Congratulations to three Pharmacology Faculty for receiving William and Ella Owens Medical Research Foundation Grants!

Andrea Giuffrida, Ph.D. Jason O'Connor, Ph.D. Gek-Ming Sia, Ph.D.

Three Pharmacology faculty, Andrea Giuffrida, Ph.D. (pictured, left), Jason O'Connor, Ph.D. (pictured, center) and Gek-Ming Sia, Ph.D. (pictured, right), received welcome news this March when they were notified they had been awarded William and Ella Owens Medical Research Foundation Grants. The foundation grants are primarily to support original research on the cause, cure, treatment, or prevention of human diseases and disorders, including basic research, applied research, and clinical trials. The foundation was established in 1998, right here in San Antonio, Texas and they have been awarding grants to UT Health San Antonio for several years.

Andrea Giuffrida's, Ph.D. grant submission is titled 'Role of traumatic brain injury in the development of Parkinson’s disease'. Dr. Giuffrida noted that, 'Although traumatic brain injury (TBI) may increase the risk of developing brain disorders characterized by gradual loss of neurons and function (such as Alzheimer disease and dementia pugilistica), it is unknown whether TBI can also trigger or exacerbate the neurodegenerative process underlying Parkinson’s disease (PD). We will use magnetic resonance imaging (to monitor brain injury), behavioral tests (to measure motor function) and post-mortem histological analyses (to study markers of neurodegeneration/inflammation) to assess whether a single or multiple TBI event(s) induce PD in intact animals and/or accelerate PD progression in 6-OHDA-treated rats, a well established animal model of PD.'

Jason O'Connor's, Ph.D. grant submission is titled 'Stop Fueling the Fire: A novel Approach to Protect the Brain from Inflammatory Damage'. 'Our research in both mouse models and postmortem human brain tissue, has identified the kynurenine pathway (KP) of tryptophan metabolism as one mechanism by which proinflammatory cytokines impair cognitive function and drive multiple behavioral symptoms of depression. Not surprisingly, these symptoms, which include disruption in executive function and working memory, increased anxiety, fatigue, diminished ability to experience pleasure and reduced motivation, among others, are often the most debilitating day-to-day consequences for affected individuals. The role of peripheral versus local brain kynurenine metabolism on the cognitive and behavioral effects of inflammation has yet to be thoroughly investigated. The experiments proposed in this application will utilize novel approaches to directly test the hypothesis that increases in peripheral kynurenine levels during inflammation serve as “fuel” for subsequent neurotoxic metabolite generation within the brain.', stated Dr. O'Connor.

Gek-Ming Sia's, Ph.D. grant submission is titled 'Potentiating synapse formation as a novel therapeutic approach for brain disease'. Dr. Sia commented; 'We are testing to see if application of a synapse-boosting protein will be therapeutic in brain diseases which are characterized by loss of synapses. To start with, we will focus on mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, using mouse genetics combined with opto/chemo-genetics to see if specific brain circuits impacted by AD can be rewired by the administration of synapse-boosting proteins, and whether that will lead to symptomatic relief.'

Congratulations Dr.'s Giuffrida, O'Connor and Sia!!!