UH Med Now

JABSOM investigators win highly competitive NIH funding

Date: August 11th, 2020 in Faculty, JABSOM News, Research, UH Manoa    Print or PDF

Andy Stenger and Wei-Kung Wang

Pictured: V. Andrew Stenger, PhD, and Wei-Kung Wang, MD, ScD, JABSOM faculty.

By Paula Bender and Deborah Manog Dimaya, JABSOM Communications

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recently awarded R01 grants to two researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa medical school. The UH John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) currently has 15 active R01 grants from the NIH. Each R01 grant brings in at least $1 million in federal direct dollars, and another half million in indirects to UH Mānoa. R01 grants are among the most rigorously reviewed and most competitive.

“Each new R01 is a reason for celebration at our university. Only the best of the best in the country get them. These faculty have competed against faculty at Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, and other prestigious institutions,” Dr. Rachel Boulay, JABSOM Associate Director for Research said. “These projects were judged to be in the top percentile of all applications. In lay terms, these JABSOM faculty have undeniably strong research programs and give Hawaii and our university a reason to be very proud.”

V. Andrew Stenger, PhD

V. Andrew Stenger, PhD

V. Andrew Stenger, PhD
V. Andrew Stenger, PhD, Professor in the Department of Medicine, received an R01 for his research on [Magnetic Resonance Imaging] MRI methodology, titled ‘Radial Echo Volumar Imaging (EB0286727).

Dr. Stenger’s research focuses on developing new methodology for MRI. Very mathematical and technical in nature, he is writing new software that runs the scanner and creates the images. He said the most significant aspect would be that the use of advanced data sampling and reconstruction techniques could not only decrease the amount of time a patient is in the scanner but also provide new biomarkers for disease.

“My goal is to acquire the highest quality images in the shortest amount of time,” Dr. Stenger said. “My new R01 is to develop a new method for simultaneously acquiring images with different types of contrast such as for iron and fat.”

This is good news for patients who have been prescribed MRI procedures, especially cancer patients who need to be scanned quarterly during their first two years of treatment. Instead of a nearly 2-hour procedure, an MRI could be completed in less than an hour.

Dr. Stenger is an ʻIolani School graduate and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the UH Mānoa. He also acquired a Master’s and a PhD from Ohio State University, both in physics.

“My father was a physicist so I grew up around science and scientists,” Dr. Stenger. “He had all kinds of science books on the shelf that I could look at from a very young age.”

At JABSOM, Dr. Stenger teaches graduate students and junior faculty.

Hawaiʻi is my home and when I had an opportunity to return as well as continue my career, I decided to give it a go,” he said.

Dr. Stenger contributes significantly to the use of non-Cartesian MRI for dramatically increasing imaging speed. “Definitely, the best part is having colleagues around the world. It’s fun to go to a meeting on the mainland and other countries and have great friends I have known for years,” he said.

Dr. Stenger likes surfing and paddling in his free time, and if you don’t see him in his lab or his office, he just might be at his “happy place — Point Panic, right by JABSOM.”

Wei-Kung Wang, MD, ScD

Wei-Kung Wang, MD, ScD

Wei-Kung Wang, MD, ScD
For the past 19 years, Dr. Wei-Kung Wang has been conducting research with the focus of understanding the pathogenesis and antibody response following dengue virus infections and facilitating the development of vaccines and serodiagnosis.

“I believe our study showing that a significant proportion of dengue antibodies in humans recognize a few absolutely conserved residues in the fusion loop of viral envelope protein, which can account for the serological cross-reactivity among diverse flaviviruses known for decades, is the one of the most significant discoveries in this field,” said Dr. Wang.

Dr. Wang received his MD degree from the National Taiwan University in 1986. In addition, he received his ScD degree from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1995. His training in internal medicine, infectious diseases and molecular virology piqued his interest in science.

“I was motivated that scientific research can improve human health,” said Dr. Wang.

Dr. Wang, now a professor at UH Mānoa, has found joy in the continuous searching and discovering significant research on human health, through his many years of reading papers as well as writing and reviewing grants. He credits his mentor Dr. Max Essex for always reminding him to “look at the big picture” when it came to analyzing the results of his experiments.

Through the recommendation of Dr. Scott Halstead, Dr. Wang was recruited to JABSOM in 2009 by Dr. Duane Gubler, former Chair of the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology. Drs. Halstead and Gubler are world renowned dengue virologists; both have served as past presidents of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Dr. Wang believes that a critical need exists for sensitive and specific serological tests to discriminate infections by pathogenic arthropod-borne viruses in geographic regions, such as Brazil, where multiple flaviviruses including Zika, dengue, West Nile, and yellow fever viruses, as well as chikungunya, Mayaro and Oropouche viruses are endemic. However, cross-reactivity of antibodies to different flaviviruses present major challenges. Previously, his research found that mutant virus-like particles and NS1 protein as antigen can distinguish different flavivirus infections.

With his current R01 award, Dr. Wang’s laboratory proposes to employ these two antigens in multiplex formats to develop microsphere immunoassays to discriminate pathogenic arboviruses and investigate arbovirus seroprevalence in Bahia, a northeast state in Brazil.

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