The University of Tennessee Research Foundation Awards $15,000 Grants to Four UTHSC Faculty Members

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Four faculty members at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center have received grants for $15,000 each from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation Maturation Funding Program.

The program is designed to assist UT researchers to advance technologies that have the capacity for commercial success. The four grant recipients are Hassan Almoazen, PhD; Vanessa Morales-Tirado, MS, PhD; Guy Reed, MD; and Robert J. Rooney, PhD. The recipients’ research includes a topical iodide medication to treat iodine deficiency, an immortalized cell line for vision research, an antidote to treat complications from brain hemorrhage medication, and a more efficient and cost-effective biorepository laboratory information management system.

Dr. Almoazen
Hassan Almoazen, PhD

Dr. Hassan Almoazen, director of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Program and PharmD/PhD Dual Degree Program, and assistant professor of Pharmaceutics in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, will use his grant to test a topical medication that will safely deliver iodide to nutrient-deficient patients. Iodide is stabilized in a microemulsion delivery system, and in this form it can be safely ingested or applied to the skin. Iodine deficiency is a major health concern in 47 countries affecting about 2.2 billion people.

Dr. Morales-Tirado
Vanessa Morales-Tirado, PhD

According to the National Institutes of Health, iodine deficiency has severe effects on growth and cognitive development. As a result, it has become the most common cause of preventable mental retardation in the world. Iodine deficiency may also cause goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland; hypothyroidism, which affects hormones released by the thyroid; and affects metabolism. Dr. Almoazen’s study will enable his team to seek approval from the FDA to market a series of iodide delivery products. “Nutritional support through the skin is a newly evolving concept. Our iodide microemulsion is a novel nanotechnology delivery system designed to support the global efforts to eliminate iodine deficiency,” he said.

Dr. Morales-Tirado, assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Hamilton Eye Institute and the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry in the College of Medicine, will use her grant to study glaucoma and other diseases of the eye —specifically retinal ganglion cells (RGC), which transmit information from the eye to the brain. It is estimated that 70 million people worldwide suffer from glaucoma. Her lab is interested in developing an immortalized cell line, which are cells that can be grown in culture and can then be used as a model in labs to further research in glaucoma and irreversible vision loss. “Unfortunately, there are no good models to study these cells in the lab,” Dr. Morales-Tirado said. “Clinicians and researchers could use this as a first line model for investigational and drug development studies. Our work will be a starting point for future research in better understanding glaucoma and other RGC-dependent diseases.”

Dr. Reed
Guy Reed, MD

Dr. Guy Reed, chair and professor in the Department of Medicine in the College of Medicine, will use his grant to research therapy for stopping brain hemorrhages. Ischemic stroke, affects 17 million people each year. The only effective medical therapy for ischemic stroke is tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) which dissolves clots. “Unfortunately, in some patients, TPA can cause serious and fatal brain bleeding and there is no specific antidote. We have developed a novel monoclonal antibody therapy that stops brain bleeding in experimental stroke,” Dr. Reed said. “The aim of these studies is to modify these monoclonal antibodies so that they may become safe, effective treatments for patients suffering from brain bleeding.”

Dr. Rooney
Robert J. Rooney, PhD

Dr. Rooney, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine and director of the Integrative Genomics Biorepository, will use the UTRF grant toward commercializing a substantially less expensive biorepository laboratory information management system (BLIMS). His team has worked to develop a software application that collects and stores information on DNA samples collected from consenting patients at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, along with associated information from electronic medical records, and tracks them throughout their existence in the system.

According to Dr. Rooney, some systems using similar technologies commercially, cost upwards of $250,000, and these systems are designed with the ability to only input samples one at a time. “Our system allows us to batch upload multiple forms of linked information. Right now, we are doing 96 samples at a time, which is a huge time saver,” he said. “It allows us to input hundreds or even thousands of samples per week into the system, which is a major advance over what everyone else is doing.”

BLIMS is part of the Biorepository and Integrative Genomics (BIG) Initiative at UTHSC that went live in November. The BIG Initiative is building a pediatrics-based genomic biorepository, which will facilitate research on many childhood diseases and allow more targeted and personalized treatment for patients.

“The UTRF Maturation Funding Grant program enables researchers to further develop innovative inventions. Many strong proposals were submitted. The quality of the ideas represented reflects the vibrancy of the University of Tennessee research enterprise and the potential for UT innovations to improve the lives of Tennesseans.” said David Millhorn, UTRF President and UT Executive Vice President and Vice President for Research.

UTRF  provides assistance and resources to the research activities of faculty, staff and student of the UT system. UTRF is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes the commercialization of UT intellectual property, encourages an entrepreneurial culture, contributes to state and regional economic development, and promotes research and education to benefit the people of Tennessee and beyond.