The University of Virginia’s top leaders gathered Wednesday evening at the Boar’s Head Resort to honor faculty members from across Grounds for their outstanding contributions to their fields of study and societal impact through their research and scholarly activities.
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan presented the 2019 Research Achievement Awards to 13 UVA faculty members at the dinner event.
Dr. Sean Moore was awarded the Research Mentor Award. Dr. Moore is a busy physician-scientist with his own lab, and has recently become the division chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, & Nutrition at UVA. He also co-wrote the application for a Trans-University Microbiome Initiative grant, which was funded last year by the University’s Strategic Investment Fund in an effort to make UVA a center for microbiome research. But that has not stopped him from repeatedly aiding his colleagues and providing them with key resources when they needed them.
On May 10, 2019, Drs. Sean Moore and Sana Syed hosted an exciting visit from AKU leaders, Provost Carl Amrhein, Associate Dean Asad Ali, and Farzana Karim-Haji, Director, University Partnerships Office, Aga Khan University!
Collaborative exchanges were influential for all, during the visit with UVA’s Ambassador, Stephen Mull, UVA Deans with the Health System, Pediatric Chair, James Nataro, and other instrumental faculty, staff, and students, regarding shared Data Science, Bilateral research, exchanges of students and trainees between UVA and AKU, representative of Pakistan and at a growing number of AKU campuses in Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania)–countries where UVA already has a strong research presence.
The Aga Khan University is a pioneering institution of higher education and research that works to improve quality of life in the developing world and beyond. AKU began life as a health-sciences university. In Pakistan, their Medical College is ranked #1 by the Higher Education Commission and their groundbreaking School of Nursing and Midwifery is the country’s most influential. With seven hospitals and more than 300 outreach medical centers, AKU is among the largest private health care providers in East Africa and Pakistan, treating more than 2 million patients per year. Research at AKU focuses on pressing issues facing low-income countries. Their work has been widely published in leading journals such as The Lancet and has spurred government to introduce new vaccines, reduced polio cases in insecure areas and yielded evidence that is informing national and international efforts to improve health among the disadvantaged. AKU has a long record of working successfully with other institutions, and goes out of its way to forge connections between the private and public sectors, the developed and developing worlds and urban and rural areas. Their supporters include the development agencies of Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, multilateral organizations, well-known foundations and corporations and thousands of individual donors. Their partners include numerous organizations in the countries where they are present, as well as top universities in Europe and North America.
AKU is also interested in adding an additional year to their curriculum that incorporates further training in the humanities and basic sciences, as well as capacity building for research and quality improvement activity at their nursing campuses and developing strengths in the liberal arts at their main Pakistan campus.
We are proud to join them in collaborative efforts, partnering in this important research and contributing to the mutual journey to successful healthcare and education!
We are pleased to announce that Dr. Ajay Kumar, helped in a tremendous way, to secure the receipt funding for the submission to the iTHRIV Pilot Translational and Clinical Studies (PTC) Program and the iTHRIV leadership. The title of his proposal is “Microbiome directed prevention of parenteral nutrition associated with liver injury in the NICU. Parenteral nutrition (PN) is a lifesaving nutritional intervention in premature infants with delayed tolerance of oral or enteral feeds. PN-associated liver disease or cholestasis (PNAC) is a frequent complication of PN, with high morbidity and associated healthcare costs. Lipid sparing strategies and alternative lipid formulations mitigate the risk and severity of PNAC in the NICU, however these approaches are often used as reactive countermeasures–once liver injury has already occurred. The central theme of this proposal is to leverage the microbiome to predict–versus simply react to–PNAC, thereby setting the stage to prevent PNAC in high risk children. To that end, we propose pilot studies to elucidate the role of the gut microbiome in PNAC and identify microbiome signatures predictive of PNAC. Through an established iTHRIV UVA-Inova collaboration, we have for the first time identified blooms of gram-negative bacteria (Klebsiella, Veillonella, Enterobacterand Enterococcus) in the stool of 4 sets of premature twins discordant for PNAC. Importantly, clinical NICU infections with gram-negative bacteria are known risk factors for PNAC; however, the ability to predict PNAC based on a subclinical bloom of these bacteria in neonatal stools has not yet been fully explored. Further, no definitive chain of causality between these blooms and PNAC has been established. These knowledge gaps warrant further exploration in both neonates and preclinical models. Hence, our goals are two-fold: 1) Establish a microbiome-based prediction algorithm for PNAC to facilitate early intervention, 2) Determine the degree to which transplantation of PNAC-associated microbiota from infants to germ-free mice confers susceptibility to PNAC. If successful, these pilot studies will provide compelling preliminary data for comprehensive collaborative project proposals between the Departments of Pediatrics at UVa, Inova, Carillion, and VCU and UVA Biomedical Engineering.
It gives us great pleasure to announce that Dr. Syed received her K23 NIH Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (starting fall 2019) focused on computational image analysis and ‘omics approaches to study gut structure in children with undernutrition (environmental enteropathy and celiac disease). This award is presented to individuals with an intensive, supervised, patient-oriented research experience in order to provide support and protected time for a path towards a productive and independent clinical research career with a 50% applicant success rate.
Sana Syed joined the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine following her completion of fellowships in Advanced Nutrition from Boston Children’s/Harvard Medical School, and Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition from Emory University, and her Master’s in Clinical Research (Emory). She has served as a co-PI of a UVa Engineering-in-Medicine seed grant with Dr. Brown (Founder, UVA Data Science Institute) applying computational imaging to study intestinal mucosal alterations in children, is the PI of a THRIV Scholar Career Development Award applying computational modeling of intestinal mucosa for image and multiomic analyses. With Dr. Moore, Director of Pediatric Gastroenterology Research, and senior physician-scientist and cell biologist who studies gut structure as her faculty mentor, Dr. Syed is immersed in a highly productive, collaborative environment at the Child Health Research Center where she works among a strong multi-disciplinary team that is productive and well-supported.
Join us in congratulating the talented and driven Dr. Syed for her K23 NIH Career Development Award!
Gregory Medlock, MD
Greg was recently awarded a Phase I Grand Challenges Exploration grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through this $100,000, 18-month award, we will devise an approach to improve the biomanufacturing of gut microbes for use in probiotic formulations. This goal will be met by designing co-cultures (multiple strains grown together) that produce bacterial biomass more efficiently than the monoculture systems traditionally used. To enable the design of these efficient communities, we will experimentally profile the metabolism of 10 gut microbes across many environments to learn what they consume in order to grow and produce as a result of growth. These data will be coupled with algorithms from the computational geometry field to assign the gut microbes to bioreactors that will optimize their metabolic cooperation with other strains. We will test whether these cooperative, engineered communities produce biomass more efficiently than each of the strains grown alone. By pairing computational modeling with data-driven approaches, we hope to create a system for efficiently growing probiotics anywhere in the world that is optimized based on the resources that are available.