Health Sciences Report Fall 2004

Research in Brief
Selected New Research Projects Funded by Major Grants and Awards

School of Medicine

  • Joseph L. Lyon, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family and preventive medicine, received a new $1.49 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for an Epidemiological Follow-up of Thyroid Disease in Persons Exposed to Radioactive Fallout from Atomic Weapons Testing at the Nevada Test Site. This one-year study will involve locating and contacting individuals exposed as children during the 1950s and early 1960s, and sending out field teams to conduct examinations of their thyroid glands.
  • Guy A. Zimmerman, M.D., director of the Program in Human Molecular Biology and Genetics, and professor of internal medicine, was awarded a $1.86 million MERIT Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, to continue investigating Molecular Interactions of Myeloid Cells with Endothelium. The project focuses on molecular mechanisms of inflammation and inflammatory diseases, and addresses basic questions of how the innate immune system functions, in addition to the cellular causes of clinical syndromes that include atherosclerosis and its complications, sepsis and septic shock, inflammatory lung diseases, and many others. The MERIT Award makes the research eligible for long-term support that may extend for a total of 10 years.
  • Douglas Grossman, M.D., Ph.D., Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) investigator, assistant professor of dermatology, and adjunct assistant professor of oncological sciences, is principal investigator on a $1.33 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, National Institutes of Health, to study the Regulation of Apoptosis in Melanocytic Cells. In the five-year project, he will collaborate with Scott Florell, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology, to compare how apoptosis, or cell death, is regulated in melanocytes with normal skin pigment cells. Because melanoma is usually resistant to radiation and chemotherapeutic drugs that induce cell death, understanding the molecular basis for this resistance may provide new approaches to therapeutic intervention in cancer.
  • A. Gordon Smith, M.D., associate professor of neurology and pathology, was awarded a four-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, to research Cutaneous Measures of Diabetic Neuropathy, specifically, to develop tools to diagnose and measure the earliest stages of diabetic neuropathy. He also is looking for ways to predict which patients are at high risk of developing nerve, eye, or kidney damage from diabetes. A major cause of pain and disability among diabetic patients--and a leading risk factor for amputations--diabetic neuropathy has not responded to experimental therapies. The failure may be due in part to the relatively advanced stage of neuropathy in patients being treated. Early neuropathy may be more responsive to treatment, but there are not yet any reliable ways to measure early nerve damage.
  • Bradley R. Cairns, Ph.D., assistant professor of oncological sciences, an HCI investigator and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is continuing an Analysis of the Chromatin-Remodeling Complex RSC with the renewal of a $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to extend through 2007. The study examines how factors that remodel and modify chromosome structure contribute to gene regulation. The yeast remodeling complex RSC will be used to study how nucleosomes are repositioned; how nucleosome modifications affect this process; and how modification and repositioning/remodeling are coordinated.
  • Robert E. Marc, Ph.D., the Mary Boesche Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, received a four-year, $1 million grant from the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, to investigate Retinal Remodeling. Marc and his colleagues discovered that blinding diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration, trigger "negatively plastic" structural and molecular remodeling of the neuronal retina, a process that resembles pathologic remodeling triggered in epilepsy and other brain diseases. With this grant, he will map the chronologies and cellular mechanisms of this plasticity and explore ways to reverse or exploit it with new technologies that may include implanted biomaterials or stem cell/progenitor cell tissue reconstruction. By considering remodeling as a key progressive element in these diseases, researchers can identify new opportunities for repairing or retarding vision loss.
  • Matthew Mulvey, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell biology and immunology in the Department of Pathology, was awarded a five-year, $1.57 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, to investigate Bacterial Invasion and Trafficking within the Bladder. His main objective is to define the mechanisms by which uropathogenic Escherichia coli, the primary cause of urinary tract infections (UTI), is able to enter bladder epithelial cells, multiply, and, eventually, establish intracellular reservoirs that may act as a source for the recurrent acute UTIs that plague many individuals throughout their lives. UTIs account for nearly 8 million annual physician visits in the United States.
  • Sampath Prahalad, M.D., M.Sc., assistant professor of pediatric immunology and rheumatology, will study Genetic Variation in T-cell Regulatory Molecules and Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) with a five-year, $623,750 grant from the National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Institute, National Institutes of Health. His goal is to characterize the genetic variation in a set of genes that encodes products involved in the interaction between T-cells and the antigen-presenting cells. He then will determine if the identified genetic variants are associated with JRA in three large cohorts of children with the autoimmune disorder and their parents. Co-investigators from the Department of Pediatrics are: Michael J. Bamshad, M.D., associate professor of pediatric genetics, and John F. Bohnsack, M.D., professor and chief of the Division of Immunology and Rheumatology.
  • Colleen C. Hegg, Ph.D., research assistant professor of physiology, received a five-year, $1.38 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health, to study Injury-evoked Regeneration Mechanisms in the Olfactory System. The peripheral olfactory neuroepithelium can regenerate after injury. However, the signals that lead to increased cell proliferation and neurogenesis after injury are poorly understood. She is investigating whether noxious insult to the olfactory epithelium triggers the release of ATP from injured cells and initiates an extracellular ATP-induced signaling cascade that promotes neuroregeneration. The study will have implications for the pharmacological modulation of proliferation and may provide insight to the process of repair and treatment in the adult nervous system. Agents that modify the effects of ATP and its receptors are readily available and could therapeutically promote neuronal proliferation and regeneration both in the olfactory system and in the central nervous system.
  • Marina Myles-Worlsey, Ph.D., research professor of psychiatry, received a one-year, $50,000 grant from the Clark L. Tanner Foundation to continue a Family Genetic Study of Youth at Risk for Schizophrenia in Costa Rica. This study is an outgrowth of an ongoing study of youth at risk for schizophrenia in Palau, Micronesia, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health. Researchers will comprehensively assess genetically high-risk adolescent offspring in large, multiply affected families in an isolated population in Costa Rica and train local health practitioners in family-based intervention techniques designed to prevent or delay illness onset.
  • Dennis L. Parker, Ph.D., professor of radiology and medical informatics, director of the Utah Center for Advanced Imaging Research, and holder of the Mark H. Huntsman Presidential Endowed Chair in Advanced Medical Technology, received a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institutes of Health, to design, construct, and evaluate Gradient Arrays for High Performance Extended Field of Vision (FOV) in MRI. This novel design will allow complete utilization of all existing high-performance pulse sequences, in addition to the development of new pulse sequences that use the complete hardware capabilities to simultaneously attain increased gradient performance, increased imaging field of view, and decreased nerve stimulation.
  • Dan J. Kadrmas, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Utah Center for Advanced Imaging Research, was awarded a four-year, $600,000 Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society to investigate Multifunctional PET/CT Imaging. Positron emission tomography (PET) can characterize the physiologic status of tumors in vivo. Using various tracers, PET can measure tumor metabolism, blood flow, oxygen status, and growth capability. This project will explore new methods of imaging multiple PET tracers to fully characterize tumor physiology in vivo, providing new information for selecting the most effective course of therapy and monitoring its effectiveness.
  • George Russell Reiss, M.D., visiting instructor of cardiothoracic surgery, received a three-year, $500,000 grant from Veterans Affairs Merit Review to study Stem Cell Therapy as an Adjunct to Revascularization (STAR). Preliminary data have shown that stem cells injected directly into the heart muscle during open-heart surgery can help restore cardiac function. STAR--one of the first in the United States--is a clinical study of 92 cardiac surgery patients in a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that will evaluate the safety and efficacy of adult stem cell therapy during coronary artery bypass and grafting. The stem cells will be isolated from bone marrow taken from the patient's own hip.

