REACH | Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) | The University of Vermont(title)

This competition is closed!

What is REACH?



The current OVPR REACH funding program has been redefined to support arts and humanities research at UVM. Uses of support are flexible but cannot include faculty salary support/replacement, teaching buyout, or summer salary but can include support for services or research assistance. Budgets up to $20k will be considered. Eligible applicants include tenured, tenure-track, or library UVM faculty of all UVM departments in the Arts, Creative Disciplines and Humanities. Funds must be used in the calendar year 2024.

How to Apply


Applications are limited to 3 pages (single-spaced pages with one-half inch (1/2") margins and a font of at least eleven (11) point). *The Budget form, References/Bibliography, required CV/resumes, and REACH signatures form are excluded from the page limit and should include:

  1. Project Description (3 pages maximum). Please provide:
    1. a description of the project,
    2. a description of project outcomes/deliverables, and
    3. a plan to evaluate the impact of the project, including metrics where applicable.

In addition to the Project Description, please submit:

  1. Budget and Budget Justification form (download from InfoReady Review site)
  2. References/Bibliography (no page limit) Please provide references/bibliography relevant to your project. Use the appropriate format for
    your discipline.
  3. CV/Resume: Please include an abbreviated CV or resume of no more than four (4) pages per person for all faculty involved in the project.
  4. REACH signatures form (download from InfoReady Review site)


Procedure for Submitting Proposals


Please submit application materials after February 2, 2024 via the...

UVM InfoReady Review application portal.

Application materials should be submitted no later than 5:00 pm on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 and funding announcements will be made by Friday, May 10, 2024.

Applications should be prepared as instructed in the Application Requirements.


Questions? Please Contact...

Dan Harvey

Assistant Dean, Graduate College • Director of Operations, Office of the Vice President for Research (802) 656-4566

REACH Recipients


Michele Commercio, Political Science

"Beyond Quotas: Gender Equality - or the Lack Thereof - in Kyrgyzstan's Political Arena"

Why is it that women remain underrepresented in Kyrgyz politics, despite the introduction of a national legislative gender quota in 2007? Having just completed a book manuscript on polygyny in Kyrgyzstan, my new research project is a book on gender and politics in Kyrgyzstan. The REACH grant will support the initial phase of this project, which is field research to explore 1) how and why women are elected to parliament, and 2) opportunities and challenges women confront once they make it to parliament. Preliminary research I have conducted suggests that there are gender stereotypes that discourage women from entering the political arena, and informal practices that party leaders use to "persuade" women elected to parliament to give up their mandate. The REACH grant will allow me to investigate these hunches through the funding of a research trip. While in Kyrgyzstan, I will interview former and current government officials as well as civil society activists working on gender equality issues.

Jaeda Coutinho-Budd, Biology

"Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Glial-Glial Interactions and Function"

Glia are critical components of the nervous system that provide factors for neuronal survival, regulate neuronal function, facilitate synapse formation and plasticity, and remove harmful debris in disease and injury. Glial dysfunction can therefore lead to a wide array of nervous system conditions including neurodevelopmental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and aggressive cancers. While most glial studies focus on neuron-glia crosstalk, this proposal aims to increase our mechanistic understanding of glial-glial interactions, and the consequences of disrupting those associations. These analyses will expose both beneficial and detrimental roles that healthy glial cells undergo in reaction to nearby glial cell dysfunction, revealing potential targets for therapeutic intervention to mitigate the effects of glial reactivity in disease.

Paul Deslandes, History

"Transatlantic Britishness: Architecture, Design, and Cultural Exchange, 1876-Present"

This grant will enable sustained research for a new book that will examine the movement of peoples, designs, artifacts, ideas, funds and, in some cases, whole buildings or structures between the United Kingdom and the United States and Canada in the period, 1876-present. This project will explore several different developments including the influence of British architecture on North American aesthetics, the trade in British architectural artifacts, the commissioning of British architects in North America, the movement of British country houses and country house contents to both Canada and the United States, and North American architectural preservation efforts in the United Kingdom. Based on sustained research with original sources, this project will use architecture as a lens through which to study British influences on North American culture, the American and Canadian investment in the more tangible aspects of Britishness, and identity formation among a diverse range of populations.

