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UIC Center Funds 7 Projects with Potential for Human Therapies

The University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Clinical and Translational Science has awarded $515,000 over two years to seven UIC research projects with great potential to move from laboratory to clinical investigation.

The center's pilot grant program looks for UIC projects that involve human subjects or facilitate human subject investigations and have clear, near-term implications for therapeutics or prevention.

The seven projects were chosen from 75 proposals submitted by investigators from 17 different departments and four colleges.

"The large number of meritorious applications for this grant cycle made the selection process tough," said center director Dr. Theodore Mazzone. "But it speaks well of the potential for UIC to continue to expand its footprint in clinical translational research."

The one- and two-year pilot grants will support early investigations vital to securing long-term funding for cutting-edge research. The program is funded by the UIC Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, and UIC's six health science colleges.

One pilot grant will develop a collaborative research program in asthma and allergic diseases. Steven J. Ackerman, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, will act as principal investigator on the project,

"Mast Cell, Macrophage, and Eosinophil Interactions in Asthma," with co-investigators Dr. John Christman, professor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine; Richard Ye, professor of pharmacology, and H. Ari Jaffe, associate professor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine.

A simple case of the flu can pose a deadly threat to people whose immune system is suppressed to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ. One pilot grant will explore a promising immunotherapy to treat severe infections in patients with compromised immune systems. Marlene Bouvier, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, will act as principal investigator on the project, "T-cell Immunotherapy for Adenoviral Infections of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Patients," with co-investigator Dr. James Cook, professor of infectious diseases.

Studies of human cancers begin in tissue culture, but often cells grown in a Petri dish won't continue to behave and respond like a natural cell in the body. As a result, it becomes almost impossible to learn how these cells become cancerous. One pilot grant will obtain a type of ovarian cell that is the progenitor of 90 percent of all ovarian cancers and develop a three-dimensional system that allows the cells to live and grow normally. Joanna E. Burdette, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy, will act as principal investigator with co-investigator Dr. Nita Lee, assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology.

A project bringing together research expertise from three UIC medical campuses -- Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Rockford -- will focus on a multi-disciplinary approach to improving cancer care for rural residents. Michael Glasser, associate dean for rural health professions at the UIC College of Medicine at Rockford, will act as principal investigator while Usha Menon, associate professor of biobehavioral health science in the College of Nursing and Lissette Piedra, assistant professor of social work at Urbana-Champaign are co-investigators.

A pilot grant that will produce the first human data from the multi-electrode electroretinogram will show this promising diagnostic tool's potential for mapping retinal health. Ophthalmologists hope that meERG will aid in early detection of a number of blinding diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. John Hetling, associate professor of bioengineering, is principal investigator on the grant, "Novel Electroretinographic Mapping of Retinal Function for Diagnosis of Progressive Eye Disease," and co-investigator is Janet Szlyk, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

Beta-blockers are the major therapy used to treat ischemic heart diseases, which affect an estimated 14 million Americans. But a quarter of patients can't tolerate beta-blockers -- asthma patients, for example, can suffer life-threatening airway constriction. One pilot grant will explore alternative drug candidates in animal and human tissue systems based on previous study of signaling pathways in cardiac cells. Yunbo Ke, research assistant professor of physiology and biophysics, and R. John Solaro, professor physiology and biophysics will act as co-principal investigators on the grant, "Activation of P21 Activated Kinase-1 as a Novel Therapeutic Strategy for Ischemic Heart Diseases" with Dr. Samuel C. Dudley, professor of cardiology, as co-investigator.

Malignant gliomas are among the most lethal brain tumors, with a high rate of recurrence despite surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Tumor cells are believed to hide out in areas of the brain called white-matter fiber tracts, allowing the tumor to regrow following treatment. Xiaohong Joe Zhou, associate professor of neurological surgery, will act as principal investigator in a project to determine whether a specialized magnetic resonance imaging technique can identify white-matter fiber tracts that have been invaded by tumor cells. His co-investigators on the project, "A Pilot Study of White Matter Involvement in Glioma Patients Using High-Resolution Diffusion MRI," are Dr. Herbert H. Engelhard, associate professor of neurological surgery; Dr. John L. Villano, assistant professor of oncology; and Dr. Tibor Valyi-Nagy, associate professor of pathology.

Jeanne Galatzer-Levy | Newswise Science News
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