SPUR 2019 Projects

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SPUR projects are listed in alphabetical order by faculty mentor last name.

Biomedical Informatics | School of Medicine


A TEMPORAL ANALYTICS FRAMEWORK FOR PREDICTING EARLY THE CO-OCCURRENCE OF SHOCKS IN THE INTENSIVE CARE UNIT

Samir Abdelrahman, Assistant Professor

Several types of patients are hospitalized in intensive care units (ICU), such as patients with acute myocardial infarction, bleeding, and sepsis-yielding shock, a life-threatening condition, and, in many cases, the co-occurrence of shocks or death. One-third of ICU patients suffer from some types of shocks. Of them, cardiogenic shock comprises approximately 20%, hypovolemic about 20%, and septic shock about 60% of cases. Shock types may have temporal co-occurrences that lead to further complications including mortality. Therefore, clinicians may depend on their intuition when analyzing time-sensitive information to make several clinical decisions for predicting early the likelihood of more than one type of shock at occurring at the same time (i.e., multi-shock). Most previous modeling studies have focused on predicting a single shock rather than multi-shocks. Moreover, most of them use machine learning techniques in their clinics that may not accurately predict such temporal co-occurrences among different types of shocks. The Abdelrahman lab has developed many temporal solutions that have been used effectively in critical care settings. Our primary goal is to develop a novel temporal solution that leverages our prior preliminary results, MIMIC dataset, and advanced machine learning techniques to better predict patient outcome in the shock domain. The proposed solution impact is to support the clinicians with early and accurate predictions of multi-shocks. This project entails collaborations between informatics researchers and clinical experts to identify challenges and propose relevant solutions and will require the student selected for the project and lab students to exchange ideas and solve problems together.

This SPUR project is funded by a supplement to the National Library of Medicine Training grant T15LM007124-22; Wendy Chapman (PI), Julio Facelli (co-I).

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School of Biological Sciences | College of Science


Using plant physiology to predict the future of western US forests in a changing climate

Bill Anderegg, Assistant Professor

Trees play an important role in how ecosystems function and are particularly critical in the regulation of the hydrological cycle. Climate change is projected to cause more frequent and severe droughts therefore tree response to drought is critical to understand global carbon and water fluxes under future conditions.

This research project aims to improve our understanding of how western US forests will respond to changes in water availability (i.e. drought) driven by climate change. Current research suggests there will likely be a mismatch between the rate of climate change and the ability of certain forest tree species to acclimate, either in-place or by migration. A potential management option for these tree species is assisted migration, which involves selecting and planting the trees expected to grow best under climate change.

We plan a suite of field and lab measurements to assess drought tolerance in multiple major western US tree species. We will conduct a common garden study with aspen trees from natural populations across the across the Intermountain West US (i.e. Utah, Colorado) to address this research topic. We will conduct fieldwork in multiple forest stands to assess in-situ drought-resistance. This research project will consist of both field and laboratory components to conduct plot surveys, collect meteorological data, measure various morphological and physiological traits, and analyze tree cores.

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Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science


OBSERVATIONAL AND ASSESSMENT-BASED ANALYSIS OF COMPETENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS OF INTRODUCTORY PHYSICS COURSES
Lauren Barth-Cohen, Assistant Professor

The University of Utah’s (the U) Department of Physics & Astronomy has created a new series of introductory physics for life scientists (ILPS) laboratory courses, which incorporate content, instructional techniques, and external resources directly related to life sciences. A significant segment of the student population enrolled in these IPLS laboratory courses are life science students with a variety of related majors and career interests, including medical fields. The medical community, and the medical school community specifically, has long placed weight on physics content in their lists of competencies and pre-requisites. Given this background, we examine the following question: “In what ways does the newly-designed IPLS courses strengthen student competencies and pre-requisite knowledge?”

Our research works to answer this question with respect to the U’s new IPLS laboratory courses. Our project is currently focused on 1) the efficacy of these IPLS laboratory courses implementation to promote student growth in scientific data analysis, and 2) the students' skills and knowledge in implementing data analysis, which has been defined by the medical school community as a necessary for proficiency by pre-medical school students.

This project, in part, is designed to orchestrate data analysis task-based interviews to study the post-course data analysis knowledge retention of students. Qualitative interview data will be transcribed, analyzed, and coded to create highly focused research arguments on the efficacy of the courses as described previously. As well, quantitative student surveys have been conducted and will be analyzed to assist in the argumentation of said efficacies.

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School of Biological Sciences | College of Science


DETERMINE THE HIGH-RESOLUTION STRUCTURE OF OCTAHEDRAL POLYOMAVIRUS BY CRYOGENIC ELECTRON MICROSCOPY
David Belnap, Research Associate Professor

Viruses are biological entities that encase a genome in a protective membranous covering or protein shell. The coverings or shells are found in a large diversity of shapes and sizes. Polyomaviruses are viruses that infect humans and many other animals. The capsids of polyomaviruses are made up of protein VP1. This protein has the unusual ability to form shells of different shapes. Different shapes are formed by treating the protein under different chemical conditions. One shape that can be formed is an octahedral shell. We will grow VP1 in bacteria, harvest the protein, form octahedral particles, and image particles by cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM). Cryo-EM will include two-dimensional imaging followed by three-dimensional image reconstruction of the octahedral structure. Finally, we will model the atomic-resolution structure of the octahedral form and compare it to other known forms. This study should enable us to better understand how polyomavirus VP1 is able to form such divergent shells.