Kathryn Fox, Sociology
Abigail Crocker, Mathematics & Statistics

"Evidence-Based Prison Reform for Incarcerated Women"

Incarceration, and in particular, women's incarceration is the subject of many reform efforts in the US. Innovations in women's prisons are promising, but lack rigorous evaluation of their effects on recidivism, employment, behaviors, and the wellbeing of both the staff and incarcerated individuals. This REACH grant provides the opportunity for Professors Fox and Crocker to combine their quantitative and qualitative skills to study outcomes from an innovative prison facility in Maine. Partnering with the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Muskie School of Public Service (University of Southern Maine), this mixed-methods study provides a significant opportunity to add to the evidence base around gender-responsive, trauma-informed practices in correctional settings. The researchers have an existing partnership with Vermont DOC, which is poised to make cultural changes within its prisons, and in particular, will benefit from insights into Maine's experiences. Other states, too, will be interested in the findings from this rigorous approach. This grant will enable an information-sharing relationship across two states and academic institutions, situating the team to apply for external funding for continued research and collaboration.

Nancy Gauvin, Communication Sciences and Disorders

"To P.i.N.C.H or not to P.i.N.C.H, that is the question?"

This study examines the effectiveness of Prolonged Nasal Cul-De-Sac with High Pressure Speech Acts (P.i.N.C.H.) therapy. P.i.N.C.H. therapy is used to treat the reduced activity of the soft palate, after a cleft palate repair, reducing hypernasal resonance. In English, positive pressure buildup with the soft palate is needed to produce oral sounds in speech. Reduced movement of the Velopharyngeal Port (VP) may occur when the soft palate does not separate the oral and nasal cavities when producing oral sounds. If the VP port is unable to close for oral sounds, excessive air will flow out of the nose when speaking. If adequate pressure is not built up in the oral cavity, speech sounds will be produced through the nasal cavity causing a hypernasal resonance that impacts a person’s speech intelligibility. Continued inability to build positive pressure may lead to a physiological phenomenon known as velopharyngeal surrender that can exacerbate the inactivity of soft palate closing during the production of oral sounds. There is currently no treatment for VP gap.

Adrian Ivakhiv, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

"The New Lives of Images: Toward an Ontology of the Digital Image World"

This project will survey disparate scholarly literatures on images (in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, religious studies, visual and media studies, etc.) to develop a synthetic analytical framework for understanding how people use — and are 'used by' — images in the rapidly evolving world of digital communication. Ivakhiv will use this framework to analyze three sets of images popular with multiple audiences: (1) images addressing the climate crisis, and more broadly the Anthropocene, with a focus on The Anthropocene Project; (2) images depicting unusual trans-species encounters between animals, and between humans and nonhuman animals, as shared in multiple forms of social media; and (3) images reflecting a relationship between their artist-creators and 'transcendent' or 'spiritual' forces invoked by those artists (with a focus on the Guggenheim's 2019 exhibition of paintings by abstractionist-mystic Hilma af Klint). This research aims to provide a nuanced understanding of how images, as used in digital culture, are not merely communicative (of information) and expressive (of subjectivity), but embody affective, emotional, and 'spiritual' perceptions and dimensions of people's relationship with the more-than-human world.

David Jenemann, English/Film and Television Studies
Chris Burns, Special Collections Librarian

"You Heard it Here First: The Vermont Radio Archive"

The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board has identified sound recordings made prior to 1972 — especially regional radio broadcasts — as some of the most endangered historical material in the country. Much of that rapidly deteriorating, historically significant material rests in the hands of private collectors and radio hobbyists and is unavailable to researchers and the public. With funds from the REACH Grant, Professor David Jenemann and Special Collections Librarian Chris Burns will conduct the first phase of a two-phase project to identify and collect Vermont’s rich radio history with the aim of creating Vermont’s first publicly accessible digital radio archive. The creation of a Vermont Radio Archive aligns with the University's land grant mission and its proud history as the first broadcaster in the state and will mark UVM as a leader in radio preservation and research.

