Pilot Projects

The Delaware INBRE Pilot Awards offer needed assistance to early-career investigators on the path to research independence.

2019-2022 Delaware INBRE Pilot Investigators application is now closed.

The next round application will be available Spring/Summer 2022.

2019 Pilot Project Request for Applications and Application Instructions


Completed Pilot Projects

Team #1

IMBRE Group Photo & Headshots

Sonali Barwe, PhD
Research Scientist
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children

Project title: The role of epigenetic therapy in reversing adhesion mediated drug resistance in leukemia.

Thematic area: Cancer

Summary: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia ALL is the most common pediatric leukemia. Although most patients are cured, about 20 percent relapse because of drug-resistant leukemic cells retained within the bone marrow. This study aims to establish the use of epigenetic therapy for treatment of all relapsed ALL. The data also will aid in detection and prediction of clinical response to epigenetic therapy.

IMBRE Group Photo & HeadshotsAnilkumar Gopalakrishnapillai, PhD
Assistant Research Scientist II
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Nemours Biomedical Research

Project title: Deciphering the mechanism of Down syndrome leukemia (DS-AML) biogenesis using isogenic iPSC lines and CRISPR/Cas9 technology

Thematic area: Cancer

Summary: The goal of this study is to identify key targets involved in the development of acute myeloid leukemia in children with Down syndrome (DS-AML). Currently, no targeted therapeutics are available for this disease to avoid toxic side-effects from chemotherapy. When completed, this study will aid in developing targeted therapy against DS-AML.

Team #2

Shirin Modarai, PhD
Junior Research Scientist
Christiana Care Health System
Center for Translational Cancer Research/Helen F. Graham Cancer Center and Research Institute

Thematic area: Cancer

Summary: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third-leading cancer for men and women in the United States. Tumor formation and growth is thought to occur due to stem cell overpopulation. Current anti-cancer therapies can sometimes shrink tumors by killing the rapidly proliferating cells, but since cancer stem cells (CSCs) are not typically actively dividing, they are not targeted during the development and use of chemotherapeutic drugs. This may explain why there is such a high rate of disease recurrence for most cancers. Since CSCs are responsible for driving tumor growth it is critical to find markers that can identify these cells and eliminate them from the tumor. Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) is a reliable biological marker. The proposed project aims to identify a specific sub-population of ALDH+CSCs that leads to stem cell overpopulation and ultimately will lead to more innovative anticancer targeted therapies.

IMBRE Group Photo & HeadshotsCheng-Yu Lai, PhD
Associate Professor, Chemistry
Delaware State University

Project: Targeted Nanoparticles to Deliver APC Tumor Suppressor Protein for Treatment of Colon Cancer

Theme area: Cancer

Summary: Successful demonstration of intracellular APC protein delivery that leads to restoring homeostasis in colorectal cancer will create the foundation for a novel targeted protein therapy of colon cancer.

Individual Pilot Projects

IMBRE Group Photo & Headshots

Lisa Jaremka, PhD
Assistant professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
University of Delaware

Project: Appetite Regulation and Food Intake: Novel Mechanisms Linking Marital Distress to Cardiovascular Risk

Theme area: Cardiovascular

Summary: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide. Medical costs associated with treating CVD-related problems are estimated at $315.4 billion per year in the US alone. Distressed marriages are a reliable risk factor for the development and progression of cardiovascular problems.

This project will provide novel information about appetite dysregulation and increased food intake as mechanisms that underlie the link between marital distress and cardiovascular risk. Ultimately, these data could provide important targets for focused interventions that would help prevent cardiovascular problems from developing.


IMBRE Group Photo & Headshots

Susanne Morton, PhD
Associate professor, Physical Therapy
University of Delaware

Project: Noninvasive Brain Stimulation to Improve Motor Learning Post-Stroke

Thematic area: Neuroscience

Summary: Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability for which the only treatment is physical rehabilitation. During rehabilitation, stroke patients must learn or relearn movements that have been lost due to damage to the motor regions of the brain. Unfortunately, motor learning after stroke is often poor. In this project, we will test whether non-invasive brain stimulation in the form of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) improves motor learning after stroke and we will determine if tDCS works on motor learning by temporarily increasing brain excitability. Findings will lead to important advancements in motor learning-based interventions to improve motor recovery for people with stroke.

