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7 Health Sciences Faculty Among $740,000 in Research Growth Awards

Research logoThe Saint Louis University Research Institute has awarded more than $740,000 in grants in its second round of funding to accelerate research growth at SLU. Launched in September 2018 through investments made possible by Accelerating Excellence: The Campaign for Saint Louis University, the SLU Research Institute provides critical funding to support faculty and researchers whose interests span the University. Its role furthers the campaign’s overall goal of propelling SLU to national prominence as a world-class research university and, more specifically, enhances the University’s academic excellence – one of the key priorities of the historic $500 million fundraising effort.

Out of more than 70 proposals submitted, 13 were selected. They included studies in a variety of fields, including law, anthropology and education. Among them, seven of the awarded projects focused on the health sciences:

Jacki Kornbluth, Ph.D.:  Professor, Pathology School of Medicine

The award supports research on natural killer (NK) cells, white blood cells that are the body’s first defense against tumors and viruses. Kornbluth’s lab developed the only normal human NK cell line to date, called NK3.3. Her lab also recently found that NK3.3 cells release extracellular vesicles (EVs) that are extremely effective in killing tumor cells but do not kill normal cells. EVs are in Phase I trials to induce anti-tumor immune responses. The Kornbluth lab discovered that NK-derived EVs kill cancer stem cells, which evade chemotherapy and lead to metastasis and relapse. This grant will cover personnel to perform the needed laborintensive studies. These funds will accelerate studies to evaluate NK EVs as an “off-the-shelf” treatment of many different types of cancer.

Maureen Donlin, Ph.D.: Research professor, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, School of Medicine

The award will help develop assays to screen SLU-owned libraries of small molecules that can be developed into anti-fungal drugs. This project will build on existing capacity at SLU in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery work in the human fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans.

Uthayashanker Ezekiel, Ph.D., MB(ASCP): Associate Professor, Clinical Health Sciences, Doisy College of Health Sciences

This grant will enable research into anticancer effects of bioactive compounds. Phytochemicals offer an approach to cancer prevention with less toxicity and side effects than current chemotherapy. The primary investigator focuses on signaling pathways and epigenetic mechanisms that give phytochemicals their anticancer effect.

David Ford, Ph.D.: Professor, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Director, Center for Cardiovascular Research, School of Medicine
Ford will use new, innovative technology to investigate endothelial and epithelial barrier dysfunction. Many diseases are either initiated or escalated due to loss of barrier function. The capacity to measure changes in barrier function is critical to evaluate the relevance of mechanisms of diseases investigated by SLU researchers. This new technology will improve research infrastructure at SLU, and will be used by a number of researchers in a variety of departments, including the investigators planning for a SLU Sepsis Center and the SLU Institute for Drug and Biotherapeutic Innovation.
Daniel Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D.: Associate Professor, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology, School of Medicine

Hawiger has invented a method to deliver specific T cell antigens to dendritic cells, using genetically modified species-specific, recombinant chimeric antibodies. This frequently cited research (approaching 2,000 citations) was discussed during a 2012 Nobel prize lecture. Further, these approaches were successfully considered in developing antitumor and anti-microbe vaccines.

Hawiger has now identified a specific dendritic cell molecule, called BTLA, that governs activation of autoimmune and potentially anti-tumor cells. This grant will help develop a platform based on this discovery, which could open new avenues to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer. Particularly, it could radically improve “check point blockade” therapies that now create serious side effects.

Nabil Khater, M.S., DABR, DABMP: Assistant Professor and Chief Physicist, Radiation Oncology, School of Medicine

This grant will be used to build a device which improves patient positioning during head-and-neck cancer radiation therapy. Patient misalignment leads to cancer recurrence, which is noncurable. Globally, approximately 600,000 patients per year can benefit from this research.

Whitney Postman, Ph.D., CCC-SLP: Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders, Doisy College of Health Sciences

In the past decade, childhood speech disorders have been remedied by using ultrasound to visualize lingual movements. Despite this revolution, only one case report has been published on the feasibility of ultrasound for an adult-acquired disorder. With a generous donation from Mr. Dominic and Mrs. Annette Barczewski to Dr. Postman’s Neuro-Rehabilitation of Language Laboratory, an ultrasound system has been purchased to fill this gap. This grant from the Research Growth Fund will secure ancillary equipment for this research and help disseminate results.