Grants Funded for the 2015-2016 Academic Year

The following projects were selected for funding by the annual Women's Board Grants Committee in May 2015.

Faculty Research and Support

Celiac Disease Center
Pilot Study of Montelukast in Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a common intestinal inflammatory disease triggered by gluten. While a life-long gluten-free diet is beneficial for celiac disease, intestinal mucosal healing is incomplete on the diet and patients need and desire alternative treatments, such as pharmacological therapies. Montelukast has a long record of safety and tolerability in asthma treatment and is available generically, making it an ideal candidate as a pharmacological agent in celiac disease. Our preliminary studies show that montelukast is effective in decreasing intestinal damage. Our overall objective is to perform a pilot study in celiac patients to assess feasibility of a larger clinical trial. We hypothesize that it will reduce intestinal inflammation. Successful completion of this study will enable us to design a phase II study of montelukast, to lead toward the first adjunctive pharmacologic therapy for celiac disease. This would be an extremely important breakthrough and would be consistent with the high level of clinical care in celiac disease for which the University of Chicago Medicine is known.

Amount Awarded: $25,000

Biological Sciences—Department of Medicine
Hypothermia and the Induction of Cold Shock Proteins
to Protect the Heart and Brain from Ischemic Injury

Cellular injury from oxygen and nutrient deprivation (ischemic injury) occurs following heart attacks and strokes and is a major cause of death and disability. Cooling (hypothermia) patients to slow metabolism and limit cellular injury from ischemic injury is done to protect the heart and brain in cardiac surgery and following cardiac arrest. Inducing hypothermia is physically difficult and time consuming particularly in emergent situations, creating a barrier to its broader use. In addition, there is a large need to understand how hypothermia protects cells from injury. We overcome these barriers by testing a novel chemical found in the blood stream of hibernating animals that induces hypothermia within minutes while investigating its effects on inducing “cold shock proteins” that confer cellular protection from oxygen deprivation. Success of this research will establish a new method for rapidly inducing hypothermia while identifying cold shock proteins as a new therapeutic target for ischemic injury.

Amount Awarded: $61,633

Biological Sciences—Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Targeting the Tumor-Initiating Cells in Ovarian Cancer

Despite aggressive surgery and chemotherapy, most ovarian cancer (OvCa) patients will relapse due to the intrinsic resistance of cancer stem cells, more appropriately referred to as the tumor-initiating cells to therapeutics. The current therapeutics for ovarian cancer patients, including chemotherapies, target the proliferating differentiated population of cancer cells. However, the rare population of cells capable of tumor onset, self-renewal, and self-maintenance are tumor-initiating cells which escape the effect of chemotherapy. New effective drugs targeting both tumor-initiating and the proliferating cancer cells are vital to improve OvCa prognosis. Our goal is to identify compounds that inhibit metastasis of primary human tumor-initiating cells. First, primary human tumor-initiating cells will be isolated from ovarian cancer patients. Second, the tumor-initiating cells will be characterized and validated. Third, applying a previously developed 3D organotypic model of ovarian cancer metastasis a screen evaluating the effect of clinically-approved bioactive compounds on tumor-initiating cells in their microenvironmental niche will be performed.

Amount Awarded: $19,260

Biological Sciences—Department of Pediatrics
A New Antibiotic for Treating MRSA Infections

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, now cause about 50% of S. aureus infections in many urban centers, including our own, and about 19,000 people worldwide die from MRSA infections each year. MRSA are resistant to all antibiotics in the penicillin class of antibiotics and are often resistant to many other classes of antibiotics. By performing high throughput screening of a chemical library of drugs that have known pharmacologic and safety data, we identified two previously licensed drugs that can be repurposed for use as antibiotics to treat MRSA infection by synergizing with methicillin. One of these (pyrvinium pamoate) is a safe anti-helminthic used to treat pinworm infections that has recently gained prominence as a potential anti-cancer drug and can repair myocardial tissue following myocardial infarct. Clomiphene citrate is a female fertility medicine. We propose to develop these drugs into antibiotics that can be used to treat MRSA infection. They were identified in a small molecule screen of compounds licensed by the US FDA for other purposes. They were chosen for further study because they shut off a bacterial warning system that antibiotics are afoot. They will be combined with anti-staphylococcal antibiotics like oxacillin (modern day methicillin) to treat MRSA infections.

