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Hicks receives Early Career Development Award

Dr. Steven Hicks’ initiative and research success are no secret at Penn State. They are certainly no secret to the leadership of Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Hicks, a scholar in the institute’s Early-Stage Investigator Training Program (KL2), has demonstrated a strong commitment to translational science. He has a solid record of combining his clinical duties as a pediatrician with his desire to conduct research, including on detecting autism and on diagnosing concussion in student-athletes.

The Association for Clinical and Translational Science recently recognized Hicks for his achievements. Hicks was to receive the Early (Faculty) Career Development Award at the association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. A virtual conference was held instead because of COVID-19, and the association recognized awardees with a special page on its website featuring individual videos.

“I am extremely honored to be selected for this prestigious award,” Hicks said. “My success  in clinical and translational research would not have been possible without the support of my mentorship team, the commitment of the KL2 co-directors, and the significant protected time afforded by participation in the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute KL2 program. The opportunity to interact with other young, enthusiastic clinician scientists in the KL2 program has certainly helped me evolve as a clinician scientist.”

Early-Stage Investigator Program leaders were not surprised by Hicks’ selection.

“Steve is exactly the right choice for this award,” said Lorah Dorn, Early-Stage Investigator Program co-director. “He is a remarkable young physician-scientist who has accomplished scores beyond what is expected in such a short time.”

Hicks, an assistant professor of pediatrics, joined Penn State College of Medicine in 2015. His research has focused on three areas: using saliva to detect autism spectrum disorder; the role of genetic material in breast milk on infant health; and detection of concussion and traumatic brain injury through saliva. He authored more than 30 publications and holds seven patents. Partnering with industry, his research in the use of saliva to detect autism has led to the availability of a first-of-its-kind diagnostic tool for health care providers.

“His contributions in basic science innovations have gone through the translational science steps and on to contributing to the patient; exactly what we hope KL2 scholars can do,”  Dorn said. “He is such a strong asset to our KL2 program and a rising star to watch.”

Hicks joined the Early-Stage Investigator Training Program in 2018. The program gives researchers establishing themselves in their fields dedicated time to help their findings benefit human health more quickly while becoming successful, independent translational scientists.

“Dr. Hicks is a promising young clinician-scientist whose research has the potential to change the care of pediatric patients by facilitating early diagnosis of autism, developing predictors of risk for prolonged concussion syndrome and developing interventions to reduce effects of screen use on developmental assessment in the pediatric clinic,” said Dr. Diane Thiboutot, program co-director. “Dr. Hicks’ exemplary work embodies the spirit of the ACTS Early Faculty Career Development Award and is a testament to the impact of the NCATS KL2 programs on training our next generation of translational scientists.”

As a general pediatrician, Hicks provides primary medical care for children at Penn State Health’s outpatient pediatrics clinic. He also sees patients in the acute care clinic during evening hours. Hicks received his medical and graduate degrees from The State University of New York in 2012.

Hicks also received the 2018 Distinguished Early Stage Investigator Award from the College of Medicine, given as part of its annual Research Recognition Awards.

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