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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)

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Recovery Act Funds Help Researchers Combat Life-Threatening Infections in Transplant Recipients

photo of Abhijit P. Limaye
Abhijit P. Limaye, M.D., Associate Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Medicine (Infectious Diseases), University of Washington Medical Center

Corinna La Rosa, Ph.D., at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope National Medical Center, in Duarte, CA, and Abhijit P. Limaye, M.D., of the University of Washington Medical Center, in Seattle, WA, collaborate on the study of cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection in transplant patients. CMV is a fairly common virus to which many people become exposed without becoming ill. However, for transplant recipients who must take drugs that suppress their immune systems, a first-time exposure to CMV can be deadly.

Drs. La Rosa and Limaye study CMV-negative patients who receive an organ from a donor who has CMV infection. These patients are at very high risk of developing serious CMV disease and associated complications despite current prevention strategies. After their preliminary data suggested the regulatory role of a protein called PD-1 in the dysfunctional immune response to CMV, they submitted a two-year R21 grant application to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their goal: to explore a novel approach to strengthening the immune response to CMV, an approach that could lead to improvements in the clinical management and survival rate of transplant recipients at high risk of developing CMV.

So Near, Yet So Far

The researchers submitted their grant application at a time when NIH was experiencing tough budgetary conditions. After years of increases, NIH was now in the midst of flat budgets and low success rates for grant applications.

“Though enthusiastic and confident of our preliminary data, we were at the same time conscious of the difficult historic moment for NIH funding,” says Dr. La Rosa. “Still, for both of us, it was the first possibility of submitting a grant as principal investigators, based on a project that was novel and scientifically solid.”

Drs. La Rosa and Limaye worked on their application and received guidance from colleagues and administrative staff throughout the process. NIH reviewers provided comments and suggestions to improve the proposal, but unfortunately, the final ranking, or priority score, of the application did not fall within the cutoff point for funding, called the payline.

ARRA to the Rescue

The collaborators began revising their application to accommodate reviewer comments. They were then contacted with some very welcome news: Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 had enabled NIAID to raise its payline and, as a result, their grant proposal would be funded. They began their study within one month.

The researchers have enrolled 11 CMV-negative transplant recipients of CMV-positive donors so far, with a goal of enrolling 35. The ARRA-funded grant pays for the logistics of patient recruitment and blood draws in the clinic at the University Washington and overnight shipment of the specimens to the City of Hope lab. The researchers were able to purchase equipment to properly measure blood specimens and study how CMV causes disease in transplant patients.

“The availability of ARRA funds has allowed us to pursue a provocative line of investigation— with the potential for significant clinical benefit—that could not have otherwise been pursued,” says Dr. La Rosa.

photo of Corinna La Rosa
Corinna La Rosa, Ph.D., Associate Research Scientist, Division of Translational Vaccine Research, Department of Virology, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope National Medical Center
ARRA funding also has allowed the researchers to hire a research coordinator for two years. Before ARRA funds were available, Dr. Limaye was forced to rescind a job offer to the research coordinator, who had moved across the country to start the job and be closer to her husband, who was stationed at a military base nearby. 

ARRA enabled Dr. Limaye to re-extend the job offer for the full two-year term of the grant. The research coordinator now helps ensure the smooth collaboration between the two researchers.

“A researcher who would otherwise have been laid off has now been able to maintain her position for the two-year period,” says Dr. Limaye. “Being able to offer her a job was a great personal relief to me.”

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Last Updated November 02, 2009