2020 Pilot Awardees Photo2020 Pilot Orientation Meeting
The goal of the CCTS pilot program is twofold: first, to relieve health disparities that disproportionally affect minority and special populations across the CCTS Partner Network and second, to develop the future translational research workforce. The following grant recipients submitted proposals that address scientific questions aligning with the mission of the CCTS, at any stage of research “along the path from the biological basis of health and disease to interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public”, as conveyed by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science. This year’s cohort includes awardees from Auburn University, the University of Alabama, Tuskegee University, and UAB and is supported and guided by CCTS Program Manager, Anne Russell, PhD.


Principle Investigator: Yu Gan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Alabama
Principle Investigator: Yu Gan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Alabama

An AI-based platform for super-resolution, virtual pathological visualization of coronary optical imaging

Dr. Gan plans to incorporate artificial intelligence into a pre-existing imaging platform to improve the quality of images supplied when placing cardiac catheters, as low resolution and limited pathological information are barriers to improving disease outcomes in catheter-dependent treatments (e.g. Percutaneous coronary intervention). The focus of this proposal is to develop and validate a medical device used in conjunction with cases of cardiovascular disease, which disproportionately affects our region. 
Principle Investigator: Austin Robinson, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Kinesiology, Auburn University
Principle Investigator: Austin Robinson, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Kinesiology, Auburn University

The influence of mitochondrial-derived reactive oxygen species on racial disparities in neurovascular function.

Dr. Robinson aims to determine if there is racial disparity in the mitochondrial-targeted antioxidant mitoquinone induced restoration of vascular endothelial function. Results of this study will shed light on if mitochondrial reactive oxygen species influence reduced neurovascular and rental function in healthy black adults. The focus of this proposal is examination racial disparity in mechanisms contributing to cardiovascular disease, which disproportionally impacts our region and African-American individuals in the Southeast. 

Principle Investigator: Sixto Leal, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, Lab Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Principle Investigator: Sixto Leal, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, Lab Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Development of a novel diagnostic test that can distinguish active infection with Clostridium difficile from colonization

Dr. Leal’s proposal is to develop and validate a diagnostic assay that may distinguish between active and inactive Clostridium difficile infection with high sensitivity and increased accuracy. Low-socioeconomic status, which is particularly rampant in the Deep South, is a defining risk factor of Clostridium difficile infection. 

Josh Stern, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Alabama at Birmingham & Co-Principal Investigator: Brittany Lasseigne, PhD, Assistant Professor, UAB Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology
Principle Investigaor: Josh Stern, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Alabama at Birmingham 
Co-Principal Investigator:
Brittany Lasseigne, PhD, Assistant Professor, UAB Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology

Integrative Analysis of Telomerase and Aging Across Human Cancers

Dr. Stern, along with Co-PI Brittany Lasseigne, will examine the relationship between age-associated molecular features of TERT promotor mutants and the etiology of their underlying diseases, as understanding the molecular relationships and their response to therapies may enable redeployment of existing therapies and/or design of new therapies to reduce the disparity between and cancer and aging. This work involves a key demographic across the lifecourse and will provide important knowledge to address health risk and treatment in older adults, who are systematically underrepresented in clinical trials. 

Principle Investigator: Barbara Gower, PhD, Professor, School of Health Professions, Nutrition Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Principle Investigator: Barbara Gower, PhD, Professor, School of Health Professions, Nutrition Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Genetic basis for greater chronic disease risk in African-Americans

Dr. Gower will utilize her pilot award to examine if there is a genetic basis of insulin resistance that causes lipid accumulation, which is reportedly responsible for the greater prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in African-Americans. The focus of this proposal is to investigate a genetic-basis in diabetes risk, which disproportionately affect African-Americans in the Deep South. 

Principle Investigator: Balasubramanyam Karanam, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Tuskegee University
Principle Investigator: Balasubramanyam Karanam, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Tuskegee University

Inhibition of Ubiquitin receptor ADRM1/RPN13 as a new therapy for Quadruple Negative Breast Cancer

Dr. Karanam’s proposal’s goals are to examine if expression of a potential breast cancer target molecule – ADRM1/RPN13, a ubiquitin receptor that is upregulated in breast cancer of African-American women – can be associated with cancer stage, and to develop a clinically translatable regimen of a combination drug therapy targeting ADRM1/RPN13. Examination of the observed racial disparity of ADRM1/RPN13 positive (i.e. quadruple negative) breast cancer will inform the understanding of the biological basis of racial disparity of this form of breast cancer and potential precision approach to treatment in African-American women.


  • "The pilot project will allow me to pursue a new line of research related to understanding the physiology that underlies racial disparities in cardiovascular health. Importantly, racial disparities in blood pressure and cardiovascular health are a major concern, especially in the south. I am hoping this pilot project will serve as a launchpad to larger grants from the NIH and AHA to help inform effective prevention and treatment strategies. The pilot will also help me establish my career as an early stage investigator in the field of cardiovascular physiology and build collaborations with successful scientists within the CCTS partner network."

    - Austin Robinson, PhD | Auburn University

  • "Anne hit the ground running to lead the CCTS pilot program, enhancing all aspects of the application process and developing trusted relationships with awardees to elevate the science supported by the CCTS to new heights.  Her hard work and incredible commitment to the CCTS are invaluable."

    - Jennifer A. Croker, PhD, CCTS Senior Administrative Director