News

M&I Faculty Receives NIH R01 Grant

Matthew LawrenzM&I Associate Professor, Dr. Matthew Lawrenz, was awarded a National Institutes of Health R01 Grant titled " Iron independent role for yersiniabactin in Yersinia pestis." The grant, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is budgeted until 2026 for a total amount of 2.6 million dollars.

UofL researchers lead call to increase genetic diversity in immunogenomics

UofL researchers lead call to increase genetic diversity in immunogenomics

Corey Watson, Ph.D., Melissa Smith, Ph.D., and Oscar Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Historically, most large-scale immunogenomic studies – those exploring the association between genes and disease – were conducted with a bias toward individuals of European ancestry. Corey T. Watson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Louisville Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, is leading a call to actively diversify the genetic resources he and fellow immunogenomics researchers use in their work to advance genomic medicine more equitably.

Watson, along with UofL post-doctoral fellow Oscar Rodriguez, Ph.D., and visiting fellow Yana Safonova, Ph.D., are part of an international group of researchers who say the narrow studies limit their ability to identify variation in human adaptive immune responses across populations.

“We need to better understand how genetics influences immune system function by studying population cohorts that better represent the diversity observed across the globe if we are to fully understand disease susceptibility, as well as design more tailored treatments and preventative measures,” Watson said.

In an article published in Nature Methods, Diversity in immunogenomics: the value and the challenge, the group advocates for resources used in immunogenomics research to actively include and specifically identify additional populations and minority groups. They say such diversity will make their research more relevant and help in understanding population and ancestry-specific gene-associated disease, leading to improvements in patient care.

"As scientists, we have a say in which populations are investigated. Therefore, it is critical for us to be actively inclusive of individuals representative of the world we live in. This is especially critical for genes that are as diverse and clinically relevant as those that encode antibodies and T cell receptors," Rodriguez said.

Watson’s research focuses on immune function and molecular genetics. His team is studying a specific area of the genetic code that controls antibody function to better understand how differences in an individual’s genes determine their susceptibility to certain diseases or immune responses to vaccines.

In collaboration with Melissa Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, the team is conducting the largest sequencing efforts of the antibody gene regions in humans and in animal models, Watson said.

“Specifically in humans, we are working to build catalogs of genetic variation in samples from multiple ethnic backgrounds and are engaged in projects that seek to understand how this genetic variation influences the immune response in infection, vaccination and other disease contexts,” he said.

Watson is involved in efforts to improve the resources and data standards for antibody and T cell receptor genes for immunogenomics researchers around the world.

The article in Nature Methods was co-authored by researchers from the United States, Canada, Norway, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, South Africa, Nigeria, Chile, Peru, China, Japan, Taiwan and French Polynesia with expertise in biomedical and translational research, population and public health genetics, health disparities and computational biology as well as immunogenomics.

UofL, UK and Kentucky Department for Public Health receive CDC grant to improve stroke care, outcomes in Kentucky

UofL, UK and Kentucky Department for Public Health receive CDC grant to improve stroke care, outcomes in Kentucky

Kerri Remmel, MD, PhD

The University of Louisville, UK HealthCare, the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program (KHDSP) and other state partners have been awarded the prestigious Paul Coverdell National Acute Stroke Program Grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This $1.8 million grant aims to optimize both stroke prevention among those at high risk as well as improve the care and outcomes for stroke patients throughout Kentucky.

The three-year grant will allow the coordination and expansion of existing efforts to improve stroke-related health outcomes. Kentucky health care systems and community providers will work together to implement comprehensive stroke systems for those at high risk for stroke and those who have had a stroke. 

“This program will allow expansion of our statewide efforts to serve rural and underserved citizens of the Commonwealth, to reduce disparities and monitor our progress,” said Kerri S. Remmel, chair of the UofL Department of Neurology, director of the UofL Hospital Stroke Center and co-chair of the KHDSP Task Force. “The program will facilitate continuous quality improvement in the full continuum of care from the moment a patient has a stroke through their emergency services, hospitalization and rehabilitation to their outpatient preventive care. We are extremely enthusiastic about collaborating with our partners in the Coverdell Program to improve stroke systems of care in Kentucky.”

“This award validates the voluntary efforts of stroke center personnel, EMS representatives, community partners, KHDSP staff and colleagues in public health, as well as all other stakeholders who have worked tirelessly across geopolitical boundaries in a collaborative effort to advance stroke systems of care in our state,” said Kari Moore, chair of the Stroke Encounter Quality Improvement Project (SEQIP) and project co-investigator. “We are excited to continue to build upon these efforts supported by the Coverdell award.”

KHDSP and SEQIP have made significant strides over the last 10 years improving stroke systems of care in the Commonwealth and growing access to stroke care by increasing the number of certified stroke centers in the state, increasing delivery of acute stroke treatments that can reverse or minimize stroke deficits and sharing best practices to help facilitate care delivery during hospitalization and after discharge.

This grant will coordinate and expand existing efforts in Kentucky to improve stroke-related health outcomes by working with Kentucky health care systems and community providers to implement comprehensive stroke systems for those at high risk for stroke and those who have had a stroke. 

The Coverdell award also will allow the group to target areas of the Commonwealth that are disproportionately affected by stroke, such as the Appalachian counties. The mortality rate due to stroke in that region is 14% higher than the national average and 8% higher than the rest of the state.

