Health equity mini-grants aim to jump start collaborative research

The mini-grants are intended to foster research collaborations that improve community health.

Making access to health care more equal is a tough task, and a pandemic only makes the job tougher. To help, the UMKC Health Equity Institute is trying a new tool — mini-grants to university researchers and their community partners — to boost those efforts.

“We have about $12,000 to $15,000 to spend, and we think putting $1,000 to $2,000 in the right places could help eight to 10 projects move forward,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., the director of the institute and a professor in the UMKC School of Medicine. “Sometimes help paying for study participants, software, consultants or other resources can make a real difference.”

Though small, the grants could be the seed money — or the Miracle-Gro® — needed to turn ideas into budding projects that encourage and measure the effectiveness of community health efforts.

The brief application for the mini-grant program is available now, and institute members are encouraging researchers and community groups to submit their joint applications. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend a webinar Oct. 16 to learn information about the mini-grants. Important information, such as budget documents and the grant program overview, are available, as well.

Applicants will have until Nov. 9 to submit their proposals, after which finalists will be chosen. The finalists then will give short oral presentations and recipients will be chosen. The institute plans to have the funds available at the beginning of 2021.

“We’re hoping the mini-grants stimulate our researchers to be creative and to collaborate with community partners — or build relationships with new partners,” Berkley-Patton said. “The institute’s steering committee will evaluate the applications, and we hope to have applicants make a brief, but impactful, oral pitch for their proposals sometime this fall in a virtual presentation akin to “Shark Tank®.”

The idea behind the Health Equity Institute, an initiative Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal started in April 2019, is to partner UMKC researchers with community groups, non-profits and government agencies in underserved areas on projects that aim to improve community health.

The institute, for example, is working with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to evaluate the impact of the city’s now-free bus service on health outcomes. The institute wants to understand whether their recruited residents’ health and overall well-being improve because they walk more and have better access to jobs and health care through the free transit system. The institute has also helped the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department conduct COVID-19 drive-through testing by coordinating more than 90 student volunteers. The students helped with intake, traffic control and providing COVID-19 information to people seeking testing.

The institute also helped with formation of an interfaith ministers’ group, the Clergy Response Network,

founded to address COVID-19 inequities in Kansas City’s faith-based settings, and has created a church reopening checklist for clergy. The network recently received 30,000 face masks to distribute to congregations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Berkley-Patton is a veteran of community-based health research, including studies that engage churches and other community-based organizations’ in efforts to combat health disparity issues such as HIV and other STDs, mental health, obesity and diabetes.

“We need more research projects that improve the health of people where they live, play, worship and work, and projects that can be sustained for the long haul after research shows they work,” Berkley-Patton said. “We think these mini-grants can get more projects like these up and running while engaging the community in research efforts that we hope will reduce disparities and improve health in Kansas City’s urban areas.”

For more information on the mini-grant program, visit the Health Equity Institute website.

 

UMKC vision researchers repurpose technology to identify early symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Changes in vision detected by microperimetry can be related to early signs of multiple sclerosis.

Technology used in eye exams called microperimetry could prove to be an effective, non-invasive method of identifying early symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

An article recently published by researchers at the UMKC School of Medicine Vision Research Center reports the effective use of microperimetry during routine clinical assessments of multiple sclerosis patients. The article appeared in the research journal BioMed Central Ophthalmology.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord that affects nearly 400,000 people in the United States and more than 2 million throughout the world. There is no known cure for the potentially disabling disease, but treatment can help manage symptoms and speed up recovery from attacks.

Therefore, a non-invasive, clinically relevant and cost-effective method of identifying damage early would be invaluable to patients and health care providers. It would enable prompt therapy that may slow the progression of the disease and its ocular manifestations before irreversible damage occurs.

The testing method studied by the team of UMKC researchers, students and residents, microperimetry, measures light sensitivity of the center of a patient’s vision and can detect specific areas of decreased sensitivity. It typically takes less than half an hour.

Researchers from the school’s Vision Research Center have previously found the technology to be effective in diagnosing early stages of other diseases of the nervous system such as mild cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s.

The vision research team of Landon J. Rohowetz, Qui Vu, Lilit Ablabutyan, Sean M. Gratton, Nancy Kunjukunju, Billi S. Wallace and Peter Koulen collaborated to determine subtle changes in visual function related to otherwise undetectable signs of multiple sclerosis. It is the first peer-reviewed study to assess the use of microperimetry, a straightforward and non-invasive vision test, as a tool to detect disease progression in early stage multiple sclerosis patients.

“The findings from this study provide a rationale for the use of microperimetry in the clinical assessment of patients with multiple sclerosis,” said Rohowetz, the study’s lead author. “By identifying visual dysfunction associated with multiple sclerosis, we hope physicians and researchers are able to use this technology to ultimately preserve and improve quality of life for patients with this often-disabling disease.”

More than 80 percent of the patients with multiple sclerosis show signs of impaired vision and 73 percent of MS patients experience visual impairment within the first 10 years of diagnosis, which is comparable to the prevalence of abnormal or impaired muscle function in the disease.

This initial study indicates that light sensitivity measured by microperimetry is lower among multiple sclerosis patients who have otherwise normal vision and no other history of issues with the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. It also revealed a significant correlation between this impaired function and a reduced thickness of the retina in MS patients that is not seen in control subjects.

The report says further studies would look to monitor and evaluate ongoing changes in retina sensitivity and thickness as they correlate to a progression of multiple sclerosis. It will also broaden the approach to include MS patients who have a history of optic neuritis, where measurable damage to the optic nerve has already occurred.

Beams of Light to Treat Diabetes: UMKC Invention Gets Federal Funding Boost

The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue work on an important advancement to help treat the tens of millions of people who have diabetes.

The lifetime burden of constantly checking blood sugar and injecting insulin is significant. UMKC research has developed a way of delivering insulin to diabetics that eliminates pumps and most injections.

“We’re aiming to improve the lives of diabetics all over the world,” said UMKC pharmacy professor Simon Friedman, the principal investigator on the grant.


Normally, diabetics must inject themselves with insulin numerous times per day to enable the body to absorb blood sugar. The amount of insulin needed and timing vary with what an individual eats and their activity level. With blood glucose continuously varying, the insulin requirement parallels the amount of glucose in the blood.

The only clinically-used method to permit continuously variable delivery of therapeutic proteins like insulin is a pump. But they do so at a high cost: a physical connection to the outside of the patient, where the drug reservoir resides, and the inside of the patient, where drug absorption will ultimately take place. This connection in insulin pumps is a cannula — or needle — which can be dislodged, crimped, snagged, infected and most importantly, rapidly gets biofouled from moisture after implantation. This leads to variable and unpredictable delivery.

For several years, Friedman and his lab associates have been developing a method in which a single injection of a material called a PAD (photo-activated depot) can take the place of multiple normal insulin injections and allow for minute-by-minute automatic updating of insulin release. The material is injected into the skin like insulin, but lies dormant until a beam of light stimulates release of insulin, in response to blood sugar information.

The new grant will help make the technology more reliable for someone to use and easier to manage.

“With the improvements, we anticipate creating a new and revolutionary approach to continuously variable protein delivery, one that minimizes invasiveness and maximizes the close matching of therapeutic with patient requirements,” Friedman said.

Karen Kover, associate professor of pediatrics at the UMKC School of Medicine and Children’s Mercy, has been an integral member of the research team for years, and Friedman is grateful for her collaboration.

Reviewers of the grant application praised the work, and Friedman, who has won previous NIH funding, said this was his highest rated grant award.

“We are grateful for the enthusiastic response from the NIH study section, given the very competitive nature of funding at this time during the pandemic,” said UMKC Vice Chancellor for Research Chris Liu.

The project is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the NIH.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin. Patients need insulin to process sugar from meals.

People with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but their bodies don’t respond well to it. At first the pancreas produces extra insulin to make up for it. But over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep blood sugar at normal levels.

About 34.2 million children and adults in the U.S. — 10.5% of the population — have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 25 percent use insulin shots. About 86 million people ages 20 and older in the U.S. have prediabetes.

