Multi-million dollar federal grant renewed for Marshall researchers and statewide collaborators

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Dr. Gary Rankin with the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and co-investigators at institutions around West Virginia, including West Virginia University, have received a five-year renewal grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling more than $17 million for the West Virginia IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (WV-INBRE).

Rankin, who is chairman of the department of pharmacology, physiology and toxicology, serves as the grant’s principal investigator.

Gary O. Rankin, Ph.D.“We are really happy to be able to continue the work of the WV-INBRE program across our state,” Rankin said. “These funds will provide much-needed support for investigators at West Virginia colleges and universities to develop biomedical research programs and receive critical new equipment for their research activities.”

Rankin explained that researchers with the WV-INBRE research network are already studying many important health issues germane to West Virginia including cancer and cardiovascular disease, and the grant allows for expansion in those areas.

“The grant will also allow us to continue providing biomedical research opportunities for undergraduate students and faculty in all parts of West Virginia and help us train the state’s future workforce in science and technology,” Rankin said.

WV-INBRE is part of NIH’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program housed in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at NIH. The goals of the IDeA programs are to enhance biomedical research capacity, expand and strengthen the research capabilities of biomedical faculty, and, for INBREs, provide access to biomedical resources for promising undergraduate students throughout the 23 eligible states and Puerto Rico in the IDeA program.

“Our INBRE puts the IDeA approach into action by enhancing the state’s research infrastructure through support of a statewide system of institutions with a multidisciplinary, thematic scientific focus,” Rankin said. “For WV-INBRE this focus is cellular and molecular biology, with a particular emphasis on chronic diseases. We have also started an initiative to support natural products research in the areas of cancer and infectious disease research.”

Rankin said the research goals are accomplished through mentoring and administrative support provided by both Marshall University and West Virginia University.

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Contact: Leah C. Payne, Director of Public Affairs, Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy, 304-691-1713

Pier Paolo Claudio, M.D., Ph.D. shares ChemoID results with prominent scientists

Pier Paolo Claudio, M.D., Ph.D. (Marshall University Graduate Faculty, Cancer Biology research cluster), was an invited speaker at the prestigious Cancer Stem Cell Conference at Case Western University in August. Claudio traveled to Cleveland, OH to provide the ChemoID clinical trial data for the Central Nervous System (CNS) tumor series in a presentation titled: Chemosensitivity Assay for Targeting Cancer Stem-Like Cells in Malignant Brain Tumors. His work was well-received by the 500 world-renowned, national, and international cancer scientists who attended the conference. The opportunity to present his results was “extremely rewarding,” said Claudio.

ChemoID is the result of Claudio’s focus on translational research which is aimed at taking laboratory discoveries to a patient’s bedside. He and his collaborators have developed a method of forecasting the efficacy of particular chemotherapy drugs on specific individuals diagnosed with certain types of cancers. This tool for choosing the best personalized therapy for cancers such as brain, lung, or breast, in addition to others, has shown very positive results in the clinical trials leading to hospital use of the technology.

ClaudioOn October 15, the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center will implement ChemoID. Additionally, transportation stability studies have shown that national and international samples can be safely sent to Claudio’s lab paving the way for broad use of this method.

Claudio noted that, “among all the talks presented at the meeting, we were one of the few institutions presenting an actual completed clinical trial with promising results. This certainly increased our national exposure and the number of collaborations with other leading institutions in the field.”

Philippe Georgel, Ph.D. shares research expertise internationally

Philippe Georgel, Ph.D., a member of the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program faculty in the Cancer Biology and Neuroscience and Developmental Biology research clusters, and the Biochemistry and Microbiology Department of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, was recently invited to share his research on prostate cancer and diet. The first Indo-Global Health Care Summit and Expo in Hyderabad, India, hosted his presentation to over 4000 international health care professionals on June 20-23.

