The Research Rainmaker

Showcasing the top research news from around UTHSC

Video Library

An introduction to the Office of Scientific Writing, featuring Kyle Johnson Moore, PhD.

The Office of Scientific Writing

An introduction to the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute (TN-CTSI), presented by its Co-Directors, Dr. Karen Johnson and Dr. Michelle Martin.

 

TN-CTSI Intro

An overview of the Operational Strategic Plan for Research, presented by Steven R. Goodman, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Research

Operational Strategic Plan for Research

A brief introduction to the Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2), presented by Dr. Steven Goodman, President & CEO of CTN2, and Phil Cestaro, Executive Director and Treasurer of CTN2.

The Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2)

Dr. Sam Dagogo-Jack, MD, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism is also the Director of the Clinical Research Center at UTHSC. Here he gives an introduction and overview of the Clinical Research Center and its services. Dr. Dagogo-Jack is also the A.C. Mullins Endowed Chair in Translational Research and former president of the American Diabetes Association.

Introduction to the Clinical Research Center

Dr. Csaba Kovesdy, MD, FASN, is the Fred Hatch Professor of Medicine in the Department of Nephrology at UTHSC and the Chief of the Nephrology Center at the VA Medical Center. He is also the Director of UTHSC’s Office of Clinical Research, and here gives a brief overview of its function and the services it provides UTHSC researchers.

Intro to the Office of Clinical Research
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Ask the Expert

Q
Where should I go for help recruiting subjects for a clinical trial?
A
Most clinical investigators begin by reviewing the patient population in their practice group and other patients in the hospital database where they practice to identify potentially suitable subjects.  In addition, both the Office of Clinical Research and the TN-CTSI can help you. The Office of Clinical Research can provide PIs with research coordinator/s who can…... read more

News Stories

Steve Youngentob, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor For Research, to Retire in June

Steven L. Youngentob, PhD

After seven years of dedicated service as senior associate vice chancellor for Research, Steven L. Youngentob, PhD, has announced plans to retire from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, effective June 30th.

Over the next two months, Dr. Youngentob will work with his replacement, Dr. Wesley Byerly, to ensure a smooth transition. Dr. Byerly joined UTHSC on May 2nd.

Dr. Youngentob came to UTHSC with Steve Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research, from SUNY Upstate Medical University. "I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with Steve Youngentob for the past fifteen years at two academic health centers," Dr. Goodman said. "Steve has been the perfect partner in restructuring and revitalizing research at Upstate and UTHSC. As our UTHSC Office of Research Chief Operating Officer, he has been in the center of a complete overhaul of our research infrastructure. I want to say thank you, on behalf of the entire UTHSC research community for Steve’s successful efforts that have vastly improved our research environment."

New CORNET Milestone Reached

CORNET stats

The Office of Research is celebrating yet another CORNET hit, with a recent $1.15 million NIH award to Wei Li, PhD, UTHSC Distinguished Professor and director of the College of Pharmacy Drug Discovery Center, and Jianxiong Jiang, PhD, associate professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Neurobiology at UTHSC.

The two are principal investigators on a project titled "Targeting TRPC3 Channels for Epileptic Seizures." Julio Cordero-Morales, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Physiology, is a co-investigator on the study, which is focused on developing a potential new drug target to treat epileptic seizures. The team has previously patented a selective TRPC3 inhibitor as a new druggable target for anti-seizure therapy. Their goal is to develop a lead TRPC3 inhibitor that is stable and safe, with favorable pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties. They will test its effectiveness in suppressing acute seizures, spontaneous recurrent seizures, and/or improving cognitive outcomes.

The grant is a significant milestone for the CORNET program, as it puts the total external dollars generated from CORNET-funded work over the $30 million mark.

