UB seed fund aims to make an IMPACT on new, innovative research

Seed funding through the University at Buffalo's Office of Research and Economic Development helped Greg Fabiano obtain an RO1 grant for a study that used a driving simulator to test teenage drivers who have ADHD. Photo: Douglas Levere

Release Date: August 15, 2016

“The IMPACT program supports cutting edge research throughout the university, not just one particular discipline. We’re focused on projects that are new and innovative.”
Ken Tramposch, senior associate vice president for research and economic development
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Greg Fabiano readily admits that his research project using a driving simulator to test teenage drivers who have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder never would have received federal funding if it weren’t for a smaller seed grant that helped lay the framework for the study.

The grant came in 2009 via an award administered through the University at Buffalo’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, and it allowed Fabiano and his team to address several important questions raised during their first attempt to secure external funding for the driving simulator project.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say we wouldn’t have received an RO1 grant if it weren’t for that smaller seed funding,” says Fabiano, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in UB’s Graduate School of Education.

That’s the idea behind the IMPACT — Innovative Micro-Programs Accelerating Collaboration in Themes — program launched two years ago. While the name is new, the program is similar to previous seed funds UB’s research and economic development office has administered over the years.

(A brief synopsis of each project can be found below.)

The awards are intended to encourage collaboration among researchers, while serving as a springboard to external funding. The awards are open to UB researchers in all disciplines. A revolving review panel of faculty members selects the winning projects, which must be one year or less in duration. Each receives up to $35,000.

“The IMPACT program supports cutting edge research throughout the university, not just one particular discipline. We’re focused on projects that are new and innovative,” says Ken Tramposch, senior associate vice president for research at UB.

“It’s a highly competitive program with only 15 to 20 percent of submitted proposals winning awards. Our faculty reviewers always say it’s difficult to choose, but they are always encouraged to learn that their colleagues are planning such a vast array of exciting projects,” Tramposch adds.

Fifty-eight proposals were submitted for the fifth round of IMPACT awards. Ten projects were approved to receive funding from July 2016 to July 2017. Applications for the next round are due in October.

Project descriptions:

Laboratory Assessment of Behaviors in Occupational Roles (LABOR): An analogue setting to investigate job functioning and treatments for individuals with ADHD

Few studies have examined how individuals with ADHD function in job roles. LABOR will include a job application and job interview meeting, systematic assessment of behavior and functioning within the front-end of a pizzeria — such as managing multiple orders and putting orders together for delivery — and delivering orders within a simulated driving environment.

Project team: Greg Fabiano, Graduate School of Education; Kevin Hulme, Center for Engineering Design and Applied Simulation, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and Sandro Sodano, Graduate School of Education.

Minimizing the infection contamination areas for health care workers in wearing gowns via a behavioral experiment and computational models

About 1 in every 20 hospital patients has a health care-associated infection, or HAI. One of the main reasons of HAI is contamination of personal protection equipment, including gowns, when a health care worker is donning, using and removing an isolation gown.

Researchers will conduct a behavioral experiment with health care workers to select the relatively best design of gowns on the market to minimize the contamination areas on the neck.

They’ll also build the first set of computational models to quantify and predict the contamination areas given different designs of gowns, levels of PPE training of healthcare workers, and donning and removal protocols.

The team will then apply the model in practice to minimize the contamination areas on the neck of health care workers.

Project team: Changxu Wu, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; John Sellick, Department of Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

OneBioStore: Distributed smart storage and scalable algorithms for collaborative biomedical discovery

This project aims to develop a new model for handling large-scale data in biomedical research by seamlessly and transparently integrating diverse and scattered biomedical assets and combining them with scalable data processing capabilities.

Project team: Jaroslaw Zola, Department of Biomedical Informatics, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; Tevfik Kosar, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Michael Buck, Department of Biochemistry, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Characterizing abnormal lipid metabolism in glia with failed axonal support function

Axons are the longest processes of neurons relaying electrical and biochemical information, and they are essential for normal function of the nervous system. Axonal degeneration is the main cause of irreversible neurological disability in many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Current models suggest that deficits in glial lipid metabolism lead to axonal degeneration. Researchers propose employing a global lipidomics approach to screen for alterations in glial lipid intermediate species downstream of LKB1 (a metabolic master regulator) signaling associated with axon degeneration.

