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Research

Healthy Gut and Healthy Heart: AB Nexus Funds Second Round of Grants

In its second funding cycle, AB Nexus program is awarding eight teams grants for innovative research.

Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date May 26, 2021
What You Need To Know

The AB Nexus grant program announced eight awards to researchers collaborating between CU Anschutz and CU Boulder. The program is supported by the president’s office and leadership at both campuses.

Now well into its first year, AB Nexus announced a new round of grants totaling $550,000 for collaborative projects from researchers at CU Boulder and CU Anschutz that aim to improve human wellbeing through basic science and translational research approaches. 

The grant program is supported by the president’s office and leadership at both campuses to create opportunities for CU Boulder and CU Anschutz experts to collaborate and drive innovation. 

“The AB Nexus initiative continues to advance critical and innovative research that addresses issues affecting human health and quality of life. In the process, it demonstrates the power of inter-campus collaboration and the far-reaching impact of research happening at the University of Colorado,” said CU President Mark Kennedy. 

In its second funding cycle, the bi-annual AB Nexus research collaboration grant program is awarding a total of eight teams–six new collaborations that represent innovative research topics and two teams that will advance existing collaborative work in new directions.

It is wonderful to see these new and creative project collaborations between researchers at CU Anschutz and CU Boulder via the AB Nexus program,” said Thomas Flaig, MD, Vice Chancellor for Research CU Denver | Anschutz.  “I believe there is great continued growth potential in these interdisciplinary interactions.” 

Research teams selected explore transformational ideas that are poised to capture external funding. AB Nexus enables these teams to acquire preliminary data needed to pursue larger opportunities. 

“Awarded teams showed how they will leverage this initial AB Nexus support to attract future external funding,” said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Terri Fiez, “including timelines for pursuing specific calls for proposals that often grow in scale and impact.”

The spring 2021 cohort of eight projects embodies these AB Nexus goals, with examples including:

Microbiome and Health

Diverse health conditions like obesity, anxiety and cancer may link to our gut microbiome. In the colon, mucus acts as a barrier, preventing harmful microorganisms from entering the body and causing damage. The project, “Swimming through mucus: Anisotropy and other obstacles for bacteria” will identify how some microorganisms penetrate the protective mucus layer. 

The new collaboration will establish a strong interdisciplinary foundation between biophysics and mucosal defense research. Using the data acquired, the team plans to pursue additional funding opportunities sponsored by NSF, joint NSF-NIH, DOD and foundations. Research discoveries made through this initial study will fuel future plans to expand the team to examine treatment strategies, such as drug delivery across the mucus layer.  

Principal investigators for the project, which was awarded $50,000, are Nuris Figueroa, assistant professor in the Department of Physics at CU Boulder, and Christopher Evans, PhD, professor in the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at CU Anschutz.

Preventing Cardiovascular Disease

The development of fibrous connective tissue after heart injury can result in scarring, stiffening and organ failure. Of only two FDA-approved treatments to prevent fibrosis, neither have a significant impact on patient quality of life, symptoms or mortality. An existing collaboration, “Biomaterial and Small Molecule Targeting of Macrophage BRD4 to Prevent Pathological Cardiac Fibrosis,” was awarded $125,000 to pursue outside-the-box ideas to develop innovative therapies.

The multidisciplinary team includes expertise in bioengineering, biomaterials, epigenetics, inflammation, drug discovery and cardiac biology. The study will uncover new information about the mechanism of fibrosis and inform multiple new therapeutic innovations for patients with chronic fibrosis in end-stage cardiac diseases. With these findings, the team will apply for larger-scale NIH funding, as well as pursue SBIR/STTR opportunities and industry sponsorship.  

Principal investigators for this project are Timothy McKinsey, PhD, professor in the Department of Cardiology at CU Anschutz, Kristi Anseth, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at CU Boulder and Ronald Vagnozzi, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Cardiology at CU Anschutz.

Connected Health Community

AB Nexus is funded jointly by the CU Office of the President, the CU Anschutz Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the CU Boulder Research & Innovation Office. 

In addition to the grant program, which will accept a new round of proposals in fall 2021, AB Nexus provides a variety of resources, including personalized support from partnership specialists, proposal development assistance and funding search training, among others.

To learn more about opportunities to collaborate across campuses, visit the AB Nexus website or email diane.ladell@cuanschutz.edu or ​ kristen.kruszewski@colorado.edu.