The CORNETs (an acronym for Collaborative Research Network) were created by Dr. Steven Goodman in 2016 to give collaborative research teams the initial funding they need to collect data for larger studies. Dr. Li was a 2016 recipient of a CORNET award for a project titled "Selective Targeting of TRPC3 Ion Channel for Alzheimer’s Disease Therapy", a collaborative study with Catherine Kaczorowski, PhD, former UTHSC assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, and Kristen O’Connell, PhD, former UTHSC assistant professor in the Department of Physiology. Findings from that initial study were leveraged to develop this latest project, exemplifying the CORNET's role in attracting large, external awards - and growing the bottom-line in UTHSC grants and contracts.

CORNET Symposia Return this Fall

The Office of Research’s CORNET symposia are returning this fall.

Based on the ideals of cross-disciplinary team science, the CORNET Awards were created to stimulate innovative, interdisciplinary, team research. CORNET Awards Symposia are held to honor award teams and provide award recipients an opportunity to present their findings and share their discoveries.

A variety of collaborations, including internal, regional, and global, comprise the most recent award teams. These awardees will be presenting their findings virtually, over the course of three symposia scheduled for October 29, November 18, and December 10. The December 10 session is earmarked for the UTHSC/University of Memphis SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 CORNETs, awarded in August 2020. Dr. Steven Goodman, UTHSC Vice Chancellor for Research and Dr. Jasbir Dhaliwal, UofM Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation, will co-chair the December event.

We are excited about the return of this event! Please REGISTER NOW for the October Symposium!

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From UTHSC News

UTHSC-Led Team Receives $5.2 Million for Study of Link Between Obesity, Cancer

The National Cancer Institute has awarded more than $5.2 million to a team lead by researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) for a study that will fill critical gaps in knowledge around obesity-mediated cancer risk. Liza Makowski, PhD, professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the UTHSC College of… Read More

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UTHSC-Led Team Receives $5.2 Million for Study of Link Between Obesity, Cancer

The National Cancer Institute has awarded more than $5.2 million to a team lead by researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) for a study that will fill critical gaps in knowledge around obesity-mediated cancer risk. Liza Makowski, PhD, professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the UTHSC College of Medicine, is the lead investigator on the award.

Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of and a worse prognosis for several types of cancer. A number of related factors contribute to obesity’s pro-tumor effects, including suppression of the immune system (immunosuppression). The underlying mechanics that control how and to what extent obesity-mediated immunosuppression increases cancer risk remains an untapped niche in cancer research.

Dr. Liza Makowski

Dr. Makowski’s team hypothesizes that obesity changes the gut microbiome, which can impact the immune system’s ability to keep watch on the start of cancer, potentially through microbially-derived metabolites. In this project, the team will study patients undergoing bariatric surgery to follow metabolic and immune changes with weight loss over time. In a complementary study, healthy subjects who are lean or obese of varying age and races will be examined for certain biomarkers of risk. Advanced single cell sequencing and informatics will help define associations identifying patients at risk using machine learning. Pre-clinical studies will be conducted to identify the specific cell machinery in pre-cancerous microenvironments that have high impact on the start and progression of cancer. They will test these mechanisms to determine how microbially-modified metabolites may impact immune-cancer cell crosstalk.

This award bridges investigators across four additional universities working with UTHSC. The two other principal investigators are Joseph Pierre, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jeffrey Rathmell, PhD, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Immunobiology and associate director of the Vanderbilt Institute of Infection, Immunology, and Inflammation. Colleagues from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the University of Memphis College of Health Sciences are also integral collaborators on this project.

“We are excited to be one of five projects chosen by the NCI to examine obesity and cancer risk as part of the NCI’s Metabolic Dysregulation and Cancer Risk Program,” Dr. Makowski said. “The Mid-South has a diverse population with a large minority representation, high rates of obesity, and tragically poor patient cancer outcomes, which pose an opportunity for our exceptional transdisciplinary team to leverage impactful lifestyle changes or generate therapeutic strategies for interventions to decrease cancer risk. Outcomes from this study will define beneficial mediators of obesity-mediated cancer risk that will shed light on how to reduce the risk of cancer or improve treatments.”

