Research

The research conducted at Wayne State University is saving lives and changing the world. Faculty and students are fueled by a commitment to the local community, and Wayne State’s urban location allows for their research to benefit the lives of those around them. Wayne State researchers are committed to the highest standards, ethics and quality of treatment and care for humans and animals in investigational research. A notable indicator of the research program’s success is its classification as a doctoral university, highest research activity, by the Carnegie Classification of Higher Education. Wayne State is also ranked among the top public institutions for annual research expenditures by the National Science Foundation.

Wayne State University developing new approaches for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

A team led by a Wayne State researcher may make it easier for adults to be diagnosed with symptoms that could signify the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Voyko Kavcic, Ph.D., assistant professor of research in Wayne State’s Institute of Gerontology, is part of a team that has been developing a more portable, convenient method of diagnosing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, diagnosis is most often done in a large MRI machine the size of a bus. The study — conducted by Kavcic and colleagues from the University of Michigan — could determine if an electroencephalograph (EEG) plus cognitive tests on a computer — or even the EEG alone — could offer the same diagnosis.

"This is a community-based approach,” said Kavcic. “If we want more people to be diagnosed and treated, testing must be easy, fast, cheap and readily accepted. The tests we propose can be conducted in a church basement or a senior center. Older African Americans are at highest risk to develop Alzheimer’s from MCI, so they are the priority.”

Kavcic, along with Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) Associate Director Bruno Giordani, Ph.D., and Edna Rose, Ph.D., the MADC minority recruitment specialist and a nurse and social worker, will recruit 200 older African Americans with no diagnosed cognitive impairment, but who feel their memory may be worsening.

Participants will take computer-based tests of cognitive function and perform easy computer tasks while wearing an EEG cap. Data from the EEG is then analyzed through sophisticated software for clues of abnormal activity. The participants also will be enrolled into the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center for a brief reassessment every year to see whether identified difficulties have progressed.

No cure exists for Alzheimer’s, but medications given early in the disease can slow its progress. Newer medications now under development may actually cure or stop the progress of the disease. Non-pharmaceutical treatments might also help if started early. At a minimum, with the earliest possible identification, patients and caregivers could receive resources to plan finances and future care.

Wayne State to lead Detroit site in new national heart failure study

The Wayne State University School of Medicine and Detroit Receiving Hospital of the Detroit Medical Center will serve as a site for a national study that will develop new guidelines for patients released from the emergency room after treatment for suspected acute heart failure symptoms.

Phillip Levy, M.D., M.P.H., professor of emergency medicine and associate chair for research in the Department of Emergency Medicine, will direct the enrollment and engagement core for the entire study and serve as principal investigator for the Detroit site. The three-year project will be overseen by Sean Collins, M.D., of Vanderbilt University. The study seeks to address disparities in the discharge follow-up information provided to patients with suspected heart failure released after hospitalization, and those seen and released from emergency rooms.

More than 1 million people are hospitalized each year for acute heart failure in the United States, and more than 80 percent of them are initially treated in emergency rooms. More than 200,000 patients, however, are diagnosed as not serious enough for immediate hospitalization and are discharged. These patients are often unsure of their next steps, the medications they should take and when they should schedule follow-up appointments. Patients who are hospitalized, in contrast, undergo pre-discharge consultations explaining this information, often in writing. Implementing similar procedures with emergency room patients has never been examined.

The investigators will implement the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines — Heart Failure program at the study sites and place a “transition nurse coordinator” in emergency rooms to implement the program’s protocols and educate patients before they are discharged. The researchers will examine whether the practice reduces disparities in emergency room and hospital revisits and deaths in patients discharged from emergency rooms. They also will consider improved outcomes in patients’ quality of life, heart failure knowledge and overall satisfaction.

Participants will be followed through social media and semiannual meetings to determine how to improve the study process. The study is being conducted in coordination with the AHA and the results will be disseminated through its quality improvement channels.

NIH grant offers new hope for more accurately diagnosing infants with serious infections

Prashant Mahajan, M.D., professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine and chief of the division of emergency medicine in the Department of Pediatrics at Wayne State University and Children’s Hospital of Michigan, was awarded a five-year, $5.76 million grant in September by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Mahajan and his collaborators will study how febrile infants — babies two months or younger who are brought to emergency rooms with invasive bacterial infections — can avoid invasive procedures such as lumbar punctures, overuse of antibiotics and unnecessary hospitalizations through a new, rapid and more accurate testing developed by their research team.

