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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / July 2021 / 2021 Pilot Studies Investigate Breastmilk Fortifiers, Refine Therapies for Jaw Bone Loss, Dystonia

2021 Pilot Studies Investigate Breastmilk Fortifiers, Refine Therapies for Jaw Bone Loss, Dystonia

The UR CTSI offers pilot funding on an annual basis to faculty and trainees who are conducting innovative translational and clinical research that moves new discoveries along the translational continuum. Offering up to $25,000 over one year, Trainee Pilot Awards help trainees build a solid research foundation and obtain the most prestigious fellowship possible following the project. Similarly, Faculty Pilot Awards provide up to $50,000 over one year to lay the foundation for subsequent extramural funding.

Learn more about the researchers who just launched pilot studies with support from the UR CTSI.

Faculty Pilot Award

Is concentrated insulin in human milk-derived fortifiers linked with increased hypoglycemia in the neonatal intensive care unit?

Bridget Young, PhDBridget Young, Ph.D.
Assistant professor of Pediatric Allergy/Immunology and Public Health Sciences

Premature babies need lots of nutrients – beyond what their mothers’ milk can provide. To help these babies thrive, breast milk is fortified with added nutrients.

Recently, the Golisano Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit switched from cow’s milk-based fortifiers to new fortifiers that are based on concentrates of pasteurized human breast milk. Shortly after the switch, anecdotal reports have been popping up of low blood glucose among the babies who were fed breast milk containing the new fortifiers.

With UR CTSI Faculty Pilot Award funding, Bridget Young, Ph.D., will investigate the possible link between the new fortifiers and reports of low blood glucose in premature infants. She hopes her findings will lay the groundwork for larger studies linking individual feeds with infant outcomes and developing interventions to prevent feed-related low blood glucose in this vulnerable population.

Trainee Pilot Awards

Controlled delivery of periodontal ligament cells for in vivo tissue regeneration

David Fraser, DDSDavid Fraser, DDS
Clinical assistant professor of Dentistry and trainee in the Translational Biomedical Science PhD Program

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults are affected by a serious chronic gum disease called periodontitis that can cause irreversible damage to the jaw bone and tooth loss. Currently, costly and unpredictable reconstructive therapies are the only options for treating this bone loss. Therapeutic approaches that uses stem cells to regenerate jaw bone have shown promise, but have run into issues when it comes to delivering the cells to the area of damage.

For his Trainee Pilot study, David Fraser, DDS, will work under the mentorship of Biomedical Engineering Professor Danielle Benoit, Ph.D., to develop a special hydrogel scaffold in which the stem cells, called periodontal ligament cells, can be embedded. The pair have already shown that their hydrogel can help these cells differentiate without adding any drugs or growth factors. With UR CTSI funding, they will fine tune the hydrogel so it degrades and releases these cells around teeth to form new bone.

Identifying novel biomarkers to optimize deep brain stimulation therapy for dystonia patients

Angela Hewitt, MD, PhDAngela Hewitt, M.D., Ph.D.
Instructor of Child Neurology

Dystonia, a brain disorder that causes involuntary, sustained and often painful muscle contractions, is often treated with deep brain stimulation (DBS). DBS delivers high frequency electrical current to targeted brain areas via implanted electrodes to regulate inappropriate brain activity.

While DBS has been in use for several decades to treat several different diseases, we still don’t understand exactly how it works. Our limited understanding of DBS mechanisms means we have to resort to trial and error to optimize stimulation settings for each patient, which can be tedious and frustrating for patients and care teams.

Under the mentorship of Endowed Professor of Pediatric Neurology Jonathan Mink, M.D., Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Neurology Karlo Lizarraga Mendoza, M.D., M.S., Angela Hewitt, M.D., Ph.D., will use her Trainee Pilot funding to develop a set of brain activity biomarkers to facilitate DBS optimization for dystonia patients. Using the recently FDA-approved PerceptTM PC DBS system – the first to simultaneously stimulate and record data from brain circuits – Hewitt will monitor how DBS impacts firing patterns within the globus pallidus internus, the brain area often impacted in dystonia.


Michael Hazard | 6/29/2021

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