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February 2014

NIH Grants Working at UCF to Address HIV, TB and Schizophrenia

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Finding a practical way prevent the transmission of HIV, developing a reliable way to detect tuberculosis while a patient is in the doctor’s office and understanding the complexities of schizophrenia are among the 26 research projects that the National Institutes of Health is funding at the University of Central Florida.

Many of the grants, worth $7.2 million total, address challenges of national and global scale. Some smaller grants support promising new technology or potential discoveries that could lead to new treatments, such as a potential malaria-fighting drug made from marine microbes. #NIHinYourState #Florida

Here are some of the funded projects:

Tuberculosis ($429,000)

Typically, getting a diagnosis of tuberculosis takes time. A culture must be taken and usually sent to a lab for confirmation, and that means lots of time without treatment. The scenario is worse in remote regions of the world, where test results could take several weeks or months.

The goal is to enhance efforts to control the spread of tuberculosis. TB is a global health crisis which kills 2 million people each year because of a lack of an effective vaccine, emerging drug resistance, limited treatment options, and inadequate diagnostic tools.

Dmitry Kolpashchikov in UCF’s chemistry department, Kyle Rohde at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at the UCF medical school and partners in Germany are using their grant to develop a novel diagnostic tool that is accurate and quick, giving a medical professional results within 30 minutes.

“The inability to reliably detect active TB cases and rapidly determine drug susceptibility profiles in many high-incidence settings severely compromises the treatment and control of this disease,” Kolpashchikov said.

HIV-1 ($436,000 grant)

Alexander Cole, a professor in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, leads a team that is developing a way to use inexpensive and widely available antibiotics called aminoglycosides to restore the production of a potent human protein called retrocyclin. This protein prevents HIV-1 infection.

Humans early on were able to produce retrocyclin, but a mutation in one of our genes suppresses its production. By using aminoglycosides, the team has been able to boost the ability of the gene to begin producing the protein again. The $436,000 grant will help the team continue its study.

“Being able to naturally bolster human’s ability to prevent HIV transmission could be extremely beneficial in limiting the global spread of HIV,” Cole said.

Schizophrenia ($404,000 grant)

Associate professor Jeffrey Scott Bedwell is leading a group that is attempting to understand the underlying brain abnormalities and causes of schizophrenia. Many believe that like autism, schizophrenia may be an umbrella term that describes a range of disorders. Schizophrenia also has also been linked to early visual processing abnormalities, but very little is understood about that link.

“The proposed study will examine whether there are specific clusters of schizophrenia-related symptoms that relate to specific early visual processing abnormalities,” Bedwell said in his research proposal. “The results from this study will have strong potential to uncover new schizophrenia subtypes, thereby facilitating the search for more effective treatments and prevention programs.”

Bedwell is part of the clinical psychology PhD program in the department of psychology and runs the Psychophysiology of Mental Illness Laboratory. His study will also look at the effect red light has on some patients with schizophrenia.

Spinal Reflex Arc ($388,000)

Professor James Hickman and his team at the NanoScience Technology Center are engineering a system model of one of the most fundamental motor circuits in the human body, the spinal reflex arc.

“We will use nanotechnology and microelectronics in combination with biomedical engineering techniques to build this hybrid biological/non-biological system,” Hickman said in his proposal. “Potential benefits include learning enough to prevent, diagnose and treat developmental abnormalities in the spinal cord, rehabilitation of chronic neurological muscle disorders and new strategies for prosthetic and orthotic design and evaluation.”

This technology has the potential to streamline the drug development process, accelerating the transition rate of compounds from laboratory to clinical environments.

“We hope that in time this work will help to develop advanced treatments for people suffering from severe peripheral neuropathies such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Myasthenia Gravis, and will have far reaching implications for the effective study of many human diseases in vitro,” he added.

Rural Health Clinics and Healthcare ($378,000)

Judith Ortiz, a research associate arofessor at the College of Health and Public Affairs, leads a group that is examining health care delivered by Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) to older adults in the Southeastern U.S.

The team is analyzing several factors, including the participation of RHCs in Accountable Care Organizations, which impact patient outcomes and cost efficiency of RHCs. The eight study states (Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina , North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky) have many vulnerable populations – all have a higher percentage of persons in poverty, seven of them have a higher percentage of rural populations, and more than half of them have a higher percentage of persons aged 65 and over.

The study aims to provide information to assist policy leaders in making decisions that will strengthen the health care safety net in rural America.

“I am passionate about the benefits of primary health care and its emphasis on prevention of illness,” Ortiz said. “I am motivated to contribute to the improvement of health care delivery systems in rural areas where there is a growing need for improving health conditions and health care resources.”

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