Newswise — KINGSTON, R.I., March 16, 2017 —Pilot Projects involving two researchers at the University of Rhode Island have been awarded federal funding through Advance Clinical and Translational Research (Advance-CTR), a statewide effort to support clinical research that can be translated into approaches and policies that improve the health of Rhode Islanders.

Marcella Thompson, assistant professor in the College of Nursing/Academic Health Collaborative, and Kunal Mankodiya, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, along with colleagues at Brown University and Bradley Hospital, will each receive one-year grants of $75,000 through Advance-CTR’s initial round of funding.

“We were delighted that URI faculty submitted many outstanding applications for the Pilot Projects awards,” said Dr. Sharon Rounds director of the Pilot Program at Advance-CTR, based at Brown University and comprising an equal partnership of Brown, URI, Lifespan, Care New England, the Providence VA Medical Center, and the Rhode Island Quality Institute. “The two URI investigators who submitted the funded applications do very interesting and impactful research in collaboration with other Advance-CTR partners.” 

Thompson and co-principal investigator Dinalyn Spears of the Narragansett Indian Tribe are collaborating with Elizabeth Hoover, Gregory Wellenius and Alison Field of Brown University to examine exposure to PCBs and mercury among members of the Narragansett Indian tribe, whose traditional diet includes locally caught fish. The project, “Community-Engaged Tribal Research to Assess Dietary Exposures to Mercury and PCBs,” will send trained tribal members into their community to collect data on eating habits and the rate of local fish consumption. The analyses and survey findings will provide the community with information needed to weigh the benefits and risks of eating local fish.

“This is just one phase of our community engaged research with the tribe on a complex environmental health issue,” Thompson said of the project.

Mankodiya is working with Dr. Kerri Kim and Dr. Daniel Dickstein of Bradley Hospital/Brown University on the project “Brain/Behavior Mechanisms in Emotional Dysregulation in Adolescents with Mood and Anxiety Disorders.” It examines the effects of dialectical behavior therapy in teenage girls with significant mood disorders, including chronic suicidal thoughts and behavior. Specifically, the researchers are using fMRIs (which measure changes in blood flow in the brain) to examine the potential brain-based changes associated with completing treatment and in comparison to a control group. Participants will also wear smart watches to monitor their bodily responses — heart rate, skin response, temperature and activity level — to emotional stimuli throughout their typical day. Mankodiya will head this portion of the study, applying a data analysis platform that he and his team at URI have built that uses smart watches as real-world assessment tools. These findings will be compared to those revealed in the fMRIs. 

“We can see when there are episodes that indicate they are experiencing anxiety or mood swings, determine the day of the week, the time of day, what they are doing and the number of incidents,” he said. “This is very exciting for me. I like to solve problems, but not in the lab, in real life.”

Advance-CTR (Award #U54GM115677) is a statewide program funded by the National Institute of General Medical Science/National Institutes of Health to support clinical and translational researchers in Rhode Island through funding, research resources and services, and professional development. It seeks to support research across the translational science spectrum, including basic science, clinical and public health.