College of Pharmacy

  • Glenn D. Prestwich, Ph.D., presidential professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, received $130,000 for the first of five possible years of funding from the Utah Centers of Excellence Program to establish the Center for Therapeutic Biomaterials (CTB). Directed by Prestwich, CTB will facilitate commercialization of faculty technologies. New biomaterials have been developed and show preclinical results for preventing post-surgical adhesions, repairing cartilage defects, and for healing acute and chronic wounds. Additional CTB technologies aim to extend the life of cadaveric tissues and to create three-dimensional cell culture methods for improved in vitro and in vivo models for toxicological evaluation. CTB is co-directed by Jane N. Shelby, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery, and Richard R. Orlandi, M.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, both in the School of Medicine.
  • Y. Bruce Yu, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, is directing two projects. Last September, he was awarded a four-year, $1.26 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for Engineering of Peptide-based Biomaterials, which have potential as scaffolds for drug delivery and tissue repair applications. He will construct peptide-based biomaterials and explore their engineering principles. Last July, Yu received the Kimmel Scholar Award and $200,000 from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research to continue work on the Targeted Delivery of Radiopharmaceuticals. His goal is to improve the safety and efficacy of therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals for treating non-Hodgkins lymphoma, small-cell lung cancer, and medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer. Yu began this project in 2003 with a $411,125 grant from the National Institutes of Health and $60,000 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Foundation of America (PhRMA).

College of Nursing

  • Michael Caserta, Ph.D., associate professor, is principal investigator on a five-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes on Aging, National Institutes of Health, to study Dual Process Intervention for Recently Bereaved Spouses. Some 330 subjects at the U of U and San Francisco State University will meet in 14 weekly group sessions. One group will follow the traditional grief support model; the other will test a new innovative bereavement intervention that includes self-care education, daily life-skill-building and competency elements. Questionnaires will be administered to measure grief, emotional and physical well-being, self-care and daily living abilities, self-efficacy, happiness/humor, and personal growth. The new dual-process intervention is expected to be effective, since it focuses on two kinds of stressors that the bereaved need to cope with effectively: loss-orientation and restoration, which includes new responsibilities and role expectations of widows and widowers, as well as new skills they must learn. Dale Lund, Ph.D., professor at the U Center on Aging, is co-investigator.
  • Lee Ellington, Ph.D., research assistant professor, was awarded a five-year Mentored Research Grant of $645,000 from the American Cancer Society to study A Biopsychosocial Approach to the Analysis of Cancer Genetics Communication. She also is co-investigator on a $574,282 grant awarded to Johns Hopkins University for three and one-half years from the National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, to help implement a Genetic Counseling Process and Analogue Client Outcome. With the first grant, Ellington will conduct two projects to study the communication processes of cancer clinical genetics within a psychosocial conceptual framework. Her mentors are Debra Roter, Dr.P.H., Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and Bert Uchino, Ph.D., U of U Department of Psychology. In the second study--the largest, most diverse study in genetic counseling communication with a nationally representative sample of certified cancer genetic counselors--Ellington will record genetic counselors facilitating a prenatal or cancer session. In the second phase, participants in an ethnically and educationally diverse population will view the videotapes and respond to the genetic counselor's performance in terms of anxiety, recall, perceived risk, and impressions of the counselor.

College of Health

  • David M. Compton, Ed.D., M.P.H., professor of parks, recreation, and tourism, received a renewal of a $50,000 grant from the United States Golf Association and the National Alliance for Accessible Golf to continue Project GAIN (Golf: Accessible and Inclusive Networks), an instructional program to teach golf to people with disabilities. Utah is one of five sites nationwide to examine the impact of a program aimed at increasing self-efficacy, specialization, intentionality, and golf skills to promote social inclusion.
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