Month: October 2011

Major Research Instrumentation Program Limited Submission Opportunity

Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) LIMITED SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITY

Because a limited number of applications can be submitted for the following program, an internal screening process will be required. If you are considering submitting an application for the program listed below an on-line Notification of Intent to Submit<http://osp.uconn.edu/limited_sub_intent.cfm> must be completed by the requested Intent to Submit Deadline.

When submitting pre-proposals for the internal screening process, be sure to check the Guidelines<http://osp.uconn.edu/guidelines.php> for updates. Additional instructions will be provided to those submitting Notification of Intents to Submit for the program noted below. Pre-proposals not adhering to these guidelines and instructions will be returned.

Major Research Instrumentation Program<http://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/programs/mri/>

The Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) serves to increase access to shared scientific and engineering instruments for research and research training in our Nation’s institutions of higher education, museums and science centers, and non-profit organizations. This program especially seeks to improve the quality and expand the scope of research and research training in science and engineering, by providing shared instrumentation that fosters the integration of research and education in research-intensive learning environments. Development and acquisition of research instrumentation for shared inter- and/or intra-organization use is encouraged, as are development efforts that leverage the strengths of private sector partners as appropriate for the goals of the MRI Program.

To accomplish these goals, the MRI program assists with the acquisition or development of shared research instrumentation that is, in general, too costly and/or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs. Instruments are expected to be operational for regular research use by the end of the award period. For the purposes of the MRI program, proposals must be for either acquisition or development of a single instrument or for equipment that, when combined, serves as an integrated research instrument (physical or virtual). The MRI program does not support the acquisition or development of a suite of instruments to outfit research laboratories/facilities or to conduct independent research activities simultaneously.

Limit: Three proposals; 1 for instrument development and 2 for instrument acquisition Intent to Submit Deadline: October 25, 2011 Internal Screening Deadline: November 14, 2011, 8:00 a.m. Sponsor Deadline: January 26, 2012

Contact information: Larisa Zagorski (Larisa.Zagorski@uconn.edu) (860) 486-6378.

CHIP Affiliate Named Distinguished Professor

2011 Board of Trustees Distinguished Professors to be Honored October 25

from UConn Daily Digest – click here for original posting

Please join the Board of Trustees, President Susan Herbst and Provost Peter Nicholls at a reception and ceremony to honor the 2011 Board of Trustees Distinguished Professors.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. UConn Foundation Building, Storrs campus

This designation is the University’s highest academic honor. The Distinguished Professor award is reserved exclusively to recognize faculty who have achieved exceptional distinction in three areas – scholarship, teaching and service – while at the University of Connecticut. Professors who have received this distinction in the year 2011 are:

Carl M. Maresh, Kinesiology John B. Morris, Pharmacology & Toxicology

Kindly respond to University Events at 860-486-1038 or via email to rsvp@uconn.edu

CHIP PI Uses GIS in HIV Prevention Efforts

CHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Blair T. Johnson has performed federally-funded HIV prevention research for the past 16 years, but his latest work in the field required the social psychology professor in UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) to master a new discipline – geospatial analysis.

Blair Johnson
Blair Johnson, Professor of Psychology and CHIP Principal Investigator
For the past year, since the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) awarded him a K-18 mentored training grant, Johnson has immersed himself in the study of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), from reading the field’s leading journals and monitoring GIS listservs to auditing UConn courses in geographical statistics and meeting regularly with his mentor on the grant, geographer Ellen Cromley of the UConn Health Center.

Johnson is fusing his new training with his internationally-known expertise in meta-analysis to determine how geospatial factors, such as environment, culture and politics can exert sway on HIV prevention interventions’ efficacy. His ultimate goal is to assemble a geospatial landscape of HIV prevention interventions and publish an interactive map on the Internet so that it can become a resource for researchers, public health workers and policy makers around the world.

His “Syntheses of HIV & AIDS Research Project (SHARP)” research team has begun building such a map for HIV prevention efforts in Africa and next plans to create a similar map for the U.S.

“HIV requires thinking about society,” Johnson said. “Unless you think about relationships with others, the networks individuals are involved in, willing and unwillingly, you can’t put the epidemic in perspective.

“Structural level descriptions – at the level of neighborhoods as well as countries – help predict the success of interventions,” he added.

Johnson said his work “will elucidate what strategies are best equipped to create the best interventions for some of the hardest hit regions of the world.

“By creating a map where prevention efforts were studied, policy makers will be able to see what studies have been done, how old they are and if they can still trust the results,” he said.