Project team: Bogdan Beirowski, Department of Biochemistry; G. Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences; Elisabetta Babetto, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Regulation of the Urotensin II receptor function by arginine methylation

This proposal will build upon a previous collaboration between the researchers, whose study on the G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) known as dopamine receptor subtype 2 (DRD2) was the first to show that GPCR function is regulated by methylation.

Other GPCRs are likely regulated in a similar manner, which may provide novel ways of modulating a class of receptor that are the therapeutic target of at least 30 percent of current pharmaceuticals.                             

Researchers will conduct experiments that will help determine whether the regulation of a G protein-coupled receptor function by methylation is a more common phenomenon, and make steps in translating these discoveries into applicable animal models.

Project team: Stewart Clark, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Michael Yu, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences.

Increasing exercise enjoyment and outcome expectations among women with obesity

Despite decades of physical activity research on inactive, obese individuals, scientists have not successfully moved the needle on exercise participation in this population.

The researchers propose a novel approach to increasing exercise participation in obese women by focusing on exercise enjoyment, increasing appreciation of the proximal benefits of physical activity rather than focusing on weight, and addressing changes to the exercise environment that make it conducive to this population.

The team will partner with the YMCA, which will allow them to make changes to a typical exercise context, while ensuring that their findings can be used to help exercise focused community organizations implement a scalable, research-tested program.

Project team: Lucia Leone, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions; Laura Anderson, School of Nursing; Leonard Epstein, Department of Pediatrics, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Assessing the utility of face cooling to maintain blood pressure during hemorrhagic injury

Hemorrhage is the leading cause of death from civilian and battlefield trauma. While pre-hospital interventions have been shown to delay a precipitous drop in blood pressure during a hemorrhagic injury, they aren’t practical for use in the field.

The research team will attempt to find out whether a simpler method — face cooling —increases blood pressure for a clinically meaningful period of time, and whether this method is effective in raising or maintaining blood pressure during hemorrhage.

Project team: Zachary Schlader, Blair Johnson and David Hostler, Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Professions; Brian Clemency, Department of Emergency Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; Gregory Wilding, Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health and Health Professions.

3D printing to create integrated 3D protein microarrays (i3DPM)

Protein detection and quantification are important in many areas, including disease diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. However, unlike DNA, there is no protein amplification strategy.

This project will develop a revolutionary 3D protein microarray platform to simultaneously exploit all the attractive features of protein microarray and forward and reverse operations. The proposed platform uses layers of antibody doped nanoporous xerogels in concert with precision 3D printing to create an integrated 3D protein microarray (i3DPM).

The researchers’ i3DPM platform will be easy to fabricate and manufacture on a mass scale.

Project team: Frank Bright, Department of Chemistry; Chi Zhou, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Improved dental restorative materials using novel antibacterial polymer surfactants

Replacement of tooth-colored fillings, necessitated by the limited lifetime of current restorative materials, is a major source of dental expenditures, with recurrent cavities and loss of adhesion representing the No. 1 reason for restoration replacement.

Researchers propose a series of antibacterial poly (acrylic acid) (PAA)-based copolymers with surfactant characteristics and tailored functionality that will provide both improved long-term bonding at the tooth-restoration interface and prolonged antibacterial action to prevent the recurrence of caries in the restored tooth.

Project team: Camila Sabatini, Department of Restorative Dentistry, School of Dental Medicine; Mark Swihart and Chong Cheng, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Engineering photocatalysts for clean H2 generation

Hydrogen gas (H2) is one of the most important chemical substances for various applications. It’s also a promising candidate as a future renewable energy source. Current H2 production is still greatly dependent on fossil fuels, which is not sustainable and clean.

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) hydrogen generation via water splitting is one of the most promising approaches to producing the green chemical fuel by utilizing clean and renewable solar energy.

However, the key challenge to achieving high efficiency in water splitting is the lack of efficient, stable and earth abundant semiconductor photocatalysts.

The project team aims to engineer band gap of the several most promising photocatalysts, including oxygen-deficient perovskite, oxysulfide perovskite and co-doped TiO2. These novel catalysts will systematically evaluate in a photoelectrocatalysis system for H2 generation in terms of their efficiency and stability.

Project team: Gang Wu, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; Peihong Zhang and Hao Zeng, Department of Physics.

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