Three UT Researchers Receive Health and Human Services Grants

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UTHSC has been awarded $669,750 in grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. Over the life of the grants, the projected awards will total more than $2,053,500.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has been awarded $669,750 in grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. The awards will be used to fund ongoing research projects. Over the life of the grants, the projected awards will total more than $2,053,500.

Chlamydia: Huge Public Health Problem

Gerald Byrne, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry, received a grant award of $373,750 to work on his project titled, “Immunity and Latency to Chlamydial Infections.” Chlamydia remains a huge public health problem, especially as it relates to women’s reproductive health. Total funding for the four-year grant is projected to be more than $1.49 million through 2014.

Chlamydia trachomatis is the number one reportable bacterial infectious disease in the United States. It is especially problematic among young women in the Mid-South, particularly in Memphis where the incidence is about three times national rates — 600 cases per 100,000 women nationally in 2009; in Memphis 1,737 cases per 100,000 women. The rate among Memphis teenagers (ages 15 to 19 years old) is 6,371 cases per 100,000, more than three times the overall rate.

When they are not treated, chlamydial infections can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal factor infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Dr. Byrne and his research team are developing translational studies to establish biomarkers that will help to identify women at risk for reproductive complications. These tools will eventually be important in evaluating women who attend infertility clinics or may be at risk for adverse outcomes should a chlamydial vaccine come on the market.

Stroke Variability: Exploring Genetic Factors

Thaddeus Nowak, PhD, professor in the Departments of Neurology, and Anatomy and Neurobiology, has received a grant award of $222,000. The funds will support research titled, “Genetics of Stroke Vulnerability in Mice.” Total funding for the two-year grant is projected to be more than $407,000 through 2012.

This project will define how genetic differences affect the severity of brain injury after stroke. A large family of genetically diverse mouse strains will be studied to model human diversity in stroke outcome. Sophisticated gene mapping methods will identify regions of the mouse genome, and corresponding regions of the human genome, that influence stroke severity. Brain blood flow will also be imaged to evaluate the role of vascular anatomy and physiology in determining stroke size.

Considerable progress has already been made in identifying and controlling predisposing risk factors for stroke. In contrast, this study is designed to identify genetic factors that affect the response to a stroke once it occurs. This knowledge would be a first step toward personalized care for stroke patients.

Central Nervous System Disorders: Search for Better Therapies

Ioannis Dragatsis, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Physiology, was awarded a $74,000 grant for a project titled, “Generation of a Mouse Model for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.” The goal is to generate the first mouse model for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a late-onset neurodegenerative disease characterized by Parkinsonism, postural instability, speech, gait, and oculomotor anomalies. The disease is progressively debilitating and patients die within five to eight years after the onset of symptoms. Total funding for the two-year grant is projected to be more than $148,000 through 2012.

The availability of such mouse models is of vital importance to understand not only the mechanisms of PSP but also of other nerve-related diseases, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Results of this work will potentially allow the development of better therapies in the near future for PSP and related disorders.

Department of Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the United States government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. HHS represents almost a quarter of all federal outlays, and it administers more grant dollars than all other federal agencies combined. HHS’ Medicare program is the nation’s largest health insurer, handling more than 1 billion claims per year. Medicare and Medicaid together provide health care insurance for one in four Americans. For more information, visit www.hhs.gov.