2017 Pilot Grant Recipients

The Great Plains IDeA-Clinical Translational Research (GP-CTR) Network at UNMC has announced nine awardees for its 2017 Pilot Program grants, including four from UNMC. The goal of the program, administered through a National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant, is to develop successful CTR investigators. To achieve this goal, selected scientists and health professionals are provided partial salary support and up to $50,000, to assist preliminary research efforts for one year.

Nine scholars were chosen: four from UNMC, two from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, one from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and two from University of South Dakota. UNMC awardees are: 

Robin Lally, Ph.D., professor, UNMC College of Nursing

Her research, Facilitating Oncology Patient-Clinician Communication via E-health Innovations, addresses significant cancer-related distress in women with breast cancer. Approximately 50 percent of women with breast cancer experience anxiety or depression in the first year after diagnosis. Poor mental health reduces quality of life and is costly to society. Her study will assess the feasibility of using the new internet-based, self-guided psychoeducational program, “CaringGuidance After Breast CancerDiagnosis” and its electronic Summary Report (CGSR) tool to address gaps in psychological care and communication. The results will guide modification of the CGSR, of the effectiveness in supporting patient-clinician communication and contributing to the reduction of distress/depression of women with breast cancer in rural and urban areas. 

Thuy Koll, M.D., instructor, division of geriatric medicine, UNMC Department of Internal Medicine

According to Dr. Koll, understanding the cognitive and functional outcomes after stem cell transplant in older adults with hematologic malignancies is essential to facilitate recovery for the prevention and development of interventions. Her study, "Cognition, Physical Function and Quality of Life Following Stem Cell Transplantation in Older Adults," aims to develop clinically useful strategies to identify older adults at high risk for cognitive decline and design interventions to mitigate cognitive and functional decline.

Jingwei Xie, Ph.D., assistant professor, UNMC Department of Surgery

About half of battlefield deaths in modern warfare are secondary to uncontrolled hemorrhage, which typically involves the torso and/or limb junctional zones. Dr. Xie's research, "Injectable and Expandable Nanofiber-based Foams for Management of Noncompressible Torso Hemorrhage," addresses the challenge in management of non-compressible torso and/or junctional hemorrhage. The goal is to develop the technology to generate injectable and expandable nanofiber-based foams incorporated with human clotting factors. It is expected that this foam will be efficacious in the management of noncompressible torso hemorrhage. The impact of such a device will be to improve the outcome from a potentially survivable noncompressible torso hemorrhage with severe blood loss in both civilian and military scenarios. The device will allow prehospital stabilization of this severe injury type, thus permitting a victim to arrive alive at a hospital surgical facility. 

Chi Zhang, M.D., assistant professor, UNMC Department of Radiation Oncology

Dr. Zhang's project, "Targeting Androgen Receptors (AR) to Treat Glioblastoma (GBM), a Translational Research Using Primary Human GBM Cell Cultures and Animal Models," addresses glioblastoma (GBM), which is the most common type of brain cancer, and is almost universally lethal with very few long-term survivors. The standard treatment for this cancer comprises surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, which usually takes more than half a year to complete. Dr. Zhang's research will examine the anti-tumor effects of enzalutamide on a syngeneic orthotopic brain implant GBM mice model with or without brain radiation therapy (RT) in vivo. The goal is to confirm AR expression and the drug effectiveness in GBM cancer cells isolated directly from the patients and in a GBM tumor mice model. If enzalutamide effects can be confirmed in the study, the knowledge already known about using the drug in prostate cancer can help to accelerate developing a new treatment for GBM by directly going for a clinical trial on GBM patients.

