Keith Avin and Rebecca Bartlett Ellis, IUPUI researchers focused on improving the lives of people with chronic kidney disease, have been named 2022 Research Frontiers Trailblazers. This annual award from IUPUI and the Vice Chancellor for Research recognizes associate professors in the first three years of their academic appointment who have made exceptional contributions to research in their field.
According to the CDC, 15 percent of American adults – 37 million people – have chronic kidney disease, which can affect almost every part of the body and lead to a variety of complications, including cardiovascular disease and anemia or even irreversible damage that may require dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival.
“These researchers work every day to improve the lives of people in Indiana and beyond who are fighting kidney disease,” said Janice Blum, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “Through research on skeletal muscle and exercise interventions, Dr. Avin hopes to assist patients with kidney disease lead more productive lives. Dr. Ellis’ work examining innovative digital health approaches will assist patients in better adhering to their prescribed medication for their disease, which may ultimately save lives in Indiana and nationally.”
“Given the questions surrounding exercise and chronic kidney disease, there is no standard for clinical practice for physical therapists or guidance for exercise physiologists,” said Avin, an associate professor in the School of Health & Human Sciences. “The current focus is to identify the optimal exercise protocol that will improve muscle strength and function. My students and I are working to equip physical therapists and exercise physiologists to help those with chronic kidney disease move better and be able to interact with their family and friends more often.”
According to Avin, student researchers play a critical role in this research, and they receive real world application of research methodology and techniques that help them in the classroom and beyond as they become the next generation of researchers and clinicians.
“Being recognized as a Research Frontiers Trailblazer for my work is very uplifting and validates my efforts, but more importantly that of the entire research team who makes this work possible,” Avin said. “Our campus has a wealth of tremendous researchers who are all conducting excellent work to help both Hoosiers locally and people around the world, and I’m both humbled and gratified to be recognized.”
Rebecca Bartlett Ellis
Ellis, an associate professor and executive associate dean of academic affairs in the IU School of Nursing, conducts transdisciplinary research to improve how people manage their medications and improve health. Her long-term goal is to improve medication adherence through behavioral interventions that enhance medication management among people with chronic conditions and improve their quality of life.
Since most current interventions are focused on people in the later stages of kidney disease, Ellis aims to recruit and enroll individuals in the earliest stages of the disease so she can develop interventions that will make a difference for individuals and prevent them from needing dialysis much earlier than they would have historically.
“My research has increased understanding of the problem of medication adherence, has generated novel methods for real-time medication adherence and created evidence to guide clinical practice,” Ellis said. “Our smart and patented pill box, which integrates sensors in a variety of ways in order to provide meaningful information about how people are taking their medicine and how they are using the pillbox, is moving us forward in research to monitor how individuals take their medications.”
Like Avin, student researchers are integral to her research. She encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration on her team and appreciates that students are able to bring lessons learned in the classroom into the research process, creating a real-life learning laboratory for students.
“The Trailblazer Award recognizes the impact of this research that is possible because of the trust that patients place in our team and the commitment my interdisciplinary colleagues and our students have towards improving how people manage their medications,” Ellis said.
Meet this year's Trailblazers:
Description of the video:
[Words appear: 2022 Research Frontiers Trailblazer Recipients. At the bottom of the screen is an IU logo with the words "IUPUI, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research”]
[Words appear: Keith Avin, PhD, Associate Professor, Physical Therapy] [Video: Avin is standing in a hallway and smiling at the camera.]
Avin speaking: My name is Keith Avin. I'm an associate professor in the IU Department of Physical Therapy.
[Video: Avin speaking to the interviewer; a closeup of Avin speaking to the interviewer; a woman jogging on a treadmill in an IUPUI athletic facility; a close up of the woman’s shoes as she jogs on the treadmill; Avin talking with the woman as she jogs.]
Avin speaking: So, my research looks at skeletal muscle health and function for those people living with chronic kidney disease. Quite often, you know, these people, they live with chronic kidney disease, but they see a slow deterioration in how they move, how they function, how they feel. And right now, I'm a physical therapist by clinical training, and that's not really a part of our practice. And, my overall goal for my research is really to start to better understand how the muscles are affected by chronic kidney disease, and then, really, how we can help it. So, a lot of my studies focus around exercise interventions for those living with chronic kidney disease.
[Video: Avin speaking with the interviewer; Avin lifting weights in an IUPUI athletic facility; Avin using a weight machine; Avin speaking to the interviewer: a closeup of Avin speaking to the interviewer.]
Avin speaking: So, the long term implications of my research are really helping people interact and move better in their environment. Right now, we don't understand exercise that well or to the extent that we should for people living with chronic kidney disease. I love exercise. I hope everyone that is able to loves exercise. But for those living with chronic kidney disease, I don't feel as confident of what specifically to tell them to do, and that's what this research is doing. I've also developed a platform in terms of my research experience, from the bench to bedside and beyond, so that I can move forward in my research to each level, so that we can move from more of the basic science components all the way through clinical implementation.