Kelly Rohan, Psychological Science

"Optimizing Long-Term Outcomes for Winter Depression with CBT-SAD and Light Therapy: Confirming the Targets, Mechanisms, and Treatment Sequence"

Winter seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subtype of recurrent depression involving major depressive episodes during the fall/winter months that remit each spring. This confirmatory efficacy R01 focuses on two SAD treatments that each work for some patients: light therapy (LT) and a SAD-tailored group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT-SAD). We examine four theoretically relevant biomarkers to determine how each treatment works when it is effective and identify the best candidates for each. We will also test the efficacy of a "switch" decision rule upon recurrence to inform clinical decision-making. We will randomize 160 adults with SAD to 6-weeks of CBT-SAD or LT in Winter 1; follow subjects in Winter 2; and, if a depression recurrence occurs, cross them over into the alternate treatment (i.e., switch from LT to CBT-SAD or CBT-SAD to LT). All subjects will be followed in Winter 3. Biomarker assessments occur at pre-, mid-, and post-treatment in Winter 1, and at followups in Winter 2 and Winter 3.


Thomas Borchert, Religion

"Monastic Attitudes to Islamophobia in Northern Thailand - Islamophobia or Not?"

While Buddhist monks are widely understood to be focused on meditation and mindfulness, Buddhism is an important part of nationalist ideologies in Southeast Asia. In the last decade, monks in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have been among the key agents of anti-Muslim activism and violence in their respective countries. Thailand has seemed to avoided these problems. Despite a twenty-year ethno-nationalist separatist movement in the Thai South, Thai monks do not publicly espouse Islamophobia. However, in interviews on Buddhism and politics in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, monks have expressed ideas about Muslims similar to that of Myanmar. In this research, I will investigate the attitudes of Northern Thai monks to Islam.

Emily Coderre, Communication Science and Disorders

"What happens next?"

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often demonstrate impaired comprehension of linguistic (i.e. spoken or written) narratives. However, comprehension impairments also occur for non-linguistic narratives (e.g. picture sequences or comics), suggesting impairments in narrative comprehension more broadly. One potential contributor to this domain-general comprehension impairment is poor prediction. Successful narrative processing entails prediction of upcoming words or events to facilitate comprehension. However, some have proposed that autism is a disorder of prediction, meaning individuals with ASD are less able to use previous experiences to process incoming information. This project uses electroencephalography (EEG) to examine prediction during comprehension of linguistic narratives (i.e. short written stories) and visual narratives (i.e. picture sequences or comics) in individuals with ASD. This work has important implications for designing effective interventions for individuals who struggle with reading comprehension.

David Darais, Computer Science
Joseph Near, Computer Science

"Data Privacy for Deep Learning via Language Design"

Data privacy is a growing concern for individuals, businesses, governments and organizations. The prevailing public consensus is to regulate the use of private data, but companies lack the necessary tools to comply with proposed regulations. The state of the art in balancing data analysis with user privacy is a data anonymization technique called differential privacy. We propose to extend differential privacy techniques to support deep neural networks. Recent advances in data privacy are focused on traditional data analysis tasks, the results of which do not apply to advanced machine learning techniques like deep neural networks. Our aim to bridge these two lines of cutting-edge research has the potential to incentivize companies to adopt data privacy protection mechanisms for users, and pave a path towards strong data privacy as the status quo in the digital era.

Niccolo Fiorentino, Mechanical Engineering

"Biomechanical Factors Six Months Post-ACLR with Meniscal Resection"

An alarming number of young, otherwise healthy people suffer from osteoarthritis (OA) after undergoing surgery to correct a traumatic injury to a joint. This is known as post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA). Of particular concern, almost 50% of individuals who suffer severe knee ligament trauma and undergo anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction with a resection of their meniscus (a load bearing structure in the knee) begin to show signs of PTOA in 10-20 years. Effective treatments have not been developed because we do not know how the behavior of the meniscus and underlying cartilage changes after surgery and rehabilitation. The purposes of this study are to measure the response of the meniscus and underlying cartilage to an increasing, controlled load applied during magnetic resonance imaging, and to compare the position of the bones in the knee joint while walking.

