University of Nebraska Medical Center

Pilot Core

Pilot or feasibility projects funded from the Alcohol Center of Research Nebraska will result in subsequent grant submissions to the NIAAA or other funding agencies to advance alcohol research.

We welcome applications for pilot projects that address biomedical research in alcohol misuse. ACORN is a NIAAA-funded alcohol center based at UNMC and the Omaha VA Research Service. The center’s mission is to work with the alcohol research community in the immediate region and beyond, conducting research activities that aim to discover the mechanisms of injury and illness that will lead to the implementation of effective prevention strategies.

Pilot Core 2023 Project Awardees

Pilot project duration is limited to 12 months and funding is limited to $25,000 per project. Pilot projects are primarily intended to assist investigators to obtain pilot data that can be used in pursuing support through other funding mechanisms.

Investigating the Role of Lipid Droplets and Antioxidant Therapy in Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

Micah Schott, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Approved Budget (7-1-23 to 6-30-24): $25,000

Abstract: Alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) is a growing public health concern, and new therapeutic strategies are urgently needed to prevent its progression. This proposal establishes a collaboration between the laboratories of Dr. Micah Schott and co-investigator Dr. Rebecca Oberley-Deegan to investigate cellular mechanisms underlying ALD and explore the potential of antioxidant therapy using the ROS-scavenging agent BuOE to mitigate liver damage. The accumulation of lipid droplets (LDs) in hepatocytes plays a central role in ALD progression, and the role of LDs in facilitating hepatocyte damage, specifically through lipid peroxidation, is poorly understood. This project aims to define the impact of lipolysis on lipid peroxidation and cell damage in hepatocytes exposed to EtOH. Furthermore, the efficacy of BuOE, a promising SOD-mimic antioxidant, in reducing ROS-driven hepatocyte damage in ALD will be investigated using in vitro cell models and in vivo mouse models that recapitulate key features of human ALD. This study will provide preliminary data for future grant proposals to develop novel therapeutic interventions for ALD.

Machine Learning for Identifying Biomarkers Within and Between Brain Networks for Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis

Shibiao Wan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Anatomy

Approved Budget (7-1-23 to 6-30-24): $25,000

Abstract: Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a type of addiction with adverse health, occupational, and social consequences. Existing neuroimaging studies indicate that AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease, and it is related to aberrant functional connectivity (FC) in a unifying triple network. However, these studies have following limitations: (1) the results might be statistically unreliable due to the insufficiency of multiple-comparison correction when dealing with millions of dimensions of brain networks; (2) the biomarkers studied were all within triple networks, whereas few attentions were paid to other brain networks; and (3) complex patterns in a multi-variate matter could not be detected. To address these concerns, we propose to develop a machine learning (ML) framework to automatically identify FC biomarkers from both within- and between-brain networks (including both the triple network and other brain networks) for AUD diagnosis. Our proposed ML model is extensible to study other addictions and neurological disorders.

Early Detection of Alcohol-related liver Disease Using Novel Serum and Fecal Biomarkers

Thoetchai Peeraphatdit, MD, Assistant Professor, Department Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology & Hepatology Division

Approved Budget (7-1-23 to 6-30-24): $25,000

Abstract: Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol-related liver disease (ALD). With current practice, ALD are typically diagnosed late with either decompensated cirrhosis or alcoholic hepatitis. Late presentation of ALD have in-hospital mortality up to 46%. Therefore, early detection of ALD, specifically at the state of early fibrosis and compensated cirrhosis is crucial to allow time for patients to be treated for alcohol use disorder. However, detection of early ALD currently requires costly imaging studies. Thus, easy-to-access biomarkers to detect early ALD is an area with unmet clinical need. This pilot project is a translational investigation determining the usefulness of serum and fecal samples in the early detection of ALD. The potential biomarkers of interest are 1) sH2a, serum soluble form of the human asialoglycoprotein receptor and 2) FERAD, the ratio of blood Ferritin to fecal p87, a constituent of Paneth cells and an effector of the innate immune system.

HIV- and alcohol-induced hepatocyte-derived extracellular Vesicles (EVs) induce liver fibrosis: the protective role of anti-microRNAs

Siva S Koganti, PhD, Instructor, Department of Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology & Hepatology Division

Approved Budget (7-1-23 to 6-30-24): $25,000

Abstract: About 48% of HIV-infected individuals are alcohol abusers. Alcohol exposure tremendously potentiates HIV-induced liver fibrosis. The mechanisms behind these events are unclear. Emerging pieces of evidence point to the role of microRNAs (miRs) in EVs as the regulators of hepatic stellate cell (HSC) activation. We recently demonstrated that differentially expressed miRs in extracellular vesicles (EVs) released from alcohol-treated HIV-infected hepatocytes target mRNAs in HSC to regulate the activation of pro-fibrotic genes and liver fibrosis progression. In this context, we propose to functionally validate differentially expressed miRs and to target specific miRs with anti-miR treatment to attenuate fibrogenesis in alcohol-related and HIV-induced liver disease, which improves the quality of treatment and longevity in people living with HIV1 (PLWH) also having Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) This illustrates the mechanism by which double-exposure to the virus (HIV) and ethanol regulates liver fibrosis progression. Thus, this study fully corresponds to the ACORN P50 grant mission.

Request for Applications

We are not accepting proposal applications at this time. Our next RFA will open January 2024.

View the latest RFA

Examples of pilot or feasibility projects include:

  • Initial support for developing novel, innovative, cutting-edge research, translation, prevention, or intervention approaches.
  • Adapting and evaluating proven research tools or techniques for new applications or delivery systems.
  • Obtaining preliminary data, mining existing state or national datasets, or pursuing critical data gaps.
  • Supporting investigators from other fields of study to apply their expertise to alcohol use/misuse challenges.
  • Developing new mechanisms for external or multicenter collaborative partnerships to address emerging alcohol use/misuse concerns.
  • Exploring new directions that represent significant departures from established approaches, yet have the potential to yield great impacts.