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2015 ICTS KL-2 Award Announcements
The ICTS is pleased to announce the awardees of the 2015 KL-2 Mentored Scholar Awards.
This ICTS award is intended to support a two-year period of mentored career development. This award is to allow scholars to develop a solid portfolio of pilot and preliminary data suitable for competitive extramural grant applications; a robust record of publications and presentations at national scientific meetings; and a program of courses and experiential learning in areas that will advance the scholar’s proficiency in independent translational research.
Munajal Acharya, PhD
Dr. Acharya is an Assistant Professor In Residence in the Department of Radiation Oncology. He completed his Master’s degree (Biochemistry) and Ph.D. (Biochemistry) from the M. S. University of Baroda (India). Research experiences during this training provided the foundation for his interest in the field of Neuroscience. Dr. Acharya went on to complete postdoctoral fellowships at the Duke University Medical Center and UC Irvine in the area of Translational Neuroscience. Dr. Acharya was first to develop stem cell transplantation strategies to ameliorate cranial radiation-induced cognitive dysfunction. This research, combining basic radiobiology and translational neuroscience, earned him a CIRM fellowship, numerous peer-reviewed publications and intramural research grants under the guidance of Prof. Charles Limoli (Vice Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology). Under the mentorship of Dr. Limoli and Dr. Marcelo Wood (Chair, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior), Dr. Acharya’s KL2 research project will focus on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of radiation and chemotherapy-induced cognitive decline and how best to develop efficient neuroprotective countermeasures. Clinical radiation and chemotherapy for the treatment of CNS cancers elicits early onset or severe cognitive impairment that is a particularly serious problem in pediatric cases, given the lack of medical recourse. Dr. Acharya seeks to define the epigenetic, metabolic and neuroinflammatory mechanisms induced by chemo- or radiation therapies that adversely affect the brain. These studies will lay foundation for novel therapeutic interventions to curtail cancer therapy-induced cognitive dysfunction.
Muhammad Aslam, MD
Dr. Aslam is trained in Pediatrics and Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, with research experience in defining novel cellular and molecular mechanisms of lung injury and repair in infants and children. His current project is geared towards exploring the role of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) in improving lung development in neonatal chronic lung disease, also known as, bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). BPD is a chronic lung disease of preterm infants with complex pathogenesis and high morbidity and mortality. It is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in infants and children. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 15,000 cases of BPD occur every year in the United States. Public health burden of BPD is significant and growing. According to NIH estimates, treating infants with BPD in the United States costs $2.4 billion per year (second most expensive childhood disease after asthma). BPD represents one of the greatest unmet therapeutic challenges in pediatrics, yet efforts to find a predictive biomarker or safe and effective therapy have failed. The goals of Dr. Aslam’s project are to determine if MSC secreted peptides can predict BPD at birth and whether their levels identify lung injury progressing to BPD during early life. His hypothesis is that diminished levels of these peptides in premature newborns in early life is associated with modulation of lung development markers (TGF-β, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, and IL-10) and thereby results in lung injury progressing to BPD. The objectives of aim 1 are to enroll a cohort of premature infants < 30 weeks gestational age and/or birth weight of < 1250 gms with intubation within the first 24 hours of life. Dr. Aslam will collect tracheal aspirate fluid samples within the first week of life, quantify MSC peptide levels and determine how they correlate with lung development markers. The objectives of aim 2 are to prospectively follow the study cohort until 36 weeks’ postmenstrual age to collect targeted clinical data as well as to determine the development and severity of BPD. Dr. Aslam will correlate whether the biomarker levels during first week of life can predict lung injury progressing to BPD in isolation or in association with lung development markers and clinical measures. This work will likely help identify new signaling systems involved in BPD, produce important biomarkers for predicting disease, inform the application of specific lung-sparing therapies, and ultimately improve the outcomes of premature babies at risk for BPD.