Vol. 12 No. 10 - May, 2010

WFBR grants fund innovative research


Recipients of 2009 WFBR Annual Research grants and their projects
  • Claire Benard, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology and recipient of the 2009 Morton H. Sigel Award for the researcher with the highest-ranking grant proposal in the field of neurology, especially related to neurodegenerative disease research, “Maintenance of Neuronal Architecture”
  • Paul Clapham, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine and molecular genetics & microbiology, “HIV-1 envelope properties and determinants that confer transmission”
  • Kristina Deligiannidis, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry, “A Serological and Brain Spectroscopic Neurochemical Biosignature for the Prediction of Major and Minor Depressive Disorder in Postpartum Women”
  • Jeffrey Jensen, PhD, assistant professor of bioinformatics & integrative biology and molecular medicine, “The population genetics of adaptation”
  • Laura Lambert, MD, assistant professor of surgery, “Linking the cell cycle and DNA damage response: opportunities for improving cancer chemotherapy”
  • Andrew Leiter, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, “Origin of a Novel Lineage of Serotonin-expressing Enteroendocrine Cells”
  • Roger Luckmann, MD, MPH, associate professor of family medicine & community health, “Development of a Handheld Electronic Pain and Activity Diary for Patients with Chronic Pain”
  • Francesca Massi, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, “Regulation of Proinflammatory Cytokine mRNAs by the Tristetraprolin Family of Proteins”
  • Beth McCormick, PhD, professor of molecular genetics & microbiology, “Therapeutic Development of a Novel P-glycoprotein Inhibitor Isolated from Salmonella Enterica Servar Typhimurium”
  • Ann Moormann, PhD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics and quantitative health sciences, “Transcriptional and Genomic Profiles Associated with Clinical Outcomes for Endemic Burkitt Lymphoma”
  • Susanne Muehlschlegel, MD, assistant professor of neurology, anesthesiology and surgery, “Intravenous Dantrolene as a New Treatment for Cerebral Vasospasm After Subarachnoid Hemorrhage - Serum and Cerebrospinal Fluid Dose-Response Measurements”
  • Yong-Xu Wang, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine, “Genome-wide Screen for Brown Fat Cell Differentiation Regulators”
  • David Weaver, PhD, professor of neurobiology, “Identification of a Myelination Mutation”

The latest round of Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Science (WFBR) Annual Research Grants, awarded to 13 UMass Medical School investigators, is continuing the tradition of sowing seeds for innovative research across a broad array of disciplines.

WFBR Annual Research Grants allow recipients to produce preliminary data needed to secure grants from the National Institutes of Health. Among the projects funded this year with $35,000 in seed grants are those of Kristina Deligiannidis, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry; Jeffrey Jensen, PhD, assistant professor of bioinformatics & integrated biology and molecular medicine; and Laura Lambert, MD, assistant professor of surgery.

Dr. Deligiannidis’s lab will obtain pilot data to establish a neurochemical biosignature (or marker) to identify pregnant women at risk for developing post-partum depression (PPD), a disorder which afflicts one in eight new mothers, so that a potential screening test may be developed. To investigate emerging pre-clinical and clinical evidence suggesting that dysregulation of neuroactive steroids and interrelated neurochemical systems contribute to the development of PPD, her lab will analyze blood levels of neuroactive steroids during and post pregnancy.. In addition, they will measure women’s brain levels of specific neurochemicals that have been implicated in the development of PPD with magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a sophisticated neuroimaging technique. A School of Medicine and UMMS psychiatry residency graduate, Deligiannidis recently joined the faculty and is the medical director of the Depression Specialty Clinic at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Dr. Jensen, a population geneticist who recently joined UMMS, will expand his theoretical and computational studies characterizing adaptive evolution by developing statistical methodology to identify and describe recent beneficial mutations. The recent convergence of whole genome sequencing with the high-speed computing power needed to analyze such vast volumes of genomic data has enabled researchers to look across entire genomes rather than studying individual genes. Along with his collaborators, Jensen has used these statistics to describe mutations important in the domestication of silkworm (Science, 2009) and adaptive changes conferring cryptic coat color to wild mouse populations (Science, 2009), and to describe genes important in recent human evolution by utilizing the recently available Neandertal genome (Science, 2010). By funding the purchase of 24 high-speed computer processors, his grant will further facilitate analysis of the population genetics of adaptation, both for the development of new computational methodology and large-scale data analysis.

A cancer surgeon who sees the limitations of current chemotherapies all too often in her patients, Dr. Lambert is advancing studies of a therapy targeting abnormalities in the life cycle of cancer cells that allow them to reproduce uncontrollably. “By treating with roscovitine, a drug that inhibits cells from dividing, we can enhance the sensitivity of cancer cells, but not normal cells to conventional chemotherapy,” said Lambert, who is director of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancy Program at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “In addition to making cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy by targeting their abnormal cell cycle, we think roscovitine may also protect normal cells from chemotherapy damage,” she said.

One recent example proving the investment value of Annual Research Grants is the work of Ellen Gravallese, MD, professor of medicine. Data derived from her 2007 WFBR-funded study of the causes of bone loss in rheumatoid arthritis has since yielded a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.