Delphine Quenet, Biochemistry

"DNA Damage Response to PARP and PARG inhibitors in Glioblastoma"

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common primary brain tumor. Despite multimodal treatment combining surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, patient survival remains poor (~15 months) and recurrence is virtually inevitable. One important molecular marker in GBM is the tumor suppressor phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN), whose mutation is associated with poor prognosis and tumor resistance to radio- and chemo-therapy. Increasing evidence demonstrates PTEN role in DNA double strand break repair. Drugs targeting PARP1 and PARG proteins (PARPi/PARGi) have been designed and demonstrated antitumor activity, such as in BRCA1/2-mutated ovarian cancers. However, this concept and the therapeutic relevance of PARPi have not yet been tested in GBM. The long-term goal of this project is to assess for the first time the effectiveness of PARPi and PARGi in GBM, and predict treatment response in regard of the status of the marker PTEN to personalize therapy.

Susanna Schrafstetter, History

"Flight and Concealment: Surviving the Holocaust Underground in Munich and Beyond"

My book Flight and Concealment: Surviving the Holocaust Underground in Munich and Beyond analyzes the stories of Munich Jews who attempted to escape deportation and murder by submerging into illegality. An English translation of my book would fill a significant gap in the academic literature on the Holocaust and would allow me to position myself as a more prominent scholar in the field of Holocaust Studies both in the United States as well as internationally. This would reflect positively on the Miller Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont, on the History Department, and on the university more generally. An English edition would also be attractive for course adoption in a variety of classes, on multiple levels.


Appala Badireddy, Civil and Environmental Engineering

"Reactive Electrochemical Membrane (REM) Filtration for Ex Situ PFOA and PFOS Groundwater Treatment"

As an emerging persistent organic pollutant, perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have drawn great attention due to their widespread distribution in environmental and biological systems around the globe. Since the early 2000s, numerous studies on PFAS indicate that these compounds do not break down easily by natural biogeochemical processes, and they readily bioaccumulate and pose a significant risk to human and animal health. Their unique physical and chemical properties are similar to a "double-edged sword", that is, the same properties that make the PFAS attractive for industrial applications also render them hazardous to the environment. As a result, PFAS are very difficult to treat with conventional remediation treatment processes.

This proposal describes an innovative treatment approach to rapidly remove and degrade PFOS and PFOA, the two dominant pollutants in aqueous systems, using a reactive electrochemical membrane (REM) filtration under continuous flow conditions. The development of a REM-based treatment would provide safe drinking water to communities, create self-sustainability, improve environmental friendliness, be compact and easy to operate, and generate a new component for the local and global economy.

Reuben Escorpizo, Rehabilitation and Movement Science
Diantha Howard, Informatics Core Manager
Ryan Jewell, Neurosurgery
Roger Knakal, Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation
Mike Lamoy
Patrick Standen, Rehabilitation and Movement Science

"A Community-Based and Interdisciplinary Project on Spinal Cord Injury Based on a Biopsychosocial Model of Health"

The spinal cord is a part of our body that is connected to the brain and helps us move our arms and legs. When injured, the spinal cord can result in paralysis and can sometimes be life threatening. Most of spinal cord injury (SCI) survivors live in the community, hence being able to assess the functioning of people with SCI early on is critical in understanding the quality of life of people living with SCI.

Our objective is to study the functioning and disability of people with SCI in the community, using a survey tool called INSCI. We will recruit participants in Vermont and Maryland. The study will include individuals with SCI related to trauma and certain non-traumatic origin. Study participants must be 18 years and older. It is expected that the INSCI survey will provide us with information that would help facilitate the delivery of health-related services to people with SCI to improve their well-being and quality of life and increase their participation in society.

Sayamwong Hammack, Psychological Science
Mark Bouton, Psychological Science
Victor May, Neurological Sciences

"Peptide Interactions in Opioid Relapse"

While addiction to opioids represents a significant health problem, the behavioral and neural mechanisms that underlie addiction and its resistance to treatment are unclear. The activation of stress-response systems by drugs of abuse has been argued to be critical for the maintenance of addiction and stress has been shown to cause drug relapse in both humans and animals; hence, stress-systems represent an important target for the treatment of these disorders. The activation of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) systems in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) has been demonstrated to be critical for stress-induced drug relapse in rodent models, and we argue that pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) is an important upstream regulator of BNST CRF activation.

