FY18-19 CCTS Pilot Grant Awardees

Lauren Walsh
Post date: 
December 6, 2018


Promoting Physical Activity With Conversational Agents For Sedentary Older Adults

PI: Jessie Chin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical and Health Information Science
Co-Investigators: Kelly Quinn, PhD, Assistant Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication; Naoko Muramatsu, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Institute for Health Research and Policy, Division of Community Health Sciences; David Marquez, PhD, Associate Professor, College of Applied Health Sciences, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition

This research focuses on enhancing the implementation and adoption of physical activity among sedentary older adults. While many studies have shown the importance of activity promotion in older adults, only a few have been translated from the research setting to the public. This is largely due to the burden administrative and personnel costs can place on widespread dissemination and implementation of physical activity programs. This project examines an innovative approach to a physical activity program using a commercially available conversational agent, “Google Home.” Conversational agents, also referred to as smart speakers, enable speech-based interactions between the user and the device, which drastically lowers barriers to use for older adults. Additionally, conversational agents have the flexibility to deliver instructions, creating potential for the device to serve as a virtual physical activity coach. We aim to demonstrate the acceptability and feasibility of using conversational agents to deliver physical activity programs to sedentary older adults.

Ero1alpha-PDI signaling in sickle cell vaso-occlusion

PI: Gus Cho, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology, College of Medicine
Co-Investigators: Hui Chen, PhD, Director of Mass spectrometry, Metabolomics & Proteomics Facility; Victor Gordeuk, MD, Professor, Department of Medicine, Director of Sickle Cell Center; Xiaoping Du, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Pharmacology; Joseph Italiano, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Sickle cell disease (SCD) results from a mutation in hemoglobin, a protein essential for carrying oxygen in the blood. This disease occurs primarily in African Americans and affects approximately 100,000 people in the U.S. Patients with SCD suffer from hemolytic anemia, increased susceptibility to infections, and severe pain crises. In particular, lifelong pain episodes and acute chest syndrome result, in part, from cells clustering together inside blood vessels, known as a vaso-occlusive crisis. This has a significant impact on the quality of life of these patients. Despite our understanding of the pathophysiology of SCD, specific treatment for vaso-occlusive crises are lacking. The proposed studies will help us understand how cell-to-cell accumulation occurs in SCD and develop new therapies to prevent blood vessels from clogging in SCD patients.

Impact of obesity, fatigue, and strength on physical activity in people with knee osteoarthritis

PI: Kharma Foucher, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition, College of Applied Health Sciences
Co-Investigators: Mark Gonzalez, MD, PhD, Professor and Head, Medicine, Orthopedic Surgery; Najia Shakoor, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Rheumatology, Rush University

Low physical activity is a major public health crisis, as is obesity. People with knee osteoarthritis are more likely to be obese and have low activity levels than people without the disease, even though activity can ease symptoms.  One potential reason is that osteoarthritis can cause fatigue and people may be too tired to be active.  We believe that people with this condition tire easily because of how they walk, as muscle weakness is a problem in osteoarthritis.  When people have muscle weakness, they may alter their gait patterns.  These alterations often require more energy than normal walking and may therefore lead to fatigue.  These problems may be more severe in people who are also obese.  The purpose of this study is to understand how the combination of muscle weakness, fatigue, and obesity lead to limited physical activity in people with osteoarthritis, with the long term goal of developing an intervention to solve this problem.

Behavioral and Neurophysiological Assessment of Hot and Cold Memory and Executive Function in Treated Breast Cancer Patients

PI: Heide Klumpp, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine
Co-Investigators: Susan Hong, MD, Associate Professor, Medicine, Internal Medicine; Katie Burkhouse, PhD, Assistant Professor, Medicine, Psychiatry

Many women with breast cancer receive chemotherapy treatment and/or hormone therapy.  Fortunately, these treatments have significantly increased survival rate, however, they are not without side effects.  Reports of long-term problems with memory and executive function (e.g., concentration, multi-tasking, planning) after such treatments are common and can negatively impact quality of life as they can result in social withdrawal, decreased productivity, reduced community involvement, academic difficulties, and/or job loss.  While standard “cold”- or non-emotional- neuropsychological tests provide evidence of memory and executive problems, findings are not consistent and often do not match the magnitude of difficulties reported by patients.  Discrepancies between findings based on standard neuropsychological testing and self-report is problematic, as self-report measures may be influenced by various factors that reduce accuracy, such as social desirability bias and recollection difficulties.  In order to appropriately manage symptoms in treated breast cancer patients, more sensitive measures are needed to detect memory problems and executive dysfunction. The proposed study will examine whether “hot” (emotional) neuropsychological tests better detect memory and cognitive impairment in treated patients compared to healthy controls, and evaluate “hot” and “cold” brain-behavioral outcomes with self-reported memory and executive function across participants. 

