Seed grants program

Seed grants are awarded with funding provided by the Binghamton University Road Map through the Provost's Office and the Division of Research.

The goal of these seed grants is to encourage faculty to develop collaborative projects that stimulate the advancement of new ideas that can build Binghamton University's expertise toward a national reputation in the broad area of health sciences. This competitive, peer-reviewed program is providing initial support for proposed long-term programs of collaborative research that have strong potential to attract external funding.

Information on how to apply for seed grant funding for the 2023–2024 academic year can be found on the TAE landing page. Deadline for a Letter of Intent has passed, and deadline for proposal submission has passed. Watch for details on the next cycle here. LOIs are required for proposals with a large budget and strongly recommended for all proposals.

For the 2023-2024 academic year, the following seed grants were awarded:

Assessing nanoplastics-induced kidney injuries using microphysiological systems (MPS) as a powerful predictive tool

Huiyuan Guo, chemistry; Gretchen Mahler, biomedical engineering

Plastics are commonly used in our daily life and 60% of them are discarded and end up in the environment, leading to the most widespread and pervasive environmental pollution on the Earth. Plastic pieces have been found in water, soil, air, foods, drinks, and the human body (e.g., blood and placenta). Compared with bigger plastic particles, nanoplastics (nP, <1 μm) are more challenging to study, especially in biological matrices. They are tiny plastic particles that are difficult to see visually, but highly mobile and widely present in the environment and human body. Once these particles are in the human body, how they interact with human kidney is poorly understood. This project is driven by two specific aims: 1) Examine the transport and distribution kinetics of nP in an in vitro kidney microphysiological system (MPS); and 2) evaluate nP-induced kidney injuries within the MPS. Our system will be the first to use a kidney MPS to examine the dynamic interaction between nP and the human kidney and will provide insight into nP-induced kidney diseases. The proposed work will provide valuable information for consumers, government regulators, and researchers to make science-based health and safety decisions.

Developing and Testing a Health-Enhancing Physical Activity Online Intervention for Adults with Obesity

Seungmin Lee, health and wellness studies; Kenneth Chiu, computer science; Lina Begdache, health and wellness studies; Andrew Horowitz, theatre

The relationship between physical activity and health is not well understood by adults with obesity, not even by some health professionals. Even without weight loss, adults with obesity can greatly benefit from physical activity (e.g., relative reduction in incidence or progression of a chronic disease; improvements in insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, body composition; etc.). However, there is persistent evidence that most adults with obesity do not meet public health guidelines for physical activity. Based on extensive literature review, we propose to develop and test a new intervention that is: A) population-tailored, B) aimed to promote multi-dimensional physical activity, C) theory-based, D) scalable and sustainable, and E) collaborated with an external community partner, to promote physical activity in adults with obesity. In the absence of the proposed intervention, promoting physical activity in adults with obesity will likely remain difficult in reality. This project consists of two aims. Aim 1 is to fully develop a new web-based intervention, named Physical Activity Self-efficacy (PAS), to promote physical activity in adults with obesity. Aim 2 is to determine the feasibility of the PAS intervention. This project will increase the university’s contribution to the health status of Broome County and the fundability of the work for the NIH grants.

Drug Target Discovery for Novel Sphingolipid Metabolism Modulators

Kuo-Ching Mei, pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences; Mathew Emery, anthropology; Yetrib Hathout, pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences

Representing 20-30% of the plasma lipids in mammals, sphingolipids are bioactive signaling molecules acting on protein targets to modulate various biological processes, e.g., cell growth/migration/adhesion, apoptosis, and inflammatory responses. This makes sphingolipid pathways promising therapeutic targets for drug discovery. For example, sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) pathway modulators are clinically used for treating multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease.  We discovered a small library of compounds that modulates sphingolipid metabolism. We will expand the compound library through the TAE collaboration and develop screening assays for sphingolipid pathway modulations. We aim to discover the potential drug targets and understand the mechanism of action. The discovery and validation of drug targets will enable the future development of novel immune-modulating drug candidates. 