“This award could not come at a better time, because Kentucky has among the highest rates of stroke-related deaths in the country,” said Larry B. Goldstein, chairman of the University of Kentucky Department of Neurology and principal investigator on the project. “Over 2,000 Kentuckians die from stroke or stroke-related complications each year. Health behaviors and conditions that contribute to stroke are present at high rates in Kentucky with contributions from smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, excessive alcohol use and physical inactivity. Although there are several existing stroke programs in Kentucky, we are excited that this project will coordinate and expand upon these efforts to improve stroke outcomes for Kentuckians.”

As part of the Coverdell initiative, the Kentucky Stroke Improvement Cooperative (KSIC) will be created to provide leadership for improving the quality of stroke care in the Commonwealth. Building from the KHDSP Taskforce and SEQIP, the UK and UofL Stroke Programs and the SCN, this group will lead the collaborative effort to transform Kentucky’s stroke care and outcomes by improving health approaches and practices.

Since its inception in 2005, The Coverdell Program has funded programs to ensure that all Americans receive the highest quality stroke care, a leading cause of death and long-term disability, by supporting coordinated stroke systems of care.

Joining nine other states currently funded by the Paul Coverdell National Acute Stroke Program, Kentucky’s program will:

  • Increase access and participation in the statewide Kentucky Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Task Force from the current 38 hospitals to help close the gap in stroke care for high burden populations. In addition to focusing on hospitals, the project will expand participation to encompass the community, primary care clinics, EMS, rehabilitation centers and long-term care facilities.
  • Expand coordination between existing programs including the Kentucky SEQIP, the statewide UK/Norton Healthcare Stroke Care Network, and the 36 certified stroke centers in Kentucky.
  • Increase access, understanding, utilization, and compliance with evidence-based performance measures of the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines Stroke Program.
  • Expand existing systems of care to coordinate and extend access to rural and underserved populations.
  • Increase the dissemination of evidence-based guidelines for improvement of hypertension, obesity and diabetes control, which are the leading risk factors for stroke disproportionately affecting high-burden populations.
  • Reduce stroke disparities and deaths over the long term and improve outcomes throughout Kentucky with a focus on Appalachia and underserved communities at highest risk.

UofL resident physician selected for prestigious national fellowship

UofL resident physician selected for prestigious national fellowship

Meena Vessell, M.D.

University of Louisville neurosurgery resident Meena Vessell, M.D. has been selected by the Council of State Neurosurgical Societies (CSNS) as 1 of 12 neurosurgery residents to serve as socioeconomic fellow for 2021-2022. The council selects three residents from each geographic quadrant of the U.S. annually. Vessell is the third UofL resident to serve as a CSNS socioeconomic fellow after Ian Mutchnick in 2008-09 and Paul Larson in 2001-02.

The fellowship is intended to broaden a neurosurgery resident’s working understanding of the socioeconomic issues affecting neurological surgery by working on various committees and dedicated mentorship from council members. The CSNS is made up of members of state neurosurgical societies and functions as a joint committee of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS). It began in the 1960s as a committee of the CNS, where it was charged with evaluating neurosurgery fees in the context of Medicare and a proliferation of other health insurance carriers. Today the CSNS is a collaborative organization of neurosurgeons and residents that serves as a resource and advocate on socioeconomic issues for the benefit of patients and the profession.

As a CSNS socioeconomic fellow, Vessell will participate actively in plenary sessions and on committees and will be expected to author or co-author a resolution or white paper on a relevant topic. During her fellowship year, Vessell will be trained in topics including the effects of socioeconomic issues on neurosurgical outcomes, the significance of billing/coding and reimbursements and practices that deliver cost-effective neurosurgical care.

Vessell is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and earned her medical degree from Northeast Ohio Medical University. She will serve as a CSNS socioeconomic fellow during her seventh residency year. She has previously served as council representative to the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Legislation, vice chair of the AMA Medical Student Section Council on Legislation and advocacy and government relations fellow for the Ohio State Medical Association. Vessell previously received the United States Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award on behalf of the Physicians Professional Advisory Committee of the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Public Health Service, as well as the AMA Excellence in Medicine Award. 

UofL Health – Peace Hospital opens geriatric psychiatry inpatient unit

UofL Health – Peace Hospital opens geriatric psychiatry inpatient unit

UofL Health - Peace Hospital

UofL Health – Peace Hospital is expanding its care by opening a geriatric psychiatry inpatient unit providing short-term psychiatric treatment for adults aged 55 and older.

The secure 20-bed unit is specifically designed for the unique needs of the older adult and provides treatment for a range of mental health and substance use disorders.

“At our geriatric inpatient program, we will provide care for depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar and agitation associated with dementia and more,” said Martha Mather, CAO of UofL Health – Peace Hospital. “This is another example of the commitment UofL Health has made to providing high-quality mental health care for people at all stages of life.”

The treatment team will focus on crisis stabilization and supporting the patient’s return to their home community or to a less restrictive level of care. The interdisciplinary team includes board-certified psychiatrists, gerontologists, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, Master’s level therapists, mental health technicians, activity therapists, occupational, speech and physical therapists, and chaplains.

“There’s not a one-size fits all solution when it comes to mental health treatments, so we use a team approach to make sure every patient gets exactly what he or she needs to thrive,” said Stephen Taylor, M.D., chief medical officer at UofL Health – Peace Hospital. “We’re excited to offer this geriatric program because we know there is a growing need for this care in our community.”

The Peace Hospital Geriatric Inpatient Program will be housed in downtown Louisville at UofL Health – Frazier Rehabilitation Institute to ensure a holistic approach by meeting both the behavioral health and physical health needs of the patient.

This expansion in services created approximately 40 new jobs in Louisville, including a program director, outreach coordinator, nurses, mental health technicians and more. UofL Health invested more than $1 million into this project.

