news, awards, grants and other UMDNJ happenings in brief
A Breakthrough TB Test
David Alland, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at NJMS, is the driving force behind a new, rapid tuberculosis test that scientists are calling a major advance in TB diagnostics. The test, which uses DNA technology to diagnose tuberculosis in less than two hours, will be widely distributed to countries around the world. WHO says the test “represents new hope for the millions of people who are at the highest risk of TB and drug-resistant disease.”
The testing technology that it replaces, which is 125 years old, is far less reliable and requires three months to produce a diagnosis. The quicker and more accurate diagnoses produced by Alland’s test will allow healthcare providers to begin tuberculosis treatment far sooner, sharply reducing the risk that infected individuals will spread the disease to others. It also will lead to more effective treatment of individual patients by telling clinicians whether disease-causing bacteria are drug-resistant.
Alland began work on the screening test, which is called Xpert MTB/RIF (Mycobacterium tuberculosis/resistance to rifampin), more than a decade ago. The test took four years to develop, followed by the process of attracting funding to refine and manufacture it and then conducting the clinical trials that established its effectiveness. Financial support has come from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Alland’s collaborators have been Cepheid, Inc., a California-based diagnostics company and FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, a Swiss-based nonprofit group supported by the Gates Foundation. The study confirming the efficacy of the new test was published by Alland and colleagues in The New England Journal of Medicine in September.
A Giant Step in Lyme Disease Battle
Steven E. Schutzer, MD, professor of medicine at NJMS, and Claire M. Fraser-Liggett, PhD, director of the Institute for Genome Sciences and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, published research in the October 2010 issue of the Journal of Bacteriology, marking a giant step forward in the battle against Lyme disease. The team determined the complete genetic structure of 13 strains of the spirochete—including those that are common in Lyme disease seen in North America.
“A driving force for doing this project was the observation that certain forms of the bacteria can be more invasive than others. We wanted to find out why, and how to identify this properly,” explains Schutzer.
Current screening methods miss some early Lyme cases and can not determine which ones will become chronic and which will resolve immediately. “For years, scientists have known about the existence of multiple Lyme bacterial strains but have been unable to delineate which symptoms each caused,” explains Schutzer. With this precise genetic information and that of other bacteria, tests that are more targeted to specific Lyme disease strains can be developed.
Their work may help the development of a vaccine. Although the spirochete was identified 27 years ago as the Lyme culprit, there is no effective vaccine for humans on the market.
Just four months earlier, Schutzer and collaborators at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory hit the headlines with research identifying 2,630 proteins residing in “normal” cerebrospinal fluid ( CSF) — the “most comprehensive characterization of true normal CSF to date,” according to the team. The number of proteins the team identified is almost three times more than previously known; and 56 percent of the proteins are unique to spinal fluid — and not found in blood.
According to the article, which was published in June by PLoS ONE, an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication, “Knowledge of the entire protein content, the proteome, of normal human cerebrospinal fluid …establishes a comparative standard and basis for investigations into a variety of diseases with neurological and psychiatric features.”
$3.7 Million NIH Award for INSPIRE
RWJMS has received $3.7 million from the NIH for a new program that provides research training to postdoctoral fellows and prepares them to become faculty whose careers will combine education and research. RWJMS is one of only 18 universities in the U.S. to receive an Institutional Research and Career Development Award (IRACDA) from the NIH to support the new program, called INSPIRE (IRACDA New Jersey/New York for Science Partnerships in Research & Education), which will provide advanced training opportunities for researchers who also plan to be undergraduate science educators.
“The INSPIRE program is designed to train the next generation of science faculty to become successful researchers and educators, while increasing participation of underrepresented groups in biomedical research,” says Michael J. Leibowitz, MD, PhD, professor of molecular genetics, microbiology and immunology, principal investigator for the INSPIRE program and director of Graduate Academic Diversity at the medical school. He currently serves as program director of the NIH-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity and Bridge to the Doctorate awards and has assembled a talented team of scientist-educators at RWJMS and the three partner schools to implement and administer the program. These include co-director Martha Soto, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, who directs the Postdoctoral Career Development Program at the medical school. Soto is the founder and faculty advisor for the Biosciences Links to Teaching (BIO Links) K-12 Outreach Program, which pairs graduate students from GSBS at RWJMS and Rutgers, as well as postdoctoral fellows from the medical school, with local middle school and high school science teachers.
INSPIRE is a partnership between RWJMS and three local minority-serving institutions that predominantly train undergraduate students: New Jersey City University, Medgar Evers College-City University of New York (CUNY), and Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus.
