Research News & Grants
compiled by Carole Walker and April P. Coage-Davis
Protecting Future Space Travelers
An NJMS team, led by Edouard Azzam, PhD, associate professor of radiology, has been awarded a four year, $1.25 million grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help the agency understand and find ways to protect future space travelers from harmful radiation. The team includes Andrew Harris, PhD, and Debkumar Pain, PhD, in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology, and Roger Howell, PhD, and Sonia de Toledo, PhD, in the Division of Radiation Research.
Their project, titled “The Role of Gap-Junction Communication and Oxidative Metabolism in the Biological Effects of Space Radiation,” will investigate biological effects in cell populations exposed to low or moderate influences of protons and energetic heavy ions. They will study the mechanisms implicated in transmission of stress responses from irradiated to neighboring non-irradiated cells. Such mechanistic studies are a priority in the NASA road map for evaluating the risk of human exploration of deep space, in particular as extended manned missions to the moon and Mars are planned.
Laboratory and human epidemiological studies have shown that high doses of ionizing radiation
engender significant health risks. The mechanisms underlying these effects are well elucidated. In contrast, the biological effects and health risks of low dose radiation remain ambiguous and are the subject of
Specifically, the team will study how two fundamental and interrelated biological processes, namely gap-junction intercellular communication and oxidative metabolism, modulate biological responses to space radiation. The molecular signaling mediated by gap-junctions is crucial for normal development, physiology and response to disease. Homeostatic control of oxidative metabolism is critical to most cellular functions.
They hope to gain knowledge of the role of gap-junction channel permeability in modulating responses between irradiated cells and between irradiated and neighboring bystander cells; the nature of signaling molecules propagated between cells; and the role of disruption of mitochondrial physiology, which is a main regulator of oxidative metabolism.
The team, together with Cheongeun Oh, PhD, in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, have also been awarded a $740,000 support grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to pursue in vivo research on the role of genetic susceptibility in the risk of exposure to low dose g-rays. In addition to revealing signaling pathways, the outcome of their proposed experiments may provide insight into the induction of cancer and degenerative diseases by ionizing radiation, which may contribute to remediation strategies, and is also relevant to radiotherapy.
Gender Differences in Response to Injury and Sepsis
Researchers in the Department of Surgery at NJMS have been awarded a five-year, $8.1 million grant from the NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences to investigate gender differences in response to injury and sepsis. The P50 grant is titled "Mesenteric Lymph Linking Gut and Distant Organ Injury." They will spend the next five years investigating the pathogenesis of multiple organ failure, and the most common cause of death in the intensive care unit.
The principal investigator, Edwin A. Deitch, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Surgery, is a nationally regarded surgeon, well-recognized in the fields of abdominal surgery, trauma and critical care as well as bloodless surgery. Project investigators include David H. Livingston, MD, chief, Division of Trauma, George W. Machiedo, MD, vice chair, Department of Surgery, Rena Feinman, PhD, Vicki L. Kaiser, PhD, DaZhong Xu, MD, PhD, and Carl J. Hauser, MD.
The grant’s unique aspects are its investigation of gender and sex hormones as
modulators of susceptibility and resistance to shock and trauma, and the role of the gut in initiating the catastrophic effects that lead to the development of multiple organ failure. Using an integrated, multidisciplinary approach with investigators from diverse fields pooling their expertise, the work is based on recent evidence that the response to injury and sepsis may differ between males and females, with females being more resistant to the adverse consequences of shock/trauma than males.
The first key strategy employed to accomplish the objectives was to develop an
experimental approach where key observations in diverse organs and cells can be made by multiple investigators on the same animal. By using common animal models across the Research Center grant’s five projects, and by performing cross-project studies on the same animals, it will be possible for the first time to generate a composite picture of key responses to trauma/hemorrhagic shock as well as evaluate the modulatory effects of gender and sex hormones.
The group’s second key strategy will be to use the results of their animal studies to direct the performance of focused mechanistic studies on red blood cell dysfunction,
neutrophil activation and bone marrow failure in trauma patients as well as to aid them in interpreting the results of these human studies. This strategy will be facilitated by the inclusion of a Human Clinical Core, which will allow optimal patient selection, sample collection, clinical data collection and the performance of translational studies based on concepts learned from their animal work.
