The Saint Louis University Research Institute has selected faculty members to receive funding through the Research Growth Fund.
The Research Growth Fund is designed to be a flexible source of funding for faculty across the University to help achieve their research and scholarship ambitions and make progress towards the goals of the Research Institute.
All proposals are evaluated by one of the Research Councils or the Research Planning Committee (School of Medicine), which then makes a recommendation for funding to the University's Research Growth Committee.
Applicants are asked to determine which council/committee is best suited to review the proposal. The Research Growth Committee provides oversight to ensure standard processes across the review committees and develops a portfolio of projects for funding.
Funding from the Research Institute is provided annually through the Sinquefield Center for Research Inc., the purpose of which is to support SLU in achieving the goals of the Research Institute as measured by the Research Institute's Metrics for Success.
January 2019 Faculty Recipients
The first round of grants from the Research Growth Fund was awarded in January 2019. Over 100 proposals were received, and proposals from the following 15 faculty members were selected for funding. All proposals recommended by the Research Growth Committee were accepted and funded in full. The total amount of funding awarded was over $1.8 million.
College of Arts & Sciences
Synthetic chemistry labs will purchase equipment to automate chemical synthesis and purification. The time required for making and purifying new compounds limits the productivity of non-automated labs. Purification is one of the largest time commitments in synthetic chemistry research. Automated systems can perform a purification in 30 minutes which would take a student 2 to 4 hours. Therefore, optimizing both undergraduate and graduate students’ time with automated methods will significantly increase the rate of our synthetic efforts and expand our labs’ capabilities. this funding, . The equipment includes four flash chromatography systems, one microwave synthesizer with an autosampler, and several waterless condensers. Overall, this new equipment will increase the productivity, safety, and training in synthetic chemistry at SLU.
School of Medicine
Mycobacteria are unique groups of bacteria that primarily affect lungs. Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) is the cause of tuberculosis (TB) and Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) is the most common cause of pulmonary nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM). There are standard treatment regimens for new patients with pulmonary TB and MAC. However, these standard regimens are very long, taking 6 months for TB and at least 18 months for MAC. In addition, standard TB treatment does not work against multidrug-resistant TB. Similarly, treatment of pulmonary MAC even for new patients has a failure rate of more than 40%, indicating the dire need to develop new drugs. Because mycobacteria reside mainly in macrophages, we optimized methods to test the activity of new compounds not just on extracellular but also intracellular mycobacteria. Our preliminary results suggest that tropones, tropolones and related compounds act against MTB and MAC. The experiments we have carried out so far resulted in two lead compounds (one tropone and one troplone). Through collaboration with other groups at Saint Louis University, we now have more than 16 additional tropolones.
This grant will help: 1) Screen more than 16 additional tropolones and analogs for antimycobacterial activities using BCG, a live attenuated TB vaccine strain as a model mycobacteria, 2) Study the effect of lead compounds on extracellular and intracellular MTB, including strains resistant to key first-line drugs, 3) Study interaction of lead compounds with key first-line drugs against MTB, 4) Test the effect of lead compounds on extracellular and intracellular MAC, 5) Study interaction of lead compounds with standard drugs against MAC and 6) Measure growth kinetics of extracellular and intracellular MTB and MAC in the presence or absence of different concentrations of lead compounds. This work will provide additional results and make our findings publishable in reputable scientific journals, increasing our chances for external grants, and will help develop new drugs for mycobacterial diseases.
Pius XII Library
METAscripta is a digital humanities project of the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library housed at SLU. The project will digitize and create online access to 37,000 manuscripts originally microfilmed by SLU at the Vatican Library in the 1950s. METAscripta builds on SLU’s prestigious association with the Vatican Library through continuing a tradition of innovative technologies applied to the study of Vatican manuscripts. Just as SLU’s original microfilm project once represented cutting-edge innovation for this purpose, digital applications based on new technologies will now provide online access, presentation, metadata, and annotation tools that bring the project from the past into the future. The METAscripta environment will allow scholars to search for manuscripts, study them comparatively, annotate texts and images, and embed links to outside sources anywhere online. About three of every four of the Vatican’s manuscripts are either inadequately cataloged or not cataloged at all, and METAscripta will work to dramatically improve access to one of the world’s greatest historical archives.
