Grants & Awards in the School of Medicine

Researchers Team Up to Target Diabetes and Obesity
March 31, 2017

Thomas Burris, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Pharmacology and Physiology, and John Walker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology, received two grants, one from the Department of Defense and one from the NIH, to study how two nuclear signaling receptors, REV-ERB and ERR, are involved in muscle metabolism.

The researchers have found that both receptors cause changes in muscles that mimic the effects of exercise. They are now working to develop drugs to optimize muscle metabolism, in order to provide alternative treatment to obesity and diabetes.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

Bird Flu Vaccine Study at SLU
March 17, 2017

Sharon Frey, M.D., Clinical Director of the Center for Vaccine Development, will head a Phase 1 clinical trial funded by the NIH, which will be conducted at SLU and five other vaccine centers.

The World Health Organization issued an alert earlier this year regarding avian flu cases, as this virus has the potential to cause a world-wide pandemic.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

Biomarkers for Pain
February 20, 2017

Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology, received a grant from The Mayday Fund to determine if either of two key molecules, S1PR1 and A3AR, are biomarkers of pain associated with four conditions: chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, endometriosis, interstital cystitis, and vulvodynia.

Chronic pain is often managed using opioids, which can be highly addictive and have severe side effects. Researchers previously found that modulating S1PR1 and A2AR blocked or reversed pain, making them prime targets to develop new treatments for this type of pain.

Researchers will now determine whether either of the molecules can be used as a biomarker to measure whether or not someone is suffering from pain via this pathway, and to determine if medication is treating the pain effectively. She will work with several SLU clinicians for this study in order to follow patients experiencing pain from the four conditions.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

PTSD and Cardiovascular Health
September 12, 2016

Jeffrey Scherrer, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine, received a grant from the NHLBI at the NIH to study the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.

Many veterens who experience PTSD symptoms have an increased risk of hypertension, ischemic heart disease, diabetes, and dyslipidemia. This study aims to determine if this increased risk can be attributed to unhealthy lifestyle choices that may be used to cope with PTSD, or if the PTSD itself is a risk factor.

Researchers will collect data from medical records from patients treated for PTSD in clinics by the Veterans Administration. The data will then be analyzed to determine if a reduction of symptoms is due to a healthier lifestyle, so patients can be encouraged to make healthy choices at the beginning of treatment.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

Researchers Receive NIH Grant to Study Yellow Fever Vaccine
July 20, 2016

Sarah George, M.D., Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases, has received a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH to study an investigational vaccine for yellow fever.

Yellow fever, a flavivirus like the Zika virus, is also spread by the Aedes mosquito. The current vaccine contains a weakened strain of the live virus and can therefore cause health problems for those who most need it, including infants and those with weakened immune systems. The George lab will conduct a clinical trial on a new vaccine for yellow fever that uses a modified version of the smallpox vaccine to deliver the yellow fever proteins to cells, thus stimulating an immune response. The vaccine will be tested for safety as well as efficiency of immune response.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

Researchers to Study Zika Immune Response
July 6, 2016

Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, has received a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH to study immune responses to Zika virus infection. The study will be conducted in conjunction with other Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Units at Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine.

The Centers will recruit volunteers who have traveled to or had sexual contact with someone who traveled to areas where Zika is prevalent, and who have been diagnosed with or had symptoms of Zika infection. Researchers at SLU will analyze blood specimens from these volunteers in order to assess the body’s immune response to infection. Understanding how the virus works and how the body responds to infection could help scientists develop better treatments and more effective vaccines for the virus.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease
April 12, 2016

Jane McHowat, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology, received a grant from the Lottie Caroline Hardy Charitable Trust to study the effects of smoking on heart health and, specifically, on heart muscle. Little is known about how smoke affects the heart muscle, as most studies have been done on the arteries that supply blood to the heart.

Dr. McHowat will use human myocardium tissue samples collected during cardiac surgeries by two physicians at the Center for Comprehensive Cardiovascular Care at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, Dawn Hui, M.D., and Richard Lee, M.D. The researchers will examine the tissue to see what differences, such as changes in structure and chemistry, are present in samples from smokers and non-smokers.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

Burris Elected Academy of Science Fellow
April 1, 2016

Thomas Burris, Ph.D., Professor and Chairman of Pharmacology & Physiology, was selected as an Outstanding St. Louis Scientist by the Academy of Science of St. Louis.