Degradation of brain estrogen receptors to reduce harmful alcohol drinking

PI: Amy Lasek, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine
Co-Investigator: Gregory Thatcher, PhD, Professor, Pharmacy, Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy

Binge drinking is a prevalent form of harmful alcohol use that leads to serious adverse health outcomes for women, including increased risk of breast cancer, organ damage, and mental illness. There are limited treatment options for alcohol use disorder, especially for women, partly due to the paucity of studies in women. Estradiol, the main circulating form of estrogen in premenopausal females, increases alcohol drinking in mice in a behavioral test of binge drinking. In addition, reducing levels of brain estrogen receptors in female mice decreases binge drinking. These results suggest that treatment with selective estrogen receptor degraders (SERDS), which are used for the treatment of breast cancer, might be a viable therapeutic approach to reducing binge drinking in women. In the first part of these studies, we will test if treatment with a novel brain-penetrant SERD will decrease binge drinking in mice. In the second part of these studies, we will determine if treatment with this SERD alters the metabolism of alcohol, estrogen levels, and estrogen receptor activity and levels in the brain. This project will lead to a better mechanistic understanding and potentially new therapeutic options to treat alcohol use disorder in women.

Novel biomarkers and therapeutics in herpetic eye disease

PI: Ann Marie Lobo-Chan, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, College of Medicine
Co-Investigator: Deepak Shukla, PhD, Professor, Departments of Ophthalmology, Microbiology and Immunology, College of Medicine

Herpes viruses are a leading cause of infectious blindness. Recurring herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV) infection in the eye can cause significant damage, including corneal scarring and blindness, in spite of antiviral therapy. Previous research has shown that certain molecules play an important role in HSV infection, including entry into tissue and gathering of inflammatory cells. By using eye fluid samples from patients with active HSV infection, we hope to confirm what has been seen in the laboratory and help identify new biomarkers that can lead to treatments that decrease the chance of eye problems and blindness. Specifically, we will examine if the molecules within the tear samples can be used as detectable biomarkers and if the levels correlate with the severity of the disease. We will then culture the tear sample strains to test if existing molecular compounds can be used as a treatment in HSV infection.

Implementation of an Evidence-Based E-Health Intervention for Perinatal Depression

PI: Pauline Maki, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine
Co-Investigator: Jennifer Duffecy, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine

Depression is the most common complication of pregnancy and especially affects disadvantaged women of color. The University of Illinois Center on Women’s Health (CWH) serves many disadvantaged women of color from the communities that surround our center. Our research findings indicate that about 16% of patients develop depression during pregnancy or the early postpartum. Yet these women face numerous barriers to care. The availability of the internet and mobile phones can improve mental health in our patients by improving access to screening and treatment. To that end, we are conducting a research study in which we use internet-linked tools to address barriers to mental health in women during pregnancy and the postpartum. First, we will study and expand the use of a new computerized approach for screening for depression and other mental health conditions in the waiting room during routine prenatal clinic visits. Second, we will use expert review, patient feedback, and clinical studies to tailor an on-line tool called Sunnyside for Moms so that it can be used most effectively in our clinics to prevent and treat depression during pregnancy and the postpartum. Through this work we aim to improve the wellbeing of the mother and her child, and to help expand our other research efforts in women’s mental health.

Evaluating the Anti-Inflammatory Effects of CD24Fc in Periodontal Disease

PI: Salvador Nares, Professor, Department of Periodontics, College of Dentistry
Co-Investigators: Lin Tao, PhD, DDS, Department of Oral Biology, College of Dentistry; Afsar Naqvi, PhD, Department of Periodontics, College of Dentistry; OncoImmune, Inc., Rockville, MD, USA

Periodontal disease (PD) is a major cause of tooth loss. While microorganisms initiate PD, exuberant immune responses trigger tissue damage. Current treatments for advanced forms of PD focus on eliminating microorganisms and surgery. There is no effective treatment to suppress host immune overresponses. CD24Fc, a recombinant fusion protein targets a novel immune pathway that does not suppress the host response against microbial infection. It has been effective in treating immune-mediated diseases such as graft-versus-host disease and rheumatoid arthritis without appreciable side effects. In this study, we will investigate whether CD24Fc can be utilized to treat PD using a mouse model of periodontal inflammation. If CD24Fc modulates periodontal inflammation and bone loss, then a novel therapeutic modality could result.