Precision medicine collaborations to continue through Flinn seed-grants program

December 12, 2018

By Matt Ellsworth

By Brian Powell
Flinn Foundation

Seven research partnerships between Arizona biomedical scientists and clinicians are being funded through a Flinn Foundation program to advance the state’s growing niche in precision medicine.

The research projects are being supported through awards totaling $1 million under the Foundation’s Seed Grants to Promote Translational Research in Precision Medicine Initiative, which aims to translate lab findings and discoveries into patient care. The 2018 grants represent the fourth round of the initiative, awarded to institutions in northern, central, and southern Arizona.

Since 2013, the Flinn Foundation has awarded 24 seed grants totaling $3.5 million.

“What makes these grants unique is the bringing together of basic and clinical researchers and institutions that may not otherwise work together on a research project to potentially discover life-changing outcomes,” said Mary O’Reilly, Flinn Foundation vice president, bioscience research programs. “These seed grants can also provide the preliminary data needed to obtain coveted National Institutes of Health research funding.”

The Flinn Foundation board of directors approved the two-year grants following invitations to the grantees to submit proposals and assessment from a three-member scientific-review panel comprised of national experts in translational research.

Precision Medicine Seed Grants Summaries

The seven 2018 seed grants were awarded for the following projects:

Arizona State University in partnership with Mayo Clinic Arizona

An Integrated Metagenomics and Immunoproteomics Study of the Role of Microbiome in Pouchitis Development
$200,000 for two years
Joshua LaBaer, M.D., Ph.D., ASU; Jonathan Leighton, M.D., Mayo Clinic Arizona; Paul Berggren, M.D., Arizona Digestive Health; Laura Raffals, M.D., Mayo Clinic Rochester

The project will establish an Arizona-based infrastructure to collect biobank samples to be accessed by a network of gastroenterologists, including academic and community physicians, to conduct a pilot study that would provide insight into the role of the microbiome over time, specifically as it relates to the development of ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. The creation of the new infrastructure is expected to improve the chances of these researchers receiving NIH funding in the future.

HonorHealth Research Institute

Development of Novel Methods to rapidly credential combination therapies for incurable colorectal cancer using Next Generation Sequencing and organoid cultures from patient
$200,000 for two years
Sunil Sharma, M.D., F.A.C.P., HonorHealth, TGen; Kevin Gosselin, Ph.D., HonorHealth Research Institute; Raffaella Soldi, Ph.D., TGen

The project seeks to use a patient’s tissue to find drug combinations to treat colorectal cancer. The researchers will use RNA-sequencing analysis to identify pathways and predict drug combinations specific to each colorectal cancer patient. The organoid platform will allow growth of the patient’s tumor in the lab and thus the ability to identify the best therapy for the individual patient. HonorHealth Research Institute will be working with Translational Genomics Research Institute and its certified genomic testing lab on the project.

Northern Arizona University in partnership with Mayo Clinic Arizona

Gut Microbiome Manipulation for Treatment of Asthma
$100,000 for two years
Emily Cope, Ph.D., NAU; Matthew Rank, M.D., Mayo Clinic School of Medicine; Andrew Koppisch, Ph.D., NAU; Devyani Lal, M.D., Mayo Clinic Arizona; James Woodward, M.D., Phoenix Children’s Hospital

This study will look to determine whether prebiotic fiber supplementation can lead to improved clinical asthma outcomes. Asthma is affected by genetic and environmental factors, which may include the Western diet that is high in sugar and saturated fats but low in fiber. The researchers’ theory is that increased fiber will lead to changes in the gut microbiome and in asthma disease outcomes.

Northern Arizona University in partnership with Yuma Regional Medical Center

Health Disparities Associated with Fungicide Exposure Among Residents of Yuma
$100,000 for two years
Frank A. von Hippel, Ph.D., NAU; Robert T. Trotter, Ph.D., NAU; Julie Ann Baldwin, Ph.D., NAU; C. Loren Buck, Ph.D., NAU; Trudie F. Milner, Ph.D., Yuma Regional Medical Center; Joseph Daniel Hogue, M.D., Yuma Regional Medical Center

This project will investigate health disparities associated with fungicide exposure among migrant farmworkers and other Yuma-area residents. The goal is to develop precision-medicine screening and interventions to reduce the impact of environmental contaminants in high-exposure populations. The study, using human and rodent hair samples, will examine associations between concentrations of metals used in fungicides and adverse health outcomes.

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center/Barrow Neurological Institute

Identification of Biomarkers for Idiopathic CIDP, CIDP with MGUS and Diabetic CIDP
$100,000 for two years
Suraj Muley, M.D., Barrow Neurological Institute, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; Robert Bowser, Ph.D., Barrow Neurological Institute, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center

The study will identify blood-based biomarkers that will enable early and effective treatments for people with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder, along with diabetics with CIDF. The disorder leads to progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the legs and arms.  While there is effective treatment if the disease is identified early, diagnosis can be difficult, especially if the patient is also diabetic.

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center/Banner Neurological Institute in partnership with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute

Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase Activating Polypeptide (PACAP)
$100,000 for two years
Jiong Shi, M.D., Ph.D., Barrow Neurological Institute, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; Kewei Chen, Ph.D., Banner Alzheimer’s Institute

This project will test the hypothesis that significant changes in pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) and Sirt3 levels can be detected in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and be used to predict progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s. One goal is to determine whether cerebrospinal fluid levels of PACAP and Sirt3 differ between cognitively normal patients and those with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. The study could identify a biomarker and provide the foundation for early diagnosis of the disease and new therapies.

University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and College of Pharmacy-Tucson in partnership with Banner Health

Large-scale Implementation of Pharmacogenomics: Translating Genotype-Guided Warfarin Dosing from Discovery to the Bedside
$200,000 for two years
C. William Heise, M.D., UA College of Medicine-Phoenix; Jason H. Karnes, PharmD, Ph.D., UA

This project will use a patient’s data, such as age, weight, and current medications, along with genetic data, to better predict an initial dose of warfarin. Today, the generic starting dose of warfarin results in patients being under- or overdosed, increasing the risk of blood clots and bleeding. An electronic medical record will be established so doctors across many western hospitals would be aware of the patient’s personalized warfarin dose. The study will focus on Hispanics and African-Americans, who are traditionally underrepresented in warfarin testing.

Broader Flinn Foundation Bioscience Activity

The seed-grants initiative has previously funded research on brain injuries, bladder cancer, Barrett’s Esophagus, ALS, melanoma, infectious agents and many other areas of precision-medicine scientific interest.

In addition to providing bioscience grants to Arizona institutions that advance collaborative research, the Foundation operates a Bioscience Entrepreneurship Program that offers funding and a benefits package through a nonprofit partner to competitively selected early-stage Arizona bioscience firms each year, and administers Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap, a long-term strategic plan launched in 2002 that guides the state’s bioscience sector. Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, comprised of more than 100 leaders from the public and private sectors in science, health care, business, academia, and policy, oversees the Roadmap.

The Flinn Foundation was established in 1965 by Dr. Robert S. and Irene P. Flinn to improve the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations. In addition to advancing the biosciences, the Foundation supports the Flinn Scholarship, a merit-based college scholarship program, arts and culture, and the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership.

Learn more: Flinn Foundation Active Grants