Pilot and Feasibility (P&F) Program

The overall objective of the University of Washington (UW) Nutrition Obesity Research Center Pilot and Feasibility (P&F) Program is to provide an infrastructure to support and effectively train the next generation of basic, translational, clinical and epidemiological scientists in the fields of nutrition, obesity and metabolism with a goal to enhance our knowledge and understanding of body weight regulation, the etiology and pathogenesis of nutrition-related disorders, to identify novel, therapeutic targets to prevent and treat obesity and to educate the broader community. The Specific Aims of the Program are to:

  • To provide junior investigators of high promise the opportunity to obtain crucial pilot data needed to launch their career and to compete successfully for independent peer-reviewed funding.
  • To provide a mechanism for encouraging talented junior investigators to embark on academic careers in nutrition/obesity research.
  • To support pilot projects by established investigators in other research fields into the area of nutrition and obesity research.

 

PILOT AND FEASIBILITY COLLABORATIVE PROGRAM 

The UW NORC collaborates with the Diabetes Research Center (DRC) and the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute (UWMDI) in a joint Pilot and Feasibility Research Program. The program collectively offers multiple awards of $50,000/year for up to 2 years to promising investigators from any disciplinary background performing research in the fields of nutrition, metabolism, diabetes, and obesity. Proposals may include basic, clinical, translational, or population-based studies that align with one or more of the institutions’ respective research themes. Awards are funded by the NIH (P30 grants DK017047 and DK035816) and the UW.

2023 Pilot and Feasibility Research ADVANCE Award Call: LOIs are now open. The University of Washington’s Nutrition and Obesity Research Center (NORC) is soliciting applications for Pilot and Feasibility Research ADVANCE Awards targeting talented early and mid-career scientists from underrepresented groups. Proposals may include basic, clinical, translational, or population-based studies with a focus on nutrition, metabolism, and/or obesity and its co-morbidities. LOIs are due by Tuesday, October 10 and can be submitted to: uwnorc@uw.edu Eligible applicants will be given detailed instructions regarding the application process.  Full applications will consist of a one-page Research Plan and a one-page Candidate section.

Eligibility: Eligibility is confined to both senior postdoctoral fellows, early career faculty (seeking career development award or first independent funding (i.e., R01) and mid-career faculty (seeking first competitive renewal of independent funding) within any school, department or division at UW who meet NIH criteria establishing underrepresented background. The proposed research has to have relevance to nutrition or obesity.

Support:

    • Applicants may request up to $37,500 for one year.
    • In addition, applicants may request up to $5,000 in NORC Core services provided from either the Energy Balance, Analytical, Clinical and Translational Research and/or Biostatistical Core (https://uwnorc.org)
    • Eligible applicants may also request a maximum of $5,000 in Core Services provided by the Diabetes Research Center (https://depts.washington.edu/diabetes/).
    • The number of awards and funding levels to be granted will be based on the scientific merit of successful proposals. The awards can be used for principal investigator salary (typically no more than 20% of the total direct costs per year, but with justification may be up to maximum of 50%), technical support and research expenses. Funding begins January 1, 2024.

Application: Prospective applicants must submit a mandatory letter of intent (LOI) that summarizes pertinent information needed to assess eligibility. This letter must also include a signed statement from the PD(s)/PI(s) clearly establishing the eligibility of the candidate for support under this program. The statement must include:

    • the basis (e.g., race, ethnicity, disability, or disadvantaged status) for the candidate’s eligibility as an individual from an underrepresented background.
    • the relevance of proposed project to nutrition and/or obesity.

Approval for human subjects, animal use and/or biohazards must be obtained prior to initiation of funding but are not required for submitting the application. Full applications are due by Friday November 17.

2023 UW NORC P&F RECIPIENTS:

Dr. Carlos Campos, PhD, has been awarded a two-year Pilot and Feasibility Award through the UW Nutrition Obesity Research Center for his project entitled: “Uncovering behavioral representations of energy state.”

Dr. Campos received his PhD in Neuroscience from Washington State University in 2014. He then completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Drs. Richard Palmiter and Michael Schwartz at the University of Washington, using mouse transgenic and viral approaches to investigate genetically defined brain pathways involved in feeding behavior, learning, and memory. Dr. Campos was recruited by the Department of Medicine and appointed to Assistant Professor in Fall of 2019. His research examines how physiological signals related to internal state interact with other sensory systems to affect learning and memory, the neurological underpinnings of prediction.

