Research Notes

Major NIH Research Awards: Summer/Fall 2022

Major NIH Research Awards: Summer/Fall 2022

Addressing the Rising Tide of Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at Einstein, in collaboration with faculty at Pennsylvania State University and other institutions, have received a five-year, $32 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to support the ongoing Einstein Aging Study (EAS), which focuses on both normal aging and the special challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. EAS has been continuously funded by the NIH since 1980. Study co-leaders are Richard Lipton, M.D., professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology, of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and of epidemiology & population health, and the Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology at Einstein as well as vice chair of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore; and Carol Derby, Ph.D., research professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and of epidemiology & population health and the Louis and Gertrude Feil Faculty Scholar in Neurology at Einstein.

Expanding the Center for AIDS Research

The NIH has awarded Einstein a five-year, $11.3 million grant to renew the Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY Center for AIDS Research (ERC-CFAR) and expand its efforts to prevent, treat, and cure HIV infection. The ERC-CFAR—the only CFAR in New York and one of 19 current NIH-funded CFARs nationwide—was established in 2017 to bring together researchers at Einstein, the Rockefeller University, and the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy to realize the ultimate goal of living in a world without AIDS. The new funding represents a 50% increase over ERC-CFAR’s first five-year NIH grant. The director and a co-leader of the ERC-CFAR is Harris Goldstein, M.D., professor of pediatrics and of microbiology & immunology, the Charles Michael Chair in Autoimmune Diseases, and associate dean for scientific resources at Einstein, and an allergy and immunology physician at Montefiore.

Tackling Post-Traumatic Epilepsy

Approximately one in 50 people who suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI) will develop post-traumatic epilepsy (PTE)—with the risk of PTE significantly higher in people with severe TBI. PTE involves recurring seizures that begin a week or more after the brain injury, and there is no way to identify those at risk for developing PTE or to prevent its onset. Einstein researchers led by Aristea Galanopoulou, M.D., Ph.D., have received a five-year, $11 million NIH grant to direct a multicenter search for novel biomarkers that will predict a person’s risk for developing PTE and for treatments to prevent the condition. The investigators will first conduct preclinical studies, with the goal of holding future clinical trials to evaluate promising diagnostics and interventions. Dr. Galanopoulou is a professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience at Einstein.

Insights Into Lung Metastasis in Breast Cancer

Most breast-cancer deaths are caused by metastasis—the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. During metastasis, cells of the primary breast tumor invade blood vessels, travel in the bloodstream, and exit the vessels to seed tumors in their new location. The NIH has awarded Jonathan Backer, M.D., a five-year, $10 million grant to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms regulating breast cancer cells at a key metastatic site: the lungs. This project, involving investigators in two Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (MECC) research programs, has developed techniques for visualizing and analyzing breast cancer cells as they leave the blood and form colonies in the lungs of mice. These studies should provide insights into the biology of metastasis and reveal strategies for treating metastatic breast cancer. Dr. Backer is a professor and the chair of molecular pharmacology, a professor of biochemistry, and the William S. Lasdon Chair in Pharmacology at Einstein and associate director of shared resources at MECC.

Investigating Congenital Heart Disease

The genetic disorder 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS) affects one in 4,000 live births. Approximately 60% of 22q11.2DS patients have congenital heart disease, most commonly cardiac outflow tract (OFT) defects that vary in severity. Bernice Morrow, Ph.D., has received two four-year NIH grants totaling $5.5 million to better understand OFT defects. The first grant involves analyzing whole-genome sequences from people with 22q11.2DS, some of whom have OFT. In the second grant, she and co–principal investigator Deyou Zheng, Ph.D., will investigate genetic problems during embryogenesis that cause OFT. Dr. Morrow is a professor of genetics, of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health, and of pediatrics and the Sidney L. and Miriam K. Olson Chair in Cardiology and director of translational genetics at Einstein. Dr. Zheng is a professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology, of genetics, and in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience at Einstein.

A Search for Markers of Early Alzheimer’s Disease

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease can be a complex and time-consuming process, requiring evaluations ranging from brain scans to cognitive and lab tests to reviews of medical history and symptoms. Simpler and faster ways to diagnose the disease are urgently needed. Einstein researchers led by Jeannette Mahoney, Ph.D., associate professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology, have been awarded a five-year, $4.2 million NIH grant to detect behavioral markers for Alzheimer’s that are present early in the course of the disease, before it can be clinically diagnosed. Results of this research could help scientists identify people at risk for Alzheimer’s and related problems, such as falls, and lead to new preventive strategies. Dr. Mahoney’s previous studies suggest that early Alzheimer’s disease may stem from disruptions in brain regions that process multisensory information and allow for functions of daily living such as walking.

Preventing Recurrence of HIV Infection

Antiretroviral therapy effectively suppresses HIV infection. But when such therapy is discontinued, the infection quickly rebounds when latent (nonreplicating) HIV resumes replicating. A functional cure for HIV will require new strategies to nip resurgent infection in the bud. Harris Goldstein, M.D., and Steven C. Almo, Ph.D., have received a five-year, $4.2 million NIH grant to use two novel strategies to boost HIV-specific immune responses to prevent the resurgence of HIV infection. Dr. Goldstein is the director of the Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY Center for AIDS Research; a professor of pediatrics and of microbiology & immunology, the Charles Michael Chair in Autoimmune Diseases, and associate dean for scientific resources at Einstein; and an allergy and immunology physician at Montefiore. Dr. Almo is a professor and the chair of biochemistry and the Wollowick Family Foundation Chair in Multiple Sclerosis and Immunology at Einstein, and the director of the Einstein Macromolecular Therapeutics Developmental Facility.

Better Care for Patients at Risk for HIV

The Black and Latino communities are hardest hit by HIV, yet face barriers in accessing HIV prevention services, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—worsening racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in HIV incidence. Many HIV at-risk patients seek care for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in emergency departments (EDs), yet traditional ED care is poorly suited for addressing HIV prevention. Uriel Felsen, M.D., M.S., and Viraj V. Patel, M.D., M.P.H., have received a five-year, $4.2 million NIH grant to test two strategies for increasing PrEP uptake among at-risk patients accessing care in Bronx EDs. The strategies are post-visit outreach (a sexual-health navigator contacts patients following an STI-related ED visit and offers education, counseling, and links to clinics offering PrEP), and Tele-PrEP (a real-time telehealth visit with a sexual-health provider during STI-related ED visits). Drs. Felsen and Patel are associate professors of medicine at Einstein and internists focusing on HIV at Montefiore.

Studying Brain Changes Caused by COVID-19

Einstein researchers have been awarded a five-year, $3.5 million NIH grant to study the effects of COVID-19 on the brains of adults who had mild or asymptomatic infections. One hundred forty study participants will be divided into three groups: 70 people who were never infected with SARS-CoV-2; 35 people who were infected but who were not symptomatic; and 35 people who were infected, had mild COVID-19 symptoms, and did not require hospitalization. The investigators will examine whether SARS-CoV-2 infection induces lasting changes in the brain and affects neurocognitive function. The co–principal investigators are Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore; and Johanna Daily, M.D., M.S., professor of medicine and of microbiology & immunology at Einstein and an infectious-disease physician at Montefiore.

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