UA Health Sciences Promotes Collaborative Research With Multidisciplinary Program Feasibility Awards

To ensure researchers are competitive in their submission for national research funds to develop cures or new treatments for the world’s most pressing diseases, the UA Health Sciences has awarded four faculty members multidisciplinary program feasibility awards.

The most challenging diseases require a multidisciplinary approach for research and treatment. To encourage, support and ensure multidisciplinary collaboration and research initiatives, the University of Arizona Health Sciences (UAHS) created the Multidisciplinary Program Feasibility Awards (MPFA) to enable faculty-investigators at UA Health Sciences to develop and implement collaborative, multidisciplinary research programs.

The UA Health Sciences has awarded four faculty members multidisciplinary program feasibility awards providing seed-funding toward the submission of competitive NIH grants.] The program provides faculty members with $50,000 to $100,000 per year (for two years) to facilitate the planning and execution of focused collaborations across UA Health Sciences’ colleges and the UA main campus.

The program provides seed-funding toward the submission of competitive National Institutes of Health P-series grant applications (PPG) awards or multidisciplinary research programs and center grant applications for other equivalent sources of peer-reviewed extramural funding.

“These awards are a unique opportunity for established and junior faculty members at the UAHS who are advocates of multidisciplinary, health-focused research to build collaborative research teams to investigate illness and develop cures, or new treatments or interventions. We are enthusiastic about their proposals and look forward to their sustained success as they work toward national funding,” said Joe G. N. “Skip” Garcia, MD, UA senior vice president for health sciences and the Dr. Merlin K. DuVal Professor of Medicine.    

The Request for Application (RFA) announced by the UA Health Sciences garnered 13 applications from established and junior faculty members who applied for the MPFA grants. After a comprehensive review process, the review committee selected four applicants or programs to fund with the MPFA.

The following faculty awardees will focus their efforts toward the development of large, multi-disciplinary-focused research projects and work toward the submission of competitive National Institutes of Health program project grant/center grant applications and/or other sources of peer-reviewed large-scale funding, in the coming years:

  • Stephen M. Black, PhD, professor of medicine and physiology and director of the Center for Lung Vascular Pathobiology at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson,
  • R. Clark Lantz, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson,
  • Usha Menon, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor of biobehavioral health science and associate dean of research at the UA College of Nursing,
  • Anne L. Wright, PhD, professor of pediatrics and senior associate dean for faculty affairs at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.

A pulmonary vascular biologist, Dr. Black will utilize the 2016 UAHS Multidisciplinary Program Feasibility Award to develop the Countermeasures against Chemical Threats (CounterACT) Research Center of Excellence. The following researchers will join him from the UA College of Pharmacy: Donna Zhang, PhD; Heidi Mansour, PhD; and Eli Chapman, PhD. The following researchers from the UA College of Medicine – Tucson also will join the project: Ting Wang, PhD; R. Clark Lantz, PhD; and Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, MD, senior vice president for health sciences.

Dr. Black has nearly 200 peer-reviewed publications. He has an expansive portfolio of NIH-sponsored research and continues to direct large federally funded research programs.

With the 2016 UAHS Multidisciplinary Program Feasibility Award, Dr. Lantz will develop a multi-investigator grant application to study the mechanism for preserving lung structure and function in the presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)-related exposures and develop intervention strategies that can reduce the adverse health outcomes of COPD. Collaborators on this study include: Stefano Guerra, MD, PhD, associate professor of public health at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and Yin Chen, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the UA College of Pharmacy.

Over the past 35 years, Dr. Lantz has concentrated his research in the area of pulmonary toxicology. Toxicants include inhalation exposures to complex smoke from fires, cigarette smoke, jet fuel, bacterial products and arsenic. Dr. Lantz’s research has been funded by the NIH and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Lantz is author of more than 90 peer-reviewed manuscripts and in 2011 received the Career Achievement Award from the Inhalation and Respiratory Specialty Section of the Society of Toxicology in recognition of his work in inhalation and respiratory toxicology.

At the UA Health Sciences Dr.  Menon leads patient engagement for the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Enrollment Center. She is a recognized expert in behavior change theory and interventions. An engaging and passionate public speaker, Dr. Menon is a frequent consultant and presenter to national and international researchers, [Text Box: Usha Menon, PhD, RN, FAAN] clinicians and community members. She holds an appointment as an adjunct professor in the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Gondar, Ethiopia.

With the 2016 UAHS Multidisciplinary Program Feasibility Award, Dr. Menon will develop a cooperative specialized research center grant proposal (U54). The new center would catalyze research, training, and policy to understand and reduce health disparities and promote health equity among communities living on the U.S.-Mexico border, working within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Region IX.

Dr. Menon and Elizabeth Calhoun, PhD, UAHS associate vice president for population science and discovery and professor of public health, will co-direct the proposed program. Their charter community partner is Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, Ariz.

Members of the UAHS Center for Population Science and Discovery joining the effort include: Matthew Butler, PhD; Graciela E. Silva Torres, PhD, MPH; and Anne Roubal, PhD.

Other UAHS collaborators include Mary Koithan, PhD, RN and Laura Szalacha, EdD, with the UA College of Nursing; David O. Garcia, PhD and Cynthia Thomson, PhD, RD, with the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the UA Cancer Center; and Teshia Arambula Solomon, PhD, director of the Native American Research and Training Center and associate professor at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.

Collaborators from outside the UA Health Sciences include: Malia Villegas, EdD, director of the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center and Susan Kunz, MPH, chief of health and wellness at the Mariposa Community Health Center.

Dr. Wright and colleagues will use the 2016 UAHS Multidisciplinary Program Feasibility Award to obtain pilot data that will be key to obtaining funding for a large new birth cohort study, titled, “Binational Studies of the Environment and Asthma in Mexico and the United States,” (BEAMS). BEAMS seeks to characterize environmental factors that provide protection from childhood asthma. For example, despite similar genetic ancestries and a negligible geographic distance, Mexican schoolchildren in Nogales, Sonora, have drastically lower asthma prevalence and higher levels of microbial exposure compared to Mexican American schoolchildren in Tucson, Ariz. UAHS funding will allow documentation of a spectrum of microbial exposures from Nogales, Sonora to Tucson, Ariz., that parallels the asthma prevalence extremes already reported. 

Dr. Wright’s co-principal investigators are Cecilia Rosales, MD, MS, assistant dean of Phoenix programs and professor at the UA Mel and Enid College of Public Health – Phoenix and Donata Vercelli, MD, UA College of Medicine – Tucson professor of cellular and molecular medicine and director of the Arizona Center for the Biology of Complex Diseases. Other collaborators include Tara Carr, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the College of Medicine – Tucson, Paloma Beamer, PhD, with joint appointments as associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering and community environment and policy at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and Greg Caporaso, PhD, assistant professor in biological sciences and assistant director of the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University.

Dr. Wright, who co-founded two highly influential birth cohort studies pertaining to the epidemiology of childhood asthma, has been continuously funded by NIH for almost three decades.