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UT Medical Center Auxiliary Supports "Women in Science" Initiative

With support from The University of Tennessee Medical Center Hospital Auxiliary, a Women in Science initiative has been established to support the research programs of junior and mid-level female researchers at the medical center. The funding was awarded to three UT Graduate School of Medicine scientists: Deidra Mountain, PhD, Director of Vascular Research; Stacy Stephenson, MD, Director of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Research; and Emily Martin, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Amyloidosis and Cancer Theranostics Program, to support their current research studies. 

Paul J. Hauptman, MD, Dean of the UT Graduate School of Medicine, said he hopes this program fosters the development of a larger initiative that will support junior and mid-level female faculty to become academic leaders in medicine.

Vascular Research
Dr. Mountain and her team in the Vascular Research Laboratory are actively investigating vascular disease and the adverse outcomes of one potential complication of peripheral vascular interventions. Intimal hyperplasia, or thickening of the vessel wall, is the most common complication following balloon angioplasty, vascular stenting, and vascular bypass graft surgery. Dr. Mountain’s primary research focus is to develop therapies aimed at hyperplasia prevention, leading to an increase in the success rate of vascular surgeries. To this end, her team recently developed and patented a novel nanoparticle for successful drug delivery to cells lining the vessel wall. Before translation to clinical application in patients, their drug formulation will be fully characterized, and pharmacokinetic and biocompatibility profiling will be performed.

Dr. Mountain said funding through the Women in Science initiative procures advanced instrumentation required for drug characterization analyses and supplies needed to perform these essential preclinical validation studies. The goal is to advance this drug formulation into clinical testing for successful vascular drug delivery.

She said, "The clinically translate-able materials we are actively developing in our laboratory could lead to major advancements in the field of vascular research, reduce the risk of post-surgery complications, and thereby lessen the clinical and economic burden of peripheral vascular disease and repeat surgical procedures." 

Pictured: Dr. Deidra Mountain

Regenerative Medicine 
Regenerative medicine is a multidisciplinary field that seeks to develop functional tissue substitutes to repair tissue that has been lost due to congenital abnormalities, injury, disease, or aging. Developing these tissue substitutes requires a complex interplay between the cells used, the material they are placed on, and the signals the cells receive to direct cellular function.  

Dr. Stephenson and her team in the Regenerative Medicine Laboratory are currently pursuing the use of carbon-based nanomaterials in combination with fat-derived adult stem cells to improve the quality and speed of bone and nerve healing. She is also investigating whether they can generate new blood vessels within these therapeutic nanomaterials and cells to help improve nerve and bone growth leading to enhanced tissue regeneration. Their long-term goal is to improve care and outcomes of patients by using the patient’s own body fat-derived adult stem cells to repair injuries.  

She said, "Funding from the Women in Science initiative will help us develop methods for isolation of endothelial cells from the same fat tissue used to isolate the fat-derived adult stem cells as well as perform early studies on the development of blood vessels using these two different cell types."

Pictured: Dr. Stacy Stephenson

Screening for Amyloidosis 
Amyloidosis is a complex disease that results in the build-up of a protein, known as amyloid, in various organs, and consequently, the affected organs lose their ability to function properly. As amyloid accumulates, patients may experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and numbness or tingling in their extremities. Since more common medical conditions may present with these symptoms, a diagnosis of amyloidosis can be quite challenging, but early recognition of the disease is critical to improve patient survival because without intervention, it will likely be fatal.  

There is evidence to suggest that certain medical conditions, namely carpal tunnel syndrome and lumbar spinal stenosis, may precede the development of whole-body amyloidosis by several years, and tendon sheaths in the wrist or ligaments of the lower back could contain deposits of amyloid before other organs are affected.

Given the importance of detecting amyloidosis as early as possible, Dr. Martin and her research team are studying small samples of these tissues at the time of corrective surgery and then screening them for amyloid deposits using an amyloid-specific stain, called Congo red.

Dr. Martin said, “This is an initial study to determine the incidence of amyloid in the patient population treated for carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as trigger finger, or spinal stenosis at the medical center.

"With preliminary studies such as ours, we may be able to show the value in establishing new clinical protocols for detecting amyloidosis. By looking at potentially at-risk patients, we are given the opportunity to establish a diagnosis before organ failure due to amyloid accumulation, thereby potentially improving patient quality of life and survival." 

Pictured: Dr. Emily Martin

Posted: May 29, 2020


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