Amount Awarded: $55,000

Kovler Diabetes Center
Family Behavioral Health and Wellness Program

Diabetes research has figured prominently in the University’s history for over a century. Important findings include understanding insulin’s role in converting glucose in our blood into fuel for our bodies. Our landmark discovery of proinsulin led to the creation of synthetic human insulin—a vital part of the daily treatment of millions of diabetes patients. More recently, our researchers have identified most of the genes associated with genetic forms of diabetes, opening a new frontier in the battle of this disease. Building on these pioneering discoveries, the Kovler Diabetes Center has emerged as a leader in the treatment and care of diabetes patients—not just their physical needs, but their psychological and emotional health, too. Through Kovler’s Family Behavioral Health & Wellness program, we seek to help patients address mental-health issues arising from their disease and which can have a profoundly negative impact on their lives.

Amount Awarded: $50,000

Kovler Diabetes Center
Preclinical Characterization of a Novel Satiety Hormone – Betabindin

Obesity and its associated complications of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease is a worrisome worldwide epidemic, especially problematic in the United States. Although modifications to diet and increased exercise can be effective for reducing obesity, long-term compliance with changes in lifestyle is poor. There is a dire need for alternative and safe therapeutic strategies. Recently, Dr. Christopher Rhodes’s laboratory at the Kovler Diabetes Center has discovered a new peptide hormone, betabindin, which is produced by pancreatic ß-cells that make insulin. Intriguingly, it is secreted only when insulin is not. Since insulin is secreted during a meal, the betabindin secretion after a meal likely induces a satiety effect. Early studies indicated that betabindin administration to normal mice causes satiety and significant weight-loss. Substantiating the function of betabindin as a novel, safe and effective alternative to treat obesity could lead to a new and viable method to combat this epidemic.

Amount Awarded: $35,000

Physical Sciences—James Franck Institute
Developing a Responsive Smart Material to
Reduce the Occurrence of Sports-Related Brain Injury

Sports-related brain injuries can have long-term cognitive and behavioral effects. Most research on protective equipment caters to professional sports, but children and youths are more likely than adults to suffer concussions. Furthermore, protective gear available for these younger athletes is often bulky or ill-fitting. A new approach for designing lightweight, self-fitting materials is based on a special class of fluids with the remarkable property that they solidify upon impact. The proposed project will extend the scientific understanding of these materials to be able to predict and optimize impact energy dissipation. The results will then be used to develop a new class of protective gear for mitigating brain injuries. This research is uniquely suited to the University of Chicago’s culture of trans-disciplinary inquiry, and it leverages our expertise in fundamental scientific studies while addressing a question of societal need.

Amount Awarded: $61,042

School of Social Service Administration
When the Greatest Success Is Just the Beginning: Moving from On-Track to Graduation to a Focus on College Ready in CPS High Schools

We propose to work with 16 schools in the Network for College Success (NCS) to build off the existing work on using the 9th grade on track indicator. There is a national consensus that the changing economy means that college enrollment and graduation rates must improve. Current research by the Consortium on Chicago School Research points to the inescapable conclusion that high school grades are key to college success and that 9th grade is the epicenter for improving GPAs. We can demonstrate that the largest barrier to college graduation is the low grades that far too many CPS students earn in high school. While CPS 9th graders see tremendous grade decline, 9th grade also has potential to be the highest leverage point for improvement. The work of Chicago high schools around freshman on-track demonstrates that high schools can make rapid massive changes in 9th grade performance.

Amount Awarded: $50,000

The Arts and Cultural Institutions

Arts + Public Life Initiative
Artist-in-Residence; a creative collaborative

The Artist-in-Residence program is open to Chicago-based artists and groups whose work explores issues of race, politics and culture. The residency program aims to advance the opportunities available to artists who are underrepresented in the Chicago and national arts scenes. Outstanding artists are given the opportunity to draw on the University of Chicago’s resources, including its faculty and student body, to develop, advance, and disseminate their work; to deepen individual practices through critique, public engagement, skills and knowledge sharing; and to create space for personal inquiry and collaborative relationships to flourish. The residency program not only elevates the artist-in-residence; it also leads to engaged and collaborative work with University faculty and students.

Amount Awarded: $32,500

Quality of Student Life

University of Chicago Divinity School
Grounds of Being Coffee Shop Renovations

Every 45 seconds, Grounds of Being serves 12 ounces of coffee to people from all over the University community. The mission of the coffee shop is to serve the local and larger community—it employs only students, sells food from Hyde Park restaurants, and retails only sustainable, direct trade coffee. It also operates as an anchor for various members of the community—from doctors to students to Nobel laureates. After approximately 40 years of service in its basement home at Swift Hall, the coffee shop is finally undergoing major renovations. As planners have gained clearer assessment of the necessary work, costs have risen. The Divinity School asks the Women’s Board for assistance so renovations can be done comprehensively, and finished with quality, durable furniture and fixtures, so that Grounds of Being can continue to thrive as a source of camaraderie and community for the University.

