Postdoctoral associate receives two-year scholarship from national group

Firom Alom

Dr. Firoj Alom

Dr. Firoj Alom, a postdoctoral associate in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of physiological sciences, has received a 2022 Urology Care Foundation Research Scholar Award, which will support his research for two years.

Alom received the award for a study on development of an optogenetic-based strategy for controlling the external urethral sphincter, working under the mentorship of Dr. Aaron Mickle, an assistant professor and Rita Allen Foundation Scholar at UF.

“Bladder dysfunction accompanies more than 80% of spinal cord injuries,” Alom said. “One type of dysfunction is detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia. In patients with detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia, the bladder detrusor muscle activation is not coordinated with the relaxation of the external urethral sphincter, resulting in inefficient bladder voiding, high residual volumes and potential overfilling.”

Current therapies are ineffective at restoring the function of these neuronal circuits, and intermittent catheterization is required to prevent bladder overfilling and kidney damage, Alom added. His proposal aims to develop an optogenetic approach for targeted neuromodulation to control external urethral sphincter function.

“We will use viral delivery and transgenic animals to develop an optogenetic neuromodulation paradigm to relax the external urethral sphincter on demand. We hypothesize that expression and stimulation of the inhibitory archaerhodopsin or red-shifted Halorhodopsin in the somatic motor neurons innervating the external urethral sphincter will result in sphincter relaxation,” Alom said. “We will examine the ability of these inhibitory opsins to relax the external urethral sphincter in naïve rats and a model of spinal cord injury. We expect optogenetic inhibition of these neurons will relax the external urethral sphincter and allow urine to pass through the urethra during a bladder contraction.”

In addition to developing basic science tools to study spinal cord injuries, this project will help develop targeted viral transduction strategies and neuromodulatory technologies that will assist in targeting traditional electrical neuromodulation technologies for the treatment of detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia, Alom said.

The American Urological Association and the Urology Care Foundation, the official foundation of the AUA, have recognized 19 researchers as recipients of the 2022 Urology Care Foundation Research Scholar Awards. The Research Scholar Program supports future research leaders and ensures that they receive the necessary training and guidance for a successful research career. The awards provide $40,000 per year for one or two years of mentored training for clinical and postdoctoral fellows or early career investigators.


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