Effects of Rock Steady Boxing training delivered through Tele rehab on motor and non- motor components of Parkinson’s Disease

Gurpreet Singh, physical therapy; Nannette Cowen, nursing; Qiqing Yu, mathematics and statistics

Rock Steady Boxing (RSB) has shown positive effects on symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Progression of PD causes challenges in exercise participation outside the home. Tele-rehab is a feasible and cost-effective method to deliver physical therapy services to patients with neurological issues. The scarcity of information about the success of the tele-rehab program using the RSB program makes it difficult to determine if such a program is feasible and successful therefore, the purpose of this current proposal is to determine the effects of an RSB program delivered through tele- rehab in PD patients. Methods: 30 participants with PD, will be recruited and randomized to a 6-week RSB intervention delivered either through tele-rehab or in person. The participants in the tele-rehab group will receive an electronic device to participate in the exercise program from home. At the baseline and the conclusion, outcome measures including the strength of lower extremities, gait kinematics, fatigue, and Quality of life will be assessed for both groups. Results: Outcomes will be compared for both between and within groups using SPSS 26.

Exploring the Effects of Patient Journey Mapping on Maternal Healthcare: An Empirical Study in Binghamton, United States

Sreenath Chalil Madathil, systems science and industrial engineering; Saumya Tripathi, college of community and public affairs; Stephanie Tulk Jesso, systems science and industrial engineering

In order for a healthcare organization to provide a better experience, it must be aware of patients' expectations on the care they are about to receive and be prepared to provide a better experience. This proposed pilot research specifically aims at understanding various system-level factors that can contribute to adverse maternal outcomes. In this research, we work closely with the UHS and Mother and Babies organization to understand their current patient experience measurement and develop effective approaches to collect and evaluate patient experiences. We aim to capture the women's experience in maternal care and propose to develop tools and strategies to understand maternal patient's experience and reduce disparities.

Probing the biomechanics of fibrotic lung parenchyma using a microengineered model of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Jungwook Paek, electrical and computer engineering; Ahyeon Koh, biomedical engineering

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating respiratory condition of unknown etiology with an unpredictable clinical course. Abnormal alteration in the lung mechanics has been recognized as a hall mark of this interstitial lung disease, causing a progressive dyspneic condition in IPF patients with a poor prognosis. Despite substantial progress in the establishment of diagnostic criteria and strategies, developing new therapies for the clinical management of IPF remains a challenge largely due to the lack of preclinical models that can faithfully capture the defining physical feature of the disease. The overarching goal of this project is to develop a new microengineering approach for modeling human IPF by establishing advanced biomimetic platforms to culture human IPF fibroblasts and pulmonary alveolar cells for on-chip production, long-term maintenance, and analysis of in vitro human IPF tissues. The proposed human fibrosis models will be incorporated with elastomeric micromechanical sensors in an array form for real-time monitoring of tissue stiffness during long-term culture and drug screening. Furthermore, establishment of advanced experimental protocols for vascularization of IPF human lung tissues in a physiological 3D environment will provide us with fruitful opportunities to examine the controversial role of the pulmonary vasculature in lung fibrosis.

Understanding how clinicians consider medication risks in patients at risk for cognitive decline

Mia Lussier, pharmacy practice; Yuan Fang, pharmaceutical sciences

Cognitive impairment, including mild cognitive impairment and dementia, affects nearly one-third of adults 65 years of age and older. Many medications are not recommended in older adults due to their association with increased risk of cognitive impairment yet the prevalence of use in this vulnerable population remains high. Primary care providers are in the ideal position to identify these potentially inappropriate medications and to initiate deprescribing, or the process of stopping a medication that might be causing harm. Pre-existing tools can help identify medications with cognitive risk or the cumulative medication risk of a patient entire medication profile and aid in deprescribing. However, the extent to which these tools are utilized in practice, including their integration into the electronic health record is unclear. Our study aims to address this gap in knowledge by first conducting a systematic review to identify all pre-existing tools to help with the identification of cognitive impairing medications. In our second aim, we will look to understand the real-world use of tools reviewed in aim 1 to assess medication cognitive burden and deprescribing by surveying primary care clinicians in New York State.  By doing so, we hope to gather preliminary data contributing to improving the implementation of deprescribing strategies for optimizing medication use in older adults and reducing the risk of cognitive impairment.

Understanding Tattoo Photochemistry in Live Human Tissue and Mechanical Models

John Swierk, chemistry; Guy German, biomedical engineering

Tattoos are surging in popularity though the basic science behind tattoos is poorly understood. In particular, how light causes tattoos to transform in the skin is not understood. Photochemical transformation of tattoos is known to cause some health issues and may result in the generation of toxic breakdown products, yet the process is poorly understood. Understanding the role light plays in transforming tattoos is particularly urgent as laser tattoo removal is the major method of tattoo removal. In addition, tattoo inks are known to contain nanomaterials and heavy metals, though whether these components can escape tattoos in the skin is currently unknown. Using a combination of artificial models meant to mimic the skin and human tissue itself, this proposal focuses on understanding how tattoos change and evolve once in the skin, specifically addressing how light transforms tattoos and how components of tattoo inks can become bioavailable.