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Internal Medicine | School of Medicine


STIMULATORY NEURAL CIRCUITS INVOLVED IN REGULATION OF THE HORMONE RESPONSE TO HYPOGLYCEMIA
Owen Chan, Associate Professor

Iatrogenic hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is the most serious acute complication in insulin-treated diabetes and it remains the limiting factor in maintaining proper glycemic control. The brain, and especially the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), plays a crucial role in sensing hypoglycemia and initiating the physiological "counterregulatory" hormone responses to correct it. However, both recurrent exposure to hypoglycemia and longstanding diabetes can impair the mechanisms that normally correct the fall in blood glucose levels. Our laboratory utilizes a combination of neuroscience (microdialysis, microinjection, optogenetics), metabolic (glucose clamps), genetic (targeted knockdown or overexpression) and molecular biology (qRT-PCR, westerns, immunohistochemistry) techniques to identify the neural mechanisms that are involved in the detection of hypoglycemia and how these central sensing mechanisms are impaired following recurring exposure to hypoglycemia and in diabetes.

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Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science


BABY AFFECT AND BEHAVIOR STUDY (BABY STUDY)
Elisabeth Conradt, Assistant Professor

The developmental origins of childhood physical, emotional, and behavioral problems begin in utero. Prenatal experiences “program” the infant for the context s/he will encounter upon birth, laying a foundation for health outcomes and disease. However, the biological mechanisms linking the prenatal environment to early infant outcomes remain understudied. The application of epigenetic methods to human behavior is a relatively new and innovative endeavor devoted to understanding how environmental influences shape gene expression independent of DNA structure. Infants exposed to extreme stress during pregnancy show epigenetic adaptations, consistent with theories that biological systems calibrate in preparation for a high-risk postnatal environment.

The goal of this study is to advance the science and technology of prenatal programing research by (1) identifying mothers with the full range of emotional distress and carefully characterizing maternal stress reactivity (e.g., autonomic and neuroendocrine) in a laboratory assessment; and (2) developing a novel, hypothesis-driven assay to assess epigenetic processes withinInfant in a network of genes. When the aims of this project are realized we will have an improved understanding of early outcomes for infants of dysregulated mothers. We will also have created a novel assay, which will promote rapid replication as well as new investigations of stress-related epigenetic marks.

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Radiology & Imaging Sciences | School of Medicine


IMPROVED METHODS FOR MEASURING CARDIAC PERFUSION AND FIBROSIS WITH MRI
Ed DiBella, Professor

The DiBella lab seeks to invent and refine new and better methods for the acquisition, reconstruction, and post-processing of MRI, with particular emphasis on cardiac and stroke applications. Our lab seeks to translate these improvements to clinical studies, and to use the methods to better understand physiology in health and disease.

One set of current projects involves development of improved methods for measuring myocardial perfusion and fibrosis with MRI. Methods for higher spatial resolution, greater coverage, and elucidating differences across the cardiac cycle are being developed. We have pulse programmed new simultaneous multi-slice (SMS) and 3D acquisitions on the MRI scanner. Advanced reconstruction methods including constrained reconstruction and deep learning methods are also being developed for cardiac applications.

The stipend for this SPUR project is funded by an American Heart Association grant awarded to Dr. Stavros Drakos, MD, PhD.

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Internal Medicine | School of Medicine


MECHANISM OF MYOCARDIAL SALVAGE WITH SIMULTANEOUS MECHANICAL UNLOADING AND REPERFUSION AFTER ACUTE MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION
Stavros Drakos, Associate Professor

Coronary artery disease and the associated ischemic heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Significant advances have been achieved with reperfusion after acute myocardial infarction (AMI). However, reperfusion injury accounts for up to 50% of the myocardial damage after AMI. Currently there are no effective interventions to limit reperfusion injury. Despite the increasing rates of primary percutaneous coronary intervention, chronic heart failure after AMI is still highly prevalent with its well-known tremendous burden on the health care system. Our studies will provide new insights into the molecular and metabolic mechanisms that are associated with enhanced myocardial salvage after AMI and thus help reduce subsequent development of chronic heart failure. The goal of this project is to investigate new strategies that could minimize the deleterious effect of reperfusion injury after AMI. We hypothesize that early LV mechanical unloading combined with coronary reperfusion will result in improved myocardial salvage following AMI. This is likely through a mechanism that attenuates ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) deleterious effects on mitochondrial proteome expression and possibly promotes normal substrate utilization by myocardial cells. We will investigate in our porcine I/R model the effect of combined mechanical unloading and reperfusion on mitochondrial proteome expression and cardiac cell metabolism. During ischemia there is a metabolic shift from β-oxidation of fatty acids to glycolysis as the primary mechanism of ATP synthesis in cardiac muscle. We propose to investigate how the cardiac specific MPC deletion in adult mice will affect the myocardial salvage in a mouse model of I/R.

The stipend for this SPUR project is funded by an American Heart Association grant awarded to Dr. Stavros Drakos, MD, PhD.

