The Forum awarded pilot study grants to scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute to assist in developing preliminary data that will enable these scientists to secure future funding for projects. The following projects were funded in the Fall of 2016:

Tim Anderson, Genetics Department – Genetic Manipulation of Schistosome Parasites: This project aims to develop a critical tool – an efficient gene transfer system – for research on a widespread and debilitating tropical parasitic disease that infects 200 million people and results in the death of an estimated 200,000 people annually. The central aim of this pilot project is to develop a way to alter gene sequences in the parasite to better understand drug resistance.in hopes of accelerating the development of better interventions.

Luis Giavedoni, Virology & Immunology Department – Proof-of-concept studies aimed at curing HIV infection: HIV remains a major global health issue that has claimed over 30 million lives and affects millions more every year. This pilot study will utilize RNA-guided nucleases that induce DNA damage in essential, conserved regions of the viral genome. The study will use FDA-approved biodegradable nanoparticles to deliver the loaded with these cutting edge antivirals.

Prahlad Rao and Kimberly Spradling-Reeves, Genetics Department – Systems Biology Analysis of Gut Biocrobiota in the Baboon Model of Obesity: We’ve known for a long time that diet and exercise influence obesity, which is a very complex disease state. The overall goal of this study is to understand how gut microbiota respond to a diet containing high levels of fat and sugar, which mimics a fast paced lifestyle of many people. Through analysis of genomic and proteomic of gut microbiota we will have a better understanding of the mechanisms by which they influence diet-induced obesity.

Marcel Daadi and Geoff Clark (UTHSCSA), Primate Center – Imaging dopaminergic grafts in nonhuman primate model of Parkinson’s disease: The goal of this pilot grant is to graft dopaminergic neurons into the nonhuman primate and develop MRI and PET imaging techniques to visualize the grafts and dopaminergic innervation.

Anthony Comuzzie and Michael Olivier with Nick Musi (UTHSCSA), Genetics Department – Mechanism of Appetite Control in Lean Individuals in Families with History of Obesity: The high prevalence of obesity in the US may in part be due to the highly palatable nature of readily available foods. Given this abundance of such foods, those individuals who can maintain a normal body weight in the presence of such an environment represent a unique population which could shed light on effective weight loss treatments for those dealing with weight issues. This initial phase the study will interview members of TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) chapters in the San Antonio region to identify families with both obese and non-obese members and administer a survey form to capture eating behaviors and diet in both the obese and non-obese individuals, along with other basic demographic parameters, and initial biological samples for DNA analysis. This information will serve as the basis for recruitment of participants for a larger, more detailed proposal for study that we are currently developing for submission to NIH.

Ruth Ruprecht and Davenport Crystal (UTHSCSA), Virology and Immunology – Structural Analysis of a Monoclonal Antibody that targets a novel region on HIV-1 gp41: In a previous vaccine efficacy study using rhesus monkeys (RMs) immunized with recombinant proteins, neutralizing antibody (Abs) correlated significantly with protection against mucosal challenges of the virus. The team has devised a novel approach to determine protection-linked HIV Env subdomains, using differential biopanning with bacteriophage libraries. Funding from this pilot program will enable a cross-institutional team of investigators to obtain critical preliminary data in order to apply for external support. The pilot data will then be used to test the hypothesis that immunogens targeting this novel gp41 region will induce protective Abs by active vaccination.