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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / September 2020 / 2020 Pilot Awards: Predicting Alzheimer’s, Heart Failure, Understanding Intellectual Disabilities

2020 Pilot Awards: Predicting Alzheimer’s, Heart Failure, Understanding Intellectual Disabilities

The UR CTSI funds innovative, early-stage clinical and translational research through a variety of pilot funding programs for researchers at all career stages. In July, one new Faculty Pilot awardee and two new Trainee Pilot awardees began their UR CTSI-funded projects. Faculty Pilot awards provide $50,000 and Trainee Pilot awards provide $25,000 over one year to help researchers build a solid research foundation and obtain subsequent extramural funding.

2020 Faculty Pilot Awardee

Andrew Anderson, PhDAndrew J. Anderson, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience
Using neural correlates of story comprehension to reveal mild cognitive impairment in early Alzheimer's

Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is a major health priority. While neuropathological warning signs can arise years before patients experience mental decline, there is still no established way to identify early neural dysfunction or forecast dementia.

Because Alzheimer’s pathology first develops in brain circuits that process language, Anderson and his team will investigate whether story comprehension can predict Alzheimer’s disease. The team will scan a mix of cognitively health and unhealthy seniors in an fMRI while they listen to 45 minutes of an audiobook with subtitles. They hope to establish new fMRI decoding indices that can estimate cognitive health.

2020 Trainee Pilot Awardees

Alan Brooks, MD, PhD

Alan Brooks, M.D., Ph.D.
Cardiology Fellow
Mentors: Eric Small, Ph.D., Jeffrey Alexis, M.D., and Ilan Goldenberg, M.D.
Identifying Biomarkers Predictive of Right Heart Failure in Left Ventricular Assist Device Patients​

There is a growing number of heart failure patients who do not respond to medical therapies and require implantation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). Unfortunately, some LVAD patients develop right heart failure and die within one year of implantation.

For his project, Brooks will tap into URMC’s heart tissue bank to compare gene expression in hearts from LVAD patients who developed right heart failure and those who did not. Through this comparison, he hopes to discover biomarkers and develop a diagnostic test to predict which patients will develop right heart failure if they receive an LVAD.

Carlos Diaz-Balzac, MD, PhDCarlos Diaz-Balzac, M.D., Ph.D.
Endocrinology Fellow
Mentor: Douglas Portman, Ph.D.
Transcriptional regulation of neural circuit formation in Intellectual Disabilities​

Diaz-Balzac aims to better understand the genetic mutations that disrupt normal brain function and cause intellectual disabilities. Using the nematode C. elegans as a model, he will study genetic mutations of a transcription factor known to cause intellectual disabilities. He believes different mutations of this transcription factor cause specific syndromes by disrupting specific subsets of gene regulatory networks.

By dissecting how this transcription factor contributes to neurodevelopment and by characterizing its disease-causing mutations, Diaz-Balzac hopes to open the door for new therapeutic and diagnostic approaches to intellectual disabilities.

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The projects described above are supported by the University of Rochester CTSA award (UL1 TR002001) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 9/3/2020

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