Debra Hope, PhD, professor, UNL Department of Psychology

There is increasing recognition by society that some individuals do not fit easily into a male/female binary gender that was assigned at birth, known as being transgender or gender non-conforming (trans for short). Dr. Hope’s study, From Community to Clinical Trials: Translating Tools and Expanding Partnerships in Preparation for Clinical Trials to Reduce Mental Health Disparities in Underserved Transgender Communities, will examine the mental health practices in the community, from the trans community and provider perspectives, and using that to inform principles of care. The first aim is to add two additional sites at University of South Dakota and University of Alabama and validate the principles of care at those sites. The second aim is to conduct a psychometric evaluation of our assessment tool. Both of these aims are crucial steps to a clinical trial to evaluate the model of trans-affirmative psychological services guided by the principles of care. This highly innovative proposal uses a community-based participatory research model and both quantitative and qualitative methods. The research is conducted under the umbrella of Trans Collaborations, the research collaborative founded by Richard Mocarski, Ph.D. at UNK and Nathan Woodruff, chair of our community advisory board.

Jung Yul Lim, PhD, associate professor, UNL College of Engineering

Dr. Lim’s work, Peripheral Nerve Regeneration with Novel Graphene Nerve Guidance Conduit, focuses on peripheral nerve injury that accompanies reductions in motor function and sensory perception, and may result in severe neuropathies. This research will examine the effect of graphene substrate culture on the growth and differentiation of Schwann cells that induce axonal regrowth and myelination in the injured peripheral nerves. The ultimate goal of this study is to develop nerve guidance conduits (NGCs) with graphene materials that have superior peripheral nerve regeneration capability matched with that of autograft nerves. This project will be conducted in collaboration with Dr. Alexander Sinitskii (associate professor, Dept. of Chemistry, UNL) who is an expert in graphene nanomaterials.

Mahesh Pattabiraman, PhD, associate professor, UNK Department of Chemistry

Dr. Pattabiraman’s project, Incarvillateine analogs as non-opioid alternative for geriatric pain management, addresses the issue of opioids which are especially known for their side-effects such as dependency, abdominal discomfort, neurological dysfunction, and drug-tolerance in patients. These side-effects affect the elderly patients more severely than it does general patients, which has necessitated research for effective alternative pain treatment strategies with minimal adverse actions. Incarvillateine (INCA), derived from the Chinese herb Incarvillea sinensis, has been widely used in traditional medicine for treating rheumatism and pain. Dr. Pattabiraman hypothesizes that INCA analogs will exhibit unique binding to opioid and adenosine receptors, and that compounds favoring the adenosine receptors should present the best analgesic efficacy with minimal side effects. The broad goal of this project is to provide a targeted low-cost approach towards synthesis of novel antinociceptives with potent action, high efficacy, and minimal aftereffects.

Lisa McFadden, PhD, assistant professor, USD Basic Biomedical sciences

Dirty Little Secrets: Wastewater Epidemiology Use to Determine Community Drug Use, investigates the use of wastewater epidemiology to understand community factors that promote resilience and susceptibility to drug addiction. This study will assess the feasibility of using wastewater epidemiology to assess drug use in various communities across the United States. The results from this research will then be compared with community characteristics that may be associated with drug use or resilience to help better understand drug addiction at a community level. Outcomes will provide critical data for public policy advisors to more efficiently determine those communities in need of assistance for treating drug addiction.

Scott Pattison, PhD, assistant professor, USD Basic Biomedical Sciences

Dr. Pattison’s work, CMA-targeting peptide technology: a novel strategy to selectively clear a cardiac disease-causing mutant protein, addresses the need to fill a critical clinical gap for a new generation of therapeutic peptide drugs to deliver precision medicine to patients. Many diseases are caused by mutant and abnormally expressed proteins, including many types of heart failure. Dr. Pattison’s research looks at how most current drugs treat symptoms of disease rather than remove the disease causing protein itself. This study will test the ability of this technology to specifically remove a mutant protein that causes heart failure. Our rationale is that if we can eliminate the disease-causing protein before it accumulates, it can prevent or reduce disease pathology. In theory, this method can be applied broadly to a host of diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancers, and infectious diseases.

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