UConn Research Seeds 17 Projects through New CRISP Funding Initiative

The funding program, which encourages interdisciplinary research among clinical faculty at UConn and UConn Health, is awarding a total of $729,000

Gestational Diabetes

The largest of the CRISP seed grants - $100,000 - was awarded to Dr. Andrea Shields' team to researching community-based lifestyle interventions for pregnant women afflicted with gestational diabetes.

A wide range of ambitious projects, aimed at improving medicine in disciplines from pediatrics to oncology to genomics, are set for seed funding through a new UConn Research funding initiative.

Seventeen projects across UConn and UConn Health will receive a total of $729,000 in funding through the Clinical Research and Innovation Seed Program (CRISP). The funding serves as a launch to seek larger grants from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further research pursuits.

“CRISP has led to outstanding proposals for interdisciplinary research at Storrs and Farmington, bringing together the expertise of clinical faculty at UConn and UConn Health,” says Pamir Alpay, interim vice president for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. “These projects have the potential to make profound impacts on medical research and interventions.”

Awards ranged from $5,000 to $100,000 and involved collaborations with a wide array of investigators from UConn and partners such as The Jackson Laboratory, Hartford Hospital, and the Columbia School of Nursing. UConn faculty members from several schools and colleges were awarded funding, including the School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, School of Engineering, School of Nursing, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The projects cover a wide range of projects and disciplines designed to improve understanding the body, diseases, and treatment. For example, Dr. Andrea Shields, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is leading a team researching the feasibility of community-based lifestyle intervention for pregnant women afflicted with gestational diabetes. In another project, professor of medicine Dr. Eric Mortensen is leading an investigation into improving identification of pneumonia patients who are at high risk for readmission.

“The CRISP awards are an exciting funding opportunity for clinical researchers that will foster new avenues of research for the university, and create collaborations across schools and other organizations,” says Anthony Vella, senior associate dean for research planning and coordination at UConn Health.

UConn President Radenka Maric helped conceptualize CRISP during her previous role as vice president for research and Alpay has shepherded the program to fruition. They sought to unlock the research potential of UConn’s clinical faculty who regularly treat patients and teach students, leaving little time for their own pursuits.

“CRISP provides funding to generate data for new ideas that might very well be leveraged into much bigger clinical research projects. Sometimes all it takes is a little spark to open new doors of innovation,” says Vella.

UConn Research funding coordinator Matthew Mroz worked with associate deans and research faculty across both campuses to establish a three-tiered funding structure. Track one projects awards up to $10,000 and is open to clinical faculty who spend at least 60 percent of their time either in a clinical or teaching capacity.

Track two awards up to $60,000 and were reserved for projects involving human subject and clinical population research. These CRISP awards were created with early career researchers in mind or established researchers looking to explore new directions or re-establish programs.

Track three awards up to $100,000 and were likewise designated for human subject and clinical population research. These were designed for significant projects where researchers target specific external future funding opportunities from the NIH or other sponsors.

UConn Research is seeding eight track one, five track two, and four track three awards. Mroz says that these awards enable collaborations that might not otherwise happen.

“The CRISP program is a unique offering among UConn internal funding programs, making focused investments that support clinician-researchers, collaborations between clinicians and fundamental science researchers, and partnerships among researchers from UConn, UConn Health, and local healthcare and biomedical research partners like Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the Jackson Laboratory,” says Mroz.

The 2022-2023 CRISP awardees are:

Corey Baker, CT Children’s, $10,000
Fecal Microbiome in Pediatric Functional Dyspepsia
Co-PIs: Jeffrey Hyams, Connecticut Children’s, Division of Digestive Diseases, Hepatology and Nutrition; Joerg Graf, UConn, Molecular and Cell Biology/Microbiology

Sharon Casavant, School of Nursing, $60,000
Epigenetic Biomarkers of Health Equity in Mother-Preterm Infant Dyads
Co-PIs: Judy Brown, School of Nursing | UConn Storrs Associate Professor, Dept. of Genetics and Genome Sciences | UCONN Health; Adam Matson, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center; Emil Coman, Health Disparities Institute; Bo Reese, Center for Genome Innovation; Vijender Singh, Associate Director, Computational Biology Core; Shabnam Lainwalla, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic; Jacquelyn Taylor; Columbia University School of Nursing