[Video: Avin walking down a hallway and into a lab; Avin talking with a woman in the lab; the woman talking with Avin; a closeup of Avin talking and smiling; the woman using a microscope; a closeup of Avin viewing data; Avin and the woman viewing data on a computer screen; a closeup of Avin pointing at data on the screen.]
Avin speaking: In the people that have chronic kidney disease, we have evidence now, both in my lab and other labs, that are starting to show that exercise may not always have beneficial effects. There are concerns that it can have detrimental effects. And, one of the core values is to do no harm. We have to make sure that we keep that inherent to our patients. And we can't simply say, “Go out and do it. Be more active.” We have to be more intentional. We have to be more prescriptional with that to make sure that we can really help these patients truly interact with their environment and help them move and not have a detrimental aspect of that.
[Video: Avin speaking to the interviewer; a closeup of Avin speaking to the interviewer; Avin working on his computer in his office; a closeup of Avin typing; a closeup of Avin’s face as he works.]
Avin speaking: The end goal for my line of research is ultimately with patient care. I want physical therapists, kinesiologists, exercise physiologists to be standard of care to help these patients live better lives. It's not, “You have chronic kidney disease. We're going to watch you walk slower over time. We're going to watch you having a harder time getting up out of a chair. Just let it happen.” I want that this research reinforces the need to incorporate exercise, to incorporate physical therapyrelated interventions and management to help these people live better lives.
[Video: A closeup of Avin speaking to the interviewer; Avin speaking to the interviewer.]
Avin speaking: So, receiving this award was surprising and humbling. I think when you go through the research world, it can be hard at times, because you're not always succeeding along the way. There's a lot of rejections from papers and grants, and when you get this award, you're realizing that all of your hard work, your effort, your energy is still being recognized by people.
[Words appear: Rebecca Ellis, PhD, RN, ACNSBC, FAAN, Associate Professor, School of Nursing]
[Video: Ellis is standing in a hallway and smiling at the camera.]
Ellis speaking: My name is Rebecca Bartlett Ellis, and I'm an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing.
[Video: Ellis speaking to the interviewer; a closeup of Ellis speaking to the interviewer.]
Ellis speaking: My research focuses on individuals with chronic kidney disease and helping to develop interventions that will support their adherence to medications. And, individuals that are AfricanAmerican or black are often disproportionately affected by chronic kidney disease, and my research aims to recruit and enroll individuals that are at the highest risk for chronic kidney disease.
[Video: A closeup of the nameplate outside Ellis’ office; Ellis typing at her computer; Ellis viewing her computer screen; Ellis speaking to the interviewer; a closeup of Ellis speaking to the interviewer; Ellis speaking to the interviewer.] Ellis speaking: And, my intervention is focused on individuals in the early stages of chronic kidney disease. Often, interventions will focus on the later stages when significant damage has already occurred to the kidneys and individuals need dialysis. My research is focused on the earlier stages, in stages one through four, because I want to make a difference for individuals and prevent them from needing dialysis much earlier than they would historically.
[Video: Ellis speaking to the interviewer; Ellis meeting around a table with three individuals; a closeup of a man participating in the meeting; Ellis speaking at the meeting; a closeup of hands examining the pillbox; Ellis speaking to the interviewer.]
Ellis speaking: One of the aspects of my research that is very important to me is the opportunity to engage students, and I have done that in all ways in the various projects that I've conducted. One that I am most proud of is the work that I've done with my interdisciplinary colleagues here on the IUPUI campus, and together with our students, we have developed a smart and patented pillbox that really moves us in a way forward in research to monitor how individuals take their medications. And, we have students from multiple disciplines that were involved in that project.
[Video: Ellis showing the pillbox to a patient in a clinic room; Ellis and the patient with the focus on Ellis; Ellis and the patient with the focus on the patient; Ellis speaking to the interviewer; virtual video meeting on a laptop with a nurse and the patient.]
Ellis speaking: The smart pillbox that my team developed is trailblazing, because it integrates sensors in a variety of different ways. It provides meaningful information to us about how people are taking their medications, how they're using their pillbox, and their adherence to their medications, which is different than other pillboxes that may only capture an adherence score.
[Video: A closeup of the nurse during virtual meeting with cell phone; a closeup of the patient with a cell phone and device; Ellis speaking to the interviewer.] Ellis speaking: So we're able to, with the way our sensors are integrated, to tell different behaviors that individuals are engaging in when they are managing their medications in their pillboxes.
[Video: A closeup of Ellis speaking to the interviewer; Ellis walking down a hallway; a closeup of Ellis speaking to the interviewer.]
Ellis speaking: Receiving this Trailblazer Award is incredibly meaningful, because this is an award that recognizes cutting edge research. And, my work is in digital health and focused on improving medication adherence, and the intersection of those are very innovative. And, this award was recognizing the impact that my research has had to date and the opportunities that I have going forward.
[Words appear: IUPUI Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, next to an IU trident.]
[Video fades to black.]