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ETSU Quillen department awarded $6.7 million in new grant funding during 2018

Contributed • Dec 14, 2018 at 4:55 PM

During the past year, faculty members in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine were awarded $6.7 million in new extramural funding.

The grant proposals were funded by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Swiss National Science Foundation and will support research studies in the areas of heart disease, neurological and psychiatric diseases, infectious diseases and cancer.

“This is an era in which earning extramural support for research projects has become increasingly competitive, and the success our department has witnessed in the past year speaks to excellence of our faculty and their pursuit of new knowledge,” said Dr. Theo Hagg, chair and professor of Biomedical Sciences. “Most of this new funding is supporting the hiring of additional staff members and, therefore, is an immediate investment in our community.”

Matters of the Heart

Three of the new projects are focused on heart disease, which Hagg points out remains the leading cause of death in Tennessee. Dr. Eric Beaumont, ETSU associate professor, received $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health for his research involving vagal nerve simulation (VNS), which is used for the treatment of heart failure in humans. His group, in collaboration with Dr. Michael Andresen at Oregon Health and Science University, who is a leading expert in the field, will optimize the stimulation settings by recording responses in the brain.

Beaumont is also the recipient of a $150,000 grant from the American Heart Association to study how different types of bacteria living in the gut affect the benefit of the nerve stimulation in heart failure. Ultimately, this work may show how patients with heart failure could receive a “transplant” of the beneficial bacteria to promote their recovery. The team will also include Dr. Rob Schoborg from ETSU’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Dr. Regenia Phillips-Campbell of Emory and Henry College.

Dr. Don Hoover, a professor at Quillen College, received $236,800 in funding from the NIH Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) program. Working with Dr. Jeffrey Ardell, a faculty member at University of California – Los Angeles and a renowned expert in the field, Hoover and his team will study nerve circuits that control the heart by release of specific chemical mediators. This research will serve as the framework for development of neuromodulation therapies for treating heart diseases such as rhythm disorders.

Dr. Krishna Singh, an ETSU professor and physiologist at the Quillen VA Medical Center, received a $425,447 NIH award to study the role of a protein called ubiquitin — a small naturally occurring protein in cells — in ischemic heart disease. Singh’s pioneering work with ubiquitin began when her lab identified that dying heart muscle cells release ubiquitin, and that it can protect other muscle cells.

Matters of the Mind

Five ETSU investigators in the neurology and psychiatry field are working to one day provide new treatments for Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease and stroke, as well as mental illness such as depression leading to suicide.

“These disorders are also common in our Appalachian region and the hope is that this newly funded work will one day help to reduce their impact on patients and their families,” Hagg added.

Dr. Patrick Bradshaw, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences, received funding from NIH in the amount of $422,849. Studies will be performed to explore why the conversion of vitamin B3 to antioxidant molecules slows during aging in the brain and other organs. This should lead to the development of treatments that increase levels of antioxidants derived from vitamin B3 to delay aging-related diseases in humans.

ETSU professor Dr. Russell Brown received funding from a sub-award on a NIH Small Business Innovative Research grant given to P2D Bioscience Inc. in Cincinnati. His research on this proposal is focused on analyzing novel anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Brown’s approach uses a triple transgenic rodent model and refined behavioral tests to analyze cognitive function. His lab will also study biomarkers of inflammation in brain areas that are known to degenerate in Alzheimer's disease.

Hagg received a $1.62 million NIH grant to examine the role of a blood protein that leaks into the brain after stroke and stimulates production of inflammation that leads to tissue loss. Interestingly, this happens only in female mice. Hagg and his team expect to identify new drug treatments to maximize tissue protection and function that will hopefully extend beyond stroke to treatments of other neurological disease.

Dr. Gregory Ordway, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, received a $430,105 NIH grant to unearth depression-related vulnerabilities of specific brain cells uniquely susceptible to oxidative damage. His goal is to uncover novel targets for drugs that could prevent or reverse brain pathology in depression.

Ordway also received $125,000 from the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention for a study that aims to identify biochemical pathologies caused by oxidative damage in a region of the brain that processes behaviors relevant to depression and suicide.

Dr. Meng-Yang Zhu, also a professor of Biomedical Sciences, received a $444,000 grant from NIH. Both noradrenergic and dopaminergic nerve fibers in the brain degenerate during aging. Zhu’s study will use old rats to restore damaged noradrenergic functions, which may in turn improve function of dopaminergic neurons. This research may provide new insights for possible therapeutic interference in aging and neurodegenerative disease.

Infectious Diseases and Cancer

Two investigators in the field of infectious diseases, Drs. Russell Hayman and Rob Schoborg, are working toward better understanding how predisposed conditions influence microorganisms that cause serious diseases.

Hayman, who is an associate professor, received $407,970 from NIH to study how and why small organisms called microsporidia, which are intracellular fungal pathogens found in contaminated water, can cause asymptomatic infection in healthy people but also disease in immune-suppressed people when ingested. His team will focus on the role of certain integrin molecules on the surface of cells in attaching microsporidia spores to induce the infection process.

Schoborg is co-Investigator on a Swiss National Sciences Foundation grant in the amount of $701,000. His group, along with principal investigator Dr. Nicole Borel’s group in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Zurich, will explore why people who are infected with certain microorganism become more or less susceptible to infection with other microorganisms. This study may allow for the development of more effective prevention, treatment and screening recommendations for these infectious diseases.

Dr. Qian Xie received $130,000 from Gilead Research Scholar Award — The Americas to study how genetically modifying T cells may be used as an approach for treating malignant liver cancer. A Gilead Research Scholar in Liver Disease, Xie, who is also an assistant professor at ETSU, was recognized by a team of internationally recognized scientists in the field of liver disease for the innovation, significance, approach and feasibility of her research proposal.

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