Medicine students make strong showing in annual Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Health Sciences Student Research SummitThe UMKC School of Medicine made a strong showing with 10 students among the winners in the 10th annual UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit. For the second year in a row, the event that takes place each May was held in a week-long virtual, online format.

Students from the schools of medicine, pharmacy and biological and chemical sciences shared their research with 20 PowerPoint and oral presentations and 31 poster presentation during the week. More than 50 students participated in this year’s event.

Caroline Olson won first place with her oral PowerPoint presentation in the graduate division for fifth- and sixth-year medical students, master’s degree and Pharm.D. students and medical residents. Sejla Turnadzic and Karina Shah tied for third place for poster presentations.

In the undergraduate division for first-year through fourth-year medicine and biological and chemical sciences students, Parth Patel and Rohan Ahuja tied for first place in poster presentations. Siddarth Balaji was the first-place winner for oral PowerPoint presentation. Anika Mittal place second and Ahuja was third in poster presentations. Josephine Nwanka and Anthony Le tied for second and Fahad Qureshi was third in oral PowerPoint presentations.

The summit promotes collaborations across disciplines and schools to produce economic, health, education and quality of life benefits for the Kansas City community in a forum that brings the UMKC health sciences community together to highlight student research.

A panel of judges from the School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy and Children’s Mercy Kansas City hospital selected the top three in each category.

2021 Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Graduate Clinical Poster Presentations

(BA/MD and MD Years 5 and 6 medical students, master’s students, Pharm.D. students and medical residents)

1st Place: Nitish R. Mishra, School of Pharmacy. Method Development of Stable Isotope-Labeled Marfey’s Reagent Derivatized Physiological Amino Acids Stereoisomers Using LCMS 9030 Q-ToF. Authors: Nitish R. Mishra, Amar Deep Sharma and William G. Gutheil. Mentor: William G. Gutheil

2nd Place: Jordan Frangello, School of Pharmacy. Impact of a Pharmacist-led Preventative Screening Intervention During Comprehensive Medication Reviews. Authors: Jordan Frangello, Yifei Liu and Chad Cadwell. Mentor: Yifei Liu

3rd Place Tie: Sejla Turnadzic, School of Medicine. Influence of Racial Disparities on Length of Stay in Hospital in Patients with Cerebral Venous Thrombosis. Authors: Leslie Shang, Sadhika Jagannathan, Sejla Turnadzic, Divya Jain, Monica Gaddis, Jean-Baptiste Le Pichon. Mentor: Jean-Baptiste Le Pichon

3rd Place Tie: Karina Shah, School of Medicine. The Impact of COVID-19 on the Clinical Component of the Surgical Clerkship. Authors: Karina Shah, Donya Jahandar, Christopher Veit, Jennifer Quaintance and Michael Moncure. Mentor: Michael Moncure

Graduate Oral PowerPoint Presentations

(BA/MD and MD Years 5 and 6 medical students, master’s students, Pharm.D. students and medical residents)

1st Place: Caroline Olson, School of Medicine. Systemic Fat Embolism-Induced Accumulation of Fat Droplets in the Rat Retina. Authors: Caroline G. Olson, Landon Rohowetz, M.D., and Peter Koulen, Ph.D. Mentor: Peter Koulen

2nd Place: Shelby Brown, School of Biological and Computer Sciences. Phase separation of both a plant virus movement protein and cellular factors support virus-host interactions. Authors: Shelby Brown and Jared May. Mentor: Jared May

3rd Place: Nitish R. Mishra, School of Pharmacy. Application of LCMS 9030 Q-ToF in Biomarkers Analysis for Pre-term vs. Term Delivery Patients. Authors: Nitish R. Mishra, Donald DeFranco, Paula Monaghan-Nichols and William G. Gutheil. Mentor: William G. Gutheil

Undergraduate Poster Presentations

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

1st Place Tie: Parth Patel, School of Medicine. Predicting Recurrent Coarctation of the Aorta in Infants with Single Ventricle Heart Disease Using Home Monitoring Data. Authors: Parth S. Patel, Shil Shah, Keith Feldman, Lori A. Erickson, Amy Ricketts, Hayley Hancock and Ryan A. Romans. Mentor: Ryan Romans

