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July 8, 2015
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

Upstate research projects receive SUNY Health Network of Excellence funding

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Upstate Medical University is among seven SUNY campuses to share $900,000 in funding from the State University of New York Health Network of Excellence. The funding will support six collaborative biomedical research projects that will advance basic, clinical and public health research in pain management and cancer biology, among other areas.

“Some of the most transformative outcomes of University-based research come from projects aimed at addressing society’s greatest challenges,” said Alexander N. Cartwright, SUNY provost and executive vice chancellor, and interim president of the Research Foundation for SUNY. “Each of the projects supported today has the potential to profoundly benefit the lives of New York State residents and beyond and/or effect meaningful change in current treatment.”

“The SUNY Networks of Excellence were designed to stimulate collaborative research within the SUNY system and thus far the first round of funding has been a success leading to new grant proposals and manuscripts,” said David C. Amberg, PhD, professor and vice president for research. “In this second round, we are gratified that several Upstate investigators are involved in three winning proposals. Peter Calvert, a biophysicist in the 0phthalmology department is part of a team developing RNA therapeutics to treat retinal degenerative diseases. Saeed Bajwa a clinical professor of neurosurgery and Christian Tvetenstrand a clinical professor of surgery are working on a big data approach to the development of a more reliable pain sensor. Lastly, Steven Blatt, professor of pediatrics is part of a team that is building a network of at risk children in order to develop medical care interventions that will reduce health care disparities in children from families of low socioeconomic status.”

Each of the six funded projects will receive $150,000. Upstate is participating in following projects:

• Optimizing Hammerhead Ribozyme Therapeutics for Retinal Degenerative Diseases.

Upstate investigator: Peter D. Calvert, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology, biochemistry and molecular biology, cell development biology, neuroscience and physiology. RNA determines protein synthesis in all living cells and the genetic makeup of many viruses and diseases. Calvert and the team, led by John Sullivan, MD, PhD, of the University at Buffalo, are incorporating a promising new area of research—RNA therapeutics—to test the effectiveness of specific RNA-targeted molecular agents that they hypothesize may be successful in treating glaucoma, macular degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases. The RNA therapeutics designed by Calvert and the team has the potential of forwarding to human clinical trial. In addition to Upstate and the University of Buffalo, project participants include the University at Albany and Downstate Medical Center.

• SUNY Network Partnership for Automated Pain Assessment and Pain Management Research

Upstate investigators: Saeed Bajwa, MD, clinical professor of neurosurgery, and Christian Tvetenstrand, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery, Clinical Campus. Pain analysis using imaging sensors offers a flexible and non-invasive way to detect pain levels. Likewise, pain measurement has been studied through biochemical transduction mechanisms. Yet, the correctness of both approaches has not been verified. Bajwa, Tvetenstrand and the team will explore the integration of a novel 4D imaging system and biosensors to assess the level of pain and to correlate with conventional pain scale assessment in a unified framework using a big data analysis method. They propose to develop a systematic, reliable and quantifiable pain assessment sensor that has the potential to help clinicians and pain management personnel rapidly and objectively assess the amount of pain and initiate the appropriate response. In addition to Upstate, project participants include Binghamton University and SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

• SUNY Child Health Disparities

Upstate investigator: Steven D. Blatt, MD, professor of pediatrics, director of the Division of General Pediatrics and medical director of its satellite office, medical director of Foster Care Services: ENHANCE. Young children in families with low socioeconomic status (SES) experience a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality compared to their more affluent peers. Exposure to psychosocial risk factors leads to decreased access to medical care and contributes to these disparities. An efficient and robust method to identify children at greatest psychosocial risk is needed to develop medical care interventions tailored to their needs in order to reduce disparities. The long-term goal of this network is to establish a group to build the scientific evidence needed to improve primary care delivery to high-risk children to reduce health disparities. The network’s products will position it as a national leader in child health disparities research and serve as a model for other groups seeking to study interventions to improve population health. In addition to Upstate, project participants include Stony Brook University, University at Buffalo and University at Albany.

SUNY Health is one of six SUNY Networks of Excellence. Each network assembles scientists, scholars, and external partners from SUNY campuses to conduct collaborative research in high demand areas. The remaining Networks are SUNY 4E (Energy, Environment, Economics and Education), SUNY Brain, SUNY Materials and Advanced Manufacturing, SUNY Arts and Humanities, and SUNY Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

To date, the SUNY Health Network of Excellence has invested $1.8 million in a variety of areas, including clinical applications of 3D printing, treatments for degenerative and infectious diseases, biosensors, big data, health disparities and aging.

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