For the 2022-2023 academic year, the following seed grants were awarded:

Unraveling a New Mechanism for an Old Type II Diabetes Drug

Katie Edwards pharmaceutical sciences; and Nannette Cowen, nursing 

As of 2018, approximately 10.5% of the U.S. population (~34.2 million people) have diagnosed diabetes, with another 88 million U.S. adults with pre-diabetes, a condition that without changes in lifestyle and diet often leads to diabetes. Projections suggest that this number will triple by 2060, increasing to 60.6 million people in the U.S. alone. Metformin is a small molecule biguanide drug used as a first-line treatment for Type 2 diabetes and is prescribed to ~150 million people worldwide. Despite its widespread use, the mechanism of action of metformin is not fully elucidated. Thiamine (vitamin B1) is a key cofactor for enzymes involved in  glucose metabolism and deficiencies are associated with cardiovascular and neurological disease states. Our preliminary data suggests a correlation between the proven efficacy of metformin and thiamine-mediated processes. In this work, we aim to determine the impact of metformin on thiamine-uptake, conversion to cofactor forms, and cellular retention in human whole blood from patients who are and who are not taking metformin. Our findings are important for potentially more effective preventative treatments in diabetes and other disease states as well as establishing a novel mechanism of action for this widely successful drug.

Mechanics of the normal and abnormal growth and folding of brain organoids

Tracy Hookway, biomedical engineering; Mir Jalil Razavi, mechanical engineering)

Brain organoids are self-organized 3D tissues derived from human pluripotent stem cells and have become an exciting tool to study neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. In this project we aim to utilize brain organoids to build a predictive mechanical model based on experimental data to determine the effects of cellular processes on the normal and abnormal folding of the brain. Understanding the mechanical underpinnings of this wrinkling process has direct implications in diseases such as Lissencephaly and Polymicrogyria where the brain does not go through proper folding. In this TAE proposal we specifically aim to understand the role cellular proliferation and nuclear density play in the context of developing brain organoids to determine its impact on normal folding. The experimental morphological and mechanical data obtained in these organoid studies will be fed directly into a mechanical model to predict additional parameters that will affect the folding process. This experimental test and data-driven mechanical modeling will be achieved by two complimentary PIs who together will achieve a feed-forward loop between organoid experiments and predictive modeling to determine to impact of cellular proliferation and nuclear density on brain folding patterns.

Assessment of Oxidative Stress in Biofilms by Visualization and Quantitation of Biomolecule Carbonylation

Susan Bane, chemistry; and Karin Sauer, biological sciences

Antibiotic resistance is a top threat to the public's health and a priority across the globe. In the U.S. alone, it causes more than 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths per year. Recent findings suggest that antibiotics kill by inducing oxidative stress (OS), by promoting the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which play a role in cell death. The findings may lead to new, effective means to combat bacterial infections. However, the role of oxidative stress remains controversial as no direct, reliable method is available to quantify intracellular levels of ROS. Methods to detect oxidative stress (OS) generally employ probes for transient reactive species such as reactive oxygen species (ROS). A principal irreversible consequence of oxidative stress is carbonylation of biomolecules. The Bane lab develops fluorescent probes that form stable conjugates with biomolecule carbonyls and has employed them in eukaryotic cells and tissues to identify, quantitate and visualize OS-induced biomolecule carbonylation in these systems. In this project, the Sauer and Bane lab will evaluate the hypothesis that OS plays a role in killing bacterial cells by antibiotics using these novel probes.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, the following seed grants were awarded:

Imaging of Clostridioides difficile cellular heterogeneity using confocal Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy

Huiyuan Guo, chemistry; and Peter McKenney, biological sciences

The common hospital pathogen Clostridioides difficile is a spore forming bacterium that causes greater than 12,000 deaths per year in the United States through production of a protein toxin.  Despite their importance to the etiology of disease, it is unclear if toxin production is ubiquitous among cells within a population of C. difficile and if it is mutually exclusive to spore formation.  In this proposal we will fill this knowledge gap by using confocal Surface-enhanced Raman spectral (SERS) imaging to identify toxin-positive C. difficile cells and sporulating cells in a label-free manner.  Diagnosis of C. difficile in the clinic is a problem that is complicated by the fact that up to 40% of residents in long-term-care facilities can test positive for C. difficile colonization, but are asymptomatic for disease and test negative for toxin production. SERS offers the potential to distinguish between toxin-positive and toxin-negative cells of C. difficile with a single high sensitivity test.  This project will provide an answer to the pure biological question of the interplay of C. difficile cell fates, an imaging method that will be applied to future biological studies and a potential diagnostic method for further development.