1st Place Tie: Rohan Ahuja, School of Medicine. Intracellular calcium changes in intact mouse heart mediated by Fibroblast Growth Factor 23 – implications for chronic kidney disease. Authors: Rohan Ahuja, Shaan Patel, Nabeel Rasheed, Derek Wang, Julian A. Vallejo and Michael J. Wacker. Mentor: Michael Wacker

2nd Place: Anika Mittal, School of Medicine. Vascular Inflammation in the Brain Following Fat Emboli. Authors: Anika Mittal, Fahad Qureshi, Suban Burale, Neerupma Silswal, Alan Poisner, Agostino Molteni and Paula Monaghan Nichols. Mentor: Paula Monaghan Nichols

3rd Place: Rohan Ahuja, School of Medicine. Absence of Cardiac Immune Pathology in a Rat Model of Fat Embolism Syndrome. Authors: VanDillen A, VanDillen M, Hamidpour S, MateescuV, SilswalN, Wacker M, Patel S, Vallejo J, Ahuja R, Monaghan Nichols AP, SalzmanG, Poisner A, Molteni A. Mentor: Michael Wacker

Undergraduate Oral PowerPoint Presentations

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

1st Place: Siddharth Balaji, School of Medicine. Comparing Usage of FDA 510(k) and Premarket Approval Pathways within Orthopaedics to Other Specialties. Authors: Siddharth Balaji and Jonathan Dubin. Author: Jonathan Dubin

2nd Place Tie: Josephine Nwankwo, School of Medicine. Increasing Representation of Black Women in Orthopedics Starts with Medical Students. Authors: Josephine Nwankwo and Ali Khan. Mentor: Dr. Ali Khan

2nd Place Tie: Anthony Le, School of Medicine. Patient Perception of Paralysis-Inducing Spinal Cord Injury Through Twitter and Instagram. Avi Gajjar, Anthony Huy Dinh Le, Rachel C Jacobs and Nitin Agarwal. Mentor: Avi Gajjar

3rd Place: Fahad Qureshi, School of Medicine. Social Determinants for Explaining Disparities in COVID-19 Rates: A Population Analysis From 10 Large Metropolitan Areas. Authors: Aarya Ramprasad, Fahad Qureshi, Bridgette L. Jones and Brian R. Lee. Mentor: Bridgette Jones

Grant Helps Take the Lead Out of KC Homes

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $700,000 to the University of Missouri-Kansas City to explore and evaluate best practices for identifying and removing lead paint hazards from Kansas City homes.

The grant is in partnership with the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and Lead Safe KC Project, which helps remove lead paint hazards in homes of families with young children; and Children’s Mercy Environmental Health Program, which has assessed more than 1,400 homes for environmental risks and supports allergen research.

Homes that were built before 1978 might contain lead paint, which could put residents, especially young children and pregnant women, at risk for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can cause speech delays, brain damage and other health effects.

Using Kansas City and Children’s Mercy data, the UMKC Center for Economic Information will perform a comparative impact analysis of the specific lead hazard control treatments used in the intervention in terms of blood-lead levels and social costs.

“The goal will be to develop a data-driven quality improvement evaluation model that HUD-sponsored lead-hazard control programs will be able to use in the management and performance evaluation of their own programs,” said Doug Bowles, Ph.D., director of the UMKC Center for Economic Information, co-principal investigator on the grant.

“An additional goal will be to develop a data-driven, housing-based index that lead-hazard control programs can use to select the homes most in need of lead-based hazard remediation,” said Steve Simon, Ph.D., of the School of Medicine and co-principal investigator on the grant.

The study will examine data from the Kansas City Health Department, comparing lead poisoning information with home repair strategies to determine the most effective, sustainable and cost-efficient methods of protecting families.

SOM research office taking applications for SPiRe Grant

The School of Medicine Office of Research is seeking applications for the Sarah Morrison Pilot Research Fund (SPiRe), an internal grant for clinical and basic scientists. Application deadline is noon, March 1.

The grant provides support to develop preliminary data or pursue high-risk innovative research that will enable submission of highly competitive applications to national funding sources.

