Grant announcements: Global REACH funds five new faculty partnerships

More accessible genome sequencing in India. Sex abuse prevention and education in Ghana. Pancreatic cancer and diabetes prevention research in China. And new therapies for children with epilepsy in Ethiopia.

Projects in a variety of disciplines and across a wide range of countries and cultures will benefit from the first-ever Global REACH Partnership Development Grants. Earlier this year, Global REACH announced available funding to help University of Michigan Medical School faculty establish new collaborative partnerships overseas. Four initial recipients were revealed this month.

“Meaningful international collaboration is mutually beneficial to research partners and their respective institutions. Unfortunately, the cost of travel can present a barrier to forging such relationships,” said Dr. Joseph Kolars, Senior Associate Dean for Education and Global Initiatives and Director of Global REACH. “We’re proud to offer Partnership Development Grants to alleviate that burden and help our colleagues follow their research passions wherever they may lead.”

Each one-year grant will offer up to $10,000 to cover travel expenses for the UM principal investigator and their overseas counterparts. Below, find an overview of the four winning proposals. Congratulations to the awardees.

Project: Addressing gender-based violence in Ghana

UM leads: Sarah Rominski, Senior Research Associate; & Michelle Munro-Kramer, Assistant Professor School of Nursing

Sexual violence among university students is an issue around the world. In a recent survey of students at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), in Ghana, more than a third of women and nearly a fifth of men reported experiencing being forced or coerced into sexual intercourse. Drs. Rominski and Munro-Kramer, partnering with UCC colleagues, are adapting a sexual violence prevention program for undergraduate students developed by UM. The adaptation will make the program culturally and contextually appropriate for UCC. The project involves testing both the content and delivery mechanism to optimize the program,as well as training local facilitators to administer it to incoming first-year students.


Project: Epigenetic regulation  in pancreatic cancer development

UM lead: Jiaqi Shi, Department of Pathology Assistant Professor

Recent population-based studies show that the prevalence of pancreatic cancer in China is on the rise. Dr. Shi and her collaborator at China Medical University wish to identify novel biomarkers for diagnosis, prognosis, therapeutic prediction, and therapeutic targets for pancreatic cancer. In addition, both hope to establish a program to foster scholar, student and resident exchange between China Medical University and Dr. Shi’s UM lab.


Project: Improving pediatric epilepsy care in Ethiopia

UM lead: Erin M. Fedak Romanowski, Pediatric Neurology Clinical Assistant Professor

On no other continent is epilepsy more prevalent than in Africa, and yet the number of anti-seizure medications available is limited in most African countries. Diet-based therapy can be effective when medications don’t work or aren’t readily available. Dr. Fedak Romanowski is already working with partners at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College on a pilot program using dietary therapy to treat Ethiopian children suffering from epilepsy. This additional funding will support UM dieticians traveling to Ethiopia to partner with counterparts at St. Paul’s Hospital on culturally appropriate dietary-treatment menus and patient education, as well support Dr. Fedak-Romanowski’s colleague from St. Paul to visit UMHS for a pediatric neurology observership.


Project: Harmonized assessment of age-related weakness, disability and diabetes risk: The Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS).

UM lead: Mark D. Peterson, Phd, MS, FACSM, Assistant Professor, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Diabetes, a leading cause of disability and early mortality, is estimated to affect over 400 million adults globally. In 2015, diabetes-related healthcare expenditures were highest in the U.S. and China, where costs exceeded a combined $320 billion International Dollars. There is also a high prevalence of pre-diabetes, undiagnosed diabetes, and poor cardiovascular health in both countries, and the burden tends to be exaggerated among mid-life (50-64 years) and older (65-plus) adults. The expansion of the aging population combined with decreasing mortality has led to a diversification of cardiometabolic disease morbidity, including increased prevalence of aging-related mobility impairments and a substantial reduction in the number of nondisabled years. The purpose of this collaboration will be to leverage the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) to explore and compare the burden of age-related frailty/disability and diabetes in U.S. and China.


Project: Expanding collaboration on genetic analysis of neurodevelopmental disorders in India

UM lead: Stephanie Bielas, Department of Human Genetics Assistant Professor

One recent study found that almost 15 percent of children ages 2-9 in India had one or more neurodevelopmental disorders, far outpacing rates observed in the U.S. and in Europe. Defining genetic causes of inherited conditions is the first step to prevention. Dr. Bielas plans to expand a current Whole Exome Sequencing project underway with partners at Manipal University, bringing in new collaborators at other Indian institutions, including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Sanjay Gandhi Post Institute of Medical Sciences. Plans also call for supporting more genetic counseling services.