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New Investigator Program Grants Awarded

2016 Awards

Investigating Retention in Care to Address Healthcare Disparities in Lupus: A Wisconsin Lupus Cohort


Christie Bartels, MD, Medicine (Rheumatology)
Award: $100,000 over two years


Lupus is one of the most common autoimmune connective tissue diseases and it disproportionately affects minority patients and women — three black patients are diagnosed for every white patient, and nine women are diagnosed for every man. Wisconsin is the only state with a growing mortality gap for black women. Poor lupus outcomes, especially in black women with less severe initial disease, suggest that a difference in follow-up of disease in black patients might be to blame. Although clinical care can reduce many risks, little is known regarding what predicts who stays in care or how to improve lupus care delivery and health outcomes.


This project aims to confirm diagnoses in an urban group of lupus patients at Medical College of Wisconsin, and using electronic record data, study who does and does not stay in rheumatology care. The impact of race and other predictors of keeping patients in care will be examined during the study. Successful completion of this project will position the team for further research funding and work to improve retention in care. Expected outcomes include an innovative approach to measure lupus care, and baseline data for future trials to improve health among the estimated 28,000 Wisconsinites with lupus.

Community-Based Continence Promotion: Mind Over Matter; Healthy Bowels, Healthy Bladder


Heidi Brown, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology
Award: $100,000 over two years


Bladder and/or bowel incontinence affects more than 60 percent of older women and increases their risk of depression, falls, hospitalization and nursing home placement. Symptoms can be improved or even cured without medications or surgery, but most women with incontinence do not seek care so they do not know about these self-management strategies. Mind Over Matter; Healthy Bowels, Healthy Bladder (MOM) is a community-based workshop for older Wisconsin women that builds skills and self-efficacy to control incontinence symptoms through exercises and lifestyle changes, and provides tools to talk to a doctor if these changes don’t cure symptoms.


This project aims to test MOM’s effectiveness using a rigorous randomized, controlled trial (RCT) study design and to develop an implementation toolkit that will allow busy senior centers to more easily consider and incorporate MOM into their programming. Upon the project’s completion, MOM will be ready for widespread dissemination in Wisconsin in partnership with the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging (WIHA) with the objective of improving continence and promoting healthy aging in place for more than 200,000 older Wisconsin women living with bladder or bowel incontinence.

Reprogramming β-cell Metabolism to Prevent and Rescue Type 2 Diabetes


Matthew Merrins, PhD, Medicine and Biomolecular Chemistry
Award: $100,000 over three years


The prevalence of type 2 diabetes in Wisconsin is rapidly climbing, imposing a significant burden on the health care system. The clinical manifestation of diabetes is attributed to the failure of insulin secretion from pancreatic β (beta) cells. This project proposes that activating a metabolic enzyme, pyruvate kinase, has the potential to prevent diabetes and rescue insulin secretion from the diabetic β-cell. The studies are needed to provide a firm scientific basis for a clinical intervention that preserves β-cell metabolic health in people.

2015 Awards

Advancing Tele-ophthalmology for Diabetic Retinopathy in Rural Wisconsin Health Settings


Yao Liu, MD, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Award: $100,000 over two years


Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Wisconsin adults. There are more than 135,000 people in Wisconsin with diabetes who are at risk. Early diagnosis and treatment decrease the risk of severe vision loss by 90%, but less than 50% of the 29.1 million Americans with diabetes receive yearly eye screening.


This project will expand the use of telecommunications for eye care delivery—known as “tele-ophthalmology”—to increase access to screening and improve eye screening rates in underserved, rural Wisconsin communities. The project will test interventions to overcome identified barriers to tele-ophthalmology. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce vision loss from diabetic retinopathy in communities that have limited access to eye screening.

Improved Glycemic Control through Reduction of Specific Dietary Amino Acids


Dudley Lamming, PhD, Medicine
Award: $100,000 over two years


More than 475,000 Wisconsin residents have diabetes, resulting in estimated health care costs of over $6 billion per year. An additional 1.4 million Wisconsinites over the age of 20 are estimated to have pre-diabetes, making this an urgent health care problem for Wisconsin.
Diabetes is an especially acute problem for minority groups, affecting over 40 percent of American Indian and 20 percent of African American adults in Wisconsin. Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for the vast majority of these diabetes cases, is associated with diet and obesity, suggesting that dietary interventions might prove more effective and affordable than pharmaceutical options.


The goal of this new research is to better understand the impact of dietary quality – in this instance, the amino acid composition of the diet – on glycemic control metabolism and weight gain, and examine the potential efficacy of altered dietary amino acid intake as a sustainable intervention to improve blood sugar levels and minimize weight gain.