To be considered, research must either be performed at the School of Medicine or be in collaboration with faculty at the school where at least 50 percent of the research is performed. Tenure-track, tenured, research and clinical faculty are eligible to apply for the grant.

Standard awards are $15,000 to be spent during the course of two years. If a compelling case can be made for additional funding, up to $20,000 may be requested.

Full application guidelines and the application packet are available online.

Questions prior to preparing and submitting applications may be directed to Paula Monaghan-Nichols, associate dean for research, at nicholsap@umkc.edu or 816-235-6663. Questions about applications should be directed to Mark Hecker, director of research administration, at heckerm@umkc.edu or 816-235-6015.

Student Research Program announces Sarah Morrison Award recipients

UMKC School of Medicine Sarah Morrison student research award winners. First row: Anum Ahmed, Rohan Ahuja, Shiva Balasubramanian, Vijay Dimri. Second row: Nikki Gill, Shubhika Jain, Madhavi Murali, Christian Kingeter. Bottom row: Victoria Shi, Xi Wang, Matthew William.

The School of Medicine Student Research Program announced 11 recipients of the 2021 Sarah Morrison Student Research Awards that includes 10 medical students and one graduate student.

Awards of up to $3,000 are presented annually to School of Medicine students as they become involved in and learn about a wide variety of research activities based on their interests. The research may be in the basic sciences or in clinical medicine.

Students may develop their own hypothesis and work plan or work on an established research project with their mentor. Winners of the awards are expected to present the results of the research at a School of Medicine student research event such as the UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit or a similar venue as recommended by Research Administration.

More than 130 students have received Sarah Morrison awards since the program began in 2013 with more than $270,000 of financial support provided to conduct research projects at the School of Medicine.

All UMKC School of Medicine students with the exception of first-year students are eligible to receive a Sarah Morrison award through the school’s Office of Research and Administration. Second-year medical students must have  approval from the Student Research Committee.

Students interested in receiving a Sarah Morrison award must apply by noon on Nov. 15 to be considered. Applications must include a proposal protocol, budget, letters of reference, transcripts and curriculum vitae of the student. For complete application information, visit the student research website.

Award winners are selected by a panel of more than 25 School of Medicine faculty who review applications for the quality of the proposed research and outcomes, completion of application materials, a detailed project budget and academic achievement.

2021 Sarah Morrison Research Awards
(Recipient / Faculty Mentor / Project Title)

  • Anum Ahmed, MS 4 / Dr. Karl Kador, assistant professor, biomedical sciences / The effect of substrate stiffness on retinal ganglion cell neurite outgrowth
  • Rohan Ahuja, MS 4 / Dr. Michael Wacker, associate professor, vice-chair biomedical science / The effect of trimethylamine N-oxide on epiflourescent calcium imaging of mouse atria
  • Shiva Balasubramanian, MS 3 / Dr. Jignesh Shah, assistant professor of medicine and docent / Radical prostatectomy readmissions: causes, risk factors, national rates, and costs
  • Vijay Dimri, MS 3 / Dr. Seung Suk Kang, assistant professor, biomedical sciences / Effect of 4 weeks of transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation on heart rate variability and symptoms in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Nikki Gill, MS 3 / Dr. Paula Nichols, professor, chair biomedical sciences, associate dean research administration / The impact of cannabinoid exposure of glucocorticoid receptor signaling in neural stem cells
  • Shubhika Jain, MS 5 / Dr. Micah Sinclair, assistant professor orthopaedic surgery / Establishing the role of inflammatory markers in the diagnosis and treatment of acute hand infections in the pediatric population
  • Christian Kingeter, MS 5 / Dr. Peter Koulen, professor, director of basic research, Vision Research Center / Does an immune response to viral infection put patients on higher risk for developing age-related macular degeneration? Development of novel clinical diagnostic tools to identify at-risk patients
  • Madhavi Murali, MS 5 / Dr. Adriane Latz, otolaryngologist, Children’s Mercy Kansas City / Immediate recovery room hypoxemia after tympanostomy tube placement in children with PDC
  • Victoria Shi, MS 3 / Dr. Paula Nichols, professor, chair biomedical sciences, associate dean research administration / Transcriptome analysis of response to glucocorticoid treatment for bronchopulmonary dysplasia
  • Xi Wang, graduate student / Dr. Jenifer Allsworth, associate professor, biomedical and health informatics / Natural language processing of gestational diabetes mellitus management documentation from electronic health records
  • Matthew William, MS 3 / Dr. Xiang-Ping Chu, professor of biomedical sciences / Modulation of heteromeric ASIC1b/3 channels by Zinc

