Health Sciences Report Winter 2005


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


School of Medicine

  • The Brain Institute

    Maureen L. Condic, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy
    Project: "Interaction between Integrins and Molecular Inhibitors of Regeneration"
    Funding Agency: Craig H. Neilsen Foundation
    Amount of Grant: $150,000 over 2 years
    Within sites of central nervous system (CNS)injury, there is a complex interplay between molecules that promote nerve cell repair and those that prevent it. The fact that most individuals with spinal injuries do not completely recover lost function is clear evidence that inhibitory molecules typically exert stronger effects than their benefi cial counterparts. In this project, she is investigating the role of a bene-fi cial family of molecules known as integrins in response to CNS injury and their potential as therapeutic agents in nerve cell regeneration.


  • Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

    Michael K. Magill, M.D. Professor and Department Chair
    Project: "Establishing a Primary Care Research Center"
    Funding Agency: Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    Amount of Grant: $756,000 over 3 years
    The University’s primary care network of community clinics along the Wasatch Front provides researchers with an extensive database and "laboratory" for primary care research. Investigators will analyze data for trends and look at patients with particular conditions, such as diabetes, to assess whether drug treatments or other therapies are successful, or whether more effective ones are available. The project’s ultimate goal is to enhance the quality of care patients receive from primary care providers.


  • Program in Human Molecular Biology and Genetics

    Andrew S. Weyrich, Ph.D. Research Associate Professor of Internal Medicine
    Project: "Translational Events in Platelets"
    Funding Agency: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $1.34 million over 4 years
    This project continues studies of novel functions of platelets, which are circulating blood cells that are required for homeostasis, host defense, and wound repair. Platelets also contribute to a large number of thrombotic and inflammatory diseases. Previously, Weyrich and collaborators discovered that platelets activated by biochemical signals can express important genes by translating messenger RNAs (mRNAs) that are present in the circulating cells in the quiescent state, but are repressed or "silenced" until activation occurs. In this project, additional mechanisms that were previously unrecognized will be explored, including the process of splicing pre-mRNAs in activated platelets. These studies have the potential to identify new ways that platelets act in heart attack and stroke, and new approaches to therapy.


  • Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI)

    Diana Stafforini, Ph.D. Research Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and HCI Investigator
    Project: "Metabolism of Platelet Activating Factor (PAF)"
    Funding Agency: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $1.2 million over 4 years
    Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury. In certain cases, however, inflammation is not properly regulated, which can lead to the development of serious health problems. This study will characterize the contributions of the anti-inflammatory enzyme PAF aceltylhydrolase to the diseases atherosclerosis and necrotizing enterocolitis. Using a recently developed knockout mouse, the study will determine whether changes in inflammation made through the platelet-activating-factor signalizing pathway can alter the severity of these diseases.


  • Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy

    Chi-bin Chien, Ph.D. Associate Professor
    Project: "Genetic Interaction Screen to Analyze Robo Signaling"
    Funding Agency: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $648,000 over 4 years
    During brain development, the Robo family of receptor proteins plays a key role in guiding growing nerves to their destinations. Little is known, however, about how they transmit their signals within cells. The goal of this study is to use a genetic screen in zebrafish to search for genes that interact with the Robo2 gene and are likely to play key roles in Robo signal transduction. This is one of the first interaction screens carried out in vertebrates and will help to unravel signaling used for navigation by growing axons.


  • Gary C. Schoenwolf, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor
    Project: "Establishing a Hearing Consortium to Advance Hearing Research"
    Funding Agency: University of Utah
    Amount of Grant: Catalyst Grant of $100,000 per year for up to 2 years
    A team of scientists and physicians from the U and Utah State University (USU) is developing a multidisciplinary approach to solving the problem of congenital hearing loss. The group will use model systems to discover genes controlling development of the ear and the Utah Population Database to identify genes that, when mutated, result in hearing loss. Another part of the team will study prenatal exposure to cytomegalovirus and resulting hearing loss through the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program. The team includes five scientists from the U medical school’s departments of Neurobiology and Anatomy, and Human Genetics; three clinicians from the Department of Pediatrics; two clinicians from the Division of Otolaryngology– Head and Neck Surgery; and three scientists from USU.


