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Release: Oct. 2, 2000

Collaborative research between UI, ISU scientists receives funding

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Researchers from the University of Iowa College of Medicine and from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University (ISU) will collaborate on projects designed to investigate causes of and potential treatments for diseases that affect both animals and humans.

The projects will be funded by the Interinstitutional Research Grants Program (IRGP), which was established three years ago by the universities to encourage collaborative research between scientists at the UI College of Medicine and the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine. The initiative provides start-up funds for research projects deemed likely to secure external funding once they are established.

"We are already realizing the original IRGP goals of solving important problems in human and animal health and leveraging the start-up funds to obtain extramural grants," said Prem Paul, D.V.M., associate vice provost for research at ISU. "During the first two years, an investment of $180,000 has resulted in five grants totaling $3 million."

This year three collaborative research projects have been chosen to receive IRGP funding. Bento Soares, Ph.D., UI associate professor of pediatrics, working with F. Chris Minion, Ph.D., ISU associate professor of veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine, will receive $27,800 to study "Functional genomics of diseased swine lung."

Using a new technology called microarray, the researchers will investigate genes that define changes in the immune response in swine lungs during infections with major swine pathogens. The goal is to provide insight into how the host responds and to help identify new host components critical to protective immunity in the pig.

"It is now clear that pathogens are capable of changing the way they interact with their host in unique and stunningly rapid ways," Minion said. "The host processes designed for protection also undergo rapid and complex changes in response to the invading pathogen, and it is this change in the host that determines the final outcome of the disease."

Patricia Winokur, M.D., UI assistant professor of internal medicine, together with Michael Apley, D.V.M., Ph.D., ISU assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, will use a $30,000 grant to study the molecular characterization and detection of multi-drug resistant, cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella in animals bred for human consumption and man. Salmonella is an important pathogen that can be transmitted through the food chain from animals to man.

The researchers plan to develop a molecular screening test to rapidly identify cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella organisms. Winokur and colleagues have identified the gene responsible for this antibiotic resistance and have found that the gene can be transmitted from one bacterium to another.

"We will analyze how widespread this resistance is and begin to identify risk factors associated with the acquisition of this antibiotic resistance gene," said Winokur, who is also a researcher at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City. "We will also explore how this antibiotic resistance gene has been transferred onto plasmid DNA and whether the plasmids identified around Iowa have all arisen from a single source or whether they arise spontaneously on different farms throughout the state."

Randy Kardon, M.D., Ph.D., UI associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and Young Kwon, M.D., Ph.D., UI assistant professor (clinical) of ophthalmology and visual sciences, will work on the project "Stem cells: Regeneration of optic nerve in glaucoma" with Daniel Betts, D.V.M., ISU professor of veterinary clinical sciences, and other ISU researchers, using a grant of $33,008.

The researchers plan to create an animal model of glaucoma to test whether stem cells can be used to restore vision. Permanent loss of retinal ganglion cells is the principal cause of blindness in more than 120,000 Americans who have glaucoma; it is also a hallmark of many other ophthalmic diseases.

"Our working hypothesis is that stem cells can replace lost neurons in the retina and optic nerve function can be restored," Betts said.

Allyn Mark, M.D., associate dean for research and graduate programs at the UI College of Medicine, indicated that the multi-disciplinary nature of these collaborative grants was a key to their success.

"These joint projects harness the expertise of scientists from both institutions to tackle diseases now understood to have both animal and human relevance," Mark said. "We intend the IRGP program to foster development of new avenues of research that will be beneficial to both human and animal health."

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.