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May 12, 2005


Grant awarded for study of drug use during pregnancy

The National Institute of Child and Human Development (NICHD) has awarded $678,885 to Magee-Womens Health Corp. and the University to conduct pharmacological research in pregnant women.

Pitt and Magee-Womens Hospital have formed one of four centers in the country recently established under NICHD’s Obstetric-Fetal Pharmacology Research Unit (OPRU). The OPRU centers will serve as a national resource for pharmacological studies of drug disposition and effect during normal and abnormal pregnancy.

Steve Caritis, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and division director of the Department of Maternal Fetal Medicine in the School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the University’s OPRU.

Raman Venkataramanan, professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the School of Pharmacy and Robert Branch, professor of medicine from the Center for Clinical Pharmacology, are co-investigators.

Venkataramanan has received additional funding, $186,568 for two years, as a principal investigator to evaluate the effect of hormones on the expression and activity of various drug metabolizing enzymes and transporters using human hepatocyte cultures. It is hoped that such studies will help optimize drug use in pregnant subjects.

Nearly two-thirds of all pregnant women take at least one medication during the pregnancy, primarily to manage maternal disease or symptoms of pregnancy. Typically, women take at least four to five drugs during pregnancy and labor. Pregnancy is associated with several important physiologic changes that are known to alter the way the body handles drugs. However, information on how drugs are handled during pregnancy is fragmentary. The lack of obstetric labeling is the direct result of a lack of research and clinical trials of drugs involving pregnant subjects. The OPRU centers will focus their research activities on filling this gap in the knowledge base.


Prof awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

Marc Sommer, assistant professor in the University’s Department of Neuroscience, has received an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, a competitive award given to scientists at an early stage in their faculty careers.

The two-year, $45,000 award will fund Sommer’s research into how brain areas communicate with each other during normal behaviors, and how this communication breaks down in such mental disorders as schizophrenia. Sommer studies the signals sent from deep brain structures, such as the cerebellum, to the prefrontal cortex, considered to be the seat of cognitive abilities.

Sommer is investigating how this input to the prefrontal cortex normally influences how we see, move and make decisions, and how the flow of information is altered in an animal model of schizophrenia. To do this, he “eavesdrops” on single nerve cells using fine electrodes with microscopic tips.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit institution, was established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and chief executive officer of the General Motors Corp. The Sloan Research Fellowships were established in 1955 to provide support and recognition to early-career scientists and scholars with little or no outside support.

Currently, a total of 116 fellowships are awarded annually in seven fields: chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and physics.


Biomet funds research for orthopaedic surgery patients

Enabling post-orthopaedic surgery patients to provide their own scientific assessment of the effectiveness of their surgery and rehabilitation, or clinical outcomes research, is an evolving field.

This variety of research is important because it allows patients to tell how well their surgery and rehabilitation have altered their pain and improved their daily activities and participation in life, according to James J. Irrgang, associate professor of physical therapy at the University’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and director of clinical outcomes research at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

To support clinical outcomes research at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, Biomet has awarded an educational grant to the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the School of Medicine. The grant also will support education of orthopaedic surgery residents and fellows at the school, provide equipment and personnel to collect research data, facilitate patient participation in research studies and help UPMC serve as a leading educational resource in clinical outcomes research.

“Surgical repair and rehabilitation of an orthopaedic injury can be deemed technically successful upon clinical examination, but we need to know the real success story: how beneficial the treatment has been in terms of how the patient views his or her quality of life and ability to resume favorite activities and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle,” said Christopher D. Harner, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the School of Medicine, medical director of the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine and co-principal investigator on the grant.

“Clinical outcomes research is an evolving area of research that is making use of computerized information technology to make it easier for patients to provide information regarding the outcome of their treatment and for researchers to review and interpret that data,” said Irrgang, who is co-principal investigator of the grant.

Patient-reported outcomes will be collected using computer technology to determine how the patient perceives he or she is doing in terms of symptoms, activity and participation in life situations. Because the data collection method is Internet-compatible, patient-reported data can be collected during a clinical visit or in the patient’s home. The patient-reported data will be integrated with clinician-reported information from physical examination, and surgical procedures and findings.

Biomet designs, manufactures and markets products used primarily by musculoskeletal medical specialists.

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