Health Sciences Report Summer 2006


Frontiers in Research:
Selected New Research Projects Funded by Major Grants and Awards


School of Medicine

  • Department of Anesthesiology

    Alan Light, M.D.Professor
    Project: "Stress and Neuroimmune Dysregulation in Chronic Fatigue Patients"
    Funding Agency: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $275,000 over 2 years
    This study is one of the first in humans to examine how peripheral signals for fatigue and pain from muscles are mediated by molecular receptors, and is the first to examine this pathway in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Specifically, researchers will study whether ASIC receptors interact with mediators of inflammation (cytokines) and sympathetic nervous system activity to increase the sensation of fatigue and pain in these patients. Co-principal investigators are: Kathleen Light, Ph.D., U adjunct assistant professor of psychology and anesthesiology; Lisa Cannon-Albright, Ph.D., professor of genetic epidemiology; and Andrea White, Ph.D., research associate professor of exercise and sport science, U College of Health.


  • Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

    Stephen Alder, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
    Project: "Survey of U.S. Medical School Departments of Preventive Medicine"
    Funding Agency: Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine
    Amount of Grant: $64,500 over 6 months
    The purpose of this cooperative agreement is to conduct a comprehensive survey of member departments of the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine to enable the association to better understand and serve its constituents.


  • Program in Human Molecular Biology and Genetics

    Dean Li, M.D., Ph.D.Associate Professor of Cardiology and Adjunct Associate Professor of Oncological Sciences
    Project: "Established Investigator Award to Study New Zebrafish Vascular Guidance Cues"
    Funding Agency: American Heart Association
    Amount of Grant: $500,000 over 5 years
    Netrins are molecular cues that guide the formation of nerve structures. Li recently discovered that one member of this family, netrin-1, is a potent agonist for endothelial cells, which line blood vessels. Using zebrafish as models, he will determine the roles of netrin and netrin receptors in vascular guidance. These studies have the potential to identify new mechanisms of blood vessel formation in cancer and new approaches to vascular repair.


  • Department of Internal Medicine

    E. Dale Abel, M.D., Ph.D.Associate Professor of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes, and Investigator, Program in Human Molecular Biology and Genetics
    Project: "Targeting Antioxidant Therapy to Cardiac Mitochondria"
    Funding Agency: National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $275,000 over 2 years
    Cardiac dysfunction is a major complication of diabetes, in part because of changes in mitochondria, which are cellular structures intimately involved in metabolism and energy generation. Abel will explore new approaches to treating mitochondrial injury due to overproduction of oxidant molecules, thereby improving heart function in diabetes and other pathologic syndromes. Co-principal investigators are Yong-Bum Kim, graduate assistant in chemistry, and Sheldon Litwin, M.D., associate professor of cardiology.


  • Department of Neurosurgery

    Daniel W. Fults, M.D.Professor
    Project: "Somatic Cell Transfer to Model Medulloblastoma in Mice"
    Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $900,000 over 4 years
    Medulloblastoma is a malignant brain tumor that arises in the cerebellum of children, which results from defects in signal transduction pathways governing the growth and differentiation of neural stem cells. This project will identify signaling molecules that initiate medulloblastoma formation using a transgenic mouse model in which gene expression can be targeted to neural stem cells by retroviruses. The long-range benefit will be the identification of targets for anti-cancer drugs or future gene therapy strategies.


  • Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

    Michael Varner, M.D.Professor
    Project: "Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network"
    Funding Agency: National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $2 million over 5 years
    A member of the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network (MFMU) since 1996, the U was approved for another five-year membership in the preeminent obstetric clinical trials network. It is one of 14 academic medical centers participating nationwide and ranks as number one for both total recruitment and for data quality. Patients are recruited from University Health Care and three Intermountain Healthcare perinatal centers, as well as from private physicians' offices across the Wasatch Front. Kristine Anderson, R.N., B.S.N., is clinical research coordinator.


  • Department of Oncological Sciences

    Aniko Szabo, Ph.D. Research Assistant Professor and Investigator, Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI)
    Project: "Understanding Racial Differences in the Natural History of Prostate Cancer"
    Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $224,250 over 2 years
    Using modeling techniques, this project will estimate the manner and extent of racial differences in the natural history of prostate cancer. The model uses the dynamics of prostate cancer incidence after the introduction of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening to obtain information about the preclinical stage of the disease. Understanding and quantifying racial variations in risk factors, such as diet or genetic predisposition, are important for developing health policies, since known disparities in health-care access and utilization complicate differences in the disease's natural history.


