BATON ROUGE, LA - The LA CaTS Center - a federally funded statewide research initiative - today announced three collaborative research grants for higher education scientists and campuses across Louisiana.

"Three multi-institutional grants to address significant Louisiana health issues and involving researchers across several Louisiana higher education campuses are beginning," said William T. Cefalu, MD, principal investigator of the LA CATS Center grant and executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Each project is designed to ultimately have direct application to improve the health of individuals. To assure that the research yields greatest the benefit, each project places special emphasis on collaborative (shared) research studies that relate fundamental basic sciences in the lab with a clinical component or a concrete path to clinical research (human studies).

"These projects are aimed at diseases prevalent in our communities," added Cefalu. "Our research teams will work to develop new approaches to prevent or treat these diseases."

The disease areas being studied are cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorder.

The first of the funded collaborative grant projects is entitled "Cervical Cancer Prevention in Louisiana." This project involves collaboration between LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO), LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport (LSUHSC-S), Tulane University School of Medicine and Pennington Biomedical. Michael Hagensee, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at LSUHSC-NO, will lead the team effort.  

"This project has particular public health significance because Louisiana ranks fourth in cervical cancer incidence and third in cervical cancer mortality due to limited healthcare resources," notes Larry Hollier, MD, LSUHSC-NO chancellor. "It is imperative we learn more about factors related to effective screening, nutrition and treatment to reduce the impact of cervical cancer in Louisiana," said Lee Hamm, MD, senior vice-president and dean of Tulane University School of Medicine.

The cervical cancer prevention research team will conduct four projects to evaluate patient and community factors that drive decisions whether to use the vaccines available. The team will also evaluate new ways to effectively screen for the condition, as well as dietary factors that promote disease progression.

"We are excited to have this opportunity to further our research and understanding of how human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer," notes Hagensee. "Our integrative team of basic scientists, nutritionists, public health experts and clinicians will provide the foundation will quickly lead to significant decreases in the incidence of cervical cancer in Louisiana."

The second project funded is a collaborative effort between LSUHSC-S, Tulane University School of Medicine, and LSUHSC-NO. This project is being led by Christopher Kevil, PhD, of LSUHSC-S and is entitled "Hydrogen Sulfide Metabolism in Critical Limb Ischemia."

According to Kevil, Louisiana residents experience a high rate of heart disease resulting from atherosclerosis. "Inadequate blood flow to legs occurs when blood vessels are blocked due to atherosclerosis. This condition often results in amputations, and similar blockages are associated with two common medical emergencies - heart attacks and strokes. Research sponsored by this joint collaborative effort is aimed at helping identify new ways to detect and treat critical tissue ischemia that could benefit all Louisianians," he said.

The investigators working with Kevil will evaluate whether a chemical imbalance occurs in such conditions. "If such a marker is found it will provide the background to evaluate drug intervention on this condition to treat and prevent the problem," according to Bysani Chandrasekar, DVM, PhD, at Tulane University School of Medicine.

"We're very proud of the research by Dr. Kevil and its promise for a future treatment for atherosclerosis," said Robert A. Barish, MD, MBA, LSUHSC-S chancellor. "We're very pleased that this project was selected and look forward to the results of this collaborative effort."

Collaborating on the third project - "Novel Tissue Selective Estrogen Complex with Bazedoxifene and the Prevention of Metabolic Dysfunction in Post-Menopausal Women" - are researchers from Pennington Biomedical and Tulane University School of Medicine. Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, MD, PhD, of Tulane University School of Medicine and Eric Ravussin, PhD, of Pennington Biomedical will direct the project.

"This study will evaluate the use of a novel menopausal treatment in preventing obesity and the risk of developing diabetes," said Mauvais-Jarvis.  As women enter menopause they experience an increase in abdominal fat as well as develop a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. "The study will also evaluate use of a hormonal product that may effectively decrease risk factors for heart disease during the menopausal transition," added Ravussin.   

"These grants were made possible through collaboration and funding from the four participating LA CaTS Center institutions," said Cefalu.

Each participating LA CaTS Center institution contributed funding to reach the needed $250,000. This represents seed funding that is an investment toward research findings that will be competitive for larger federal funding grants. Projects were screened for their potential to successfully compete for future large federal grants such as those awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The LA CaTS Center is pleased to highlight these investigators and their respective campuses that are dedicated to this work on the chronic diseases that plague our state," Steve Nelson, MD, dean of the School of Medicine at LSUHSC-NO.

The Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science (LA CaTS) Center provides an infrastructure across the academic institutions in Louisiana to facilitate research in chronic disease prevention and improved health care in underserved populations. The LA CaTS Center's mission is to encourage, support, and expand clinical and translational research through partnerships among researchers and with the people it serves. The Center is funded by a five-year NIH grant and involves eight major academic, research and health care delivery institutions in Louisiana. These institutions are working together to provide a unified research infrastructure with the theme of prevention, care and research of chronic diseases in the underserved population.

The Center is supported in part by 1 U54 GM104940 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.