Complications from diabetes include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system damage and amputation.

People with diabetes risk more serious complications from COVID-19 than others who do not have the disease.

“Through research at UMKC, we strive to improve the health of not just our community but our entire population,” said Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “We are proud of Dr. Friedman and his team’s innovation, which could significantly benefit people around the world.”

Student scientists go online for 9th annual Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Health Sciences Student Research SummitStudents from across UMKC’s Health Sciences campus displayed their research skills during the 9th annual Health Sciences Student Research Summit, making 82 presentations in a week-long virtual, online format because of coronavirus concerns.

The event brings together members of the UMKC health sciences community in a forum that highlights the research being conducted by students. It also fosters research collaborations across disciplines and schools to produce economic, health, education and quality of life benefits for the Kansas City community.

Students were invited to either present a poster or give an oral PowerPoint presentation of their research findings. A panel of judges selected the top three in both graduate student and undergraduate divisions.

Judges were from the School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing and Health Sciences, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Truman Medical Centers, Children’s Mercy Kansas City Hospital and the Kansas City Veterans Administration Medical Center.

This year’s research summit drew 66 participants, including 51 medical students, eight pharmacy students, two from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and two from master’s programs.

Graduate Clinical Poster Presentations
(BA/MD and MD Year 5 and 6 medical students, master’s students, Pharm.D. students and medical residents)

  • 1st Place: Mark Gray, master’s student SBCS: Bone Strain Alters Cardiac Function. Mentor: Michael Wacker, SOM
  • 2nd Place: Suma Ancha, SOM MS VI: Electronic Health Record Functionality: Medical Students’ Perspective.
  • 3rd Place Tie: Brooke Jacobson, PharmD YR4: Development of a Cystic Fibrosis Specific Antibiogram. Mentor: Claire Elson, CMH
  • 3rd Place Tie: Rachna Talluri, SOM MS V: The influence of maturity on the relationship between the triglyceride/HDL ratio and vascular health in children and adolescents with dyslipidemia. Mentor: Geetha Raghuveer, CMH
  • 3rd Place Tie: Brandon Wesche, SOM MS VI: Transcriptome Changes after Glucocorticoids for Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. Mentor: Paula Monaghan Nichols, SOM

Graduate Oral PowerPoint Presentations
(BA/MD and MD Year 5 and 6 medical students, master’s students, Pharm.D. students, and medical residents)

  • 1st Place: Darya Tajfiroozeh, SOM MS VI: Immune profiling of dexamethasone response in treatment of bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Mentor: Paula Monaghan Nichols, SOM
  • 2nd Place: Andrew Peterson, SOM MS V: Development and Validation of the Nasal Outcome Score for Epistaxis in Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia (NOSE HHT). Mentor: Jay Piccirillo, Washington University-St. Louis
  • 3rd Place: Emily Boschert, SOM MS VI: 22 Years of Pediatric Musculoskeletal Firearm Injuries: The Carnage Continues. Mentor: Richard Schwend, CMH

Undergraduate Poster Presentations
(BA/MD and MD Years 1 to 4 medical students, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences students)

  • 1st Place: Adnan Islam, SOM MS IV: rfaZ’s Role in Escherichia coli Neonatal Sepsis: In-Vitro Bacterial Growth. Mentor: Susana Chavez-Bueno, CMH
  • 2nd Place: Som P. Singh, SOM MS III: Mental Health Outcomes of Early-Entrance to College Students: A Cross Sectional Study. Mentor: Jianwei Jiao, SOM
  • 3rd Place: Shil Shah, MS III: The Effects of Necrotizing Enterocolitis on Cytoskeletal Genes in Gut Epithelium. Mentor: Paula Monaghan Nichols, SOM

Undergraduate Oral PowerPoint Presentations
(BA/MD and MD Years 1 to 4 Medical students, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences students)