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Psychology | College of Social & Behavioral Science


ELECTROPHYSIOLOGICAL CORRELATES OF TRANSITIONING FROM WORKING MEMORY TO LONG-TERM MEMORY
Trafton Drew, Assistant Professor

How do we send information from a temporary working memory to a long-term memory that might last a lifetime? Understanding this process could have widespread benefits, such as helping students study more effectively or identifying early signs of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. The current project will examine electrophysiological activity evoked when a subject is asked to repeatedly memorize an object. In previous work, we have found that repeatedly memorizing distinct items leads to a decrease in working memory activity and an increase in activity associated with long-term memory. We want to see how these long-term memory signatures are influenced by how recently the same item has been memorized. We know that seeing the same item over and over with no intervening items leads to long-term memory engagement. This project will examine how the relationship changes when we manipulate how long it has been since the subject last saw an item, and the memorability of the item in question.

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Physical Therapy & Athletic Training | College of Health


AMPLIFYING MUSCLE AND METABOLIC RECOVERY IN AGING USING METFORMIN AND LEUCINE
Micah Drummond, Associate Professor

Over the next 15 years, there is going to be large number of older people who end up in the hospital. After, many will return home and be less physically active for long periods of time because of slow muscle recovery. The resulting inactive lifestyle decreases muscle size and increases weakness and increases insulin resistance thereby placing older adults at risk for falls, fractures, hospitalizations and development of diabetes. The goal of this project is to re-purpose a common diabetic drug, metformin, and combine it with the essential amino acid, leucine, to improve muscle recovery after the immobilization event. This information will be very important to develop new treatments to prevent muscle atrophy and metabolic decline in older adults.

A unique process that may slow muscle regrowth and delay ample restoration of metabolism during recovery from physical inactivity is increased amounts of muscle inflammation, the build-up of harmful lipid products in muscle, called ceramides, and the reduced health of mitochondria. These events may cause muscle and metabolism to not function properly. Metformin is a very common drug given to those with diabetes. However, evidence in the literature support that metformin when combined with leucine may be able to restore muscle health during recovery from an immobilization event. Therefore, the goal of this project is to test in old mice if metformin in combination with leucine is able to enhance muscle recovery after immobilization.

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Biomedical Informatics | School of Medicine


Developing Strategies and Tools to Mine Clinical Variant Assertions
Karen Eilbeck, Professor

As sequencing technologies have advanced; sequencing data has shown the extent of polymorphism in the human population. Understanding which of these DNA changes impact an individual’s clinical phenotype (cause disease), and which are silent is necessary for the interpretation of genetic tests. ClinVar is an international, submission-driven archive of variant-condition-interpretations hosted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). ClinVar is increasingly becoming the central repository of interpreted genomic variants; as of July 2018, 997 submitters had contributed 427,882 unique variants and 11099 conditions to ClinVar. Sharing variants and associated supporting evidence in the ClinVar database enables the transparent review of data by users and supports clinical variant interpretation. Submissions to ClinVar represent the first time that clinical labs and other submitters have shared and compared their variant interpretations, and this reveals both conformity and discrepancy in variant interpretation. In some cases the disagreement in interpretation is clinically significant – pathogenic versus benign. This growing and evolving database relies on submitters to resolve discrepancies and update findings when knowledge changes. It also provides the starting point for expert curation of variants and genes. My group developed ClinVar Miner; a tool that enables deep exploration of the ClinVar dataset. The goal of ClinVar Miner is to enable management of the upstream and downstream processes related to submitting to and using the data. ClinVar Miner as a counterpoint to facilitate use of ClinVar data.

This SPUR project is funded by a supplement to the National Library of Medicine Training grant T15LM007124-22; Wendy Chapman (PI), Julio Facelli (co-I).

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Biomedical Informatics | School of Medicine


Structural Bioinformatics Approaches to Gain Insight on Variant Pathogenicity
Julio Facelli, Professor

Computational modeling in biomedical sciences has become increasingly common, effective, and even necessary. The development of these techniques and the unparalleled increase of computational power has contributed to making biology a more computationally and data-centered discipline. They have also increased interest in using modelling and simulation in developing in silico methods like molecular dynamics simulations and protein structure prediction, which are essential to structural bioinformatics. Structural bioinformatics uses models to study the folding of proteins, their environments, and their interactions. This has been achieved through two major approaches: homology modelling and de novo structure prediction. Homology modeling, also known as template-based modeling, is based upon linking homologous sequences and their corresponding structure models/crystal structures for use as modeling templates. De novo structure prediction is based upon using force fields to compute the likely structures based upon energetic calculations and/or statistical probability of conformations. These developments are significant, because when compared to the number of proteins for which their amino acid sequences are known, there are comparatively very few experimentally determined protein structures. Thus, the vast majority of protein structures are unknown, which limits our mechanistic understanding of biological process. Furthermore, much less is known about the changes in protein structure upon mutations and how this relates to their pathogenicity and/or lack of thereof. We use a large collection of structural bioinformatics approaches to gain insight into the relationship between mutations and pathogenicity and its mechanisms.

This SPUR project is funded by a supplement to the National Library of Medicine Training grant T15LM007124-22; Wendy Chapman (PI), Julio Facelli (co-I).

