FY 22 Seed Grant Recipients

Stacey Griner

Stacey Griner, PhD, MPH
Recipient of the Early Stage Investigator Pilot Grant Program

“Prenatal Syphilis Screening Guidelines and Policies: Examining Multi-level Determinants of Implementation”

Bio: Dr. Stacey Griner (she/her) graduated in 2019 with a Ph.D. in Public and is a tenure-track assistant professor in the School of Public Health. Her research uses dissemination and implementation science approaches to develop and implement innovative strategies to address multilevel barriers to STI screening.

Current Project: In Texas, congenital syphilis rates have increased 650% from 2016 to 2019, but early detection by screening for syphilis infections at prenatal care visits can reduce maternal and neonatal morbidity. States regulate prenatal syphilis screening requirements through legislation and in 2019, Texas modified state-level policies to require screening at delivery, a third timepoint to address the significant increases in congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis rates continued to increase after this policy modification, suggesting an issue of translation into practice. The purpose of this study is to explore determinants influencing the implementation of modified prenatal syphilis screening policies into clinical care in Texas.

Hsc Fort Worth Rong Ma

Rong Ma, PhD
Recipient of HSC Bridge Funding Program Award

“Pilot studies on I-mfa regulation of cytokine/chemokine production in kidney cells”

Bio: Dr. Ma is a Professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences. The major goal of this project is to investigate the contributions of I-mfa to inflammatory responses in kidney disease and the underlying mechanisms.

Current Project: Population of diabetes mellitus continues to rise in the U.S. Diabetic kidney disease is a major complication of diabetes mellitus and is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease. The research in our laboratory is directed at understanding the molecular mechanisms of the development of diabetic kidney disease. Specifically, we are interested in the role of different calcium signaling pathways in the diabetes-induced kidney injury. It is our goal to better understand the molecular events involved in the kidney response to diabetes, so that we can target rational development of effective therapeutics to prevent/treat the disease.

Dong Ming Left

Dong-Ming Su, PhD
Recipient of HSC Bridge Funding Program Award

“Age-Related Neuronal Autoimmune diseases”

Bio: Dr. Su has received multidisciplinary and inquiry-based trainings in infectious immunology, molecular immunobiology, and developmental genetics in various countries including China, Japan, and USA. These trainings have laid solid knowledge for him to pursue his long-term goal of using biomedical approaches to determine mechanistic insights into 1) rejuvenating immunosenescence, which increases susceptibility to emerging and chronic infections, reduces effective vaccination, and leads to late-onset-life cancer development, and 2) attenuating harmful (autoimmune-prone) T cell immunity that is responsible for chronic inflammatory conditions to lead to neurodegeneration and cardiovascular diseases in the elderly.

Current Project: “Age-Related Neuronal Autoimmune diseases” to Dr. Su is a bridge funding for generating solid and sufficient data of Dr. Su NIH R01 grant renewal. The studies focus on providing evidence regarding the roles of central nervous system (CNS)-infiltrated aged T cells in pathogenesis and regulation of late-onset (aged) multiple sclerosis (MS) disease with mouse model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

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Sterling Ortega, PhDRecipient of the Early Stage Investigator Pilot Grant Program

“Advancing neuroimmunology with the use of cerebral organoid technology”

Bio: Dr. Sterling Ortega is an Assistant Professor in Microbiology, Immunology, and Genetics Department. He received his Ph.D. training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. His research focuses on the discovery of novel therapeutics that can reverse immune-mediated neurological dysfunction. His initial faculty appointment was at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. Dr. Ortega has published over 25 peer-reviewed manuscripts and received funding awards from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Heart Association, and NIAID and NINDS at the NIH.

Current Project:  Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating neurological disease where patients present with motor, cognitive, and behavioral dysfunction due to cytotoxic targeting of oligodendrocytes (OL): leading to multifocal areas of demyelination and impaired nerve conduction. There is currently no approved curative agent for MS. Evidence suggestive of a CD8 T-cell role in MS includes the presence of activated CD8 T-cells at the site of demyelinating MS lesions and the presence of myelin antigen-reactive (Mye-Ag) CD8T-cellsin the peripheral blood of MS patients. The extent of our current knowledge is limited to mouse modelsExperimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE) is a murine model of MS used to dissect the role of Mye-Ag CD8 T-cells, which has revealed two distinct roles, a disease-promoting and an immuno-regulatory subtype. Although the majority of the infiltrating T-cells in an MS brain are CD8 T-cells, there is a paucity of human studies clearly defining the role of Mye-Ag CD8 T-cells in MS. Until recently, assessing the role of Mye-Ag CD8 T-cells on OL from humans has been impossible due to autologous HLA requirements between these two cell groups. With the advent of cerebral organoids, an in vitro 3D brain structure (mini-brain), we can evaluate the dynamic and holistic interplay between the same individual’s immune and CNS cells. Specifically, we seek to generate cerebral organoids from healthy adult individuals using peripheral blood cells. These cerebral organoids will be used to study the dynamic interaction between central nervous system cells and myelin-reactive CD8 T-cells, two key players in Multiple Sclerosis. The acquisition of cerebral organoid technology will support, enhance, and fulfill the neuro-immune-centric technological need of our group.

Johnathan Tune Hsc Fort Worth

Johnathan Tune, PhD
Recipient of the Team Science Award

Bio: Dr. Johnathan Tune is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology and Anatomy at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC). His research focuses on the regulation of myocardial oxygen delivery, contractile function and metabolism in health and disease. His laboratory has been continuously funded for >20 years by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and Eli Lilly and Company. He has held academic positions at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Indiana University School of Medicine, and the HSC. Dr. Tune has published over 110 peer-reviewed manuscripts, served on study sections and editorial boards of leading cardiovascular journals, and received numerous awards, including the Henry Pickering Bowditch Award from the American Physiological Society.

Current Project: This Team Science Award initiates a new translational research collaboration between scientists at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and physicians at Medical City Hospital Fort Worth. The Program builds on recent work to develop a unique swine model of human heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) and leverages existing expertise in cardiovascular and autonomic control, clinical cardiology, as well as fundamental histologic and ‘omic approaches. The goal of the program is to make material advancements in understanding of HFpEF that translate into improved approaches to prevention and treatment of a highly complex syndrome that remains poorly understood and devoid of effective therapeutic targets.