Last fall, SHARP published an article based on its preliminary work incorporating geospatially defined social indicators into a meta-analysis of HIV prevention interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean. The team found that in this region the Human Development Index (HDI), the United Nations’ index of development based on life expectancy, education and a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), is inversely related to HIV trial outcomes. In other words, HIV prevention interventions yielded very little results in wealthier nations, while in poorer countries the interventions produced better results. They have found similar results for HIV prevention trials in Africa and Asia, as well.

Their results also suggest that HIV prevention interventions designed for African women yield marked short-term success, but the power dynamics at play between men and women in Africa threaten the long-term success of such interventions.

Johnson said his initial papers published using geospatial strategies have been a start, but the training he has undergone through his one-year grant is now allowing him to conduct similar analyses with greater detail and sophistication.

This latest work builds on the SHARP team’s recent line of research using meta-analytic methods to develop a theory of HIV prevention based on individuals’ linkages to important networks and the resources they share.

The work of Johnson’s SHARP team has been made possible through three, consecutive, NIMH regular research grants. SHARP is among NIMH’s longest-running HIV prevention grants.

Noted UConn Autism Researcher Is a New CHIP PI

Early diagnosis of and early expert intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is considered critical to dramatically alter the developmental trajectory of children with ASD.

Yet, many children with ASD wait months, if not longer, between a parent initially suspecting autism and the child receiving an official diagnosis, and again between diagnosis and the start of early intervention (EI). And, in some parts of the world, EI programs are limited or non-existent.

Deborah Fein
Deborah Fein, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics and CHIP Principal Investigator
With her new, three-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics and new CHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Deborah Fein will develop and test a series of training videos for parents of children with ASD, teaching them basic behavioral and developmental principles they can use at home to improve their children’s progress.

Initially, Fein and her collaborators will test the training videos as a supplement to EI, but they also envision the training materials becoming an invaluable resource for parents waiting for their children to begin EI and for parents and their children with ASD living in areas without available EI services.

“There are hundreds of thousands of kids [with ASD] around the world who get no intervention at all. And, if they are in a country with early intervention programs, the interventions still are likely minimal. Parents will never replace Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists, but there are some basic concepts that, if you can explain them and teach them to parents, can make a huge difference,” Fein said.

Fein acknowledges that a fair amount of training materials already exist for parents of children with ASD. However, she said, most of the existing training programs are not evidence-based and use jargon unfamiliar to parents.

By contrast, Fein’s videos will be based on ABA guidelines and practice – “the most evidence-based in the world,” she said. The videos also will use simple language, so they are accessible to parents from varying educational backgrounds.

For example, the videos will not discuss “reinforcement, task analysis, and prompts” in those words, Fein said. Instead, there will be an emphasis on not encouraging negative behaviors, breaking complicated tasks down into smaller steps, and using hints.

Fein envisions the videos filling an important public health gap and becoming a resource for healthcare professionals who want to provide parents of children with ASD with helpful supplemental materials.

A limited amount of research to date suggests that parents can deliver some of the basic components of the ABA intervention effectively themselves, Fein said. Several areas improved by parent training include adaptive skills, problematic behaviors, and child communication.

Joint attention (JA), in particular, can increase in response to parent training and increasing JA will be a major focus of the first set of video tapes, Fein said, as the extent to which JA can be increased among children with ASD predicts the progress they are able to make in multiple domains, including language, symbolic thinking, and social skills.

Fein has more than 40 years of experience as a clinician and is an internationally-known expert in the field of autism research, including her role in developing the most widely-used autism screening tool in the world. She currently has two other active, federally-funded autism grants.

Still, Fein and co-investigator Marianne Barton, a UConn associate professor of psychology and director of clinical training for the Psychology Department, approached CHIP experts, including CHIP Director and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology Jeff Fisher, for input on this particular project, which Fein calls her “first foray into intervention work.”

“CHIP has the expertise in changing health behavior and this proposal is all about trying to change parent behavior, because sometimes parent behavior can inadvertently hinder children with ASD making progress,” Fein said.

Some of the ideas Fisher, also a co-investigator on the grant, gave Fein and Barton included providing lots of examples to illustrate the basic concepts they are trying to teach the parents, providing video testimonials from other parents of children with ASD, ensuring, whenever possible, that the parents have a supportive network, and empowering parents or emphasizing the concept of self-efficacy.

Fein said many parents may be going it alone without a supportive network and so, for that reason, it also is important for the training videos to provide as much of that parent support as possible.

One goal of the project, tied to improving the progress of children with ASD, is increasing parents’ feelings of self-efficacy and reducing their stress, which also has implications for the parents’ health. Fein and colleagues, however, are aware that empowering parents to deliver an intervention also could increase parents’ stress, because of the implied responsibility. Accordingly, they plan for the videos to caution parents’ against disappointment should their children not progress as much or as quickly as they anticipate.