 

 

 

UMKC Vision Research Center receives NIH award to promote diversity in health-related research as part of ongoing glaucoma studies

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the UMKC Vision Research Center a new $120,399 grant that promotes the training of researchers from diverse backgrounds as part of ongoing research projects to develop novel glaucoma therapies.

Funded through the NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI), the new funding is part of a larger NIH initiative to enhance the diversity of the research workforce. It will aid in recruiting and supporting students, postdoctorates and eligible investigators from diverse backgrounds including those from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research.

“We are pleased to receive this support from the NIH,” said Peter Koulen, Ph.D., director of the Vision Research Center. “This funding is a substantial contribution to our mission to provide a more diverse workforce in biomedicine and the overall mission to discover new and improved treatments and therapies for vision health world-wide.”

The funding is part of Koulen’s NEI-supported program exploring novel therapeutic strategies to preserve the viability and function of the nerve cells of the retina affected by glaucoma. The research targets a novel mechanism of nerve cell protection utilizing intracellular calcium signaling as a drug target to treat degeneration of nerve cells in glaucoma.

“The new award is part of research that will allow us to generate data needed for the development of novel glaucoma drugs to complement existing therapies targeting abnormally high pressure in the eye,” Koulen said. Koulen and his team at the Vision Research Center received a $1.16 million NIH grant earlier this year to investigate a mechanism that allows nerve cells to communicate effectively and could lead to the development of such new treatments for glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a major cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in the United States and worldwide. The disease causes degeneration of the retina and optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Preventing such degeneration and the death of affected cells is currently the only feasible way to prevent vision loss due to glaucoma.

In the past year, Koulen has won two other major NIH research grants. His current study of new chemical compounds to treat and prevent age-related macular degeneration received a $1.16 million grant. He is also part of an innovative $1.5 million project exploring a novel tissue-preservation method that could help meet far-reaching clinical needs in ophthalmology and other fields of medicine

This glaucoma research will focus on alternative strategies directly targeting the damaging effects of the disease on the retina and optic nerve.

“Just like elevated blood pressure predisposes patients to stroke, high pressure inside the eye is a predisposing factor for glaucoma,” Koulen said. “There are currently several therapies available to patients to reduce abnormally high eye pressure, but when these therapies fail or cease to be effective, glaucoma and the accompanying vision loss continue to progress.”

Koulen’s project, including the new award to promote diversity in health-related research, will determine how to boost the cell-to-cell communication that retinal nerve cells use to defend themselves from disease and injury. The hope is this will protect these cells from the damaging effects of glaucoma.

If successful, Koulen’s research will result in new drug candidates that would contribute to “neuroprotection” as a strategy to treat and prevent glaucoma.

New therapies could potentially act in concert with current eye pressure lowering drugs. Other areas of medicine, such as cancer treatment, have effectively employed the concept of using complementary drug action in combination therapies.

Grant will help Black churches fight COVID-19

Berkley-Patton, JanetteCOVID-19 has infected, hospitalized and killed Black Americans at a higher rate compared with whites. As it has with other health disparities, the University of Missouri-Kansas City is going to partner with churches to fight this one. The National Institutes of Health has awarded UMKC a two-year, $1.9 million grant to do so as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) initiative.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant, director of the UMKC Health Equity Institute and a professor at the School of Medicine. “This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.”

