AUA Investigator June 2021 Issue

Research Features


Passing the Gavel: New AUA Research Chair Begins Term

Dr. Steven Kaplan from Mount Sinai Health System in New York began his term as the AUA Chair of Research on June 1. As the new Chair, Dr. Kaplan will provide strategic oversight of the AUA’s research mission as well as the research component of its Urology Care Foundation.

The 2016-2020 AUA Research Strategic Plan, spearheaded by Dr. Kaplan’s predecessor, Dr. Aria Olumi, paved the way for the building of several new programs in the areas of research education and investigator support. This was a time of unprecedented growth and enhancement of the support that the AUA and Foundation provide for the urologic research community, and drew attention on national and international levels. For the 2021-2025 Research Strategic Plan, interest is high to now enrich and optimize these existing programs through a focus on diversity and inclusion, community-based practice engagement, and engagement with international stakeholders. In addition, explorations have begun for the AUA to establish means by which to directly facilitate the translation of urologic research discoveries toward improving patient care.

To achieve this vision, Dr. Kaplan will provide overall leadership of the AUA Research Council and collaborate with the Research Grants and Investigator Support Committee (RGISC), Research Education, Conferences and Communications Committee (RECCC), and Research Advocacy Committee (under the purview of the AUA Public Policy Council). For example, efforts are underway by the RGISC to examine increasing the focus of Urology Care Foundation grants on unmet research needs with the goal of driving impactful research to improve patient care. The RECCC is also working to explore unmet needs in research education, keeping up with advances in the field and optimizing the delivery of educational resources to advance research and early career investigators in urology.

In addition, the AUA Research Council has initiated efforts to increase the capacity of these research programs for improving diversity in urologic research, as well as better engaging with community-based researchers and international stakeholders. Building on the momentum of the new LEAD Program and Research Scholar and other awards dedicated to supporting underrepresented minorities in urologic research, the Council established an independent working group to assess existing research programs and make recommendations to improve their overall diversity and ensure inclusivity and equity in their administration. Further, a separate working group has been created to assess how the AUA’s research programs can better support and engage with community-based researchers and an international urology research needs assessment is on the near horizon.

Finally, Dr. Kaplan and others have identified a major opportunity to increase research impact through facilitating interactions between academia and industry in order to rapidly translate research discoveries to patient care. Dr. Kaplan and the AUA Research Council will continue to pursue this “research incubator” concept over the next few years for feasibility and potential impact for the urology community.

The Trainee Experience: Physician Scientist Residency Training Award

Dr. Joel Berends is the inaugural Physician Scientist Residency Training Award (PSRTA) recipient and is currently finishing his second year of residency training at the University of Michigan. He will begin the three-year research training block of the PSRTA program this summer, supported by funds from the Urology Care Foundation. The following exchange provides insight into his experiences in the program thus far, as well as advice for potential applicants.

Can you describe your first two years of clinical training and how you’ve been able to incorporate research exposure and begin to set yourself up for a successful project?

Obviously, residency is very busy clinically, but I was fortunate to be able to engage in a number of research projects since the beginning. I was able to reach out and meet with a number of faculty and find smaller abstracts to be able to submit to meetings, along with getting involved with more longitudinal projects. You never know what roadblocks might occur, so early on I would recommend getting involved with a few projects so you always have something you can be working on whenever you have downtime, maybe when flying or taking a train to see family or a post-call day during intern year.

What research project have you begun to be most excited about?

Currently, my program leadership has been generous enough to allow me a dedicated day once a week to start rotating with my chosen mentor, Dr. Sethu Pitchiaya. We are working together to refresh my basic science techniques before my lab time starts in July. We will be working on the role of non-coding RNAs in gene expression, often measured by gathering spatial information with high-resolution microscopy, to clarify mechanisms in urologic disease, both benign and oncologic.

Do you have any advice for potential applicants or anything else you’d like to share?

I’d advise any applicants to this program to have a long-term plan for what your career and research goals are. If you have a dedicated skill set you would like to build (such as bioinformatics) or if you know you would like to be an academic independent investigator someday, having the dedicated time mid-residency to solidify those abilities could make the PSRTA program a good fit. Knowing exactly what you hope to gain from the time you are investing can help you stand out from the competition and make your research time most successful.

The 2022 PSRTA competition is now open! A letter of intent is required and is due by 5:00 p.m. Eastern on July 29, 2021. The application deadline is September 9, 2021.

Apply Now

Making an IMPACT

Disparities in Access to Care for Erectile Dysfunction Services

Valentina Grajales, MD

Dr. Denise Asafu-Adjei is an andrology fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles and a current Urology Care Foundation Research Scholar Award recipient. She aspires to establish a physician-scientist career at the interface of andrology and health policy and is completing her one-year research project focused on disparities in erectile dysfunction services and care.

The public health consequences of erectile dysfunction (ED) are staggering. ED has become increasingly recognized as a pathophysiologic marker of subclinical cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and sexual health plays an important role in psychosocial well-being and quality of life. Despite the clinical and societal importance of recognizing ED early, the gaps in care remain wide for this gateway disease. Serving as a surrogate for the presence of cardiovascular disease, ED is uniquely placed as a gateway disease in the context of public health, yielding an opportunity to mitigate lifetime morbidity from these diseases.

The goal of Dr. Asafu-Adjei’s project, funded by the Urology Care Foundation in partnership with the Sexual Medicine Society of North America, was to characterize and compare access to ED services at the Men’s Clinic at UCLA and Martin Luther King Jr Hospital. By analyzing the patients and their respective clinical pathways, we can objectively identify differences in care and inform better implementation strategies to ensure equitable care for erectile dysfunction in all UCLA affiliated settings.

Major findings were that ED is significantly underdiagnosed in medically underserved communities compared to the prevalence in the general population. The underdiagnosis of ED in underserved populations, as seen in Dr. Asafu-Adjei’s comparative study, also contributes to disparities of care and delayed diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases in these men. Additionally, younger patients (aged under 40 as defined in the study) were less likely to present for follow-up clinic visits, a crucial component of disease management. Young men represent an important target population as they are more likely to benefit from earlier, preventive health interventions. Finally, leveraging non-urologist networks and public education about ED is a critical component of increasing awareness and diagnosis of ED.

Dr. Asafu-Adjei is currently working on a publication of her work and will be presenting at the next Sexual Medicine Society of North America scientific meeting.