August 8, 2022

Three faculty members earn first independent NIH research grants

Funding for Chelsea Kaplan, Ph.D., Michael Mathis, M.D., and Phillip Vlisides, M.D., will support studies focused on pain in children, kidney injury after cardiac surgery, and the effects of caffeine on postoperative delirium.


There’s a certain kind of excitement that comes with receiving your first major research grant from the National Institutes of Health. It’s a celebration of the work it takes to transition from a research training stage to a career as an independent investigator.

These days, there’s a lot to celebrate in the University of Michigan Department of Anesthesiology.

Three faculty members recently received notification of their first NIH R01s: Chelsea Kaplan, Ph.D., Michael Mathis, M.D., and Phillip Vlisides, M.D. Totaling $8.6 million in funding, their projects span the department’s three areas of research excellence — pain and opioids, outcomes, and neuroscience.

“I am thrilled for Drs. Kaplan, Mathis and Vlisides — for each, this is an important transition and a testament to their hard work and dedication. Three R01s in any cycle is a success; however, awards for three new investigators is all the more exciting,” said Chad Brummett, M.D., the Bert N. LaDu Professor of Anesthesiology and senior associate chair for research. “Moreover, the funding across the three domains of research excellence — pain/opioids, outcomes, and neuroscience — demonstrates the breadth of expertise and contributions to science from faculty in our department.”

All three scientists also are graduates of the department’s NIH T32 postdoctoral training program.

The three new projects are the latest additions to the department’s NIH-funded research portfolio, which last year included nearly $21.9 million in funding for 25 projects. Michigan Anesthesiology has ranked first in NIH funding for seven consecutive years in the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research ranking, which includes anesthesiology departments based within medical schools. 

“I could not be prouder of these three outstanding researchers,” said George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., the Robert B. Sweet Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology. “Their innovative projects promise to advance the field significantly and I am confident that this is just the start of a prolific NIH-funded career for each of them.”

The newly funded projects are:

Researchers awarded $2.7M NIH grant to study pain in children

Chelsea Kaplan, Ph.D.

Chelsea Kaplan, Ph.D., and Psychology’s Adriene Beltz, Ph.D., are co-principal investigators on a $2.7 million NIH grant to study pain in children. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Nursing Research, will use data from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, a longitudinal study of 12,000 children that spans puberty and will provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore childhood pain. 

“Chronic pain in children is understudied and under-treated. But what we’ve learned from studying adults with chronic pain is that they will report that their pain actually started in childhood,” Kaplan said. “It’s important to understand what’s causing pain so that we can develop appropriate treatments for pain in childhood and, potentially, interrupt the lifelong course of pain.” 

Read Kaplan’s full grant announcement.

Clinical research team awarded $3.2M NIH grant to study kidney injury after cardiac surgery

Michael Mathis MD
Michael Mathis, M.D.

Michael Mathis, M.D., and nephrologist/data scientist Karandeep Singh, M.D., MMSc are co-principal investigators on a $3.2 million NIH grant to study kidney injury after cardiac surgery. The study, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, will use cardiac operating room data from over 80,000 patients at over 30 U.S. hospitals to provide novel, deep insights into how anesthesia practice patterns can be individualized to reduce acute kidney injury. 

“There is a unique opportunity to use vast arrays of health data collected in the cardiac surgery operating room, to provide actionable knowledge of care processes influencing acute kidney injury,” Mathis said. “Once better understanding these highly nuanced processes, we can inform future clinical trials testing precision-health based approaches to reduce acute kidney injury after cardiac surgery.”

Read Mathis' full grant announcement.

$2.7M NIH grant awarded to study effects of caffeine on postoperative delirium

Phillip Vlisides, M.D.

Phillip Vlisides, M.D., has received a 5-year, $2.7 million National Institutes of Health R01 grant to test if caffeine can help prevent postoperative delirium in older surgical patients. The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, also will allow researchers to identify dynamic brain changes that reflect cognitive vulnerabilities, including signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It is a major public health issue that older patients who are admitted to the hospital are at risk for delirium and cognitive impairment. We don’t know why this happens or when it’s going to happen — and we don’t currently have any interventions to prevent or treat it,” Vlisides said. “Our goal is to better understand the underlying biology of delirium and related neurocognitive disorders in order to develop safe and effective interventions.”

Read Vlisides’ full grant announcement.