Fein and her team plan to develop, produce, and test the first four of eight planned training videos initially and will solicit ongoing feedback from multiple stakeholders, including healthcare providers and parents, to maximize the videos’ acceptability to diverse audiences.

They plan to include at least 20 children with ASD – both boys and girls, ages 18 months to 6 years, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds – in the videos to illustrate various aspects of the ABA concepts.

Then, they plan to include 30 families, recruited from Fein’s early detection of autism study, to test the acceptability and clarity of the program to parents as well as its efficacy using a variety of tools, from parent diaries to a parent stress screening tool and questionnaires.

Fein’s long-term plans for the project include a large-scale, randomized clinical trial and the translation of the videos into different languages for distribution around the world. She calls her vision “grandiose” but she already has interested collaborators in Mexico, Albania, Turkey, and Japan.

Her collaborators on the grant include co-investigators Barton, Fisher, Assistant Research Professor of Psychology Thyde Dumont-Matthieu and Psychology Professor and Department Head James Green and consultants Lynn Brennan, an independent behavioral consultant, Harriet Levin, an independent occupational therapist, Wendy Stone, a Vanderbilt University psychology and human development professor, and Bridget Taylor, a clinical advisor at Rethink Autism.

New CHIP PI Targets Critical HIV Prevention Population

New CHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Lisa Eaton, an assistant research professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), recently won a five-year National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant to conduct a large-scale, randomized clinical trial of an HIV prevention intervention she successfully piloted in Atlanta.

Lisa Eaton
Lisa Eaton, CHIP Principal Investigator
The trial of Eaton’s Think Twice intervention will involve 670 HIV-negative, young, black men who have sex with men (MSM).

Think Twice is designed to teach MSM the risks associated with an HIV prevention strategy known as “serosorting” and to empower them to make educated choices about their sexual behaviors and to effectively manage the scenarios in which HIV transmission is most likely to occur.

Serosorting – limiting sexual partners to those who are of the same HIV status – has emerged as an alternative to condom use, but actually has been shown to increase, rather than decrease, HIV risk for a variety of reasons, Eaton said.

“This grant is a sign of the state of the epidemic in the U.S. in regard to young, gay, black men. Their rates of HIV rival any third world country we would consider hardest hit by the epidemic,” Eaton said. “It is totally out of control, particularly in places like Atlanta. Data from the CDC are startling, it’s a crisis.”

According to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August, new HIV cases nationwide rose by nearly 50 percent between 2006 and 2009 among young, black, gay men.

Compounding the crisis, Eaton said, community-based prevention programs targeting MSM have dwindled during the past decade and only three evidence-based interventions designed specifically for MSM are disseminated by the CDC, none of which are individual-level or brief interventions.

Think Twice is a brief (40 minutes), single-session intervention delivered by a peer counselor: it is designed to be implemented in a cost-effective manner in public health settings.

The intervention has two critical components: a focus on informed personal decision-making around partner selection and the creation of a teachable moment, a time period and emotional state in which people are more open to changing their behavior.

Think Twice Cover
This is the cover of the graphic novel used in CHIP PI Lisa Eaton’s Think Twice intervention
Think Twice is delivered through a graphic novel created to convey messages about serosorting in an interactive, informative, and non-intimidating manner. The comic book depicts a fictitious (but evidence-based) gay man who tests HIV negative, uses serosorting as an HIV prevention strategy, and then tests positive at the end of the story.

The peer counselor and study participant use the story as a springboard for a discussion about how the main character could have become infected (his partner could be acutely HIV infected which would result in an  HIV negative test; they may not have explicitly discussed HIV status; the partner could have misrepresented his HIV status; or the partner may be relying on outdated test results) and then the counselor and participant work together to identify ways the character could have reduced his HIV risk.

The next piece of the intervention, which creates the teachable moment, involves showing participants a visual diagram of the character’s sexual partners and acts, asking the study participant to create a diagram of his own sexual partners and acts, and then asking the participant to compare the two diagrams.

“Through this activity, participants readily reflected on instances in which they potentially exposed themselves to HIV, thus creating a teachable moment,” Eaton wrote in an article about the Think Twice pilot study published in the American Journal of Public Health during the spring semester.

Finally, a peer counselor helps each participant develop an individual risk reduction plan he considers reasonable.

Among Eaton’s pilot findings:

  • Men in the serosorting intervention arm of the pilot reported fewer sexual partners than did men in the control arm.
  • Those in the serosorting intervention condition also reported increased condom-use self-efficacy and increased perceptions of risk for HIV transmission.

