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Strategic Research Initiatives

HWCOM at FIU conducts basic, applied, translational, clinical, and interdisciplinary research that leverages South Florida’s diverse demographics, improves the health of the South Florida community, and aligns with national global health trends.  

The college’s research initiatives aim to discover and advance medically relevant knowledge to improve health outcomes in the community, region, nation, and world. Based on the research interests and expertise of the faculty and needs identified in the local community, HWCOM focuses research efforts in the following strategic areas:

Environmental Science and Toxicology

Arsenic, a human carcinogen, is first on the Priority List of Hazardous Substances prepared by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Research conducted in the college of medicine focuses on the effects of arsenic detoxification mechanisms on environmental health, under the direction of NIH MERIT awardee Barry Rosen, PhD. He is supported by external funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Dr. Rosen has collaborated extensively with researchers in the FIU departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the FIU College of Arts, Sciences, and Education, the FIU College of Engineering and Computing; and with researchers worldwide.

Dr Rosen

Genomic and Molecular Medicine

Cancer genetics research conducted at HWCOM uses DNA-sequencing technology and information about the human genome sequence to increase understanding of the genetic etiology of disease. Specific areas of interest are inherited predisposition and the molecular genetics of sporadic disease. Results of this research may be used to develop primary and secondary preventive strategies for those with inherited susceptibility to cancer; information generated by this research may also result in improved precision medicine approaches for more effective cancer treatment. The cancer genetics research program at HWCOM is strengthened by funding from Baptist Health South Florida, where Jeff Boyd, PhD, is Director of Translational Research and Genomic Medicine at the Miami Cancer Institute. In addition to a clinical molecular diagnostics laboratory, the Center will have an R&D division in genomics research, biomarker development, and other initiatives relevant to genomic (or “precision”) medicine.

Miguel Villalona, MD  and Dr. Wenrui Duan, PhD work in cancer genetics, developing cell and animal models to investigate therapeutic options in cancer.  Their research interests are focused on developing novel biomarkers to identify subgroups of patients who are most likely to respond to treatment with novel anticancer agents.  Currently, Dr. Villalona and Dr. Duan focus on targeting deficiencies in DNA repair pathway in cancer patients, conducting clinical trials and correlative and preclinical studies.

Research pursued by Sakhrat Khizroev, PhD, and Carolyn D. Runowicz, MD, uses an FIU-patented approach in which magnetoelectric nanoparticles carry vital therapeutic loads to cancer cells; this precise treatment approach can be applied to treatment of glioblastomas, prostate, breast, lung, and other cancers, minimizing collateral damage to healthy cells.

 Doctor Alexander Agoulnik in his lab with an assistant

Research in drug development is focused on the discovery and development of novel small-molecule compounds with antifibrotic, vasodilatory, anti-osteoporosis, and anticancer properties. The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases support research collaborations between the laboratories of Alexander Agoulnik, PhD, and Irina Agoulnik, PhD, and investigators at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Other research, supported by the National Cancer Institute, investigates novel therapeutic targets in treatment-resistant endocrine cancers, targeting signaling pathways that may prevent cancer recurrence and metastases.

Immunology and Nanotechnology

HIV research conducted through HWCOM Department of Immunology and the Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology is led by Dr. Madhavan Nair, founding Chair and Distinguished Professor. Dr. Nair and his team of researchers have over $15 million in NIH and Florida Department of Health funded grants which are focused on HIV, neuro-AIDS, substance abuse, nanotechnology delivery systems, and Zika research. The team of researchers at the Department of Immunology are developing a cutting edge and innovative technology that combines CRISPR cas9-gRNA gene editing technology with target-specific drug delivery and controlled release of therapeutic cargo. Results of this research may be used to treat and eliminate latent HIV infection, drug addiction, aging, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other central nervous system pathologies. Currently the department of Immunology holds two US patents and is pending four patents which will contribute to the growth and continuation of innovative research within the field of basic sciences.

Dr Nair

Neuroscience and Behavioral Health

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health (DOPBH), with funding from Health Foundation of South Florida, is integrating behavioral and primary health care through a registry that uses a business intelligence tool that integrates data, tracks patient progress, and facilitates interaction between psychiatrists, clinical therapists and primary care physicians. DOPBH is actively collaborating with the Department of Occupational Therapy in the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences, investigating a potential relationship between medication adherence and suicidality. DOPBH, in collaboration with Citrus Health Network, is conducting research in the treatment of people with schizophrenia and people who are homeless and have mental illness. Department faculty also perform research in professionalism and simulation in medical education.

Research on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) examines psychosocial treatment of the disorder in adolescents, including a parent–teen collaborative model that incorporates motivational interviewing to engage family members. Research is conducted with the Center for Children and Families and is supported by the National Institutes of Health and external foundation funding.

Through collaboration with other FIU investigators, the college of medicine seeks ways to apply emerging discoveries into medical practice. FIU research in neurocognition sponsored by the National Science Foundation and conducted by Malek Adjouadi, PhD, Professor in the FIU College of Engineering and Computing, seeks to expand the functional mappings of the brain with a focus on neurological disorders including Alzheimer disease and ADHD.

Additionally, researchers at the Institute of Neuroimmune Pharmacology examine the effects of alcohol, morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine on the brains of HIV-infected drug abusers. Researchers are investigating an approach to controlling the neurological effects of AIDS in patients through pharmacological therapy that targets specific regions of the brain using nanotechnology.

Doctor helping child patient

Health Disparities and Population Health

Neighborhood Help Bus

Research conducted through the Green Family Foundation Neighborhood Health Education Learning Program (NeighborhoodHELP™) focuses on determining the impact of a household-centered care model that incorporates the social determinants of health. The goal is to improve clinical outcomes in these neighborhoods. NeighborhoodHELP™ conducts educational research in collaboration with the Office of Medical Education at HWCOM and investigates the value of household-centered care through health policy research conducted with the FIU–Aetna Health Policy Analysis Academy. NeighborhoodHELP™ is evaluating the impact of a Social Dashboard in the EHR to support clinical decision making.

The HWCOM Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research focuses on education for our future physicians. A National Institutes of Health P20 exploratory grant funds the survey of the Sweetwater, Florida, community; additional support is provided through the Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute, the Puerto Rico Infarction National Collaborative Experience, and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Aging-related research focuses on improving health care delivery to the older adult population in South Florida, including treatment of age-related chronic diseases and geriatric syndromes. Research is partially funded by the Florida Department of Health. The impact of social determinants of health for vulnerable older adults in underserved communities is a primary focus of the college, and ongoing research evaluates the impact of the household-centered NeighborhoodHELP™ care model on older adults. HWCOM also is conducting fall-prevention research in collaboration with the Baptist Health Neuroscience Center and Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences.