Seed grants bring ASU, Mayo Clinic researchers together to advance patient care

Early in the pandemic, many who became infected with COVID-19 reported that they had lost their sense of smell and have yet to regain it. Likewise, it’s reported that in the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia, people may lose their sense of smell and fail to get it back.

Now, two researchers are trying to find a way to identify biomarkers for specific diseases by studying the differences between patients who lose their sense of smell from either infectious diseases or neurodegenerative ones. The project is one of seven pilot studies that will be explored through the 2021 Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University seed grant program.

Since 2005, Mayo Clinic and ASU Alliance for Health Care have provided seed funding to new interdisciplinary and translational joint research projects. By exploring novel research ideas on a small scale, scientists have attracted funding for larger studies that may improve patient care and make a significant impact in their fields.

ASU and Mayo Clinic will fund five proposals at $80,000 each. The Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation will fund two more proposals for $100,000 each.

“The Mayo Clinic and ASU Collaborative Seed Grant encourages deep collaboration between Mayo Clinic and ASU, pushing researchers to seek new answers and discoveries that will impact our patients,” said Dr. Rafael Fonseca, chief innovation officer, Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

“The review committee was extremely impressed with the excellence and quality of proposals in 2021. We are honored to offer these seven new awards to the research teams, with hope that the pilot work produced is the catalyst in securing larger extramural funding.” 

“ASU and Mayo Clinic have a long successful history of working together advancing innovative, collaborative research initiatives,” said Neal Woodbury, vice president for research and chief science and technology officer at ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. “These new studies allow us to collectively build on the cutting-edge research we’ve done and help us better understand and develop treatment methodologies for the future.”

2021 seed grant projects and lead investigators

“Investigating African American-specific AD-related ABCA7 variants using isogenic hiPSCs”

David Brafman, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, ASU
Richard Caselli, neurology, Mayo Clinic

African Americans are at a significantly elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, the underlying mechanisms of this health disparity issue are significantly understudied. This study will set the stage for future research and proposals to probe the mechanisms by which specific genetic variants accelerate Alzheimer’s onset.

“Nucleus incertus of the brainstem: Mapping its genomic expression and changes in Alzheimer’s disease”

Cheryl Conrad, Department of Psychology, ASU
John Fryer, neuroscience, Mayo Clinic

The study will explore what role the nucleus incertus, a region in the brainstem that impacts memory, plays in Alzheimer’s disease. The study’s researchers will assess behavioral, genetic and anatomical changes associated with the nucleus incertus.

“Characterize diabetes-associated epigenomic signatures in humans” 

Christos Katsanos, School of Life Sciences, ASU
Zong Wei, physiology, Mayo Clinic
Eleanna De Filippis, Mayo Clinic 

Obesity-associated insulin resistance is a metabolic disease that leads to Type 2 diabetes. This project will characterize changes that affect how genes work in fat tissue and skeletal muscle in humans with insulin resistance. The research will provide insight into underlying biological mechanisms and may lead to novel therapeutics for diabetes.

“Biomarkers for differential diagnosis, targeted management and prognostication of post-viral, inflammatory, and neurodegenerative smell loss”

Mitch Magee, Biodesign Center for Personalized Diagnostics, ASU
Devyani Lal, otolaryngology, Mayo Clinic

This study proposes a novel approach to identify serum biomarkers by comparing antibody responses to microbial proteins between patients with infectious and neurodegenerative smell loss. The researchers hypothesize that there are significant differences in antibody levels in postinfectious (COVID-19 and others) and neurodegenerative disorder olfactory dysfunction. 

“Rational design of de novo vaccine vectors by modulation of immunodominant epitopes” 

Abhishek Singharoy, School of Molecular Sciences, ASU
Mitesh Borad, hematology/oncology, Mayo Clinic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the need for preparing for pathogens. Although mRNA vaccines can be developed with unprecedented speed to provide relief in an emergency setting, their long-term efficacy has yet to be determined. What’s more, mRNA vaccines are limited by production cost and lower likelihood of T-cell immunity. This study explores the development of novel vector-based vaccine candidates that would take into consideration T-cell responses to specific targets.

“Feasibility and acceptability of a dyad-based physical activity intervention for hematopoietic cell transplant recipients and caregivers”

Shelby Langer, Edson College of Nursing, ASU
Nandita Khera, hematology/oncology, Mayo Clinic

Physical activity can ameliorate the effects of cancer treatment, yet is often diminished post-treatment and beyond. This project will test the feasibility of a couple-based physical activity intervention for hematopoietic cell transplant recipients and their caregiving partners, including the feasibility of a wearable device to assess a couple’s communication during intervention sessions and steps per day over time.

“Interactions between glioblastoma tumor cells and the tumor microenvironment at single cell resolution to promote proliferation and invasion”

Christopher Plaisier, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, ASU
Nhan Tran, cancer biology, Mayo Clinic

Glioblastoma tumor cells evolve in the presence other cell types. How these cells interact with tumor cells is vital to understanding how tumor cells survive, invade and proliferate in this microenvironment. This project will integrate computational and experimental approaches to tackle the complex problem of understanding the tumor microenvironment.

Learn more about the seed grant program and about the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University Alliance for Health Care. If you are an ASU researcher, sign up to receive notifications about funding opportunities.

Robin Tricoles
rtricole@asu.edu