With the addition of this new unit, Peace Hospital now operates 262 inpatient beds to children and adults in need of mental health treatment. Telehealth and 24/7 mobile assessments are also available.

UofL receives $11.3 million from NIH for liver research center

UofL receives $11.3 million from NIH for liver research center

Craig McClain, M.D., right, with Matthew Cave, M.D., liver researcher and H&T COBRE core director, center, and Jamie Young, Ph.D., using equipment known as the NanoDrop instrument to analyze RNA and DNA samples.

The University of Louisville Hepatobiology and Toxicology Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) has received $11.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to support its research into liver-related illness for an additional five years.

The UofL Hepatobiology and Toxicology Center was created in 2016 with an $11.5 million grant from the NIH to support unique research focused on liver injury and disease and toxicology. The center supports leading-edge research conducted by junior investigators with mentorship from senior researchers, as well as pilot projects and core laboratory facilities that support research across the university. The researchers’ goal is reducing the impact of many types of liver illness through prevention and the development of therapies.

Kentucky leads the nation in increases in cirrhosis-related deaths and in liver cancer-related deaths. According to research published in BMJ, mortality due to cirrhosis has been increasing in the U.S. since 2009, with the greatest increase in deaths from cirrhosis in Kentucky. Non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases affect approximately 25% of adults and 10% of children in the U.S.

“This vital research at the University of Louisville advances the health of Kentuckians and people throughout the world,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi. “Through this center, UofL researchers will continue to expand their work to find ways to prevent and treat liver illnesses, many of which today have no FDA-approved treatment.”

Researchers at the UofL H&T Center focus on liver injury, nutrition and gut-liver interactions as well as interactions between the liver and environment, toxicants and drugs. Their ultimate goal is to contribute to the prevention and treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (a major cause of cirrhosis of the liver), alcoholic liver disease and liver cancer.

“This incredible cohort of researchers is discovering new ways to address the liver illnesses that afflict so many Kentuckians. I am thrilled that young researchers will continue to be supported with COBRE funding at UofL,” said Toni Ganzel, dean of the UofL School of Medicine.

In its first five years, four of the funded junior investigators in the UofL H&T Center received independent NIH research funding, making way for a new cohort of project researchers. The renewal of COBRE funding encourages a continuous supply of researchers in specialized areas of medicine and the search for new disease treatments.

“This unique thematic center is focused on liver injury, disease and toxicology. We evaluate critical barriers in our understanding of the development and progression of liver disease and we define potential therapeutic targets that could transform current practice,” said Craig McClain, associate vice president for health affairs and translational research and principal investigator for the UofL H&T Center. “This new phase will build on that success and extend and strengthen the scope of the program.”

“To push past the limitations of existing therapeutics, you need COBRE infrastructure grants to establish cutting-edge biomedical research centers and capabilities,” said Joshua L. Hood, a project investigator in the UofL H&T Center. “The more of these capabilities we have, the more we can explore multidisciplinary frontiers in biomedical science to facilitate the development of new treatments for liver-related cancer and other diseases.”

Current projects supported by the center include:

  • Yan Li, associate professor in the Department of Surgery, is investigating preventive strategies and possible mechanisms behind non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a potential precursor of liver cancer.
  • Joshua L. Hood, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, is examining how very small membrane-bound compartments known as nanovesicles that are released by cancer cells influence immune function in liver cancer.
  • Ming Song, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, is studying the role of fructose consumption on the disruption of intestinal barrier function in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Smita Ghare, instructor in the Department of Medicine, is investigating how alcohol-induced changes in the liver contribute to liver inflammation and injury.

UofL has a legacy of liver research dating to the 1970s when faculty members began investigating a cluster of cases of hepatic angiosarcoma, a rare liver cancer caused by exposure to vinyl chloride in a polymer manufacturing facility in an area of West Louisville known as Rubbertown. UofL researchers worked with the community and industry to document and reduce the effects of toxicants on worker health. UofL still maintains a biorepository of blood and liver tissue specimens begun during that research that serves as a resource for investigators studying the effects of environmental exposures on the liver.

In addition to research, the center provides support for community health. During the epidemic of Hepatitis A and C in the last decade, center investigators helped create the Kentucky Hepatitis Academic Mentorship Program. This program helped to train more than 140 primary care providers in the diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C. Those diseases now are declining.

New Tenure Track Faculty Position Available

Department of Microbiology & Immunology and the Center for Predictive Medicine announce a new tenure-track faculty position in Infectious Disease Immunology. Click here to learn more. 

COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial now open for children ages 6 months to 11 years

Norton Children’s Research Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, to participate in COVID-19 investigational vaccine clinical trial for children ages 6 months to 11 years.
COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial now open for children ages 6 months to 11 years

The Norton Children’s Research Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, will participate in a phase 2/3 clinical trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 investigational vaccine for healthy children ages 6 months to 11 years. The study will evaluate safety, tolerability and immune response in this age group. It is the only site in Louisville offering the trial and among 100 participating sites around the world.

“As of now, we do not have a vaccine that is authorized for use in children under age 12,” said Gary S. Marshall, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Norton Children’s and the UofL School of Medicine, and principal investigator for the Louisville trial. “Having a safe and effective vaccine for children will not only keep them healthy but also would facilitate a return to normal in terms of school and other activities.”

In the randomized clinical trial, two children will be assigned to receive the vaccine for every one child who receives a placebo. The study is blinded, meaning that no one initially will know which injection they receive. Parents and caregivers will be asked to track changes to the child’s health in an electronic diary, and children will have at least six in-person visits over a two-year period, some to include blood draws.

