Winning a nearly $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health is an accomplishment. Receiving a perfect score on the application for that grant is nearly unheard of. Susan Thibeault, PhD, professor of otolaryngology in the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Surgery, recently did both.
A perfect score on an NIH grant application is so unusual, it’s referred to as the “unicorn score.”
“The rarity of receiving such a score reinforces the high impact of Dr. Thibeault’s research,” said Rebecca Minter, MD, A.R. Curreri Distinguished Chair of the Department of Surgery. “We couldn’t be more proud of her extraordinary work and we look forward to seeing the results of this state-of-the-art study.”
Thibeault, who is the UW Health Medical Director of Speech Language Pathology & Audiology, won the five-year, $2.9 million R01 grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to support her study on vocal fold mucosa. The mucosa are tissues that cover the vocal folds (sometimes called “vocal cords”) and they play a major role in voice quality. Injuries that involve vocal fold mucosa are common, affecting an estimated 10-30 million people in the U.S. every year.
The goal of Thibeault’s current study is to determine how the cells that make up the mucosa develop over time and how they respond to injury. The research team plans to create an atlas of where the mucosa cells are located and when they develop, under both healthy and injured conditions.
Comparing development in healthy vs. injured vocal folds will, Thibeault hopes, lay the groundwork for creating targeted living tissue replacements. Ultimately, tissue replacements could be customized to different stages in human development and to the different regions where vocal fold damage can occur—leading to life-changing treatment for millions of people.