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Inventing the Future of Health Care

Health System

The Health System is not simply incorporating advanced treatments into patient care. In many areas, it is at the forefront of developing new approaches to care. In 2011, a team of researchers led by Dr. Quanjun Cui, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, received a $100,000 grant from the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation to take the next steps in developing an innovative treatment for complex fractures. By combining gene therapy and adult stem cell therapy, Dr. Cui and his colleagues are harnessing the body's regenerative powers to restore lost bone.

The Medical Center is also taking part in a clinical trial to evaluate a new treatment for aortic valve replacement. Surgeons deliver the replacement valve via a catheter, sparing patients open-heart surgery. This approach offers hope to the elderly and other high-risk populations. Dr. Irving L. Kron, the S. Hurt Watts Professor of Surgery; and Dr. Scott Lim are principal investigators of the trial at U.Va.

With a $6 million grant from the Department of Defense, U.Va. researchers are developing better imaging techniques to diagnose traumatic brain injury in soldiers exposed to bomb blasts. The improved techniques include a hand-held ultrasound machine that could assess brain injuries on the battlefield. Knowledge gained from these assessments will also be used to develop equipment that better protects soldiers. Dr. James Stone, assistant professor of radiology and medical imaging; and Dr. Greg Helm, professor of clinical neurological surgery and biomedical engineering, are leading the research.

Molecular physiology and biological physics professor Lukas Tamm is part of a research effort studying the mechanism of neurotransmitter release—the molecular pathways that allow neural cells to pass chemicals from cell to cell.

Understanding how neurotransmitters move from one cell to the next is a critical first step in developing targeted drugs for neurological diseases. In 2011, a team of U.Va. researchers received a $6 million grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue work on neurotransmitters. This brings the total NIH support for the project to $11 million. Lukas Tamm, the Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, is the lead investigator on the project.

Innovations in Global Health

Researchers are also playing a role in bringing basic advances in health care to people around the world. In 2011 the School of Medicine received a number of grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve global health. Dr. William A. Petri, Jr., the Wade Hampton Frost Professor of Medicine, received a $14.7 million grant from the Gates Foundation to determine why oral vaccines for paralytic polio and life-threatening rotavirus work less well for children in poorer countries than for those in the more developed world. Read the UVa Today article

The Gates Foundation also awarded a $3.9 million grant to support the work of Dr. Eric Houpt, an associate professor of infectious diseases, who is creating a molecular diagnostic tool capable of detecting pathogens that cause diarrheal illness in children in less than six hours. Dr. Houpt plans to test the diagnostic tools at five sites—in Nepal, Tanzania, Pakistan, Gambia, and Bangladesh.

Finally, John C. Herr, professor of cell biology, received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant from the Gates Foundation to develop a new approach to female contraception. The foundation created the Grand Challenge Explorations Program to encourage researchers to pursue novel solutions to persistent health and development challenges.