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DRC Director's Report -October 2023

Congratulations to the 2023-2024 FOEDRC Pilot & Feasibility Grant Recipients! 

The Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center is pleased to announce the results of its thirteenth round of Pilot and Feasibility Grants. These grant awards fund innovative pilot projects by early career investigators who are entering the diabetes research field, or established investigators with innovative ideas that focus on a new direction in diabetes research. The goal of the program is to generate data that will enable awardees to compete for peer-reviewed national funding for diabetes related projects that show exceptional promise. 

Over a dozen researchers from across the University of Iowa campus submitted meritorious proposals that underwent a comprehensive and competitive peer-review process. Two applicants were selected to receive a catalyst award grant of $50,000 to support their research proposal, with the possibility for a second year of funding, for a total of $100,000 over a two-year period. Two applicants were selected to receive one-year seed grant awards of $5,000 each to support discreet research proposals to obtain data needed to generate essential preliminary data in a diabetes-related project to increase competitive for subsequent extramural funding.

Catalyst Grant Winners

Brian O'Neill, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine-Endocrinology and Metabolism 

Project: Role of Lrrc2 in the muscle mitochondrial adaptations to diabetes Uncontrolled diabetes decreases energy production in mitochondria, the cellular powerhouses. This leads to decreased muscle strength and poor recovery from illness or surgery. Dr. O’Neill’s previous work showed that mice with Type 1 diabetes have mitochondrial problems in muscle. Intriguingly, the mitochondria of these diabetic mice had increased levels of protein called Lrrc2, which seemed to be helping increase energy production to compensate for the diabetic state of the animals. The goal of this new project is to see if Lrrc2 is indeed a beneficial factor for mitochondrial function in diabetes. In aim 1, they will test whether increased Lrrc2 expression improves mitochondria and strength in diabetic muscle. Aim 2 will determine which other proteins interact with Lrrc2 in normal and diabetic muscle. These studies on Lrrc2 will help better understand the connections between diabetes, mitochondria, and muscle weakness that contributes to disability.

Thorsten Maretzky, PhD, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine-Infectious Diseases

Project: Novel functions of the inactive rhomboid protein 2 in diet-induced obesity In obesity, fat undergoes significant changes, impacting metabolic health. These changes include increase in size and number of fat cells. Dr. Maretzky’s research focuses on understanding this balance and the role of iRhom2, a protein known for regulating cell surface molecules related to inflammation and cell growth. His preliminary findings show that iRhom2 dramatically alters how adipose tissue responds during excess dietary intake. The goal of his new project is to uncover the intricate processes that iRhom2 uses to alter fat structure and function in obesity, offering insights into potential metabolic disorder therapies.

Seed Grant Winners

Sukirth Ganesan, BDS, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Periodontics, College of Dentistry 

Project: Determining the Role of Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in the Oral Environment of Children with Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome Evidence is rapidly accumulating for the worldwide environmental contamination of air and water by Perfluroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of synthetic chemicals, also known as ‘Forever Chemicals’ leading to widespread human exposure such that, in many developed countries, nearly all individuals have detectable PFAS in their blood. Emerging evidence link PFAS exposure to a wide range of adverse health effects including insulin resistance and diabetes, altered glucose homeostasis, and obesity in adolescents and children. While blood markers for PFAS exposure are being actively investigated, such investigations in saliva are yet to be performed. Dr. Ganesan’s studies will search for potential associations between PFAS levels in saliva and childhood diabetes and Obesity.

Gourav Bhardwaj, MSc, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Internal Medicine-Endocrinology/Metabolism 

Project: Generation of a cardiomyocyte-restricted inducible striated muscle-enriched protein kinase (Speg) overexpression mouse model to determine the role FoxO3-Speg axis in Diabetic Cardiomyopathy Patients with diabetes are at a high risk of developing heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, an emerging epidemic without effective treatment strategies. Heart abnormalities and calcium mishandling are the characteristics of diabetic cardiomyopathy, but the underlying processes are incompletely understood. Dr. Bhardwaj recently discovered that a calcium regulating protein called striated muscle-enriched protein kinase (abbreviated as Speg) was decreased in hearts of diabetic animals. Support from this seed grant will be used to generate an animal model that enable increasing levels of Speg specifically in heart cells. This work will help determine the role of Speg in diabetic cardiomyopathy and improve our understanding of heart failure progression in patients with diabetes.

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