Dr. Burris was named a Fellow of the Academy, which recognizes a distinguished individual for outstanding achievement in science. The awards were presented at the Chase Park Plaza Starlight Ballroom on Thursday, April 7, 2016.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink or on the Academy of Science website.

CWHM Receives Rare Disease Funding
March 31, 2016

Fran Sverdrup, Ph.D., Research Fellow in the Center for World Health and Medicine, received funding from Ultragenyx to develop a treatment for Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD), which causes muscle degeneration and afflicts more than 15,000 people in the U.S.

Dr. Sverdrup’s daughter was diagnosed with the disease several years ago, sending him on a quest to discover a treatment, as no therapies were available at the time. This lack of treatments led him to discover a class of compounds that could turn off the inappropriately expressed gene in FSHD patients. Recently, SLU and Ultragenyx signed an agreement to turn Dr. Sverdrup’s discovery into a treatment for FSHD.

Ultragenyx specializes in developing novel treatments for rare and ultra-rare diseases that might otherwise not be studied due to the small number of patients afflicted. The company has had success in turning these types of discoveries into viable treatments for these rare diseases.

Please see the full story in Newslink.

Alay Jain Receives NIDDK Grant
March 14, 2016

Alay Jain, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Director of the Pediatric Liver Transplant program at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, received a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the NIH to continue studies on the adverse effects of parenteral nutrition (PN) or intravenous feeding.

PN is needed in patients when part or all of their digestive systems are not working properly due to injury or disease. Despite being life-saving treatment, it can cause severe side effects, such as liver and bowel disorders, that can be fatal. Dr. Jain’s research focuses on bile acid pathways, which are interrupted when nutrition is only given intravenously. In a clinical setting, he has found that these adverse side effects can be alleviated when some feeding is done via the gut, in order to maintain the normal gut and liver communication pathways.

Please see the full story in Newslink.

Joyce Koenig Receives Gerber Foundation Grant
January 7, 2016

Joyce Koenig, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, received a grant from the Gerber Foundation to study chorioamnionitis, which is an inflammation of the placenta in pregnant women.

Dr. Koenig will study the unique immune effects of chorioamnionitis on pregnant women and their babies. The condition is highly associated with preterm births but, because the pathology is poorly understood and because it rarely shows clinical symptoms, it is usually not diagnosed until well after birth. The researchers hope to understand what causes this condition so at-risk pregnancies can be identified prior to delivery.

Please see the full story in Newslink.

Investigators Search for Sepsis Biomarkers
December 17, 2015

David Ford, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry, received a multi-PI, multi-center grant from the NIGMS entitled “Chlorinated lipids in sepsis.” Jane McHowat, Ph.D., of the Department of Pathology at SLU, is a Co-PI on the grant.

Other investigators on the proposal include Thomas Cho, Ph.D., of the Department of Biochemistry at SLU, and Ron Korthuis, Ph.D., of the Department of of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine.

The research will focus on determining the role of chlorinated lipids in vascular collapse and multiorgan failure during sepsis. These lipids are produced when leukocytes are activated following development of sepsis and can lead to endothelial dysfunction, platelet activation, and organ damage. They hope to find one or more biomarkers that can be used to determine when sepsis might develop, allowing for quicker diagnosis and treatment.

Please see the full story in Newslink.

Nicola Pozzi Awarded Arch Grant
November 18, 2015

Hemadvance, a biotechnology company started by Nicola Pozzi, Ph.D., Research Associate in the Department of Biochemistry, was awarded a $50,000 Arch Grant in the 2015 Winter Global Startup Competition. Hemadvance was one of 11 other companies that received grants. The mission of Hemadvance is to develop new ways to diagnose, manage, and treat cardiovascular disorders.

Arch Grants are awarded twice per year and aim to attract and retain innovative entrepreneurs to the St. Louis area. The awardees were announced in several publications, including the St. Louis Business Journal.

