From left: Thomas Masterson, M.D., Jennifer Munoz Pareja, M.D., Abhishek Prasad, Ph.D., and Swarup Swaminathan, M.D.
The Miami CTSI congratulates the recipients of the Pilot Awards for fiscal year 2022, which provide funding and support to early career faculty conducting innovative, translational research.
The CTSI Pilot Program awards up to $40,000 each to four investigators selected from a pool of 20 applicants. This year’s winners represent the fields of pediatrics, urology, ophthalmology, and biomedical engineering.
A committee comprised of 22 University of Miami faculty selected the awardees, who are leading projects well-positioned to generate publications and data to be used in pursuit of outside funding. Projects are expected to be multi-disciplinary and/or have a direct impact on addressing health disparities.
FY22 Pilot Award Recipients
Thomas Masterson, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Urology
Project Title: Novel Treatment for Microvascular Erectile Dysfunction Combining Shockwave Therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma in Oral Medication Non-Responders
Dr. Thomas Masterson’s work exploring treatment methods for erectile dysfunction will in part help address misinformation targeting men with the condition.
Dr. Masterson says men’s health clinics have a long history of offering treatments for erectile dysfunction without the necessary data to support their effectiveness. Patients with erectile dysfunction who are eager for a solution often pay hefty fees for these services, without any guarantee of a positive outcome, he says.
In a trial they opened last year, Dr. Masterson and his team aim to determine if platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections in combination with shockwave therapy is an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction. The study looks specifically at erectile dysfunction in patients with diabetes, which disproportionally effects men in the African American and LatinX communities and can negatively impact the function of blood vessels targeted by the novel therapy.
“My hope is that this study will lead to a much larger clinical trial involving more patients with different treatment arms,” he says.
Dr. Masterson and his team are simultaneously running additional studies on biomarkers and the vascular system to determine if there are changes resulting from the treatment combination. “Projects like this do not happen without funding and support,” says Dr. Masterson. “We are very fortunate to have CTSI support pilot programs for young investigators.”
Jennifer Munoz Pareja, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Project Title: Utility of a Novel Combined Blood-based Biomarker Panel of Central Nervous System Injury and Inflammation in Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury
The brain and disorders of consciousness have always fascinated Dr. Jennifer Munoz Pareja. She hopes her research in pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) will lead to the creation of a blood test to help determine how pediatric ICU patients will fare in the future.
The test, administered 18-24 hours following admittance to the ICU, uses biomarkers for inflammation to help illuminate neurocognitive outcomes for pediatric patients. With a clearer picture of the prognosis, Dr. Munoz Pareja believes families and medical providers will be better positioned to make medical decisions on behalf of children with TBI. The test would make conversations between health care providers and parents much more “realistic and fruitful,” she says.
Although funding provided by CTSI is critical to the continuation of her research, Dr. Munoz Pareja says it is only a small part of the value of being a Pilot Award recipient. CTSI also provides statistical and database support, guidance navigating the UM/Jackson healthcare system, and assistance making hiring decisions, she says. “A researcher needs much more than funding to be successful. CTSI is really helping me achieve my goals.”
Abhishek Prasad, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Project Title: Effects of Iron Accumulation in Intracortical Implants and Protection by Iron Chelation
Microelectrodes implanted in the brain are important tools for recording and stimulation in clinical applications that use neuromodulation to treat patients with neurocognitive conditions including paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, and Tourette’s. However, the effectiveness of these microelectrodes deteriorates over time as a result of the brain’s response to a foreign body, says Dr. Abhishek Prasad.
“Vascular disruption is one of the first events to occur acutely in electrode implants and causes a sudden entry of erythrocytes in the brain tissue, which ultimately degrades to free iron. While iron is essential for cell survival, iron can become toxic and cause oxidative and inflammatory mediated cell damage,” says, Dr. Prasad, a biomedical engineer. In this CTSI pilot project, his team will study the effects of iron in electrode implants to understand and modulate the foreign body response at the electrode-tissue interface.
Dr. Prasad is collaborating with Dr Jean-Hubert Olivier in Chemistry to develop iron chelation as a therapeutic approach to improve the long-term functioning of the microelectrodes. “I’m thankful to the CTSI for funding this project, which will help generate important pilot data,” he says.
Swarup Swaminathan, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology
Project Title: Non-invasive Imaging of Aqueous Humor Outflow Pathways Using Iontophoresis of a Carbon Dot Solution
Dr. Swarup Swaminathan wants to create a novel, non-invasive technique for imaging the distal outflow channel of the eye that he believes will transform how care is delivered to patients with glaucoma.
The method uses nontoxic therapy called indocyanine green-embedded (ICG-CDs) delivered into the eye via an existing system known as Coulomb Controlled Iontophoresis (CCI). CCI is currently approved for administering compounds through tissues using low-grade electrical current.
An accurate, personalized image of the eye’s outflow system will help physicians determine the best course of treatment for glaucoma patients, says Dr. Swaminathan. “My collaborators on this project are senior scientists who have already developed the technology for the non-invasive device,” says Swaminathan. “We’re repurposing that methodology.”
The Pilot Award will provide Dr. Swaminathan and his team with the necessary support to test this hypothesis, he says. “What excites me about research is trying to answer questions that have existed for decades without a solution,” he says. “My goal is to develop something new that can help a much larger group of people beyond my immediate patient population.”
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The Pilot Translational and Clinical Studies Program is supported by award number UL1TR002736 – of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.