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February 6, 2014

Research Notes

Competition uses patient engagement to solve health problems

A community-wide competition by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) will try to spark fresh ideas that engage people in their own health care.

CTSI, in collaboration with the Office of the Provost and the Innovation Institute, is offering $300,000 in funding to three winners in its first Pitt Innovation Challenge, or PInCh. It also will provide the winning teams with project managers to implement the best ideas.

PInCh will give scientists and other community members a venue to be creative and develop new ideas, said CTSI director Steven Reis, who also is associate vice chancellor for clinical research, health sciences, and a medicine faculty member in the School of Medicine. PInCh’s inaugural question is: “How do we empower individuals to take control of their own health outcomes?”

Said Reis: “Instead of trying to figure out the molecular mechanisms of hypertension, for example, the team might try to figure out how to reduce the rate of high blood pressure in a specific region. We want to encourage researchers to approach their work in a different way. Rather than conducting experiments focused on scientific details, they must look at the big picture to try to solve a problem that has public health or clinical importance.”

The first step in the competition requires submitting a two-minute video by March 2 that introduces the team, defines the health problem that is being tackled and briefly outlines the creative solution. Early-round winners will be invited to make short public presentations at a final round of judging in May.

According to PInCh program director John Maier, director of research and development and family medicine faculty member in the School of Medicine: “This will be a great opportunity to get new or risky ideas in front of judges who have experience in science, business, technology and other fields, so participation itself should be rewarding and fun. We plan to have a ‘People’s Choice’ award, too, so everyone will have a chance to vote for projects that appeal to them.”

Anyone can enter, and teams that bring together collaborators from different perspectives, institutions and disciplines are encouraged, but at least one member of the team must be a Pitt faculty member. If needed, PInCh organizers will help community members connect with a member of the faculty.

The solution could be a device, a software application, an intervention strategy or any other approach that could address the health problem the team identifies.

“We hope to de-risk wild ideas to solve clinical or public health problems by providing funding and project management to take them to the next level,” Reis said.

For more information and to register a team, go to

Pharm faculty win grants

Sean Kim, pharmacy and therapeutics, received a grant from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy for “Quantitative Mechanistic Modeling of Drug Disposition with Variable Interactions.” The project aims to establish a novel quantitative and systems pharmacology approach to unravel common and patient-specific mechanisms of drug disposition, and develop in silico simulations that explain and predict the pharmacokinetics of complex oral formulations.

Xiaochao Ma, pharmaceutical sciences, won a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for “Mechanisms of Adverse Effects of Anti-tuberculosis Drugs.” Rifampicin and isoniazid co-therapy frequently causes liver injury and even liver failure.

This project will provide an understanding of the liver injury induced by rifampicin and isoniazid co-therapy, which can be applied to predict, prevent and treat this toxic event.