Children who are randomly assigned to receive the placebo will be given the chance to receive the active vaccine after six months; therefore, all children in the study ultimately will have the opportunity to receive the active vaccine. 

The vaccine being studied is the same one that has been authorized for people ages 12 and older. In adults, this vaccine demonstrated 95% efficacy against COVID-19, and as of May 11, 2021, nearly 140 million people in the U.S. had received at least one dose. Preliminary data show the vaccine to be safe in children as well as able to generate a strong immune response.

The research team plans to enroll about 100 local volunteers for the trial; the overall enrollment will be about 4,500. Children ages 6 months to 11 years who are generally healthy are eligible to be included.

"The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been shown to be very safe and effective in adults and adolescents," said Kimberly A. Boland, M.D., chief of staff, Norton Children's Hospital, and chair, UofL School of Medicine Department of Pediatriacs. "We have every reason to believe this study whill show the vaccine to be safe and effective in childrent and an important step forward for children's health and for protecting our communities."

Dr. Marshall is known for his work in vaccine development, advocacy and education. In fact, he has worked on many of the vaccines that children routinely receive today. The clinical trial team has responded to the pandemic, treating children with COVID-19 and its consequences.

“This is the most exciting vaccine trial I have ever been involved with, and I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” Dr. Marshall said.

Parents and caregivers can sign children up to be considered for the trial by going to NortonChildrens.com/COVIDTrial.

UofL wastewater testing identifies new COVID-19 strain before traditional testing

University of Louisville research that uses wastewater to monitor the rates of COVID-19 infection was first to identify a variant in Louisville, alerting officials ahead of other testing methods and giving them valuable time to work to contain it.

UofL detected the variant, a Brazilian strain known as P.1, early in April in a wastewater sample from western Jefferson County. Once researchers received the results, they alerted the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness as well as the state, which confirmed a positive case in the same zip codes with different testing methods a week later.

“The ability to detect viruses early, such as in this case, gives officials more time to take precautions and contain their spread,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, professor of medicine and director of UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, which leads the wastewater research. “With pandemics, every second counts. In as little as one week, the virus can spread significantly, and then it becomes much harder to contain. This work gives us more time and an opportunity for targeted testing.”

UofL researchers began testing wastewater last year as part of the Co-Immunity Project, a groundbreaking partnership to track COVID-19 in Louisville Metro.

The Louisville/Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District has sent weekly samples from 12 sites representing multiple neighborhoods and five wastewater treatment facilities that aggregate the entire county.

Those samples are taken to the UofL Center for Predictive Medicine, where pharmacology and toxicology assistant professor Josh Fuqua and his team process the samples and isolate viral RNA, and to the UofL Genomics and Bioinformatics Core facilities, where computer science and engineering professor Eric Rouchka analyzes the virus sequences to detect variants.

UofL recently announced the expansion of this work, backed by an $8.6 million grant. That expansion goes one step further than previous work — from identifying whether disease exists in a neighborhood to estimating how prevalent it is there.

Bhatnagar said understanding that connection could “revolutionize the way we track and contain pandemics, and not just COVID-19.”

Rather than rely solely on direct testing, such as with nasal swabs, wastewater testing can give health departments another tool to gauge the severity of community infection and to identify areas where the infection is prevalent. The tool also is faster, more efficient and less invasive.

“This is cutting-edge work – and the fact that it’s being done right here in Louisville – right here at UofL – places us at the forefront of public health innovation,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “It shows we’re doing the work to keep our city and cities around the world safe.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Co-Immunity Project has conducted ongoing testing and surveys to better understand the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19. In the past year, UofL researchers have tested more than 12,000 people for COVID-19 infection and antibodies, beginning with frontline health care workers. They also have worked to gauge how local citizens feel about COVID-19 vaccines, with 91% of Jefferson County residents in a recent poll saying they would like to be vaccinated.

“This is one more example of how UofL has led the charge in finding new and innovative ways to detect, contain and fight COVID-19,” said Kevin Gardner, UofL’s executive vice president for research and innovation. “Developing these new, more efficient tools for tracking pandemics, such as wastewater monitoring, is a big step in advancing health for our community and beyond.” 

The Co-Immunity Project needs 2,000 residents to undergo random testing for COVID-19 infection and antibodies the week of May 17-23 as part of this ongoing research. To learn more, visit http://bit.ly/uoflcovid, call 833-313-0502 or email covidsupport@louisville.edu.

UofL Post COVID-19 Research Clinic documents long-term effects of infection

Study adds to knowledge of how COVID-19 affects people over time
UofL Post COVID-19 Research Clinic documents long-term effects of infection

Louisville resident and podcaster A. Dale Josey is a participant in the UofL Post-COVID-19 Research Clinic

When Sophie Fritschner came down with COVID-19 on New Year’s Eve, she had a low-grade fever, cough and body aches. It took her a few weeks to get over the cough and congestion, but the 69-year-old resident of Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood has had no symptoms since.

For Catherine Gamas, it was a different story. Her symptoms were more severe and have lingered. She lost her senses of taste and smell and experienced extreme fatigue and confusion. Months after her diagnosis, the 56-year-old Clarksville, Ind., resident still has intermittent loss of taste and smell, dizziness, daily headaches and hair loss and said she bruises easily.

“I would do one thing and have to sit down. I could go down the stairs but not back up,” she said. “The hair loss is most distressing. It used to take two hours for my hair to dry normally. Now it’s 15 minutes at best.”

A. Dale Josey, a Louisville resident and podcaster, also reported symptoms that disrupted daily routines. He developed lethargy and weakness, had painful joints and was extremely cold. He also experienced blinding headaches, nausea and loss of taste.

“It was too intense to eat,” he said.

