NEWS | September 17, 2009

Innovative, collaborative projects recognized with 2009 CTSC pilot grants


Seven UC Davis researchers received pilot grant awards from the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) to conduct innovative and collaborative research. The awards support studies ranging from work on a more effective epilepsy drug to an improved computer interface for controlling a wheelchair, room lights and a computer mouse.

"The key to these awards is that we are planting seeds and fostering collaboration," said Lars Berglund, associate dean for research and CTSC director. "Each project represents a novel approach to answering important questions in science and medicine and has a high potential for producing high-impact results that will improve patient care. Pilot awards are really a catalyst for translating laboratory discoveries into real-life solutions that can benefit everyone."

UC Davis is part of a national consortium of academic health centers working on developing pioneering approaches to advance clinical and translational research in medicine. In October 2006, the CTSC received a $24.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of the national Roadmap for Medical Research initiative, which is helping to address the complexities of biology and accelerate discoveries that improve human health. A portion of the NIH funding is directed each year to supporting innovative pilot studies to achieve these goals.

"Seed grants like the CTSC award are very important because they allow us to generate preliminary data for larger NIH grants, which are typically not awarded without existing data showing that the project is feasible," said Heike Wulff, professor of pharmacology and one of this year's awardees. "Our CTSC grant will allow us to test whether a novel therapeutic principle, the activation of a particular neuronal potassium channel, can indeed reduce neuronal excitability and thus prevent epileptic seizures."

The CTSC awarded seven UC Davis investigators for investigations in three broad categories: highly innovative research, new approaches to neurodevelopmental disorders and mini-biorepositories from clinical research projects. The recipients are working closely with CTSC leadership for additional resources to support their collaborative research projects.

Highly innovative research

Sanjay S. Joshi, assistant professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering, is working with department colleagues and a biomedical engineering graduate student to focus on a new computer interface device that allows a person to control a wheelchair, room lights and a computer mouse by using the contractions of a single muscle in the head.

Wulff is collaborating with a colleague in the Department of Neurology to conduct proof-of-concept studies of new anti-epileptic drug compounds that target entirely novel cellular mechanisms and may be useful for patients who cannot benefit from currently available drug therapies.

New approaches to neurodevelopmental disorders

David J. Segal, an associate professor of pharmacology, is working with faculty from medical microbiology and immunology to create molecular tools that will be used to develop a combined epigenetic therapy -- changing the instructions of certain genes -- for treating Rett Syndrome, a severe neurodevelopmental disorder marked by the absence of speech, lack of coordinated muscle movement and seizures.

Frank R. Sharp, a professor of neurology, is working with colleagues from multiple departments to develop a completely new approach to understanding how autism is passed from parents to child, including whether immunologic factors can help explain heritability.

Mini-biorepositories from clinical research projects

Simeon Boyd, associate professor of pediatrics, is investigating nonsyndromic craniosynstosis, a common head malformation in newborns, by collecting DNA samples from multiple family members to create a cell-line biorepository that will enable researchers to map, clone and characterize the genes causing the condition.

Regina Gandour-Edwards, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, is developing a novel biopsy tool and standardized protocol to improve the study of prostate cancer.

Joshua W. Miller, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, is investigating a new way to store biological samples at room temperature because it holds the promise of providing a cost-effective, space-saving and environmentally friendly alternative to preserving serum and plasma samples at very cold temperatures.