Martin Freilich, School of Dental Medicine, $10,000
Pumping Mechanism for Human Scale Artificial Salivary Gland Dental Implant Device
Co-PIs: Martin Freilich, UConn Health; Julian Norato, UConn; Liisa Kuhn, UConn Health; Thanh Nguyen, UConn

David Hersh, CT Children’s, $6,900
Application of Virtual Reality Interventions in Post-Operative Recovery of a Pediatric Scoliosis Patient Population
Co-PIs: Robert Astur, UConn – Psychological Sciences; Mark Lee, CT Children’s – Orthopedic Surgery; Megan Anderson, Connecticut Children’s

Alexander Hogan, CT Children’s, $10,000
Bronchiolitis hospitalization clusters among our children: Drawing a health disparities map of Connecticut
Co-PIs: Debarchana Ghosh, Geography

Denis Lafreniere, School of Medicine, $5,000
Measurement of Laryngeal pressure from Endotracheal Intubation as it relates to Hypopharyngeal-Laryngeal Angle
Co-PIs: Vito Moreno, BioEngineering

Rajesh Lalla, School of Dental Medicine, $48,170.45
Clinical Testing of a Novel Formulation of a Topical Anesthetic for Oral Mucositis Pain in Patients with Cancer
Co-PIs: Diane Burgess, School of Pharmacy

Eric Mortensen, School of Medicine, $97,142.94
Improving the Identification of Patients at High Risk for Readmission after Pneumonia
Co-PIs: Nkiruka Atuegwu, UConn Health/Department of Medicine; Scott Allen, UConn Health/Department of Medicine; Khadija Poitras-Rhea, UConn Health; Dirk Stanley, UConn Health/Department of Medicine

Sheida Nabavi, School of Engineering, $92,042.48
Personalized and interpretable automatic 3D mammogram imaging diagnostics
Co-PIs: Sheida Nabavi, UConn/Computer Science and Engineering; Clifford Yang, UConn Health/Radiology; Jinbo Bi, UConn/Computer Science and Engineering

Hideyuki Oguro, School of Medicine, $60,000
Hematopoietic stem cell mobilization, cholesterol metabolism, and complications in pregnant women
Co-PIs: Andrea Shields, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Chia-Ling Kuo, Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering and Department of Public Health Sciences

Amisha Parekh De Campos, School of Nursing, $10,000
BIPOC Perceptions on Barriers and Facilitators to End-of-Life Care
Co-PIs: Christina Ross, School of Nursing

Robert Parker, CT Children’s, $10,000
Pediatric Rolling Refreshers
Co-PIs: Elliot Melendez, CCMC Critical Care; Matthew Nardozza, CCMC Simulation; Meaghan Sullivan Yarnaros, CCMC Critical Care; Carla Pruden, CCMC Emergency Department

James Rusling, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, $60,000
CRISPR Tau-protein and miRNA  blood test assay validation for Alzheimer’s disease
Co-PIs: Breno Diniz, UConn Health, Center on Aging; Islam Mosa, UConn Chemistry

Andrea Shields, School of Medicine, $100,000
Meals 4 Moms: Development and Feasibility of a Multilevel Community-based Lifestyle Intervention for Gestational Diabetes
Co-PIs: Shontreal Cooper, MD, UConn Health; Sonal Grover, MD, UConn Health; Helen Wu, MD, UConn Health; Ock Chun, PhD, UConn Storrs; Linda Pescatello, PhD, UConn Storrs; Molly Waring, PhD, UConn Storrs

Olga Toro-Salazar, CT Children’s, $55,942.09
Role of transforming growth factor-ß signaling pathway on cardiotoxicity from chemotherapeutic agents
Co-PIs: Emily Germain-Lee, University of Connecticut, Department of Pediatrics, School of Dental Medicine, Department of Reconstructive Sciences; Se-Jin Lee, Jackson Laboratory, UCHC, Department of Genetics

Tarunya Vedere, School of Medicine, $8,835
Retrospective review of patients who underwent adrenalectomy for surgically remediable aldosteronism and correlation of functional histopathology with adrenal vein sampling characteristics.
Co-PIs: GaHie Nam, Dept. of Pathology and Lab Medicine; Kevin Claffey, Dept. of Cell Biology

Yanjiao Zhou, School of Medicine, $85,902
Dynamics of oral microbiome during whole pregnancy and their association with development of preeclampsia
Co-PIs: Shon Cooper, OB/GYN; Andrea Shields, OB/GYN; Adam Borgida, Hartford Hospital; Sejal Thacker, Division of Periodontology, Dental Medicine