Partners Fight TB Worldwide
The Global Tuberculosis Institute at NJMS is part of a consortium of organizations that will share a five-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to battle tuberculosis in 22 "high-burden" countries around the world. The “TB CARE II” project has a ceiling of up to $225 million and the 16 participating organizations will be led by University Research Co., LLC, of Bethesda, MD.
The Global Tuberculosis Institute will provide technical assistance to the TB CARE II project in a number of areas, including diagnosis and treatment of multiple drug resistant tuberculosis, the devastating synergies of TB and HIV, and the development and delivery of training and education programs. TB CARE II seeks to build sustainable local programs that provide high-quality and accessible TB services for all who need them in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Currently, the 22 targeted countries account for 80 percent of the global TB burden.
“Even though TB is both treatable and preventable, nearly two million people die from TB-related illness each year, and TB is the world’s leading cause of death among people infected with HIV,” says Lee B. Reichman, MD, executive director of the Global Tuberculosis Institute. “Through TB CARE II, we’ll be helping to battle TB on the front lines.”
Other organizations joining the NJMS Global Tuberculosis Institute in the TB CARE II consortium include Partners in Health (Harvard University), Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Project HOPE, the Canadian Lung Association and Dartmouth Medical School.
Scholarships Reward Public Service
SPH has established a special scholarship to honor men and women who have served our nation in programs such as AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, Teach for America and the uniformed services, including the U.S. Public Health Service. People in these categories who are accepted for master’s or doctoral programs in any of eight concentrations at the school will be awarded scholarships of $6,000 to help defray the cost of tuition and fees.
“We are pleased to be able to offer these scholarships to individuals who have demonstrated their commitment to public service,” states Interim Dean and Professor George G. Rhoads, MD, MPH. “Their service experience will add to the school’s consciousness concerning improvement of the public’s health.”
Students in the following concentrations are eligible for these scholarships: Dental Public Health, Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Quantitative Methods (biostatistics and epidemiology combined), Urban Health Administration, Environmental and Occupational Health, Health Education and Behavioral Science, and Health Systems and Policy.
For more information, call one of these campus offices: 973-972-7212 in Newark; 732-235-4646 in Piscataway; or 856-566-2790 in Stratford.
NIH Grant for Telomere Study
Utz Herbig, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics from the NJMS-UH Cancer Center, was recently awarded a $1.618 million NIH grant for his study titled “Tumor Suppression by Telomere Dysfunction Induced Senescence.”
Formation of aggressive forms of cancer is a multi-step process that usually proceeds over decades. Cancer arises when a single cell within the human body acquires one or more mutations in its DNA allowing it to grow and duplicate in an altered and accelerated manner. The vast majority of these abnormal growing cells will suddenly cease growth after dividing a number of times, giving rise to small tumors that do not invade and grow into the neighboring tissue. At this non-invasive stage, the tumor is said to be benign.
Some scientists believe that as we get older, we accumulate many of these small and benign tumors within our bodies. These abnormal growths usually remain inactive for many years and often go unnoticed due to their small size. Occasionally, however, cells escape this growth arrest and continue to multiply, which can give rise to malignant and metastatic tumors.
His team’s preliminary studies on several benign human tumors indicate that a primary reason for tumor cell growth arrest is malfunction of telomeres, the physical tips of chromosomes. It’s not known how widespread this phenomenon is, why telomeres malfunction, or what impact this growth arrest has on preventing tumor progression in humans. This grant will allow the researchers to conduct studies to answer these critical questions. The significance of these studies is twofold: first, proposed studies will lead to a better understanding of tumor progression, which is essential for the development of anti-cancer therapies to stop the advancement of malignant and metastatic cancers. Second, the proposed studies will reveal a novel
biomarker for tumor stage, which will facilitate decision-making regarding individual cancer treatment.
Scholarships for Nursing Students
The Helene Fuld Health Trust has awarded a $600,000 grant to the Foundation of UMDNJ for SN. Half of the grant will fund scholarships for students enrolled in the School’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. The other half will be held as a permanent endowment fund, using annual income from the endowment to support scholarships in perpetuity.
“The primary mission of the Helene Fuld Trust is to support and promote the health, welfare and education of student nurses,” says Marianne Caskran, grants administrator of the Helene Fuld Health Trust, HSBC Bank USA, N.A. “This grant will help us to fulfill our mission as we support the outstanding baccalaureate program offered to future nurses at the UMDNJ-School of Nursing.”