  • 1st Place: Madhavi Murali, SOM MS IV: Challenges of interpreting Naranjo causality assessment of pediatric adverse drug reactions. Mentor: Jennifer Goldman, CMH
  • 2nd Place: Aarya Ramprasad, SOM MS II: Contributions to Health Disparities Observed in the COVID19 Pandemic. Mentor: Bridgette Jones, SOM
  • 3rd Place: Victoria Shi, SOM MS II: Transcriptome Analysis of Patients with Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. Mentor: Paula Monaghan-Nichols, SOM

SOM announces research winners from annual Quality and Patient Safety Day

Tara Krishnan and Cynthia Liu received the top student honors for their research abstracts at the School of Medicine’s annual Vijay Babu Rayudu Quality and Patient Safety Day. The top resident/fellow awards went to Dr. Heather Morgans and Dr. Anas Al Bawaliz.

The four were chosen from a record 53 submitted abstracts and invited to make oral presentations of their research in this year’s virtual, online event on May 29. More than 100 people participated in the seventh annual event. It included an executive panel discussion of  continuing challenges from the COVID-19 crisis and how it has changed the future of health care.

The School of Medicine presents the annual patient safety day program to provide an opportunity for students, residents and fellows to display their work in quality improvement and patient safety to the entire medical school community.

Both the panel discussion and the oral presentations can be viewed online.

Krishnan, a fourth-year medical student, received a top student award and presented her work on “Beeps, Squeals, and Drones: Reducing the Impact of Noise Pollution in the Operating Room.” Dr. Gary Sutkin served as her research mentor. Liu, a sixth-year medical student, was also mentored by Sutkin and presented “Semantically Ambiguous Language in the Teaching Operating Room.”

Morgans earn one of the top awards for residents and fellows with her abstract, “A Systematic Approach to Improving Metabolic Acidosis in Patients with Stage 3-5 Chronic Kidney Disease in the Nephrology Clinic at Children’s Mercy Hospital.” Dr. Darcy Weidemann served as her faculty research mentor. Bawaliz, mentored by Dr. David Wooldridge, presented on “Reducing Unnecessary Inpatient Laboratory Testing at Truman Medical Center.”

Students, residents and fellows submitting the remaining abstracts were invited to create posters along with 5-minute audios, which were posted online in a virtual poster showcase.

The panel discussion, moderated by School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., included six health care leaders from the QIPS Consortium Hospital Affiliates. The group included Mark Steele, M.D., chief operating officer, chief medical officer, Truman Medical Centers; Peter Holt, M.D., vice president of medical affairs, Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City; Robert Lane, M.D., MS, executive vice president and physician-in-chief, Children’s Mercy Hospital; Timothy Dellenbaugh, M.D., assistant medical director, Center for Behavioral Medicine; Ahmad Batrash, M.D., chief of staff, Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center​; and Olevia Pitts, M.D., chief medical officer, HCA Research Medical Center.

 

UMKC’s Som Singh invited to present research on sports injuries at international conference

Med student Som Singh, left, is helping lead a study group that monitors injuries to U.S. rugby players. He is pictured with Dr. Victor Lopez Jr., Dr. Alex Metoxen (UMKC Orthopedic Surgery Resident), Dr. Sean Bonnani (UMKC Orthopedic Surgery Resident), and Chizitam Ibezim (2020 UMKC medical school graduate).

Like many young, aspiring athletes, Som Singh saw his football career end early with an injury during high school. Yet, his love for sports never waned. Now, it could be taking the fourth-year UMKC medical student to the European College of Sports Science in Spain next fall to present as lead author of a research project on rugby player injuries.

His work is part of a project affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and the Rugby Research and Injury Prevention Group (RRIPG) that has been monitoring U.S. Rugby Club-Sevens player injuries and performance.

“The culture of sports has always had an impact on me and I wanted to stay around sports,” Singh said.

When he first came to the School of Medicine, Singh used what free time he had to help as a volunteer assistant football coach at a local high school. While coaching, he realized the hunger to be connected to sports still burned.

“Coaching players was cool, teaching, talking to the players,” Singh said. “That aspect of teaching sports was unique and it led me to seek out other things I could do to combine sports and medicine.”

