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Center for Clinical and Translational Science awards new pilot grants

The University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Clinical and Translational Science has selected six research projects to receive pilot grants in 2013.

The $30,000 per year pilot grants, designed to give researchers a chance to test new ideas, have been given by the center since 2006.

"The pilot grants have been very successful at providing the opportunity for UIC investigators to develop their ideas and generate the preliminary data necessary for applying for those highly competitive grants from outside sources, like the National Institutes of Health," says Robin Mermelstein, co-director of the center and director of novel translational and collaborative studies.

"The grants also encourage collaboration among researchers from different departments and colleges who may not have a chance to work together otherwise," Mermelstein said.

The program has been highly competitive, receiving more than 200 applications over the past four years. Investigators across 10 colleges and more than 15 departments have received funding since its inception.

The 2013 pilot grant projects are:

Developing an alternative treatment for breast cancer

Debra Tonetti, associate professor in biopharmaceutical sciences, and Greg Thatcher, professor of medicinal chemistry, will investigate newly identified compounds that hold promise as alternatives to tamoxifen, the standard drug therapy for breast cancers fueled by estrogen (about 80 percent of all breast cancers) but which many cancers become resistant to. Tonetti's group has identified a possible alternative to tamoxifen, as well as a biomarker that indicates whether a tumor will respond to the new drug.

Preventing the spread of herpes virus

Herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores, is one of the most common viruses that infects humans. The virus can cause blindness and encephalitis in rare cases. Once infected, a person carries the virus for life and can pass it on to others. Over the counter treatments can sometimes speed the healing of cold sores, but nothing can block the virus from entering a cell or spreading. Dr. Tibor Valyi-Nagy, associate professor of pathology, in collaboration with Deepak Shukla, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual science, will use their pilot grant to develop ways to block HSV-1 from entering cells or prevent life-long infection.

Iron absorption, obesity, and colorectal cancer

Obesity is a significant risk factor for developing colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., but how obesity and colorectal cancer are linked is poorly understood. Dr. Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, assistant professor of health promotion research in the department of medicine, and her group will investigate the connection between obesity and absorption of iron in the colon and how those factors may trigger colorectal cancer. They will design a clinical trial to examine the effects of dietary iron on the risk of developing colorectal cancer in obesity.

New targets for treating thrombo-inflammatory disease

Platelets and neutrophils are blood components that play a critical role in clotting and in the development of cardiovascular disease. Jaehyung Cho, assistant professor in pharmacology and anesthesiology, and colleagues have identified an enzyme that helps regulate blood factors. They will use their pilot grant to further investigate how the enzyme may influence the formation of dangerous, artery-blocking clots.

A new approach to treating hemophilia

People with hemophilia have defective or missing clotting factors, and for them, even the smallest cut can become a medical emergency. Standard therapy--replacing missing clotting factors--is expensive and can trigger an allergic response. Dr. Xin Huang, assistant professor in the Center for Molecular Biology of Oral Diseases and in periodontics in the College of Dentistry, and colleagues are investigating an alternative strategy that focuses on suppressing natural anticoagulation factors to develop a safer and more cost-effective therapy for treating hemophilia.

Measuring availability of unhealthy snacks and beverages in Chicago Public Schools

Jamie Chriqui, senior research scientist in the Institute for Health Research and Policy, and colleagues will collaborate with the Chicago Public Schools to collect data on the availability of junk foods, sugar-sweetened beverages and high-fat milks in vending machines and cafeteria lines. Their data will provide a "before" snapshot to compare with the new CPS Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy, set to launch in the fall.


Contact: Sharon Parmet
University of Illinois at Chicago

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