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OHSU School of Dentistry Receives $2.2 Million in New Grants

OHSU School of Dentistry faculty recently received the following new grants:

Agnieszka Balkowiec, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of integrative biosciences, received $174,342 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), as a supplement to a current grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In their NIH (-supported investigations, Dr. Balkowiec and her team recently discovered a new molecule in the blood pressure control system. The molecule is called Brain-Derived Neurotophic Factor (BDNF) and likely plays a role in hypertension. The ARRA supplement will enable Dr. Balkowiec to expand the scope of currently funded studies and examine molecular mechanisms that govern regulation of the BDNF gene by high blood pressure. The supplement also will create a full-time position for a postdoctoral fellow

Michael Danilchik, Ph.D., professor of integrative biosciences, recently received a three-year, $460,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, as part of the ARRA. Dr. Danilchik is a research scientist investigating basic cellular and molecular processes that regulate cell division and tissue morphogenesis -- the biological basis of wound healing and tissue integrity. To study these activities, Danilchik's lab uses cells of early frog embryos, which divide rapidly and provide a useful experimental model for testing ideas about how tissues form and repair themselves. In a spinoff of work published last year in Developmental Dynamics, Danilchik and colleague Betsy Brown, Ph.D., discovered a new class of membranous protrusions that interconnect cells across unexpectedly long distances. Similar structures, seen primarily in tissue culture, have been implicated in inflammatory responses to wounding and viral transmission in infected cells, but their role in normal tissues is a mystery. The new grant, "Pregastrular Morphogenesis in Xenopus," will enable the Danilchik team to explore the possibility that these cellular projections are used for direct cell-cell communication. "What's novel about these structures is that they extend across a huge intercellular space during a phase of development when widely separated cells need to talk to each other to organize into functional tissues," said Danilchik. Danilchik's project will determine how these intercellular bridges are used in normal development, how they are deployed, and what happens when they are prevented from forming. The stimulus funds also will be used to hire new research staff. Danilchick also received a one-year, $58,000 grant from the OHSU Presidential Bridge Fund to support a pilot project for the study of cytoskeletal proteins involved in cell division.

Kirsten Lampi, Ph.D., professor of integrative biosciences, recently received five grants totaling nearly $1.5 million. Dr. Lampi's research focuses on the effects of deamidation– a kind of protein modification – on beta-crystallins, structural proteins found in the lens of the eye, necessary for maintaining lens transparency. She has shown that deamidation decreases protein stability leading to aggregation, a potential mechanism for cataracts. Lampi received a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the NIH to study the role of deamidation in beta-crystallin structures. She also received a two-year, $75,000 grant from the NIH to study the lens membranes in eyes. Additional funding for Dr. Lampi was provided from the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon ($39,300), OHSU Presidential Bridge Funding ($48,090), and an anonymous $15,000 gift.

David Morton, Ph.D., professor of integrative biosciences, has received $47,171 from the ARRA, as a supplement to an existing NIH grant. The grant will enable Dr. Morton to hire for two summers a high school student and teacher to search for new genes that have an effect on a fruit flies' ability to detect low levels of oxygen. The student and teacher are from South Ridge High School in Beaverton, Ore.

The OHSU Department of Pediatric Dentistry recently received a $5,000 grant from The Dental Foundation of Oregon. The grant will be used to support emergency treatment and comprehensive dental care for children from low-income families. "These funds are so important in our efforts to provide dental care for children who otherwise have no access to dental care," said Prashant Gagneja, B.D.S., M.D.S., chairman of pediatric dentistry.

Tom Shearer, Ph.D., associate dean for research and professor of integrative biosciences, has received a one-year, $70,000 grant from Senju Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd., in Kobe, Japan. Dr. Shearer will collaborate with Kelly Chung, Ph.D., OHSU Department of Ophthalmology, and Senju's Mitsuyoshi Azuma, Ph.D., to determine how fast a retinal disease called dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) develops in patients. "Currently, there are no completely effective medications designed to treat dry AMD," said Shearer.  Shearer's team will analyze the existing charts (all identifying information will be deleted) of patients who've been followed for dry AMD for at least four years. They will compare the severity of disease to the length of time the patient has had dry AMD, and examine other medical, eye, and social data. The data will be analyzed at OHSU and by Senju researchers.  "The data collected are very important because they will be used to design a study where a new drug will be tested to reduce the rate of progression of dry AMD," said Shearer.

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