U of M researchers awarded prestigious grants from ARRA funds

Contacts: Ryan Mathre, University News Service, (612) 625-0552, mathre@umn.edu

Nick Hanson, Academic Health Center, (612) 624-2449, hans2853@umn.edu

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/05/2009) A total of 15 University of Minnesota research projects have been awarded more than $10.3 million in funding from the prestigious Challenge and Grand Opportunities grant programs offered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through funds authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research is a new NIH initiative that supports research on specific knowledge gaps, scientific opportunities, new technologies, data generation, or research methods that would benefit from an influx of funds to quickly advance the area in significant ways. Research funded by a Challenge grant is intended to have a high impact in biomedical or behavioral science and/or public health. The grants generated a great deal of interest and were highly competitive: the NIH received more than 20,000 proposals and awarded only 840 grants nationally.

"Grand Opportunities" is another new NIH initiative that supports high-impact ideas that might lay the foundation for new areas of investigation and which lend themselves to short-term, non-renewable funding. Grand Opportunities funding will provide investigators and institutions with the opportunity to engage in new avenues of research with a high likelihood of significant impact on growth and investment in biomedical or behavioral research and development, public health and health care delivery.

These grants are a wonderful tribute to the caliber of research taking place at the U, said Tim Mulcahy, vice president for research. We are extremely proud of the researchers who have received this recognition from the NIH and we look forward to the positive impact that their discoveries will have on key health and social issues.

Following is a list of the 10 Challenge grants received by U researchers, followed by the five Grand Opportunities grants. Amounts listed are funds available for first year of grant; some grants are eligible for additional funds for a second year of research.

National Institutes of Health Challenge Grants

A population-based study of a common heart disease

Alonso, Alvaro (Epidemiology)

National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute


Description: Epidemiologist Alvaro Alonso will use stimulus funding to discover new insights into the causes of a heart disease called atrial fibrillation. The most commonly diagnosed heart arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation risk factors and biomarkers will be examined in a bi-racial group of more than 15,000 people that has been studied over several years. Alonso expects better understanding of the triggers and predictors of atrial fibrillation to contribute to the development of new treatments and new approaches to prevention.

Strategies to prevent Alzheimer's disease

Ashe, Karen Hsiao (Neurology)

National Institute on Aging


Description: Alzheimer's disease researcher Karen Hsiao Ashe will continue her studies of this disease that impacts millions of people in America and the world. Recently, she has focused on the material that makes up Alzheimer's plaques. In this latest project, she will determine whether specific kinds of these plaque molecules appear early enough in Alzheimer's to become a target for therapies aimed at preventing the illness. This study will be carried out in collaboration with Srinand Sreevatsan, a University of Minnesota researcher exploring cutting-edge DNA-mediated detection of disease, and Ronald Petersen, a Mayo Clinic physician who has recruited a group of elderly patients.

Developing reliable statistical models to study the health effects of climate change

Banerjee, Sudipto (Biostatistics)

National Institute of General Medical Sciences


Description: Climate change is expected to affect incidences of asthma, skin cancers and food-borne diseases, among other health effects. Developing better statistical methods to predict the relationship between climate change and these health effects is the project for which bio statistician Sudipto Banerjee received federal funding. A key challenge involves handling large data sets from disparate sources. As Banerjee and his team carry out this project, they will create software packages that can be delivered to health and environmental researchers and data analysts.

Will brain stimulation help paralyzed children?

Carey, James (Physical Med and Rehabilitation)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development


Description: Thousands of children experience paralysis of half of their bodies (hemiplegia) due to stroke, infection, or another trauma to the brain. This study, led by Program in Physical Therapy Director James Carey, seeks to discover a new method of brain stimulation to help these children recover the function of their hands. A non-invasive magnetic stimulation technique will target areas of the brain and be combined with another form of therapy. If successful, it will improve the quality of life for these children.

A New Paradigm for Biomolecular Simulations

Gao, Jiali ; Truhlar, Donald G. (Chemistry)

National Institute of General Medical Sciences


Description: It is difficult to make accurate quantitative predictions of biochemical processes due to the complexity and size of biomolecular systems in cells. Our research will focus on developing a novel computational approach that represents a paradigm change in the way intermolecular interactions are described to understand biological properties and function. The research is expected to significantly increase the accuracy of computational results. This, in turn, may help to design inhibitors and engineer specialized proteins for biomedical and industrial applications.

A new approach for treating nicotine and gambling addiction

Grant, Jon (Psychiatry)

National Institute on Drug Abuse


Description: Psychiatrist Jon Grant will research how a dietary supplement, N-acetyl cysteine, combined with brief behavioral therapy will affect both smoking and gambling behaviors. Grant and his colleagues believe this approach will greatly reduce nicotine dependence and pathological gambling symptoms both during treatment and long afterward. If this approach is successful, it will have the potential to set a new standard of care for a range of psychiatric disorders that happen along with nicotine dependence.

Improving Problem-Solving Performance of Students with Mathematics Difficulties

Jitendra, Asha Kiron; McComas, Jennifer (Educational Psychology)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development


Description: The mathematical underachievement of students in the United States is particularly severe for students with disabilities, those with limited-English proficiency, students from impoverished backgrounds, and minorities. This proposed two-year study will address the problem-solving difficulties of third grade students who are identified as struggling with mathematics by providing small group tutoring using schema-based instruction (SBI). The SBI curriculum aims to improve mathematics outcomes by teaching students problem-solving strategies that support their understanding of a range of word problems. Given the focus of the study on addressing the chronic and pervasive mathematical difficulties (i.e., problem-solving) of children in elementary schools in an area of Minneapolis that has a diverse student population and is representative of low-income neighborhoods, this proposal is directly responsive to the public health of individuals.