The Think Twice pilot involved 149 at-risk gay men living in Atlanta, 80 percent of whom were African American, and it took place in a community-based setting.

“We’re working with the right people, at the right time, in the right place – and the intervention is very practical,” Eaton said. “We’re in a position to make a major impact given the infrastructure we already have in Atlanta.”

Eaton, who earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from UConn in 2009, has worked as part of CHIP Principal Investigator and Psychology Professor Seth Kalichman’s Southeastern HIV/AIDS Research Evaluation (SHARE) Project for the past eight years.

Through Kalichman’s continuously-funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) projects, SHARE has worked with people living with HIV (PLWH) in Atlanta for the past 15 years. Kalichman estimates SHARE Project has engaged more than 4,500 PLWH during that time.

Eaton credits her success in securing funding for a large-scale clinical trial so early in her career in part to Kalichman’s mentorship during the past eight years. Kalichman is a co-investigator (co-I) on the grant. Eaton also credits Trace Kershaw at Yale School of Public Health as being instrumental in her success by providing frequent guidance in grantsmanship.

Other members of SHARE Project working on Eaton’s R01 trial include: Daniel Driffin, Kevin English and Moira Kalichman.

CICATS “Show and Tell” Comes to CHIP Nov. 10th

Unsure whether CICATS has relevance for your research or even of what the acronym means?

The Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (CICATS) is making a series of “roadshow-style Show and Tell” visits to all UConn departments and centers with faculty conducting clinical and/or translational research.

CICATS will make its brief presentation about its services and staff at CHIP on Thursday, Nov. 10th at noon in Room 204, to be immediately followed by a CHIP Lecture Series event featuring Donaghue Foundation President Lynn Garner, who will discuss future trends in health foundation funding.

CICATS speakers from the UConn Health Center will include:

  • Dr. James Grady, who will talk about CICATS biostatistics services;
  • Dr. Rebecca Crowell, who will explain the CICATS Institutional Review Board, consultation services, and the Design Laboratory; and
  • Nancy Dean, who will talk about the Clinical Research Center and education and training opportunities in clinical and translational science.

The Donaghue Foundation funds clinical and translational research, so CHIP researchers who attend both Nov. 10th events will have the opportunity to hear about clinical and translational research funding opportunities as well as services available at UConn for supporting such research.

Doctoral Students with CHIP Connection Are 1st Farber Fellows

Two psychology doctoral students working with CHIP Principal Investigators as their advisors have been named the University’s first Farber Fellows. Excerpt from the article:

Anna Schierberl Scherr and Benjamin Meagher
Anna Schierberl Scherr and Benjamin Meagher
Two Ph.D. candidates in psychology, Anna Schierberl Scherr and Benjamin Meagher, are the first in what will be a long line of Farber Graduate Fellows, funded through a generous trust established by former faculty member Maurice Farber before he died in 2009.

The trust will provide an annual total of $24,000 to each fellow. The fellowships will also include tuition remission and health benefits, and will be held by students for two to five years, until they complete their degree.

Click here for the full article.

NIH Repays Researchers’ Student Loans

NIH Repays Researchers’ Student Loans; Application Cycle Open Sept. 1 – Nov. 15

Application Cycle for NIH Loan Repayment Programs Opens Sept. 1

Two-Year Contracts Repay up to $70,000 of Researchers’ Student Loan Debt

Please share this announcement with researchers and other individuals in your organization who may benefit from the NIH Loan Repayment Programs.

The NIH Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs) repay up to $70,000 of qualified educational debt when participants commit to conducting at least two years of biomedical or behavioral research. Opportunities are available in five research areas — clinical; pediatric; health disparities; contraception and infertility; and clinical research for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. On average, 40 percent of new LRP applications are funded, and a 2009 evaluation showed that LRP participants stay in research careers longer, apply for and receive more research grants, and become independent investigators more frequently than peers who do not receive LRP funding.

Eligibility: Applicants must possess a doctoral-level degree (with the exception of the contraception and infertility LRP); devote at least 20 hours per week to conducting qualified research funded by a university, nonprofit organization, or federal, state, or local government entity; have qualified educational loan debt equal to or exceeding 20 percent of their institutional base salary; and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Applicants are not required to have an NIH grant to apply for or participate in the LRPs.

Application Cycle: September 1, 2011 — November 15, 2011

Apply Online: Visit http://www.lrp.nih.gov for additional information and to start an online application. For application tips and an overview of the programs, watch a webinar by LRP director Dr. Milton Hernandez at http://go.usa.gov/aHx. Also, for continuous application cycle news and updates, follow us on Twitter @NIH_LRP or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nihlrp

Questions? Contact the LRP Information Center at 866-849-4047 or lrp@nih.gov