Headshot of Dr. Valafar

SDSU’s Top 5 Grants from the Past Year

Researchers succeeded in winning highly competitive federal funding in fiscal year 2013-14.

By Michael Price

Fiscal year 2013-2014 was a great year for grant awards received by San Diego State University researchers.

More than 250 different organizations sponsored research at SDSU, funding 243 professors, research associates, and graduate and undergraduate students. In total, SDSU investigators brought in 731 awards worth $107.8 million.

While many types of scholarship do not require external funding to be successful, many high-impact, large-scale programs are dependent on faculty receiving multi-million-dollar awards from some of the most competitive funding agencies.

Here are the top five largest grants awarded to SDSU researchers last year:

Mark Sussman, heart stem cell research ($8.5 million over five years)

In November 2013, SDSU Distinguished Professor of Biology Mark Sussman, chief research scientist at the SDSU Heart Institute, received a Program Project Grant from the National Institutes of Health to further his studies of cardiac stem cells. These are proto-cells that can differentiate into different kinds of cells within the heart. A better understanding of cardiac stem cells could pave the way for enormous breakthroughs in regenerative therapy for damaged heart tissues.

Scientists have only known about the existence of cardiac stem cells for a little more than a decade, so Sussman and his colleagues will have plenty of work to do fleshing out novel therapeutic approaches.

Caren Sax, improving the lives of minors on supplementary income ($5.2 million over three years)

Children whose families receive supplemental security income—a government stipend given to low-income families with disabilities—are less likely than their peers to go to college or other postsecondary education, and less likely to find gainful employment. Caren Sax, education professor and co-director of the SDSU Interwork Institute, is seeking to change that.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Sax and her colleagues at SDSU, as well as partners in the California Department of Rehabilitation, created CaPROMISE, which stands for California’s Proposal for Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplementary Security Income. The program will provide case management, benefits counseling, and work-based career training to these children and their families.

John Elder and Guadalupe X. Ayala, Imperial County asthma project ($4 million over three years)

In California’s Imperial Valley, children are twice as likely as the national average to suffer from asthma. The population is largely Hispanic and Latino/Latina, and previous research has shown that children from these populations are less likely to be prescribed asthma treatment, and they are also less likely to follow prescribed treatment regiments.

SDSU professors John Elder and Guadalupe X. Ayala received funding from the U.S. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to better understand the specific asthma needs of the Imperial Valley, as well as develop more effective approaches to treatment for families, communities, and physicians.

Gregory Talavera, increasing Latinos’/Latinas’ understanding of diabetes treatment adherence ($2.8 million over five years)

Latinos and Latinas are disproportionately at risk for type 2 diabetes, and those who do have the disease are also more likely to face challenges such as health care costs, poor health, high degrees of stress and mental health conditions. The upshot is that many Latinos and Latinas don’t adhere to regular diabetes treatment regimens.

SDSU professor Gregory Talavera and his colleagues were awarded a grant by the National Institute of Nursing Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, to conduct a study into improving adherence to diabetes treatment in this population. As part of the study, a subset of people with diabetes who receive care from the San Ysidro Health Center in southern San Diego will undergo an intensive 3-month intervention program integrating clinical and behavioral care as well as health education sessions.

Faramarz Valafar, understanding mutations in drug-resistant tuberculosis ($2.5 million over four years)

Last year, more than nine million people worldwide were affected with tuberculosis, and one million people died from this disease. While effective medications exist, a troubling trend is emerging: The bacterial disease is evolving to become more resistant to currently available drugs. Almost a quarter of the 419 known forms of tuberculosis have been identified as having some drug resistance.

SDSU’s Faramarz Valafar, professor of biomedical informatics and computer science, received a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study mutations in the bacteria related to antibiotic resistance. He and his colleagues hope to discover previously unknown ways in which the organism evolves to survive a barrage of anti-tuberculosis drugs.