The Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM)’s new Pilot Award program has awarded three researchers $180,000 for innovative projects that will use allergies to develop new treatments for sepsis, create a cancer blood test that could mark the end of colonoscopies, and treat depression and other mental illnesses using social media.
“We redesigned our pilot program to give researchers even more substantial pilot funding, provide a curated guide to ITM resources that can support their studies, and offer communications training with professional videos highlighting their work that can serve them long after their funding is used,” said ITM Co-Directors Julian Solway, MD, and Susan Cohn, MD, from the University of Chicago, and Joshua Jacobs, MD, from Rush.
The ITM, a partnership between the University of Chicago and Rush in collaboration with several health and research institutions, has awarded more than $5.1 million in Pilot Awards since its inception in 2007 to give seed funding to inventive research ideas that could have major impacts on human health. Former Pilot Award winners have gone on to secure millions of dollars in additional funding, launch companies, bring new treatments to patients, and more.
The new Pilot Program offers researchers up to $60,000 each in addition to a suite of free ITM resources, such as study design, tailored community feedback, and science communications training and video production.
Almost 70 applicants vied for the three awards, and 10 finalists were selected for the final round that required additional materials and pitch videos.
The 2017 award recipients with their pitch videos are featured below, just scroll over their photo and click to play. And the ITM is now accepting applications for its 2018 Pilot Awards. Click here to learn more and start the process by submitting a one-page Letter of Intent by Sept. 29.
Using Smart Chatbots and Social Media to Treat Mental Illness
David Beiser, MD
UChicago Department of Medicine
More than 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide, and there’s a critical shortage of mental health specialists.
Dave Beiser, MD, is leveraging the power of social media – with its more than 6 billion users worldwide – to help doctors provide better depression care. With the help of an ITM Pilot Award, Beiser will create DASBY: a chatbot computer program that checks in with you about your emotional well-being through your favorite social media platforms.
DASBY communicates through messaging apps like texts and Facebook with a cutting-edge depression test that learns from patients’ responses. This adaptive ability allows it to diagnose depression severity in three minutes as accurately as a 45-minute session with a psychologist.
These regular check-ins will be sent to patients’ doctors in real-time, providing more detailed, accurate information than the standard monthly office visits – helping lead better treatments and faster remissions. Beiser will test DASBY with real patients to evaluate how it impacts standard of care and remission times.
Connect with Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Project Title: “Conversational Agents for Measurement-Based Care of Depression”
Collaborators: Joao Busnello, MD, Assistant Professor, Rush Department of Psychiatry; Daniel Yohanna, MD, Associate Professor, Interim Chair, UChicago Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience; Robert Gibbons, PhD, Blum-Reise Professor, UChicago Departments of Medicine and Public Health Science
An End to Colonoscopies: Cancer Screening with the Prick of a Finger
Marc Bissonnette, MD
UChicago Section of Gastroenterology
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and early detection can be as good as a cure. While black people are more likely to die from colon cancer than any other race, they are the least likely to get screened, with only about 20 percent of those on Chicago’s South Side getting a regular colonoscopy.
Marc Bissonnette, MD, is working on an easier, faster alternative to an uncomfortable colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer: a blood test.
The blood test scans your DNA to detect cancer. It takes just minutes, and when fully-validated for clinical use could cost as little as $200, compared to the two days of lost time and work and $5,000 price tag of a colonoscopy.
Bissonnette will use the Pilot Award funding to fine-tune this DNA-scanning technology, and he hopes to bring it to the South Side minority communities that need it most.
Connect with Marc at email@example.com to learn more.
Project Title: “Blood Tests to Screen for Colon and Pancreatic Cancer”
Collaborators: Karen Kim, MD, Professor, UChicago Department of Medicine; Chuan He, PhD, Professor, UChicago Department of Chemistry; Keith Naylor, MD, Clinical Instructor, UChicago Department of Medicine; Wei Zhang, PhD, Associate Professor, Northwestern University Department of Preventative Medicine; Nora Joseph, MD, NorthShore Medical Group; Guang-Yu Yang, MD, PhD, Professor, Northwestern University Department of Pathology and Toxicology; Barbara Ferry, B.S., CCRC, Director of Advocate Russell Institute for Research and Innovation
Treating Sepsis with Allergies
Phil Verhoef, MD, PhD
UChicago Department of Medicine
Sepsis, a condition where an infection caused by a virus or bacteria suddenly starts to take over the body, kills more than 250,000 Americans every year and causes half of all patient deaths in hospitals.
Phil Verhoef, MD, PhD, is harnessing the power of allergies to fight it.
With the help of an ITM K Award, Verhoef scoured patient data and found that people with conditions like asthma and food allergies are less likely to become septic. He tested this discovery in mice and confirmed allergies’ protective qualities.
With his Pilot Award, Verhoef will take this a step further and see if that is also true in humans at a larger scale by analyzing thousands of UChicago patient records to find out why and how allergies protect people from sepsis. He will then translate those findings into new sepsis treatments that that could help people without allergies beat the deadly disease.
Connect with Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Project Title: “Type 2 Immune Bias in Sepsis”
Collaborators: Matt Churpek, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, UChicago Department of Medicine; Sepsis Alliance; UChicago Center for Research Informatics (CRI)
About the Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM)
The Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM), a partnership between the University of Chicago and Rush in collaboration with several health and research institutions, helps make scientific discoveries possible and speeds up the time it takes to convert that research into real-world applications that improve people’s health.
The ITM includes four key affiliates, Advocate Health Care, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Loyola University Chicago, and NorthShore University HealthSystem. It works with more than 60 institutions across the country as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) consortium to advance medicine in innovative ways.
During the last 10 years, the ITM has connected more than 2,000 researchers and community organizations with funding, training, and other resources while forging connections across departments, universities, and patient advocacy groups. Since its 2007 inception, total funding for the ITM has exceeded $60 million through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) and through the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences.