USF Initiative on Microbiomes announces first research awards

Initial transdisciplinary projects focus on neuroscience-related topics

The USF Initiative on Microbiomes has awarded its first seed grants to help advance new transdisciplinary microbiome research across departments and colleges.

The inaugural Microbiome Research Awards were presented to principal investigators Juan Sanchez-Ramos, MD, PhD, of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and Monica Uddin, PhD, of the USF College of Public Health. Seed funding was provided by the Office of the USF Health Senior Vice President.

Juan Sanchez-Ramos, MD, PhD

Dr. Sanchez-Ramos, a professor of neurology, and molecular pharmacology and physiology, received $120,000 and the part-time assistance of a technician for his project “The role of the gut microbiome in clinical progression of Huntington’s disease (HD).” His co-principal investigator is Amber Southwell, PhD, assistant professor at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Central Florida.

The gut microbiome has been implicated in several metabolic and neurologic diseases and may contribute to metabolic dysfunction in HD, an inherited, fatal neurodegenerative disease. In this study, the researchers will delineate and compare gut microbial changes in overweight and underweight HD patients and in unaffected individuals. They will also assess the effect of human HD gut microbiome on disease in an HD mouse model (underweight and overweight). The project is expected to yield preliminary data for development of experimental therapies to regulate metabolism in HD.

Monica Uddin, PhD

Dr. Uddin, a public health professor with the USF Genomics Program and the Global Health and Infectious Disease Research Program, received $150,000 for her project “The role of human gut microbiota in treatment-resistant depression and response to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).”  Her co-principal investigators are Glenn Currier, MD, MPH, professor and chair of psychiatry, Morsani College of Medicine, and Adetola Louis-Jacques, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Morsani College of Medicine and the USF College of Nursing.

Recent preclinical work has revealed that the gut microbiome is strongly associated with symptoms of depression and major depressive disorder. But little is known about how intestinal florae may differ in patients who respond to anti-depression treatment versus those who do not respond despite several attempts. USF Health researchers will characterize the composition and function of gut microbes in patients electing to undergo TMS when standard treatments don’t work. TMS, a procedure using magnetic fields to stimulate brain nerve cells to improve depression symptoms, has been highly effective in treating treatment-resistant depression but does not provide relief to all patients. This project aims to identify gut microbiome-related biomarkers distinguishing TMS responders from non-responders, both to help inform treatment choices and, ultimately, enhance mental health outcomes.

Christian Brechot, MD, PhD, is spearheading the USF Initiative on Microbiomes.

“The initiation of the Microbiome awards is a highlight of the USF Initiative on Microbiomes, meant to engage a transdisciplinary mindset across our academic community.  These awards provide substantial financial assistance to novel projects and we are very grateful to Dr Charles Lockwood, Dr. Paul Sanberg and Dr. Stephen Liggett for their support,” said Christian Brechot, MD, PhD, senior associate dean for research in global affairs at MCOM, associate vice president for international partnerships and innovation, and professor of internal medicine.

“We expect this seed funding will lead to preliminary results needed to pursue full National Institutes of Health or National Science Foundation grant applications. The second call will be advertised soon and further emphasize transdisciplinary research integrating the strengths of different colleges. I believe this strategy will significantly contribute to the success of our USF Initiative on Microbiomes.”

The winning projects were selected from among nine applications.  The next call for award applications will be late January 2020.