Philippe Georgel, Ph.D.Dr. Georgel’s work focuses on the role of the biomolecule sulforaphane (abundant in broccoli, cauliflower and several other cruciferous plants) on prostate cancer cells. The videos of his appearance are available through the Indus Foundation web sites: http://indus.org/healthcare/Secientific_Sessions.html and http://indus.org/healthcare/gallery.html .

After the summit, Dr. Georgel met with students and faculty from universities in the Hyderabad area as an ambassador for INTO Marshall University. This program offers international students learning experiences and services that promote academic, professional and personal success at Marshall University’s Huntington campus. Often, these students then matriculate into Marshall’s undergraduate or graduate degree courses. Dr. Georgel discussed some potential benefits of studying at Marshall University such as the supportive local community, small campus setting, friendly people, and travel highlights of living in the Tri-State region. He also provided detailed information about the curricula offered by the College of Science.

Thank you, Dr. Georgel, for spreading the word internationally about the outstanding research and opportunities at Marshall.

Biomedical Sciences research graduate has work on fatty acids published

Recent MU Biomedical Sciences Research M.S. graduate, William L. Patterson III, “Billy”, has authored a review on the relationship between omega-3 Fatty Acids (FA), inflammation and cancer with his graduate advisor, Dr. Philippe Georgel (Biomedical Science Graduate Program faculty in the Cancer Biology research cluster.)

Billy Patterson_news2014Mr. Patterson submitted a manuscript which reviewed the various pathways affected by omega-3 Fatty Acids related to cancer. The international journal, Biochemistry and Cell Biology (BCB), accepted this article for publication in May, and it appeared in a special edition of the BCB in July. This topic is highly relevant to the public interest regarding diet and health. It includes details of the biochemical processes that can be affected by the daily consumption of omega-3 Fatty Acids in the form of canola oil or fish products.

Dr. Georgel indicated that Mr. Patterson had performed the research for this analysis as a part of his thesis, and expressed the excitement that he always feels when a student’s work is recognized.

Since graduation, Billy continues to conduct research, but with Dr. Michael Norton (Biomedical Sciences Graduate Faculty, Neuroscience and Developmental Biology research cluster) on Marshall’s Huntington Campus.

For further information, please view the abstract for Patterson’s article.

What is Canalization?

The following was taken from WV Public Broadcasting
by Clark Davis

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Marshall University professor Vincent Sollars recently received a $432,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute for his unique cancer research. It involves something called canalization.

Click this picture to hear Clark Davis interview Dr. Vincent Sollars about his research.

Dr. Sollars is an associate professor in the Marshall University School of Medicine. He’s taking an unusual approach to find better treatments for cancer.

“In the end what we’re looking at is making life better for people that have this deadly disease, that’s the main reason I became a scientist,” Sollars said.

The idea of canalization is that as cells develop and mature they become different things.

“As they develop they start as very immature cells that look like each other, and then they mature,” Sollars said. “That process is structured and they’re pushed a long a certain direction like a canal pushes water.”

And he said when that canalization does not work appropriately that is when cancer cells develop. Sollars is examining why some of those cells do not follow the path and end up becoming cancerous. Sollars said that some of the cells will stop listening and cooperating with neighboring cells. That communication with the other cells is necessary for the complex mix that becomes the different cells in our body. When the cells do not listen, bad things happen.

“The loss of this canalization is a force that will allow those cells that are normal to become cancerous, if we understand how that occurs we can develop new chemotherapies,” Sollars said. “If it is truly a force that helps a cancer cell progress we can put breaks on that force.”

Sollars and a team of student researchers will the test the role of canalization in the maturing process of cells and cancer development in mice. They will target leukemia specifically with this grant, but the results can apply to all cancer types. Sollars said most often with cancer research, the examination is of the genes that mutate and become cancerous. His work differs because it looks at the process those individual cells are taking in becoming a normal part of the body or cancer down the road.