College of Arts & Sciences
The notion of quantifying or comparing shapes is far reaching and important, since computers represent real-world objects using mathematical abstractions such as curves, graphs, or 3-dimensional meshes. This project develops and analyzes various ways to measure similarity between such abstractions. Specific examples include comparing input curves generated from GIS data, such as road maps and vehicle trajectories; or comparing 3-dimensional objects, such as medical images generated by CT scans. Well-understood comparison methods simply look at distance between objects but neglect the object’s shape. This project aims to design more sophisticated measures that consider the objects’ underlying structure, or topology, when computing similarity. The PI and postdoc funded by this award will also collaborate with applications that use these algorithms, to gain practical understanding of which ones are most useful in a given domain.
Parks College of Engineering, Aviation, and Technology
Sedimentation in reservoirs is a growing problem as water supply and storage become increasingly endangered with the aging American infrastructure. Current standard methods for analyzing reservoir storage capacities predate computers. Research is needed to develop a novel method for computing capacities using advanced geospatial techniques. This will enable engineers to accurately estimate reservoir volumes and sedimentation rates that will in turn facilitate water resources managers to optimally prepare for water supply and storage needs. In addition to the need for advances in methods to monitor reservoir sedimentation, a critical need exists to develop innovative solutions to the challenge of reservoir sedimentation. One possible approach is using a channel to bypass water and sediment around the reservoir. This approach has distinct advantages to other alternatives because of the unique mechanics of how water and sediment are transported through bypass channels. However, additional research using computational fluid dynamics is needed to develop design guidelines to optimize bypass channel designs. Research is needed to develop an accurate method for modeling rock scour processes to ensure the stability and safety of spillways. Reservoir safety and sustainability is a critical issue for society which is being compounded by population growth, reservoir sedimentation, and increased extreme precipitation events.
The focus of this project is to pursue research related to these three focus areas: (1) Quantifying Reservoir Sedimentation, (2) Sediment Bypass Channels, and (3) Rock Spillway Scour Modeling.
Associate Professor, Director
History, Ong Center for Digital Humanities
College of Arts & Sciences
The Walter J. Ong, SJ Center for Digital Humanities will launch SLU Annotation, a new, innovative digital humanities project that will collect, digitize, and annotate information from sources such as SLU Yearbooks and Catalogues, DeSmet travel journals and maps, artifacts in the SLU Museum of Art, documents in the Jesuit archives, and traditional digital sources related to campus history. SLU Annotation will use visualization technology to present the data collected in appropriate displays such as maps, graphs, and tables, and custom designed pages for specific research questions. Leveraging campus resources as well as engaging faculty and students with a digital project at the intersection of state-of-the-art information technology and the humanities, the SLU Annotation project will bring a pioneering digital humanities platform built at SLU, the RERUM Annotation Repository, to full implementation and utilization. RERUM is an open source, open data repository with interfaces and visualizations built specifically for the needs of humanities scholars. RERUM allows users to collect, store, and analyze both annotations and scholarly discourse on the data in the repository in ways that other digital annotation tools cannot match. It has transformative potential for scholarly research, student engagement, and community development at SLU and far beyond, continuing the scholarly innovation of Walter J. Ong, SJ, one of SLU’s most famous humanities faculty and the Center’s namesake.
Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
School of Medicine
Replicating retroviruses requires integrating their viral DNA into the host cell DNA genome, catalyzed by the viral integrase. A goal of this project is to determine the mechanisms of how integrase forms a macromolecular complex with viral DNA (synaptic complex). Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) integrase is an important target for integrase inhibitors that blocks viral DNA integration, preventing HIV-1 replication and subsequent AIDS. Currently, there are four FDA approved HIV-1 integrase inhibitors to treat HIV-1. These are used with other inhibitors targeting the viral reverse transcriptase and protease. Side-effects in patients and development of drug resistance by HIV-1 to these inhibitors, including integrase inhibitors, has been a problem for effective anti-viral therapies to prevent AIDS. We have focused on stabilizing Rous sarcoma virus and HIV-1 synaptic complexes using clinically approved HIV-1 integrase inhibitors, allowing us to produce an atomic structural model to improve the activity of integrase inhibitors. The goal is to reduce development of drug-resistant HIV-1 integrase mutants. We have used clinical integrase inhibitors to stabilize both viral synaptic complexes to determine their atomic structures by Cryo-Electron Microscopy. These studies are in collaboration with Drs. Hideki Aihara (University of Minnesota) and James Fitzpatrick (Washington University in Saint Louis).