About a year ago, a national rugby tournament came to Kansas City. Dr. Victor Lopez Jr., founder and executive director of the RRIPG in New York, arrived as well to study the players on the field, monitoring their injuries and the effects on their performance. Lopez was also looking for medical students and residents to help with his project. A UMKC orthopaedic surgery resident who knew both Lopez and Singh introduced the two.

Singh began working on the sidelines in the medical tents and soon became the assistant national study coordinator for the group, attending countless rugby matches and collecting injury data.

His report, which was based on a five-year analysis of medical costs related to player injuries sustained in U.S. Rugby-Sevens regional tournaments, caught the eye of the European College of Sports Sciences.

He said his findings could serve as a profile of the financial impact that sports injuries have on both men and women players. Much like the National Football League has done in developing its concussion protocols, Singh said his data could also serve as a tool for national U.S. Rugby-Sevens to improve player welfare and safety.

“It is a growing collision sport,” Singh said of rugby.

Singh also is co-author of two other group abstracts that were selected for presentation at the international conference in Seville, Spain – assuming limitations brought by the novel coronavirus are lifted and allow the conference to take place.

In addition to Lopez, the project has Singh working closely with Dr. Richard Ma, Gregory L. and Ann L. Hummel Distinguished Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery Missouri Orthopaedic Institute at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Dr. Answorth Allen, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and team doctor for the NBA’s New York Knicks.

Singh said he doesn’t plan to let up on his injury prevention research with the group anytime soon.

“We have plenty of studies coming up,” he said. “I’m booked for the next couple of years. We’re continuing to grow and understand more about sports injuries.”

For UMKC medical student and entrepreneur Fahad Qureshi, health care connects it all

Driven. Creative. Optimistic. Curious. Determined. Smart. Happy. These are common traits found in successful entrepreneurs. All of them are found in Fahad Qureshi.

A third-year medical student at UMKC, Qureshi took third place in the UM System Entrepreneurship Quest Pitch Competition, where 20 student teams from across the four campuses presented innovative business ventures.

Qureshi is the founder and creator of Vest Heroes, which uses a system of pulleys and levers in the operating room to relieve surgeons from bearing weighted lead X-ray skirts and vests during long procedures. Wearing the vests are required by law and protect health care professionals from radioactive exposure. But they are heavy – between 30 and 69 pounds – and can hinder mobility.

Qureshi wasn’t nervous during the final rounds of competition, as he’s had the idea for a long time and knows the product well. In fact, his invention is patent-pending, and he’s launched a company to fulfill orders for 100 vests that will be used throughout the country. “I strongly believe in the idea,” he said, “and it was great to get affirmation from the judges. To know it’s real and it’s working – I feel good about that.”

As a child, Qureshi had a good friend who died during an operation following a bad accident. He heard the surgeon say that wearing his 60-pound vest made it hard for him to make movements during his friend’s operation – and that’s something he never forgot.

While finding a way to reduce the weight of these vests has been in his head for a long time – “10 to 12 years, maybe more” – he didn’t have the background needed to solve it … until medical school.

Once at UMKC, he gained academic understanding, expanded his medical knowledge, got into the operating room and participated in an engineering apprenticeship, completely independent of the School of Medicine.

“Just because you are practicing medicine doesn’t mean you can’t do anything else,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for credit, I was looking for knowledge.”

He also found a local engineering firm to help out.

“When you have an interdisciplinary approach, that’s when you can really solve problems. Without medicine, I wouldn’t know what to build,” he said. “Without engineering, I wouldn’t know how to build it.”

In addition, Qureshi reached out to various physicians to get their opinions – how to improve the vest, how to grow consumer interest, what did and didn’t work well. His biggest support has come from Bogdan Derylo, M.D., a nephrologist from his hometown of Chicago and Akin Cil, M.D., UMKC professor and the Franklin D. Dickson/Missouri Endowed Chair in orthopaedic surgery.

“All of the feedback received was terrific,” Qureshi said. “The final model is a culmination of all the suggestions they provided.”

Qureshi, who worked minimum-wage jobs to fund the company so he can retain full equity, says mass distribution is his ultimate goal. He’s currently working with a Chinese manufacturer to help produce large numbers of the Vest Heroes, although that is sidelined now due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Any doctor or health care professional that uses radiation has a need for this,” he said. “There’s really no downside to using it – it’s a necessity, as I see it.”

