2016 Translational Research Pilot Awards

The Duke Translational Research Institute invested $5M in the following six Translational Research Pilot Funding Awards in May, 2016.


Project Title: “Optimization of ELP-Paclitaxel Nanoparticles for Cancer Chemotherapy.” ($100,000).

Principal Investigator: Ashutosh Chilkoti, Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Co-Investigator: Neil Spector, Associate Professor of Medicine

Project Description: The goal of this project is to optimize a new nanotechnology we have developed that can deliver many different small molecule cancer drug to tumors more effectively and safely. While we have exciting results in curing cancer in mice that are treated with nanoparticles loaded with paclitaxel —a commonly used cancer drug— in order to take this technology forward into the clinic we need to increase the amount of drug loaded into each nanoparticle. This project will take a systematic approach to improving the drug loading without compromise the its efficacy, and the success of this aim will ready the technology for a clinical trial of the technology for the delivery of paclitaxel.


Project Title: “A Hernia Mesh with Enhanced Anchoring Strength to Prevent Hernia Formation.” ($100,000). 

Principal Investigator: Howard Levinson, Associate Professor, Surgery

Co-Investigator, Bruce Klitzman, Associate Professor, Surgery

Project Description: Two million laparotomies are performed annually in the United States with ventral hernia being a frequent complication in 10-30% of patients. Ventral hernias are currently repaired with surgical mesh but the mesh fabric frequently tears away from the abdominal fascia because of weak anchoring with sutures. Our invention is novel hernia mesh with superior anchoring strength, as demonstrated in preliminary studies. In this proposal we will further develop the technology, with a contract manufacturer, completing benchtop testing and in vivo studies.


Project Title: "Topical treatment of chemotherapy-nerve pain with a TRPV4/TRPA1 dual inhibitor" ($100,000).

Principal Investigator: Wolfgang Liedtke, Professor of Neurology

Co-Investigator, Ru-rong Ji, Professor, Anesthesiology

Project Description: We propose to apply transdermal topical treatment for nerve pain caused by the chemotherapeutic agent, taxol, by using a novel inhibitor molecule that has been developed in the PI's lab. This inhibitor molecule, a "dual-inhibitor", potently targets ion channels TRPV4 and TRPA1. These two ion channels have been found as pathophysiologically important in nerve damage caused by taxol, a widely used chemotherapeutic, e.g. in breast and ovarian cancer. We propose to transdermally apply our TRPV4/TRPA1 dual inhibitor in preclinical rat and mouse models of taxol-induced nerve pain. We will also apply our inhibitor molecule to artificial human skin in order to establish that we can accomplish therapeutically relevant concentrations in skin.


Project Title: “Human Bispecific Activator of Macrophages for the Treatment of Glioblastoma.”

Principal Investigator: John Sampson, Robert H., MD and Gloria Wilkins Professor of Neurosurgery ($100,000).

Project Description: Glioblastoma (GBM) is uniformly lethal; it is also the most common malignant primary brain tumor. Current therapy is incapacitating and limited by non-specific toxicity to systemic tissue or surrounding eloquent brain. We have developed a method to specifically target GBM using a tumor-specific, bispecific activator of macrophages (BAM) that redirects patients' own immune effector cells to recognize and destroy tumors, which has significant potential to improve public health and quality of life for patients affected by GBM and other cancers.


Project Title: “Developing Preclinical Models of Dystonia to Screen Novel Drug-like Candidates.” ($50,000).

Principal Investigator: Nicole Calakos, Associate Professor of Neurology

Co-Investigator, William Wetsel, Professor, Psychiatry

Project Description: We have created a novel high throughput assay to identify treatments for a rare inherited disorder, Dyt1 dystonia. The assay has proven valuable for both discovery efforts to identify novel pathways and gene targets and unbiased chemical library screening. One notable bottleneck that we anticipate, however, is in moving from in vitro cultured cell assays to preclinical models. For this DTRI proposal, we solicit support to create immortalized patient-derived cell lines to differentiate into neurons and to validate and implement mouse models for dystonia.


Project Title: “Bedside Optical Assessment of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy in Infants.” ($50,000).

Principal Investigator: Cynthia Toth, Joseph A.C. Wadsworth Professor of Ophthalmology

Co-Investigator, Joseph Izatt, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

Project Description: The research team will develop an ultracompact handheld micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) scanner combined with a high speed swept-source portable optical coherence tomography (OCT) system to examine infants with birth asphyxia (Hypoxic-ischemic-encephalopathy, HIE) They will search for abnormal retinal and optic nerve anatomy that could reflect severity of brain injury in these infants. The retinal imaging data will be compared to MRI brain injury scores to identify eye imaging markers associated with severity of brain injury. This new technology will enable bedside eye imaging in infants without using eyedrops to dilate the pupil. This is likely to be useful in evaluation of other infant brain diseases and injury.

Additional Co-Investigators:

  • Maysantoine Eldairi, Assistant Professor, Pediatric Ophthalmology and Neuro-Ophthalmology
  • Caroline Pizoli, Assistant Professor, Pediatric Neurology
  • Sharon Freedman, Professor, Pediatric Ophthalmology and Pediatrics
  • Michael Cotten, Associate Professor, Pediatrics/Neonatology
  • Sandra Stinnett, Associate Professor, Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Ophthalmology