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Sociology | College of Social & Behavioral Science
Gender Studies | school for cultural & social transformation


Managing Authenticity and Advocating Artisanship: Craft Spirits in the Global Marketplace
Sarita Gaytán, Associate Professor

This project will examine how craft spirit makers, and related stakeholders, manage and market authenticity in the marketplace. How do they communicate their product's fidelity to craftsmanship and traditional knowledge to different customer bases? How do they position themselves in relation to brands owned by large liquor companies? What challenges do they face in light of the growing global popularity of the craft spirit category? What happens to a brand's authenticity when it is acquired by a large liquor company?

The aims of this exploratory project are: 1) To shed light on the growing craft spirit industry as industry leaders navigate increased competition with transnational liquor companies; 2) To build on a growing body of consumers' perceptions of authenticity in different organizational realms (e.g. craft spirits vs. craft brewing); 3) To better understand the challenges of a new market category that is based on an ethos of smallness.

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Sociology | College of Social & Behavioral Science
Gender Studies | school for cultural & social transformation


What Would Happen? The Impact of (hypothetical) Unplanned Pregnancies, Pregnancy Attitudes and Contraception
Claudia Geist, Associate Professor

This project is part of the interdisciplinary research of the HER Salt Lake Contraceptive Initiative. HER Salt Lake provided free birth control to more than 7,400 people in Salt Lake County; 4,400 of those individuals enrolled in a longitudinal study and are helping us understand the social, health, and economic impacts that free contraception has on their lives. Physicians, public health researchers, and sociologists are part of the larger study team. The specific SPUR project has the goal to better understand how study participants think about how a (hypothetical) unplanned pregnancy would impact their lives at the 1 and 2-year follow-up surveys. We will focus specifically on whether economic resources, education, and partner status can help us understand how individuals describe the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. We further seek to understand how worries about the impact of a pregnancy, and general attitudes about pregnancy prevention and the intentions about when to have a planned pregnancy are linked. The study combines qualitative and quantitative methods and will shed light on how life course and economic context shape different dimensions of attitude about planned and unplanned pregnancies.

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Biomedical Informatics | School of Medicine


Exploring Molecular Aspects of the Exposome
Ram Gouripeddi, Research Assistant Professor

About 50 – 70% of health and well-being is determined by the environment an individual lives in and their behaviors within these environments. The sum total of all the environmental exposures an individual encounters in their life-time is called the exposome. The exposome includes molecular constituents involved in direct biological pathway alterations as well as mutagenic and epigenetic mechanisms of environmental influences on the phenome. Exposures to different chemicals have been shown to play a role in different conditions including asthma, obesity, as well as other respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, and metabolic conditions and cancers. Understanding the effects of these chemical exposures requires representing these molecules in research studies that involve generating and utilizing exposomes. The Utah PRISMS (Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems) Informatics Ecosystem (UPIE) is developing systematic informatics methods for generating and utilizing such exposomes for performing translational research.

This SPUR project is funded by a supplement to the National Library of Medicine Training grant T15LM007124-22; Wendy Chapman (PI), Julio Facelli (co-I).

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Orthopaedics | School of Medicine


Application of machine learning for oral health care
Man Hung, Associate Professor

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in the application of machine learning techniques towards medical research. One area that machine learning is well-suited to target is in directing services to areas of the greatest need. Resource mismanagement in primary oral health care places an undue burden on general health service delivery. For example, when emergency departments must address non-traumatic dental problems, patients are treated by providers without specialized dental training, and extensive post-discharge follow up by a dental practitioner is typically still required. The result is added health system burden without any improvements to the patient experience or outcomes.

A steady increase in the prevalence of dental caries and the varying implications of poor oral health21 have prompted the passage of public policy and oral health imperatives that aim to increase access to dental care for all people. To date, policy changes have addressed issues of access for people of different socioeconomic statuses, provided for the creation of school-based dental clinics, interventions at crucial early stages of development, and train dental care providers to service areas of increased need. What has not been addressed in improvements is a method to streamline identification of those at greatest need for dental care. Machine-learning applications that capitalize on information extracted from large stores of public health data are an opportunity to provide resources in a way that is targeted and personalized. This goal of this study is to use machine learning algorithms to create a useful, predictive model for dental care recommendations for individuals based on need.

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Communication Sciences & Disorders | College of Health


Effects of acoustic hearing experience on performance of cochlear implant users
Julie Jeon, Assistant Professor

A cochlear implant (CI) was first introduced in the mid-1980s to help post-lingually deafened adults hear again by stimulating auditory nerves directly using electrical stimulation. Since then, outcomes of CIs have improved dramatically which, in turn, extended CI candidacy to young children and people with residual hearing. Today, a child born deaf can receive a CI at around his/her first birthday. There is another group of children who were born with hearing, but became deaf later in life. Etiologies of the late-onset hearing loss may include cytomegalovirus, enlarged vestibular aqueduct, meningitis, genetic factors, etc. These late-onset deaf children can receive CIs later in life.

Previous studies show that CI users perform well with speech perception in quiet but still struggle with speech perception in noise and music appreciation. These difficulties may be due to the limitation of CIs in that they cannot stimulate low-frequency regions well. In this project, we will explore the relationship between voice recognition, speech perception in noise, and music perception in CI users and the CI users’ acoustic hearing experiences before the implantation. We will recruit two CI child groups (early-implanted vs. late-implanted due to late-onset deafness) and compare their voice recognition, speech perception in noise, and music perception abilities. We hypothesize that the late-implanted CI group with longer acoustic hearing experiences will outperform the early-implanted CI group in these measures. This project will help us understand the effect of acoustic hearing experience before implantation on post-operation CI performance.

