Announcing the Winners of a New Collaborative Pilot Award Program

The University of Rochester Medical Center is teaming up with the State University of New York at the University of Buffalo (SUNY UB) on a collaborative genomics project. Both URMC and SUNY UB have strengths in bioinformatics, high performance computing, basic and translational genomics, including NIH funded Clinical and Translational Science Awards.

To accelerate collaboration between our institutions, a URMC-SUNY UB Collaborative Genomics Pilot Award Program has been implemented. The pilot awards will provide one year of seed funding to research teams with dual principle investigators – one from each institution – who are interested in understanding the genetic basis of diseases.

The winning proposals show promise to make rapid progress over the next year and build upon established strengths at both institutions.  The overall goal of this pilot funding is to help researchers obtain further federal or foundation funding and to take advantage of opportunities for regional collaboration across NY state.

Two projects were selected for funding:

The Role of CCR2 Blockade in Patients with Locally Advanced Pancreas Cancer


Epigenetics profiling of Exacerbation Susceptibility in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

  • Patricia Sime M.D., professor of Medicine, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Sanjay Sethi M.D., professor and chief of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Get More Out of Your CTSI Grant Applications

Junior Investigator Funding Pathways blog image
The CTSI is implementing a new forum this May to help junior investigators become independently funded. In addition, several “funding pathways” will be introduced that set a framework for investigators to revise their scientific proposals for KL2 Mentored Career Development and CTSI Pilot awards into proposals for K or R21 awards from the National Institutes of Health.

The twice monthly Research Methods Forum will focus on multidisciplinary research methods and will offer investigators the opportunity to share research ideas and receive constructive criticism from their peers. The forum is open to investigators of all ranks whether or not they are applying for CTSI funding. However, junior investigators will particularly benefit from the opportunity to interact with potential collaborators and receive thorough feedback on their proposed research early in project development.

Of course, the main goal and benefit of the forum is to help junior investigators obtain funding and progress to independence and the CTSI’s new funding pathways will facilitate this. The pathways guide investigators through a process to repurpose existing CTSI grant proposals for new funding opportunities. Timelines are also included in the pathways to ensure investigators don’t miss important submission deadlines. That means an investigator could submit a KL2 application in November, and use it for the base of a K08 or K23 application in February.

Funding pathways currently exist for both NIH K award-eligible and non-eligible investigators and both pathways encourage submission for NIH awards while the CTSI award applications are still under review. CTSI funding decisions will not be influenced by whether an investigator also applies for a NIH award.

Junior investigators interested in applying for funding through one of these pathways must present their research ideas at the Research Methods Forum at least 2-4 months prior to submitting their KL2 or CTSI Pilot award applications. Watch the CTSI weekly update for reminders about upcoming Forums.

To learn more about CTSI funding opportunities and pathways or the Research Methods Forum, contact

Career growth

CTSI Director’s Update February 2016: URMC and UB Create a New Collaborative Genomics Pilot Funding Program

genomicsThe University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and the SUNY University at Buffalo (UB) released a request for applications last week seeking submissions to a new Collaborative Genomics pilot award program. The goal of this program is to fund projects that will lead to accelerated collaboration between UB and URMC in the area of large-scale, collaborative genomics. In particular, the program is seeking projects that will build on established strengths at both institutions and leverage the collaboration to apply for future NY state opportunities for regional collaborative centers.

This is not the first time that the CTSI has collaborated with the University at Buffalo. UB has been a member of the CTSI’s UNYTE translational research network since its inception in 2006. Also, Tim Murphy, MD, the PI of the Buffalo CTSA, is chair of the CTSI’s External Advisory Committee. When the Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center was established in 2015 with a new NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), Buffalo and Rochester began conversations about how URMC and UB could build new collaborations in translational science and leverage resources and expertise at each institution. The first step in this direction is the new Collaborative Genomics pilot funding program.