Project description: Our research examines how physiological signals related to internal state interact with other sensory systems to affect learning and memory. We study both sensory systems that convey the status of the body to the brain, that innervate internal organs to sense things such as hunger, illness, arousal, as well as those that sense the external world and the quality of the objects within it – for example the feeling of pain or the tastiness of food that motivates approach or avoidance. The internal state (e.g. body energy levels) can reflect the amount and types of behaviors an animal exhibits, as well as the responsiveness to environmental cues that are salient based on that state. The goal of this project is to leverage exhaustive descriptions of behavior to better understand mechanisms by which experimental manipulations influence appetite and weight loss. To accomplish this, we are developing cutting-edge imaging technology, named MeshPose to better measure and classify behavior patterns. We hypothesize that energy status is associated with expression of different behavior patterns, and that this information could be helpful in predicting the effects of experimental interventions on weight loss.

Dr. David Hendrixson, MD, has been awarded a Pilot and Feasibility Award through the UW Nutrition Obesity Research Center for his project entitled: “The plasma metabolome, gut microbiome, and growth in HIV-exposed uninfected infants.”

Dr. Hendrixson received a BA and BS at Harding University, AR before completing his MD at the University of Alabama, AL. Dr. Hendrixson subsequently completed his residency and fellowship at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine within the Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Hendrixson is currently an Assistant Professor within the Department of Pediatrics and the Division of Neonatology.  He is a neonatologist and pediatric infectious disease physician with a focus and research interest on maternal-child nutrition.

Project description: More than one-million HIV-exposed uninfected (HEU) children are born annually, with the majority in sub-Saharan Africa. HEU infants are at increased risk of poor linear growth, infectious morbidity, and mortality compared to their HIV unexposed, uninfected peers. Breastfeeding reduces, but does not eliminate poor health outcomes in HEU infants, despite improving maternal health with antiretroviral treatment. The biological mechanisms for vulnerabilities in breastfed HEU infants remain unclear. Previous studies have demonstrated alterations in the gut microbiome of HEU infants, as well as alterations in acylcarnitines, branched chain amino acids, and lipid profiles. Thus, it is possible that systemic metabolic dysfunction is associated with maternal HIV infection that may alter the infant gut microbiome, resulting in perturbations to the infant plasma metabolome, and lipidome and thereby affect infant outcomes. We hypothesize that HIV exposure will alter the infant plasma metabolome and that these alterations will be associated with the infant gut microbiome and predict infant growth. To accomplish this, we will leverage the Tunza Mwana Kenyan birth cohort including lactating women living with and without HIV and their infants. We propose to characterize metabolic relationships between HIV exposure, the gut microbiome, and plasma metabolome and to identify metabolomic profiles in plasma associated with infant growth. This work will identify key elements in breastmilk that are disrupted and lead to profound effects on infant health. These data will inform future clinical trials investigating supplementation strategies to improve infant growth and neurodevelopment.

2022 UW NORC P&F RECIPIENTS:

AlongeDr. Kimberly Alonge, PhD, has been awarded a two-year Pilot and Feasibility Award through the UW Nutrition Obesity Research Center for her project entitled: “Role of hypothalamic PNNs in nutrient and hormone sensing dysfunction in obesity.”

Dr. Alonge received her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at West Virginia University. She then conducted her postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington within the Department of Medicine in the laboratory of Dr. Michael W. Schwartz. Dr. Alonge was recently promoted to an Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry with a joint appointment in the School of Medicine’s Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on understanding the functional significance of extracellular matrix changes in metabolic and neurological diseases.

Project description: That obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are among the most pressing and impactful biomedical challenges confronting modern society highlights the need for an improved understanding of the underlying disease mechanisms. Growing evidence suggests that the central nervous system transduces input from circulating hormones and nutrients into neuronal responses that maintain energy- and glucose- homeostasis and that dysfunction in this system contributes to the pathogenesis of obesity and T2D. Recent work from the Alonge laboratory has found that perineuronal nets (PNNs), which are specialized matrices that regulate the connectivity and activity of neurocircuits, enmesh key neurons involved in the regulation of energy- and glucose metabolism in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. Her work further shows loss of PNNs in both mouse models of diet-induced obesity and in obese and diabetic humans. Dr. Alonge hypothesizes that the obesity and diabetes-associated loss of hypothalamic PNNs results in altered diffusion of charged factors, including hormones, nutrients, and other metabolites, within this critical brain region resulting in hormone- and nutrient-sensing dysfunction characteristic to metabolic impairments. The concept that hypothalamic PNNs may play a key functional role in hypothalamic sensing of hormones and nutrients through changes in extracellular space diffusion dynamics, and that defects in metabolite diffusion may contribute to the obesity and T2D pathogeneses, constitutes an innovative area of research at the interface of metabolism and neuroscience with relevance to future therapy development.

ZaslavskyDr. Oleg Zaslavsky, PhD, MHN, RN, has been awarded a two-year Pilot and Feasibility Award for his project entitled: “Pilot Evaluation of a Mobile Intervention to Support Mediterranean Diet (MedD) for Persons with Mild Alzheimer Disease and Alzheimer Disease Related Dementia’s (AD/ADRD) and Frailty.”