Other UTHSC investigators on the team include bariatric surgeon Matthew Davis, MD, in the Department of Surgery; Francesco Giorgianni, PhD, in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences; and Robert Williams, PhD, Lu Lu, MD, and David Ashbrook, PhD, in the Department of Genetics, Genomics, and Informatics.

UTHSC Team Awarded $1.9 Million to Study Neuronal Activity in Central Taste Regions of the Brain

The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has awarded $1.9 million to John Boughter, PhD, professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and co-director of the Neuroscience Institute at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), to study the brain circuitry involved in processing novel tastes and foods. Max Fletcher, PhD,… Read More

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UTHSC Team Awarded $1.9 Million to Study Neuronal Activity in Central Taste Regions of the Brain

The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has awarded $1.9 million to John Boughter, PhD, professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and co-director of the Neuroscience Institute at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), to study the brain circuitry involved in processing novel tastes and foods. Max Fletcher, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, is also a principal investigator on the award.

Dr. John Boughter

Neophobia, or the fear of anything new, is an important concern in pediatric psychology. In children, the term generally refers to a tendency to reject unknown or new foods. A persistent unwillingness to try new foods or break from routine food choices can have both acute health consequences for a child and long-lasting effects that lead to eating disorders, poor health outcomes, and disease.

Little is known about the underlying neural circuits involved in taste neophobia. In this project, Dr. Boughter, Dr. Fletcher and their team will work to understand how information regarding the newness or familiarity of tastes are encoded within brain circuits. They hypothesize that neophobia is driven by enhanced responses in both the cortex and thalamus, while the process of learning that a new stimulus is safe to consume is mediated by a neurotransmitter (acetylcholine) released from forebrain inputs. Findings from the study will increase understanding of taste learning and the mechanics within sensory regions that process new sensations.

“Food neophobia is an important behavior for most animals,” Dr. Boughter said. “It is important to understand its neural organization in order to gain new insights into how feeding behaviors are controlled by the brain.” 

UTHSC Has Another Record-Breaking Year for Research Grants, Contract Awards

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Office of Research has reported another record-breaking high for grant and contract awards received in a single fiscal year. The final numbers for UTHSC’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2022 (FY22) show annual grant and contract awards totaled $133 million, a $6.3 million increase from last year’s… Read More

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UTHSC Has Another Record-Breaking Year for Research Grants, Contract Awards

Anna Bukiya, PhD

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Office of Research has reported another record-breaking high for grant and contract awards received in a single fiscal year. The final numbers for UTHSC’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2022 (FY22) show annual grant and contract awards totaled $133 million, a $6.3 million increase from last year’s $126.7 million.

Extramural research award dollars in FY22 currently total $132,973,602. More than half of these funds come from federal sources. The faculty of all six colleges and four campuses broke records in a number of categories, including grant proposal count by fiscal year and quarter. Additionally, the UTHSC College of Pharmacy moved up to Number 12 nationally among colleges and schools of pharmacy in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health.

These latest numbers mark the sixth straight year that UTHSC’s total award amount has risen. Year-over-year metrics show an increase from $85 million in FY17 to today’s $133 million in research awards for the university. This represents a 56% growth in research grants and contracts in six years.

Dr. Steve Goodman

“I couldn’t be more proud of the research community at UTHSC and the accomplishments they achieved this year,” said Steve Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC. “Despite the reshaping of the academic world by the COVID-19 pandemic, and amid major ongoing clinical reorganizations and hospital realignments for clinical care and graduate medical education, our researchers leaned into the challenge to continue delivering innovative work and providing solutions to improve the health of all Tennesseans.”

“Fiscal Year 2022 demonstrated the power and consistency of the UTHSC Operational Strategic Plan for Research playbook, which has allowed us to capitalize on creative avenues for stimulating growth, particularly the creation of statewide initiatives and the CORNET Awards that reward collaboration and innovation. The CORNET Awards have led to over $30 million in extramural research awards over the past six years.”

