UT Institute for Research, Innovation, Synergy and Health Equity Announces Six Grant Awards Totaling $402,000

The UT Institute for Research, Innovation, Synergy and Health Equity (iRISE) at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has announced the latest round of grant recipients from its Pilot Translational and Clinical Studies (PTCS) Program.Six UTHSC researchers were chosen out of a competitive field of 28 submissions. The PTCS Program provides funding and support to further the iRISE goal of promoting clinical and translational science, bringing health care discoveries from “bench to bedside” and from “bedside to community.”

“The funding from these PTCS grants is crucial to jumpstarting translational research projects that not only contribute to the iRISE mission, but also facilitate involvement of junior faculty and trainees in clinical and translational research, stimulate multidisciplinary team building across the UTHSC campus and our partners, provide the preliminary data for larger NIH grants, and ultimately produce health benefits for the community that we serve,” said Dennis Black, MD, iRISE operations director and director of the Children’s Foundation Research Institute.

Beyond financial support, PTCS award recipients are also provided with program and business management support, and mentoring to navigate the process of establishing sustainable funding. The program prioritizes support for junior investigators, multidisciplinary teams and projects focusing specifically on health disparities. This is the second cohort of PTCS award recipients. To date, the program has awarded a total of $672,204 to 11 UTHSC researchers since its 2014 founding.

Each of the six current award recipients will perform and complete their research within a one-year period.



Assistant Professor, Department of Preventive MedicineUse of an Innovative Mobile Health Application to Improve Outcomes in Breast Cancer Patients Dr. Graetz received a grant of $75,000 for her project using a mobile application to track adverse effects of endocrine therapy breast cancer treatment. Adverse effects associated with adjuvant endocrine therapy are an important reason for low adherence, and patients experience most toxicity effects early in their treatment. The early monitoring of these effects is projected to improve adherence and thus health outcomes. The widespread availability of smartphones across socioeconomic levels will also further iRISE’s goal of reducing health inequity.
Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics Low-frequency TMS Treatment for Refractory Partial Epilepsy Dr. Narayana received a grant of $80,000 for up to one year for her project using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to reduce the effects of seizures in patients with refractory epilepsy. When compared with patients with well-controlled epilepsy, patients with refractory epilepsy are faced with an increased risk for sudden and unexplained death and significantly greater morbidity, loss of productivity, and medical costs. In her study, patients will receive TMS over a two week period, and then the long term efficacy of the treatment will be tracked for up to 16 weeks. It is hoped that the results of this study will lead to a larger clinical trial.
Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Biomedical Engineering Improving Clinical Guidelines for Return to Activity Following ACL Reconstruction Dr. Sanford received a grant of 47,000 to develop new clinical guidelines for patients to return to unrestricted activity following ACL surgery. There are an estimated 200,000 ACL injuries in the United States each year. Unfortunately, more than half of individuals with ACL reconstruction (ACLR) develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis between 30-50 years of age and with it the confounding sequel of associated joint pain, functional limitations, and decreased quality of life. Evidence suggests this is due in part to patients being released to return to unrestricted activity prematurely, before their biomechanics have normalized to pre-injury baseline; however, there is a lack of consensus regarding specific criteria for return to unrestricted activity following ACLR. Her team aims to use a custom Wii Balance Board to measure limb loading during dynamic activities. Such results are expected to allow clinicians to identify ACLR patients who have met current clinical criteria for return to activity but have not resumed normal function based on these new measures.
Associate Professor, Department of Surgery Beta-Adrenergenic Blockade for Suppression of Catecholamine Surge Following Traumatic Brain Injury, A Randomized Trial Dr. Schroeppel received a grant of $50,000 for up to one year for his project exploring the use of beta-adrenergic blockade to lessen the catecholamine surge (a surge of stress hormones which impair cardiac function) following traumatic brain injuries (TBI) to lower mortality. There are more than 1.5 million TBIs annually in the US, resulting in over 50,000 deaths. The typical treatment for TBI consists of supportive care and montoring intracranial pressure. In previous studies, Dr. Schroeppel’s approach has shown a reduction in mortality of 65% when compared to the prevailing treatment.
Assistant Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine Clinical Risk Factors and Genetic Variants for NASH Recurrence Post Liver Transplantation Dr. Tran received a grant of $75,000 for up to one year for her project to identify genetic mutations and clinical risk factors associated with recurrent non-alcholoic steatohepatitis (NASH) in patients undergoing liver transplantation. A liver transplant (LT) is the only treatment for advanced NASH, a condition associated with obesity and insulin resistance. These conditions are reaching epidemic proportions in our local population. Women are two times less likely than men to receive a liver transplant, but are at a higher risk of developing NASH post-menopause. Overall, in Tennessee, females have significantly lower transplant rates. While the pathogenesis of NASH has been well studied in non-transplant settings, little is known about risk factors for, or the pathophysiological mechanisms of, recurrent disease post-LT. Dr Tran's study study will identify clinical risk factors and genetic mutations in the recipients and/or donors that predispose LT recipients to NASH recurrence. Without this knowledge it is difficult to develop therapies geared towards recurrent disease treatment or prevention.
Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics Phylogenetic Complexity of Gut Microbiota Predicts RSV Disease Severity in Infants Dr. You received a grant of $75,000 for her project exploring the pathogenesis of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV is the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants. Infants who suffer from severe RSV disease are more likely to develop subsequent asthma in later life. The pathogenesis of severe RSV infection in infants remains elusive. Dr. You's team has developed a neonatal mouse model to study the interaction of the diversity of gut microbiota and disease severity of RSV infection in infants. She aims to establish that less complex gut microbiota in neonatal mice fail to mature the immune system, resulting in severe RSV disease. She is also studying the microbiota from inhants with and without RSV infection to determine if these finding extend to human infants.
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