  • Department of Oncological Sciences

    Katharine Ullman, Ph.D. Associate Professor and HCI Investigator
    Project: "The Nuclear Pore Complex—Interphase and Mitotic Function"
    Funding Agency: National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $1.1 million over 4 years
    The nuclear pore complex is the gateway in cells through which material, such as RNA and proteins, travels between the cell’s nucleus and cytoplasm. How this is accomplished is fundamental to cell function and important to cancer cell biology, since this process is altered in rapidly growing cancer cells. Ullman has found a novel role for the nuclear pore in recruiting proteins needed to disassemble the nucleus, a process that occurs with each cell division. This project is focused on understanding how the nuclear pore complex accomplishes its roles in both intracellular traffi cking and cell division, and discovering some of the basic aspects of gene expression at interphase and accurate division at mitosis. This information may lead to better control of the rapid growth of cancer cells.


  • Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, John A. Moran Eye Center

    Lejin Wang, M.D., and Houbin Zhang, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellows
    Project: "Treatments for Retinal Degeneration"
    Funding Agency: Knights Templar Eye Foundation
    Amount of Grant: $30,000 each for 1 year
    Lejin Wang’s work focuses on identifying a new gene responsible for Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, which causes severe vision loss at or within a few months of birth. It is the most severe retinal degeneration with visual impairment in children. Houbin Zhang’s project involves genetically engineered mice that closely mimic a kind of hereditary human eye disease: photoreceptor retinol dehydrogenase 12. He will test potential treatment methods that may restore vision.


  • Department of Pediatrics

    David Virshup, M.D. Professor of Pediatrics, Adjunct Professor of Oncological Sciences, and Co-leader of Pediatric Cancers Scientific Programs, HCI
    Project: "Molecular Determinants of Sarcoma Progression and Metastasis"
    Funding Agency: University of Utah
    Amount of Grant: Dean’s Catalyst Grant of $100,000 for 1 year
    Sarcomas are a lethal subset of cancers in children and adults. A multidisciplinary approach to sarcoma treatment and diagnosis has improved prognosis and yielded cure rates of 70-80 percent, but metastatic disease confers a much worse prognosis with long-term survival rates of less than 10 percent. A multidisciplinary sarcoma research group hopes to establish mouse sarcoma progression and metastasis models, as well as to develop critical clinical reagents to investigate the role of potential regulators of progression and metastasis in human sarcomas. Co-investigators are: Mary Beckerle, Ph.D., professor of oncological sciences and biology; Phil Bernard, M.D., assistant professor of pathology; Cheryl Coffi n, M.D., professor of pathology; Steven Lessnick, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics; and R. Lor Randall, M.D., associate professor of orthopaedics.


  • Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

    Jeffrey P. Rosenbluth, M.D. Assistant Professor
    Project: "TRAILS: Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Leisure Services"
    Funding Agency: Craig H. Neilsen Foundation
    Amount of Grant: $100,000 for 1 year
    The ultimate goal of TRAILS is to enable people with spinal cord injuries to lead active and independent lifestyles. The program is designed for an individual’s entire social support system (family members, peers, and caregivers) by connecting them with others who are in similar situations, in addition to resources and agencies. TRAILS is divided into fi ve components: recreation, spinal cord injury forum, virtual outreach, volunteers and peer support, and transportation. This grant, awarded through the Brain Institute at the U, is earmarked specifi cally to support the spinal cord injury forum and virtual outreach components.



College of Pharmacy

  • Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry

    James N. Herron, Ph.D. Associate Professor
    Project: "Planar Waveguide Sensors for Toxin Detection"
    Funding Agency: U.S. Army, Dugway Proving Grounds
    Amount of Grant: $40,000 over 10 months
    The goal of this project is to develop a rapid screening system for toxins, such as ricin and Staphylococcal enterotoxin B. Co-investigator on the project is Douglas A. Christensen, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering.