Since 2016, Dr. Goodman has introduced a number of statewide initiatives that have helped attract significant new funding and research leaders to UTHSC. Examples of these are among the top national awards UTHSC received in FY22:

  • Colleen Jonsson, PhD, Van Vleet Endowed Professor, and director of the UTHSC Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL) and the Institute for the Study of Host Pathogen Systems, received $3.21 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to upgrade equipment and infrastructure in the RBL.
  • Ken Ataga, PhD, Plough Foundation Endowed Chair in Sickle Cell Disease, and director of the UTHSC Center for Sickle Cell Disease, received $3.2 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for a project to build AI that can predict progression of chronic kidney disease in sickle cell patients.
  • Gabor Tigyi, MD, PhD, Harriet Van Vleet Endowed Professor in the Department of Physiology, and Sue Chin Lee, PhD, associate professor in the same department, received $3.16 million from the National Cancer Institute to develop a drug that boosts the immune system response in cancer patients to destroy tumor cells.
  • Karen Johnson, MD, MPH, Endowed Professor of Women’s Health, chair of Preventive Medicine, and director of the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute, received $3.2 million from the National Cancer Institute for a project to test the use of health information technology in managing obesity among disadvantaged groups.
  • Alex M. Dopico, MD, Van Vleet Chair of Excellence, and professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Addiction Science, and Toxicology (PHAST), and Anna N. Bukiya, PhD, professor in the same department, received $2.19 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for their investigation of the neurotoxic effects of toluene, a common chemical found in many household products. 
  • Wei Li, PhD, distinguished professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, and Francesca-Fang Liao, PhD, professor of Pharmacology, Addiction Science and Toxicology in the College of Medicine, received $2.16 from the National Institute of Aging to test a new way to combat the root cause of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

The FY22 research portfolio was further boosted by the Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2), which generated $9.8 million, an increase of $3 million compared to FY21. To date, the network has brought more than 250 clinical trial opportunities to the university and the citizens of Tennessee, generating more than $21.5 million in awards to the university since 2018.

UTHSC Team Receives $2.13 Million National Award to Study Early-Stage Development of the Cerebellum

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded $2.13 million to a University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) team studying how neural cells that build a functional brain are generated during embryonic and neonatal life. Viktor Chizhikov, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, is the principal investigator. Igor… Read More

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UTHSC Team Receives $2.13 Million National Award to Study Early-Stage Development of the Cerebellum

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded $2.13 million to a University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) team studying how neural cells that build a functional brain are generated during embryonic and neonatal life. Viktor Chizhikov, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, is the principal investigator. Igor Iskusnykh, PhD, instructor in the same department, contributed significantly to the project.

Dr. Igor Iskusnykh (left), Dr. Viktor Chizhikov (right)

During brain development, different types of neurons must be produced in appropriate proportions in order for healthy neural circuits to be formed. Research suggests that disorders such as autism may be caused by these scaling processes gone awry. But little is known about the machinery that scales the number of functionally related neurons in the brain.

In this study, Dr. Chizhikov’s team aims to define the molecular mechanisms that regulate early neuron development, using the cerebellum in an animal model. The team will work to answer questions such as, what genes coordinate the growth and movement of neuron progenitors? How are these genes regulated during normal brain development? What signaling pathways are involved in neural cell growth and production? How does the machinery that controls neuronal growth get disrupted in patients with brain overgrowth disorders?

Answering these questions may help future research pinpoint where and when neural scaling goes off course, which will have a large impact on understanding autism and other developmental brain disorders, and our ability to develop new treatments.

UTHSC-Led Team Receives $3.16 Million from National Cancer Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Drug Development

A UTHSC-led team has received $3.16 million from the National Cancer Institute to develop a drug that boosts the immune system response in cancer patients to destroy tumor cells. Gabor Tigyi, MD, PhD, Harriet Van Vleet Endowment Professor in the Department of Physiology, is the lead investigator. Sue Chin Lee, PhD, associate professor in the… Read More

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UTHSC-Led Team Receives $3.16 Million from National Cancer Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Drug Development

A UTHSC-led team has received $3.16 million from the National Cancer Institute to develop a drug that boosts the immune system response in cancer patients to destroy tumor cells. Gabor Tigyi, MD, PhD, Harriet Van Vleet Endowment Professor in the Department of Physiology, is the lead investigator. Sue Chin Lee, PhD, associate professor in the same department, is a principal investigator.

