P2PE BIG Steps Forward

P2PE BIG Steps Forward

SIF176C Prominence-to-Preeminence (P2PE) STEM Targeted Initiatives Fund

BIG Steps Forward

Project Manager: Tajie Harris

Approved: November 2021

Project Dates: 3/01/2022 – 2/28/2027

Total Funding: $4,700,000

Executive Summary

The overarching research theme of BIG Steps Foward is advancing the understanding of neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease. Neuroinflammation research at the University of Virginia is a nationally- and internationally-recognized interdisciplinary research strength. Researchers within the center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG) are uniquely poised to address how the immune system impacts the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The predominant goal of BIG Steps Forward is to accelerate the development of research in this area by providing key resources that will generate applications from UVA BIG more competitive for prestigious external funding. There is a dire need for new therapies to treat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and the UVA BIG center will rise to preeminence as we tackle this complex and devastating disease.


The Prominence to Preeminence (P2PE) Award, BIG Steps Forward, has the goal of establishing research excellence at the University of Virginia (UVA) in the area of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. To achieve this goal, we have successfully recruited a basic science faculty member, Dr. Sarah Flowers, to the center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). Dr. Flowers has expertise in the biochemistry of APOE. Apoe4 is a risk factor for the development of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, making the insights gained from her research relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

We have also funded seven laboratories to perform exciting new projects through our seed grant program. Each funded group is using a unique approach to understand neurodegenerative processes using a variety of models. Importantly, several principal investigators associated with this program have published collaborative papers and submitted NIH grants to support their research. The submitted papers and grants will be essential for providing evidence of successful collaborations that will be the basis of a NIH Program Project (P01) application that will fund this program in the future.

We have also purchased new equipment that is allowing for cutting-edge experimentation by our researchers. The acquisition of a spatial transcriptomics platform and a high-parameter flow cytometer have allowed for the generation of datasets that will lead to a better understanding of how neuroinflammation contributes to or protects the brain in neurodegenerative diseases. To assist with the analyses of the complex data sets generated by this instrumentation, we have hired a staff Data Scientist, Dr. Maureen Cowan. Dr. Cowan has been instrumental for our spatial transcriptomics program. She is currently using AI to optimize critical steps in the analysis pipeline. We have also made progress towards the establishment of an Alzheimer’s disease model core that will serve as an essential resource for our investigators.

Lastly, we had an inaugural event in 2022 that brought senior graduate students from across the country to UVA to visit the BIG center and Charlottesville. The event was highly successful in building connections with these rising leaders in the field. In the upcoming year, we will continue our efforts to recruit a clinician scientist to UVA and continue to perform collaborative, innovative, and ground-breaking research.