The studies in this application use a new rat model allowing for the molecular targeting of BNST CRF neurons to determine whether PACAP activates BNST CRF neurons in opioid experienced rats using calcium imaging and electrophysiological techniques, and whether chemogenetic inhibition of BNST CRF neurons prevents opioid-relapse behaviors produced by BNST PACAP receptor activation. These studies will implicate a new peptide system in stress-related opioid relapse that represents an important potential target for the treatment of opioid addiction.

Eric Roy, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
Christopher Koliba, Community Development and Applied Economics

"Resource Recovery and Reuse to Support Phosphorus Management and Sustainable Development Goals in Sri Lanka"

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development includes a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Resource recovery and reuse (RRR) is an approach to sustainable development that can amplify progress toward multiple interconnected SDGs. RRR models are needed that transfer organic waste, including human excreta, into economically valuable, safe organic fertilizer products that can enhance soil health and fertility, boosting food production. While new technical solutions are available, the key question that remains is how to take encouraging examples to scale.

The overall goal of this project is to catalyze an international research program in the tropics focused on RRR. More specifically, our objectives are to continue to build a collaborative research agenda with the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and their partners, conduct pilot research in Sri Lanka focused on RRR, and prepare extramural proposals collaboratively with IWMI for submission to government funding agencies and private foundations. For the pilot research in Sri Lanka's Western Province, we will examine phosphorus dynamics in agricultural soils receiving fertilizer products derived from organic wastes, and assess phosphorus supply and demand across urban-to-rural gradients to inform sustainable RRR models.

Alice Schermerhorn, Psychological Science
Rex Forehand, Psychological Science
Dianna Murray-Close, Psychological Science

"Parent Physiology during Interparental Interactions: Improving Prediction of Children’s Risk of Adjustment Problem Development"

Studies have consistently shown interparental relationship difficulties (IRDs), including significant destructive interparental conflict and poor relationship quality, predict child adjustment problems. However, much greater precision in predicting such problems is needed. The empirical literature suggests utilizing measures of parents' physiology during interparental interactions will enable such improvements to be made. The objective of this study is to assess the feasibility of this novel approach by examining associations between parents' physiology and child functioning. To attain this objective, we will test the working hypothesis that parents' physiology during interparental interactions will be associated with child adjustment problems. We will test our working hypothesis by using the approach of recruiting a community sample of 20 families (mothers, fathers, 9- to 11-year-old children) and collecting physiological data from parents, including sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) measures during interparental interactions. It is our expectation that the proposed study will lead to increases in the precision with which we can predict children's risk of adjustment problems. This outcome would be important because it would lead to the development of therapeutic approaches for reducing children's adjustment problems stemming from IRDs.

Lance Smith, Leadership and Development Sciences
Tracy Ballysingh, Leadership and Developmental Sciences
Bernice Garnett, Education
Colby Kervick, Education

"Process and Outcome Evaluation of Restorative Practice Implementation: School-Based Factors Influencing Fidelity and Effectiveness"

National data and Burlington School District (BSD) Equity Report data reveal disparities in punitive discipline for both people with disabilities and persons of color. Nascent evidence suggests that transforming school discipline practices from punitive and exclusionary toward restorative practice (RP) models may significantly ameliorate these inequalities. This community action research project utilizes a multi-disciplinary research team from the fields of school counseling, public health, K-12 education, and higher education to understand and evaluate the process and outcomes of implementing RP. This is to be conducted in concert with school-wide behavioral support tools such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) that are already in use across the BSD. The REACH Grant will support ongoing pilot projects within multiple Burlington schools that are nested within a larger multi-phase, multi-year, collaborative action research partnership between the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Department of Education (DOE), Department of Leadership and Developmental Sciences (DLDS), Center for Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI) and the BSD. National momentum toward behavioral evolution through RP, conjoined with the significant gap in both the implementation and outcome literature, has led our team to anticipate project findings will have a national impact.

Donna Toufexis, Psychological Science

"Dorsolateral Striatal Pathway Effects on Habit"

We have identified a close approximate of operant training level both immediately subthreshold and threshold for habitual responding in female rats. This allows us to examine factors that may enhance or impede habit formation in females. Published literature shows that the dorsolateral striatum (DLS) governs the formation of habitual behavior. Results from the literature suggest that both the direct and indirect pathways within the DLS are required for habit formation, and that the relative activation of each pathway is crucial in producing habitual behavior.