Dr. Sue Chin Lee

Cancer immunotherapy is one of the hottest areas of personalized medicine that unfortunately fails in many patients because of the ways cancerous cells are able to sidestep and inhibit the body’s anti-tumor response. Dr. Lee and Dr. Tigyi have identified a key inhibitor of cytotoxic T cell activation, the killer cells that eliminate cancerous cells. Working with Corinne Augelli-Szafran, PhD, vice president of Scientific Platforms at Southern Research in Birmingham Alabama, they have designed drug candidates that Raul Torres, PhD, professor of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Colorado, has shown overcome the blockade of tumor-killing immune cells.

“We are very astonished that our grant application received a perfect 1 percentile score from the National Cancer Institute review panel. That reflects the excitement of our peers recognizing the significance of our proposal,” said Dr. Tigyi, who is also the associate vice chancellor for Research, Global Cooperation, and Industry Relations. “The key to our success was embedded in the complementary expertise and distinguished research track record of our team members.”

Dr. Lee provided crucial preliminary data for the grant application, identifying the lead candidate compound now being used to develop the new therapeutic. Her preliminary data gathering was made possible by a 2018 CORNET award, a competitive intramural grant program funded by the UTHSC Office of Research that promotes new lines of interdisciplinary team study. In this case, the $50,000 CORNET award bolstered an academic-industry partnership between UTHSC and Southern Research, and now, four years later, has yielded a multiple principal investigator award that is worth millions.

“The development of a relationship between UTHSC and Southern Research, exemplified by our joint CORNET awards, has been an exceptionally important step in developing the drug discovery and development pipeline at UTHSC,” said Steve Goodman, PhD, UTHSC vice chancellor for Research. “I want to congratulate Dr. Lee, Dr. Tigyi, Dr. Augelli-Szafran, and Dr. Torres on their outstanding work and the resultant multi-PI NCI grant award.”

UTHSC Team Receives $1.3 Million for Education Initiative Promoting Careers in Allied Health

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has awarded $1.3 million to a new University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) initiative to educate rural Tennessee high school students about careers in medical laboratory sciences and public health information technology. Jacen Moore, PhD, MLS (ASCP), assistant professor in the department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences… Read More

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UTHSC Team Receives $1.3 Million for Education Initiative Promoting Careers in Allied Health

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has awarded $1.3 million to a new University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) initiative to educate rural Tennessee high school students about careers in medical laboratory sciences and public health information technology.

Dr. Jacen Moore

Jacen Moore, PhD, MLS (ASCP), assistant professor in the department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences in the College of Health Professions, is the principal investigator and program director. Rebecca Reynolds, EdD, RIIA, IAHIM, professor and program director of Health Informatics and Information Management, and Keisha Brooks Burnett, EdD, MS, SCT (ASCP)MB, associate professor and program director of Cytotechnology and Histotechnology, are members of Dr. Moore’s team.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the stress of existing critical shortages of trained, qualified, allied health professionals, especially in rural communities and underserved populations. Careers in fields, such as medical laboratory sciences and public health information technology, are in very high demand, yet professional programs struggle to recruit students. Dr. Moore’s project aims to ease this recruitment challenge by familiarizing and engaging student interest early in high school, where these fields aren’t as popular or well-promoted as other health professions.

Called “High School 2 Health Care” (HS2HC), the project seeks to enhance opportunities in these fields for underserved student populations. It is comprised of a summer program and dual enrollment course that will educate high school students and their teachers about careers in medical laboratory sciences and public health information technology. Integrating Next Generation Science Standards, the classes will give students and teachers the opportunity to develop hands-on skills and experience what a career in these fields would involve.