Improving Antibiotic Stewardship for Long Term Care Facility Residents Treated in the Emergency Department


Michael Pulia, Emergency Medicine
Award: $100,000 over two years


Inappropriate use of antibiotics in healthcare settings has been identified as a global public health threat due to an association with increasing rates of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. In the emergency department (ED), antibiotics are the second most commonly prescribed type of medication and research continues to identify high rates of inappropriate prescribing in EDs. This puts the millions of long-term care facility (LCTF) residents who receive care in the ED each year at risk for inappropriate antibiotic treatment. These patients often seek emergency care due to serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and sepsis. They are at risk for suboptimal antibiotic use due to atypical presentations, lack of agreed upon definitions of infection, and inadequate data exchange during transitions of care. This population is also particularly vulnerable to complications from antibiotic use such as drug-drug interactions, medication side effects, and Clostridium difficile infection.


This project aims to create a systems engineering based conceptual model of antibiotic use by identifying key stakeholder perspectives on appropriate care of LTCF residents treated in the ED. The findings will inform a refined antibiotic stewardship ED intervention that improves prescribing, enhances vital information sharing during transfer of care, and facilitates post-discharge antibiotic modifications. The developed intervention toolkit will be disseminated for adaption by other EDs with the goal of improving antibiotic use for these patients throughout the state and nation.

Novel Targeted Therapies for the Treatment of Subtypes of Colorectal Cancer


Dustin Deming, Medicine (Hematology/Oncology)
Award: $99,999 over two years


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in Wisconsin, only behind lung cancer. Despite improved screening rates, many patients, especially those diagnosed at a young age or from an underserved population, present with advanced disease. In order to advance treatment options of patients with CRC, a fundamental change to a more personalized treatment approach is urgently needed.


Researchers will use innovative methods to investigate combinations of directed therapies to target subtypes of CRC. These novel combinations will likely be more effective and better tolerated than standard cytotoxic chemotherapy regimens and may hold promise for applicability across other cancer types.

2014 Awards

Implementing Combination Behavioral and Biomedical HIV Prevention Strategies Through High-Risk Sexual Networks


Ryan Westergaard, MD, PhD, MPH, Medicine

Award: $99,882 over two years


Wisconsin has alarming racial disparities in the rate of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. There is strong evidence that an antiretroviral pill taken once daily can successfully prevent high-risk, HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM) from contracting the HIV virus, yet very few people have adopted this pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).


This project will collect important information about the reasons for the low uptake of PrEP among MSM in Milwaukee and will use the information to develop a brief computerized intervention that can be used in community-based prevention settings to increase knowledge and willingness to use PrEP. The long-term objective of this research is to eliminate racial disparities in HIV in Wisconsin by delivering high-impact, multi-component HIV prevention services to young, black gay and bisexual men.

Characterization of the Role of PASTA Kinases in Beta-lactam Resistance


John-Demian Sauer, PhD, Medical Microbiology and Immunology

Award: $100,000 over two years


The societal cost of infections caused by the growing number of antibiotic-resistant organisms is estimated at more than $50 billion. Without significant investment in discovering and developing new antibiotics, previously innocuous infections will once again be life-threatening.


This project will study a novel antibiotic drug target and the compounds that inhibit it. The drug target identified by Dr. Sauer and his team re-sensitize antibiotic-resistant bacteria to penicillin, amoxicillin and other widely prescribed antibiotics.


Genetic and biochemical experiments will be used to understand the function of the drug target in Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The long-term goal of this research is to advance the development of the drug target as a new combination therapy approach to combat antibiotic resistance.

Understanding M. Tuberculosis Evolution Within and Between Hosts


Caitlin Pepperell, MD, Medicine

Award: $100,000 over two years


Drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is a significant problem for ethnic minority populations in Wisconsin. Treatment and control of TB, especially drug-resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb), are critical to restraining the disease and its associated morbidity and financial costs.


The goal of this project is to better understand how M.tb evolves during human infection. This knowledge is needed to create more effective strategies for preventing drug-resistant TB. The research also will provide insights into the interaction between M.tb and its human host, with the goal of developing better vaccines and other therapies to treat and prevent TB.


Researchers will analyze data from M.tb in people with TB to understand how these bacteria evolve. This knowledge is needed to understand why TB must be treated with multiple agents, to determine whether there are alternative methods of eradicating bacterial populations, to better understand emergence of drug resistance and to develop more effective strategies of preventing its emergence.