Reprogramming patient cells to discover the causes of muscular dystrophy

Kyba, Michael (Pediatrics); Perlingeiro, Rita (Medicine); Day, John (Pediatrics)

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases


Description: The third most common type of muscular dystrophy is the target of a study by four experts, led by principal investigator Michael Kyba. The team also includes Minnesota scientists Rita Perlingeiro and John Day and Baylor College of Medicine's Thomas Zwaka. While it is known what variation in the DNA causes this facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) it is not known how it causes the progressive, muscle-loss disease that affects 25,000 people in the United States. By removing cells from those with muscular dystrophy and re-programming them to become induced pluripotent or iPS cells, similar to embryonic stem cells, the team expects to gain new insights into the genetic basis of this form of muscular dystrophy and discover possible new cell therapies. The University provided pairing funds of $100,000 for a study by Kyba aimed at generating iPS cells under clinical conditions.

Microsystems and Modeling Approach to Glioma Migration and Metastasis

Odde, David J.; Rosenfeld, Steven S. (Biomedical Engineering)

National Cancer Institute


Description: Brain cancer is a devastating disease because of the way the malignant brain tumor cells spread. Effectively blocking the way these cells spread throughout the brain could prevent the disease from invading the whole brain and containing it to a localized area, which could be effectively treated with local therapies such as surgery or radiation. Understanding the movement and invasion of how malignant cells migrate is at the core of this research. Our research will develop new tools for understanding the mechanical basis of brain cancer cell movement, which will then guide novel therapeutic strategies.

Building Research Ethics and Oversight in Nanomedicine

Wolf, Susan M. (Law, Medicine & Public Policy)

National Human Genome Research Institute


Description: Nanomedicine is carried out at an atomic or a molecular scale. This project will produce the first systematic and comprehensive recommendations on how to protect human participants in research on nanodiagnostics and nanotherapeutics, including drugs, devices, and gene therapy. Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences Chair Susan Wolf is the principal investigator for the two-year project on Nanodiagnostics and Nanotherapeutics: Building Research Ethics and Oversight. Co-investigators include Institute for Engineering in Medicine Director Jeffrey McCullough; law professor Ralph Hall; and Center for Bioethics Director Jeffrey Kahn. The project working group includes top scholars from across the nation.

National Institutes of Health Grand Opportunities Grants


Andrews, Matthew (Biology)

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Description: Animals that hibernate can survive extreme cold that would be fatal for humans. Yet if better understood, hibernation's slowing of body function might buy time for humans suffering stroke, heart attacks or blood loss. Biologist Matt Andrews will use this funding in his ongoing studies of hibernation. He seeks to find the genes that control hibernation in 13-lined ground squirrels. His collaborators include mathematician Marshall Hampton, commercial partner Tethys Bioscience, as well as the Biomedical Genomics Center, Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, Medical School Duluth Campus, and University of Minnesota Duluth Departments of Biology and of Mathematics & Statistics.

Create first-ever Consumer Research Network

Jacko, Julie (Health Informatics)

National Institute of Nursing Research


Description: Julie Jacko, lead faculty for the Institute for Health Informatics, and her team will build a novel and innovative consumer-based health information technology infrastructure called the Consumer Research Network (CRN). The CRN will leverage an extensive network of secure, web-based Personal Health Records through an alliance of employers within the Buyers Health Care Action Group. This network will be able to offer about 300,000 people in Minnesota the opportunity to be better informed about, and participate in, clinical research, if they so choose. No personal health information will be accessed without individuals consent. The network's first study will compare the effectiveness of consumer strategies for weight management and obesity prevention. In the long run, Jacko and her team expect this model network to power epidemiological and genetic studies of large diverse populations, potentially improving the translation of research from bench to bedside while reducing the costs of conducting research. This project received Grand Opportunity (GO) grant funding

Measuring children's exposure to secondhand smoke and analyzing racial disparities

Joseph, Anne (Medicine); Murphy, Sharon (Masonic Cancer Center)

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Description: Tobacco researchers Anne Joseph and Sharon Murphy received funding to develop an analytical chemistry method to measure the level of cotinine, a substance that indicates secondhand smoke exposure in blood samples. The measurement method the researchers develop will be applied to dried blood spots that have been collected from a large, diverse population of children under the age of 3. The goal of this project is to study racial disparities in childhood exposure to secondhand smoke.

Accurate, objective data about these disparities may lead to health policies that focus on reducing secondhand smoke exposure in children in minority populations. The methods developed in this project will provide an important resource for future epidemiological and clinical research.

Re-programming cells using a new approach for bone marrow transplantation

Kyba, Michael (Pediatrics);

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Description:Michael Kyba and his team are using this federal funding to explore new ways to re-program cells. The goal is to re-program an individual's cells into blood stem cells that can be used for bone marrow transplantation. If successful, this would be an important advance in regenerative medicine, expanding the donor pool for those who need bone marrow transplantation, expanding the potential for treatments of genetic diseases, and improving quality of life for people who have organ transplants.

Enhancing Minority Participation in Clinical Trials (EMPaCT)

Vickers, Selwyn (Surgery)

National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities


Description: This Grand Opportunities (GO) grant funds the Enhancing Minority Participation in Clinical Trials (EMPaCT) program, which will create a national consortia of five regional lead institutions to improve health disparities in America. EMPaCT will do so by addressing minority participation in clinical research through education and infrastructure. Currently, minorities make up more than a third of the U.S. population, yet minorities number less than 10 percent of participants in cancer clinical trials. Principal investigator Selwyn Vickers is an expert in pancreatic cancer and head of the Department of Surgery. His University of Minnesota team and co-principal investigator Mona Fouad at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are nationally recognized leaders in the areas of health disparities and cancer care.