  • Department of Orthopaedics

    Roy D. Bloebaum, Ph.D.
    Project: "Development of Transcutaneous Infection Prevention Protocol"
    Funding Agency: U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command
    Amount of Grant: $1.21 million over 2 years
    Osseointegrated implants, developed as an alternative to socket prostheses for amputees, provide increased mobility, activity levels, gait performance, and oxygen consumption efficiency in patients. However, a 45 percent infection rate has been reported. This study will investigate whether a cancellous-structured tantalum porous coating allows skin ingrowth and proves to be an effective barrier to colonization and subsequent infection. Researchers also will examine whether a synthetic antimicrobial peptide, pexiganan acetate, and/or an antiseptic, Formula 5, may help prevent infection, if applied to the skin/implant interface.


  • Department of Psychiatry

    William Marchand, M.D. Assistant Professor and Acting Chief of Psychiatry, George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center
    Project: "Functional MRI of Brain Frontal-Subcortical Circuits in Bipolar Depression"
    Funding Agency: Western Institute for Biomedical Research
    Amount of Grant: $30,000 for 1 year
    Evidence shows that abnormal functioning of frontal-subcortical brain circuits may be an etiological factor in bipolar disorder, a complex neuropsychiatric illness. Previously, Marchand found abnormal frontal-subcortical brain activation patterns in bipolar patients experiencing an episode of depression. Using a stronger scanner and larger sample size, he will replicate and extend his previous findings. The studies may lead to better treatments for bipolar disorder.


  • Center for Advanced Imaging Research(UCAIR ), Departments of Radiology and Bio-Mechanical, and Chemical Engineering

    Robert Roemer, Ph.D., and Dennis L. Parker, Ph.D.
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Professor of Radiology and Medical Informatics
    Project: "HIFU Tumor Thermal Ablation"
    Funding Agency: Siemens Medical Solutions
    Amount of Grant: $300,000 over 1 year
    To use high intensity-focused ultrasound (HIFU) to successfully treat malignant and benign tumors, ultrasound energy must be focused directly in the tumor with very little spill-over into normal healthy tissue. To address this problem, researchers are constructing a system using MRI imaging to monitor the dosage of heat delivered within and around a defined tumor location. The system will use a novel predictive dose control algorithm to guide the treatment. Coinvestigators include: James Carlisle, M.D., and Glen Morrell, M.D., Ph.D., both assistant professors of radiology; Mikhail Skliar, Department of Chemical Engineering; and Douglas Christensen, Department of Bioengineering.


  • Department of Surgery

    Matthew A. Firpo, Ph.D., and Sean J. Mulvihill, M.D.Research Assistant Professor; Professor and Chair
    Project: "Novel Serum Markers for Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma"
    Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $100,000 over 2 years
    This study investigates the potential use of two inflammatory proteins, haptoglobin and serum amyloid A, for distinguishing patients with pancreatic cancer from normal controls or patients with benign pancreatic disease. As possible biomarkers for early detection of pancreatic cancer, the proteins will be evaluated in members of families identified through the Utah Population Database to be at high risk for pancreatic cancer. Collaborators include: James Disario, M.D., associate professor of gastroenterology; Phil Bernard, M.D., assistant professor of pathology and an HCI investigator; and Courtney Scaife, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and an HCI investigator.



College of Pharmacy

  • Department of Pharmacotherapy

    Kenneth Jackson II, Pharm.D. Clinical Associate Professor
    Project: "Varenicline: The Financial Impact on Health Plans and Employers of a Novel Pharmacotherapy for Smoking Cessation"
    Funding Agency: Pfizer, Inc.
    Amount of Grant: $73,464 for 6 months
    This retrospective cost-benefit analysis of varenicline, a novel pharmacotherapy, is using results from a Phase III clinical trial. Counseling, consultation, and behavioral services were offered to participants who enrolled in 12- week smoking cessation programs using either varenicline or buproprion, the current therapy. Researchers will estimate a net benefit by subtracting cost-savings per year associated with reduced incidence of smoking from the estimated benefits on the basis of the quit rate of smokers after 12 months.


  • Department of Medicinal Chemistry

    Eric C. Schmidt, Ph.D.Assistant Professor
    Project: "Symbiont Models for Natural Product Pathway Manipulation"
    Funding Agency: National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $1.49 million over 5 years
    The majority of pharmaceuticals are derived from natural sources, and these molecules often have unique chemical features. A genetic approach will be used to access bioactive natural products from environmental and symbiotic sources. The genes will be manipulated in the lab to produce new potential pharmaceuticals and new tools for biotechnology.



College of Nursing

  • Carole A. Gassert, Ph.D., R.N. Associate Professor, Associate Dean for Information & Technology, and Director, Informatics Program
    Project: "Clinical Faculty Associate Model Program"
    Funding Agency: U.S. Department of Labor
    Amount of Grant: $871,000 over 2 years
    In this project, one of five funded under the President's 2005 High Growth Job Training Initiative, nurses from University Health Care, Intermountain Healthcare and the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Salt Lake City are released 20 hours per week during the semester to supervise undergraduate nursing students in clinical placements. The project is designed to address shortages in nursing and nursing faculty.



College of Health

  • Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

    Michael Blomgren, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
    Project: "An Eight-week, Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study of Pagoclone in Stuttering Speakers"
    Funding Agency: Indevus Pharmaceuticals
    Amount of Grant: $130,000 over 2 years
    The U is part of a national multi-center trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of Pagoclone, a novel nonbenzodiazepine GABA-A agonist, on persistent developmental stuttering. Little research has been conducted into potential psychopharmacologic treatments for stuttering. Co-investigator is Poonam Soni, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine.


  • Department of Exercise and Sport Science

    H. Kyle Ryan, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
    Project: "Service-learning to Combat Childhood Obesity"
    Pilot Study: Undergraduate elementary education majors are placed in Title I elementary schools to provide quality physical education, which has been eliminated due to funding cuts as a result of No Child Left Behind. Many students in Title I schools are from lower socioeconomic status and/or minority populations that are at high risk for obesity. Preliminary findings suggest that an increase in physical education results in more unstructured play at recess and lunch, and a decrease in students' body mass index (BMI).


  • Department of Health Promotion and Education

    Tim Behrens, Ph.D., C.H.E.S. Assistant Professor
    Project: "Correlates of Participation in an Employer-sponsored Physical Activity Program"
    Pilot Study: This community-based research project seeks to identify barriers to and motivational influences in participation in the Salt Lake City Gets Fit Together physical activity program. Data will be used to aid the city in promoting a best-practice program for other city governments to model.


  • Division of Foods and Nutrition

    Thunder Jalili, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
    Project: "Quercetin Supplementation, Oxidative Stress, and Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Subjects"
    Funding Agency: University Research Foundation
    Amount of Grant: $32,800 for 1 year
    This project will determine if quercetin supplementation can reduce blood pressure in patients with mild to moderate hypertension. Previous laboratory studies demonstrated that quercetin, a polyphenolic compound found in onions and apples, reduced blood pressure in non-human subjects with experimental hypertension.


  • Division of Occupational Therapy

    Yda J. Smith, M.O.T., OTR/L Clinical Instructor
    Project: "Somali Bantu Women's Literacy and Civic Action Group"
    Funding Agency: American Express Center for Community Development
    Amount of Grant: $5,000 for 1 year
    This project provides training for Somali Bantu women, who arrived in the United States after living in Kenyan refugee camps for more than 10 years, to help them better understand American society and generate civic action solutions to improve their lives. They receive English language instruction, employment training, and money management education to help them become economically self-sufficient.


  • Division of Physical Therapy

    Julie M. Fritz, Ph.D., P.T. Assistant Professor
    Project: "Clinical Presentation and Management of Children and Adolescents with Low Back Pain"
    Funding Agency: National Athletic Trainers' Association Research and Education Foundation
    Amount of Grant: $48,209 for 1 year
    Low back pain (LBP) increasingly is recognized as a problem among children and adolescents, especially those participating in sports, with prevalence as high as 25 percent. This study will examine clinical presentation and classification distribution of children and adolescents with LBP. Researchers also will explore variables from the baseline examination for prognostic value in predicting successful treatment outcomes and successful return to full sports/recreational activities without recurrence over a one-year period.


Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library

  • T. Elizabeth Workman, M.L.I.S., and John C. T. Bramble Associate Librarian; Assistant Librarian
    Project: "goLocal Utah Project"
    Funding Agency: National Network of Libraries of Medicine/National Library of Medicine
    Amount of Grant: $25,000 for 1 year
    The eighth of its kind to debut in the country, the project is creating and promoting a database of health and human services located in Utah communities. The database works with the consumer-oriented health information found at MedlinePlus.gov, the National Library of Medicine's premier resource for consumer health information.


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