Dr. Verma Receives Prestigious AHA Career Development Award

Rajkumar Verma

Rajkumar Verma, Ph.D., UConn Health assistant professor of neuroscience, has received a prestigious career development award ($231,000) from the American Heart Association to study the therapeutic potential of purinergic receptor P2X4R for the treatment of stroke.

Stroke remains a leading cause of disability in the United States. Despite recent advances, interventions to reduce damage and enhance recovery after stroke are lacking. Stroke-mediated disability imposes a substantial economic burden on individuals and society. In 2010 alone, Americans paid approximately $73.7 billion for stroke-related medical costs and disability; this is estimated to reach $185 billion by 2030. Thus, treatment of stroke is one of the most important current and future public health issues, with an urgent need for therapies that can move rapidly into clinical trials.

Dr. Verma has recently shown that purinergic receptor P2X4, a receptor for adenosine triphosphate ATP, regulate activation of myeloid immune cells (infiltrating monocytes/macrophages and brain-resident microglia) after stroke injury. Over- activation of P2X4Rs, due to ATP from the dying or damaged neuronal cells, contributes to ischemic injury. In this proposal, Dr. Verma’s intent is to target P2X4R to control immune response of myeloid cells for prompt stroke recovery. He will determine how the inhibition of P2X4R signaling influences these excessive immune during stroke using mice genetically engineered for global or selective deletion of P2X4R in total myeloid or infiltrating myeloid population and also by using pharmacological modulation. Thus, the overall goal of this proposal is to determine if modulation of P2X4 signaling in myeloid cells is a viable approach for stroke treatment.


Trakhtenberg receives PITCH Promising Project Award

As posted in UConn Innovation Portal & UConn Today April 9, 2018

An image of immature retinal ganglion cell neuron from Dr. Trakhtenberg’s research, adapted for a cover page of the International Review of Neurobiology volume on Axon Growth and Regeneration (Goldberg & Trakhtenberg, Eds, 2012, Vol 106: Academic Press)

Two University of Connecticut professors have won a PITCH Promising Project Award to work on developing a novel approach for repairing optic nerve damage that occurs in optic neuropathies such as glaucoma.

Ephraim Trakhtenberg and Jessica Rouge are the co-Principle Investigators for this project. Previous research by Trakhtenberg found that there are certain molecules which can stimulate the regrowth of optic nerve axons after eye injury. Axons are the extensions of the eye neurons that pass nerve impulses to the brain. When an optic nerve is damaged, these axons are irreversibly disrupted. Consequently, signals carrying visual information cannot be transmitted from the eye to the brain, resulting in blindness.

However, a problem persists with such potential treatments, which need to be delivered rapidly and sustainably to specific retinal cells – retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). The current drug delivery methods are slow and do not target many of the injured RGCs. Rouge will utilize her expertise in nanomaterials and chemistry in conjunction with PITCH funding to advance such a delivery system that will be tested by Trakhtenberg. In parallel, Trakhtenberg will use PITCH funding to investigate novel compounds with predicted therapeutic potential, provided for the project through the Atomwise AIMS Award to him. Ultimately, the researchers envision that a combination of the novel therapeutic molecules and the advanced delivery system will lead to the development of a therapeutic approach for treating optic neuropathies.

Trakhtenberg is an assistant professor of neuroscience at UConn Health. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. His lab’s research focus is to understand the molecular mechanisms of neuronal development and regeneration and to use this knowledge to develop approaches for repairing injured central nervous system circuits.

Rouge is an assistant professor in the UConn Department of Chemistry. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in chemistry in 2012 and completed her postdoctoral work at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on understanding how enzymes and nucleic acids can be used to engineer highly specific responses in chemical and biological systems.