There’s no doubt that Qureshi’s entrepreneurial spirit motivates him, but he sees health care connecting it all. As for his future, he plans “100 percent to practice medicine.” And part of that plan includes research, his company and teaching the next generation of doctors.

“When you choose what you do every day, it should be something that makes you happy. Going to work shouldn’t be scary or dreaded. If your work makes you happy, you’re doing something right.”

In addition to Qureshi, the UMKC teams presenting pitches during the final competition were Greyson Twist, Ph.D., bioinformatics and computer science major presenting his Genalytic project; and Kyle McAllister, business administration graduate student presenting his company Compost Collective KC.

UMKC researcher helped lead studies published in New England Journal of Medicine

UMKC School of Medicine researcher John Spertus, M.D., M.P.H., is part of two large NIH-funded clinical studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Monday, March 30. The studies indicate eliminating unnecessary revascularization treatments for cardiac patients could save the United States hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Spertus serves as professor of medicine and Daniel J. Lauer, M.D., Endowed Chair in Metabolism and Vascular Disease Research at the School of Medicine, and Clinical Director of Outcomes Research at Saint Luke’s Hospital.

The studies looked specifically at coronary artery disease patients who had high-risk blockages with least 10 percent or more of the heart muscle being at risk. One focused on patients with preserved kidney function and the other targeted patients with end-stage kidney failure. That latter group has largely been excluded from almost all cardiovascular trials, despite having a high prevalence of coronary artery disease and death, Spertus said.

Both studies, conducted in unison, examined the most important outcomes for patients, clinical events (e.g. heart attacks, death) and patients’ symptoms, function and quality of life. Participants were randomized to undergo invasive angiography and revascularization with aggressive medical therapy or aggressive medical therapy alone. The goals of the medical treatment were cholesterol reduction, blood pressure control, aspirin and medications to treat chest pain.

The studies in patients with preserved kidney function showed that invasive medical procedures provided no reduction in clinical events, but did improve patients’ symptoms and quality of life, if they had chest pain within a month of entering the trial. These health status benefits were evident within three months and sustained out to four years.

“Importantly, this benefit was only observed in patients who had angina, chest pain, and not in asymptomatic patients,” Spertus said. “There is no indication for these procedures in patients whose symptoms are well-controlled with medications alone. If we avoided revascularization in asymptomatic patients, we could potentially save about $500 million to $750 million a year in the United States alone.”

Among patients with very severe kidney disease, there was no significant difference in clinical events or in patients’ symptoms and quality of life.

“While disappointing, this is a very ill patient population for whom an aggressive, invasive treatment strategy does not seem to offer much benefit,” Spertus said.

The NEJM is publishing four papers from these studies on March 30, one for each trial focusing on the clinical events and another for each trial focusing on the quality of life outcomes. Spertus was involved in writing all four and is the lead author on the two quality of life papers. He and his team designed, analyzed and led the health status, quality of life components of both trials.

Spertus is the author of the Seattle Angina Questionnaire (SAQ) that used in the studies. It is widely recognized throughout the world as the gold standard for quality of life measurement in cardiac medicine.

“Our group has led its use and analyses in multiple studies and quality improvement efforts,” Spertus said. “In light of these findings, the SAQ may start becoming a routine part of clinical care in cardiology.”

Spertus involved in big stent study

A leading UMKC and Saint Luke’s Health System researcher, John Spertus, M.D., M.P.H., was heavily involved in important heart-procedure research that was published earlier this month and presented at the annual conference of the American Heart Association.

You can read an interview with Spertus about the research here.

A Washington Post story said the study, called ISCHEMIA, found that invasive procedures to unclog blocked arteries — in most cases, the insertion of a stent, a tiny mesh tube that props open a blood vessel after artery-clearing angioplasty — were no better at preventing heart attacks and death in patients with stable heart disease than were pills and improvements in diet and exercise. Overall, the study results suggest that invasive procedures, stents and bypass surgery, should be used more sparingly in patients with stable heart disease and the decision to use them should be less rushed, experts said.