To help researchers better understand these and other short- and long-term effects of COVID-19, Fritschner, Gamas and Josey are participants with the Post COVID-19 Research Clinic at the University of Louisville. They are committed to furthering knowledge of post-COVID-19 conditions by sharing their COVID-19 experiences to help UofL researchers learn more about how the disease affects people differently and hopefully improve treatment for others during and after the illness.

For Josey, participation in the research clinic is essential “to add to the body of scientific research.” For the same reason he regularly donates blood (7 gallons of lifetime donations), Josey is participating to improve the health of the Louisville community.

The UofL Division of Infectious Diseases created the multidisciplinary research clinic to study the wide variety of symptoms and effects of COVID-19. Volunteer participants from Louisville and surrounding areas who previously were diagnosed with COVID-19 can participate in the research study to document and monitor their symptoms and health changes over time.

“We will conduct comprehensive mental and physical assessments to determine the many possible effects of COVID-19,” said T’shura Ali, Ph.D., M.P.H., a UofL postdoctoral associate who manages the research clinic. “We want to expand the knowledge of how the disease progresses, to help improve treatments and interventions – both when patients are initially sick and after – to define, measure and prevent the long-term effects of COVID-19.”

Post-COVID symptoms can be any change in quality of life, health status or symptoms that emerge after the infection. COVID-19 patients have reported a wide variety of symptoms weeks and months following their initial infections, but some of the most common include:

  • Decreased cardiac function (fast-beating or pounding heart, heart palpitations, chest pains)
  • Decreased lung capacity (difficulty breathing or shortness of breath)
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Blood clotting issues
  • Decline in mental health
  • Intense migraines or headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog (difficulty thinking or concentrating)
  • Continued loss of smell or taste

Participants for the study from Louisville and surrounding areas age 18 and over who have had COVID-19, confirmed by a diagnostic test, are eligible to participate in the study whether they have experienced long-term symptoms following infection or had no additional symptoms. Vaccination status does not affect eligibility.

Researchers will record study participants’ health history and all their COVID-19 symptoms and health changes over time. They will record vital signs, conduct physical examinations and administer validated health assessments, vision tests, lung function tests and electrocardiograms (EKG). Study participants also will be asked to provide blood and urine samples at each visit. The data will be analyzed by a group of experts led by Julio Ramirez, M.D., professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, including physicians and researchers in cardiovascular medicine, perioperative medicine, pulmonary care and critical care as well as clinical and translational researchers.

To further study decreased heart and lung function, some of the most common and severe symptoms associated with COVID-19, Jiapeng Huang, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, is conducting a sub-study of the research clinic’s participants, supported by Gilead Sciences.

“For this project, we will study the heart, lungs and blood vessels of individuals who have been ill with COVID-19 using ultrasounds done at the clinic. This research will establish the foundation for future preventive and therapeutic strategies,” Huang said.

“These participants are helping to contribute to clinical care, research and science in understanding the burden of disease to help guide progress toward better treatment and care, which ultimately will improve the Louisville community’s overall health,” Ali said.

All appointments and tests are free for the participants. Information will be used for research purposes only and will remain confidential. The research clinic does not provide treatment or referrals, but abnormal findings will be reported to the participants. Study visits are conducted every three to six months and participants are followed for approximately one year.

To learn more, visit the division website, email COVClinic@louisville.edu or call 502-852-8680.

M.D./Ph.D. Student Cancer Tech Startup Wins Inaugural Innovation Competition

A UofL student startup aimed at fighting cancer has won the inaugural CardStart innovation competition. 

The startup is MAC-BIO, led by MD/PhD student Jordan Noe in the Brown Cancer Center, which is developing a new cell-based therapy for the treatment of aggressive solid tumors. For winning CardStart, Noe will receive $1,500 to help him get his startup off the ground and his technology to market.

“CardStart has been an amazing experience in refining MAC-BIO’s business pitch and vision as well as helping us connect with potential mentors and investors,” he said. “CardStart’s support will be instrumental in helping us further advance our technology through our current pre-clinical studies.”

CardStart is a two-pronged, student-led event. In fall 2020, teams spent a whirlwind virtual weekend finding innovative solutions to health care problems and building startups around them. The top teams, including Noe, won mentorship and coaching, modest funding to develop their prototype and free registration for the 2021 spring cohort of LaunchIt, UofL’s 10-week entrepreneurial training boot camp.

In April, the teams competed again, pitching their ideas to a panel of seasoned judges. 

Samantha Morrissey, a medical student and graduate chair of the CardStart student organizing committee, said the event is meant to encourage students to think outside the box and gain hands-on experience innovating. 

See the full article by Baylee Pulliam here.

April 28, 2011

The team of Kenneth Palmer and other UofL and U.S. researchers receives DOD funding to develop and test nasal spray to prevent COVID-19

The University of Louisville received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a nasal spray that will prevent serious viral respiratory infections such as COVID-19 using Q-Griffithsin, a drug compound developed at UofL.

As Palmer explained, the idea is to deliver an antiviral agent to the location of the body where the virus is known to replicate first, the upper respiratory tract. Q-Griffithsin , an analog of the biologic griffithsin co-owned by UofL, the University of Pittsburgh and the National Cancer Institute, is a potent anti-viral protein that acts against multiple coronaviruses, including MERS, SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, as well as pandemic threat viruses such as Nipah virus.

The one-year project, funded through an $8.5 million agreement from the DoD, includes developing the spray, testing the formulation in lab studies and conducting a Phase I clinical trial. The researchers expect the spray to be used to protect frontline health care workers, military personnel living in close quarters and other essential workers, as well as vulnerable people for whom a vaccine might not be fully protective.

