From ANN, April 5, 2016:    Researchers from the Center for Perinatal Biology at Loma Linda University School of Medicine (LLUSM) have announced that their 417-page application for a program project grant (PPG) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been funded for a total of $6.29 million over the next five years.

Grant funding officially began April 1 with the first installment of the grant. The funds specifically come from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The news is very encouraging to Lubo Zhang, PhD, center director and principal investigator on the grant, because it assures the continuity of the center, which was established in 1972 by the late Lawrence D. Longo, MD, who passed away in January.

“Gestational Hypoxia and Developmental Plasticity,” the title for the PPG, refers to how oxygen deprivation during gestation alters a developing fetus’ ability to adapt to challenges imposed during processes involved in development and growth.

The grant will fund four separate, but related projects under the watchful attention of principal investigators Lubo Zhang, PhD; Charles A. Ducsay, PhD; William J. Pearce, PhD; and Ravi Goyal, MD, PhD. Goyal, an assistant professor of pharmacology who collaborated with Longo on a variety of research projects, will assume leadership of Longo’s project.

The goal of the four studies is to collectively explore the physiological, biochemical, cellular, and molecular mechanisms that mediate the effects of long-term, high-altitude hypoxia on maternal health and fetal development. The results could ultimately translate into the importance of improving perinatal care and decreasing chronic disease later in life.

Roger Hadley, MD, LLUSM dean, welcomed news of the grant that earned the perfect score.

“I’m very pleased to share this exciting news,” Hadley said. “It’s external validation of the quality of our researchers and their work, placing us among the elite research institutions around the world.”

According to Representative Pete Aguilar of California’s 31st congressional district, the grant is good news, not only for the university, but also for Southern California.

“Loma Linda University Health’s role as both a medical services provider and a leader in research and discovery puts our region at the forefront of the health care industry and the 21st century economy,” said Aguilar. “I commend Dr. Zhang, his staff and the entire Loma Linda University Health team on this important accomplishment.”

The Center for Perinatal Biology has been continuously funded for the past 20 years through five-year renewals of the original PPG. Officials applied for the five-year renewal in May 2015, and six months later, they were informed that their application had received a score of 10 with a percentile ranking of 1—a perfect score.

“I had never heard of anyone getting a perfect score for a PPG before,” Zhang said, adding that while he has personally received perfect scores on two R01 grant applications, achieving that on the much-larger PPG application is a very rare accomplishment. “I’m not saying there has never been a perfect score on a PPG before, but if there has, I’ve never heard about it.”

Longo learned of the perfect score just two months before his death. It was a fitting culmination to his legendary and remarkable career.

Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the denomination’s world headquarters in Washington, DC. Featured image: Four researchers from the Center for Perinatal Biology at Loma Linda University School of Medicine recently received a $6.29 million program project grant from the National Institutes of Health. (From left): Ravi Goyal, MD, PhD; William J. Pearce, PhD; Lubo Zhang, PhD, center director; and Charles A. Ducsay, PhD. Not only did they win the award, but they also got a perfect score on their grant application, an extremely rare accomplishment. Photo credit: ANN/Loma Linda University Health.