American Recovery & Reinvestment Act
On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) into law (Public Law 111-5). ARRA committed $787 billion to various federal programs in order to stimulate the economy. A portion of these funds were distributed to federal and state agencies to allocate to sponsored research.
Investigators at CUNY have been awarded more than 100 new and supplemental grants; the awards, totaling more than $51M, range in amount from about $4,000 to $3 million. Among the ARRA research grants CUNY faculty has been awarded so far, are two highly competitive Challenge Grants administered by the National Institutes of Health.
Important ARRA Funded Research at CUNY
"Funding of research through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has enabled important, high-impact research at CUNY that will have direct and immediate effects on society"
A Major Breakthrough in Solving the Mystery behind the Main Cause of Cardiovascular Death
Dr. Sheldon Weinbaum, a Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The City College was awarded a prestigious Challenge Grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The project, Predicting Cardiovascular Risk in Vulnerable Plaque Rupture received a two year grant of $764,666. The Challenge Grant program was designed to support research on special topic areas which addressed high priority scientific and health research challenges. The NIH received more than 26,000 applications for these grants—three times the number for a normal review round. Dr. Weinbaum’s application was very highly ranked due to the significance of the discovery and the novelty of the science involved. <read more>
Dr. Weinbaum and his colleague Luis Cardoso, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at CCNY, have made a significant breakthrough in helping to solve one of the major causes of cardiovascular death. More than half of the 500,000 coronary artery deaths each year in the U.S. are caused by an acute coronary syndrome due to the rupture of the thin fibrous cap overlying a special type of lesion in the arterial wall known as a vulnerable plaque; these lesions are caused by a build up of cells and fatty materials in a lipid pool beneath the cap. A thrombus or clot will form instantaneously when the thin fibrous cap ruptures. The mechanism as to why some thin caps rupture and others do not is very likely the single most important unanswered question in life threatening atherothrombotic lesions which are the major cause of acute coronary syndromes and cardiovascular death.
Drs. Weinbaum, Cardoso and their former PhD student, Dr. Yuliya Vengrenyuk, provide the first experimental evidence for a new paradigm of thin cap fibroatheroma rupture, suggesting that minute cellular level microcalcifications located in the cap itself, which were identified for the first time, increase tissue stress concentration and plaque vulnerability. In the proposed research they investigate the impact of microcalcifications on cap rupture using a three-dimensional (3D) multi-level finite element model of human coronary lesions based on high resolution micro-CT imaging. These studies, if successful, could resolve the long-standing mystery as to why some vulnerable plaque lesions are more prone to rupture than others and, as a result, provide vital new criteria for the detection and treatment of vulnerable plaque.
Read more about Dr. Weinbaum's career in the CUNY Research Newsletter (Summer 2008 and Fall 2009).
A New Computer Simulation Helps Explain the Spread of HIV
Professor Kirk Dombrowski of the Department of Anthropology, and Professor Bilal Khan of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, at John Jay College, have received one of the prestigious NIH Challenge Grants. The project, Injection Drug User Network Topologies and HIV Stabilization Dynamics, is administered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and has a received a two year grant totaling $736,858. Dr. Dombrowski and Khan’s research uses Social Network Analysis to determine why new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections among communities of intravenous drug users seem to stabilize at a lower than expected levels. <read more>
The John Jay team will create a computational model of Injection Drug Using (IDU) networks to better understand how HIV does and does not spread over time. Injecting drug users and their non-drug using partners continue to be at high risk of becoming infected with HIV and other blood borne pathogens through sharing injecting equipment, or by engaging in unprotected sex with HIV positive partners. Yet HIV continues to move through IDU networks in unexpected ways, and the dynamics of this process are not well understood. The NIDA funded project will create a simulation to help researchers and policymakers better understand and prevent HIV propagation within IDU communities, and between IDU communities and the societies of which they are a part. This will be the first simulation on a scale with existing urban drug communities (25,000 actors), and promises longitudinal insights that is often difficult for face-to-face empirical research to achieve.