The program is designed to fund projects that will make rapid progress over a 12-month period. Projects must use human tissue, primary cells, or primary human microbiome samples. Proposals with a high chance for funding will address one or more of the following areas:
• Collaborative biobanking that includes pilot genomic data generation and analysis
• Analysis of established and unique patient cohorts with existing and extensive clinical data, phenotype data, and existing locally banked biospecimens
• Predictive genomic analysis, especially projects that have existing outcome measures and actual or potential tissue samples for analysis
• Projects that will utilize high performance computational analysis of the resulting genomic data

If you are interested in learning more about the Collaborative Genomics program, please click here to read the complete RFA. Abstracts and initial application cover sheet and cover letter should be submitted by 5 PM, February 29, 2016 in PDF form via e-mail to

2015-16 Faculty Pilot Program Awardee: Emily Carmody, MD


Emily Carmody, MD

Emily Carmody, MD, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics and Assistant Professor at the Wilmot Cancer Center will lead a team of investigators through an exciting pilot project over the next year. Dr. Carmody specializes in treating both benign and malignant musculoskeletal tumors in adults and children. She has a particular interest in limb-sparing surgery and endoprosthetic reconstruction for treating bone sarcomas. Dr. Carmody also specializes in metabolic bone disorders including osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Dr. Carmody, along with Michael Zuscik, PhD (Associate Professor of Orthopaedics) and Christopher Ritchlin (Professor of Medicine) on a pilot project entitled “Assessment of Forteo as a Therapeutic to Treat Knee Osteoarthritis.” Traditional treatment strategies for Osteoarthritis are palliative, with the focus on pain management and joint replacement. Development of disease-modifying agents that can rejuvenate cartilage is a great unmet need. Thus, development of an effective treatment for Osteoarthritis is a vital public health initiative with potential for tremendous impact.

Data mined from the NIH-sponsored Osteoarthritis Initiative revealed improved WOMAC knee function scores in arthritic subjects coincidentally prescribed Forteo to treat osteoporosis. These preclinical and human data provide compelling rationale to study Forteo as a novel Osteoarthritis therapy directed at improving joint structure and function. The central Aim of this research study is to challenge the paradigm that cartilage loss in Osteoarthritis is irreversible.

Dr. Carmody received funding to complete this research project through the CTSI Investigator-initiated Pilot Studies for Faculty program. Click here to learn more about this program and how to apply for funding.

CTSI Pilot Program: Vitamin D metabolization in pregnant women

Eva Pressman, M.D., discusses her CTSI Pilot Project, Vitamin D Kinetics During Pregnancy.

Dr. Pressman is The Henry A. Thiede Professor and Chair of The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The University of Rochester.

Video by Susanne Pritchard Pallo.

If you’d like to see your research featured in the CTSI blog, email

Success Stories: Pilot Grants lead to R01, new business

Lisa DeLouise, Ph.D., M.P.D., associate professor of Dermatology, has received two Pilot Grants from the CTSI, each of which helped to support a line of research that blossomed into much more. She shared her experiences with CTSI Stories.


Thanks for taking the time to chat! Tell us a little about the Pilot Grants you’ve gotten through the CTSI.

The first one I got was in 2007, and it was for nanoparticle skin research. I look at cosmetic products to see if they have efficacy and any unintended toxicity issues, and back in 2006, I got involved in the question of whether nanoparticles that are increasingly formulated into various topical cosmetic products have any of these side effects.

In sunscreens, for example, there are ingredients that can have unintended biological consequences, so I was looking at a couple compounds used in sunscreens – titanium oxide and zinc oxide – which absorb UV light so your skin is protected. When these compounds were first used, they were approved by the FDA at the micron level – so, relatively speaking, the particles were too large to seep through skin.

But in the 1990s, manufacturers learned to make the metal oxide particles on the nano-scale – 1,000 times smaller. Since it was the same elemental composition,  it didn’t have to go through rigorous FDA testing again, but scientists became concerned that the nano-sized particles might have different properties than the micron-level ones. Some compounds, for example, can become more optically and electrically active, or more likely to catalyze reactions that could cause oxidative stress in tissues

It seems like they might be more susceptible to being absorbed by skin.

Yes, that was also a concern – whether they could go through the skin barrier. So that’s what really launched my interest in this field of nanotoxicology, and I got some funding from the CTSI Pilot Program to look at this in the early going.

I was also questioning whether people with skin diseases – who tend to have defects in their skin barrier – could be more susceptible to penetration of these materials. So in collaboration with Lisa Beck, M.D., we made some of these comparisons.

What did you find?