Deitch notes that by gaining an understanding of the mechanisms by which shock/trauma leads to multiple organ failure, the role of sex hormones in modulating this response could lead to major health advances in this area.
Researching the Immune Response to Parasite Infection
William Gause, PhD, University Professor of Medicine and senior associate dean for research at NJMS, has recently been awarded a five-year federal grant to support his research. This study is funded by a $1.9 million grant for "GR-1 + Cell and the Response to Nematode Parasites" from the NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
According to Gause, the immune response that develops following helminthic parasite infection is quite similar to the response that mediates allergic reactions. Recent evidence suggests that components of the response to these infectious agents may also be important in controlling the development of certain inflammatory diseases.
"In this grant, we focus on the role of a specific group of innate cells in terms of their capability to drive the development of this important type of immune response,” he explains. “We will attempt to determine the molecular mechanisms through which these cells influence the early development of a population of T cells that ultimately mediate resistance to helminthic parasites.”
These fundamental studies should provide insights into the development of future immunotherapies for enhancing resistance against this important group of human pathogens. It may also lead to a better understanding of how helminth-induced immune response may control inflammatory diseases.
Another NIH funded study, “Cytokine Gene Expression In Vivo,” is supported by a $1.67 million, five-year grant from NIAID. In this project, the inflammatory immune response that develops around tissue dwelling parasites is being investigated using immunofluorescence microscopy and laser capture micro-dissection. The team has characterized the cell populations and cytokines at the host parasite interface. They are currently examining which molecules recruit specific immune cell populations to this micro-environment and whether specific cell lineages mediate resistance. Their studies have recently identified a macrophage population that’s important in mediating worm expulsion. The results were published recently in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine. They are currently further characterizing the biochemical pathways utilized by this cell population to mediate host protection.
Gause is also involved with two other funded collaborations. He is working with David Bleich, MD, NJMS associate professor of medicine, in examining parasite-induced control of inflammation contributing to Type 1 diabetes; and with Padmini Salgame, PhD, NJMS professor of medicine, and microbiology and molecular genetics, in examining the role of helminths in modulating pathogenesis during tuberculosis.
Supporting Colorectal Cancer Outcomes Through Participatory Enhancements
Benjamin F. Crabtree, PhD, MA, professor of family medicine, and research director, Department of Family Medicine at RWJMS, received a five-year, $2,997,356 grant from the NIH/National Cancer Institute for "Enhancing Colorectal Cancer Screening through Learning Teams," referred to as the SCOPE project. New Jersey is among the states with below average rates of reported colorectal cancer (CRC) screening. Evidence indicates that screening can prevent cancer and early detection can significantly ease the impact of CRC. While primary care practices are uniquely situated to deliver this early detection, this potential has not been met.
Crabtree’s quality improvement study is being conducted in 27 New Jersey primary care practices randomly distributed to intervention and control groups (the control groups receive a delayed intervention). Participating practices are part of the New Jersey Family Medicine Research Network supported by The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ).
The project involves an assessment of each practice followed by a collaborative
intervention with a learning team that includes clinicians and staff from the practice, all guided by a SCOPE facilitator. In addition, two to three members of each practice
participate in two group learning sessions with five other practices. The assessment is carried out and utilized as a starting point for the learning team. They interact for six months or more through cycles of reflection and action in order to achieve measurable improvements in patient care systems and health outcomes.
“The learning sessions provide opportunities to share experiences and knowledge with peers from other practices and to hear how others are adapting to a rapidly changing health care environment, including approaches for successfully delivering cancer screening within the context of a busy practice,” says Crabtree, who is also professor of epidemiology at UMDNJ-School of Public Health, and associate editor for the Annals of Family Medicine.
The learning sessions are being held at CINJ in collaboration with the American Cancer Society. Baseline and follow-up practice performance for cancer screening and counseling using medical record reviews and patient surveys test the effectiveness of the intervention.
UMDNJ faculty members involved in the study include Crabtree, principal
investigator; Eric Shaw, PhD, assistant professor and project director; Regina S. Cunningham, PhD, RN, assistant professor and chief nursing officer at CINJ; Shawna Hudson, PhD, assistant professor; Pamela Ohman-Strickland, PhD, assistant professor; Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, chief of academic medicine, geriatrics and community programs at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School; Craig Rezac, MD, assistant professor; Bijal Balasubramanian, MBBS, MPH, assistant professor; and Alfred Tallia, MD, MPH, associate professor and chair of family medicine.
