assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, and in Virginia Tech’s department of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Mentored by Warren Bickel, Matthew Hulver, and Brooks King-Casas, DiFeliceantonio is an appetitive neuroscientist whose research project will explore the “Neural and metabolic correlates of carbohydrate reward.” Alexandra Hanlon will collaborate with DiFeliceantonio on this study.

Brittany Howell, an assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, and in Virginia Tech’s department of human development and family science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Mentored by Catherine Limperopoulos, Howell is launching a pilot study to examine the “Role of gut dysbiosis in the neurodevelopmental consequences of neonatal abstinence syndrome.” Kim Simcox, Lisa Andruscavage, and Cindy Smith will collaborate with Howell on this project.

Lisa Letzkus, an assistant professor in the UVA School of Medicine’s department of pediatrics. Mentored by Karen Fairchild, Doug Lake, Jessica Keim-Malpass, Brynne Sullivan, and Richard Stevenson, Letzkus will study “Neurodevelopmental infant cardiorespiratory evaluation.” Santina Zanelli, Vince Pulido, Sandeep Pillutla, and Randall Moorman will collaborate with Letzkus on this project.

Nicole Long, an assistant professor in the department of psychology in UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences. Mentored by Carol Manning, James Morris, and Mark Quigg, Long will study “Mnemonic brain states and selective memory deficits in healthy aging.”

Kaitlin Love, a fellow in the division of endocrinology and metabolism in the UVA School of Medicine Department of Medicine. Mentored by Zhenqui Liu, Arthur Weltman, and Sue Brown, Love will study the “Effect of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonism on microvascular perfusion, cardiorespiratory fitness, and glycemic variability in Type 1 Diabetes.” James Patrie will collaborate with Love on this project.

Sora Shin, an assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, and in Virginia Tech’s department of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Mentored by Warren Bickel and Robert Trestman, Shin will study “The role of leptin receptor neural circuits in mediating early life trauma-induced binge eating behavior. Anthony-Samuel LaMantia will collaborate with Shin on this project.

Kara Wiseman, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at UVA School of Medicine. Mentored by Lee Ritterband, Roger Anderson, Laura Barnes, and Robert Klesges, Wiseman will examine the “Effectiveness of publicly available smoking cessation resources: Does rurality matter?”.


Due to the pandemic, this year’s iTHRIV Scholars Program has swiftly transitioned to virtual programming, which starts in July. “Some of our programming has been postponed or altered to fit our new environment, but we have ultimately harnessed the opportunity to test virtual programs and collaborate with our partner sites,” said Jennifer Kirkham, the iTHRIV Scholars Program Manager. “We are grateful to the vast number of instructors who have shared their expertise with our scholars. We thank the mentors for participating in the growth and development of the next generation of clinical and translational research colleagues.” The iTHRIV Scholars Program is available to full-time faculty applicants who have a doctoral degree, or its equivalent, in a research or health profession. Each applicant must seek approval from their supervisor, department chair, or institute director, allowing them to dedicate roughly 75 percent of their time to their research project and the Scholars training curriculum. “We appreciate the consideration and encouragement of the department chairs and institute directors by providing protected time for the Scholars to pursue these research projects and goals,” Kirkham said.


integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia - 434-924-6208 - iTHRIVAdmin@hscmail.mcc.virginia.edu

iTHRIV is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science of the National Institutes of Health Award UL1TR003015/ KL2TR003016