Well, much of the research is still ongoing, because thanks in part to the early data gathered from the CTSI from 2007-2008, I was able to get an R01 grant in 2011. So I’m in my fourth year of that. But we do know that nanoparticles go through the skin and more easily through barrier impaired skin. The titanium dioxide has the tendency to conglomerate on the skin surface, so it loses it’s nanomaterial status. The zinc oxide, though, does get into the body, though it’s still unclear whether it’s penetrating the skin as nanoparticle or in another form such as a dissociated ions.

Very interesting. How about the second CTSI Pilot grant you received in 2011?

In 2011, the CTSI supported an application of microarray technology that allowed us to sort and enrich rare cells in the blood. The award was critical to fostering a collaboration between myself and James Kobie, Ph.D. We haven’t landed the R01 yet – we’re still trying – but the big success story is that the application of the technology has proven very positive.

In cancer, a lot of tumors are infiltrated with B-cells, which are antibody-making cells. So understanding the antibodies and other proteins secreted will help us understand the disease and why the B-cells are there sometimes and not there other times. Also, in cancer therapeutics, the field seems to be headed toward controlling the immune system and training it to fight the cancer in a more effective way.

So with the microarray technology, we were able to prove that you could look specifically at these human B-cells and their secretions. Earlier this year, we started a company named Nidus Biosciences to explore the potential of this technology. The CTSI is what really kept us going with momentum in that crucial early stage.

University Research Awards accepting applications

Applications are now open for the 2016 University Research Awards!

The award program, formerly called the Provost’s Multidisciplinary Awards, provides funding of $250,000 every year from the president and via a match by the schools for a total of $500,000 annually.

Robert L. Clark, Senior Vice President for Research, University of Rochester.

Robert L. Clark, Senior Vice President for Research.

Faculty from across the university may apply, and funding is awarded to those who are exploring new research avenues that have a high probability of being leveraged into future external funding. A review committee of faculty from across UR provides peer review of the applications, which will be based on the following criteria:

-Does the project promise to solve a problem of intellectual or scientific importance?
-Is the project well-designed and feasible, given the resources already available and the
budget and time requested?
-Are the applicants qualified to see the project to a successful conclusion?
-Does the project provide opportunity for the involvement of students?
-Is the budget request appropriate?
-Does the project clearly show how outcomes lead to external funding?

Proposals request up to $75,000 maximum, and half is obtained by the SVP for Research as a match from the home school(s) of the applicant(s) once an award is made. Review the RFP and download an application here.

Questions should be directed to Adele Coelho, Faculty Outreach Coordinator, Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Research. Completed applications should be e-mailed directly to her as well at

CTSI Trainee Pilot supports better understanding of lupus

by Samreen Jatana
Special to the CTSI Stories Blog

Lupus is a devastating disease that affects around 1 in 2,000 people in the U.S., and involves chronic inflammation and tissue damage in various organs including the skin, kidneys, and joints. Although the mortality rate for lupus has improved in recent decades, a diagnosis of lupus often means elevated risk of early mortality and lifetime of immunosuppressive therapy, which can carry significant side effects.

AnnaBirdAnna Bird wants to improve treatment options. Bird, who is currently working towards a doctorate within the Immunology/Microbiology (IMV) graduate program in the laboratory of Jennifer Anolik, M.D., Ph.D., was recently awarded a CTSI Trainee Pilot Grant to study the immunologic mechanisms underlying the autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Improving treatment options requires the development of more specific, targeted therapeutic approaches. But to make those improvements, researchers require a better understanding of the factors driving lupus pathogenesis, a project that Bird seeks to contribute to in her graduate research.

Specifically, she is using the CTSI Trainee Pilot as an opportunity to define the mechanisms underlying pathology observed in an under-characterized tissue in lupus: the bone marrow. Bone marrow in lupus often produces functionally abnormal or inadequate numbers of immune cells, and is a site where tissue necrosis and bone thinning are commonly observed. Evidence is accumulating that dysregulated cell production by the marrow contributes directly to lupus pathogenesis in peripheral tissues, as well as the high rate of infection that lupus patients experience.

Although it is poorly understood why lupus patients show marrow abnormalities, the work funded by the CTSI Trainee Pilot seeks to illuminate the mechanisms driving lupus pathogenesis within the bone marrow.

