By: Joslyn Cassano | Published: June 5, 2023

The Miami CTSI congratulates the recipients of its Pilot Awards for fiscal year 2023 (FY23), awarded to junior faculty conducting novel translational research while addressing health disparities and promoting health equity.

Pilot Awards often kickstarts a research idea that may evolve over the length of the awardee’s career. An emphasis is placed on disparities-oriented clinical translational research proposals designed to generate data and lead to additional funding opportunities, including grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The CTSI Pilot Program awards up to four projects of up to $40,000 each, selected from departments across the University. This year’s recipients represent the fields of psychology, pediatrics, nephrology, and physical therapy.

Yanerys León

Yanerys León, Ph.D.

Yanerys León, Ph.D. (Psychology)
Project: Linking Real-Time Physiological and Behavioral Data in the Prevention, Assessment, and Treatment of Pediatric Behavior Disorders

Challenging behavior exhibited by children with autism or intellectual disabilities can be distressing for the child, the family, and medical team. The current standard of care uses behavioral assessments to help identify the frequency and potential external triggers of challenging behaviors, but little is currently understood about the internal reactions occurring while the child is acting out.
This study, led by Dr. Yanerys León, associate professor of psychology, will look closely at internal factors that coincide with challenging behaviors, including heart rate and galvanic skin response. By creating a new measurement model that combines internal data with the existing model for behavioral assessments, Dr. León aims to advance the understanding of and set a foundation for a precision intervention model focused on underserved populations.

Luiza Mali, Ph.D.

Luiza Mali, Ph.D.

Luiza Mali, Ph.D. (Pediatrics/Psychology)
Project: Integrated Behavioral Healthcare for Low-Income Ethnic Minority Youth with Type 1 Diabetes

Dr. Luiza Mali, assistant professor of pediatrics and psychology, has developed a program for low-income, ethnic minority adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) that aims to improve adherence to glycemic control protocols, including preventing missed insulin doses and maintaining the recommended glucose checks.
Barriers to care for low-income teens with Type 1 Diabetes include challenges with transportation, long wait times, and the fact that psychological support is often offered in a setting separate from medical care by professionals with a limited understanding of Type 1 Diabetes.

Dr. Mali and her team will test the feasibility and efficacy of a family-based intervention that takes place in the same setting as ongoing medical care and is coordinated between providers. She expects this approach will lead to better health outcomes and improved quality of life for these patients with Type 1 Diabetes.

Alla Mitrofanova, Ph.D.

Alla Mitrofanova, Ph.D.

Alla Mitrofanova, Ph.D. (Nephrology)
Project: mtDNA causes podocyte injury via STING activation in diabetic kidney disease

Patients with diabetes are at high risk for life-threatening side effects including heart and kidney failure. Approximately 40 percent of them develop diabetic kidney disease (DKD), where the underrepresented minorities are mostly affected. Due to high heterogeneity of the disease, there is currently no treatment that completely stops its progression for patients with DKD.

This project, led by Alla Mitrofanova, Ph.D., assistant professor in the division of nephrology and hypertension, aims to better understand how manipulation with one of the innate immune system mechanisms may help to slow down or even stop the disease progression in patients with DKD.

Earlier studies conducted by Dr. Mitrofanova and her team show the activation of the innate immune system can cause kidney damage, and turning off aspects of the innate immune system can protect against the development and progression of DKD. Dr. Mitrofanova hopes a better understanding of molecular contributors of the Diabetic Kidney Disease will lead to the creation of new therapeutics that will prevent onset of the disease in underrepresented groups including African-American and Hispanic patients.

Marlon Wong, Ph.D., P.T.

Marlon Wong, Ph.D., P.T.

Marlon Wong, Ph.D., P.T. (Physical Therapy)
Project: Addressing Disparities in Neuromodulation for Rehabilitation: A Mixed Methods Approach to Optimize Access for Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Chronic pain affects more than 10 million people in the U.S., and it is a primary driver of the opioid epidemic. Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) shows great promise for improving chronic pain management, but racial and ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented in taVNS research. This is problematic because these minority groups are at greater risk for chronic pain, and limited proficiency in English is associated with worse health outcomes, worse quality of care, and decreased access to care.

Dr. Marlon Wong, Ph.D., associate professor of physical therapy, aims to improve education and access to taVNS research for Black English speaking, Spanish speaking, and Haitian-Creole speaking patients with chronic pain through the creation of culturally-sensitive videos and printed content.
Using an iterative and community-based participation research approach, Dr. Wong and his team will work with a community advisory board and stakeholders to shape and refine the content for its intended audience. This project is part of a larger effort to integrate neurostimulation tools into the pain treatment protocol for underserved populations.




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