Amount Awarded: $22,000

Institute for Molecular Engineering
iGEM Competition (2015 UChicago Team)

GeneHackers is a scientific research RSO that annually prepares a team of undergraduates to represent the University of Chicago at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition. iGEM is a prestigious synthetic biology competition in which undergraduates from over 200 campuses across the globe devise and engineer novel and useful biological systems to tackle real-world problems. Participation in iGEM will increase UChicago undergraduates’ presence in synthetic biology and also increase students’ exposure to biotechnology. Since the iGEM team is entirely student-run, students design and conduct their own project from start to finish. This encourages students’ full engagement in their project and provides an invaluable experience for them to expand their horizons, and hone their communication, problem-solving, and organization skills.

Amount Awarded: $14,000

Physical Sciences—James Franck Institute
Upgrading the Yerkes Observatory 24-inch Telescope to
Support Undergraduate Astronomy

We propose to renovate and upgrade the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory 24-inch telescope and associated instrumentation to enhance their utility as educational resources for our undergraduate community. The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics is currently expanding and restructuring the undergraduate courses it will offer in the coming year. A key feature of these classes will be inquiry-based learning using digital data students acquire with telescopes and analyze by themselves. We have also begun involving undergraduates in extracurricular activities at the Observatory and will employ some of them in the upgrade work. This project builds on hardware and software designs developed during a prior program called “Skynet,” adding new capabilities for spectroscopy and remote observing and giving students experience in instrument design and construction. Though the proposed work focuses on Chicago undergraduates, it will also benefit K-12 and community outreach efforts.

Amount Awarded: $27,900

Community Outreach

Physical Sciences—James Franck Institute
Materials Teaching and Design Lab

We propose to create a materials science learning and fabrication space intended for outreach to area Chicago Public Schools students. The Design Lab will be home to several 3D printers, digitizers, a laser cutter, and a CNC mill. This allows our Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) to expand its existing shared facilities and open up its resources to the local community. We will develop inquiry-based curricula for students to explore modern approaches for digital fabrication and the scientific principles that underpin these methods. The effort will be piloted through the creation of intensive summer programs with our existing educational partners at CPS including Lindblom Math & Science Academy and Drake Elementary. We also plan to work with the Marwen School to explore the intersection of materials science and art. In subsequent years, we plan to expand to more schools, establish programs during the school year, and create teaching training modules intended for CPS educators.

Amount Awarded: $25,996

Pritzker School of Medicine
Pritzker Reach Out and Read

Reach Out and Read (ROR) is a national program that promotes early literacy and parental engagement through distribution of books to children and information on literacy to parents at pediatric well-child visits for children ages 6 months to 5 years. The ROR program at Friend Family Health Center (FFHC), a federally qualified health center near the UCM campus, leverages the volunteer efforts of students at Pritzker School of Medicine to coordinate the program and facilitate the involvement of 60 healthcare providers, who distribute one book to each child at clinic visits. The leadership role of students at Pritzker School of Medicine in the FFHC ROR program offers a unique combination of educational and service opportunities for University of Chicago students and contributes to efforts to improve patient health care outcomes for the South Side Chicago community. We seek funding from the University of Chicago Women’s Board to support the distribution of books to 3,000 children at FFHC well-child clinic visits in 2016. We expect that this program will allow Pritzker School of Medicine students to understand and better meet the needs of the South Side Chicago community, foster students’ professional growth, and promote improved health outcomes and literacy among children and families in our community.

Amount Awarded: $10,000

University of Chicago Laboratory Schools
Leveraging Partnerships for Equitable Opportunities: Engaging UChicago Laboratory and UChicago Charter School Students in Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and University of Chicago Charter Schools (UCCS) share the goal of preparing students for success in college and in life. Though there have been tangential intersections between them, we believe that this is the moment to formalize a partnership that will benefit both institutions. By partnering with UCCS faculty, we can jointly develop a curriculum for a “Summer Field Course in the Biological Sciences” at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) for up to 20 high school students from both Lab and UCCS. This joint field experience would provide an experience that is at once academically rigorous and community-focused. Because the students will live and work together for the duration of the course, this unique opportunity can serve as a bridge to greater understanding, benefiting both the schools and the community they share.

Amount Awarded: $20,000