The CTSI project focuses on the neutrophil as a likely contributor to pathology in lupus marrow. Neutrophils contribute to inflammation in peripheral tissues including the vasculature and kidneys, and have been identified as a source of dying cell material and type I interferon, as well as B lymphocyte proliferation factors that are known to be central in driving B lymphocyte reactivity against self-tissues in lupus. Neutrophils develop abnormally in lupus and may be acquiring premature effector function that is responsible for elevated cell death seen in lupus marrow.

“Ultimately, this project will both assess whether neutrophils contribute to pathology in the marrow, as well as identifying the mediators responsible for abnormal neutrophil development in lupus,” said Bird. “This Pilot has provided a great opportunity for a translational investigation, incorporating a highly novel characterization of human bone marrow in lupus in combination with a murine model, which will allow me to tease apart the mechanisms underlying neutrophil defects in lupus.”

The CTSI Trainee Pilot has also provided a platform for collaboration between researchers in Hematology/Oncology, Immunology/Microbiology and the CTSI, as well as a foundation for generation of preliminary data that Anna can use to apply for the NIH K mechanism for future post-doctoral studies.

Director’s Update – August 2015

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors. This month, Nana Bennett discusses the recently-released Program Announcement from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) for its Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program. The CTSI is pursuing its second five-year renewal.NanaBennett

By now, anyone who works in or around the CTSI probably knows that the NCATS has released the criteria for the new CTSA awards. What can you tell us about them?

Yes, the new RFA is out! And I’m happy to discuss it, but first, a brief bit of background for people who aren’t familiar with the history. URMC was one of the first dozen institutions to receive a CTSA award when the program launched in 2006. These are five year grants that support much of the CTSI. We’ve been renewed once – this is the second time we’re applying for renewal. In terms of total dollars, it’s one of the largest grants at URMC.

The good news is that we thought that the RFA would be similar to the one was that was released last year, and for the most part, it is. The format is a bit different — it’s actually a bit better, a bit more straightforward, than before.  We began preparing based on last year’s so we’re in relatively good shape.

It’s interesting though – taking the longer view, several things have changed and several things are similar to the CTSI as it was years ago. There used to be “key functions,” and then those were eliminated, and now we’re back to what they call “cores,” which are very similar to key functions. But there are also several key themes which are more specific than in the past.

Can you talk about those themes?

Population health is a major one for us. NCATS has been tasked with improving and speeding the impact of research on improving health as a whole, and that’s why our overarching theme here at the CTSI is “from molecules to populations.” We want to help advance basic research – research at the molecular level – and help facilitate its growth and translational potential so that it can be used to improve human health across a population.

In order to span that full spectrum, team science is vital – and that’s another key theme.  Science has reached the point where it’s very difficult for a single investigator to take a discovery all the way from the bench to the bedside to community. In addition, input from community stakeholders is critical to science being responsive to the greatest health challenges facing our nation. Quality and efficiency of research is an important theme – we must show how the URMC can contribute to the national network of CTSAs in ways that speed and improve the conduct of research.

And another key theme is innovative education. Our CTSI educational programs are innovative in content and process. We recently launched a doctorate program called, “Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Populations” which is specifically designed to train scholars in interdisciplinary research – combining the basic sciences and the population health sciences.  While this is not part of the CTSI, it dovetails with it and is illustrative of our approach.

How many people are working on the renewal grant? What else are we doing to prepare?

The three CTSI co-directors – Karl Kieburtz, Martin Zand, and I – are leading the renewal efforts, but we have more than 50 people involved in the process. We’ve engaged people across the university to ask for feedback and/or contributions to the grant-writing process, and we’ve also asked a group of internal and external experts to review the application before it goes out.

Our deadline is mid-September, so things may be a little frantic for the next 5 or 6 weeks. But we are confident that when we’ve finished the process, we’ll have made a strong case to NCATS for renewal.

Previous Director’s Updates:
July 2015 – Karl Kieburtz seeks feedback in the wake of the CTSI Town Hall meeting.
June 2015 – Martin Zand gives an overview of what will likely be different about the next CTSA renewal application.
May 2015 – Nana Bennett discusses the enhanced role of the Strategic Leadership Group.
April 2015 – Karl Kieburtz talks about how the leadership is preparing for the Clinical and Translational Science Award renewals.
March 2015 – Martin Zand introduces himself and discusses his interest in informatics and population-based research.
February 2015 – Nana Bennett discusses the CTSI’s Seminar Series on population health.
January 2015 – Harriet Kitzman reflects on her time as a CTSI co-director.