Since 2004, UMDNJ has offered an accelerated, 15-month BSN degree for individuals who have already earned a bachelor’s or master's degree in another field from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. The accelerated program requires full-time study and is offered on UMDNJ’s Newark and Stratford campuses. Upon earning their BSNs, graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become registered nurses.
The Helene Fuld Health Trust is the nation’s largest private funder devoted exclusively to nursing students and nursing education. In 1935 Dr. Leonhard Felix Fuld and his sister, Florentine, created the foundation in honor of their mother, Helene.
Grants to Train Geriatrics Experts
The New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging (NJISA) at SOM has been awarded three federal grants that will send nearly $6 million to the school over the next five years to support training programs for health professionals who provide care for older Americans.
“Every day 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of 65, significantly adding to the number of older Americans, which is already among the fastest growing segments of our population,” says Anita Chopra, MD, director of the NJISA.
The three grants are from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Two cover a period of five years and the third is a one-year award. The grants are:
- Geriatric Training for Physicians, Dentists and Behavioral/Mental Health Professionals (5 years, $3.45 million) This grant will fund two-year fellowship training programs to prepare physicians, dentists and psychiatrists to become academic and clinical faculty in geriatrics.
- Geriatric Education Center (5 years, $2.1 million) The NJISA Geriatric Education Center will provide specialized training programs in delirium and mental health issues involving the elderly at two acute care hospitals and at regional training sessions throughout the state. The grant will also provide funds to develop training videos on mental health issues for national distribution along with the development of distance learning webinars for sites that partner with the NJISA.
- Equipment to Enhance Training for Health Professionals – Geriatric Education Centers (1 year, $300,000) This grant will allow the purchase of video-conferencing equipment to support distance learning opportunities for health care professionals in multiple disciplines.
HRSA is the primary federal agency responsible for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.
New Dean for NJMS
NJMS has a new dean — but one who is certainly familiar with the duties of his job.
Following a nationwide search, UMDNJ’s Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Robert L. Johnson, MD, FAAP, as the school’s eighth dean on March 15. Since September 2005, he has served as the Sharon and Joseph L. Muscarelle Endowed Dean (Interim) of NJMS.
Johnson, 64, an educator, clinician, researcher and administrator, graduated from the school in 1972. He returned to UMDNJ in 1976 and is the first alumnus to become dean. A recognized expert in adolescent and young adult medicine, Johnson has served on numerous boards, committees and task forces nationwide, statewide and locally.
NJMS is comprised of 22 basic science and clinical departments and 65
centers and institutes. It has 1,894 faculty members and 1,380 medical students, residents and fellows.
“In recent years, we have made tremendous strides towards advancing UMDNJ’s four mission areas: education, research, patient care and community service,” says Johnson. “We have successfully secured stimulus funding in the amount of $29.3 million. NIH funding has virtually doubled from $41.6 million in 2006 to $82.3 million in FY 2010. This has markedly strengthened our biomedical research program. In addition, we have established four new research core facilities as well as three new departments: Emergency Medicine, Otolaryngology, and Radiation Oncology.”
“Bob Johnson brings the credentials, experience, gravitas, and ideas to build on the school’s rich history and commitment. As much as this appointment honors Dr. Johnson, we too are enriched by his balance of institutional memory and distinguished service to this community and state,” says William F. Owen, Jr., MD, UMDNJ President.
Researchers Identify Vital Protein
An international team led by researchers at RWJMS has published findings that demonstrate how a specific protein controls the body’s ability to balance magnesium levels. Magnesium is an essential element for good health and is critical to more than 300 biochemical reactions that occur in the body.
“More than half of the U.S. population does not consume an adequate amount of magnesium in their diet,” said Alexey G. Ryazanov, PhD, one of the study’s authors, a professor of pharmacology and member of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey at RWJMS. “Magnesium deficiency may be associated with many medical disorders including hypertension, atherosclerosis, anxiety, asthma and a host of others.”
The team of researchers from the U.S., France and Poland demonstrated for the first time that a protein called TRPM7 plays a key role in the maintenance of magnesium homeostasis (balance within the body) and is essential for proliferation of embryonic stem cells.
“Our research not only provides important clues about magnesium homeostasis but is able to show that adding magnesium can restart mouse embryonic stem cells that have stopped replicating because of a malfunction of TRPM7,” Ryazanov explains. The study was supported by a Program Project Grant from the NIH, and the findings appear in an issue of Nature Communications.