Pilot Projects

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


Pilot Projects 2019-2021

Anjana Bhat, PhD
Associate Professor, Physical Therapy
University of Delaware

Project title: A multisystem, multimodal intervention for children with ASD

Thematic area: Neuroscience

Summary: We propose to examine effects of an 8-week novel synchronous, multisystem, multimodal play intervention to facilitate social communication and motor skills of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Our preliminary studies showed that practicing musical synchrony as a group led to highest levels of social attention and increase in amount of social verbalization as well as an increase in imitation accuracy and percent of interpersonal synchrony following 8 weeks of intervention compared to a sedentary play group. While we are encouraged by the positive behavioral findings, we still do not know the neural mechanisms that facilitate social communication skills when children engage in socially embedded, synchronous whole body movements.


Jing Jin, MD
Ophthalmologist, Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology, Department of Surgery
Nemours, A.I. duPont Hospital for Children

Project title: Non-invasive monitoring of sickle cell disease progression via OCT and ERG

Thematic area: Cancer

Summary: The research proposed in this application will utilize a combination of standard and novel noninvasive diagnostic modalities to examine retinal structure and function in children with SCD. Using these techniques will improve our ability to accurately diagnose and monitor SCR in children and provide a better understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease. Through this study, we will refine our ability to predict progression, assess therapeutic efficacy, develop more effective monitoring guidelines and initiate early interventions. Correlating retinal findings with clinical data may provide insight into other vascular complications of SCD, such as cerebrovascular disease. The long-term goal of this study is to enhance early detection of SCR and develop treatment strategies to slow the progression of SCR toward proliferative retinopathy and blindness, lowering the societal burden of SCR and improving the quality of life for these patients.

Karl Milletti-Gonzalez, PhD
Associate Professor, Biological Sciences
Delaware State University

Project title: Regulation of oxidative stress by CD44 in triple negative breast cancercells from African American women

Thematic area: Cancer

Summary: The objective of the proposed study is to investigate a potential underlying molecular mechanism by which CD44 regulates the oxidative stress response via the CD44-ICD in TNBC cells from AA women. Our central hypothesis is that the involvement of CD44 in the oxidative stress response includes 1) protein-DNA interactions between the CD44-ICD and its response element (CIRE) on promoters of
NFE2L2 and KEAP1 and 2) protein-protein interactions between Runx2 and/or p53 and the CD44-ICD to regulate the expression of NFE2L2 and the Nrf2 function. This regulatory mechanism is proposed to show differences in TNBC cells from AA women compared to TNBC cells from EA women.


Rahul Nikam, MD
Radiologist/Assistant Professor of Radiology & Pediatrics
Nemours / A.I. duPont Hospital for Children

Project title: Magnetic Resonance Elastography in Characterization of Pediatric Gliomas

Thematic area: Neuroscience

Summary: In this project we intend to bridge the gap between the various grades and genetic subtypes of pediatric glimoa, and MRE derived viscoelastic mechanical properties. There are no studies done in pediatric brain tumor population evaluating the relationship of tumor stiffness with tumor grade, genetic alterations and proliferation index.