The AB Nexus program has announced its sixth round of grant awards to researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the University of Colorado Boulder. From advancing new Alzheimer’s treatments to developing predictive computer models to help youth in crisis, the awarded teams are advancing a wide range of collaborative research projects aimed at improving human health and well-being.
AB NEXUS BY THE NUMBERS*
*Since December 2020
AB Nexus is a unique program that fosters interdisciplinary research collaborations between CU Anschutz and CU Boulder. By bringing together experts from multiple fields – psychologists, computer scientists, biomedical engineers, chemists, oncologists and pharmacists, to name a few – the program has catalyzed a new culture of research collaboration while expediting scientific discovery.
“Research institutions often have a reputation for working in silos, but we’re shifting that paradigm across our campuses through AB Nexus,” said Thomas Flaig, MD, vice chancellor for research at CU Anschutz. “This innovative program brings together diverse research teams to collaborate in finding solutions to health challenges across disciplines.”
‘Growing sense of shared purpose’
Since launching nearly three years ago as a pilot project, AB Nexus and its co-sponsors have awarded more than $3 million in grant funding to 48 intercampus teams. In addition, the program has positioned both campuses for success in securing additional external funding – particularly for grants that prioritize team-based research.
“The outcomes arising from AB Nexus have far exceeded our expectations,” said Massimo Ruzzene, PhD, CU Boulder vice chancellor for research and innovation and dean of the institutes. “Project teams are securing almost $7 in follow-on funding for every $1 we’ve invested, and we see evidence that the return on investment is increasing as those projects continue to produce new research findings.”
In under three years, the teams that received AB Nexus grants went on to secure more than $15 million in external grants and published more than 25 peer-reviewed studies, with many collaborations still in the early phases.
“Just as impressive is the growing sense of shared purpose across our campuses and the new collaborations that AB Nexus stimulates,” Ruzzene said.
Tackling a range of health challenges
The spring 2023 round of AB Nexus awards provides nearly $825,000 across 11 teams – seven new collaborations and four projects that expand upon existing collaborations. These funds include generous co-sponsor support: $62,500 from the University of Colorado Cancer Center; $40,000 from the Linda Crnic Institute for Down syndrome; $22,500 from the Crnic Institute Boulder Branch (a BioFrontiers Institute research group); $45,000 from the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science; and $10,000 from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
Among the collaborative research projects that received AB Nexus awards:
- A neuroscientist and physiologist are studying the effects of in-utero nicotine exposure and whether it increases the risk of ADHD, autism and substance abuse in future generations.
- A biochemist and oncologist are collaborating to understand the mechanisms of a novel biomarker that could be used to determine which patients will respond to a targeted cancer drug.
- A computer scientist and psychologist will utilize computer modeling to identify the physiologic signals that precede severe problem behaviors in developmentally disabled youth, potentially enabling caregivers to intervene before a situation escalates to a crisis.
- An endocrinologist and biomedical engineer are teaming up to study specialized immune cells in the brain (microglia) and determine whether targeting the lipid metabolism process could mitigate the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
- A pharmacologist and psychologist are working to better understand the mechanisms that link early life stress to prefrontal cortex impairment in the hopes of guiding new strategies for treating anxiety disorders later in life.
With the support of joint-campus leadership, the next AB Nexus award cycle will occur in Spring 2024. More information will be available online this fall.
“When we work together across disciplines and apply our collective scientific knowledge to pressing research questions, we can make a significant impact. That’s what this program is all about,” Flaig said.
Spring 2023 AB Nexus Awardees
- A Novel Mechanism of Action for an Actionable Predictive Biomarker for Antitumor Therapies, led by Todd Pitts, associate professor of medical oncology at CU Anschutz, and Xuedong Liu, professor of biochemistry at CU Boulder. Existing collaboration. Co-sponsor: Cancer Center.
- Developing a High-throughput and Accelerated Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing Method, led by Lakshmi Chauhan, assistant professor of infectious diseases at CU Anschutz, and Anushree Chatterjee, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at CU Boulder. New collaboration. Co-sponsors: CU Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science and the CU Boulder Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
- The Effect of Human GCKR P446L Genetic Variant on Alcohol Behaviors and Metabolism, led by Darleen Sandoval, professor of pediatrics at CU Anschutz, and Marissa Ehringer, professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder. New collaboration.
- Employing Simulations and Experiments to Optimize Strategies for Co-activating Microglial Receptors to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease, led by Kimberley Bruce, assistant professor of endocrinology, metabolism and diabetes at CU Anschutz, and Kayla Sprenger, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at CU Boulder. Existing collaboration. Co-sponsors: CU Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science and the CU Boulder Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
- Mechanisms of Zinc-Dependent Maintenance of Heterochromatin Domains, led by Srinivas Ramachandran, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular genetics at CU Anschutz, and Amy Palmer, professor of biochemistry at CU Boulder. New collaboration.
- Multi-generation Impact of Developmental Nicotine Exposure on Mitochondrial Function, led by Manisha Patel, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at CU Anschutz, and, Jerry Stitzel, professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder. New collaboration.
- Novel Methods to Prospectively Predict the Occurrence of Severe Behavior Problems in Youth, led by Patrick Romani, associate professor of psychiatry at CU Anschutz, and Sidney D'Mello, professor of computer science, psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder. New collaboration.
- Peptide Modulators of CaV3.2 for Treating Pain Disorders, led by Slobodan Todorovic, professor of anesthesiology at CU Anschutz, and Michael Stowell, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at CU Boulder. Existing collaboration.
- Pericentrin Self-assembly Regulates Intracellular Trafficking for Cilia Formation and Signaling, led by Chad Pearson, associate professor of cell and developmental biology at CU Anschutz and Loren Hough, associate professor of physics and BioFrontiers Institute faculty, at CU Boulder. Existing collaboration. Co-sponsors: Linda Crnic Institute for Down syndrome and Crnic Institute Boulder Branch (a BioFrontiers Institute research group).
- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome in Persons with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Vestibular-mediated Mechanisms and Brain Biomarkers, led by Jeffrey Hebert, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at CU Anschutz and Allison Anderson, assistant professor of aerospace engineering sciences at CU Boulder. New collaboration.
- Prefrontal Mechanisms Underlying the Enduring Impact of Early Life Adversity, led by Won Chan Oh, assistant professor of pharmacology at CU Anschutz, and Michael Baratta, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder. New collaboration.