Kenneth E. Palmer, director of the UofL Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases and member of the Brown Cancer Center, is leading the project, known as PREVENT-CoV.

The UofL researchers will develop and manufacture the nasal spray, to be used once a day to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, in collaboration with Lisa Rohan and Sharon Hillier, at the University of Pittsburgh, Barry O’Keefe, at the National Cancer Institute and Donald Lo and colleagues at the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The team first will formulate the compound for use as a nasal spray, then will test the newly developed spray in the lab using human samples and tissues and in animal models.

With positive results, the researchers would seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization for deployment of the formulation, a step that the researchers anticipate could happen as soon as the end of 2021.

You may view the complete article by Betty Coffman here.

 

 

Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic recognized as an age-friendly health system

Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic recognized as an age-friendly health system

The UofL Trager Institute and the Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic

The Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic at the University of Louisville Trager Institute has been recognized as an Age-Friendly Health System by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The recognition acknowledges the clinic’s commitment to improve health care for older adults and comes just over one year after it opened.

“It is so exciting that the Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic received the Age-Friendly recognition so shortly after celebrating our one-year anniversary,” said Anna Faul, Ph.D., executive director of the UofL Trager Institute and the Optimal Aging Clinic. “This recognition serves as a testament to the impact we’ve made during our first year. We strive to be on the forefront of patient care for older adults and we look forward to continuing to provide every older adult with the best care possible as part of the Age-Friendly Health Systems initiative.”

As part of the Age-Friendly Health Systems initiative, The John A. Hartford Foundation and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, in partnership with the American Hospital Association and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, are helping hospitals, clinics and other care settings implement evidence-based interventions specifically designed to improve care for older adults. 

The interventions are tested and adapted through participation in Age-Friendly Health Systems Action Communities. These collaborative entities are comprised of health care teams from across the country that are committed to sharing data and learning together. The teams work to implement best practices across emergency departments, intensive care units, medical-surgical units, general wards and primary and specialty care settings.

The Optimal Aging Clinic now joins more than 450 health systems working to make care for older adults even more tailored to patients’ goals and preferences and consistently of high-quality as part of the initiative, which is based on a series of practices focused on addressing four essential elements of care for older patients known as the 4Ms:

What Matters: Know and align care with each older adult's specific health outcome goals and care preferences including, but not limited to, end-of-life care, and across settings of care.

Medication: If medication is necessary, use age-friendly medications that do not interfere with What Matters to the older adult, Mobility, or Mentation across settings of care.

Mentation: Prevent, identify, treat and manage dementia, depression and delirium across settings of care.

Mobility: Ensure that older adults move safely every day in order to maintain function and do What Matters.

Joe D’Ambrosio, J.D., Ph.D., director of behavioral health at the UofL Trager Institute and Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic, says the Age-Friendly initiative also is infused in the organization’s Behavioral Health Services Organization.

“We are so happy to include this initiative in the work we do with our therapy patients,” D’Ambrosio said. “The 4Ms of the initiative align perfectly with the behavioral health interventions we share with patients in their efforts to age optimally and we are excited to build upon the progress we have made in our first year to continue to help older adults thrive as they age.”

Learn more about the Republic Bank Optimal Aging Clinic in a video created to celebrate the clinic’s first anniversary.

For more information or a tour of the Trager Institute and the Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic, please contact Lisa Warner, UofL Executive Director of Development at 502-852-7448.

UofL student teams innovate new healthcare technology in whirlwind weekend

University of Louisville student teams built startup companies to improve healthcare, from making nurse workflow more efficient to thinking of new therapies for tumors – all in the course of a whirlwind virtual weekend.

It’s part of a new student-led UofL virtual event called CardStart that asks teams to create innovative solutions to health care problems and build startups around them in just 48 hours.

The judges selected three winning teams, each of which will receive support to help them refine their ideas ahead of a finals competition, which will be presented to a panel of industry experts and health care leaders in the spring.  MAC-BIO’s (Team:  Jordan Noe, M.D., Ph.D. student) new cell-based therapy for the treatment of aggressive solid tumors was one of the three teams selected for this honor. 

Students worked on their ideas in between a jam-packed schedule of keynote presentations, coaching and workshops led by real-life founders and other experts.

“The students at UofL are full of creativity, energy and drive,” said Tammy York Day, chief executive officer of sponsor the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council. “They’re the next generation of our health care workforce — the innovators and doers. LHCC is proud to support CardStart and give those students an opportunity to tackle some real industry problems.”

Samantha Morrissey, a medical student and member of the CardStart student organizing committee, said the event is meant to encourage students to think outside the box and gain hands-on experience innovating. 

“This is a great and unique event at UofL that affords students the opportunity and possible financial support to explore entrepreneurship,” she said. “We want students to get creative and transform their ideas into real world technologies that could ultimately be developed into their very own startup.”

The full article by Baylee Putnam is available here.

When families hear that UofL’s Greg Barnes has a son with autism, the relief and connection of shared experience is immediate

When families hear that UofL’s Greg Barnes has a son with autism, the relief and connection of shared experience is immediate

Greg Barnes, left, says he and his wife Kay's, right, experiences as parents of a son on the autism spectrum help him as director of the UofL Autism Center. Their son Joshua is shown center.

For the past 25 years, Greg Barnes has worked with thousands of families to help diagnose, adapt to and overcome autism. Autism is personal to Barnes, whose son, Joshua, was diagnosed with the condition as a young child.

It was clear to Barnes, a pediatric neurologist with the UofL School of Medicine who is director of the UofL Autism Center, affiliated with the Norton Children's Autism Center, and his wife, Kay, that something was off when Joshua was a baby.

