Kim Baio Moves Emory Surgery Clinical Trials from A-to-Z

January 2018

The first time a renal transplant research nurse visited a patient that was being monitored by then-nurse clinician Kim Baio in Emory University Hospital's solid organ transplantation unit, Ms. Baio was bemused. "They piqued my curiosity," she says. "Research nursing as a career opportunity was never even mentioned when I was in nursing school. I'd pull them aside and ask what they were doing, which was often starting the administration of investigational drugs designed to prevent rejection. As I learned more about their work, I wanted to be part of it."

That was 1997. By 1998, Ms. Baio was a senior research nurse coordinating clinical trials for the Emory Transplant Center, then moved up to supervisor of the clinical research nurses in 2001. She managed and coordinated key aspects of Dr. Christian Larsen and Dr. Thomas Pearson's first clinical trial of belatacept as a less toxic immunosuppressive alternative to calcineurin inhibitors for renal transplant recipients, and worked on Emory's first series of islet transplants for Type I diabetes with Drs. Larsen, Pearson, and Juan Sarmiento.

Ms. Baio received her MSN degree from Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in 2005, and began serving as director of clinical research and education for both Emory Surgery's Cardiothoracic Surgery Center for Clinical Research and its vascular surgery clinical research program. Her duties increased exponentially, and included overseeing annual research budgets of approximately $1.3M, organizing the operations of federal and industry-sponsored biomedical and clinical scientific projects, evaluating the scientific merit and feasibility of clinical protocols, determining budgets for deployment of resources and/or expenditures of funds, writing proposals for extramural and intramural funding, training junior faculty in the academic research process, and overseeing various quality outcomes initiatives that contributed to advancing the programs' clinical and research missions.

"Kim was directly responsible for building our program from the ground up," says Dr. Michael Halkos, scientific director of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Center for Clinical Research and chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. "In 2005, we had two clinical research coordinators and no clinical trial revenue. Today, we participate and lead multi-institutional NIH trials and have approximately 30 active clinical trials, 15 FTES, and research infrastructure and support at all of our cardiothoracic surgery hospitals. Our faculty, residents, and medical students publish more than 50 manuscripts per year in peer-reviewed journals and are well represented at the podium at major international, national, and regional conferences. None of this would have been possible without Kim's leadership."

After 11 years in this position, Ms. Baio was appointed director of clinical trials for the entire Department of Surgery, and presently oversees eight established research programs with more than 125 active clinical trials between them. While the degree of personal attention she gives each trial varies and often depends on how much support the particular investigator already has, Ms. Baio generally manages allocation of resources, trial operations, regulatory and compliance matters, and fiscal accountability, while still maintaining strong ties with the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery's quality program. Needless to say, it's more than a fulltime job.

"After meeting with investigators, I assess the resources and support they may need," she says. "Fortunately, I have a wonderful staff of clinical research nurse supervisors, who manage the day-to-day operations of trials under my direction, and they in turn are supported by clinical research coordinators, who do much of the direct patient interaction and other important frontline duties. Department chair Dr. John Sweeney and clinical administrator Lisa Fisher are dedicated to strengthening the infrastructure that supports clinical trials, and we are working together to insure that all of our research areas receive the necessary assistance."

Lisa Fisher first began working with Ms. Baio five years ago, and was immediately impressed with her nursing and research expertise and her ease in working with surgeons. "Kim has a friendly, 'can do' disposition that allows faculty and staff to feel confident at each stage of the clinical research cycle," she says. "As our projects continued to overlap, partnering with her became a highlight. In 2016, circumstances made it necessary to reorganize our research staff, and she was a natural fit to assist in overseeing the department's entire research program. One of the many things that makes Kim so good at what she does is that she is inherently driven to expand the trials available to patients and to advancing clinical research locally and nationally. I admire her stamina and desire to be the best."

With close to 20 years of intensive experience in Emory's clinical research sector, Ms. Baio has been involved with many pivotal projects that have directly impacted patients' lives, particularly trials that have evaluated and/or developed new surgical methods, technologies, devices, and innovative pharmaceutical and bioengineered products. "It is intensely gratifying to be involved in work that provides treatment options to patients that they wouldn't otherwise have, and to also see those interventions make such a difference for current and future patients," she says.

Department of Surgery faculty who wish to meet with Ms. Baio and discuss how she can provide assistance with the pre- and post-trial approval process may contact her at 404.686.3374, or kbaio@emory.edu.

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