UT Health Northeast recently announced that four of its scientists have been awarded a total of $2.1 million in competitive grants to conduct research in projects related to lung and heart diseases.
Among the four grant recipients is Dr.Krishna Vankayalapati, chair of the Department of Pulmonary Immunology and a professor of Microbiology and Immunology, who received a $385,852 two-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to investigate the susceptibility of patients with HIV to infections with tuberculosis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tuberculosis, an infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, is estimated to affect one-third of the world’s population. Worldwide, tuberculosis and HIV have been closely linked, and tuberculosis is considered the most common opportunistic infection affecting HIV-seropositive individuals.
Through this grant, Dr. Vankayalapati and his team plan to explore the mechanisms associated with the vulnerability of HIV patients to infections with tuberculosis bacteria. This, in turn, may lead to the development of novel therapeutic approaches that can either prevent infection or inhibit the bacteria’s spread in HIV patients.
Dr. Sreerama Shetty, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, was awarded a $140,000 two-year grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to carry on research related to the treatment of pulmonary fibrosis and scarring.
In patients with pulmonary fibrosis, changes in lung tissue architecture and function progress as normal lung tissue is replaced with fibrotic tissue, inducing inflammation. In turn, this incites extracellular matrix to deposit, generating thick lung walls that can lead to shortness of breath and reduced oxygen to the body.
With this funding, Dr. Shetty and his team intend to investigate the role of a protein called p53 in the control of the fibrotic process in the lung.
A two-year grant of $140,000, also from the AHA, was awarded to Dr.Hong-Long Ji, an associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, to examine another lung disease, pulmonary edema. This condition refers to an abnormal accumulation of fluids in lung tissue, leading to shortness of breath and coughing with blood or a bloody froth.
The funding will allow Dr. Ji and his team to investigate the mechanisms underlying the buildup of fluids in injured lungs, and may lead to the development of new treatments for the disorder.
Dr.Vijay Rao, professor of biochemistry in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, received an estimate $1.43 million in four-year funding from the NIH to study the link between blood-clot formation and heart attacks or strokes.
“If a person is in good health, blood passes through blood vessels with ease and doesn’t form clots,” Dr. Rao said in a UT Health news release. “But in atherosclerosis, infections, or cancer, blood cells or cells that line the blood vessel walls begin producing a substance called tissue factor, which starts the clotting process.”