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CAO Pilot Grants Support, Encourage Innovation Through Interdisciplinary Investigations

Bringing together researchers from different scientific specialties and disciplines to share unique perspectives and complementary skills in the pursuit of innovative discoveries and translational “bench-to-bedside” research is a major strategic priority for the Research program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

Vikas Sukhatme, MD, ScD, Chief Academic Officer at BIDMC“Interdisciplinary research teams bring complementary expertise to clinically important questions,” said BIDMC Chief Academic Officer (CAO) Vikas P. Sukhatme, MD, ScD (right). “The best translational innovations often occur when scientists from different backgrounds come together to solve problems.”

To support these collaborations, Sukhatme created the CAO Pilot Grants Program. The initiative, launched in 2014 with support from BIDMC donors Ruth Moorman and Sheldon Simon, has awarded $1.75 million in funding to BIDMC investigators over the past two years.

In 2015, CAO pilot grants were made to eight interdisciplinary research teams to fund projects with high clinical or translational impact, broadly defined as scientific work that will make a difference to human health.

“These grants enable the creation of unique collaborations among our scientists to explore exciting ideas and pursue unconventional approaches to address health care issues that, in total, affect millions of patients worldwide.”

Meeting an Important Need

Pilot grants, which provide funding of $25,000 to $100,000 for periods ranging from six months to two years, enable scientists to acquire preliminary data that can then be leveraged for use in applying for larger and longer-term grants, including funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“In creating these grants, I wanted to help encourage synergies across our research program,” said Sukhatme. “The program has already successfully brought together some terrific teams of investigators from throughout the medical center. Our initial grants, awarded in 2014, are now leading to important next steps for researchers from throughout the medical center.”

Creating Interdisciplinary Alliances

“Our CAO Pilot Grant has provided a wonderful opportunity for me, a biochemist, to work with Steve Cannistra, an expert in the treatment of ovarian cancer, and Sean Clohessy, an expert in modeling cancer in mice,” said Jack Lawler, PhD, of the Department of Pathology and the Center for Vascular Biology Research. Together with Cannistra and Clohessy, Lawler has been working on the development of a novel therapeutic for ovarian cancer.

“The three of us have complementary expertise that enabled us to design clinically relevant experiments and develop new mouse models,” he says.“This funding provided us with support to test our drug in additional models, including patient-derived xenografts.The data that we obtain should help us to identify a corporate partner for further development and clinical trials.”

Over the past year, Evan Rosen, PhD, an investigator in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, worked with John Rinn, PhD, of the Department of Pathology and Samuel Lin, MD, of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to investigate the epigenomic and transcriptional basis of human insulin resistance.

“This funding enabled the three of us to do some truly transformative work by catalyzing interactions with our clinical colleagues and with world-class experts in the bioinformatics analysis of genome-wide data,” says Rosen. “The project we undertook was beyond the scope of any single lab, yet this sort of multidisciplinary science is critical for making the next wave of advances. The CAO Pilot Grants help make this possible.”

The support from their 2014 CAO Pilot Grant helped Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD, and Xiao Zhen Zhou, MD, of the Division of Translational Therapeutics in the Department of Medicine, continue their investigations into the role of tau antibodies in the early diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury. The research team received a second CAO grant in 2015 to support their work targeting a common oncogenic mechanism for treating cancer and cancer stem cells.

“This pilot project has great translational potential because inhibitors of the Pin1 isomerase could have a major impact on difficult-to-treat or drug resistant cancers by targeting a common oncogenic mechanism to simultaneously stop multiple cancer-driving pathways in cancer and cancer stem cells,” said Lu.

2015 CAO Pilot Grants

The following teams of BIDMC investigators have been awarded 2015 CAO Pilot Grants:

Immunomodulatory effects of MUC1 and discovery of microRNAs regulating MUC1 mediated signaling. David Avigan, MD (Hematology/Oncology), Jacalyn Rosenblatt, MD (Hematology/Oncology) and Frank Slack, PhD (Pathology)

TM4SF1 as a new diagnostic and therapeutic target of solid tumors. Shou-Ching Jaminet, PhD (Pathology), Harold F. Dvorak, MD (Pathology) and John V. Frangioni, MD, PhD (Medicine and Radiology)

The in vivo kinetics of AolL1. Anders Berg, MD, (Pathology) David Friedman, MD (Nephrology), Martin Pollak, MD (Nephrology)

A novel deep sequencing platform for virus detection and discovery in central nervous system infections and multiple sclerosis.  Igor Koralnik, MD, (Neurology)  Spyros Chalkias, MD (Infectious Diseases)

Small molecule modulators of stress-induced kinase activity in Alzheimer’s disease. Tae Ho Lee, PhD, (Gerontology) Hak Soo Choi, PhD (Molecular Imaging)

Targeting Bmi1 in pulmonary adenocarcinomas. Elena Levantini, PhD, (Hematology-Oncology), Daniel Tenen, MD (Hematology-Oncology)

A novel vaccine against BK virus. C. Sabrina  Tan, MD, (Neurology) Dan Barouch, MD, PhD, (Virology and Vaccine Research)  Martha Pavlakis, MD (Transplantation)

Targeting a common oncogenic mechanism for treating cancer and cancer stem cells. Xiao Zhen Zhou, MD (Hematology-Oncology) and Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD, (Hematology-Oncology)

February 2016