Genetic Variants, Immune Dysregulation and Rheumatoid Arthritis


Miriam Shelef, MD, PhD, Rheumatology

Award: $99,997


Rheumatoid arthritis is a relatively common inflammatory disease that causes joint destruction, generalized inflammation and premature death despite lifelong treatment. Many genetic studies have been performed in an attempt to understand the pathophysiology of rheumatoid arthritis, but little is known about how genetic variants associated with rheumatoid arthritis dysregulate cellular activities and case disease.


This project will create a repository of clinical information, DNA and blood products that will be used to determine how genetic variants alter immune cell function in rheumatoid arthritis. The results will help develop tests to identify people at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis as well as subsets of rheumatoid arthritis patients who might benefit from specific treatments. They also will help develop treatments that target different parts of the disease process than are currently targeted.

Repurposing FDA-approved Drugs as Therapeutics for Age-related Macular Degeneration


Aparna Lakkaraju, PhD, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Award: $99,000


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of irreversible blindness among older adults, and Wisconsin has one of the highest prevalence rates of advanced AMD. Approximately 50,000 state residents are living with permanent vision loss due to advanced AMD; thus, there is a critical need for new therapies that target early AMD to prevent progression to irreversible blindness.


This project will evaluate existing FDA-approved drugs as potential therapies that could benefit millions of AMD patients around the world. The long-term objectives are to use insights into cellular mechanisms of retinal degeneration to design effective therapies that can prevent vision loss and to develop new treatments for a highly prevalent disease with immense socioeconomic costs.

2013 Awards

Nanoparticles for Treating Restenosis: Sustained and Targeted Local Drug Delivery


Lian-Wang Guo, PhD, Surgery

Award: $100,000 over two years


Recurrent cardiovascular disease following open vascular reconstruction is a major and serious public health problem that affects several hundred thousand people in the United States each year.  The long-term goal of this project is to create a new drug delivery system that is effective in preventing intimal hyperplasia (IH) and can be readily applied at the time of open vascular reconstruction.


Drugs to prevent IH have been developed; however, delivery of these drugs to the treated artery remains a challenge. An improved method of preventing recurrent vascular disease would lead to a substantial reduction in morbidity and mortality for patients who undergo not only open vascular reconstruction but angioplasty as well.

Mechanistic Insights into the Role of Grainyhead Proteins in Neural Tube Closure Defects


Melissa Harrison, AB, PhD, Biomolecular Chemistry

Award: $100,000 over two years


One of the most common and crippling human birth defects results from the failure to properly form the neural tube during embryonic development. Although maternal folate supplementation has decreased the occurrence of neural tube closure defects, rates remain at approximately 1 in 2,000 births in the United States.  


The long-term objective of this research is to determine the causes of these folate-resistant defects with the hope of developing methods to treat or prevent spina bifida, anencephaly, encephaloceles and other neural tube defects. Given that the rate of these types of defects is higher in Wisconsin than the national average, this research aims to develop strategies that ultimately improve the health of the state of Wisconsin.

The Effectiveness of an Integrated Mental Health and Primary Care Model for Wisconsin Patients with Severe Mental Illness


Nancy Pandhi, MD, MPH, PhD, Family Medicine

Award: $100,000 over two years


Mental health disorders are the third most costly medical condition in the United States, and 5.4 percent of adults in Wisconsin have severe mental illness (SMI), including bipolar disorders or psychotic illnesses. Despite increasing awareness of the interdependence between physical and mental health, people with SMI usually receive care in separate primary care and psychiatric specialty care systems.


To reduce this fragmentation and improve health in the SMI population, it is critical to understand the effectiveness of an integrated care delivery model that delivers both mental health and physical health care in the same setting compared to care delivered in separate primary and specialty care settings. This research partnership compares outcomes in patients with severe mental illness who receive care through an integrated model at a community health center to those in an academic health system through a usual care model.

Aligning Preferences of Older Adults with Decisions for High-Risk Surgery

Grant discontinued by Partnership Education and Research Committee


Margaret L. Schwarze, MD, MPP, Surgery

Award: $100,000 over two years


A decision to proceed with high-risk surgical procedures can start a chronically ill elderly patient along a care trajectory that may be inconsistent with his or her personal preferences. This project aims to prevent such situations by training surgeons in the use of a preoperative communication tool that helps to help older patients determine treatment choices that better reflect their preferences, values and goals.


Designed for face-to-face clinical interactions, the communication tool in this study promotes dialogue, patient deliberation and shared treatment decisions that reflect the patient’s values and reduce the burdens of unwanted aggressive care. Each year, approximately 9,000 elderly people in Wisconsin undergo surgery in the last three months of life. This study aims to improve the quality of life for these and other patients.

