Inaugural CCTR Endowment Fund Grants awarded

Five VCU researchers receive grants for translational projects

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The VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR) has announced the inaugural awardees of its Endowment Fund grants.

The CCTR and the Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences created the CCTR Endowment Fund last fall to support meritorious pilot and feasibility research at VCU. Under this new funding mechanism, VCU investigators may apply for grants to support clinical and translational research that moves discoveries generated in the laboratory and preclinical studies toward the development of clinical trials. Investigators may also apply for funds to support projects that seek to understand the biological basis for clinical manifestations (observable symptoms by which a disease may be diagnosed by a physician) or enhance the adoption of best practices in the community.

The inaugural awardees:
Krishna Boini, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, will study the early mechanisms responsible for kidney damage during obesity. The hope is that these studies will provide new ideas for nephrologists to develop novel therapeutic strategies in the prevention and treatment of kidney injury in obese patients. The CCTR Endowment Fund grant will help generate preliminary data necessary to develop an application for a larger grant.

S. Esra Sahingur, D.D.S, Ph.D., assistant professor of periodontics, will study the association of genetics with periodontal (gum) diseases. Sahingur and her team reported a genetic variation in TLR-9 gene in individuals with periodontal diseases. TLR-9 is mainly expressed on immune cells and responds to microbial DNA, triggering inflammatory responses. The team will investigate how the genetic variations in TLR-9 gene increase susceptibility to periodontitis by intensifying inflammatory responses in human immune cells.

In their CCTR funded project titled, Anaplasma phagocytophilum modulation of host cells Rab GTPases, Jason Carlyon, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology, and his team will decipher how an Anaplasma virulence factor that they discovered contributes to the bacterium’s Trojan horse strategy. Human granulocytic anaplasmosis is an emerging and potentially fatal infection. The causative agent, A. phagocytophilum, colonizes a type of white blood cell, the neutrophil, converting it from an important effector cell of microbial killing to a safe haven for the pathogen.

Andrew G. Davies, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, aims to identify, compare and contrast the neuronal targets of two abused drugs: ethanol, which is consumed in alcoholic drinks, and toluene, which is abused as an inhalant. This project will identify the mutated genes in resistant C. elegans strains using whole genome sequencing and DNA transformation technologies. The identity of these genes will give greater insight into the mechanisms of action of ethanol and toluene and provide a basis for understanding the long-term effects associated with their abuse.

Leslie J. Cloud, M.D., assistant professor of neurology, will study patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and how they often have slowed stomach emptying, which negatively impacts absorption of levodopa (the mainstay of medical therapy for PD). Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for slow stomach emptying that are safe for use in PD.  “In this study, we will be giving a medication that speeds up stomach emptying to PD patients and measuring how this mediation impacts levodopa absorption and patients’ clinical response to levodopa,” said Cloud.

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