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Surgery | School of Medicine


Patterned Silicone Surfaces for Limiting Infection in Breast Prostheses
Sujee Jeyapalina, Research Assistant Professor

Breast prosthesis placement secondary to mastectomy remains one of the most commonly performed procedures in reconstructive surgery. Post-operatively, one of the major complication is periprosthetic infection. It is estimated that approximately 15% of breast prostheses complications are due to infection, while an additional ~35% are attributed to aggressive capsular contracture (CC) formation. Interestingly, recent publications attribute these CC to biofilm formation and also associate the presence of acute infection as a potential etiology. Since micro-patterned surfaces, such as Sharklet™, have been shown to limit bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation while promoting adhesion of healthy cells, one option to reduce these high infection rates is to modify the breast prosthetic surfaces with micro-patterns. This concept is based on the “race-for-the-surface” principle—where anti-biofilm adhesive surfaces provide a protective environment for host eukaryotic cells to adhere and proliferate first. To date, no studies have been attempted to test these surfaces on breast prostheses. Thus, our group is investigating a range of surface patterns with micro-scaled repeating units on silicone surfaces to reduce or eliminate bacterial adhesion, thereby deterring biofilm formation while allowing directional adhesion of the fibroblasts and limiting cancer cell proliferation.

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Pediatrics | School of Medicine


Trafficking and utilization of long-chain fatty acid supplementation during development
Lisa Joss-Moore, Research Associate Professor

Neonatal supplementation of preterm infants with long chain fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the subject of several ongoing clinical trials. The rationale for supplementation is that preterm infants have low DHA, and that low DHA predisposes to the development of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). However, initial results from the clinical trial suggests inconclusive results at best, and possibly even a detrimental effect of DHA on BPD. A significant knowledge gap in the field, however, is the trafficking and utilization of supplemental DHA during development. Our lab is studying the whole body trafficking and utilization of supplemental DHA in the developing rat, with an emphasis on lung and liver.

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Sociology | College of Social & Behavioral


Health promotion and education for uninsured free clinic patients and refugees resettled in the US
Akiko Kamimura, Associate Professor

This proposed project will focus on community health – health promotion and education for uninsured free clinic patients and refugees resettled in the US. I have developed projects to improve health of free clinic patients with the Maliheh Free Clinic and of refugees resettled in Utah in the past six years, and have established the following steps for each sub-project (Note: Each sub- project usually completes in one semester to accommodate with student schedule. There are multiple sub-projects each semester.): Step1: Need assessment; Step2: Research; Step3: Outreach and implementations; Step4: Re-evaluation; and Step5: Dissemination. This proposed project aims at integrating and expanding the projects from previous semesters to better provide health education programs to these underserved populations. The main focus topic will be healthy lifestyle. My community health research projects are based upon the community-based participatory research (CBPR) model. The main characteristics of the CBPR model include “participatory”, “cooperative, engaging community members and researchers in a joint process in which both contribute equally”, “co-learning process”, “systems development and local community capacity building”, “empowering process,” and “a balance between research and action” (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008). This proposed project is important because it combines scientific research with action (practice implications) and contributes both to scholarship and practice. Additionally, this project will contribute to individuals, society and the community by improving health of underserved populations in Utah and beyond.

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Biomedical Informatics | School of Medicine


Re-Imagine EHR: Enhancing Patient Care and the Provider Experience through Standards-Based, Interoperable Extensions to the Electronic Health Record (EHR)
Ken Kawamoto, Associate Professor

The University of Utah’s ReImagine EHR initiative is a multi-stakeholder effort to re-imagine how patient care and the provider experience can be optimized in the EHR, including through the development, evaluation, and dissemination of innovative, interoperable extensions of native functionality provided in the electronic health record (EHR). Through ReImagine EHR, we are developing various provider-facing clinical applications and decision support capabilities that are seamlessly integrated with the rest of the EHR, patient-facing smartphone applications that are synched with the EHR, and various supportive tooling such as a multi-institutional, open-source clinical decision support platform known as OpenCDS. We are leveraging emerging health IT standards such as FHIR, SMART, and CDS Hooks with the goal of enabling these apps and services to be shared across healthcare organizations and EHR platforms. We are developing apps and services spanning the continuum of care, including prevention, chronic disease management, acute care, and transitions of care. Several of these initiatives are being pursued with the support of research grants, such as a project funded by the National Cancer Institute for identifying and managing individuals with elevated risks of breast and colorectal cancer using standards-based, interoperable, and ultimately widely scalable approaches.

This SPUR project is funded by a supplement to the National Library of Medicine Training grant T15LM007124-22; Wendy Chapman (PI), Julio Facelli (co-I).

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Nutrition & Integrative Physiology | College of Health


Biological signatures of blueberry-derived microbial metabolites
Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham, Assistant Professor

The research in our laboratory is focused on identifying the molecular mechanisms by which blueberry-derived microbial metabolites improve endothelial dysfunction during metabolic syndrome (MetS). MetS is an important risk factor for cardiovascular mortality and endothelial dysfunction plays a major role in the development of vascular complications. Intact glycocalyx of healthy vasculature acts as a protective barrier and prevents endothelial dysfunction. Glycocalyx, importantly heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG), is severely compromised in MetS. Hence, preservation and restoration of HSPG to improve endothelial dysfunction is a novel strategy to ameliorate vascular complications in MetS.

