Advance Clinical and Translational Research (Advance-CTR), a statewide partnership established last year to support collaborative medical studies that build on basic research, has awarded its first two Pilot Project grants.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With the first two Pilot Project grants from Advance Clinical and Translational Research (Advance-CTR), teams of researchers will set out to test new ways of fighting a diabetes complication and orthopaedic tissue injury.

The Brown University-based Advance-CTR launched in July 2016 with a $19.5 million, five-year Institutional Development Program Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Its purpose is to provide infrastructure and support to catalyze biomedical research and clinical trials that will translate the benefits of basic research to patient care in Rhode Island. One of its programs is the Pilot Projects awards to kickstart such team science.

“We couldn’t be more excited by the response we received to the program and the high caliber of applications that were ultimately submitted,” said Dr. Sharon Rounds, director of the Pilot Projects program, professor of medicine in the Warren Alpert Medical School and Providence V.A. Medical Center physician. “This underscores a true unmet need in Rhode Island for pilot funding.”

Each grant provides $75,000 for one year with an option for a second year.

In one of the new projects, two researchers will delve deep into the molecular biology of why people with diabetes often have vasculature that does not dilate to accommodate increased blood flow. That condition can lead to serious health problems. The researchers will conduct tests on vasculature and key proteins in discarded tissue from diabetic and non-diabetic patients and will then test different interventions in diabetes model mice to see if it improves vascular dilation. The lead researchers are Richard Clements and Dr. Neel Sodha, assistant professors of surgery in the Warren Alpert Medical School, and researchers at Rhode Island Hospital. Clements is also affiliated with the Providence VA Medical Center. Their mentors will be Drs. Frank Sellke and Samuel Dudley, professors of medicine and physicians at Rhode Island Hospital.

Researchers on the other project will study and evaluate the potential for certain stem cells to help heal damage to the meniscus cartilage in the knee. Injury to the meniscus can be a precursor to osteoarthritis, which is the leading cause of disability in the elderly. The team will begin the study by isolating cartilage-derived stem cells from the tissue of patients undergoing knee replacement surgery. Then they will test the healing response of applying such stem cells to meniscal injuries in laboratory rats. Alpert Medical School orthopedics faculty members and Rhode Island Hospital researchers Chathuraka Jayasuriya, assistant professor, and Dr. Brett Owens, professor, lead the project. They will be mentored by orthopedics professors and Rhode Island Hospital physicians Drs. Michael Ehrlich and Qian Chen.

More awards are planned for later this year among the partners in the Advance-CTR, a statewide collaboration that includes Care New England, Lifespan, the Providence VA Medical Center, Rhode Island Quality Institute, and the University of Rhode Island.