In the proposed study we will use viral-vector induced up-regulation of an endogenously present Gs-coupled (excitatory) serotonin receptor to test the hypothesis that increasing activation of the indirect pathway of the DLS will impede the development of habitual behavior after habit-threshold level training, and increasing activation of the direct pathway of the DLS will enhance habit formation at training levels sub-threshold to habit formation in female rats.


sabelle Desjardins, Psychiatry/Larner College of Medicine
William Cats-Baril, Grossman School of Business
Chris Danforth, Mathematics & Statistics/Computer Science
Peter Sheridan Dodds, Mathematics & Statistics/Computer Science

"Identifying Predictors of Suicide using Social Media"

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US (44,000/year). Suicide claims more lives than motor vehicle accidents (32,000/year). Costs associated with suicide are estimated at $44 billion/year. The urgency to address this serious public health issue is rising as the suicide rate in the US jumped 26% from 1999 to 2014, from 10.5 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 people. A high priority area in suicide prevention is better identification of high risk individuals. We aim to develop a highly-innovative machine-learning, social media based algorithm to identify individuals at high near-term risk of suicide. Our interdisciplinary team — faculty from CEMS, the Larner College of Medicine, and the Grossman School of Business — proposes to accomplish three goals: 1) create and curate a dataset of social media posts authored by individuals who have attempted or died by suicide; 2) analyze the dataset using machine-learning algorithms to identify markers of suicide risk; and, 3) perform a market assessment to commercialize a clinical decision-making tool based on those algorithms. We will apply for external funding in Fall of 2017 to both the NIMH STTR/SBIR program on Zero Suicide and to the AFSP program on assessing short-term risk of suicide.

Tyler Doggett, Philosophy

"Burlington Thinks"

I am asking for funding to support a week of public philosophy — a festival — in the Burlington area. It will be modeled on BarcelonaPensa, a weeklong, popular, successful philosophy festival in Barcelona. The content will be philosophical issues of public concern and interest. The form will be a series of interactive events involving philosophy professors but also community partners across the area.

To explain what I want out of the festival, let me explain part of what motivates me to create it: In a newspaper interview two years ago, a director of a local homeless shelter said that Burlington homeless have in common feelings of "total aloneness" and meaninglessness and that these help to keep them homeless. Of course, there are other causes. Yet the feelings of aloneness and meaninglessness are (a) something philosophers have worked on, (b) something philosophers can help with, but (c) something that people wouldn’t know philosophers work on and can help with nor (d) something philosophers do help with. I want the festival to provide a place for people to talk about philosophical issues such as the nature of loneliness and meaningfulness and to do so with philosophers and non-philosophers alike.

Mathew Failla, Rehabilitation and Movement Science

"Muscle Tissue Adaptations in Chronic Rotator Cuff Tears"

Shoulder pain is one of the most common reasons for medical visits, with 4.5 million visits attributed annually. Rotator cuff injuries make up a large portion of these visits, causing shoulder pain, stiffness, reduced function, and decreased quality of life. The majority of rotator cuff injuries are chronic in nature, resulting in adaptations beyond the tendon injury such as muscular fibrosis, atrophy, fatty infiltration, and decreased contractility. The relationship of these muscle adaptations to shoulder disability and function is not well understood. The underlying mechanisms for how these adaptations occur, have been studied in animal models, but little is known in humans. Thus, there is a need to identify the muscular changes and mechanisms by which they occur in humans with rotator cuff tears. This work will utilize various methods of measuring rotator cuff muscle quality to identify muscle changes and their relationship to shoulder function and disability. In addition, the basis will be formed by which interventions can be designed to improve functional outcomes and disability associated with rotator cuff tears and surgical repair.

Rex Forehand, Psychological Science

"Intervention for Opioid Dependent Parents"

With over 2 million Americans abusing opioids, this substance dependency has been labeled as an epidemic both nationally and in Vermont. Opioid abuse of parents places their children at high risk for multiple psychosocial problems. Parenting deficits and the broader family context (e.g., inadequate communication with co-caregivers) have been identified as contributing factors to children’s maladjustment in these families. Unfortunately, a challenge, particularly in rural states, is how to ensure that opioid dependent parents have access to treatment to enhance their parenting skills and improve the broader family context. The purpose of this grant is to initiate development and piloting of an innovative smartphone-delivered treatment for opioid dependent parents of young children which can meet the treatment accessibility challenge.