Dr. Zaslavsky obtained his Bachelor of Science at the University of Haifa, Israel before completing his doctoral degree from the University of Washington School of Nursing focused on advanced statistics and frailty. Dr. Zaslavsky  is currently an Associate Professor  within the School of Nursing at the University of Washington. His research focuses on developing digital tools to promote health in older adults with frailty and dementia.

Project description:  Frailty, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and AD-related dementias are progressive conditions that disproportionally affect the same age group and share many risk factors and clinical features. Given that no treatments prevent or slow the progression of dementia, frailty might be a practical target for interventions to reduce the severity of the cognitive decline in persons with dementia. Lifestyle interventions such as healthy eating reduce risks of frailty and brain degeneration. The Mediterranean diet (MedD) is especially pertinent because of its cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, and pro-metabolic properties, all of which are linked to the physiology of frailty and AD. In fact, observational and intervention studies have consistently shown that people adhering to MedD have less frailty, better brain morphology, and higher function. However, unfortunately, most MedD interventions are limited for implementation at the population level because of the high cost. This project is focused on the development of a mobile behavioral intervention to improve adherence to MedD for adults age 65 and older with mild-to-moderate frailty. The ultimate goal is to support population-level scalable and affordable interventions for secondary dementia risk reduction.

Previous UW NORC P&F Program Awardees

Ana Valencia, PhD
Ana Valencia, PhD

Department of Radiology
The Role of Mitochondrial Metabolism in Weight Loss in the Context of Obesity
03/01/2022 - 02/28/2023

Barbara Juarez, PhD
Barbara Juarez, PhD

Department of Psychiatry
Effect of a High-Fat Diet on VTA Dopamine Neuron Activity and Behavior
04/01/2022 - 03/31/2023

Meghan Koch, PhD
Meghan Koch, PhD

Fred Hutch Cancer Center
Regulation of White Adipose Tissue Function and Energy Balance by Breastmilk Antibodies
07/01/2021 - 06/30/2023

Jarrad Scarlett, MD, PhD
Jarrad Scarlett, MD, PhD

Department of Pediatrics
Hypothalamic Mechanisms of FGF1-Mediated Remission of Diabetic Hyperglycemia
07/01/2016 - 06/30/2018

Mauricio Dorfman, PhD
Mauricio Dorfman, PhD

Department of Medicine
The Role of CNS CX3CL1-CX3CR1 Signaling in Estrogen-Mediated Protection Against Obesity and Diabetes
07/01/2015 - 06/30/2017

Jenny Kanter, PhD
Jenny Kanter, PhD

Department of Medicine
A Novel Model of Type 2 Diabetes-accelerated Atherosclerosis
07/01/2014 - 06/30/2016

Davene Wright, PhD
Davene Wright, PhD

Department of Pediatrics
Parent Attitudes Toward Child Health and Weight
07/01/2014 - 06/30/2016

Michelle Averill, PhD
Michelle Averill, PhD

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
The Effects of Dietary Glycemic Load on Postprandial Lipemia and HDL Composition and Function
07/01/2013 - 06/30/2015

Laura den Hartigh, PhD
Laura den Hartigh, PhD

Department of Medicine
Trans-10, Cis-12 Conjugated Linoleic Acid Enhances Lipid Utilization in Adipocytes by Increasing Mitochondrial Metabolism and Insulin Resistance
07/01/2012 - 06/30/2014

Katya Rubinow, MD
Katya Rubinow, MD

Department of Medicine
Androgen-mediated Pathway in the Regulation of Insulin Sensitivity in Men
07/01/2012 - 06/30/2014

Joshua Thaler, MD, PhD
Joshua Thaler, MD, PhD

Department of Medicine
The Development Role of PPAR-y in Adult Metabolism
07/01/2011 - 06/30/2013

Mario Kratz, PhD, MS
Mario Kratz, PhD, MS

Department of Epidemiology and Medicine
Vitamin D and Low-grade Adipose Tissue Inflammation
07/01/2011 - 06/30/2013

Tomas Vaisar, PhD
Tomas Vaisar, PhD

Department of Medicine
Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Diet Supplementation on HDL and its Biological Activity
07/01/2009 - 06/30/2011

Carole Wilson, PhD
Carole Wilson, PhD

Medical University of South Carolina
ADAM17-mediated Proteolysis in Diet-induced Obesity
07/01/2009 - 06/30/2011

Andrew Hoofnagle, MD, PhD
Andrew Hoofnagle, MD, PhD

Department of Laboratory Medicine
HDL and Cardiovascular Risk in Chronic Kidney Disease
07/01/2007 - 06/30/2009


Program Leadership

Greg Morton, PhD
Greg Morton, PhD

Program Director gjmorton@uw.edu