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‘MPowering’ Collaboration and Innovative Research


Newly announced MPower Professors highlight collaboration and innovation in research. (Lorri Angelloz) | Thu Dec 7, 2023

‘MPowering’ Collaboration and Innovative Research

December 7, 2023   |  

The University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower) has announced the appointment of six professors from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), recognizing the value of collaboration between the two institutions. 

The MPower Professorship recognizes, incentivizes, and fosters collaborations between faculty who are working together on the most pressing issues of our time. To be considered, faculty must demonstrate collaboration on strategic research that would be unattainable or difficult to achieve by UMB or UMCP acting independently of one another and must embrace the mission of MPower — to collaboratively strengthen and serve the state of Maryland and its citizens.    

MPower Professors each receive $150,000, allocated over three years, to apply to their salary or to support supplemental research activities. These funds recognize, enable, and support strong collaborations between faculty in the joint research enterprise between UMCP and UMB.   

“The MPower Professors selected this year exemplify a dedication to collaboration, innovation, and discovery” said UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS. “They positively impact the lives of the citizens in Maryland, across the country and around the world through their work to solve major challenges facing society.”  

From left, Lisa Berlin, PhD, MS; James Polli, PhD; Osamah Saeedi, MD, MS.

From left, Lisa Berlin, PhD, MS; James Polli, PhD; Osamah Saeedi, MD, MS.

UMB’s MPower Professors’ research areas include early parenting and child development, oral medication bioavailability, and diagnostic and therapeutic methods for blinding and neurodegenerative diseases. The newly announced professors are Lisa Berlin, PhD, MS, the Alison L. Richman Professor for Children, Youth, and Families at the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW); James Polli, PhD, professor and the Ralph F. Shangraw/Noxell Endowed chair in Industrial Pharmacy and Pharmaceutics at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP); and Osamah Saeedi, MD, MS, a professor and vice chair in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) who also serves as chief of the department’s glaucoma service and director of clinical research.  

Berlin, whose research focuses on early child-caregiver attachment as well as programs and policies to support early parenting and child development, directs Compañeros en la Salud de los Niños/Partners in Children’s Health, a five-year randomized trial testing a parent coaching program with low-income Latino families in East Baltimore.  

She said she often collaborates with faculty in the departments of Psychology and Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at UMCP, using their combined expertise to help “strengthen and serve” Maryland’s youngest citizens.  

Berlin explained, “We share interests but vary in our specific strengths and approaches. Together we cover the whole elephant! Our work focuses on understanding and improving the relationships between infants and their principal caregivers — parents, grandparents, aunties, et cetera. We are especially interested in supporting families who could use a little extra help due to low income and related stressors such as discrimination.” 

She added, “I was shocked to receive an early morning phone call from President Jarrell informing me of this honor. Personally, it means a lot because my late father was a professor of history at College Park for 40 years. Growing up, I spent a lot of time on that campus.” 

The monies associated with the MPower Professorship are welcome, Berlin said, because “my interests and ambitions generally outrun my resources.” She plans to use the funds to hire a postdoctoral fellow to collaborate on research articles and assist with the development of new studies. 

Polli, who is co-director of the University of Maryland Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (M-CERSI), a partnership between UMB and UMCP, hailed the value of collaboration between the two campuses. 

He noted that M-CERSI was the first center funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its CERSI program, which was established to foster innovative approaches to regulatory science through collaborative interactions with FDA scientific experts and funding offices. Polli said that researchers from UMB and UMCP work with FDA staff to support the development of new tools, standards, and approaches to assess medical product safety, efficacy, quality, and performance. Specifically, researchers at M-CERSI are addressing pre-clinical assessment focusing on membrane transporters in drug development. 

“To address that full breadth of medical products, you need these two campuses,” Polli stressed.  

He added that since M-CERSI’s launch 13 years ago, the federal CERSI program has expanded to include centers at Johns Hopkins University, Yale University in joint effort with Mayo Clinic, the University of California at San Francisco in a joint effort with Stanford University, and North Carolina State University in a joint effort with North Carolina Central University. 

“It’s really the synergy of the expertise at the College Park and Baltimore campuses that has played a big role in the CERSI program getting off to such a good start. It was a new initiative [when M-CERSI was established], and it looks like it's turned out really well,” he said. 

In addition to his position with M-CERSI, Polli is co-director of the FDA-funded Center for Research on Complex Generics. His research centers on oral drug absorption, with a particular focus on maximizing oral bioavailability through formulation and chemical approaches. He said he plans to use MPower funds to purchase equipment that will aid the work of PhD students working with him to research ways to make drugs more bioavailable. 

Saeedi works extensively with UMCP, both teaching graduate and undergraduate students and working with UMCP faculty on research critical to finding better biomarkers and new treatments for blinding eye diseases. His cutting-edge work focuses on the use of engineering-based approaches to aid in research on glaucoma, a blinding eye disease that disproportionately affects African Americans. The research may also have applications to other diseases of aging, including neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.  

“Biomedical problems increasingly require engineering and technological solutions. This ranges from computer vision analysis of images to device development and everything in between. With the emergence of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, among others, collaboration between researchers will become more important than ever,” Saeedi said, when speaking of MPower’s mission to advance interdisciplinary research. 

Noting that he majored in chemical engineering as an undergraduate and has focused on applying engineering applications and solutions to medical problems in his career as a researcher, Saeedi added, “This award shows the value of that approach and the value that the combination of engineering and medicine brings to the institution and state as a whole.” 

He said that the MPower award will allow him to fund personnel and equipment necessary to explore vital research on “how the eye can be a window to diseases of the brain.”  

The University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State is a collaboration between the state of Maryland’s leading public research institutions, UMB and UMCP. It leverages the sizable strengths and complementary missions of both institutions to strengthen Maryland’s innovation economy, advance interdisciplinary research, create opportunities for students, and solve important problems for the people of Maryland and the nation. Working together, UMB and UMCP achieve innovation and impact through collaboration. 

The University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016 strengthened and formalized the structured relationship between UMB and UMCP, which began in 2012. The law deepened the alliance and enabled UMB and UMCP to pursue even greater transformative change and impact, far surpassing what each institution could do independently of the other.