Health Sciences Report Spring 2005

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

School of Medicine

  • R. Lor Randall, M.D., director of Sarcoma Services and chief of the SARC Lab at the University's Huntsman Cancer Institute, and associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, is principal investigator on a five-year Phase II Surgical Trial of Intralesional Resection of Low-grade Intracompartmental Chondrosarcoma of Bone, funded by the National Cancer Institute through the Intergroup Coalition against Sarcomas and the Southwest Oncology Group. Chondrosarcoma, or cancer of the cartilage, traditionally is treated with surgery that includes removing large sections of cartilage and bone, and often is coupled with bone grafts or metal implants. During the trials, to be conducted at multiple sites in the United States and Canada, 60 patients will be treated with a newer, more conservative surgery. Tumor specimens also will be checked for molecular defects and alterations in their genetic makeup.

  • Elizabeth Leibold, Ph.D., professor of internal medicine and senior scientist with the U Program in Human Molecular Biology and Genetics, is researching Iron Regulation of Gene Expression with a four-year continuation award of $1 million from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health. The biologic roles of iron, which is required for many functions, are tightly regulated. Excess iron accumulation can lead to liver, heart and brain syndromes, diabetes, and increased risk of cancer; iron deficiency can lead to permanent cognitive and motor defects in children, in addition to anemia. Leibold will determine mechanisms by which key iron regulation proteins control iron homeostasis and gene expression, which will be particularly relevant to neurodegeneration.

  • Susan E. Mango, Ph.D., associate professor of oncological sciences and an investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, is principal investigator on a four-year project, Lipid Homeostasis in C. elegans, to study how the worm senses nutritional signals and translates them into physiological responses. In humans, obesity reflects an imbalance between energy expenditure and food uptake, which can lead to insulin-resistance, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The discovery that factors controlling energy metabolism are conserved between mammals and C. elegans has provided a new and powerful strategy to delineate the molecular pathways that lead to obesity. By examining the pathways in C. elegans, Mango anticipates that what is learned from the study-funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health-will be relevant to human health and disease.

  • Paul S. Bernstein, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, is investigating the Biochemistry and Pharmacology of Macular Carotenoids with a $947,000, three-year renewal of a grant from the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health. His research is focused on understanding the biochemical and biophysical basis for nutritional protection against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States. Bernstein discovered, and is further characterizing, the first known proteins responsible for the ocular uptake and stabilization of lutein and zeaxanthin, important dietary factors found in fruits and vegetables. He is conducting clinical studies to determine if novel noninvasive methods he developed, in collaboration with U of U physicist Werner Gellermann, Ph.D., to measure lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the human eye will be useful in identifying individuals at high risk for developing AMD later in life and in monitoring their response to dietary interventions.

  • Robert P. Tuckett, Ph.D., research associate professor of physiology, is researching Inflammatory Influence on Mechanoreceptor Response with a four-year, $829,724 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. He is investigating mechanisms by which peripheral nerve terminals of neurons that signal pain and itch release chemicals that influence the response of cutaneous receptors sensitive to tactile stimuli. This modulation of mechanoreceptor response by neurogenic inflammatory mechanisms may play a role in the generation of large-fiber sensory neuropathy, which can be a side effect of some types of chemotherapy agents and a complication of diabetes.

  • Susan L. Thibeault, Ph.D., assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, is conducting two studies funded by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health. With a five-year, $2.3 million grant, she is Engineering the Vocal Fold Extracellular Matrix with injectable advanced biomaterials that will promote wound repair and induce tissue regeneration, as well as provide prophylactic treatment. The project also focuses on improving the understanding of molecular mechanisms of healing in the extracellular matrix of vocal folds and how pathologic processes alter the tissue's biomechanical properties. With a two-year, $200,000 grant, she is developing a technique for Fine Needle Aspiration of Benign Vocal Fold Lesions, a minimally invasive technique for tissue biopsy that can be used in the diagnosis of lesions. Biopsies of vocal folds are a major cause of vocal fold scarring.

College of Pharmacy

  • Diana G. Wilkins, Ph.D., research associate professor and co-director of the Center for Human Toxicology, is directing a study of Human Urinary Steroid Profiles after Exposure to Non-endogeneous Steroids and Prohormones Found in Dietary Supplements with a two-year, $175,000 grant from the U.S. Doping Agency. Many of the herbal and dietary supplements marketed to athletes contain androgenic-anabolic steroids, steroid prohormones, or steroid-like compounds. These are promoted as being "chemically modified" or "enhanced" to increase their relative absorption and/or reduce first-pass metabolism effects, thereby increasing overall delivery of the compound to target tissues. The goal of this U study is to characterize the unique and dynamic human urinary steroid metabolite profiles after exposure to selected non-physiologic steroids and prohormones. Findings will assist in the interpretation of drug test results from doping control programs.

College of Nursing

  • Ginette Pepper, R.N., Ph.D., professor and holder of the Helen Lowe Bamberger Colby Presidential Endowed Chair in Gerontological Nursing, is investigating the Effect of Nurses' Working Conditions on Medication Administration Safety with a four-year, $520,858 grant from the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality. By directly observing nurses administer medications in 10 U.S. hospitals, she will determine which aspects of nurses' working conditions-staffing, type of technology, interruptions and distractions, light and noise levels, design of drug storage-and nursing procedures are associated with medication administration safety. Study results will help guide the design of systems and procedures to prevent medication errors and harmful drug effects.

Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library

  • Sally M. Patrick, M.L.S., research assistant librarian, is directing development of Utahealthnet: Utah Consumer Health Information Infrastructure. With a three-year, $415,383 grant from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, the U health sciences library is developing statewide collaborations and communication pathways to ensure access for all Utah residents to high-quality health information resources, services, and programs. Initial partners in the project include the Utah State Library Division, Utah Telehealth Network, and the Utah Department of Health.

College of Health

  • James C. Martin, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise and sport science, is quantifying Alterations in Neuromuscular Function Following Contusion Injury with a one-year, $4,800 award from the University of Utah Research Committee. Using an in situ muscle model of a contusion, Martin will determine the extent to which contusion injuries alter maximal muscular work and power, muscle force-velocity characteristics, muscle fatigue resistance, and recovery following fatiguing exercise. He also will determine the recovery time course for neuromuscular function. His long-term goal is to reduce society's financial burden from contusions by restoring neuromuscular function and reducing pain and suffering. Each year, about 3-6 percent of Americans suffer a contusion, which results in absenteeism rates of three to 13 days from school or work per 100 persons.

  • Yda J. Smith, M.O.T., OTR/L, clinical instructor in occupational therapy, is directing a Refugee Job Placement and Economic Self-sufficiency Pilot Project. Funded by a one-year, $4,698 grant from the American Express Center for Community Development, Smith is assisting Somali Bantu refugees who face major challenges, including: lack of formal education in any language and job skills appropriate for American society, and the length of time spent in refugee camps-usually 10 years. This project provides employment training and money management education to 12 Somali Bantu adults to help them become economically self-sufficient.

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