Saint Louis University’s Kostas-Polston Named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ‘Nurse Faculty Scholar’

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August 31, 2010                                                                                       202/371-1999
Saint Louis University’s Kostas-Polston Named a
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ‘Nurse Faculty Scholar’
Nurse Studying Early Detection of Human Papillomavirus-Related Cancer is Selected for Prestigious Program to Advance Careers of Nation’s Most Promising Junior Nurse Faculty
Saint Louis, MO—Elizabeth Kostas-Polston, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., W.H.N.P-B.C., an assistant professor of nursing and board certified women’s health nurse practitioner at the Saint Louis University School of Nursing, has won a competitive grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to study a way to improve detection and treatment of Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-related oropharyngeal cancer—a cancer of the head and neck which is increasing in prevalence. Kostas-Polston is one of just 12 nurse educators from around the country to receive the three-year $350,000 Nurse Faculty Scholar award this year. It is given to junior faculty who show outstanding promise as future leaders in academic nursing. The grant period begins next month.
“This award is a phenomenal gift that will afford me the opportunity to focus on my research passions of women’s health and human molecular genomics,” said Kostas-Polston. HPV has reached epidemic levels in the general population, but the challenge lies in detecting and treating it. HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer is especially difficult to detect as we currently have no FDA-approved screening test for persistent HPV infection of the oropharynx. By the time a lesion is detected, the cancer is often quite advanced. My research will identify strategies that may prevent both primary oncogenesis and the further progression of a tumor or cancer of the oropharynx. My goal is to build a genomic program of research with respect to the HPV virus that will help patients know their status before it’s too late, as well as develop treatments that will assist clinicians in preventing the development and progression of cancer.”
Kostas-Polston’s research will focus on identifying whether a protein, discovered by one of her mentors, Dr. G. Chinnadurai, will suppress the oncogenic activities of high risk or cancer causing strains of the HPV virus, which can lead to the development of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. The challenge is that this is a slow-growing cancer that generally takes eight to 12 years for symptoms to become apparent. Unfortunately, by the time they do, the cancer is often quite advanced. Kostas-Polston’s work will focus on developing methods to identify the problem as early as possible, surveil it, treat it and prevent the cancer from spreading.  
“In addition to the tremendous support I will receive for my research, this award will allow me to work closely with mentors who will provide guidance on research,” added Kostas-Polston. “I will also receive leadership training in areas such as health care policy and academic nursing, preparing me to assume a senior leadership role in a School of Nursing. In an era when rapid genomic discoveries are occurring, these experiences will continue to prepare me to join the cadre of nurse scientist leaders conducting genomic-based research. Evolving genomic nursing research not only lends itself to a seamless transition from bench to bedside, but is essential in practice, education, leadership and health care policy. I am excited and looking forward to becoming a part of a network of leaders in and outside of the field of nursing, and share this knowledge with my students,”
Norma A. Metheny, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., associate dean of Nursing Research, professor in Nursing, and Dorothy A. Votsmier Endowed Chair in Nursing at the Saint Louis University School of Nursing and G. Chinnadurai, Ph.D., professor of Molecular Virology, Doisy Research Center at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, will serve as Kostas-Polston’s mentors.
“Dr. Kostas-Polston’s research holds great promise for not only detecting, but also treating a deadly form of cancer that is on the rise,” Methany said. “There is an effective screening tool for cervical cancer which has drastically improved outcomes for patients in the early stages. Elizabeth’s research has the potential to lead to a screening tool for HPV infection of the oral pharynx; such a tool is desperately needed to improve health care outcomes for those individuals with persistent oropharyngeal HPV infection.” 
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program aims to strengthen the academic productivity and overall excellence of nursing schools by developing the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing. Supporting junior nurse faculty will help curb a shortage of nurse educators that could undermine the health and health care of all Americans. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will vastly increase the number of people who can access health care in the United States. As the number of patients increases, there will be greater demand for skilled nurses and faculty to educate them. Right now, many schools of nursing are turning away qualified applicants because they lack the faculty to teach them.
The Nurse Faculty Scholars program is helping to curb the shortage by helping more junior faculty succeed in, and commit to, academic careers. The program provides talented junior faculty with salary and research support as well as the chance to participate in institutional and national mentoring activities, leadership training, and networking events with colleagues in nursing and other fields, while continuing to teach and provide institutional, professional and community service in their universities.
The program will also enhance the stature of the scholars’ academic institutions, which will benefit fellow nurse educators seeking professional development opportunities.
To receive the award, scholars must be registered nurses who have completed a research doctorate in nursing or a related discipline and who have held a tenure-eligible faculty position at an accredited nursing school for at least two and no more than five years.
Several Nurse Faculty Scholars have been recognized for outstanding work since they were accepted into the program. In 2009, Scholar Kynna Wright-Volel, Ph.D., M.S.N., M.P.H., an assistant professor at the UCLA School of Nursing, won the Minority Health Community Trailblazer Award in 2009. It is given by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in recognition of work to eliminate health disparities.
Earlier this year, Nurse Faculty Scholar Joachim Voss, Ph.D., R.N., A.C.R.N., an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Washington, received the 2010 Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. Voss was among only five faculty to receive this year’s award and the first professor from the School of Nursing ever to receive the honor. The Award is open to all faculty members at the University of Washington, which has 3,600 instructional faculty.
Three Nurse Faculty Scholars—Angela Amar, R.N., Ph.D. of the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College; Cynthia Anderson, Ph.D., W.H.N.P., an assistant professor at the College of Nursing at the University of North Dakota; and Nancy Hanrahan, R.N., Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing—will be inducted into the American Academy of Nursing this fall. Amar is using her RWJF grant to research the factors that encourage college women to report interpersonal violence, Anderson is looking at vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women from the rural, northern plains, and Hanrahan is studying outcomes from patients who are admitted to hospitals to receive psychiatric services. 
The Nurse Faculty Scholars program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and administered through the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. It is directed by Jacquelyn Campbell, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., who is the Anna D. Wolf chair and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
To learn more about the program, visit
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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, we work with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years we’ve brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those we serve. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, we expect to make a difference in your lifetime.