College of Arts & Sciences
Computer scientists drive scientific discovery, leading to improved health care outcomes, to a better understanding of the environment and our weather, to development and use of autonomous vehicles, and the creation of smart homes and smart cities. They also build tools that improve people's lives and enable better decisions in contexts such as business, political science, medicine, transportation, and just about any area of life. At SLU, we have been very successful in obtaining grants supporting computationally oriented research. Typically, these grants build in line-items for computing nodes. The equipment needed for this research is highly specialized, and the systems are tightly integrated. These nodes depend on a base infrastructure for storage, backup, management and networking. The Research Growth Fund will support expanding our existing base infrastructure in a way that will support the next five years of planned grant applications. Resources include data storage infrastructure, data retention and back-up systems, and network infrastructure. The infrastructure will support computer science, social sciences, mathematics, statistics, and bioinformatics, including collaborations beyond Saint Louis University.
College of Arts & Sciences
This grant funds a postdoctoral fellow for two years to advance two medicinal chemistry projects. The first deals with the parasite Cryptosporidium, which causes malnutrition and diarrhea in the developing world. The Meyers lab will work to demonstrate proof-of-concept selectivity of drug leads for cryptosporidiosis. As part of an ongoing collaboration with Drs. Griggs (SLU) and Huston (University of Vermont), the fellow will synthesize analogs designed specifically to improve its antiparasitic potency. The second project will be to advance our lead antiviral compounds for herpes simplex and hepatitis B viruses. In ongoing NIH-funded collaborations with Drs. Tavis and Morrison (SLU), the fellow will work on compounds to optimize broad-spectrum antiviral activity. Finally, the fellow will assist in training graduate and undergraduate students working on these and other drug discovery projects in the Meyers lab.
Sociology and Anthropology
College of Arts & Sciences
The “urban underground” is a richly developed metaphor in the humanities and social sciences. Scholars of the city have long used the metaphor of “the underground” to theorize the illicit economies and the subversive politics that animate the urban periphery. By extension, the people who inhabit these spaces, the so-called “underclass,” are often taken to be the city’s poorest and most vulnerable. The urban underground as a historical and ethnographic formation, by contrast, has never actually received serious scholarly attention. Building on a decade-long ethnographic engagement on class and belonging in post-socialist Bucharest, Romania, this project details the ongoing, multi-billion euro efforts of city planners and private investors to develop the urban underground—not to stash the downtrodden—but to support an emergent middle class. Through fieldwork that moves between reimagined Metro stations, parking garages, basements and cellars, and the offices of city planners and private developers, the project pursues a pair of interrelated questions: How and to what effect is the underground being imagined and produced; and how does the expansion of the literal underground shape debates not just about who belongs in the city but also at which level? The project’s contribution is to push urban studies beyond the well-established horizontal coordinates of center and periphery to rethink class formation vertically, from the underground up.
Sociology and Anthropology
College of Arts and Sciences
The "Detrimental Influences: Redlining, Race, and Health" project will investigate the relationships between the 1930s era "redlining" map zones, segregation, and contemporary health outcomes. While researchers have established a relationship between segregation and some illnesses, there has not been an investigation to date of the effects of redlining on poor health. St. Louis provides an excellent venue to explore this relationship given the city's historical experience with segregation, as well as our current deeply segregated demography. This project will test the idea that historical redlining in St. Louis simultaneously predicts contemporary segregation and the location of health care infrastructure, both of which are in turn related to health outcomes in neighborhoods. Cardiac and asthma outcomes will be used to measure poor health since there is already evidence of a relationship between these illnesses and neighborhoods where patients live.
