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Research in Brief

Summaries of Selected Research Projects at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center

School of Medicine

  • Joseph B. Stanford, M.D., M.S.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers in a Qualitative Investigation of the Antecedents of Unintended Pregnancy. They are interviewing adolescent women, adult women, and men who are the partners of pregnant women to compare the dimension of "pregnancy intendedness" in adolescent women to adult women. They are exploring how men define and interpret pregnancy intendedness, especially in comparison to women, in addition to the relationships between qualitative dimensions of pregnancy intendedness among women and men, and choices made regarding pregnancy. Their findings will help in the development of interventions to reduce the incidence and adverse outcomes of unintended and unwanted pregnancies, which is a high-priority public health problem. The project is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine. The investigators are: M. Jann DeWitt, Ph.D., assistant professor; Penny Jameson, Ph.D., associate instructor, and Debra Hobbins, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., N.P.
  • David Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Oncological Sciences and an investigator at the University's Huntsman Cancer Institute, is studying Retinoid Biosynthesis in Colon Tumorigenesis. He recently discovered that colon cancer cells lack the enzymes necessary to convert vitamin A into retinoic acid, a necessary compound for normal cell growth. He plans to determine why the enzymes are missing and whether this deficiency contributes to tumor development. His research is supported by the American Cancer Society.
  • Kimberly A. Howes, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, is investigating Mechanisms in Age-related Macular Degeneration. A progressive disease affecting an increasing percentage of the elderly population, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is particularly devastating, since the end stage is loss of central vision. While mechanisms responsible for the induction of AMD are unclear, it is generally accepted that cumulative damage to the supportive layers strongly affects the viability of the adjacent photoreceptor cells, thereby contributing to visual loss. Howes recently discovered that activation of a damaging oxidative pathway that occurs in other aging diseases may play a central role in the damage to the supportive layers in AMD as well. She is examining the physiological relevance of this pathway through analysis of AMD tissue, cell culture, and transgenic mouse models with the goal of determining a suitable target for therapeutic intervention.

College of Pharmacy

  • Carol S. Lim, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, is focusing on Drug-receptor Trafficking in Living Cells. She is studying the cellular kinetics of the import of drug-receptor complexes (progesterone and the progesterone receptor) into the nucleus of cells and their mechanism of export out of the nucleus. To visualize the progesterone receptor in living cells, she is using green fluorescent protein as a tag. Her findings will provide insights into the role of progesterone receptors in certain types of reproductive cancers, including breast and ovarian. Funding comes from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

College of Nursing

  • Sandra Lee Smith, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., assistant professor, is researching Heart Period Variability in Critically Ill Very Low Birth Weight (VLBW) Infants. Critically ill premature infants' adaptation to environmental stressors is dependent upon the balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Heart period variability is a novel method useful in evaluating this balance, which is necessary for rest and restoration in these infants, who are subject to extreme stressors during their critical illness. Smith is identifying characteristic heart period power in the low-frequency and high-frequency regions for premature critically ill infants. She is describing and categorizing patterns of intra-individual variability and change of heart period power over time, during sleep and wake periods, and during nursing disruptions. Results will help determine normative values and, ultimately, will be used to test interventions that support ANS balance. Funding is provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health.
  • A team of researchers is describing and comparing Experiences of Rural and Urban Older Adult Cancer Survivors. They are documenting symptom experience and quality of life in elderly cancer survivors; describing their use of family support, health care, and community resources; identifying barriers to accessing needed resources; and assessing the unmet needs for support of these survivors. The College of Nursing researchers are: Susan L. Beck, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., associate professor and associate dean for research and scholarship; Gail L. Towsley, M.S., project director; William Dudley, Ph.D., research professor; and Michael S. Caserta, Ph.D., associate professor. The study is funded by the National Cancer Institute as part of a Minority and Underserved Supplement to Huntsman Cancer Institute's cancer center support grant.

College of Health

  • E. Wayne Askew, Ph.D., professor and director of the Division of Foods and Nutrition, is conducting a study to determine Daily Water Requirements for Normal Free Living Individuals to help the National Academy of Science's Food and Nutrition Board establish dietary reference intakes for water. The recommendation to consume eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day is widely accepted, but lacks scientific evidence. In this six-week study, 10 subjects will consume water at three different intake levels - four-, eight- and 12-ounce glasses - in a randomized order for three four-day time periods, while participating in a standardized diet and exercise program. Each subject's hydration status will be closely monitored by measuring percentage of body-weight change, total body water, resting metabolic rate, serum sodium, osmolality, hemoglobin, and hematocrit, as well as urine volume and specific gravity. Subjects also will complete an environmental symptoms questionnaire to evaluate their subjective feelings while on each of the three levels of water intake. Co-investigators are: Joseph Carlson, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor in the Division of Foods and Nutrition; Andrea White, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science; Richard Barton, M.D., associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine; and graduate students Clint Albrecht and Elena Felin.
  • Eric Trunnell, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Education, is collaborating with Stephen Alder, Ph.D., research associate in the medical school's public health program, on a study to Modify Parental Beliefs, Expectations, and Behaviors Regarding Antibiotic Use in Children with Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs). Many parents insist on using antibiotics to treat URIs, even though most are viral and are not affected by these drugs. The end result is an increase in potentially drug-resistant strains of bacteria. In this study, the researchers are comparing self-efficacy and cognitive therapy models to determine which helps change parents' beliefs and expectations about antibiotic usage. In a future study, Trunnell and Alder plan to provide parents with better communication skills and self-efficacy beliefs about their ability to make realistic decisions.
  • Karen Paisley, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, is working with the U.S. Army to Develop a Measure of Core Values. Loyalty, honor, respect, and duty are among core values the Army promotes to enlisted personnel through active duty experiences, as well as through Moral, Welfare, and Recreation Services. Paisley has determined that these values can be measured and suggests that the Army might benefit by developing approaches to working with soldiers that capitalize on key similarities and differences among the core values.

Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library

  • Sharon E. Dennis, M.L.S., librarian for multimedia development, has been working to develop the Health Education Assets Library (HEAL), a collaborative project between the U of U, University of Oklahoma, and the University of California, Los Angeles. HEAL is a national database repository that allows health sciences educators to locate and download multimedia materials for use in educational settings. A prototype application with 2,000 images was released to the public in July 2002. With additional funding from the National Science Foundation last September, Dennis and her colleagues are expanding the collection and transforming the HEAL application into a production class resource.

We always welcome your comments about the magazine. Address letters to: Editor, Health Sciences Report, Office of Public Affairs, University of Utah Health Sciences Center, 50 North Medical Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84132. FAX: (801) 585-5188. E-mail: Susan.Sample@hsc.utah.edu.

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