The researchers will investigate whole-genome RNA expression profiles to define RNA biosignatures that allow precise diagnosis of isolated bacterial infections, isolated viral infections and bacterial-viral co-infections. The investigators will also validate RNA biosignatures on a novel, PCR-based platform that has a rapid turnaround time of two to four hours; current methods of bacterial cultures often take up to 48 hours for results.

The evaluation of well-appearing febrile infants continues to be challenging and controversial. Their immune systems are immature, and even otherwise normal infants are unable to protect themselves from invasive bacterial diseases such as meningitis, bacteremia and urinary tract infections. Approximately 250,000 febrile infants are taken to emergency rooms across the United States annually. Many more are brought to pediatricians and other health care settings.

Mahajan said that less than 5 percent of febrile infants will have an invasive or serious bacterial illness. These infants are clinically indistinguishable from the majority of the febrile infants with non-bacterial illness. However, the outcomes — such as bacterial meningitis, severe sepsis and potentially death — are devastating. More importantly, the current standard use of bacterial cultures for diagnosis is suboptimal. In particular, culture results reported after 24 to 48 hours are not helpful for clinical decision-making at the patient’s bedside.

“Dr. Mahajan’s research offers much promise to very sick infants, their parents and health care professionals,” said Gloria Heppner, Ph.D., associate vice president for research at Wayne State University. “His work will assist in quickly and accurately diagnosing them, and ultimately will aid in determining the best treatment method, with potentially lower costs and better results.”

Wayne State receives $1.4 million NSF grant to prepare next generation of math teachers in Detroit

Thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, Wayne State University has embarked on a new program that will prepare the next generation of mathematics teachers in Detroit, meeting the nationwide need for high-quality elementary and middle school mathematics teachers. The project, TeachDETROIT, will prepare elementary and middle school teachers at a time when U.S. students lag behind their international peers in mathematics achievement.

“We are facing a critical challenge because proficiency in mathematics is essential for entry to college, access to employment and economic well-being,” said Jennifer Lewis, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics education in the College of Education and principal investigator on the grant. “This grant has come at a very important time, as student scores in mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have dropped to among the lowest in the country.”

In conjunction with Henry Ford College, the Detroit Public Schools and Wayne Westland Community Schools, Wayne State University will recruit, train and induct 56 new elementary and middle school mathematics teachers for Detroit Schools. The project will provide scholarships and stipends to highly qualified candidates to support their participation in an innovative urban teacher residency program for 15 months as they work with outstanding mentors in elementary and middle school classrooms.

This project will create a model to prepare new teachers to be successful, especially in high-poverty schools with children of color, and ultimately will contribute to educational research.

The program will continue outreach efforts by mentoring graduates during their first two years as teachers, and will keep them connected by ongoing conversations about best practices in mathematics instruction.

Love at first site? Wayne State receives NSF grant to explore impact of online dating

With nearly 90 percent of Americans utilizing the Internet, the use of online dating websites has grown tremendously since the launch of the first such service in 1995. Today, one in five adults between the ages of 25 to 34 has used online dating.

With the help of a three-year, $851,462 grant from the National Science Foundation, a team of Wayne State University researchers is exploring how America’s relational landscape is being affected by the rise of online dating. The project will explore how the increasing use of popular online dating technologies affects how people develop romantic connections.

Stephanie Tong, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts is leading the team, which will explore the social implications of the rise of online dating.

“We’re interested in looking at how updated online dating technology affects the ways people initiate relationships and the ways they make decisions; when they decide who to date, and whether or not to pursue the relationship,” said Tong.

The project also will provide new insights regarding the ways that online dating systems are designed to facilitate interpersonal contact, impact the self-concepts of the people who use them, and may provide new information and insights that can facilitate improvements to the design of popular forms of social computing technology. Although this project focuses on online dating systems, project findings may provide more generalizable insights regarding the complex interactions between communications media and the content of constitutions as well as their impact on communicators in many other contexts.

The investigators will use scientific experiments, participant interviews and behavioral measurements to investigate how people evaluate information communicated by algorithmic and human sources when making attributions within online systems. They will also investigate if people recognize how technology influences their decisions and attributions in the online communication process, and how online platforms that produce a wealth of feedback to participants create feedback loops that affect individuals’ self-concept.