Exploring Extended Release and Dissolution Profiles of Drugs Encapsulated in 3D Printed Capsules

Anthony Di Pasqua, pharmaceutical sciences; Jia Deng, systems science and industrial engineering; and Fuda Ning, systems science and industrial engineering

Individualized drug delivery improves the efficacy and safety for individual patients. To implement individualized drug delivery, customized and affordable dosage forms are needed. However, current pharmaceutical manufacturing is not suitable for personalized dosage forms. Although convenient to deliver various drugs, current gelatin capsules using animal collagen protein have many limitations, such as releasing drugs too fast and incompatibility with some diets. In contrast, 3D printed capsules have great potential to advance individualized treatments. It maintains the flexibility of filling different drugs and is capable of manufacturing customized pharmaceuticals in an affordable fashion even in a low-volume production scenario, such as a compounding pharmacy. In this work, we will design and 3D print capsules using FDA-approved pharmaceutical-grade polymers to investigate their extended drug release and dissolution profiles, which can potentially increase the drug efficacy and reduce side effects. Furthermore, we will test the 3D printed capsules to understand the effects of capsule geometry and material compositions in different pH environments. This research will advance the understanding and the implementation of individualized drug delivery. The preliminary results obtained from this research will be used in NSF and NIH funding proposals for a systematic understanding of extended drug release using 3D printed capsules.

Characterization of the Hyper-viscoelastic Material Properties of Myelinated

Mir Jalil Razavi, mechanical engineering; and Guy German, biomedical engineering

The objective of this proposal is to establish an accurate hyper-viscoelastic material model of myelinated axons in the white matter of the human brain. Currently, the mechanical properties of white matter microstructure used in traumatic brain injury (TBI) studies widely vary; in some cases by up to an order of magnitude. To date, there is no comprehensive study to accurately capture the mechanical properties of axonal fibers (axon plus myelin sheath) and extra cellular matrix (ECM) under all loading modes simultaneously. This lack of knowledge is a critical barrier for developing unbiased models of diffuse axonal injury (DAI) and brain folding, essential for predicting TBI and neurodevelopmental disorders. This is particularly important as the literature shows that the predicted degree of injury of DAI or folding patterns of the cortex by computational simulations are highly dependent on the implemented material properties of axonal fibers and ECM. To fill this knowledge gap, the proposed research will precisely characterize the hyper-viscoelastic material properties of axonal fibers and ECM through macroscale mechanical testing, histological ultrastructure studies, and multiscale computational modeling. The multi-scale model will advance contemporary understanding of brain injury and disease by enabling better characterization of brain deformation during impact and allow changes in the mechanical properties of brain tissue due to axonal microstructure damage and myelin degeneration.

For the 2020–2021 academic year, the following seed grant was awarded:

Brief Intervention to Reduce Alcohol Use among High School Athletes in the NY Southern Tier

Nadine Mastroleo, psychology, and Kimberly Brimhall, social work

Alcohol use represents a significant problem among high school students with 58.5% reporting a lifetime history of alcohol use by 12th grade (Johnston et al., 2019). Compared to non-athletes, student athletes report higher levels of alcohol use and heavy drinking with alcohol use escalating throughout high school. Thus, identifying effective alcohol interventions for this high-risk group of student athletes is particularly important. The current project aims to extend previous research testing an evidence-based alcohol intervention (eCHECKUP to GO) to a high-risk group of students (i.e., student athletes) within a local community high school to reduce alcohol use and associated harm. High school athletes will be recruited through one local high school (N = 400) with students randomized into one of two treatment groups (intervention or control). Data will be collected at baseline and 6-week follow-up to evaluate intervention feasibility and acceptability and short-term efficacy results to provide information regarding effect size for power calculation and sample size estimates for a larger RCT. This project will provide pilot data that will support an external grant proposal for a larger randomized controlled trial (RCT) aimed at applying existing evidence-based approaches to high school athletes across the New York Southern Tier.