Human studies support the vascular effects of blueberry anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are extensively metabolized by the gut microbiota in humans, suggesting their vascular benefits might be mediated by their microbial metabolites. Our studies show that: blueberry supplementation improves vascular inflammation and dysfunction, and increases the beneficial bacteria in diabetic mice; and key blueberry metabolites attenuate palmitate or diabetes-induced endothelial inflammation (Mol Nutr Food Res, 2018; Int J Cardiol, 2018). We hypothesize that blueberry attenuates endothelial dysfunction in MetS by improving HSPG and/or acting on multiple targets which is mediated through the microbial metabolites of blueberries. We will use physiologically relevant models, comics approach and state of the art techniques to evaluate the mechanistic roles of metabolites of blueberries. Our study will provide strong scientific rationale for recommending dietary intake of blueberries to improve vascular health in the US population and worldwide.

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Film & Media Arts | College of Fine Arts
Gender Studies | school for cultural & social transformation


The History, Present, & Future of Title IX's Role in Addressing Sexual Misconduct on University Campuses
Sarah Projansky, Professor

This project examines the association between Title IX and sexual misconduct in four contexts. (1) It looks at arguments made in court cases (1972-pesent) that use Title IX to protect against sexual misconduct. (2) It analyzes Office of Civil Rights (OCR) documents and investigations to identify how the OCR sets the parameters of Title IX's role in protecting against sexual misconduct, parameters that expanded significantly 2011-2016 but have since diminished and are now in limbo. (3) It explores strategies various universities have used, are using, and are planning to use to address sexual misconduct during this time of rapid change, in part by interviewing Title IX coordinators. And, (4) it looks at both mainstream and feminist media coverage of Title IX and sexual misconduct, including, for example, news programs, humor on YouTube, and social media activism. The overall goals of this project are (1) to develop a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of Title IX's ability to protect against sexual misconduct, (2) to understand how decades of feminist activism have influenced judicial, Federal, and educational policy and practices, as well as media representations and public opinion, and (3) to use history, analysis, and interviews to identify best practices going forward. This project is particularly important currently both because sexual misconduct has been highly visible since the #MeToo movement began, as well as because Title IX rules are currently in transition. By identifying best practices based on careful analysis, precedent, and the day to day experiences of Title IX coordinators, this project has the potential to have a significant impact as we all grapple with the on-going changes in Title IX.

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School of Music | College of Fine Arts


Bullying, Peer groups, and Music Participation: The Socialization of Bullying Behavior in Adolescence
Jared Rawlings, Assistant Professor

School violence has emerged in the last ten years as a significant public health crisis that include behaviors ranging from bullying, hate-based language, sexual harassment, and physical assaults (Robers, Kemp, & Truman, 2013). A recent study found that almost one-third of students in grades 6-12 reported they had been victimized by peers, and 5% to 13% admitted to bullying others (Hymel & Swearer, 2015).

Researchers in music education acknowledge peer victimization and bullying is also a serious concern for music students (Elpus & Carter, 2016; Silveira & Hudson, 2015; Rawlings, 2015, 2016). Elpus and Carter (2016) examined data from the 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 datasets of the School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to determine the prevalence of reported school victimization through physical, verbal, and relational aggression among US performing arts students. Elpus and Carter found that male music and theater students are at a 69% greater risk than non-arts students when experiencing face-to-face bully victimization and male music and theatre students were confronted with a 63% greater risk of being cyber bullied than non-arts participants. Therefore, if school music students may be more likely to be targets of victimization and feel unsafe at school when compared to their non-music peers, then research is needed to determine the prevalence of these behaviors and document detailed instances of this phenomenon. To date, there has been no published research examining the the prosocial and anti-social behavior development of school-based music ensemble performers.

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Internal Medicine | School of Medicine


Peripheral Limitations to Maximal Oxygen Uptake in Patients with Heart Failure and Preserved Ejection Fraction
Russell Richardson, Professor

Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) accounts for greater than 50% of all heart failure cases, and the prevalence relative to heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) continues to rise at a rate of 1% per year, with a 5-year survival rate as low as 50%. The pathophysiological differences between HFpEF and HFrEF, coupled with unsuccessful therapeutic strategies, highlight the need for improved understanding of HFpEF. The pathophysiological differences between HFpEF and heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), coupled with unsuccessful therapeutic strategies, highlight the need for improved understanding of HFpEF.

The defining symptom of HFpEF is marked exercise intolerance that greatly limits physical activity and quality of life. In patients with HFpEF, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), a primary determinant of prognosis and quality of life, has best quantified the severity of exercise intolerance. The peripheral limitations to VO2max will be determined in patients with HFpEF and controls by measuring leg maximal O2 delivery, O2 consumption, and mitochondrial oxidative capacity (Aim 1). Next, the identification of an O2-supply or O2-demand limitation will be validated by measuring the hyperoxia-induced changes in leg maximal O2 delivery and O2 consumption in patients with HFpEF and controls (Aim 2). Finally, the effect of knee-extensor training on the peripheral limitations to VO2max will be assessed by measuring the training-induced changes in leg maximal O2 delivery, O2 consumption, and mitochondrial oxidative capacity in patients with HFpEF and controls (Aim 3).