Linking Primary Care to Psychiatric & Medical Specialties
Javier I. Escobar, MD, professor and chair of psychiatry, and Michael Gara, MD, professor of psychiatry at RWJMS, received a $2,911,462 center grant from the NIH/ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for a "Developing Center for Intervention and Services Research."
Led by Escobar, principal investigator, and Gara, co-principal investigator, setting up the center required tightening the loose, informal infrastructure that linked psychiatric and medical specialties with primary care in the school's system, including the Departments of Psychiatry, Medicine and Family Medicine at RWJMS and UBHC.
The main site for the clinical studies is the Eric B. Chandler Health Center, an RWJMS facility serving the New Brunswick community. The federally qualified center offers comprehensive services to the city’s underserved, ethnically diverse, and low income urban population.
“Worldwide, people with common mental disorders such as anxiety/depression seek help first from primary care providers, yet the physical symptoms they present remain medically unexplained,” says Escobar. “The key mission of this developing center is to forge research collaborations, devise strategies and design projects to improve the understanding and management of these patients.”
The Center will evaluate cost-effective, practical therapeutic interventions within
primary care settings to manage medically unexplained physical symptoms, and associated depression and anxiety syndromes. This will lead to the formulation of a cost-effective step-up model that comprises a number of interventions, pharmacological and non-pharmacological.
Co-investigators include Eric Jahn, MD, assistant professor of medicine and medical director at Chandler; Lesley Allen, PhD, Paulette Hines, PhD, Paul Lehrer, PhD, Shula Minsky, PhD, William Vega, PhD, Betty Vreeland, MSN, Robert Woolfolk, PhD, and Douglas Ziedonis, PhD, from the Department of Psychiatry at RWJMS.
In related work, Escobar has led a mentoring program for the past several years called “Critical Research Issues in Latino Mental Health.” Funded also with a $354,800 grant from the NIMH, the program has encouraged new investigators to conduct research on minority mental health issues. The program has been adopted nationally as a model for developing similar programs. In addition, he has been the primary mentor to several young investigators who have successfully applied for NIH grants at RWJMS and other institutions.
Defining the Elements Required for Efficient Selenoprotein Synthesis
Paul Copeland, PhD, assistant professor of molecular genetics, microbiology, and immunology at RWJMS, received a four-year, $1,066,726 grant from the NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences for "Functional Analysis of SBP2 and Selenocysteine Incorporation."
Dietary selenium is incorporated into at least 25 human “selenoproteins” as the 21st amino acid, selenocysteine. While this represents only a small subset of the total number of proteins in the cell, this particular group is essential as they provide protection against oxidative stress. The expression of these proteins is the basis for the requirement for dietary selenium, and most health-related benefits associated with selenium. Most, if not all health-related benefits associated with selenium, such as a reduced incidence of cancer, heart disease and asthma, can be attributed to the function of selenoproteins. Selenocysteine incorporation in an elongating polypeptide represents a modification of the standard protein synthetic machinery in that it requires a reinterpretation of the genetic code. The protein and RNA factors that are required for selenocysteine incorporation act in concert to alter the coding potential of specific UGA codons, which normally terminate protein synthesis, by specifying the insertion of selenocysteine.
The focus of this proposal is on the mechanistic aspects of selenocysteine
incorporation, the ultimate goal of which is to clearly define the elements that are required for efficient selenoprotein synthesis and thereby maximize the beneficial
properties of this class of proteins. Specifically, we are analyzing the role of a novel RNA binding protein, termed SBP2, in mediating the “re-coding” of UGA to specify
selenocysteine. This work is also supported by a second grant from the NIH which is focused on identifying the role of specific ribosome substructures in this process. Together these studies are designed to provide the foundation for the development of small molecules that could be used to enhance selenoprotein expression in an effort to reduce oxidative stress induced diseases.
Promoting Attentiveness and Learning in Schizophrenia
Steven M. Silverstein, PhD, director of the Division of Schizophrenia Research at UBHC, and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at RWJMS, received a five-year, $2,277,937 grant from the NIH/National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for an "Effectiveness Trial of Attention Shaping for Schizophrenia." Although effective treatments exist to teach people with schizophrenia important life skills that have been lost due to chronic illness, many with this condition have such severe difficulties with paying attention and remembering that they are not able to engage in and learn new skills within these treatments. Therefore, developing methods to promote attentiveness and learning during skills training is an important step in improving treatment outcomes, coping skills, and success outside of the hospital.
