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UTHSC Pilot Project Awards Given to Support Innovative Research And Improve Health of Tennesseans


The Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute (TN-CTSI), the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s newest research institute, recently awarded four pilot grants to collaborative research groups in support of new projects aimed at addressing the most-pressing health needs in the Southern United States.

The 2019 TN-CTSI Pilot Project winners and their project titles are:

• “Adapting the Exercise is Medicine Solution in Appalachia: Linking Primary Care to Community to Improve Chronic Disease Prevention and Control in a Rural Setting”: Michael Davis, MD; Gregory Heath, DHSc, MPH; and Karissa Peyer, PhD. This study aims to determine if an “Exercise is Medicine” intervention for rural adults who are at risk for or are being treated for a chronic cardiometabolic disease effectively increases their physical activity, level of adoption, and implementation by both health care providers and patients in the clinical setting.

• “Unraveling the Role of Microbial Dysbiosis in Breast Cancer Health Disparities”: Athena Starlard-Davenport, PhD; Joe Francis Pierre, PhD; Elizabeth Tolley, PhD; Liza Makowski-Hayes, PhD; and Gregory Vidal, MD, PhD. The project is looking at associations between gut microbial metabolites, obesity, and breast cancer, and how these factors potentially differ in women based on their race.

• “Role of Phosphorylation in Microbial Short Chain Fatty Acid Production in a Defined Microbial Community”: Michelle Puchowicz, PhD, and Joseph Pierre, PhD. The research aims to reveal mechanisms of gut microbial regulation leading to the development of targeted therapies for those with diet-induced obesity and associated metabolic syndrome patients.

• “Improving Human Papillomavirus Rates Among Adults: A Pharmacy-Dental Partnership Focusing on Provider Communications Strategies”: Justin Gatwood, PhD, MPH; Vickie Jones, RDH, MS, MDH; Tracy Hagemann, PharmD; and Kenneth Hohmeier, PharmD. This project will pull together dentists and pharmacists to collaboratively improve human papillomavirus vaccination rates in adults ages 26-45 through strategic communications and training.

“Disparities in Tennessee persist,” said Michelle Martin, PhD, FACSM, director of the Center for Innovation in Health Equity Research: A Community Cancer Alliance for Transformative Change at UTHSC, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine, and co-director of TN-CTSI. “Differences in health outcomes are seen by race and ethnicity, by where individuals live, and by many other sociodemographic characteristics. We are excited that our inaugural pilot projects will be conducted across the state and will address a range of topics important to understanding and reducing these disparities.”

Established in 2018, the TN-CTSI aims to improve the health of Tennesseans and underserved populations in the South by providing education and training, fostering interdisciplinary teams, improving quality and efficiency, and engaging community stakeholders and partners in meaningful collaboration. The pilot project awards, totaling $55,000, are designed to promote new lines of innovative, clinical and translational health disparities research with the ultimate goal of giving rise to future extramural funding.

“We hope that the TN-CTSI pilot program will provide the needed support to these investigators in order to accelerate clinical and translational research in our state, with the ultimate goal to improve human health,” said Karen C. Johnson, MD, MPH, other co-director of TN-CTSI, chair and Endowed Professor of Women’s Health in the UTHSC Department of Preventive Medicine.

The TN-CTSI, the University of Mississippi Medical Center Clinical Research Institute, and the Tulane University Translational Science Institute, have together formed the Delta Clinical and Translational Science Consortium (DCTSC). This collaborative consortium supports high-quality interdisciplinary team-based clinical and translational research locally, regionally, and nationally, by fostering innovation in research methods, training, and career development, with a unique focus on underserved populations. UTHSC and Tulane University serve as hub institutions, while the University of Mississippi Medical Center functions as a collaborating institution. Long-term, the Delta Consortium’s goal is to obtain a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).