The stipend for this SPUR project is funded by an American Heart Association grant awarded to Dr. Stavros Drakos, MD, PhD.

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Internal Medicine | School of Medicine


Thirst, excretion and the response to dehydration
Aylin Rodan, Assistant Professor

Multicellular organisms maintain homeostasis of the internal milieu for optimal cellular functioning. This includes homeostasis of electrolyte concentrations, osmolality and pH. During dehydration, a rise in osmolality sensed by osmosensing neurons in the brain triggers release of a hormone that stimulates water retention by the kidney, and also results in increased thirst and drinking behavior. Using the powerful genetic model organism, Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), we have developed assays to look at both drinking behavior and excretion during periods of dehydration. Published work, which we have recapitulated, has shown that manipulating genes in osmosensing neurons in the fly brain changes drinking behavior in dehydrated flies. Based on this, we are interested in whether manipulating other genes of interest will change drinking behavior and excretion by the fly.

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Biochemistry | School of Medicine


Immune cell function in disease
Minna Roh-Johnson, Assistant Professor

Macrophages are one of the body's first responders to infection. They eat debris, attack foreign substances, and help keep the body healthy. So then it is surprising that macrophages can play a sinister role in tumors. Instead of attacking cancer cells, macrophages promote metastasis of many cancers. What kind of communication occurs between macrophages and cancer cells for this to occur? To answer these questions, we use a combination of animal models and cell culture techniques to visualize and manipulate macrophage behaviour when in contact with cancer cells. We also visualize cancer cell behaviour during specific steps of metastasis in living animals. With these approaches, we have discovered unexpected modes of cell-cell communication between cancer cells and their environment, and are now determining the molecular mechanisms of this communication.

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Bioengineering | College of Engineering


Predicting Recovery in Heart Failure Using Microscopy and Image Processing
Frank Sachse, Associate Professor

Patients with end-stage heart failure (HF) benefit from the implantation of left ventricular assist devices (LVADs). The two primary functions of these devices are first to restore cardiac output by active propulsion of blood from the left ventricle to the aorta and second to produce mechanical unloading of the left ventricle. Several studies demonstrated that a significant number of patients (‘responders’) with end-stage dilated cardiomyopathy and end-stage HF can recover substantial cardiac function following left ventricular unloading.
Patients with chronic HF that rely on implanted LVADs are usually placed on a list of individuals destined to receive heart transplants. This list includes responders as well as non-responders. Clearly it would be desirable that potential responders undergo clinical protocols, which might lead to cardiac recovery and thus help to preserve hearts for other patients.

A critical barrier to the treatment of end-stage HF patients exists because, until now, it has not been possible to predict at time of LVAD implantation if a patient will respond to unloading with sustained cardiac recovery. Our prior studies suggest that we have a criterion that will allow us to decide whether a patient is likely to be a responder. The criterion is derived from microscopic images of cardiac tissue that are analyzed with methods of image processing.

The stipend for this SPUR project is funded by an American Heart Association grant awarded to Dr. Stavros Drakos, MD, PhD.

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Surgery | School of Medicine


Porous Fluorapatite Scaffolding with Adipose Derived Stem Cells for de novo Bone Formation
Jill Shea, Research Assistant Professor

Bone loss due to trauma or disease is an increasingly serious health problem within the military and civilian populations. Bone grafts are utilized in these situations to aid bone repair and regeneration. Material and performance are considered as two main problems in the development of customizable bone scaffolding. An ideal bone substitute material should have osteogenic properties and the capability to fill and integrate large bone defects with a variety of shapes and sizes. The goal of this project is to develop a scaffold that can be used to repair bone defects or injuries. The device will consist of a 3-D bone scaffold, adipose derived stem cells, and localized growth factor release. The overall aims are: 1) design device, 2) evaluate release of growth factor from device and stem cell differentiation in vitro, and 3) evaluate in vivo efficacy in a model system. This multi-pronged approach is hypothesized to increase bone growth following an injury and improve patient outcomes.

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Materials Science & Engineering | College of Engineering


Developing Sustainable Energy Storage Using Machine Learning
Taylor Sparks, Assistant Professor

With the goal of limiting or replacing non-renewable energy sources, extensive research has gone into renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind power. With this increased research drive, demand has increased, efficiency has increased, costs have dropped, and implementation of these technologies has extended globally. While these sources of renewable energy are in a position to supply world energy demand, one huge problem stands in their way: continuous supply is not always available and storing excess energy generated during peak times is not possible with current battery technologies. As demand for sustainable and “green” energy continues to rise, more efficient and cost-effective batteries are becoming necessary. Typically, battery material development and testing has been a time-consuming endeavor with low odds for success, however new research paths in materials science are beginning to change this. These paths, which the PI is a pioneer in, include utilizing machine learning techniques to predict material performance before synthesis ever occurs. If machine learning techniques are applied to study battery materials, battery efficiencies and cyclability as a function of material combinations can be studied to identify which materials stand to have high success rates and high-performance characteristics when implemented into batteries. There is a long list of materials which need to be assessed for potential applications in batteries. A variety of tasks will need to be undertaken for this research, including gathering, overseeing, and preparing data for use in machine learning algorithms.