“What I’m doing is understanding not a particular gene, but a process,” Sollars said. “So how do cells bring about the changes in these genes, not the specific genes themselves, but the process and so this is a fundamental process is my theory that most cancers use to progress.”

Sollars says ultimately the hope is that if his hypothesis can be proved true, a certain type of chemotherapy could be used in conjunction with the already occurring treatment of leukemia. He says often times the initial treatment of leukemia will seem successful, putting the cancer into remission. But often he said cancer cells will be hiding and growing without the knowledge of the doctor until it’s too late.

Sollars hopes to hire 8 undergraduate and graduate students along with a full-time technician.

Marshall Professors Create Groundbreaking New Test In Fight Against Cancer

Marshall Professors Create Groundbreaking New Test In Fight Against Cancer
Reported by: Kennie Bass
Videographer: Matt Durrett
Also Contributing: Larry Clark

It’s called ChemoID, and it could represent a big step forward in cancer care.

Nearly a decade ago, two Marshall University professors met on this bridge, which connects the Science Building and the Byrd Biotechnology Center. That moment of serendipity, of blind chance bringing two people together, was the beginning of a relationship which led to combining research and work leading to revolutionary new way to fight cancer.

ChemoID_VideoIt’s a new paradigm in cancer treatment,” Dr. Jagan Valluri, Marshall University professor said. “Simply because this particular assay that we developed is simply going to deliver great results in improving clinical outcomes. And more importantly there is a lessening of the financial burden on patients because the assay is going to select the right chemotherapy for that particular patient.

“A particular patient will respond to a certain drug better than another patient,” Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio, Marshall University professor said. “Why is that? Because those cancers are, although they look the same, they are really different. You and I, we are different genetically, so is cancer. And so, therefore the different response is due to that. So our test is a functional test that is able to find, select correct drugs, more useful drugs for that individual patient. And deselect those that are not useful that would cause more harm than benefit.

Identifying the best treatment for cancer has long been the subject of comprehensive research. The Marshall professors developed their second-level test, which subjects cancer stem cells to a multitude of different medicines.

Claudio says clinical tests show ChemoID is very effective and accurate in predicting which chemotherapy drugs or combination of drugs work best in individual cancer patients.

Let me illustrate how ChemoID works using this deck of cards. Let’s say each card is a federally-approved chemotherapy treatment against cancer and let’s say you’re diagnosed with lung cancer. So, your doctor picks a card. First generation testing is right about 60 to 70 percent of the time in choosing the right chemotherapy to deal with a general type of cancer. So, your oncologist picks this type of chemotherapy and it proves to be effective. But then another person is diagnosed with the exact same type of cancer. Their oncologist also prescribes this form of chemotherapy but it doesn’t work on them. So the oncologist is forced to go to a second type, this drug which is a little bit more effective. What the ChemoID researchers say is that their second generation test finds the correct medication to deal specifically with your type of cancer. They say that ChemoID will save money, it will save time and most importantly it will save lives.

“We have introduced a novel part to this test which is testing the cancer stem cell population,” Claudio said. “Which are the seeds of cancer, the roots of cancer. Just like normal tissue have stem cells, also cancer has stem cells. However, those are evil stem cells able to regrow and repair cancer following a failed chemotherapy. So if we leave those bad boys behind what happens is that cancer will recur. Our ability with this test is to select those cancer stem cells and grow them up so that we have material now to make a test and predict against cancer stem cells which chemotherapy will be more effective for selected patients, for individual patients.

Link to ChemoID interview“People have been trying to personalize chemotherapy,” Valluri said. “Because chemotherapy, when you provide chemotherapy to a patient it is generally based on clinical trials on generalized populations. It’s never specific to a patient group or subset of people. And so, what our process does is we minimize the trial and error by truly personalizing the chemotherapy and going after what we call the seeds of the cancer, the cancer stem cells. And so, the seeds of the cancer, if we can effectively target them and lower the load of the cancer stem cells there there is a greater clinical outcome.”