“He did not sleep at all, so he already had a sleeping disorder, which occurs in 60% of patients with autism,” Barnes said. “Secondly, very early on, besides speech delay, in the speech that he did have, he manifested what’s called a restricted interest.”

Restricted interest is a characteristic symptom where the child gets fixated on something they can’t shake.

Joshua was diagnosed with autism at age 4, when Barnes was in Massachusetts as a physician resident at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 1997. At the time, he was completing a fellowship for advanced training in epilepsy.

“When I was in medical school, I’d never even heard of the term 'autism spectrum disorders,'” he said. “There was so little information then.”

“The only thing you knew of autism was ‘Rain Man’ with Dustin Hoffman,” Kay said, in reference to the 1988 film. “It was extremely hard because it’s a world in which the normal learning process is nonexistent. Your child doesn’t play with other children — they might just hit them, or push them away, or take something away from them. Having a child with autism feels very isolating.”

Using personal experience to help patients

As time went on, Barnes found himself seeing autism patients in addition to epilepsy cases. His personal journey allowed him to connect to the families. Before he knew it, Barnes was treating more autism cases than anything else. He was then asked to serve as a member of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.

“From a professional standpoint, I saw this as an opportunity to use my knowledge to contribute to the disease that my son had,” he said.

For the past seven years, Barnes has treated autism patients through Norton Children’s and the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He said his ability to relate to his patients and their families is very beneficial.

“You can look a family right in the eye, no matter whether you’re in the clinic or when you’re on Zoom, and say, ‘I have a 27-year-old son with autism.’ Then all of a sudden there’s this huge sigh of relief, sometimes audible, but certainly it’s on their face, of, ‘You know what I’ve been through,’” he said.

It also helps him develop a plan for care.

“I have always told people that having Joshua gives me an enormous advantage,” Barnes said. “I know the questions to ask. Also, parents aren’t afraid to tell me what’s really going on, so I get a better, more accurate history. Being able to take what I’ve learned from my own situation has been an enormous contribution to the care of my autism families.”

Advancements in autism treatment

When Joshua first was diagnosed, there were few therapies and services for autism. Fortunately, those options are growing.

“We’re looking at using machine learning and artificial intelligence to be able to diagnose autism,” Barnes said, “mainly to diagnose autism from a MRI scan, but also to be able to develop better treatment options from both behavioral data as well as genetic data.”

According to Barnes, treating autism also requires an approach that brings in specialist providers from many fields.

“Every single case of autism is different,” he said. “I think the major thing that’s in the future for treatment is using combination therapies. That includes trying to figure out the right combination of medications, behavioral therapy interventions or occupational therapy interventions, and speech therapy interventions.”

Hope for the future

Joshua continues to seek treatment for his autism, but he’s come a long way. He has a job through a UPS program for people with cognitive mental disabilities and spends his spare time playing video games, reading his Bible, and talking on the phone or Skype. He’s also learning some important life skills, like cooking and cleaning.

“Our dreams are the same as many autism families,” Barnes said. “We want our son to do well and be happy. It’s a daily challenge, but we see progress all the time. My goal is to help Joshua and all my patients live the best lives they can.”

Kay agreed.

“We hope that at some point Joshua will be able to live on his own, with support,” she said. “It’s important for us to know that he’ll be OK when we’re not around anymore.”

UofL researcher uses fruit for less toxic drug delivery

UofL researchers have found a less toxic way to deliver medicines by using the natural lipids in plants, particularly grapefruit and ginger.

The resulting intellectual property portfolio consisting of 12 patent families, invented by Huang-Ge Zhang, of UofL’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center and Department of Microbiology and Immunology, has been licensed to Boston-based Senda BioSciences, a Flagship Pioneering company. 

The UofL technologies use exosomes – very small fragments of living, edible plant cells – to transport various therapeutic agents, including anti-cancer drugs, DNA/RNA and proteins such as antibodies. These exosomes help ensure the drug is properly absorbed by the body. 

“Our exosomes come from fruit or other edible plants — something good for you, that you buy in the grocery store and that humans have eaten forever,” said Zhang, an endowed professor of microbiology and immunology who holds the Founders Chair in Cancer Research. “And, they don’t require synthetic formulation.”

Zhang originally experimented with other fruits, including tomatoes and grapes. His epiphany came while eating a grapefruit — he realized his breakfast was chock-full of natural lipids that could be harvested to make exosomes at a larger scale. The results of that work later were published in multiple scientific journals, including Nature Communications, and Cell Host & Microbe, and now are exclusively licensed to Senda Biosciences.

Please see the full article by Baylee Pullam here.

 

UofL cancer researcher Paula Bates named EPIC Innovator of the Year

University of Louisville researchers and innovators love a good challenge. And in 2020 — a year of challenges — they continued pushing forward, creating and commercializing groundbreaking technologies that can improve the way we work and live. They were recognized for those contributions at the presentation of the second annual EPIC Innovation Awards, held January 28. 

“Innovation is absolutely critical to UofL’s mission,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi. “It’s what drives us and inspires us. Our three most important goals as a university are to be a great place to learn, to work and to invest, and the work of these innovators contributes to all three.” 

The second annual event, hosted virtually this year by the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation and its technology transfer arm, the Commercialization EPI-Center, honored UofL innovators who had recently been awarded a patent or whose technology had been licensed to a company for commercialization in fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30, 2020. 

Two large awards were also presented: Paula Bates was given the Innovator of the Year Award, and Theo Edmonds, Brad Shuck and Laura Weingartner all accepted Trailblazer awards on behalf of their teams.