Family and Community Medicine
School of Medicine
Large databases containing millions of de-identified medical records are a key resource for clinical epidemiology. Examples of such databases include Medicaid and Medicare, insurance claims data, Veterans Health Affairs (VHA) administrative medical record data and several private sector patient databases such as those from Kaiser Permanente. Using appropriate state-of-the-art analytic methods, a great variety of research questions can be addressed with these databases. Studies could range from the effectiveness of different types of medications, to predictors of seeking treatment for specific conditions, outcomes and disease management to the association between comorbid conditions. A strong design is to test hypotheses in separate patient samples that differ in demographic and clinical characteristics. We have had success replicating findings from analysis of VHA data in private sector patient samples which allows for robust conclusions given the substantial demographic and clinical differences between these patient groups. In order to make replication more efficient and cost-effective we propose the purchase of a national sample of Optum Analytics medical record data merged with insurance claims from 5 million patients with an observation period from 2008 through 2018. This resource will allow for rapid publication of peer reviewed manuscripts via new collaborations involving SLUCOR faculty (under direction of co-investigator Leslie Hinyard) and the Department of Family and Community Medicine faculty as well as with interested investigators from other departments at SLU. This resource will be used in several planned grant submissions ranging from career development applications to National Institutes of Health R01 proposals. Last, after establishing a SLU-SSM patient data base, the Optum data base, along with existing smaller cohorts will establish SLU as the local leader in administrative medical record data resources and research.
Biochemistry and Microbiology
School of Medicine
The Odyssey CLx is a state-of-the-art near-infrared laserpoint scanner that will be a valuable asset to many labs for enhancing quality and productivity when applied to many common lab techniques. This machine provides a major advance by enabling accurate quantitation lacking in existing technology. The use of infrared technology, laser excitation and wide dynamic range (> 6 logs) provides high sensitivity, reproducibility and reliable signal quantification, which sets this machine apart from the other imagers available to date.
Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
School of Medicine
Over a third of Americans are considered obese, a condition associated with impaired immunity and a higher risk of cancer. But cancer treatments have shifted dramatically in recent years, toward immunotherapy strategies that rely on boosting a patient’s own immune system. We hypothesize that obesity limits the success of immunotherapy, and this is supported by research in our lab and others using animal models. Whether obesity influences human cancer outcomes remains unclear and has been mired by conflicting clinical results. These inconsistencies have contributed to the controversial “obesity paradox,” which suggests that obesity has a neutral or even positive impact on outcomes, but this idea has come under intense scrutiny. We have proposed new mechanistic studies in animals, and complementary analysis of cancer patient tissue to demystify this controversy and provide fresh insight for improved treatment options in all patients.
Associate Dean of Academic and Faculty Affairs
College of Public Health and Social Justice
Behavioral Science and Health Education
Dr. Weaver’s work focuses on integrating behavioral science and health communication with pediatric injury prevention and maternal and child health promotion. Her work centers on developing, implementing, and evaluating injury prevention programs for caregivers of young children. Weaver is also the founding director of the REACH Center (Research and Equity in Action for Child Health), a multidisciplinary collaborative led by faculty in the College for Public Health and Social Justice. Weaver co-leads the Community Engagement Core of a recently funded NIH P50 grant in collaboration with the Brown School at Washington University (lead institution). The Research Growth Fund will expand upon this work to understand if innovative technologies, including evidence-based, tailored communication systems developed by Weaver and her team, can be widely disseminated to promote positive parenting and prevent child maltreatment. The team will explore how to best integrate these innovative technologies into public health interventions and clinical systems and study which dissemination pathways are most successful.
June 2019 Faculty Recipients
The second round of grants from the Research Growth Fund was awarded in June 2019. Over 70 proposals were received, and proposals from the following 13 faculty members were selected for funding. Once again, all proposals recommended by the Research Growth Committee were accepted and funded in full. The total amount of funding awarded was over $740,000.
