Five MUSC Faculty Awarded Seed Funding To Expand Global Health Research

Developing innovative ways to combat global disease is no simple task. The early stages of global research—data collection, technical support and travel— take time, money and dedicated personnel.  One of the important ways The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Center for Global Health is supporting faculty is through the recent launch of a Pilot Grant Program, which provides seed funding for global health research projects.

This short-term funding plays a pivotal role in stimulating research in developing countries, enabling researchers to collect the preliminary data needed to demonstrate the feasibility of an idea and laying the groundwork to apply for larger grants from NIH and other outside external funders. After a competitive review process, five MUSC faculty members were awarded $20,000 each to pursue a wide array of global health research projects in Ethiopia, Mexico, Tanzania, Ghana and China.

Patty Coker-Bolt, PhD, OTR/L, assistant professor in the College of Health Professions, will be traveling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia next spring to work with CURE Ethiopia Hospital to introduce a treatment for children with Cerebral Palsy (CP) called pediatric constraint induced movement therapy (P-CIMT). Coker-Bolt has extensive experience administering the therapy here in the U.S. and plans to adapt P-CIMT therapy to poor countries in the future. This research project will allow the team to train professionals in Ethiopia how to provide a proven and effective intervention for children with cerebral palsy using therapy strategies from an innovative program developed at MUSC in 2001.

“Many rehabilitation frameworks are laden with western values thus making their translation to developing countries difficult,” said Coker-Bolt. “This MUSC Center for Global Health grant will allow us to work with professionals at the CURE Hospital in Ethiopia to explore potential ways in which pediatric constraint therapy could work in a country with limited resources to ameliorate many of the effects of childhood hemiparesis.”

Conducting a study in Mexico this summer, Kenneth Cummings, PhD, MPH, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC and co-director of Tobacco Policy and Control at Hollings Cancer Center will be working with economists and public health experts to develop and validate the SimSmoke tobacco control policy model using existing data sources. While abroad, Cummings will ensure accurate use of SimSmoke to estimate the impact of tobacco policies so that these policies can be refined and strengthened to achieve their intended goals.

Cummings shared the importance of effective policies for reducing tobacco consumption. “Tobacco use is responsible for approximately five million deaths worldwide,” remarked Cummings. While cigarette consumption has been steadily falling in the U.S. and other high income countries, consumption has been steadily falling in many low and middle income countries.” 

In the East African country of Tanzania, David Ploth, MD, professor in the Department of Medicine at MUSC will be assessing the prevalence and uptake of referrals for chronic kidney disease (CKD), diabetes, hypertension, and HIV/AIDS infection.  In rural Tanzania, Ploth will examine the comorbidity of these conditions, with the hopes of informing government health centers on the absolute and relative demand for care of HIV/AIDS, diabetes, hypertension and CKD. “We hope to accomplish a large full-scale study that will allow statistical validity once feasibility is substantiated with the pilot project,” said Ploth.

Eve Spratt, MD, MSCR, professor in the Department of Pediatrics, will be arriving in Ghana this summer to test a protocol that would improve healthy brain development and school readiness through a sustainable nutrition and wellness child development program. During her visit to a Ghanaian village, Spratt will assess the impact of nutrition and health education on child development and physical health with help from her colleagues.

To develop new pharmaceuticals for the hospital-associated infection Pseudomona aeruginosa (Pa), Yong-Mei Zhang, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at MUSC will target specific traits of this infection using high-throughput screening and in vitro and in vivo methods. While in China, Zhang will chemically modify a specific part of Pa in an effort to develop an agent to combat the infection.  

“Antibiotic resistance is one the greatest threats to human health,” explained Zhang. “The goal of this pilot project is to identify new lead compounds to treat drug-resistant infections by targeting bacterial virulence, an alternative strategy that does not select drug-resistant pathogens without killing bacterial cells. This research is a natural extension of our current mechanistic studies on the interactions between bacterial primary metabolism and virulence pathways.”