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CTRI Celebrates Nurses Week: Meet Lee Vowinkel, RN

Lee Vowinkel, RN

For Lee Vowinkel, RN, rewards come from hearing five words: I feel so much better.

"My favorite part of the job is dealing with people who have tried other medications, approaches, techniques, and treatment plans and gotten nowhere, and then they come to us and get relief," said Vowinkel, who works with human subjects involved in clinical trials at UC San Diego Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI).

She joined the CTRI staff in 2013 after working as a nurse for 10 years at several medical facilities, including UC San Diego's Thornton Pavilion and Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center. Her duties at CTRI's Center for Clinical Research (CCR) include interacting with the subjects in the research studies, administering injections and infusions, and performing biopsies, phlebotomies, lab work, and lab processing. "I do whatever duties the study requires an RN to perform for the various protocols. I meet with the subjects, measure their vitals, administer the required medication, and observe the subjects," Vowinkel said. All the while, she is guided by two principles – ensuring the safety of the subject and the progression of research.

There are presently 64 active clinical trials at the CCR, which means 64 different medications are being tested in clinical trials that involve many subjects and range in duration from several weeks to years. "Within each of those trials are multiple subjects and some of the trials run for years," she said.

She has been involved in studies testing experimental therapies for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, as well as a novel treatment for macular degeneration that involves injecting an experimental drug directly into the eyeball, among many studies. In the gastrointestinal studies, she is responsible for administering the drug and observation; in the macular degeneration study, the drug is administered at Shiley Eye Institute and the subjects come to the CCR for follow-up lab work. "We do the blood work, EKG, and urine samples," she said. "We process those and ship them out to the sponsor."

The medical field has captivated Vowinkel since she was a child. "I've always been drawn to healthcare and fascinated by anything medical. I was the kid who liked to go to the doctor," she said. She received bachelor's degrees in biological anthropology and biological psychology from UC Davis in 1997, worked as a lab assistant for three years, and decided to pursue a nursing degree, which she received from Maric College in 2004. In 2014, she received a master's of science and nursing from Point Loma Nazarene University.

She sees her work as having a direct link to the CTRI vision of translating scientific discoveries into improved health. "The research we do and my nursing work help make experimental therapies a reality for patients who are sick or in need," Vowinkel said. "I've heard so many subjects say that because of these medications they feel so much better and their quality of life is improved. That's really rewarding."

Written by Patti Wieser

About UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute:

UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) is part of a national Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium, led by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Science. Established in 2010, ACTRI provides infrastructure and support for basic, translational and clinical research throughout the San Diego region to bring discoveries from the laboratory to the bedside, and facilitates training and education of the next generation of researchers. ACTRI carries out its activities in collaboration with institutional and corporate partners and currently has more than 1,500 members.