Diehl, Scarpino and Rizzo Receive Inaugural UVM Biomedical Engineering Pilot Grant

July 21, 2017 by Jennifer Nachbur

UVM Biomedical Engineering Pilot Project grant collaborators Sean Diehl, Ph.D., left, and Donna Rizzo, Ph.D. (Photos: LCoM Creative Services & Sally McCay)

University of Vermont researchers Sean Diehl, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and a Vaccine Testing Center immunologist, Sam Scarpino, Ph.D., former assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, Donna Rizzo, Ph.D., professor of engineering, and John Hanley, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in engineering, have been awarded the inaugural UVM Biomedical Engineering Program Pilot Research Program grant for their project, titled “Integrating omics and clinical data to study dengue infection.” The award is co-funded by the Larner College of Medicine and the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.

The team’s translational research project leverages relevant human samples and the latest analytical engineering and advanced statistics approaches to better understand the human response to infection with the mosquito-borne dengue virus.

Dengue is an urgent global threat for 40 percent of the world’s population, with 390 million annual infections that cost billions of dollars in annual losses, and causes severe strains on the medical systems of affected nations.

For their project, the team, which also includes Class of 2020 medical student Nicholas Selig, will generate new genome-wide gene expression data and use cutting-edge analytical engineering and statistical approaches to integrate this biological data with clinical data from patients who have been infected with dengue virus. The goal of this research is to develop meaningful predictive modelling approaches by which new biomarkers can be used to ascertain clinical responses to dengue infections. This information and these tools will be used to help gauge the effectiveness of dengue vaccines designed to ultimately reduce the burden of disease from dengue.

“The goal of UVM’s Biomedical Engineering (BME) Pilot Project grant program is to advanced BME research on campus by bringing together investigators from the Larner College of Medicine and the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences – who have not previously worked together – on pilot projects receiving a year’s support of up to $50,000,” says Jason Bates, Ph.D., D.Sc., professor of medicine, who co-directs the program with Jeffrey Frolik, Ph.D., professor and chair of electrical and biomedical engineering.

First suggested by Chair of Medicine Polly Parsons, M.D., and endorsed by UVM Provost David Rosowsky, Ph.D., Larner College of Medicine Dean Frederick Morin, M.D., and College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences Luis Garcia, Ph.D., the BME Pilot Project grant program held its first competition in early 2017. A second project, led by Michael Toth, Ph.D., professor of medicine, and Chris Skalka, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science, and titled "Cyber-physical system innovations to monitor and improve compliance with at-home neuromuscular rehabilitation,” also received funding.