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June 2, 2004

Faculty Innovation Fund Winners Announced

Each year, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health awards nearly $200,000 in grants to its junior faculty to assist them with the development of research programs. The grant selection process is extremely competitive. Each fund application is reviewed by a Schoolwide committee. The Faculty Innovation Fund grants are used to support research endeavors with technical assistance, research equipment or salary.

2004 Faculty Innovation Fund Recipients

Brad Astor, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Epidemiology
“Moderate Kidney Dysfunction, Anemia and Coronary Calcification in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)”

Dr. Astor’s research is focused on the interaction of kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. Of specific interest are the cardiovascular effects of anemia and other complications of kidney dysfunction. The projects supported by the Faculty Innovation Fund will collect additional data on participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), allowing assessment of anemia and a more accurate measure of kidney function. These projects will allow Dr. Astor to utilize the wealth of data on sub-clinical atherosclerosis available in the MESA cohort to examine the effects of kidney dysfunction and anemia early in the course of the development of cardiovascular disease.

Isabelle Coppens, PhD
Assistant Professor
Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
“Analysis of Cholesterol Homeostasis in Toxoplasma-infected Cells”

In mammalian cells, cholesterol homeostasis is finely maintained by balancing cholesterol uptake and production. Upon infection with the intracellular parasite Toxoplasma, cholesterol homeostasis is dramatically altered in infected mammalian cells. Dr. Coppens wants to identify the potential parasite factors that mediate the dysregulation of cholesterol metabolism in infected cells, and reveal new cellular pathways implicated in cholesterol regulation in mammalian cells. She believes that the original features provided by the study of intracellular pathogenesis offer a unique view to explain basic questions in mammalian cell biology. Therefore, this project may ultimately offer new perspectives to understand the patho-physiologic grounds of atherosclerosis, predicted in 2020 to be the number one cause of death worldwide.

George Dimopoulos, PhD
Assistant Professor
Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
“Development of an Anopheles Gambiae/Plasmodium Berghei Microarray”

Dr. Dimopoulos’s study focuses broadly on the molecular mechanisms implicated in the Anopheles immune responses to Plasmodium infection. The aim is to identify and functionally analyze factors that kill plasmodia. The Anopheles/Plasmodium microarray will allow comprehensive screening for mosquito genes that respond to different conditions of infection and in parallel also identify parasite genes that are crucial for its developmental cycle in the mosquito.

Leslyn Hanakahi, PhD
Assistant Professor
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
“The Molecular Mechanism of DNA Repair by Ku-Dependent Non-Homologous End-Joining in Mammals: A Target for Anti-Cancer Agents”
The Ho-Ching Yang Memorial Faculty Awardee

In mammals, DNA double-strand break repair by Non-Homologous End-Joining (NHEJ) is important for the maintenance of genomic integrity. Mouse models have demonstrated that decreased NHEJ efficiency results in increased tumor formation. Dr. Hanakahi studies the molecular mechanism of mammalian NHEJ. Her lab had previously described the participation of an inositol phosphate in an in vitro NHEJ reaction. Current research focuses on the role of inositol phosphate in mammalian NHEJ and on the identification of additional participants in the mammalian NHEJ reaction. In understanding how this repair process functions, Dr. Hanakahi may learn how to control the efficiency of this reaction and possibly modulate cell survival and viability.

Zhiqiang Tan, PhD
Assistant Professor
Biostatistics
“New Methods of Estimation and Sensitivity Analysis for Causal Inferences in Observational Studies”

Dr. Tan will develop new causal analysis -- statistical methods to sort out possible biases in standard analyses of observational data with the goals of drawing reliable and accurate inferences about environmental exposures, medical treatments and public health interventions. While randomized trials remain the gold standard, observational studies are often necessary or desirable for ethical, economic or practical reasons. For example, to investigate a possibly hazardous environmental factor in a relevant setting, randomized experiments are seldom possible. Similarly, though medical procedures can and should be studied by randomized clinical trials, potentially informative data are available from observational data bases. Dr. Tan is developing two complementary causal analyses. One adjusts for all observed, potential confounders in a way that maximally reduces statistical uncertainty while protecting against possibly misspecified models. The other structures sensitivity analyses that assess how such estimates change under posited, but unobserved confounding scenarios. In combination, the two methods will improve the accuracy and validity of causal inferences in public health research.

Yin Yao, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Epidemiology
“Segregation Analysis of NPC”
Richard L. Gelb Cancer Prevention Awardee

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is an important health problem in southern China and throughout southeastern Asia. Dr. Yao proposed a large-scale familial aggregation and segregation analysis in the high-prevalence area of Guangzhou, China, that will advance our understanding of this complex disease by considering each of these risk factors and their combined factors. The study builds upon a long-term collaboration between The Johns Hopkins University and the Cancer Center of Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, with a goal of performing both familial aggression and segregation analysis from the GuangDong Province. The goals are to study patterns of familial aggregation of NPC by obtaining cancer history of first- and second-degree relatives of study participants and to explore the mode of inheritance of NPC in the study participants’ families using complex segregation analysis. The need to document information on mode of inheritance of NPC in a population-based familial aggregation study is necessary for future NPC studies.
-- Kenna L. Lowe

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.