  • Department of Pharmacotherapy

    Diana Brixner, R.Ph., Ph.D. Associate Professor and Chair
    Project: "Association between the Metabolic Syndrome and Chronic Disease in a Primary Care Setting"
    Funding Agency: Sanofi -Aventis
    Amount of Grant: $443,575 over 2 years
    Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of clinical events that can be a precursor to the onset of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. If controlled early, this progression can be delayed and perhaps prevented. This project is intended to assess the impact of the determinants of metabolic syndrome—body mass index, blood pressure, lipids, and glucose—on the time required to develop chronic disease and the resources and costs required to manage it at various stages. The study, to be conducted retrospectively using a unique "cross-walk approach," will contribute to understanding the progression of metabolic syndrome, as well as lead to innovative outcomes research approaches that can be applied to other diseases. Investigators include: Qayyim Said, Ph.D., research assistant professor; Gary Oderda, Ph.D., professor; and Laura Shane McWhorter, Ph.D., associate clinical professor.



College of Nursing

  • Margaret F. Clayton, R.N., Ph.D. Assistant Professor
    Project: "Communication with Breast Cancer Survivors"
    Funding Agency: American Nurses Foundation
    Amount of Grant: $3,500 for 1 year
    This project will study how a patient-centered style of patient-provider communication impacts the emotional state of long-term breast cancer survivors. Six offi ce visits were audiotaped and are being analyzed for the degree of "patient-centeredness." Analysis will include self-report instruments as well as transcripts of the taped visits.


  • Patricia Murphy, C.N.M., Dr. P.H. Associate Professor
    Project: "Effects of St. John’s Wort on Levonorgestrel"
    Funding Agency: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health
    Amount of Grant: $300,000 over 2 years
    The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effects of a common herbal remedy, St. John’s Wort, on a hormone used in birth control pills. St. John’s Wort has been shown to increase metabolism of some drugs, including certain hormones used for contraception. A previous study by Murphy indicated an increased risk of ovulation while taking St. John’s Wort with a particular birth control pill. This study will evaluate the risk of interactions with another commonly prescribed contraceptive hormone.



College of Health

  • Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

    Julie Wambaugh, Ph.D. Associate Professor
    Project: "Word-retrieval Treatment for Aphasia:Facilitation of Generalization"
    Funding Agency: Rehabilitation Research and Development Service, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
    Amount of Grant: $647,000 over 3 years
    This project will examine the effects of a semantically oriented treatment on word retrieval in individuals with aphasia. The investigations are designed to further the development of semantic feature training, so that it may serve not only as a mechanism for improving disrupted lexical semantic processing, but also as a compensatory strategy during word-retrieval failures. The study also will address the issue of exemplar typicality by examining the effects of training typical versus atypical individuals who have different types of aphasia.


  • Department of Exercise and Sport Science

    Maria Newton, Ph.D. Assistant Professor
    Project: "Caring about Physical Activity"
    Pilot Study: Leaders in educational psychology long have advocated integrating caring into academic settings. This project is studying the impact of perceptions of a caring context on the motivation, well-being, and pro-social tendencies of underserved youth in physical activity settings. Newton and colleagues in Memphis, Tenn., surveyed 300 children who participated in the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) in Utah and Tennessee to determine their perceptions of caring by NYSP leaders as well as their peers. Leaders in the Salt Lake City program were trained specifi cally in caring, while those in Memphis received traditional training. Preliminary fi ndings suggest perceptions of caring are positively related to enjoyment, empathy, and pro-social behavior, and are negatively linked to antisocial behavior.


  • Division of Physical Therapy

    Paul LaStayo, Ph.D., P.T. Associate Professor
    Project: "High-force, Low-cost Resistance Training in Individuals with Multiple Sclerosis"
    Funding Agency: National Multiple Sclerosis Society
    Amount of Grant: $44,000 for 1 year
    Many individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS)experience balance and mobility impairments, which place them at an increased risk for falls. Fatigue and inactivity accelerate a downward spiral, whereby muscle-wasting and weakness become amplifi ed and fatigue/inactivity is exacerbated. Eccentric exercise will be tested as a countermeasure for these impairments and as an intervention to improve MS patients’ quality of life. Co-investigators are: Heather Hayes, D.P.T., physical therapist; Eduard Gappmeier, Ph.D., P.T., associate professor; and Lee Dibble, Ph.D., P.T., associate clinical professor.


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