IMBRE Portraits & Group Photo


Jessica Tanis, PhD
Assistant professor, Biological Sciences
University of Delaware

Project: Role of the CLHM-1 ion channel in C. elegans neurons

Thematic area: Neuroscience

Summary: More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative brain disorder that causes dementia in elderly individuals. It is important to understand the factors that contribute to AD pathogenesis.

The P86L polymorphism in Calcium homeostasis modulator 1 (CALHM1) influences Alzheimer’s disease age of onset.  CALHM1 knockout mice exhibit a significant increase in the steady state levels of amyloid beta, a causative factor in Alzheimer’s disease. However, the physiological function of CALHM1 in the brain remains unclear.

CALHM1 and its C. elegans homolog CLHM-1 have been shown to belong to a new family of ion channels that exhibit shared biophysical properties when expressed in heterologous systems and functional conservation when expressed in C. elegans.  The goal of our research is to use the C. elegans model system to determine how the activation and regulation of CALHM channels alters neuronal signaling in vivo.

thostensonErik Thostenson
Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering
University of Delaware

Project: Novel Flexible Sensors in Functional Fabrics for Performance Monitoring

Thematic area: Neuroscience

Summary: People with movement difficulties use significantly different joint postures to achieve activities of daily living, which may be larger or smaller than their neurologically healthy counterparts. By monitoring everyday movement of a particular limb outside a laboratory setting, the opportunity exists to provide feedback or intervention to enhance function and improve quality of life.This pilot project aims to create and validate a new class of novel flexible sensors for integration in functional garments capable of measuring joint motions and forces during daily living.

Integrated Team Research Project

The integrated research team involves multiple pilot investigators working under a senior investigator to develop a multidisciplinary team across different institutions.

Project: Relationships between hgh-frequency, low-magnitude vibration (HLV) treatment and improvement in brain and muscle structure and functional outcomes measures in children with cerebral palsy

Thematic area: Neuroscience

Mentor: Stuart A. Binder-Macleod, PhD

Summary: Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neuromuscular disorder that affects about 800,000 people in the United States. Muscle spasticity, low muscle volume, strength and quality, poor balance and increased risk of falls stem from an injury to the brain that impairs postural control and mobility. The result is a reduction in physical activity which is strongly linked to obesity and a high risk of chronic disease. Our long-term goal is to identify treatments that facilitate optimal development of the neuromuscular system, increase participation in physical activity, and reduce the risk of chronic disease in children with CP. One treatment that has received significant attention is high-frequency, low-magnitude vibration (HLV); however, studies examining the effect of HLV on neuromuscular performance and physical activity in children with CP are lacking.

Pilot Projects:

Jeremy Crenshaw
Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology
University of Delaware

Project: Development of a comprehensive evaluation of postural control in children with cerebral palsy

Summary: Falls are common in children with CP, often leading to serious injury and a fear of falling. In turn, physical activity is limited. The cumulative effects of inactivity translates into a higher risk for cardiometabolic disease. A comprehensive assessment of postural control will allow us to evaluate the benefits of interventions to improve motor function and increase physical activity in this population. The overall objective of this application is to develop a comprehensive framework to investigate the benefits of HLV treatment on postural control and physical activity patients with CP.

IMBRE Group Photo & HeadshotsCurtis Johnson
Assistant professor, Biomedical Engineering
University of Delaware

Project: High-resolution brain MR elastography in children with cerebral palsy

Summary: The overwhelming majority of children with CP exhibit some form of white matter or gray matter damage that is ostensibly related to the clinical disability observed in CP. As rehabilitative therapies aim to improve physical function through neuroplastic recovery of brain health, it is important to employ an imaging method for characterizing neural damage and recovery. The objective of this research is to develop magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) methods to determine if there is a loss of brain tissue viscoelasticity in CP. We will compare brain tissue viscoelasticity in children with CP with that of typically developing (TD) children. We will also assess the physical function of children with CP and establish relationships between brain tissue viscoelasticity and functional out measures. The use of this method can have a profound impact on individualized treatment and care for children with cerebral palsy.