Center for Clinical and Translational Science names 2012 scholar

Three pilot grants also awarded; funds support scientists pursuing clinical and translational research

By Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

August 07, 2012

The UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science has named David McManus, MD, assistant professor of medicine, the 2012 Clinical Research Scholar and has awarded three Pilot Project Program Awards to UMass Medical School faculty.

Clinical Research Scholar Program
David McManus, MD
David McManus, MD

Launched in 2008, the Clinical Research Scholar Program provides three to five years of financial support and training for new faculty investigators pursuing innovative, hypothesis-driven clinical and translational research.

Dr. McManus will research the mechanisms underlying atrial fibrillation (AF), an arrhythmia that affects more than three million Americans and is associated with increased risk of stroke, heart failure and death. Building upon his clinical experiences as a cardiac electrophysiologist and cardiovascular epidemiology fellow, he will focus on the identification of novel biomarkers for AF and determine key pathways regulating the disease, potentially leading to new prevention and treatment options.

“David’s work is of great importance, since the regulatory mechanisms underlying AF are poorly understood and our ability to identify individuals at risk for this arrhythmia and its complications remains limited,” said his sponsor and mentor, John Keaney, Jr., MD, professor of medicine and microbiology & physiological systems and division chief of cardiovascular medicine. “Dr. McManus has all the elements of a future independent investigator based on his collaborative nature, keen intellect and his drive to succeed.”

2012 Pilot Project Program Awards

The Center for Clinical and Translational Science also awarded three Pilot Project Program (PPP) Awards to UMMS faculty. The goal of the PPP is to speed up the rate of progress to move a research project, clinical finding, or other discovery into a broader network of activities, while maximizing the breadth of interdisciplinary skills applied to the research question.

Awarded projects receive up to $100,000 for one year and up to $150,000 for two years and feature a clinical scientist working with a basic scientist or proposals with an emphasis on community-based research.

Hua Fang, PhD, assistant professor of quantitative health sciences

Dr. Fang will develop an easy-to-use software tool for clinicians that will address the heterogeneity of treatment effect (HTE), a common barrier in translational research, especially in complex, multi-component interventions, such as Phase III. HTE refers to the fact that patients exposed to a common influence (such as randomization to a treatment) often experience very different outcomes. As a result, outcomes in a randomized controlled trial can differ greatly among patients within treated and control groups. Methods that can extract the full information implicit in HTE hold great promise for improving patient care. Fang has developed an innovative model for HTE that goes beyond standard approaches and has the potential to greatly improve clinical and translational studies when adapted to an easy-to-use software tool.

Brian Lewis, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States; it is estimated that approximately 37,000 people will die from this malignancy in 2012, with a median survival after diagnosis of only 6 months. Dr. Lewis will use the PPP award to leverage his research findings about the molecular mechanisms underlying pancreatic cancer for clinical application. Building upon his discovery that combined inhibition of certain signaling proteins sensitizes pancreatic cancer cells to apoptotic stimuli, Lewis will work with Venu G. Bathini, MD, assistant professor of medicine, to explore in preclinical vivo trials, the effect of inhibiting these novel proteins on pancreatic cancer tumors when coupled with standard chemotherapy.

Zuoshang Xu, MD, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and cell & developmental biology

A major challenge for potential gene therapy treatments for many neurodegenerative disorders involves finding an efficient vector for treating cells in broad areas of the central nervous system that are affected by the disease, including the cerebral cortex, brainstem and spinal cord. Using the PPP award, Dr. Xu will test the ability of a novel gene therapy vector containing a microRNA to broadly infuse the central nervous system. Xu will deliver the microRNA to animal models with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/ALS, a fatal neurological disorder also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, that attacks both upper and lower motor neurons in the motor cortex of the brain, the brain stem and the spinal cord.

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