Researchers from institutions in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport will be using grants to study cervical cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorder.

The Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center, a federally funded statewide research initiative, announced three multi-institutional grants on Wednesday.

“These projects are aimed at diseases prevalent in our communities,” said Dr. William T. Cefalu, principal investigator of the LA CaTS Center grant and executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. “Our research teams will work to develop new approaches to prevent or treat these diseases.”

Cefalu said four participating LA CaTS Center institutions made contributions to reach $250,000 needed as seed funding for the projects. Projects were screened for their potential to compete for future large federal grants such as those awarded by the National Institutes of Health.

The grant targeting cervical cancer prevention in the state involves a collaboration among LSU Health Sciences Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport, Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and Pennington Biomedical. Dr. Michael Hagensee, professor of medicine at LSUHSC-NO, will lead the team.

“This project has particular public health significance because Louisiana ranks fourth in cervical cancer incidence and third in cervical cancer mortality due to limited health care resources,” said Dr. Larry Hollier, LSUHSC-NO’s chancellor.

“It is imperative we learn more about factors related to effective screening, nutrition and treatment to reduce the impact of cervical cancer in Louisiana,” said Dr. Lee Hamm, senior vice president and dean of Tulane University School of Medicine.

The cervical cancer prevention research team will conduct four projects to evaluate patient and community factors that drive decisions whether to use available vaccines. The team also will evaluate new ways to screen for the condition, as well as dietary factors that promote disease progression.

The second project funded is a collaborative effort among LSUHSCs in Shreveport and New Orleans and the Tulane University School of Medicine. The project is being led by Christopher Kevil, of LSUHSC-S.

Kevil said Louisiana residents experience a high rate of heart disease resulting from atherosclerosis.

“Inadequate blood flow to legs occurs when blood vessels are blocked due to atherosclerosis. This condition often results in amputations, and similar blockages are associated with two common medical emergencies: heart attacks and strokes. Research … is aimed at helping identify new ways to detect and treat critical tissue ischemia that could benefit all Louisianians,” he said.

The investigators working with Kevil will evaluate whether a chemical imbalance occurs in such conditions.

“If such a marker is found, it will provide the background to evaluate drug intervention on this condition to treat and prevent the problem,” said Bysani Chandrasekar, of the Tulane University School of Medicine.

Directing the third project are Dr. Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, of the Tulane University School of Medicine, and Eric Ravussin, of Pennington Biomedical.

“This study will evaluate the use of a novel menopausal treatment in preventing obesity and the risk of developing diabetes,” Mauvais-Jarvis said.

As women enter menopause, they experience an increase in abdominal fat as well as develop a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. “The study will also evaluate use of a hormonal product that may effectively decrease risk factors for heart disease during the menopausal transition,” Ravussin added.

The LA CaTS Center is funded by a five-year National Institutes of Health grant and involves eight major academic, research and health care institutions in Louisiana. The institutions are working together under a theme of prevention, care and research of chronic diseases in the underserved population.