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College of Nursing


Environmental Informatics - Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems
Kathy Sward, Associate Professor

Many pediatric and adult diseases are affected by environmental exposures; the environment is now known to have a bigger influence on health than health care services or genetics. The Utah Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS) collaborators are developing a research infrastructure and biomedical informatics platform that will facilitate use of air quality sensors and other sensors as an integrated part of pediatric research studies. National programs such as the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) project and the All of Us (Precision Medicine Initiative) are intended to examine the influence of the environment on health, and utilize sensors as part of their data collection strategy.

This SPUR project is funded by a supplement to the National Library of Medicine Training grant T15LM007124-22; Wendy Chapman (PI), Julio Facelli (co-I).

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Nutrition & Integrative Physiology | College of Health


Autophagy and arterial function
J David Symons, Professor

Autophagy (i.e., self-eating) is a cellular process whereby garbage (e.g., damaged proteins) is collected (by the autophagosome), transported to the recycling depot (lysosome), and recycled for future use (e.g., ATP production). Autophagy is critical for maintaining quality control of the cell. Relatively recent evidence indicates that aging compromises the process of autophagy in a number of cell types, damaged proteins accumulate, and cellular dysfunction occurs. While aging too is associated with a progressive decline in arterial function, the mechanisms are unclear, and a direct link with vascular autophagy has not been tested. What is meant by arterial dysfunction?

Arterial dysfunction is, in part, a limitation of the ability of endothelial cells to synthesize and release nitric oxide (NO), but the mechanisms are unclear. We plan to determine whether limited endothelial cell autophagy contributes to repressed endothelial cell NO production, and subsequent vascular dysfunction, during the process of aging. How can the specific contribution from EC autophagy be tested?

The process of autophagy requires autophagy-related genes (Atg’s). One of these genes is Atg3. After determining that indices of endothelial cell autophagy (e.g., Atg3) decline in old vs. adult mice, we showed that repressed endothelial cell autophagy per se contributes to impaired endothelial cell NO generation using endothelial cell specific “knockout” mice, and we elucidated the mechanisms responsible. The 2018 SPUR student will help to determine whether the aging-associated decline in arterial autophagy contributes directly to the aging associated decline in arterial function.

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Pediatrics | School of Medicine


Induced pluripotent stem cell derived cardiomyocyte models of human cardiovascular disorders
Martin Tristani-Firouzi, Professor

Advances in induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology allow for reprogramming of adult somatic cells into stem cells from which patient-specific (and thus disease-specific) cardiomyocytes (CM) can be derived. The impact of this technology has far-reaching implications, ranging from drug discovery, pre-clinical drug screening, mechanistic understanding of disease processes, and advances in personalized medicine. Specifically human iPSC-CMs offer a unique model system to study phenotypic variation in Long QT Syndrome (LQTS), by allowing for direct comparisons of gene expression in human cardiac cells derived from family members who share the same mutation, but manifest severe versus mild symptoms. However, the potential of iPSC technology to answer this and other crucial research questions is limited by several technological barriers. For example, human iPSC-CMs in culture behave more like embryonic than mature myocytes and thus may not recapitulate key features of childhood or adult-onset disease. The overall goal of this proposal is to overcome the maturational hurdles in order to design a valid iPSC-CM model system for the study human arrhythmia disorders. This proposal utilizes cutting-edge technological approaches that will advance the field of cardiovascular medicine in a very practical manner.

The stipend for this SPUR project is funded by an American Heart Association grant awarded to Dr. Stavros Drakos, MD, PhD.

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School of Dentistry


The Role of Environmental Exposures in Autoimmunity
Melodie Weller, Assistant Professor

Environmental pathogen exposures have been thought to be triggers in the development of chronic diseases. The Weller Lab studies the role of select environmental exposures in the development of a chronic autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s syndrome. This female-predominant autoimmune disease affects 1-4 million people in the United States and is characterized by decreased saliva and tear production, inflammation in the salivary gland tissues and development of autoantibodies. Low-level, chronic viral exposures in connection with genetic susceptibility factors are thought to be the underlying triggers of this chronic autoimmune disease. Our lab has focused on further characterizing these viral signatures and identifying routes of exposure in patient populations. Projects in the lab utilize viral-genome sequencing, microarray, bioinformatics, immunohistchemisty and cell culture to define the underlying mechanism(s) of autoimmunity. Ultimately, our goal is to understand the mechanism(s) of viral-mediated triggers of Sjogren’s syndrome to further develop preventative measures and/or targeted therapeutics.

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School of Computing | College of Engineering


Developing Software to Support Stronger Time Management
Jason Wiese, Assistant Professor

Applying strong time management behaviors is very important; for example, it correlates with both academic performance and job performance. For many young adults, the transition from high school to college represents a major change in the amount of control they have over their time, and the literature shows that many students struggle with this transition because they do not have the time management skills to handle this freedom on their own. A wide variety of software exists to support people in applying their existing time management strategies. On the other hand, there is very little software to support people in improving their time management practices. This project focuses on developing software to support undergraduate students in improving their time management practices.

How should such software be designed? That is the question we aim to explore in this project. Time management literature suggests a variety of principles and strategies. This project will explore software solutions that may improve support for developing time management skills. Adopting new time management practices is a type of behavior change. Behavior change is a topic of broad interest, often discussed in a health context. The results of this work will also have broader implications for opportunities for technology to support behavior change.

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