Cherry will will study recently-developed methods of online justice that are new in methods and aims, and that have sometimes led to controversial results. These include amateur sleuths gathering online to collect clues in cold cases, workers sharing information online about abusive labor practices, and users writing negative Yelp reviews when they hear a business has treated a customer poorly. It also includes more aggressive tactics, such as using the Internet to dox people and mount harassment campaigns. Do these activities move from activism to “digilantism”? Cherry will tackle these issues and more in a new book manuscript.
The book project for which Dunn has received funding, Where Paralytics Walk and the Blind See, is at once a substantive contribution to the history of early modern Christianity and at the same time a theoretical and methodological intervention in the discipline of religious studies. At the core of the project is the perennial question of how to live meaningfully with the facts of sickness and disability. In pursuit of semantic alternatives to contemporary interpretations which tend overwhelmingly to frame both embodied phenomena as problems in need of resolution, Dunn’s research probes representations of embodied difference in four distinct seventeenth-century French-Canadian contexts. How were the stories of sickness and disability told in seventeenth-century Canada? Who were the subjects (and who the objects)? What did embodied difference signify, and for whom? How did power, genre, and tradition shape the possibilities available for narrating embodied difference? What kinds of relationships—divine, human, and otherwise—facilitated some interpretations and foreclosed others? And, what does it all mean for the range of available grammars by which we might narrate our own encounters with sickness and disability?
In the process of asking and hazarding answers to these questions, Where Paralytics Walk and the Blind See offers a profound meditation on the discipline of religious studies. The study of religion, Dunn argues, is best understood and undertaken as a kind of play between the sober naturalism of the modern academy and the supernatural abundance of religious worlds. Against a certain strain of scholarship on religion that reduces religious data to its “temporal, contextual, situated, interested, human, and material dimensions,” religious studies sub specie ludi allows into evidence testimony of miraculous cures, demonic possession, and Christological visions without abandoning its commitment to the methodological mandate of secular scholarship.
Edwards will finish work on a book manuscript titled “Going Tactile: Life at the Limits of Language.” Edwards’s research is grounded in more than a decade of anthropological engagement with DeafBlind communities, and focuses specifically on the “protactile movement,” which advances the radical claim that hearing and vision are not necessary for things like greeting another person, joining or leaving a conversation, observing others, or being with them in silence. Protactile leaders argue that all human activity can be realized via touch. “Going Tactile” draws on 30 months of anthropological fieldwork and analyses of interactional and linguistic data, and tells the story of what Edwards learned about language and life as the people she knew, their modes of knowledge, and their forms of communication were, as they said, “going tactile”.
Ford will will use new, innovative technology to investigate endothelial and epithelial barrier dysfunction. Many diseases are either initiated or escalated due to loss of barrier function. The capacity to measure changes in barrier function is critical to evaluate the relevance of mechanisms of diseases investigated by SLU researchers. This new technology will improve research infrastructure at SLU, and will be used by a number of researchers in a variety of departments, including the investigators planning for a SLU Sepsis Center and the SLU Institute for Drug and Biotherapeutic Innovation.
Hawiger has now identified a specific dendritic cell molecule, called BTLA, that governs
activation of autoimmune and potentially anti-tumor cells. This grant will help develop a platform based on this discovery, which could open new avenues to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer. Particularly, it could radically improve “check point blockade” therapies that now create serious side effects.
During the past decade, methodological innovations have allowed geneticists to sequence DNA from ancient human skeletons, pushing archaeology and genetics in positive new directions, while at the same time sparking debate about ethical and equitable research. Archaeogenetics is a young field with an uneven impact: of more than 2000 ancient human genomes sequenced since 2010, more than two-thirds come from European sites, fewer than 3% from Africa.
Recent research by Prendergast and colleagues shines a light on African population history by sequencing DNA from human skeletons buried at archaeological sites in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. Research questions focus on the genetic diversity of past hunter-gatherer populations; the demographic impacts of the spread of herding and farming; the nature of human movements and exchange networks; and the extent to which archaeological, linguistic, and genetic datasets can be integrated to understand African pasts. This grant will enable Prendergast to produce scholarly publications on the results of this research, while at the same time engaging in public outreach. Planned engagement includes writing for a popular audience, organizing a symposium focused on ethics, and returning to communities where research occurred, in order to communicate results and seek feedback.