Understanding HIV-1 Cell-to-cell Transmission


Nathan M. Sherer, PhD, Oncology

Award: $100,000 over two years


Although antiretroviral therapies can effectively suppress the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) within the immune cells of infected individuals, the therapies are not curative and drug-resistant forms of HIV often emerge. Therefore, there is a critical need for new insights into how HIV spreads from cell to cell and establishes a persistent infection.


This research focuses on the mechanisms of HIV cell-to-cell transmission with the potential for new avenues that lead to therapies for halting the spread of HIV in infected individuals and dramatically reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS on public health. In Wisconsin, HIV infection remains a growing problem, especially among underrepresented populations with limited access to quality and affordable health care.

2012 Awards

Cholecystokinin in the Survival of Human Pancreatic Islets


Dawn Davis, MD, PhD, Medicine

Award: $100,000 over two years


Diabetes is a disease that affects almost 300,000 people in Wisconsin, a number that has nearly doubled over the past 15 years and is expected to triple in the next 15 years. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.


A key problem in type 2 diabetes is ongoing death of pancreatic beta-cells that produce insulin. The hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) can prevent beta-cell death in mouse models of diabetes. This project tests the ability of CCK to protect human beta-cells and explore its treatment potential for type 2 diabetes.

Circulating Tumor Cells in Renal Cell Carcinoma: Biomarkers for Personalized Medicine


Joshua Lang, MD, MS, Medicine

Award: $100,000 over two years


Renal cell carcinoma is the eighth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Despite many new treatment options, metastatic kidney cancer remains incurable with a median survival less than two years.


This project uses a novel technology developed at UW-Madison to capture tumor cells in the bloodstream, known as circulating tumor cells, from patients with kidney cancer, and test them for sensitivity to anti-cancer therapies. The goal is personalization of therapies and better treatment options for Wisconsin patients with kidney cancer.

Discharge Order Completeness and 30-Day Rehospitalizations in Rural Wisconsin Nursing Home Patients


Amy Kind, MD, PhD, Medicine

Award: $100,000 over two years


Of the 5 million Medicare patients discharged from hospitals to nursing homes each year, one in four is rehospitalized within 30 days. In Wisconsin, these rehospitalizations cost more than $30 million annually. Poor hospital-nursing home communication at the time of hospital discharge can lead to rehospitalization, especially for patients with dementia who often have limited ability to advocate for needed care.


The project evaluates the association between discharge orders and local rehospitalization data for a random sample of patients discharged to nursing homes in 2012 from three rural Wisconsin hospitals. This work holds the potential to improve hospital-nursing home communication and patient care throughout Wisconsin.

Dissecting Cross-Species Transmission of Influenza Virus


Andrew Mehle, PhD, Medical Microbiology and Immunology

Award: $100,000 over two years


Infections from seasonal influenza viruses cause up to 36,000 deaths per year in the United States alone and are the frequent cause of patient visits to health care providers in Wisconsin. These seasonal infections are punctuated by pandemic outbreaks as new viruses move from animals to humans, often causing high mortality. 


This project explores the diversity of influenza hosts and the process by which the virus jumps species. Findings could suggest strategies to prevent influenza virus from jumping across species, to limit the spread after transmission has occurred and to help predict, and possibly prevent, future widespread outbreaks of the flu.

2011 Awards

Personalizing Therapy of Women with Polyploid Breast Cancers


Mark Burkard MD, PhD, Department of Medicine

Award: $100,000 over two years


This study will explore ways to improve treatment of "polyploid" breast cancers - those in which cancer cells have extra chromosomes. At least 20 percent of breast cancers have such extra chromosomes and the prognosis for these patients is poor. Burkard's research group recently discovered a chemical that selectively destroys human cells that have double chromosomes and this research aims to develop a breast cancer treatment that can be reserved for cancers with extra chromosomes.

Screening for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) in African Americans


Carey Gleason, PhD, Department of Medicine

Award: $100,000 over two years


This study will investigate why older African Americans are not treated for Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment in their early stages. Older African Americans are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as older white Americans are. Investigators will look at racial differences in how mild memory loss is perceived and managed by older adults, their families and primary caregivers, and identify barriers to receiving early medical attention for memory loss.

Rational Molecular Multi-targeting in Lung Cancer Treatment

Grant discontinued by Partnership Education and Research Committee


Kevin Kozak, MD, PhD, Department of Human Oncology

Award: $100,000 over two years


This study is using nanomedicine - a combination of multiple drugs - to combat the poor prognosis of lung cancer patients. Lung cancer is a significant public health issue in Wisconsin with rates significantly higher among African Americans and Native Americans. In collaboration with UW School of Pharmacy Professor Glen Kwon, Kozak is testing a new nanomedicine designed to slow or stop the progression and metastasis of lung cancer by simultaneously targeting several critical molecular features of the disease.

