Wisconsin Partnership Program announces 2022 Collaborative Health Sciences Program grant recipients

June 28, 2022

The Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health has announced three new awards to interdisciplinary research teams through its Collaborative Health Sciences Grant Program.

The new awards support novel approaches and solutions to complex health challenges including improving care for cancer patients, treating intractable lung diseases and exploring new pathways to treat viral illnesses.

Through this grant program, the Wisconsin Partnership Program supports innovative ideas and new approaches to interdisciplinary research or education to advance health, health care and health equity. The following projects were each awarded $600,000 over three years.

Evaluating a Novel Follow-up Intervention to Improve the Delivery of Follow-up Care for Low-Risk Breast Cancer Survivors in Wisconsin

This project will implement a novel patient-centered intervention, known as REASSURE, to optimize the delivery of follow-up care to early-stage breast cancer survivors who are at low risk of recurrence. Early-stage survivors comprise 60% of Wisconsin’s more than 70,000 breast cancer survivors. This intervention is designed to better prepare and support early-stage breast cancer survivors while also reducing the burden of unnecessary medical visits that are especially difficult for patients who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or reside in rural areas. The study has the potential to advance cancer care more broadly through adaptation to other cancers where frequent follow-up clinic visits have limited benefit.

Principal investigator: Heather Neuman, MD, associate professor, Department of Surgery

Co-Principal investigator: Kristine Kwekkeboom, PhD, professor, UW–Madison School of Nursing

Collaborators: Jessica Schumacher, PhD, associate professor, Department of Surgery; Amy Stella, MD, associate clinical professor, Department of Medicine; James Haine, MD, assistant clinical professor, Department of Medicine; Bret Hanlon, PhD, associate scientist, Department of Biostatistics and Informatics; Kathryn Flynn, PhD, professor, Department of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.

Hexosamine Biosynthetic Pathway in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

This research team will investigate a novel potential mechanism underlying interstitial lung disease (ILD), a collection of diseases that produce progressive scarring, or fibrosis, of the lung. ILD, which remains largely untreatable and poorly understood, impacts more than 250,000 patients in the United States and causes a staggering 40,000 deaths each year. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, incidence of ILD has risen sharply. Nearly all patients intubated for COVID-19 have evidence of ILD. This study focuses on understanding how epithelial injury remodels its extracellular matrix microenvironment through the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway. The findings have the potential to advance the mechanistic understanding of how lung injury triggers scarring and identify therapeutic targets for stabilizing this progressive and intractable disease.

Principal investigator: Allan Brasier, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research, UW School of Medicine and Public Health and executive director, UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research

Co-principal investigators: Nathan Sandbo, MD, PhD, associate professor, Department of Medicine; Paul Campagnola, PhD, professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, UW–Madison College of Engineering

Rediscovering Rheumatoid Factor as a Unique Antiviral Agent in COVID-19

Emerging and recurring viral infections remain a threat to public health and personal well-being. This innovative project proposes to “rediscover” rheumatoid factor (RF), a naturally occurring autoimmune antibody generally considered a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis, as a unique, universal antiviral agent. The primary goal of this proposal is to learn more about the role of RFs in COVID-19 in order to inform the development of a universal antiviral treatment for rapid deployment during seasonal, endemic and future viral pandemics. The findings have the potential to inform the development of novel therapeutics for treating wide range of viral infections.

Principal investigator: Miriam Shelef, MD, PhD, associate professor, Department of Medicine

Co-principal investigators: Ajay Sethi, PhD, MHS, associate professor, Department of Population Health Sciences; Marulasiddappa Suresh, DVM, MVSc, PhD, professor, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, UW School of Veterinary Medicine

Collaborators: Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, MS, PhD, professor, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, UW School of Veterinary Medicine; Nasia Safdar, MD, PhD, associate dean for clinical trials, UW School of Medicine and Public Health and professor, Department of Medicine

“The Wisconsin Partnership Program is pleased to support this strong cohort of interdisciplinary research teams who are proposing highly innovative and exciting approaches to solving complex health challenges,” said Amy Kind, MD, PhD, associate dean for social health sciences programs and executive director of the Wisconsin Partnership Program. “Their projects have the potential to provide impactful solutions for treating illness and disease and improving how we care for patients and populations throughout our state and beyond.”

The Wisconsin Partnership Program is an endowment within the School of Medicine and Public Health, established in 2004 through an unprecedented gift as part of the conversion of Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin to a stock insurance corporation, to improve health and well-being in Wisconsin. Its investments support community partnerships, education and research initiatives aimed at improving health and advancing health equity throughout the state. To date, the Wisconsin Partnership Program has awarded 588 research, education and community partnership grants totaling more than $279 million to improve the health of the people of Wisconsin.