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CTSI-RAP Alumni Careers Take Flight



UCLA CTSI News Archive

The CTSI Research Associates Program (CTSI-RAP) continues to be a special workforce development program within CTSI.  Drs. Laurie Shaker-Irwin, Clinical Research Advisor, and Noah Federman, Medical Director, lead the program, which is now entering its ninth year. By the end of 2021, a total of nearly 150 students will have onboarded to the program.

Through a review application, CTSI-RAP selectively pairs UCLA undergraduate students with clinical research studies being conducted by UCLA faculty. The students are excited and motivated to be members of study teams where they excel on their projects and launch their careers in the health professions, often combining these careers with clinical research and related fields.

From Mentee to Mentor in the Lab

Two alumni, Omar Habib and Bryanna Reinhardt, joined the program in 2016 and 2018, respectively, as RAP volunteers. Following their tenure in the program, both students went on to continue in paid clinical research positions at UCLA before successfully launching their careers elsewhere. While in the program, their mentorship was sponsored by Dr. Donald Kohn, whose sentinel work in pediatric immunodeficiency has allowed children with such diseases to live essentially normal lives in good health, despite their otherwise fatal diagnosis.  

After serving two years in RAP, Bryanna Reinhardt was employed as a UCLA Staff Research Associate in Dr. Kohn’s laboratory, where she conducted data analysis on the long-term outcomes of children with adenosine deaminase severe combined immune deficiency (ADA-SCID) who were treated with gene therapy. Bryanna has since matriculated to medical school and is working towards an MD-MPH at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. 


From left: Dr. Donald Kohn, Bryanna Reinhardt (RAP 2020 graduate), Omar Habib (RAP 2019 graduate).

“CTSI-RAP exposed me to life-changing opportunities. Through the program, I joined Dr. Kohn’s lab and learned how gene therapy clinical trials operate. I felt honored being a research associate on the clinical team, assisting with quality control and data management. Dr. Kohn is an incredible mentor and he also provided me with the opportunity to learn in the wet lab. There, I worked under a PhD candidate on her ex vivo vector-based gene therapy project, aimed at curing sickle cell disease. It was truly inspiring,” said Bryanna. “Since starting medical school, I frequently reflect on my time at UCLA. When I become a physician and obtain my public health degree, I plan to work in gene therapy research. Ultimately, my goal is to make gene therapies accessible to patients. I am so grateful for my mentors at UCLA who provided me with these invaluable learning experiences!”

Omar Habib’s three years of service in RAP were followed by two years of employment as a Clinical Data Manager in Dr. Kohn’s laboratory, during which he also collaborated on the analysis of the ADA-SCID data. While in CTSI-RAP, Omar was spotlighted on two occasions: at a July 2018 CTSI Program Area Leaders Meeting with his vector research in Dr. Kohn’s laboratory, and also in the CTSI-RAP video inspired by the program’s success with underrepresented and first-generation students. Omar is now serving as a Senior Clinical Data Lead for ICON Clinical Research, an international contract clinical research organization. 

Both Bryanna and Omar volunteered with Dr. Kohn during their tenure in CTSI-RAP and continued in paid positions in his laboratory. Omar was Bryanna’s RAP alumni mentor in the laboratory where the chain of mentoring begins. Their several years of dedication and hard work, along with Dr. Kohn’s exemplary mentorship and guidance, allowed them to position themselves for an important research publication. 

“The CTSI-RAP program is truly win-win for the students and for the UCLA clinical research programs, says Dr. Kohn. “It is great to have this pool of trained people available to support our programs.  Omar and Bryanna were really special in their intelligence, hard-work and productivity.  We wrote the long-term follow-up paper (about a cohort of ADA SCID patients we had treated 10 years earlier) throughout the pandemic lockdown. We worked well as a team to gather the data and develop the manuscript. They have now advanced to the next stages of their careers and the start they got from the CTSI-RAP gave them the tools they needed.”

Paths to Success During the Pandemic

RAP students often start by presenting their research at UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Showcase held every May--usually in Pauley Pavilion--but held virtually these past two years. Bryanna presented the initial research in May 2020. The typical next step is to continue towards publication. Under Dr. Kohn’s tutelage and mentorship, Bryanna and Omar published their work on ADA-SCID in the high-impact journal Blood as first and second authors, respectively. This impressive achievement, which is rarely accomplished by recent undergraduates, demonstrates that such career success in research is achievable when UCLA faculty and staff seed these great minds early on with outstanding mentorship.

CTSI-RAP is also a career exploration program with a number of alumni working in many fields, though the majority have continued on in medicine, research, public health, and/or service. Due to the success of the program and with the support of the CTSI, RAP has doubled in size over the years. Senior students often serve as mentors to students that are newer to CTSI-RAP since most students remain in the program for 2-3 years, often past their UCLA graduation. In addition, RAP alumni are matched with current students to serve as mentors and provide guidance on career decision-making based upon their own experiences. 

Dr. Shaker-Irwin was recently informed that yet another RAP student was hired to a paid research position following the student’s initial two months of volunteering in pediatric allergy and immunology under Dr. Maria Garcia-Lloret. The study team would like to now engage a new RAP student volunteer to contribute to their research projects.

The student authors of this CTSI newsletter article are just beginning their return to in-person study volunteering. Catherine Beaudin will be working on a project evaluating the effects of e-cigarettes on the cardiovascular system with Dr. Holly Middlekauff. 

“Since joining CTSI-RAP in fall 2020, I have been fortunate enough to make connections with amazing peers and mentors. During the past year, I have furthered my understanding of clinical research and developed leadership skills remotely. But I am overjoyed that we are now in the process of returning to in-person volunteering," said Catherine. "I am looking forward to shadowing through CTRC Rounds and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Middlekauff, which will allow me to combine my sustained interest in cardiology with clinical research.”

Erin Hu will be working on a project aiming to develop a mobile sweat sensor device for the detection of heart failure with Dr. Jeffrey Hsu.   

“Even without being able to volunteer in-person in lab or clinic for the past year, my time in RAP has been invaluable to how I have developed both as an academic and an individual. I have been able to explore fields such as public health policy, health equity, and patient advocacy, which have become exceedingly important during the pandemic,” said Erin. “Moving forward, I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Hsu on his sweat sensor device project, which is a unique intersection of my passions for cardiology and engineering. I cannot overstate how grateful I am for the experiences and guidance RAP has offered me, and I look forward to seeing and helping this program grow even more in the coming years.”

We are also happy to announce that out of over 200 applicants, the CTSI-RAP Recruitment Committee selected 20 students to join our program in the new year.  

Opportunities with CTSI-RAP

If you would like assistance with your studies, please complete the CTSI-RAP faculty application to participate in our Winter and Spring 2022 matching process. You may send it by e-mail to LShakerIrwin@mednet.ucla.edu.

These events are good news for all those involved since mentoring circles and chains, just as that which transpired amongst Dr. Kohn, Omar, and Bryanna, continue within the CTSI workforce development program. It is this collaborative effort on the part of dedicated investigator mentors, study teams, students, and RAP leadership that leads to such long-term success.

This story was written by Catherine Beaudin (CTSI-RAP Student), Erin Hu (CTSI-RAP Student) and Laurie Shaker-Irwin PhD, MS (CTSI-RAP Clinical Research Advisor). 

Related News:
UCLA press release on the Blood publication: A decade after gene therapy, children born with deadly immune disorder remain healthy