Success Stories Spring 2015

Helen Y. Weng, PhD
Postdoctoral Scholar
Osher Center for Integrative Medicine

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been found to improve mental and physical health conditions such as depression, anxiety, pain, and chronic illness—however, the mechanisms through which these improvements may occur are poorly understood. The RAP Pilot in Integrative Medicine, funded by the Osher Center, will enable the development of a novel brain-based measure of body awareness using multivariate functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods. We aim to measure present-moment awareness of breath sensations, a skill taught in MBIs, by using fMRI machine learning techniques to dynamically track attention to the breath as well as other cognitive states. These body awareness measures are critical to objective assessment of the efficacy of MBIs and to mechanistically link improvements in body awareness with positive health outcomes associated with MBIs.

Sulggi Lee, MD, PhD
Assistant Adjunct Professor of Medicine
SFGH Division of HIV/AIDS

Millions of HIV-infected individuals receive life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART), but with evidence of ongoing immune dysfunction despite treatment and the current absence of an effective cure, HIV cure has emerged as an important research strategy. This RAP Pilot Award in HIV/AIDS, funded by the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), will evaluate the tolerability and biologic effect of a single dose of kansui. Kansui is an inexpensive, readily available herbal supplement used in traditional Chinese medicine shown to reactivate latent HIV-1 in an in vitro model. The study will test the hypothesis that kansui induces immune activation and viral reactivation in HIV-infected individuals maintaining ART-mediated viral suppression. Extracts from the Euphorbia plant genus have long been prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine as “kansui” to treat a variety of ailments including cancer, anasarca, and urinary retention. Several potential biologically active components from Euphorbia have been described, including ingenols, family of compounds that activate protein kinase C (PKC). PKC agonists are among the most potent latency reversing agents (LRAs) characterized to date. Recently, a synthetically modified form of ingenol (Ingenol B), has been tested in ex vivo and in non-human primate models, and found to potently reactivate latent virus with minimal toxicity. The primary objective of the study will be to evaluate the safety and tolerability of kansui. Secondary endpoints will include markers of T cell activation and HIV persistence. Results from this study will provide preliminary data to potentially pursue future interventional and pharmacokinetic/ pharmacodynamics studies of kansui for HIV eradication.

Jennifer Kerns, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at SFGH

The RAP Independence Support Award, jointly funded by Academic Senate and the Research Evaluation & Allocation Committee (REAC), will provide me with much needed support to revise an R01 proposal. My research focuses on shared decision making and counseling interventions to improve decision support and satisfaction among women undergoing pregnancy termination for complications such as fetal anomalies. Specifically, this proposal will support pilot studies for assessing the feasibility of using a patient-centered decision aid in the genetic counseling setting at different sites for women choosing between surgical and medical pregnancy termination. Those pilot studies will also aid us in exploring other health-related and patient-centered outcomes. We will also conduct a national survey of women’s experiences with counseling around this issue and begin to conduct groundwork on developing a viable dissemination and implementation plan. I am so grateful to UCSF RAP for this funding opportunity!

Courtney Lyles, PhD
Assistant Adjunct Professor
Division of General Internal Medicine & Center for Vulnerable Populations at SFGH

Dr. Lyles’ research focuses on harnessing health information technology to improve patient-provider communication for chronic disease self-management to ultimately reduce disparities in health and healthcare outcomes. This RAP Digital Health Research award, funded by CTSI – SOS, will support this project to evaluate a tablet-based platform for capturing literacy- and language-appropriate patient-reported data. This project will specifically address several major challenges with the current administration of patient surveys for diverse populations, namely: 1) questionnaires are often created at a high reading level and not easily accessible for non-English speakers, 2) paper data are slow to be fed back into healthcare systems and therefore lack timely and actionable follow up, and 3) declining response rates threaten the validity of patient-reported data unless we implement new ways to gain important insights, such as through the use of interactive features like graphics. Designing an icon-based tablet application with user-centered design approaches will address many of these issues. This work is particularly important as healthcare systems all shift to collecting many more patient-generated outcomes electronically in the near future.

Mohamed Sobhy Abdel Mohsen, PhD
Associate Specialist
SFGH Division of HIV/AIDS

My research focuses on diverse aspects of HIV pathogenesis, involving intrinsic immunity, host-virus interactions, HIV latency, and HIV sequence diversity. I also have developed and implemented robust and sensitive assays for measuring cellular and tissue HIV latency. My goal is to utilize creative and unique approaches in order to better understand and exploit immunologic factors that mediate HIV persistence. My long-term goal is to establish my own interdisciplinary research program focused on host-viral interactions, with the ultimate aim of furthering the HIV cure research field. The research outlined in this RAP Pilot Award in HIV/AIDS, funded by the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), is based on my previous work focusing on the relationship between host cell-intrinsic factors and HIV latency. There is tremendous interest in developing a cure for HIV, and this award will yield valuable insights into the usage of the human protein “galectin-9” as a foundation for novel HIV eradication strategies. It will also set the stage for the more broad-scale analyses of the curative potential of intrinsic immunity-based strategies in larger grant applications. This award will enable me to develop key skills, which will be invaluable in my growth as a young investigator, and will set the stage for the next step in my career development.

Grace Turyasingura, BSc.
Laboratory Technologist
Infectious Diseases Institute at the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University
Kampala, Uganda

This RAP International Mentored Scientist Award in HIV/AIDS, funded by the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), will provide vital funds needed to carry out the pilot project, titled: Global Gene array, secretome analyses, and HIV infection analyses of foreskin epithelial cells upon exposure to cervicovaginal fluid from healthy Vs women with bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial Vaginosis(BV) has been associated with a greater than 3- fold increased risk of female-to –male HIV-1 transmission in a manner not accounted for by HIV-1 RNA load, possibly resulting in increased numbers of new HIV infections in Uganda. We hypothesize that BV cervicovaginal fluid (CVF) induces an elevated pro-inflammatory and pro-chemotactic response within the foreskin cells which may facilitate HIV infection as foreskin epithelial cells are the first cells to encounter HIV during female-to-male transmission. The proposed project will compare the effects of healthy vs. BV- CVF on primary epithelial cells cultured from human foreskin tissue, by conducting microarray and luminex studies to assess the global response of these cells to CVF and to determine whether BV elicits a more pro-inflammatory response. The project outcomes will generate preliminary knowledge about why BV is associated with increased female-to-male HIV transmission and lay a foundation for more HIV prevention studies in Uganda. It will also be an important training vehicle for me to receive mentorship from my vastly experienced UCSF mentors to further develop my research career.