2010 Awards

Clinical and Public Health Data Exchange: Estimating Asthma Prevalence Across Wisconsin


Theresa W. Guilbert, MD, MS, Department of Pediatrics

Award: $100,000


This project seeks to improve understanding of asthma prevalence in Wisconsin counties by using electronic medical records data to locate high-risk pockets within the state. Currently, this data is tracked at the state and national levels, but provides limited information for counties and cities. By linking this information to census data, more accurate estimates of asthma prevalence can be predicted. Community organizations, researchers, health care providers and policymakers will be able to design and direct education and interventions in high-risk neighborhoods.

Cystic Fibrosis MRI: Tracking Lung Function and Response to Therapy


Scott K. Nagle, MD, PhD, Department of Radiology

Award: $100,000


The proposal aims to improve the treatment of cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease, by developing a safe and effective test to detect early changes in lung function without the risks of radiation exposure. Many drug therapies are in development, but current diagnostic methods cannot capture early changes in lung function, and some carry a high radiation risk. The goal of this project is to use MRI technology, which has no radiation risk, to develop means of testing emerging therapies and treating individual patients.

Nuclear EGFR and Breast Cancer: Strategies for Increasing Efficacy of Anti-EGFR Based Therapies in Breast Cancer


Deric L. Wheeler, PhD, Department of Human Oncology

Award: $100,000


The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) frequently is overexpressed in breast cancer. Many of these tumors demonstrate resistance to the EGFR-targeting antibody, cetuximab. Recent research suggests nuclear EGFR may be one factor in resistance to cetuximab, and that a family of kinases (Src) helps EGFR move from the cell membrane to the nucleus. This project seeks to determine if blocking the kinases using the inhibitor dasatinib can prevent the process, keeping EGFR on the membrane where it is more susceptible to cetuximab.

2008 Awards

Positron Emission Tomography Imaging of Tumor Angiogenesis


Weibo Cai, PhD, Department of Radiology
Award: $90,000


The principal investigator aims to create new Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan markers that will allow radiologists to create personalized therapy to attack tumors. Cai wants to create molecular imaging agents that will target a protein important for cancer progression.


The new method will help identify patients who can benefit from a particular type of therapy, and guide the administration of the right drug at the right time. PET scans will show doctors whether the therapy is working. This "personalized medicine" approach will also have applications in diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

Genetic and Environmental Predictors of Serum Levels of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D


Corinne D Engelman, MSPH, PhD, Department of Population Health Sciences
Award: $90,000


The principal investigator will use data from 300 people enrolled in the Survey of Health in Wisconsin (SHOW), which is also funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program, to check vitamin D levels of people of different skin colors and from different environments.


Vitamin D is critical for health, and low levels in the blood are associated with bone disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and type 2 diabetes. Sunlight absorbed through the skin is an important source of vitamin D, yet there is little data on how skin color and genetics effect levels of vitamin D in the blood.

Computed Tomography (CT) with Reduced Radiation Dose Using Prior Image Constrained Compressed Sensing (PICCS) Reconstruction


Christopher J Francois, MD, Department of Radiology
Award: $90,000


The principal investigator will test a technique invented at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health that could reduce the radiation dose needed for Computed Tomography (CT) by 90 percent or more.


While CT scans have revolutionized the practice of medicine in the past 40 years, there is growing concern over the radiation exposure to patients from these examinations. Since more than 60 million CT scans are given every year in the United States, the technique could improve health care for many people, especially coronary patients undergoing angiography and pediatric patients.

Evaluation of Cuidandome: A Communitywide Intervention to Promote Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening among Latinas

Ana P Martinez-Donate, PhD, Department of Population Health Sciences
Award: $90,000


The principal investigator will study the effectiveness of Cuidándome, a community program that promotes breast and cervical (BCC) screening among Latinas in Dane County. Cuidándome combines small-group education, a media campaign, and cultural-competency training for health care providers.


This study will also estimate BCC screening rates among Latinas in Dane County and identify factors that contribute to Latinas' underuse of BCC preventive services. Results will shape future programs, with the goal of reducing BCC cases and deaths in this underserved population.

2007 Awards

Falls Risk Detection and Gait Instabilities in Older Adults

Bryan Heiderscheit, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedics & Rehabilitation
Award: $100,000 over two years


About 30 percent of adults over 65 years old fall each year. In Wisconsin alone, annual medical care costs due to fall-related injuries were reported at $96 million. Arguably of greater concern, Wisconsin's death rate due to falls is twice the national average. This project will seek to develop an accurate measure of falls risk status among older adults, which is easily used in the clinics. This measure will improve the identification of individuals at risk of falling and facilitate the proper treatment interventions.

