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Major NIH Research Awards: WInter/Spring 2020

Einstein and Montefiore investigators received $178 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during federal fiscal year 2019—the largest annual total in the College of Medicine’s history.

Detecting Arterial Disease in the Legs

Lower extremity arterial disease (LEAD) is a debilitating but under-recognized condition usually caused by fatty plaque buildup in arteries carrying blood from the heart to the legs. LEAD typically isn’t diagnosed until people experience cramping or pain while walking.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year, $8 million grant to Einstein’s Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., and a Johns Hopkins co-investigator to identify early symptoms of LEAD so it can be promptly diagnosed and treated.

Some 6,000 participants in a community health study will first undergo diagnostic testing for LEAD. They’ll then be fitted with wristwatch monitors to measure daily activity. Comparing the monitor results with the diagnostic-test results may reveal telltale patterns of activity associated with LEAD. Dr. Kaplan is a professor of epidemiology & population health and the Dorothy and William Manealoff Foundation and Molly Rosen Chair in Social Medicine at Einstein.

Understanding How Antibodies Protect Against TB

Tuberculosis (TB) ranks among the 10 leading causes of death worldwide. To develop an effective vaccine and new immunotherapies against TB, researchers need to better understand how the immune system works to prevent and control Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection.

The NIH has awarded Jacqueline Achkar, M.D., M.S., a five-year, $3.7 million grant to investigate the role of antibodies in protecting against TB.

Dr. Achkar and colleagues are focusing on the surface glycans of Mtb, some of which elicit an antibody response. The researchers particularly want to learn where on the glycans the antibodies attach. Findings could fill a critical gap in the current knowledge about TB immunity and lead to new strategies for developing both vaccines and antibody-based immunotherapies against TB. Dr. Achkar is an associate professor of medicine and of microbiology & immunology at Einstein.

Curbing Heart Disease Among Those With HIV

Antiretroviral therapy has turned HIV into a chronic disease in the United States. Lifelong HIV infection, however, greatly increases the risk of age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD). Chronic inflammation triggered by the body’s immune response to HIV infection contributes to CVD, but it’s not yet known which genes are altered in this immune response.

Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., has received a four-year, $3.3 million grant from the NIH to identify the genes that are over- or underexpressed in immune cells of people living with HIV. Researchers hope to find differences in blood cells that can be targeted by existing medicines or to identify new targets for which drugs can be developed. Dr. Kaplan is a professor of epidemiology & population health and the Dorothy and William Manealoff Foundation and Molly Rosen Chair in Social Medicine at Einstein.

Preventing Diabetes in Minority Men

For people with prediabetes, a lifestyle intervention called the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) has been shown to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 60% to 70%. Men of color, however, are far less likely to enroll in the 12-month DPP and to remain engaged if they do enroll.

The NIH has awarded Earle Chambers, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Gonzalez, Ph.D., a five-year, $3.1 million grant to evaluate Power-Up, a version of DPP tailored to black and Latino men. Men with prediabetes will be randomly assigned to a traditional coed DPP program or to Power-Up. The researchers will evaluate the participants’ engagement, as well as weight loss and levels of hemoglobin A1c (a blood test indicative of diabetes). Dr. Chambers is an associate professor of family and social medicine and of epidemiology & population health at Einstein; Dr. Gonzalez is a professor of medicine and of epidemiology & population health at Einstein.

Finding an Enzyme’s Role in Blood Stem-Cell Disorders

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a bone-marrow disorder arising from defective hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells (HSCs). The enzyme TET2 controls how HSCs produce healthy blood cells and is frequently mutated in MDS. TET2’s normal catalytic activity is essential for suppressing MDS.

Keisuke Ito, M.D., Ph.D., and Meelad Dawlaty, Ph.D., have found evidence that TET2 also suppresses MDS through noncatalytic means. The scientists have received a four-year, $2.8 million NIH grant to conduct further research into how TET2 acts noncatalytically to suppress MDS. Discovering additional ways in which TET2 influences MDS could lead to new treatments. Dr. Ito is the director of scientific resources of the Einstein Stem Cell Institute and an associate professor of cell biology and of medicine at Einstein; Dr. Dawlaty is an assistant professor of genetics and a member of the Einstein Stem Cell Institute.

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