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NIH grants more than $2 million to College of Medicine researchers

The National Institutes of Health granted Penn State College of Medicine researchers more than $2 million in March to support both new and established projects, some scheduled to last until 2024.

Investigators supported by these grants include:

Dr. Thomas Ma, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine, who obtained $490,284 from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to study the intestinal barrier. The project, “Intestinal Barrier, Probiotic Bacteria, and the Gut-Liver Axis,” aims to determine the causal link between intestinal permeability and liver disease. Ma will also investigate the use of probiotic bacteria as a possible treatment to prevent liver disease. This study, in its first year, is expected to conclude in 2023.

Gregory Holmes, associate professor of neural and behavioral sciences, who received $333,304 from the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke to investigate why bowel function is impaired following spinal-cord injuries. His study, “Pathophysiologic remodeling of the enteric neuromuscular compartment in experimental spinal cord injury,” will use an animal model to study the neurological mechanisms that cause constipation, incontinence and other gastrointestinal issues patients often experience after injuring their spinal cords. This project, in its first year, is expected to end in 2024.

Dr. Ingrid Scott, the Jack and Nancy Turner Professor of Ophthalmology and professor of public health sciences, was awarded $1,082,515 to organize and implement a national multicenter study, “The SCORE2 Long-Term Follow-Up.” The funding from the National Eye Institute will allow Scott and her research team to investigate treatment patterns and outcomes of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor therapy for macular edema (swelling in the center part of the retina) associated with central retinal or hemiretinal vein occlusion (a blockage in one of the major veins in the retina). The agents Scott and her research team are investigating facilitate resorption of fluid accumulation in the center part of the retina. The project is expected to conclude in 2022.

Kristin Eckert, professor of pathology, biochemistry and molecular biology and member of the Jake Gittlen Laboratories for Cancer Research, obtained $518,614 from the National Cancer Institute for her project, “Pro-tumorigenic functions of human DNA polymerases eta and kappa during genome duplication under physiological replication stress conditions.” Her laboratory will investigate how DNA polymerase proteins create errors during genome replication that cause mutations and drive cancer. The research could lead to new treatment approaches that directly intervene in the carcinogenesis process, before a malignant cancer arises. This is the first year of a five-year project.

Jiafen Hu, assistant professor of pathology, received $191,624 from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to study “The role of chronic cannabis and its two major psychoactive ingredients in papillomavirus-associated oropharyngeal disease.” The new project, expected to wrap up in 2021, will study how marijuana use affects the immune cells in the oropharynx, which includes the back third of the tongue, side and back walls of the throat, tonsils and soft palate. The goal of the study is to use an animal model to determine if marijuana use increases susceptibility to papillomavirus infections, which can lead to oropharyngeal cancers.

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