Wisconsin Partnership Program announces New Investigator Grant recipients

January 19, 2023

The Wisconsin Partnership Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is pleased to announce three new research grants totaling $450,000 through its New Investigator Program.

The grant program provides opportunities for early-career faculty to initiate innovative educational or research pilot projects that, if successful, can lead to further support from federal or other granting agencies. This year’s awards support projects that seek to advance knowledge and discovery across a wide range of topics including advancing understanding of obesity, characterizing ER+ breast cancer recurrence, and improving end-of-life intensive care unit (ICU) care.

The awards provide up to $150,000 each for the following projects:

Advancing understanding of obesity: Modulating adipose tissue heme biosynthesis to promote energy expenditure in obesity

Andrea Galmozzi, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism

The incidence of obesity has rapidly increased in Wisconsin and across the United States. Obese individuals are at increased risk for severe diseases including obesity-induced type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke. This research by Andrea Galmozzi, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, builds on previous work that has shown that low levels of ALAS1, an enzyme involved in heme biosynthesis, correlates with high body mass index (BMI) and higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In this project, Galmozzi will use mouse models to characterize the dysfunction of ALAS1 to better understand the impact of heme biosynthesis in brown fat cells. Successful completion of this project will allow researchers to better understand the role ALAS1 plays in energy expenditure as it relates to obesity.

Characterizing ER+ breast cancer recurrence: Defining stromal mechanisms of ER+ breast cancer dissemination, dormancy, and metastatic recurrence

Suzanne Ponik, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology

Estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer is the most prevalent subtype of breast cancer diagnosed in Wisconsin and across the nation. This subtype is the primary cause of breast cancer-related deaths as more than 25 percent of ER+ cancers metastasize even 20 years after the initial breast cancer diagnosis. Suzanne Ponik, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology, will how study how collagen density and estrogen in breast tissue drive the spread of tumor cells, promote dormancy, and facilitate the awakening of ER+ tumor cells in the metastatic tissue. By better understanding ER+ breast cancer recurrence, this project has the potential to improve breast cancer treatment and help reduce future recurrences for patients with ER+ breast cancer.

Improving end-of-life intensive care unit (ICU) care: Improving ICU care for older adults near the end of life through time-limited trials

Jacqueline Kruser, MD, assistant professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

In Wisconsin, one in three older adults is admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) at or near the end of their life. Many of these patients experience inadequate palliative and end-of-life care, so patients receive burdensome treatments up until death and their families often experience psychological distress. Previous efforts to improve end-of-life ICU care have utilized time-limited trials which are agreements among patients, their surrogate decision makers, and clinicians to attempt life-sustaining treatment for a predefined period before evaluating whether the treatment is helping the patient. This project led by Jacqueline Kruser, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, aims to optimize the time-limited model to meet the needs of older adults admitted to the ICU through the design, testing, and evaluation of a visual aid used to support ICU clinicians and surrogates of critically ill older adults. Successful completion of this project will determine whether the time-limited trial model of care leads to better end-of-life outcomes for patients, families, and clinicians.

Since 2005, the Wisconsin Partnership Program has provided $8.55 million in funding to support the career development of more than 79 School of Medicine and Public Health faculty through the New Investigator Program. The recipients have since leveraged nearly $50 million in external support to sustain or expand their work.

“Through the New Investigator Program, the Wisconsin Partnership Program is proud to support early-career faculty in advancing novel research and ideas,” said Amy Kind, MD, PhD, associate dean for social health sciences and programs at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and executive director, Wisconsin Partnership Program. “This year’s award recipients have the potential to further our understanding of critical health challenges facing our state, including cancer and obesity, and ensuring that Wisconsin’s most vulnerable patients receive quality care.”