"Prior case reports, one controlled study and data from our recently completed NIMH grant indicate that attention shaping procedures (ASP) are highly effective methods to achieve these goals,” says Silverstein, explaining that ASP is a manualized, behavioral intervention that involves individualized goal setting, standardized observational rating, and intensive prompting and reinforcement procedures to assist patients in increasing the duration and quality of their attentiveness in psychosocial interventions such as skills training.
To date, studies of ASP have been limited in their outcome evaluations to
in-group attentiveness and learning of group material. Other cognitive outcomes, effects on behavior outside of treatment settings, and durability of gains have not been studied. The new grant is a controlled effectiveness study of ASP that
comprehensively assesses attentiveness and learning in groups, the extent to which skills taught in groups are demonstrated outside of the treatment setting, and
maintenance of the gains over a six-month period.
In addition, Silverstein and his team are attempting to better understand how ASP works by obtaining information from study participants about changes in
self-esteem, subjective sense of mastery regarding the new skills, satisfaction with treatment and perceived working alliance with group leaders during the study.
The long-term objective of this project is to demonstrate that ASP can narrow the gap between the existence of effective, evidence-based psychosocial interventions (such as skills training) and patients who, at present, cannot benefit from them due to attentional difficulties.
Ana Natale-Pereira, MD, MPH, assistant professor, Academic Medicine, Geriatrics & Community Programs, received a $2.8 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for “Assessing Disparities in Cancer Care for Latino Medicare Beneficiaries.”
Cynthia Paige, MD, assistant professor, Family Medicine, received certification to practice acupuncture in the State of New Jersey. Paige is a family practitioner in the New Jersey Family Practice Center.
“A Follow Up Study of Older Adults with Traumatic Brain Injury: Taking Into Account Decreasing Length of Stay,” by Mitchell Rosenthal, PhD, professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vol. 87, 2006.
“A Trial of Neuropsychology Rehabilitation in Mild Spectrum Traumatic Brain Injury,” by Lana Tiersky, PhD, assistant professor, Mark Johnston, PhD, professor, and John DeLuca, PhD, professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vol. 86.
“Cortical and Subcortical Diseases: Do True Neuropsychological Differences Exist?” by Juan Carlos Arango-Lasprilla, MD, adjunct assistant professor, Jean Lengenfelder, PhD, assistant
professor, and John DeLuca, PhD, professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, in Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology,
Vol. 21, 2006.
David Lipani, DMD, clinical assistant professor, Restorative Dentistry, was inducted as president of the Center Dental Society of NJDA.
“Analysis of Changes in Implant Screws Subject to Occlusal Loading,” by Hoda Yousef, DMD, MS, associate professor, Restorative Dentistry, in Implant Dentistry 2005: 14:378-85; and “The Effect of Gingival Retraction Procedures on Periodontal Indices & Crevicular Fluid Cytokine Levels: A Pilot Study,” in Journal of Prosthodontics, Implant, Esthetic and Reconstructive Dentistry 2006: 15:1-5.
“Pulling Teeth into the Genomics Era” by Scott Diehl, PhD, professor, Oral Biology, and director, Center for Pharmacogenomics and Complex Disease, in The Journal of the American Dental Association, June 2006: 137(6):710-716.
Audrey Gotsch, DrPH, dean; Mitchel Rosen, MS, instructor, HEBS; Barbara Read, PhD, received $2,178,055 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for year two of a five-year grant for “Worker Health and Safety Training Cooperative Agreement.” The project will run until July 2010 for a grand total of $11,064,743.
George DiFerdinando, Jr., MD, MPH, was named a member of the Performance Improvement Task Force of the Quality Institute of the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA), established by the NJHA Board of Trustees in 2001.
“Chronic Conditions and the Decline in Late-Life Disability” by Vicki Freedman, PhD, professor, Health Systems and Policy, R. F. Schoeni, L.G. Martin and J.C. Cornman, University of Michigan Population Research Center, in TRENDS Working Paper, No. 06-5, July 2006.