Reconstructing HIV Sequence Histories to Identify Potent Immune Responses

David O'Connor, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Award: $99,620 over two years


More than 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, including nearly 6,000 in Wisconsin. Developing an effective vaccine to prevent HIV transmission is an urgent public health priority. Vaccine strategies that work against other diseases have largely failed against HIV. The proposal's goal is to use virus archived within long-lived cells to pinpoint highly potent immune responses present only during the first weeks of an infection, which could be included in future HIV vaccines.

A New Diagnostic Test to Monitor Regression and Recurrence of Epithelial Ovarian Cancer

Manish Patankar, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Award: $98,738 over two years


Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States; about 300 women die from epithelial ovarian cancer in Wisconsin each year. There is a high mortality associated with this disease because in most women, the cancer is detected in advanced stages when treatment options are limited. Even after the bulk of the tumor is removed by surgery and chemotherapy, the disease generally recurs.


This proposal seeks to develop a novel diagnostic test that will help identify disease recurrence at a much earlier stage than currently possible. Successful development of such a test will lead to more efficient treatment of recurring ovarian cancer.

Metabolic Control of Metastasis by a Master Regulator of Neurogenesis: Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutics


Avtar Roopra, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology
Award: $99,990 over two years


Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the female population of Wisconsin and ranks as the second most common cause of cancer mortality. Greater than 90 percent of breast cancer mortalities are due to metastasis of the primary tumor. A therapeutic regimen that successfully prevents metastasis has the potential to save about 800 lives per year in Wisconsin. This proposal will test the hypothesis that simply regulating sugar metabolism and diet can be used to control metastasis.

Probiotics for Prevention of Infection by Multiresistant Bacteria


Nasia Safdar, MBBS, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Award: $100,000 over two years


Multidrug-resistant bacteria are a major cause of severe infections in health care institutions in the United States, and their containment has been deemed a public health priority. This proposal will study the use of a probiotic (dietary supplement) preparation in hospitalized patients as a new means of preventing infection by drug-resistant bacteria.

The Relationship between Asthma and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) - A Pilot Study of the Effects of Treatment for Comorbid OSA in Patients with Asthma

Mihaela Teodorescu, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Award: $99,995 over two years


Asthma represents a significant public health burden. In 2002, almost 80 percent of the 450,000 people with asthma in Wisconsin reported symptoms in the prior 30 days. Many asthmatic individuals report sleep disturbances and an unexpectedly high prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was found in patients with severe asthma.


Furthermore, treatment of OSA with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) improved asthma control. This project will study prevalence and predictors of OSA symptoms in asthma patients, and the impact of treatment with CPAP for OSA on asthma control, sleep and quality of life, and health resources use.

2006 Awards

Determinants of Antibiotic Resistance in Nursing Homes


Christopher Crnich, MD, MS, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Award: $100,000 over 18 months


Infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an increasing cause of illness and death among residents of nursing homes. This community-based longitudinal study of residents in 12 facilities will help establish the extent of antibiotic resistance in Wisconsin nursing homes.


The information gained from this study will help in the design of future studies that will examine the impact that environment and systems of care have on the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in nursing homes. Ultimately, this information will be used to develop and test systems-based interventions to reduce the illness and death associated with these types of infections.

Treatment of Vitamin D Insufficiency

Karen Hansen, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Award: $100,000 over two years


Human skin makes vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Because of little sun exposure, many people living in Wisconsin have low vitamin D levels, which can contribute to weak bones. This study will assess whether vitamin D tablets can increase calcium absorption in older women, thereby leading to stronger bones.

Partnering with Quit lines to Promote Youth Smoking Cessation in Wisconsin

Tammy Harris Sims, MD, MS, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Award: $100,000 over two years


Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of illness and death in the United States, and about 80 percent of smokers become daily smokers before age 20. Although the origins and motivations for tobacco use are found in youth, assessments and interventions are largely developed for adults. This project will evaluate the effectiveness of an age-appropriate telephone counseling intervention in helping adolescent and young adult smokers quit.

Creation of a Bovine Cryptosporidium Vaccine to Reduce Outbreaks in Human Populations


Laura Knoll, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology
Award: $100,000 over one year


Cryptosporidium is well-known for causing water-borne outbreaks of diarrhea, as in the spring 1993 contamination of the Milwaukee city water supply that caused illness in more than 400,000 people. Similarly, cryptosporidium is a frequent and serious pathogen of young calves, decreasing their growth rate and increasing the costs to dairy farms. The goal of this project is to develop a cryptosporidium vaccine for cattle both to protect dairy farms and to eliminate cow to human transmission of cryptosporidium.