Innovator of the Year, Bates, is a cancer researcher and serial inventor, known for a long track record of developing strong partnerships with industry to commercialize her technologies. In 2020, she partnered with other UofL innovators to develop a potential breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 that is believed to block the virus from infecting human cells. The technology was licensed to a now publicly-traded biomedical company, which is working with UofL to further develop it for market.

Bates also has a history of helping others innovate, including through the recently launched KYNETIC program, an NIH REACH-hub, which focuses on training, mentorship and funding to help get technologies from lab to market. 

All told, fiscal year 2020 was the best on-record for innovation at UofL, with a total income of $9.4 million driven by a strong year for startups and deals. It also was UofL’s best year on-record for competitive research funding, with total new awards of $170 million.

Please see the full article by Baylee Pullam here.

 

UofL innovator known for drug discovery inducted into National Academy of Inventors

John Trent, a University of Louisville researcher and innovator known for harnessing the power of thousands of computers to discover drugs that could fight everything from cancer to coronavirus, has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Fellows are selected for their “spirit of innovation” in university research, helping to generate groundbreaking inventions that have a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.

Trent is the only 2020 fellow from the state of Kentucky and the seventh from the University of Louisville. The 2020 Fellow class of 175 inventors represents 115 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes worldwide.

As deputy director of basic and translational research at the UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center, Trent’s Molecular Modeling Facility uses computer predictions to understand and virtually test how drug and disease molecules might interact before real-world testing in the lab.

Trent also runs the UofL partnership with Dataseam, a company that created a grid that uses the processing power of thousands of computers in schools across Kentucky that Trent uses to screen potential drugs and compounds against cancer targets and, most recently, SARS-CoV-2 and COVID 19. The DataseamGrid has the capability to screen millions of potential compounds against molecular targets in only a few days.

The 2020 NAI Fellow class collectively holds more than 4,700 issued U.S. patents.

Please see the full article by Baylee Pullam here.

Cruzin’ for Cancer to benefit cancer patients at UofL

Cruzin’ for Cancer is on for 2021 and will include more than the single-day event that has been held the past six years. This year, there will be an additional car show and monthly events through October, all with the goal of helping cancer patients at UofL’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center and beyond.

More details can be found here.

UofL receives $8.6 million for COVID-19 wastewater research

Findings could lead to public health breakthrough for monitoring pandemics

The University of Louisville has received $8.6 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to back research that could help health departments use wastewater to monitor the rate of COVID-19 infection.

UofL researchers already are testing wastewater to determine whether coronavirus infection exists in different neighborhoods around Jefferson County. This new work goes one step further, with the goal of estimating how many people within those neighborhoods are infected. If virus levels are high in the wastewater, it may be a signal of widespread infection in the community. 

“This could revolutionize the way we track and contain pandemics, and not just COVID-19,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, professor of medicine. “It gives us an invaluable tool that could offer a clearer view of where and how the virus spreads.”

Researchers at UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, where Bhatnagar is director, began testing wastewater last year as part of the Co-Immunity Project, a groundbreaking partnership with the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council to track COVID-19 in Metro Louisville. 

As part of that effort, the Louisville/Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District has sent weekly samples from 12 sites representing multiple neighborhoods and five water quality treatment centers that aggregate the entire county to the UofL Center for Predictive Medicine for virus analysis.

In this new work, MSD and other community partners will continue collecting wastewater samples over the next six months. After analysis, UofL will also send the results to the CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System, which will help inform efforts across the U.S. 

As with previous rounds of COVID-19 testing conducted through the Co-Immunity Project, researchers will recruit participants by sending letters to selected households across Jefferson County. They hope to continue to enroll a few thousand people every month and will compare their COVID-19 infection and antibody results with wastewater samples from the same area, with the goal of finding how they correlate.

“The aim of the project is to figure out whether we can estimate how many people in a given area are infected by simply testing the community wastewater,” said Ted Smith, associate professor of medicine and a lead on the wastewater epidemiology project. “Additionally, this is a passive and comparatively low-cost way to monitor community infection and has the additional benefit of being inclusive of all communities in our city and is a promising step to ensuring public health equity.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Co-Immunity Project has conducted ongoing testing and surveys to better understand the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19. In the past year, UofL researchers have tested more than 12,000 people for COVID-19 infection and antibodies, beginning with frontline health care workers. They also have worked to gauge how local citizens feel about COVID-19 vaccines, with 91 percent of Jefferson County residents in a recent poll saying they would like to be vaccinated.

“This is critically important work in our fight against COVID-19,” said Kevin Gardner, UofL’s executive vice president for research and innovation. “Our hope is that by working with the CDC, we can develop these new, more efficient tools for tracking pandemics and take a big step in advancing health for all of our community.” 

Last year, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), then the Senate majority leader, negotiated and championed five historic and completely bipartisan COVID-19 rescue packages. In addition to supporting workers and propping up the economy, these relief bills also allocated $33.4 billion for COVID-19 testing. McConnell personally called then-U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to request that the CDC direct a portion of that funding to UofL’s Co-Immunity Project.

Our country has responded to this terrible pandemic with innovation and discovery and Kentucky continues to play a major role in beating this virus. I’d like to congratulate Dr. Bhatnagar and UofL’s entire Co-Immunity Project on their groundbreaking study,” McConnell said. After hearing about their work, I took this project to the highest levels of the federal government to help accelerate their research with additional federal funding. As UPS and other Louisville employers are sending safe and effective vaccinations around the country, I’m proud top researchers right here at UofL are pushing the boundaries of knowledge in detection and prevention.”