Albert J. Heuer, PhD, associate professor, Respiratory Care, received a mini-grant award for the 2006-2007 cycles for “Computer-based Mechanical Ventilation Simulation and Interactive Learning Module,” which was supported by the Integrated Advanced Information Management Systems (IAIMS) Project and the Foundation of UMDNJ.
“Commentary: Dietetics Education Opinions, Facts, and Strategies” by Julie O’Sullivan Maillet, PhD, associate dean, professor and chair, Primary Care, in Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 21:3/2006
“Physical Assessment Skills for Dietetics Practice: The Past, the Present, and Recommendations for the Future” by Riva Touger-Decker, PhD, RD, professor and program director, Clinical Nutrition, in Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 21:3/2006.
The School of Nursing has been awarded two federal grants by the Department of Health and Human Services (HRSA) totaling $1,776,354 to be paid over three years. They are: $815,702 to support the growth of a new Accelerated Second-Degree BSN/MSN program, and $951,649 for a new Doctor of Nursing Practice program that offers an alternative to the research-focused Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree.
Mary Kamienski, PhD, RN, assistant professor and director, Continuing Education, received the 2006 Research Award from the Emergency Nurses Association at the ENA annual meeting, San Antonio, Texas.
Gloria McNeal, PhD, APRN, associate professor and assistant dean, was selected for a Fellowship in the American Academy of Nursing — the highest honor bestowed by the discipline of nursing to nationally recognized nurse leaders. McNeal also received the Johnella Banks Award for Member Achievement from the Association of Black Nursing Faculty and the Minority Nurse Leadership Institute Award from Rutgers University College of Nursing.
“Care of the Gastrostomy Tube in the Home” by Debora Tracey, RN, BSN, and G. Elaine Patterson, EdD, RNC, associate professor, in Home Healthcare Nurse, 24(6) June 6, 2006.
“The Association of Ward Atmosphere with Burnout and Attitudes of Treatment Team Members in a State Psychiatric Hospital” by Barbara Caldwell, PhD, APRN, associate professor, in American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 9:111-129.
Kyla Driscoll Carroll, PhD student/Newark, and Jenel Nixon, PhD student/Piscataway, are recipients of a 2006 Executive Women of New Jersey Graduate Merit Award for women pursuing graduate education to further their careers.
ME Klein-Patel, an MD/PhD graduate, was the lead author on “Inhibition of ß-defensin Gene Expression in Airway Epithelial Cells by Low Doses of Residual Oil Fly Ash is Mediated by Vanadium,” now on press in Toxicological Sciences.
David Libon, PhD, NJISA, T. Giovannetti, PhD, and C. Price, PhD, were awarded a three-year, $194,620 grant from the Alzheimer’s Association for “The Effect of Leukoaraiosis in Alzheimer’s Disease”
Thomas Cavalieri, DO, interim dean, was named “Physician of the Year” by the New Jersey Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons.
Carmen A. Ciervo, DO, associate professor, Family Medicine, was named “Top Doc” in the September 2006 issue of South Jersey Magazine.
“Cognitive behavior therapy and Clozapine synergy in an older adult with schizophrenia” by Narisimha Pinninti, MD, NJISA, and C. Datto, in American Journal of Geriatrics, Vol. 14, August 2006.
Siobhan Corbett, MD, ’87, associate professor, Surgery, was awarded a four-year $1,342,711 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for “The Regulation of Fibronectin Matrix Assembly in Wound Healing.”
Thomas Hegyi, MD, professor, Pediatrics, played an integral role in the establishment of a new law in New Jersey that requires the identification and follow-up of infants with severe
hyperbilirubinemia for neurologic and developmental
The Child Health Institute of New Jersey received a 2006 New Good Neighbor Award from the New Jersey Business and Industry Association on June 2. Nominees were selected based on economic benefit, job creation, architectural merit and community involvement.
Gloria Bachmann, MD, professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, and associate dean, Women’s Health, has been invited to join the editorial advisory board of Menopause Management.
“Aggression at Age Five as a Function of Prenatal Exposure to Cocaine, Gender and Environmental Risk” by Margaret Bendersky, PhD, professor, and David Bennett, PhD, assistant professor, Pediatrics, and Michael Lewis, PhD, University Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics & Psychiatry, in Journal of Pediatric Psychology, a special issue on prenatal drug exposure, Vol. 31, No. 1.