Life Sciences Moment Fund awards announced

UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science seeding interdisciplinary, intercampus research

August 14, 2012

The UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science (UMCCTS) has awarded UMass Life Sciences Moment Fund grants to four teams of investigators from UMass Medical School and other UMass campuses. The fund supports inter-campus life sciences projects related to clinical and translational research.

The awards are intended to facilitate the development of faculty-to-faculty networks within the UMass system in order to leverage the considerable expertise and resources that exist on individual campuses. Current and future projects supported by the fund are intended to develop into larger initiatives that attract substantial funding from extramural sources such as the federal government, the state, industry and foundations.

In addition to the team awards, the UMCCTS announced that a special award funded by the University of Massachusetts President's Office 2012 Science & Technology Initiatives Fund was made to Anne Comeau, PhD, associate professor for pediatrics and deputy director of the UMMS New England Newborn Screening Program. Dr. Comeau’s project is “A retrospective study with prospective potential: evaluating specimens of children diagnosed with conditions that may be identifiable in the newborn period by molecular testing for measures of T and B cell development.” The study will provide novel information that will help refine the implementation of newborn screening for severe forms of immunodeficiency and immune dysfunction, and will also shed light on the natural history of these disorders.

These grants represent just some of the numerous funding opportunities provided by the UMCCTS, including the recently announced Clinical Research Scholar and Pilot Project Program Awards.

2012 Life Sciences Moment Fund projects and teams are:

Residential environment and coronary heart disease risk factors (REACH) pilot study

Principal Investigator Wenjun Li, PhD, associate professor of medicine; co-PI Scott Crouter, PhD, assistant professor of exercise and health sciences (UMass Boston); co-investigators Judith Ockene, PhD, the Barbara Helen Smith Chair in Preventive & Behavioral Medicine and professor of medicine; Patricia Franklin, MD, professor of orthopedics & physical rehabilitation; Barbara C. Olendzki, RD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine; and Rashelle Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of medicine

Adequate levels of physical activity and a healthy diet are critical to the maintenance of good health and independent living among older women, but older Americans have become increasingly sedentary and have a poor diet. Addressing critical gaps exist in knowledge of the role played by neighborhood social and built environments in health, the Residential Environment and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) Risk Factors (REACH) Study will investigate the impact of the residential environment on racial and urban-rural disparities in CHD risk factors with a focus on physical activity and diet in a cohort of 1,500 geographically and socioeconomically diverse, community-dwelling women aged 65 years and older.

microRNA control of muscle atrophy and death

Principal Investigator Lawrence M. Schwartz, PhD, the Eugene M. and Ronnie Isenberg Professor of Integrated Science (UMass Amherst); co-investigators Priscilla Clarkson, PhD, professor of exercise science (UMass Amherst); William Theurkauf, PhD, professor of molecular medicine; and Zhiping Weng, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology

Sarcopenia is the age-dependent atrophy and death of skeletal muscle fibers which is one of the major causes of postural instability, frailty, and reduced quality of life in the elderly. Following the lead of several studies which have implicated microRNA as mediators of muscle development and pathogenesis, investigators will identify and analyze the miRNAs that mediate skeletal muscle atrophy and death in the hawk moth intersegmental muscle model, and then extend this analysis with a goal of developing new diagnostic tests and potential therapeutic targets to improve muscle health and function.

Effects of soy protein and isoflavone supplementation for improved glucose metabolism and lipid profiles in pregnant women at high risk for gestational diabetes mellitus

Principal Investigator Ling Shi, PhD, assistant professor of nursing and health sciences (UMass Boston); co-investigators Laura Hayman, PhD, professor of nursing (UMass Boston) and Tiffany Moore Simas, MD, associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology and pediatrics

Associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes and increased risk of subsequent type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) for mothers, gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) also puts their children at increased risk of developing obesity and T2DM. With evidence suggesting that soy protein and isoflavones have beneficial effects for both mothers and children during and after pregnancy, the pilot study will assess the role of maternal supplementation of soy protein and isoflavones for prevention of GDM and/or minimization of GDM severity in mothers, and for downstream health indicator optimization in their offspring merits investigation in 40 pregnant women at high risk for GDM.

Gene expression signatures defining high risk premalignant breast lesions

Principal Investigator Karl Simin, PhD, assistant professor of cancer biology; co-investigators Joseph Jerry, PhD, professor of veterinary and animal science (UMass Amherst); Philimon Gona, PhD, associate professor of quantitative health sciences; and Ashraf Khan, MD, professor of pathology

Premalignant breast lesions, or atypical hyperplasia (AH), represent a significant dilemma for patients and clinicians because biomarkers to distinguish the minority of patients whose breast AH put them at risk of malignant breast cancer are presently unavailable.Using a retrospective cohort for whom disease outcomes are known, this study will generate genome-wide gene expression profiles to identify subtypes of AH and to define a multigene classifier to predict which AH patients are most likely to progress to malignancy and are, therefore, most likely to benefit from prophylactic treatment.