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New Grant “Bridges” Gap, Allows Study of Anemia to Continue

Posted: June 10, 2014

Scientific investigators often have to rely on perseverance to maintain their research during times of federal sequestration. Dr. Robert Paulson is one such example: a professor who works hard to continue developing new treatments for anemia despite government shortfalls.
Dr. Robert Paulson's lab studies the formation of red blood cells.

Dr. Robert Paulson's lab studies the formation of red blood cells.

In 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was forced to decrease their budget by $1.55 billion because of federal government sequestration. This financial cut-back resulted in approximately 640 fewer research grants than in previous years.

One of the proposals affected was that of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences (VBS) professor Dr. Robert Paulson, who has been looking for new, more effective treatment therapies for anemia. Even though Paulson’s proposal was rated as “excellent” by NIH Stimulating Hematology Investigation: New Endeavors (SHINE) grant reviewers, it did not receive an award because of the funding cuts. 

However, after receiving a one-year, $100,000 bridge grant from the American Society of Hematology (ASH), Paulson was able to resubmit his NIH proposal. Only eight researchers across the United States received an ASH bridge grant. These grants were designed to support important research not funded, “as a direct result of sequestration.” 

His hard work has paid off: Paulson recently was informed that his NIH project will be fully funded. His lab is now assured that it can continue its research into determining the mechanisms regulating red blood cell production in order to develop new treatments for anemia.

In general, anemia is a fairly common blood disorder caused by a decreased level of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a special type of protein that is necessary for red blood cells (erythrocytes) to transport oxygen and other gasses throughout the body and, without which, organs and tissue will experience hypoxia.

Many different variables can affect hemoglobin levels, such as improper nutrition, genetic disorders, inflammation, or underlying, chronic disease. In fact, there are over 400 different types of anemia. Two of the congenital chronic anemias—thalassemia and sickle cell anemia—represent the most common monogenic disease traits worldwide. 

hemoglobin

The financial and overall health-related impacts of anemia are extensive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 209,000 emergency room visits were a result of anemia in 2010. Almost 19% of nursing home residents suffer from a form of the disease, and about two out of every 100,000 people die from it each year. 

Typically, the current treatment for anemia involves one of two therapies designed to increase hemoglobin levels: transfusions, which can exacerbate iron overload and induce inflammation; and recombinant erythropoietin (Epo), which can cause blood clots and interfere with chemotherapy.

Obviously, finding more effective treatments would benefit many sectors of the economy and human health in general.

Paulson’s lab is trying to do just that. They are researching the use of the body's own stress erythropoiesis process to treat anemia. Stress erythropoiesis is an alternative pathway that can generate large numbers of new erythrocytes during times of acute need. Finding a treatment mechanism using this natural function may improve therapy results and decrease negative side effects. 

Initial studies by the lab have shown that when stress erythroid progenitors are transplanted into bone marrow, it results in less severe anemia and faster recovery. Research also has shown that models defective in stress erythroid progenitors are significantly impaired in their ability to survive chronic inflammatory anemia, reinforcing the hypothesis that these progenitors are critical to treating anemia.

Paulson's lab is staffed with graduate students from a variety of disciplines: Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (BMMB), Cell and Developmental Biology (CDB)Molecular MedicineGenetics, and Pathobiology.  Students working on this project include: Laurie Lenox, John Perry, Aparna Subramanian, Prashanth Porayette, Omid Harandi, Shailaja Hegde, Dai-Chen Wu, Jie Xiang, Laura Bennett, and new students Siyang Hao and Yuanting Chen.

Through continued research like the work in Dr. Paulson’s lab, Penn State  is helping drive improvements in human health. For more information on our veterinary and biomedical research, visit the VBS research labs at http://vbs.psu.edu/research.