NIH Contract Funds Omics Research
October 30, 2015

Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, is the PI of a five-year, $5.8 million contract from the NIH to study the safety and efficacy of vaccines using “omics” research techniques. These studies aim to look deeper into how the body’s immune system responds to infections and infectious diseases and to develop better and more effective vaccines and treatments for a variety of diseases.

Samples will be analyzed from SLU and other vaccine centers. Under the contract, four different ‘omics areas will be studied and SLU faculty from various departments will direct the various areas.

  • Transcriptomics, the study of RNA interaction with DNA in response to external conditions, will be directed by Dr. Hoft.
  • Proteomics, the study of the structure and function of proteins, will be headed by Yie-Hwa Chang, Ph.D., and David Wood, Ph.D., of the Department of Biochemsitry.
  • Lipidomics, the study of lipid metabolism pathways and their metabolites, will be headed by David Ford, Ph.D., of the Department of Biochemistry.
  • Metabolomics, the study of the small-molecule products of cellular processes, will be headed by James Edwards, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemistry.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

CWHM Receives Grant for Osteoporosis Research
September 28, 2015

David Griggs, Ph.D., Director of the Center for World Health and Medicine, was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases at the NIH for research related to bone diseases and osteoporosis. Rajeev Aurora, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, is a Co-Investigator on the grant.

The protein, RANKL (receptor-activator of NF-kappa B ligand), has been previously shown to stimulate osteoclasts to remove bone from the body, causing bone disorders such as osteoporosis, periodontitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, Dr. Aurora’s group found that when RANKL was given to mice in small doses, it had the opposite effect of suppressing osteoclast activity and increasing bone growth. Dr. Aurora published his results on this research in a May 2015 paper in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

As a result of these studies, the Investigators realized that there was potential to develop a new compound to treat these bone diseases in the form of a small molecule that could mimic the action of RANKL. A compoun could be made into pill form and would be a more stable way to administer treatment. The grant will fund screening of more than 100,000 small molecules to assess their potential as possible treatments. For more information, read the story in Newslink.

Solving the Mysteries of Blood Clotting
September 11, 2015

Nicola Pozzi, Ph.D., Research Associate of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, received a grant from the American Heart Association to continue studies on prothrombin, an essential protein involved in blood clotting.

Pozzi aims to study the way that prothrombin is converted to active thrombin and also to determine the role of the flexible “linker” region the Di Cera lab recently discovered. These studies could lead to more effective anticoagulant drugs that can keep blood clotting in check with fewer side effects.

For more information, read the full article in Newslink.

Salvemini Receives NIH CEBRA Award
July 24, 2015

Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacological and Physiological Science, received the NIH’s Cutting-Edge Basic Research Award (CEBRA) to study the problem of opioid pain killers and their addictiveness and side effects.

The two-year award will allow Dr. Salvemini to continue her studies on decreasing chronic pain, either by eliminating the side effects associated with opioid pain killers or by developing new treatments for pain.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse created the CEBRA grant to fund high-risk, but high reward potential projects related to drug abuse treatment and prevention. Researchers may only apply one time for these highly competitive grants.

For the full story, please see the article in Newslink.

Center Studies Universal Flu Vaccine
May 7, 2015

Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Division of Infectious Medicine, received a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the NIH to study a potential universal flu vaccine, which would give protection from all strains of the influenza A virus over multiple years, reducing the need for yearly vaccinations.

Dr. Hoft, along with Sharon Frey, M.D., Professor of Infectious Diseases, and Robert Belsche, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Infectious Diseases, are the Principal Investigators on the project. The investigators will design two different vaccines, containing a head from one of two strains of bird flu and a stalk from influenza A. Since humans have no immunity to the bird flu strains, immunizations will produce minimal response to the head, but optimal response to the stalk protein, which could provide stronger and longer lasting protection. This approach has already worked on mice and ferrets, and investigators hope it will provide humans protections from changing flu strains.

The universal flu vaccine would be a great improvement over the current yearly vaccine in terms of length of protection and in terms of reduction in yearly healthcare costs.

For the full story, please see the article in Newslink.