Integrating Variation at Single Nucleotides and Short Tandem Repeats to Identify Genetic Associations with Complex Diseases


Bret Payseur, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics
Award: $100,000 over two years


A powerful approach to identifying the genes that cause human disease is to associate disease with DNA markers in large populations. This project will compare two different types of DNA markers commonly used by researchers, which will help clinical scientists decide which type of marker is best for their particular study. Additionally, this project will develop new methods for associating markers with disease.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging in a Study of Prolotherapy for Knee Osteoarthritis


David Rabago, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Award: $99,971 over two years


Knee osteoarthritis is a common, painful, debilitating, age-related condition. MRI is recognized as the best way to view the knee; however, the MRI assessment of the entire knee can take up to one hour. This study will compare the standard MRI technique to a new, five-minute, less expensive MRI technique to determine if both methods can provide similar assessment of the knee.

Surface-Rendered 3D MRI Overlaid Into Live X-Ray Fluoroscopy to Guide Endomyocardial Progenitor Cell Therapy for Recent Myocardial Infarction: Technical Development and Validation Toward Clinical Translation

Amish Raval, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Award: $100,000 over two years


Patients who suffer heart attack often develop heart enlargement, congestion and heart failure. Injection of adult stem cells into damaged heart muscle may prevent complications of a heart attack; however, catheter techniques are limited by poor imaging technology. This project will develop a novel image guidance system using computer hardware and software components to combine MRI and X-Ray images to allow researchers to more clearly visualize heart attack sites during stem cell injection.

2005 - Second Cycle Awards

The Role of Ikaros in Cellular Proliferation


Sinisa Dovat, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Award: $100,000 over two years


This project focuses on identifying proteins controlling cellular proliferation with the goal to use these results to design a better treatment for leukemia and other forms of cancer. Specifically, this project will study the role of the Ikaros protein, a known tumor suppressor, in the response to radiation-induced DNA damage.

Topical Honey for Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Jennifer Eddy, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Award: $99,976 over two years


More than 10 million people in the United States have diabetes; about 15 percent of those patients will develop ulcers of the lower legs or feet, sometimes requiring amputation. Honey has been used as a treatment for millennia, and medical reports suggest that it may contribute to healing in human and animal wounds. This project is a pilot study of the use of honey to treat diabetic foot ulcers.

Cellular and Viral Determinants of Human Cytomegalovirus Lytic and Latent Replication Cycles

Robert Kalejta, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Oncology
Award: $100,000 over two years


Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a virus that infects most children, and usually remains dormant in the body for life. However, the virus can be re-activated, and has been implicated in a number of human diseases. Currently, there is no vaccine for HCMV. The research in this project will help to determine how HCMV infects people, how the dormant virus is re-activated, and will also help to identify targets for drugs to treat this infection.

Androgen Receptor as an Immunological Target for the Treatment of Prostate Cancer

Douglas McNeel, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Award: $99,906 over two years


Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men in the United States. New therapies are needed to reduce the numbers of people dying from this disease. This project will study the possibility of developing vaccines as a treatment for prostate cancer.

Wnt/Frizzled Signals in Normal and Malignant Lymphoid Development

Erik Ranheim, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Award: $100,000 over two years


This research studies the cells involved in leukemia, and is aimed at understanding the pathways by which normal cells in the immune system develop and how that process might be abnormally turned on in leukemia.

Novel Exploratory Approaches to Elucidating the Role of GRAIL in CD25+ T Regulatory Cell Biological Function

Christine Seroogy, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Award: $91,560 over two years


CD25+ T regulatory cells are important in modifying immune responses in varied human disease states, ranging from allergies to autoimmune diseases to rejection of transplanted organs. How this subset of T cells restores balance to immune responses remains poorly defined. By studying the biological mechanisms of the CD25+ T cells, important contributions can be made to therapeutic approaches for many human diseases.

GLI2 Protein Stabilization in the Activation of Hedgehog Signaling Pathway in Prostate Cancer


Vladimir Spiegelman, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology
Award: $100,000 over two years


Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men in the United States. There is poor understanding of the biological pathways that lead to prostate tumor development. This project will study the Hedgehog signaling pathway, with the ultimate goal of identifying targets for drugs for prostate cancer prevention and treatment.

Optimizing Immunuppressant Therapy Based on Viral Genetics to Improve Hepatitis C-Infected Transplant Patient Outcomes

Rob Striker, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Departments of Medicine and Medical Microbiology & Immunology
Award: $100,000 over two years


Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is a major cause of liver disease worldwide, and the most common reason for liver transplant and retransplant in the United States. Clinical studies have shown that some immunosuppressant drugs can improve the outcomes for HCV infected patients, but there is no consensus about the optimal drug therapy. This project will allow development of molecular diagnostics to tailor immunosuppressant therapy to the specific HCV strain infecting a patient.

