Asthma, Alzheimer’s, cancer, the aging immune system, diabetes, precision medicine and Valley fever are among the health issues affecting Arizonans and the nation that are being tackled by University of Arizona Health Sciences researchers, thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Among the Arizona organizations that received funding are the five colleges of the UA Health Sciences—the UA Colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix, UA College of Nursing, UA College of Pharmacy and UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
The UA Health Sciences received $70.3 million in NIH funding during FY2017, conducting research addressing statewide and global health challenges that include:
• The University of Arizona-Banner Health All of Us Research Program received $4.7 million from the NIH in FY2017. In 2018, the award transitioned to a new phase and the UA Health Sciences-Banner Health partnership received a $9 million award that will total as much as $60 million over five years, the largest NIH award in Arizona history. The All of Us Research Program seeks to enroll 1 million or more participants across the nation to improve treatment and prevention strategies based on people’s individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics. The UA Health Sciences and Banner Health were among the first organizations in the nation to begin enrollment and testing systems for the All of Us Research Program, in collaboration with NIH, health-care provider organizations and other partners across the nation. Arizona’s unique demographics present unparalleled opportunities for research in precision health, which aim to benefit the people of Arizona and the Southwest.
• Researchers with the Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center at the UA Health Sciences received $3.9 million as part of a cooperative agreement grant (5U01HL130045-02) totaling $27 million over five years awarded in 2016. The grant is for a UA Health Sciences-led national clinical study of oral bacterial extracts (ORBEX) in the primary prevention of asthma and wheezing in children. The study follows the center’s 30 years of research to prevent and cure the chronic disease and will enroll more than 1,000 children, 6 to 18 months old, who are considered at high risk for developing asthma.
• The University of Arizona Cancer Center received $3.5 million, part of a five-year $18 million Cancer Center Support Grant (5P30CA023074-37) awarded in 2016 to develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer and turn basic research into behavioral interventions and clinical trials that will reduce cancer incidence and mortality in Arizona. The UA Cancer Center’s four major research areas are in cancer biology, cancer imaging, therapeutic development and cancer prevention and control. The UA Cancer Center is the only research unit designated by the National Cancer Institute that has its headquarters in Arizona.
• UA Health Sciences researchers studying the genetic basis for devastating lung disorders in the critically ill received $2.3 million, part of an $11.4 million five-year program project grant (5P01HL126609-02) awarded in 2016. Intensive care unit patients commonly are at risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a rapidly progressive disease that affects more than 200,000 patients in the United States each year. The unacceptably high mortality rate of 30 to 50 percent is due to the profound inflammation-associated leakiness of the lung’s blood vessels that results in flooding of the lungs and ultimately respiratory failure. Mechanical ventilation is a life-saving device used to support the patient with breathing difficulty. Unfortunately, mechanical stress produced by ventilators acts as a stimulus for inflammation resulting in ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI), and is a significant contributor to poor outcomes in ARDS. The study will lead to a better understanding of the genetic risk for ARDS and VILI—particularly in African Americans and Latinos—and a more personalized medicine approach to the disorders.
• Researchers in the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at the UA Health Sciences received $2 million as part of a $10.3 million five-year program project grant (5P01AG026572-12) awarded in 2016 to unlock the mystery of Alzheimer’s in women. The biological transformations in women’s brains that occur during perimenopause can lead to changes that can put the brain at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Discovering the mechanisms underlying the heightened risk of Alzheimer’s in females can lead to strategies and therapeutics to alleviate a women’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
• A team of UA Health Sciences researchers pursuing the “Holy Grail” of aging—rejuvenating the immune system to stop infections as we age—received $2 million as part of a $10 million, five-year program project grant (1P01AG052359-01A1) awarded in FY2017. After puberty, the thymus gland makes fewer and fewer T-cells, which are the key line of defense against infection. UAHS researchers, in collaboration with other institutions across the country, are studying how to rejuvenate both the thymus and the lymphatic system that orchestrates T-cells’ maintenance and response to infection. By bolstering the entire immune system, researchers believe they can increase our “health-span extension”—adding improved quality of health to an expanded lifespan.
• Researchers at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson Department of Medicine and Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center at the UA Health Sciences who are investigating the genetic mediators that help control lung inflammation and attacks in asthma patients received $1.4 million, part of a five-year $7 million grant (5U19AI125357-02) awarded in 2016. The goal is to develop a better understanding of those mechanisms and refine novel therapies to moderate or eliminate asthma attacks and enable the 25 million asthma sufferers in the United States—7 million of them children—to breathe easier.
• A unique investigation of a population followed from birth for risk factors for asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD)—the two leading causes of morbidity and mortality in U.S. adults—being conducted by Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center researchers received $1.3 million, part of a four-year $5.5 million grant (5R01HL132523-02) awarded in 2016. The study involves participants in the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study—launched in 1980 and the longest ongoing infancy-to-early-adulthood study centered on the early origins of asthma and COPD worldwide—who are approaching their 40s, a critical age during which early symptoms of COPD first occur. Researchers will identify the early life factors that predispose the development of asthma and COPD, specifically testing the hypothesis that altered responses to respiratory viruses are major determinants of the early origins of the disorders.
• The UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence received $1.3 million of a four-year, $4.8 million grant (1R01AI132140-01) awarded in FY2017 to accelerate development of a Valley fever vaccine for dogs that one day may lead to a successful human vaccine to prevent this fungal disease, also known as coccidioidomycosis, or cocci. The vaccine candidate, known as delta-CPS1, was invented at the UA. UA researchers, in collaboration with colleagues in California and Colorado, hope to prove the vaccine safe and effective in dogs, then launch a study to evaluate and possibly approve the vaccine to prevent Valley fever in humans.
• The Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention—a collaboration between the UA Cancer Center, Northern Arizona University and Native American communities—received $1.2 million as part of a five-year, $5.4 million grant (5U54CA143924) awarded in 2014 to further build the capacity for culturally sensitive and community-relevant research on cancer. The partnership is working to eliminate health disparities in tribal communities through outreach, research and training activities. The ultimate goal is to empower sovereign tribal communities to define, implement and achieve their defined goals of health equity.
• The Arizona Prevention Research Center at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health received $1.1 million, part of a five-year grant (5U48DP005002) awarded in 2014 that will total more than $5 million to study how people and their communities can avoid or counter the risks for chronic illnesses. Center researchers, in partnership with community health centers and health departments in Pima, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties, are working to improve the prevention of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, while promoting mental well-being through innovative community-based interventions, with particular focus on Latinos living in border communities.