“We have been given an amazing opportunity through this SEPA award to introduce students and teachers in West Tennessee to new and innovative pathways to development of careers in the health professions,” said Dr. Moore. “By going into underserved communities in Ripley and Selmer, in collaboration with the University of Tennessee at Martin, we will further highlight the needs of the community to provide education to students, families, and communities.”

“Our college is delighted that this award will allow the dedicated efforts of Dr. Moore and his team to introduce students from rural and underserved areas of our state to career tracks in the health professions,” said Stephen Alway, PhD, FACSM, dean of the UTHSC College of Health Professions. “It is my expectation that many of the students who are touched by this program will choose careers in the health professions that can make a critical difference to health care delivery, and disease diagnosis for the citizens of our state.”

Dr. Moore’s team is working in collaboration with a team led by Simpfronia Taylor, MEd, EdD, director of the Ripley extension center at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and a team led by Carolyn Kaldon, MS, PhD, at the Center for Research and Educational Policy at the University of Memphis. The project is funded by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant.

UTHSC Team Receives $1.23 Million to Study Ties Between Cellular Nutrient Sensing, Epigenome Regulation

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences recently awarded $1.23 million to Ronald “Nick” Laribee, PhD, associate professor in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). Dr. Laribee is the lead investigator on a project to determine how the epigenome receives… Read More

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UTHSC Team Receives $1.23 Million to Study Ties Between Cellular Nutrient Sensing, Epigenome Regulation

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences recently awarded $1.23 million to Ronald “Nick” Laribee, PhD, associate professor in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). Dr. Laribee is the lead investigator on a project to determine how the epigenome receives crucial nutrient information to promote cell growth, proliferation, and survival. Daniel Johnson, PhD, director of the UTHSC Molecular Bioinformatics Core, is co-investigator on the project.

Dr. Ronald Laribee

The ability of cells to sense and respond to nutrients profoundly affects an individual’s health. Nutrient availability controls all aspects of cellular function including when to grow, when to divide, and what genes to turn on or off. The cellular machinery that signals nutrient flux and controls cellular response to nutrient availability is essential, but remains poorly defined.

Dr. Laribee’s study focuses on mTORC1, a key protein complex that senses nutrient levels and controls protein synthesis. Its signaling pathway is dysregulated in virtually all cancers and many neurodevelopmental disorders. One aspect of the mTORC1 pathway that remains almost completely unknown is how it regulates gene expression within the context of chromatin, the protein/DNA complex that forms chromosomes. Dr. Laribee’s team will examine the process biochemically using baker’s yeast as a genetic model, since yeast and human mTORC1 signaling are highly similar. The aim is to determine how mTORC1 regulates the epigenome to better understand how its corruption causes cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders.

“Since mTORC1 is deregulated in almost all cancers, understanding these biochemical mechanisms will identify novel targets for anticancer drug development,” Dr. Laribee said. “Because mTORC1 dysfunction also impairs neurodevelopment, these studies will identify mTORC1-regulated epigenetic pathways that could be new therapeutic targets for treating many of these neurodevelopmental disorders.”

CORNET Awards Provide $100,000 to Two New UTHSC Collaborations

Two research teams at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) have been awarded the 2022 UTHSC Collaborative Research Network (CORNET)-Functional Genomics Award. Each team will receive $50,000 to support their novel projects. The CORNET Awards are a competitive intramural grant program funded by the UTHSC Office of Research to promote new lines of… Read More

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CORNET Awards Provide $100,000 to Two New UTHSC Collaborations

Two research teams at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) have been awarded the 2022 UTHSC Collaborative Research Network (CORNET)-Functional Genomics Award. Each team will receive $50,000 to support their novel projects.

The CORNET Awards are a competitive intramural grant program funded by the UTHSC Office of Research to promote new lines of interdisciplinary team study. The program contains several different categories of UTHSC collaborations (UTHSC colleges, UT campuses, industry, regional, national and international). This latest round of funding was for UTHSC cross-college collaborations, requiring eligible teams to include investigators from different colleges. The RFP called for projects that would “increase understanding of the functional consequences of genomic variation in human disease,” and “enhance on-campus capabilities for the use of model organisms.”