Participants will be three therapists and 27 parents in treatment for opioid addiction. Using an iterative process, therapists will be interviewed and seven parents will participate in three focus groups over 4 months to identify challenges faced by these parents. Pilot application modules then will be developed to address these challenges and tested in a small randomized control trial (n = 20). This pilot work will be used as leverage to submit proposals for extramural research funding.

Shana Haines, Education
Cynthia Reyes, Education

"Bridging the Gaps: Improving Partnerships between Refugee Families and their Children’s Teachers to Increase Achievement"

A vast achievement gap exists in our current educational system, even here in Vermont, and refugee children are often far below their peers academically (DeCapua & Marshall, 2015; Ladson-Billings, 2006). Exacerbating the achievement gap, there is a gap in the level of partnership between families and their children’s teachers within refugee communities. These two gaping differences are particularly disconcerting when occurring together; emerging research from a related study indicate that families whose children are significantly behind in school may be ignorant of this fact, may not recognize that their child needs help, and may not be given the opportunity to partner with teachers to help their child succeed. We are proposing a study involving interviewing 25 students, their families, their teachers, and multilingual liaisons who work with their families to deeply understand the nuances of both the achievement gap and the gap in family-professional partnership within the refugee population, how these two gaps relate to each other, and what can be done to improve family-professional partnership to alleviate the achievement gap. The results of this study will be used to design an intervention aimed at increasing family-professional partnership specifically for the refugee community.

Arti Shukla, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

"Exosomal micro RNA-16-5p for early diagnosis of mesothelioma"

Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a devastating cancer of mesothelial cells primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. MM is an aggressive cancer diagnosed only terminally due to lack of identified biomarkers that can lead to early diagnosis. We propose a unique and untested hypothesis: that miRNA contained in exosomes and secreted from MM cells may have a unique signature that may help us identify biomarkers of this disease. To our knowledge, no study to date has measured the exosomal miRNA signature of MM tumors. We generated a miRNA signature from two MM cells and demonstrated a several-fold upregulation of mir-16-5p, a tumor suppressor miRNA in exosomes, as compared to mesothelial cells. Published studies report low levels of mir-16-5p in MM tumor tissues. Based on this observation we hypothesize that MM cells spit out tumor suppressor mir-16-5p in exosomes in order to survive. In the present proposal we will validate our findings (mir-16-5p) in five different MM tumor cells and measure exosomes secreted from them by qRT-PCR. Preliminary data generated from this grant could pave the way for a more in-depth study on the identification of MM biomarkers. This will be a significant contribution to the study of MM diagnosis and treatment.

Johannes Steiner, Internal Medicine, Cardiology

"Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction – Biochemical Risk Stratification and Phenotyping"

Heart failure (HF) with a normal cardiac contraction pattern [HF with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF)] is a clinical syndrome of enormous public health impact affecting millions of patients. HFpEF constitutes a major unmet health need, as no treatment to date has been shown to modify its long-term outlook. A number of prior therapeutic HFpEF trials have failed, very likely due to phenotypic diversity and a multitude of contributing cellular signaling pathways. An emerging, key component of the syndrome is systemic inflammation, neuro-hormonal activation and oxidative stress. Novel biomarker profiles related to those conditions were shown to correlate with disease severity and prognosis. Ultimately, they have the potential to differentiate distinct HFpEF phenotypes biochemically, and help to discover patient phenotype-specific, 'tailored' therapy.

It has also been proposed that changes in thyroid hormones constitute an important pathophysiological component in the development of cardiac fibrosis and subsequent symptomatic HF with impaired contraction [HF with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF)]. These associations have not yet been tested in HFpEF patients.

We hypothesize that in HFpEF patients, changes in novel biomarkers reflect a central mechanistic role in the pathophysiology of acute decompensated HF, characterize different HFpEF phenotypes, and are related to thyroid deficiencies.