The team of investigators on the grant are from UMKC, Children’s Mercy, University of Kansas Medical Center, University of Massachusetts, University of California-San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University. In addition to churches and their leaders and members, they will work in partnership with Calvary Community Outreach Network and the Kansas City Health Department for testing, contact tracing and linkage to care services.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City. This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.” – Jannette Berkley-Patton

“One of our aims with the grant is to not only expand testing but to also help get the community prepared for the vaccine,” said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., an investigator of the grant, dean of the UMKC School of Medicine and an infectious disease expert at Children’s Mercy. “Vaccine confidence relies on trust and transparent communication of vaccine science and safety. The mistrust among people of color about the COVID-19 vaccine stems back toward experience in other research impacting this population, namely the Tuskegee trials in 1932 to study syphilis where Black males were not provided treatment.”

Key social determinants contribute to the disparities for Blacks and COVID-19 including essential public-facing jobs, cultural norms like medical and contact tracing mistrust and limited access to health care. African Americans also have a high burden of chronic health conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which put them at an increased risk for COVID-19.

Studies, including UMKC investigations led by Berkley-Patton, have shown that community-engaged research with African American churches has led to health screening uptake for HIV and STD testing and reducing risks for diabetes. Yet, no proven COVID-19 testing interventions exist for African American churches, which have wide reach and influence in their communities, high attendance rates and supportive health and social services for community members.

At churches, the grant aims to reach people through sermons, testimonials, church bulletins, and text messages. This also includes faith leaders promoting testing – and getting tested in front of their congregations – so that people can actually see what the testing process looks like.

To date, Berkley-Patton’s work has been supported by more than $12 million in federal grants over the past 14 years. The community-engaged research she has conducted in partnership with faith communities has benefited people in the Kansas City area as well as Alabama and Jamaica.

“At UMKC, we fight racial inequity at all levels, and that includes life-saving health care at our public urban research university,” said UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “We are proud of the work Dr. Berkley-Patton is leading through proven strategies at places of worship. We know this team of investigators and their partners will help keep our community safer from COVID-19.”

UMKC Trustees honor SOM’s Peter Koulen for distinguished work in research

Koulen, PeterThe UMKC Board of Trustees has selected UMKC School of Medicine’s vision and neuroscience researcher Peter Koulen, Ph.D., as the recipient of the 2020 UMKC Trustees’ Faculty Fellow Award.

Dr . Koulen is the school’s Felix and Carmen Sabates/Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research and serves as director of basic research at the Vision Research Center. Under his guidance, the research center and the UMKC Department of Ophthalmology have secured millions of dollars in grants from the National Institutes of Health and other recognized sources for their groundbreaking work in developing technology and therapies to recognize and treat chronic diseases of the eye and brain.

He has been awarded more than 50 extramural grants totaling over $15 million, and he recently was the recipient of two R01 NIH/NEI awards totaling over $4 million. With a focus on the retina as part of the central nervous system, he has peer-reviewed publications in more than 100 prestigious journals including International Journal Molecular Science, Journal of Cell Science, Cellular Molecular Neurobiology, and Neuroscience. He also has been awarded three patents.

A member of an NIH study section committee, and active reviewer for prestigious scientific journals, he has been the recipient of more than 20 awards and honors since joining our School of Medicine, including recognition as the NT Veatch Award for Research and Creativity in 2013. Dr. Koulen’s work has been acknowledged worldwide. The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, a global organization of researchers, honored Koulen as a member of its 2018 Fellows Class.

He also serves as a mentor and sponsor for students involved in research and he has effectively launched the careers of the next generation of physician scientists. His mentorship has placed graduates in highly competitive research environments such as NIH, FDA, Harvard Medical School, Alcon Laboratories, Fresenius and numerous others.

“I am impressed that Dr. Koulen contributes with passion, grace and enthusiasm and that he truly represents what a faculty scholar should exemplify,” said School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne Jackson, M.D.. “It is my pleasure to call him a colleague and to work with him at our University.”

Each year, UMKC’s Board of Trustees selects an established faculty member for the Faculty Fellow Award to honor a nationally and internationally recognized record of research and creative achievements at UMKC.

Yusheng Liu, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research in the Office of Research and Economic Development, said the award helps the university enhance and pursue its goal to be a major urban research university with excellence, creativity, and scholarship across all disciplines.

 

 

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.”


Apply HERE for a
UMKC Health Equity Institute
Mini-Grant
Deadline is Nov. 9

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.”