Spertus is a UMKC professor of medicine and Daniel J. Lauer Endowed Chair in Metabolism and Vascular Disease Research. At Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, as clinical director of outcomes research, he developed technology that guides physicians and patients in medical-decision making by using models to measure and predict the risk factors of various procedures. Many experts cite two tools he created — the Seattle Angina Questionnaire and the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire — as the gold standards for measuring symptoms, function and quality of life in treating coronary artery disease and heart failure. Both have been translated into more than 95 languages.

A year ago he received the American Heart Association’s 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award. He previously received the association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 and the Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Distinguished Achievement Award in 2013.

 

UMKC researcher part of $1.5-million NIH grant-funded project on novel tissue-preservation technique

A new technique of crypreservation being studied by UMKC researcher Peter Koulen, Ph.D., could make human cell tissues such as the cornea tissues pictured more readily available for transplant.

Surgeons world-wide currently perform more than 240,000 corneal transplants a year to address a wide range of eye diseases. Researchers and physicians, however, estimate as many as 10 million patients could benefit from the procedure if enough viable tissue was available.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City Vision Research Center is part of a $1.5-million National Institutes of Health grant-funded project exploring the capability of a novel, ultra-fast technique of cryopreservation that could help meet those far-reaching clinical needs in ophthalmology and a number of other fields of medicine.

The NIH awarded a phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to CryoCrate, a Columbia, Missouri-based company active in biomedicine working with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Vision Research Center. The new two-year award is for $1,566,168 and includes a subcontract of $722,870 to UMKC’s Vision Research Center. It is a follow-up grant to previous phase I SBIR funding from the NIH for earlier collaborative work between CyroCrate and UMKC.

With current techniques, many types of cells and tissues, including cornea tissues, cannot be preserved at all or lose their function when subjected to the freeze-thaw process of cryopreservation. Peter Koulen, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology, endowed chair in vision research at the UMKC School of Medicine and director of basic research at the UMKC Vision Research Center, and Xu Han, Ph.D., president and Chief Technology Officer of CryoCrate, jointly developed a new cryopreservation technique to preserve the viability and functionality of cornea and bioartificial ocular tissues. The new phase II SBIR funding will allow Han and Koulen to extensively test and refine the technology before taking it to the clinics.

Thus far, traditional methods of cryopreservation have been unsuccessful to preserve and store human corneas for use in patients due to the fact that cells critical for cornea function are lost during freezing. Corneas need adequate numbers of such cells to be present and properly functioning in the grafted tissue for the surgery to be successful. This currently limits storage of corneas to refrigeration, which is insufficient in delaying the deterioration of cornea tissue beyond a few days and creates numerous clinical challenges shared by other areas of transplantation.

CryoCrate is headquartered at the Missouri Innovation Center. It commercializes a new cooling method that better preserves tissue in a frozen state with only negligible mechanical damage to the tissue. The technology is co-developed and co-owned by CryoCrate and UMKC. It also eliminates the need for so called cryoprotectants, chemicals that facilitate successful recovery of live tissue from freezing, but pose a range of medical and regulatory challenges. International patents pending and patents by CryoCrate and UMKC protect the technology and will enable CryoCrate and Koulen’s team at UMKC to address the urgent worldwide clinical needs and rapidly evolving fields of transplantation medicine.

The new NIH SBIR phase II grant allows Han and Koulen to further develop an upgraded system that is equally effective in the cryopreservation of whole corneas and large bioartificial tissue. This would enable long-term storage of the tissues and could make them more readily available when and where needed for clinical use and research.

Early tests at the UMKC Vision Research Center detected no statistical difference in the number and quality of the cells that determine cornea health and function, when comparing corneas cryopreserved using the new technology with fresh cornea tissue. This level of efficiency in preserving corneal tissue has not been achieved previously with traditional corneal cryopreservation techniques.

If further tests prove to be equally effective, the goal is to introduce the new cryopreservation products for clinical use in patients following completion of the new NIH SBIR phase II grant and subsequent regulatory steps of product development.