Effects of Statin Therapy on Vascular Properties and Outcomes in Diastolic Heart Failure Patients 


Nancy Sweitzer, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Award: $100,000 over two years


Diastolic heart failure is a form of heart failure occurring most commonly in the elderly and in women. There are no established treatments for this disease. Although it has long been thought that abnormalities of heart function are responsible for the disease, it is increasingly apparent that there are abnormalities of the blood vessels in many of these patients which may contribute to development of diastolic heart failure. This study is a pilot clinical trial to test the effect of statin drugs on blood vessel properties, symptoms and disease progression in patients with diastolic heart failure.

Mechanisms of CREB Regulation and Function in Response to DNA Damage

Randal Tibbetts, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology
Award: $100,000 over two years


Genomic instablity resulting from unrepaired DNA damage is a root cause of human cancer development. The ATM gene plays a critical role in suppressing genomic instability. This project will study ATM function, and promises to yield new insights into how cells respond to DNA damage and how cancer arises.

2005 - First Cycle Awards

Healthy Children, Strong Families - Supporting Caregivers in Improving Lifestyles


Alexandra Adams, MD, PhD, Department of Family Medicine
Award: $93,054 over two years


This project builds on a study of childhood obesity in three Wisconsin Native American tribes by evaluating metabolic and behavioral changes in the adult primary caregivers of American Indian children. By engaging the parents in behavior changes that will benefit themselves as well as their children, this study will allow researchers to determine whether a family-based intervention is an effective method for changing behavior in adult caregivers. Endocrinology fellow Deb Wubben, MD, MPH, will also be working on the project.

Investigating Fungal Infection: Analysis of Spores From the Human Fungal Pathogen Cryptococcus Neoformans


Christina Hull, PhD, Department of Biomolecular Chemistry and Medical Microbiology and Immunology
Award: $100,000 over two years


Often, fungal growth and development result in the production of spores that can disperse into the environment, be inhaled by humans and germinate in the lungs. C. neoformans is a yeast-like fungus that usually causes only minor respiratory disease but can also disseminate to the central nervous system and produce a fatal form of meningitis. The goal of this project is to understand the properties of fungal spores that allow them to infect humans and cause disease.

Molecular Analysis of the Putative Mammalian siRNase ERI-1

Scott Kennedy, PhD, Department of Pharmacology
Award: $100,000 over two years


RNA interference takes advantage of a naturally occurring process to degrade RNA, the intermediary translator between the DNA of genes and the protein molecules they encode. By degrading RNA, genes can be "turned off." Initial successes using RNA interference to target cancer genes have generated excitement that this technology may eventually be used to treat human disease.


The project will increase knowledge of RNA interference and how the process is regulated. It may identify drug targets that eventually will allow physicians to use RNA interference as a therapy in a wide spectrum of diseases.

Sterol Carrier Protein 2 is a Novel Link Between Aging and Alzheimer's Disease


Luigi Puglielli, MD, PhD, Department of Medicine
Award:$100,000 over two years


This project seeks to identify new molecular links between aging, Alzheimer's disease and cholesterol metabolism. Sterol carrier protein-2 is a small protein that is highly expressed in the brain, can function as a cholesterol carrier and is activated in an age-dependent fashion.


Since intracellular cholesterol metabolism and distribution can regulate the rate of amyloid â-peptide generation, the first molecular step in the development of Alzheimer's disease, understanding more about sterol carrier protein 2 may shed new light on the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease.

Novel Therapies Against Influenza Infection

Stacey Schultz-Cherry, PhD, Department of Medical Microbiology
Award: $100,000 over two years


Two of limitations to the existing flu vaccine are that the vaccine does not work effectively in high-risk groups, such as the elderly, and the virus changes every year, requiring the development of new vaccines annually. Blocking viral replication with novel antiviral peptides that attack all strains of influenza virus may be a way to address those limitations. The goals of this project are to understand how antiviral peptides regulate viral growth, and how these peptides may be used in preventing and treating influenza infection in young and aged animal models.

Molecular Mechanism of Lung Organogenesis, Tumorigenesis and Asthma


Xin Sun, PhD, Department of Medical Genetics
Award: $100,000 over two years


The long-term goal of this research is to establish the genetic bases for devastating lung diseases such as Respiratory Distress Syndrome, lung cancer and asthma. Researchers on this project expect to use a combination of advanced genomic and genetic approaches to uncover gene function related to the development of the lung and diseases that affect it.

New Investigator Program Grants Awarded

Last updated: 05/03/2017
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