The awardees and their project titles are:

Dr. Djamel Lebeche
  • “Genetic Influence of ADIPOR1 variants on Diabetes” – Djamel Lebeche, PhD, FAHA, FACC, professor in the Department of Physiology in the College of Medicine; Ivan Gerling, PhD, professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism in the College of Medicine; and Junaith Mohamed, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences in the College of Health Professions. The team aims to analyze and map how mutations of a hormone receptor (ADIPOR1) lead to diabetes, generating data that may reveal new drug targets for prevention. “Overall, the proposed studies will provide a rich resource that will link beta-cell functional defects to a particular signaling/regulatory pathway(s), and identify important new molecular drivers, and potentially, candidate therapeutic targets mediating Adiponectin receptor 1 genetic variations,” Dr. Lebeche said.
Dr. Junming Yue
  • “An ovarian cancer mouse model recapitulating human disease phenotype” – Junming Yue, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pathology in the College of Medicine; Wei, Li, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy; and Wenjing Zhang, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Genetics and Genomics in the College of Medicine. The team aims to generate a new disease model that mimics genetic alteration of ovarian cancer. “This CORNET Award will help us develop our model and test preclinical drugs for ovarian cancer therapy and generate strong preliminary data for joint grant applications in the future,” Dr. Yue said.

Proposals were required to describe how findings would be used in future external funding applications. In the nearly seven years since the awards were created by Steve Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for the Office of Research, the CORNETs have been the seed of more than $30 million in funding for new groundbreaking initiatives. “The CORNETs in Functional Genomics were suggested by UTHSC faculty in the first Operational Strategic Plan for Research,” said Dr. Goodman. “I am so pleased that we could make this important request a reality and I want to congratulate the recipients.”

UTHSC Team Receives $2.16 Million To Test Potential New Alzheimer-Fighting Compound

The National Institute on Aging recently awarded $2.16 million to a team of investigators from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) testing a new way to combat the root cause of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Francesca-Fang Liao, PhD, professor of Pharmacology, Addiction Science and Toxicology in the College of Medicine, is… Read More

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UTHSC Team Receives $2.16 Million To Test Potential New Alzheimer-Fighting Compound

Dr. Francesca-Fang Liao

The National Institute on Aging recently awarded $2.16 million to a team of investigators from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) testing a new way to combat the root cause of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Francesca-Fang Liao, PhD, professor of Pharmacology, Addiction Science and Toxicology in the College of Medicine, is the NIH contact principal investigator on the project. Wei Li, PhD, distinguished professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, is a multiple principal investigator.

A number of progressive neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, involve the abnormal accumulation of a key protein, tau, in the brain. In healthy neurons, tau binds to and stabilizes internal support structures called microtubules, which help guide nutrients and molecules from the one part of the nerve cell to another. In diseased patients, stressful signals in the brain alter tau, causing it to misfold and detach from microtubules, forming neurofibrillary tangles which are toxic to neurons.

Dr. Wei Li

A breakdown in the signaling pathways that can rid cells of misfolded tau and prevent its accumulation is the focus of Dr. Liao’s project. Her team is examining new mechanisms that might cause these breakdowns, zeroing in on the link between oxidative stress and the activity of a particular enzymatic molecule, otulin. In previous studies, Dr. Liao has found that inhibiting otulin prevented the accumulation of tau. She hypothesizes that oxidative stress activates otulin, which increases tau aggregation and neurotoxicity. Her project aims to investigate both the mechanisms that regulate tau accumulation, and the mechanisms affected by oxidative stress during otulin-induced tauopathies. It will also test a new otulin-inhibiting drug developed by Dr. Li for its effectiveness in promoting tau clearance and reducing tau’s cellular toxicity.

“We are extremely excited to work together as a team to further validate a potential use of this compound in translation,” Dr. Liao said.

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