Loretta Jophlin, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, gave a 10-minute pitch about her research that netted her a one-year, $20,000 pilot grant.
A panel of judges awarded Dr. Jophlin the top prize in the Superstar Competition during the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Annual Scientific Meeting, hosted by UNMC on Oct. 10 and 11. The event brought together about 200 people interested in clinical and translational research.
“To compete alongside two other enthusiastic scientists, doing vastly different patient-oriented research, was like no other experience,” Dr. Jophlin said. “It was a real challenge to explain the global burden of fatty liver disease, the current deficits in our diagnostic modalities, and how this research can improve care for patients in just 10 minutes. By the end of the 10 minutes, I was winded!”
Through her research, Dr. Jophlin aims to create a diagnostic test to differentiate non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD) from alcoholic fatty liver diseases (ALD).
“Creating a diagnostic test to differentiate NAFLD from ALD would fill a much needed void in the realm of hepatopathology,” she said. “Currently, hepatologists and pathologists often cannot determine the cause because they look so similar under the microscope using our current diagnostic modalities.”
Dr. Jophlin’s overall research goal is to better understand the pathophysiology of fat-storing lipid droplets in fatty liver diseases and how the droplets can be harnessed as therapeutic and diagnostic targets. She said that determining the lipid droplet phenotype of NAFLD and ALD when they coexist in a single patient will be cutting edge as it may reveal new therapeutic targets effective in both diseases.
“This funding is critically important to the research I would like to accomplish in the next year,” Dr. Jophlin said.
She said that the funds will be used for the specialized reagents and antibodies needed to develop the diagnostic test, acquisition of bona fide NAFLD and ALD liver tissue samples for validation studies, and expanding the UNMC Tissue Biobank — a resource available to all researchers — to include liver tissues from the patient population.
Dr. Jophlin, who joined the UNMC faculty in August, said that this award along with the help of her mentors and other collaborators will make it possible for her to launch her career as an investigator.
“I am thrilled to be supported as a physician-scientist at UNMC and the Omaha VA,” she said. “This environment for a young investigator is special in that it is so rare. The culture that the Great Plains IDeA-CTR and UNMC has created in fostering collaborative research and supporting new ideas from early investigators is remarkable.”