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Penn State CTSI announces seven Bridges to Translation pilot funding recipients

Request for applications now open for next round of funding; letters of intent are due by Sept. 12

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute is helping to generate innovative health research ideas and promote collaboration through the awarding of pilot grants in its “Bridges to Translation” program. The Institute has awarded $350,000 to support seven interdisciplinary, multi-investigator pilot research projects, giving researchers an opportunity to further explore new ideas and gather more information in preparation for larger grant opportunities from outside organizations.

Funding is designed to support research that breaks down roadblocks across the translational research spectrum through:

  • the development of novel technologies;
  • multidisciplinary collaborations;
  • dissemination and implementation of evidence-based programs, policies, and practices;
  • strategies for dissemination and implementation;
  • training programs for the next generation of clinical research scientists and staff; and
  • statistical methods and models to analyze data and projects that focus on addressing health needs among complex populations across the lifespan.

The translation of biomedical and health discoveries to application is a long and complex process with high costs and substantial failure rates. The Bridges to Translation funding mechanism invests in novel research ideas to promote collaboration across Penn State to collect information that could lead to external funding to advance health.

“The seven funded projects represent diverse research topics across the translational spectrum. We look forward to seeing where these projects lead to ultimately improve the health of the communities we serve.” -Jennifer Kraschnewski, director, Penn State CTSI

Special consideration was given to projects that focus on addressing Social and Environmental Determinants of Health, specifically as these relate to rural and other vulnerable populations who experience health disparities. The competitive process awarded grants to the following Penn Staters across three colleges and seven departments:

Vida Abedi, associate professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine: “Current and future physicians’ knowledge, attitudes, and perspectives on the adoption of AI in clinical workflow.” Co-PIs (primary investigators) are Jennifer Wagner and Ramin Zand.

According to the study, it is essential for biomedical AI tools to be implemented in a human-centered way so that they adequately address the needs and interests of those expected to use them and overcome hurdles that might undermine the beneficial effect of AI. This study will explore the knowledge, attitudes, and perspectives of current and future physicians toward AI to clarify how to integrate biomedical AI tools into the clinical workflow successfully.

Rebecca Bascom, professor, Departments of Medicine and Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine: “Mechanism of severe early onset familial pulmonary fibrosis.” Co-PIs are James Broach, Zissis Chroneos and Amanda Nelson.

According to the study, pulmonary fibrosis is a debilitating disease where inflammation and scarring of the lungs makes breathing increasingly difficult. The clinical and personalized medicine teams at Penn State College of Medicine identified a genetic mutation in the lung surfactant protein A2 gene. This study will help to advance our understanding of disease mechanism and learning of how to treat the disease.

Jessica Ericson, associate professor, Department of Pediatrics, Penn State College of Medicine: “Neonatal RNA sequencing-Assisted Pathogen IDentification (RAPID).” Co-PIs are James Broach, Danielle Smith and James Fisher.

According to the study, babies are particularly vulnerable to serious infections during the first month of life. It is very difficult to distinguish serious bacterial infections from viral infections or non-infectious causes of illness using clinical signs and standard laboratory studies. This study will result in pilot data that can be used to improve pathogen identification in neonates in rural and low-resources settings using novel diagnostics.

Tullika Garg, associate professor, Department of Urology, Penn State Cancer Institute: “Advancing surgical care for older adults by implementing electronic geriatric assessment tools.” Co-PIs are: Joe O. Littlejohn Jr. and Nicole Osevala.

According to the study, up to 70% of older adults undergoing major cancer surgery have geriatric impairments and frailty which are associated with mortality, complications, and reduced quality of life. Age alone is not adequate to identify who is fit for surgery, and as a result, surgical practice guidelines recommend assessing geriatric impairments and frailty to guide surgical decisions. This study aims to overcome barriers to implementing evidence-based, guideline-recommended geriatric assessment tools into surgical practice. The study team will engage community-dwelling older adults with cancer as co-designers to adapt existing self-administered GA tools into an easy-to-use electronic survey that could be completed at home before a surgical clinic visit.

Yogasudha Veturi, assistant professor, Departments of Behavioral Health and Statistics, Penn State College of Health and Human Development: “Identifying longitudinal disease trajectories for cognitive impairment and dementia in urban and rural populations.”

According to the study, rural populations (especially rural women) face increasing risk of chronic diseases and cognitive decline driven in part by greater rates of risky behaviors and poorer access to healthcare services, including emergency services, primary care, and insurance coverage. Thus, a subpopulation-specific assessment of multimorbidities can be instrumental for designing appropriate early interventions for mild cognitive impairment and dementia. The long-term goal of this study is to provide guided clinical interventions for better disease management and reduce associated healthcare costs, especially for rural populations.

Nancy Williams, professor, Department of Kinesiology and Physiology, Penn State College of Health and Human Development: “Modifiable prevention and early intervention targets for eating disorder pathology: A study in first-year undergraduates.” Co-PIs are Mary Jane De Souza, Jamal Essayli and Prabhani Kuruppmullage Don.

According to the study, the effects of social isolation, imposition of physical distancing, disruption of academic learning, student jobs and social life and lockdown measures imposed during the COVID pandemic have caused a sharp increase in mental health problems particularly among college-aged young adults. Undergraduates who are at high risk of developing eating disorders, are at a particularly high vulnerability as they transition from high school to college for worsening mental health and eating disorders. This study will look at new post-COVID prevalence rates of eating disorder behaviors and their psychological and physical associated health problems in first-year undergraduate students.

Xiang Zhu, assistant professor, Department of Statistics, Penn State Eberly College of Science: “Machine learning-enabled synergy of DNA biobanks and single-cell multi-omics to advance substance use genetics in diverse human populations.” Co-PIs are Qunhua Li, Jennifer Nyland and Jennifer Moss.

According to the study, many under-served populations, such as rural communities, suffer a disproportionate burden from the worsening drug overdose epidemic in the US. Understanding the genetic basis of substance use helps develop more effective and equitable strategies to combat this epidemic. This study will establish a biologically interpretable and socially equitable framework for substance use genetics, promoting efficacy and equity in precision medicine for everyone.

“We were thrilled to have received strong proposals addressing rural and at-risk populations this year,” said Jennifer Kraschnewski, director of the institute. “The seven funded projects represent diverse research topics across the translational spectrum. We look forward to seeing where these projects lead to ultimately improve the health of the communities we serve.”

“Bridges to Translation allowed our cross-disciplinary team to tackle a very complex problem in computer-aided drug discovery. We have published several papers based on this research and developed open software for the community. This opportunity allowed us to further collaborate on other projects and on a major National Science Foundation grant.” – Nikolay Dokholyan

Request for applications open for Bridges to Translation IX pilot funding.

Letters of intent are now being accepted for the institute’s next funding opportunity, Bridges to Translation IX. The institute will award up to $200,000 in funding to Penn State faculty, with awards capped at $50,000. A required letter of intent is due by Sept. 12.

Learn more

An information session for Bridges to Translation IX will be held virtually on Aug. 28,  2-3 p.m.

Register for the virtual information session

Penn State CTSI offers research support, tools and resources, consultative services, finding, training, and education to make health research more efficient and promote collaboration at Penn State. To learn about the institute’s resources, visit or request a consultation by completing a research request form.




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