The team working on the project at John Jay College, which includes the Co-Principal Investigator, Richard Curtis (Anthropology) represents a variety of disciplines. All of the researchers have been actively engaged in HIV research with community health partners in the New York City area and offer many years of experienced in ethnography, social network theory, and graph theoretical research. Dr. Curtis, the Chair of the Anthropology Department, noted that this ARRA funded project has resulted in enhanced and solidified interdisciplinary relationships among John Jay faculty. It has also attracted the attention of internationally recognized scholars from other institutions, who have expressed interest in working with CUNY faculty on this important new research endeavor.
Study Examines How Diet Mediates Ethnic and Socioeconomic Health Disparities in American Children
Dr. Ashima K. Kant, a professor in the Department of Family, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences (FNES) at Queens College has been awarded a $300,000 ARRA grant through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD). Her project is entitled, Trends in Ethnic and Socioeconomic Differentials in Diet Quality in American Children. <read more>
Dr. Kant contends that diet is one of many variables that contribute to the persistence of ethnic and socioeconomic differences in health outcomes for children in the United States. Given that diet is an acknowledged risk factor for a number of chronic diseases, it is reasonable to posit that diet may play a role in the widening ethnic and socioeconomic gap among children. However, Kant notes that little is known about the relationship between race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and diet for American children, and no published information about how the relationship between these variables may be changing over time.
Dr. Kant’s study will examine the independent associations of race/ethnicity and measures of socioeconomic position (family income, education, and occupation) with dietary intake; it will also assess the longitudinal trends in these variables. Her study will help gauge our progress as a nation in fulfilling the goal of closing ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in health outcomes.
For information on Dr. Kant's research on the impact of water drinking on dietary choice, see the CUNY Research Newsletter (Fall 2009).
Study Seeks to Uncover How Decision-Making Patterns Affect HIV Risk Behavior
Dr. Sarit A. Golub has been awarded $227,929 for the first year of a two-year ARRA grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to fund a project entitled Neurocognitive Deficits, Substance Use, and HIV Risk Behavior. Dr. Golub is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College and a member of the doctoral faculty in the Neuropsychology and Social-Personality subprograms at the Graduate Center. This project will be conducted under the auspices of the Hunter College Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training (CHEST), a research institute Co-Directed by Dr. Golub and Dr. Jeffrey Parsons, Professor and Chair of the Hunter College Department of Psychology. <read more>
The NIDA funded research examines ways in which problems with decision-making, working memory or impulse control may be working against existing HIV prevention strategies, and is designed to assist in the development and adaptation of HIV prevention interventions that will best meet the specific needs of the population they serve. “At present, little research has been conducted to bridge the gap between neuropsychological and behavioral findings regarding HIV prevention,” says Dr. Golub. “This study is designed to identify particular neurocognitive deficits or decision-making patterns that make HIV risk behavior more likely.”
Many behavioral interventions focusing on the intersection of substance use and sexual risk-taking ignore neurocognitive factors, even as they target symptoms related to them (e.g. poor decision-making, problems with impulse control). This project is one of the first to integrate neuropsychological and behavioral assessments to predict HIV risk, and grew out of a pilot study for which Dr. Golub received funding through the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). The study targets men who have sex with men (MSM) a group that represents over 46% of all new HIV diagnoses, and over 63% of new diagnoses among men. A recent CDC report cited substance use as a critical component in HIV risk behavior among MSM, and called for the development of innovative prevention strategies. This ARRA funding was awarded in part because of the project’s tremendous public health significance in the development and adaptation of innovative intervention strategies for this critical population. In addition, the current project is particularly innovative in that it examines the role of neurocognitive factors in determining HIV risk behavior among both HIV-negative and HIV-positive individuals. Often, emerging prevention strategies focus only on one population or the other, limiting their ability to examine the role of HIV-status itself as a factor in risk behavior. Dr. Golub’s study examines potential differences between the two groups, but recognizes that risk reduction for both HIV-negative and HIV-positive individuals is critical to effective HIV prevention efforts.
Read more about Dr. Golub’s research at the Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training.