Grants at a Glance: Health Sciences Schools Announce Research Funding

Issue Date: 
January 29, 2007

The following research projects conducted by faculty in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences recently were awarded new or renewal grants.

Researcher to explore recovery from acute kidney failure

John A. Kellum, associate professor of critical care medicine in the School of Medicine, has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore the mechanism responsible for recovery from kidney failure.

The grant is a five-year, $1.8 million award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for research that will shed light on the role of inflammation, as well as other factors in recovery from acute renal failure.

This project, called Biological Markers of Recovery for the Kidney, or BioMaRK, will examine how such factors influence survival as well as recovery of kidney function. Researchers plan to assess how certain inflammation markers relate to clinical outcomes and build a risk-prediction model based on clinical variables and those biomarkers.

Results of this study could lay the foundation for the development of treatment therapies for acute renal failure, particularly those designed to enhance organ recovery.

Proteins regulating cardiovascular cell growth to be identified and characterized

Yong Tae Kwon, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the School of Pharmacy, has received a five-year, $1.8 million NIH grant to identify and characterize proteins that regulate cardiovascular growth.

Recent research has suggested that these RGS proteins, as they are called, play a critical role in cardiac development, signaling, and hypertrophy (thickening of the heart’s walls) by regulating the activation of Gq proteins that direct the generation of new cardiac cells.

When RGS proteins go through proteolysis, or protein degradation, too rapidly, their cellular concentrations are too low to tell the Gq proteins to turn off, and cardiac cellular growth continues unchecked.

This grant will support Kwon’s work to characterize a set of RGS proteins as substrates of an enzyme that attaches an arginine to the end of their peptide chain, marking them for proteolysis. The research could lead to pharmaceutical therapies for the treatment of cardiac hypertrophy by the control of RGS proteolysis.

Teens learning to “read” tobacco advertising’s subtle messages

Advertisers resort to all sorts of subliminal messages to separate consumers, especially teenagers, from their cash. However, when the product being pushed is a harmful one—like cigarettes—much more than a lighter wallet is at stake.

Fortunately, research suggests that adolescents who are “media literate,” or wise to tricks of the advertising trade, are less likely to take up smoking.

The National Cancer Institute has awarded a $660,000 grant to Brian Primack, assistant professor in the medical school’s Division of General Internal Medicine, for his project titled “Media Literacy to Prevent Adolescent Smoking Initiation.” With this funding, Primack will develop reliable, valid instruments to measure smoking literacy and assess the relationship between smoking media literacy and smoking initiation. A third project aim is to pilot test an antitobacco media literacy curriculum among a group of teenagers.

Burroughs Wellcome Award to fund population data study of dengue fever

Derek Cummings, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health, has received a Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface for his research on dengue fever, which results from a mosquito-borne virus and leads to serious illness and death in many parts of the world.

The award, which provides five years of support for a total of $500,000, will fund Cummings’ work to develop a population data-based model that may help predict the virus’ transmission mechanism to its human host.

In recognition of the importance of cross-training in various scientific fields, the Burroughs Wellcome Career Awards at the Scientific Interface are given to early-career scientists who have a background in the physical sciences and are pursuing research projects on biological issues. Only 11 other scientists throughout the country received this award for 2007.

Grant to help pathologists increase accuracy of malignant melanoma diagnosis

In a variety of settings, medical simulation is a valuable tool for enhancing healthcare delivery. Dana Grzybicki, a research assistant professor in the medical school’s Department of Pathology, was awarded more than $270,000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality as part of an initiative to study the safe delivery of health care through medical simulation.

Grzybicki’s study aims to improve the diagnostic accuracy of community generalist pathologists in the identification of malignant melanoma through the use of a cognitive simulation system.