Finding the best chemotherapy option for each individual cancer patient could save time and avoid the harsh side effects of chemo treatments which aren’t most effective.

“Every person is different,” Claudio said. “So because every person is different, although every single card could be a good play to be played, drugs that may work better, we can find the drugs that can work better for that particular patient and therefore play that card instead of a different card.”

Clinical trials at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center showed very positive results. ChemoID has been used to help dozens of patients during the testing period. One patient is celebrating six years of treatments. That’s six years longer than they were expected to live.

“By using the correct drug and by impacting more the cancer than the patient will in the end, prolong life and provide a better quality of life for patients,” Claudio said.

ChemoID is not a cure for cancer. But, for people with lung, brain, spine and breast cancer, it represents finding their best chance at making their disease chronic instead of fatal.

Claudio says an additional benefit is that ChemoID could save money. He and his partner recently talked with Senator Joe Manchin about their research and how it could cut Medicaid costs if its implemented on a wide basis.

“First of all, the quality of life, the ability to extend a person’s life that might be terminal,” Manchin said. “But the other thing is the amount of money that would be saved from treating so many different things that doesn’t have an effect.and being able to pinpoint what will be effective.”

The researchers say your oncologist, your doctor, will still have the final say as to which medicine they want to use to treat your cancer.

However, ChemoID is an additional tool which could give both doctors and patients more information about the best path to take and could provide an additional edge leading to longer and better quality lives.

“It’s gonna have an impact worldwide,” Valluri said. “Because when you think about in the U.S. alone we spend 30 billion dollars on chemotherapy drugs. The cost of cancer in this country alone is over 210 billion and it is a tremendous financial burden on patients. What this assay does is truly personalizes the chemotherapy selection. You’re not only reducing toxicity improving patient outcomes and reducing costs. So, there’s many facets to this technology.”

“By using this test,” Claudio said. “Oncologists can have a new pair of glasses that magnifies drugs that are working for that particular patient and can provide a benefit to the patient better than other drugs that wouldn’t.

Cabell-Huntington Hospital is planning to implement the new ChemoID cancer screening this fall.

The test’s creators say they hope to share the ChemoID technology with the hospitals across West Virginia, the nation and eventually the world.

Marshall University student researcher presents at national conference

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Mohit Harsh,a research student at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and an entering first-year medical student, presented his team’s findings last month during a poster session at the 16th International Congress of Endocrinology in Chicago.

The research was done in the laboratory of Dr. Nader G. Abraham, one of the foremost researchers on the topic of obesity and metabolic syndrome in the world, as well as the Vice Dean for Research for the School of Medicine.  The study focused on fructose and a metabolic by-product of fructose metabolism called uric acid and their effects on bone marrow-derived stem cell development.  The use of fructose is becoming increasingly popular as a sweetener in western society and has been linked to worsening obesity and obesity-related complications like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Mohit Harsh - Former Biomedical Sciences, M.S. Medical Sciences Student

“This was significant study because it’s the first study to demonstrate that fructose treatments on stem cells increase the development of fat cells and actually decrease the secretion of adiponectin, a hormone known to have cardio-protective properties,” Harsh said.“Our results may provide an avenue for our better understanding of diet-induced obesity and obesity-related cardiovascular complications.”

Harsh worked with fellow students Jordan P. Hilgefort, a second- year medical student, and George E. Banks V, also a second-year medical student.  Faculty members on the team include Zeid J. Khitan, M.D.; Joseph I. Shapiro, M.D., dean of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine;  Komal Sodhi, M.D.;  Luca Vanella, Ph.D.; and Abraham.

“Obesity is preventable and can be achieved by controlling calorie intake and physical activity,” Abraham said. “Our goal is to empower our community with science-based information about what can be done to prevent child and adult obesity and how an increase in fructose intake can be detrimental on body weight gain and heart disease.”

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Brickstreet Foundation.

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Contact: Leah C. Payne, Director of Public Affairs, Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy, 304-691-1713