Pilot grants help launch new research initiatives

The Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of Southeast Wisconsin in 2010 was designated part of a national consortium of 61 top medical research institutions dedicated to accelerating medical advances to improve health through research and education. The CTSI joins the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) with Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), Marquette University (MU), BloodCenter of Wisconsin (BCW), Froedtert Hospital (FH), Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin (CHW) and Zablocki VA Medical Center (VA) to create a borderless,  complementary and synergistic research environment to achieve its goals.

In 2012, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of Southeast Wisconsin announced funding for 19 collaborative pilot projects in
research, training and novel technology development designed to improve the future of clinical practice and community health. The projects (with partner institutions abbreviated in brackets) are:

  • Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder for which there is a lack of effective medication. Collaborators have identified a signaling mechanism in the brain to explore for treatment of schizophrenia symptoms, with an ultimate goal of developing drug candidates for clinical testing. [MU, Concordia University, Rogers Memorial Hospital]
  • Identifying early prostate cancer is challenging, as current diagnostic imaging methods have poor sensitivity for detecting the disease. Collaborators are investigating the effectiveness of thermoacoustic imaging as a potential new tool in diagnosing prostate cancer. [UWM, MCW, FH]
  • Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer with an average survival prognosis of only three to five years. Using animal models, collaborators are working to determine the optimal combination of immune therapies, which activate the body’s immune system to destroy tumors and prevent relapse. [MCW, CHW, FH]
  • The type of bacteria in the lower human intestine is believed to play a role in overweight and obesity. Collaborators are studying the feasibility and effectiveness of combining prebiotics and calcium treatments with a diet and physical activity educational program to treat obesity in school-age children. [MU, MCW, CHW]
  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is a disorder marked by episodic nausea and vomiting with no consistently effective therapies or preventive measures available. Collaborators are studying the relationships between stress, endocannabinoid concentrations in the body and CVS as an avenue for new therapies. [MCW, FH]
  • Stroke survivors have difficulty gripping with their hands, which diminishes their ability to perform activities of daily living. Collaborators are studying sensory feedback in hand motor control, with a long-term goal of optimizing stroke rehabilitation. [UWM, MCW, VA, MU]


  • Understanding how patients perceive and evaluate the quality of their prosthetic and orthotic devices could factor into better engineering design. Collaborators seek to improve the design of lower limb prosthetics and orthotics so patients are more accepting of the devices. [MU, MCW, FH, VA]
  • Patients using the blood-thinning medication heparin are at risk of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, which can cause injury and death. Collaborators aim to define the role of antibodies believed to trigger the condition so as to improve laboratory diagnosis and management. [MCW, BCW, FH]
  • Traumatic brain injury presents a broad spectrum of symptoms and disabilities and has no effective therapy. Collaborators are studying the capacity of stem cells derived from bone marrow to assist in healing injured brain tissue. [MCW, VA]
  • Emerging evidence suggests certain wavelengths of blue light kill methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium responsible for difficult-to-treat infections. Collaborators aim to optimize the bacteria-killing effect of blue light on MRSA and determine a therapeutic protocol for human MRSA cases. [UWM, MCW, CHW]
  • Patients with an upper-limb amputation rely heavily on their intact arm for activities previously performed by the amputated limb. Collaborators will use functional MRI to examine brain activity during intact limb movement to gain a better understanding of that functionality. [UWM, MCW, FH]
  • Children who undergo surgery for congenital heart disease have a high incidence of acute kidney injury (AKI). Collaborators will investigate risk factors and disease indicators in AKI with a goal of allowing clinicians to identify AKI more quickly and develop therapies for rapid treatment. [MCW, CHW, FH]
  • In half of patients with heart failure, the left ventricle of the heart still contracts normally, but because the ventricles are stiff, less blood flows through the heart. Because there is no effective treatment, collaborators seek to identify biomarkers that contribute to cardiac dysfunction in these patients, which could allow for diagnosis and intervention before irreversible cardiac damage occurs. [MCW, FH]
  • Bone marrow transplantation is the most effective therapy for some cancers, but certain patients are at higher risk of relapse. Collaborators plan to use immunotherapy approaches to refine the transplantation process to reduce the likelihood of relapse in patients with solid tumors. [MCW, CHW, BCW]
  • A treadmill activity will help collaborators examine the contribution of parent-child interaction to both the motor and communicative responsiveness of toddlers with Down syndrome. The long-term goal is to develop a model of early intervention in which parent-child interaction is the primary developmental stimulation for children with global developmental delays. [UWM]
  • Glioblastoma multiforme is the most common malignant brain tumor. Collaborators are studying mechanisms of blood vessel growth in this cancer to understand why effectiveness of the drug bevacizumab, used to control progression of the recurrent tumor, varies widely among patients. [MCW, FH]
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which alters the activity of neurons in the brain, is thought to have potential as a therapy for certain neurological and psychiatric disorders. Collaborators are using computational models to predict and visualize the effects this non-invasive therapy would have on individual patients. [MCW, MU]
  • Through genetic manipulation, optogenetics enables targeted brain cells to be stimulated or inhibited by laser light pulses, while functional MRI is a powerful tool for analyzing brain function and diagnosing disease. Collaborators seek to design, assemble and test a system integrating optogenetic brain stimulation and functional MRI to demonstrate its clinical use in identifying causal relationships between sites in the brain. [MCW, UWM]
  • To increase access to medical care and reduce costs without foregoing quality, collaborators are proposing a computer-based approach to health care delivery in which a “real” patient avatar, embodying a person’s health information, could interact in real time with a physician avatar in a virtual doctor’s office. Such encounters could serve patients in remote areas or who have difficulty traveling to appointments while avoiding costs associated with bricks and mortar offices. [UWM, MCW, FH, Ashland University]

For detailed project descriptions and investigator information visit https://ctsi.mcw.edu/education/career-development/methods-in-grant-preparation/


Reza Shaker, MD, is Director of the CTSI; Allen W. Cowley, Jr., PhD, is Director of the CTSI’s Pilot & Collaborative Clinical & Translational Research Program Key Function.

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