Multiple professors at the University of Rhode Island were granted $134,000 in seed funding from the Rhode Island Foundation to advance medical research on issues such as diabetes, prenatal care and cancer.

“Healthy lives and economic security are two of our three strategic priorities,” said Jenny Pereira, vice president of grant programs at the Rhode Island Foundation. “Investing in promising medical research proposals advances our work in both sectors. The program also helps to build Rhode Island’s research capacity by supporting first-time researchers.”

The grants are intended to help early-career researchers advance projects to the point where they can compete for national funding.

The Rhode Island Foundation receives many proposals from all over the state. To help them review the projects and decide who gets funding, the foundation employs a review panel made up of scientists and physicians, “The successful URI proposals this year were selected based on a number of factors, including the need for more research into the topic, the quality of the research team and the proposal’s potential for attracting national funding,” Pereira said.

One of the recipients, Jyothi Menon, has been awarded $25,000 for “Novel Biomimetic Inhalable Nanoparticles for Sustained Lung Cancer Drug Delivery.” Menon, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical & pharmaceutical sciences, hopes to develop effective, inhalable particles that go directly to the lung to better combat lung cancer.

“Lung cancer is one of the leading cancer-causing deaths in the United States and worldwide,” Menon said. “And it is often identified quite late.”

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer accounts for 25 percent of all cancer deaths. Approximately 154,050 are expected to die from lung cancer in 2018.

Menon points out that people who undergo chemotherapy for lung cancer are usually given it intravenously, meaning through an IV, or by an oral tablet. In these methods the drug travels throughout the body before reaching the lungs, toxicity issues arise as the chemo affects healthy cells.

“The disease is in the lung so what we need is something that goes directly to the lung,” said Menon.

The problem is that the lung is designed in such a way that it expels any foreign substance from the body, making it difficult to create an effective, inhalable treatment. Dr. Menon’s goal is to formulate particles using lung surfactant, a lipid produced by lung cells, to mimic the chemistry of the lung so that the particles are not rejected.

“When you use something indigenous for development, there is less chance for it to be expelled,” Menon said.

Currently, there are inhalable particles already made that have been cleared by the FDA, but not many for lung cancer. Menon is in the preliminary stages of her research but hopes to engineer successful biomimetic particles that can be used for clinical lung cancer treatment within the next 15 to 20 years.

The other URI recipients are Britny Rogala, who received $21,743 for “Identification of Extemporaneously Prepared Oral Anticancer Therapy Stabilities”; Xuerong Wen, who was given $12,321 for “Utilization and Adverse Perinatal Outcomes of P2Y12 Agents in Pregnant Women”; Jiyeon Kim, who received $24,911 for “Digital Electrochemistry: Ion-Selective Nanoparticles for Biomedical Analysis”; Ami Vyas, who was given $24,914 for “Appropriate Care and Associated Outcomes in Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer”; and Maya Vadiveloo, assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences, who received $25,000 for “Correlations between Dietary Quality of Food Purchases and Diabetes Prevalence.”