By Sherry DiBari


Old Dominion University has been awarded a $2.6 million grant by the National Institutes of Health as part of NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) for Virginia Commonwealth University. The grant at ODU will apply machine learning techniques to analyze functional brain imaging and other imaging, proteomics and health informatics data in people with opioid use disorder, Parkinson’s and other diseases.


“This could lead to a greater understanding of the neurobiology of diseases like opioid use disorder and related behaviors,” said Khan Iftekharuddin, the principal investigator (PI) for the grant and a professor and associate dean for research and innovation in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology. “Researchers could then use that data to provide targets for novel therapeutics for the disease.”


“Our collaboration with VCU and the Wright Center is another step in ODU’s strategy to build a network of research and outreach partnerships to reduce health disparities in Hampton Roads and contribute to biomedical innovation generally,” said Morris Foster, vice president for research in ODU’s Office of Research. “Success will require all of us working together.”


The NIH’s CTSA award is a seven-year, $27.5 million grant awarded to the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research at Virginia Commonwealth University.


Last year, ODU, along with EVMS and Virginia State University, joined the Wright Center’s Regional Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CSTS). The joint venture is a regional partnership designed to “transform scientific discoveries into treatments for patients.”


“This regional and interdisciplinary collaboration is a perfect example of how we can use data science to solve national health issues,” said Kenneth Fridley, dean of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology. “The Batten College is honored to be part of this very important research.”


The project has two facets: health informatics and workforce development.


The health informatics component will be conducted by Iftekharuddin and postdoctoral fellow Ahmed Temtam in ODU’s Vision Lab. They will work with the Wright Center to collect patients’ clinical, imaging and proteomics data for target patient populations for different disease modalities including opioid use disorder, opioid overdose and Parkinson’s Disease.


The data will be used to develop computational models for causal relationships for risk factors of these disorders, among others, and to reveal novel risk factors associated with disease modalities.


The workforce development area will be jointly developed by Iftekharuddin and Alvin Holder, professor of chemistry and biochemistry (co-PI) at ODU. “We will collaborate with the workforce development team at the Wright Regional CCTS to ensure two-way communication about clinical and translational science learning opportunities at ODU and partner institutions,” Iftekharuddin said.


“Overall, the objective of this project is to develop effective risk levels for individuals who suffer from diseases like opioid disorder and overdose,” he added. “This will then help in the development of mitigation strategies and policy making in addressing this challenge.”