Wisconsin Partnership Program provides boost for early-career investigators with latest grants

July 2, 2020

The Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health has awarded five grants through its New Investigator Program. This grant program is designed to provide opportunities for early-career faculty to initiate new, innovative educational or research pilot projects that, if successful, can lead to further support from federal or other granting agencies. The new awards provide up to $150,000 each for the following projects:

Advancing Postpartum Care for Black Women in Wisconsin by Engaging Community Partners with a Home Telehealth Service for Hypertension

The unmet maternal needs of postpartum women continue to contribute to the ongoing health disparities in adverse birth outcomes and high infant mortality among Black women in Wisconsin. A project led by Kara Hoppe, DO, MS, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, with collaborators Tia Murray, BS, co-founder of Harambee Village and Susan Passmore, PhD, of the Center for Collaborative Health Equity, will align the efforts of health care providers and community providers to address current gaps in postpartum care for Black women.

The project builds upon the home telehealth program Staying Healthy After Childbirth-A Program to Help New Moms with High Blood Pressure. This comprehensive community-based home remote monitoring service to postpartum women with hypertension will address barriers to postpartum care, provide blood pressure monitoring and support, as well as breastfeeding support and support for mental well-being. The project’s goal is to help achieve healthier birth outcomes for Black women and infants and ultimately improve care for postpartum women across Wisconsin.

Modeling Basal Forebrain Cholinergic Vulnerability in Down Syndrome

Anita Bhattacharyya, PhD, Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology and collaborator Su-Chun Zhang, MD, PhD, Department of Neuroscience and Neurology will use this New Investigator award to further understand neurodegeneration in Down syndrome. Down syndrome is characterized by intellectual impairment at birth and Alzheimer’s disease pathology in middle age. A specific population of neurons in the brain involved in learning and memory are affected in Down syndrome and die in both Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.

The goal of this project is to understand why this group of neurons is vulnerable in Down syndrome, and how this knowledge could be applied to the studies of Alzheimer’s disease. By understanding this aspect of Down syndrome, the project’s findings have the potential to lead to new therapies for those with Down syndrome and hopefully those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Molecular Basis of Immune Variations

The human immune system plays a critical role in maintaining health by preventing autoimmunity, infection and cancer. Autoimmunity alone affects more than seven percent of the population, is the second highest cause of chronic illness, and is the top cause of morbidity in women with no cure. Because of the significant differences in immune function between individuals, past research aimed at generalized strategies for all individuals has failed to provide satisfactory treatments for these diseases.

This project, led by Yun Liang PhD, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and collaborator Shivani Garg, MD, Department of Medicine, is designed to address the urgent need to develop novel personalized approaches for immune-associated diseases by advancing the scientific understanding of the molecular basis of immune variations. Such understanding may lead to novel, molecular targets that enable physicians to tailor therapeutic strategies to an individual’s immune system based on understanding of immune variations.

Non-invasive Diagnosis of Acute Kidney Injury in Premature Infants

Acute kidney injury is a common occurrence in premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit and has significant implications for health outcomes, including permanent kidney damage. Children diagnosed with chronic kidney disease are 13 times more likely to develop end stage renal disease by the age of 40 and subsequently require dialysis or kidney transplant. Matthew Harer, MD, Department of Pediatrics and collaborator Joshua Coon, PhD of the College of Agricultural Life Sciences, Department of Chemistry, will use their New Investigator award to evaluate a new method of detecting kidney injury, with the goal of identifying injury before permanent damage. With early detection, the researchers will be positioned to design and test treatments that will result in healthier kidneys and lead to decreased chronic kidney disease and the opportunity for these infants to thrive throughout childhood and as adults.

Vascular Effects of Precision Interventions for Severe Asthma (VASC-PreCISE)

The prevalence of asthma, a chronic inflammatory condition, is higher in Wisconsin than the national average, and asthma is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Asthma also disproportionately afflicts children and ethnic minorities. Matthew Tattersall, DO, MS, Department of Medicine will lead the project Vascular Effects of Precision Interventions for Severe Asthma (VASC-PreCISE), which aims to study the effects of novel, precision asthma therapy on vascular inflammation in asthmatics, and ultimately to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease.

Project collaborators include James Stein, MD, Loren Denlinger, MD, PhD, and Nizar Jarjour, MD of the Department of Medicine.

Finding the correct therapy to address each asthmatics’ unique inflammation pattern has the potential to reduce patients’ cardiovascular risk. Moreover, addressing chronic inflammation at an early age may completely alter the cardiovascular risk of generations of asthmatic individuals.

The Wisconsin Partnership Program is a permanent endowment within the School of Medicine and Public Health. It was 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 540 research, education and community partnership grants totaling more than $248 million to improve the health of the people of Wisconsin.