Marshall Ph.D. student receives Chancellor’s Scholarship

Tenacious.  Passionate. Driven.  These are the words that Sean Piwarski uses to describe himself.

Piwarski is this year’s recipient of the Chancellor’s Scholarship, given to a student in Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program. The Chancellor’s Scholar Program is intended to recruit, educate and graduate underrepresented minority students in doctoral programs.  It offers a substantial tuition benefit and stipend as well as professional research and career development opportunities and a strong support network.  Further, it aims to provide support as the student transitions from his or her education into university faculty or administration roles.

Piwarski grew up in a bilingual, Hispanic household in California. He said that when he was a youngster, his mother provided “a lot of love” that allowed him to take risks and explore boundaries, while ensuring that he remained polite and stayed on the right path.  He was recruited to California Lutheran University on a football scholarship, where he double-majored in biology and chemistry.

One of his biggest influences was Dr. John Tannaci, who taught organic chemistry at California Lutheran, and to Piwarski’s surprise, made it fun and relatable.  Piwarski said that was not something that he often found in his science courses, so one of his goals is to bring that level of passion and interest to a new generation.

With his strong science background, Piwarski came to Marshall University to obtain his master’s degree in forensic science, focusing on toxicology and drug chemistry.  In deciding how to apply the knowledge and skills gained through that program, he realized that a Ph.D. was the logical next step, particularly with the interdisciplinary, team-based science program offered at Marshall.

Piwarski, Sean 2014Currently in his third year of a program that typically takes 5 to 6 years to complete, Piwarski is working with Dr. Travis Salisbury in the Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences cluster.  His research focuses on determining how certain chemical mechanisms in specific toxins may work to stop cancer metastasis.  He said it is a subject close to his heart, since several of his family members have lost battles with cancer.

Piwarski said that being the first Hispanic student to receive the Chancellor’s Scholarship is “very humbling,” and gives him the opportunity to pursue his passions.  He also said he believes that it gives validation to exploring his scientific ideas. When he was younger, he noticed that certain classes were considered to be only for the “smart people.”

“Science isn’t so much about being the smartest person in the room; it’s about tenacity,” Piwarski said.  “Try out creative ideas and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to further what is possible.”

Once he completes the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program, Piwarski says he will pursue an academic position where he can put the “swagger in science” and stimulate the same passion and drive for excellence in others.

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Marshall University Biomedical Sciences professor has valuable research recognized in pharmacology journal

Richard-Egleton-2012Dr. Richard Egleton’s (Neuroscience and Developmental Biology Cluster Coordinator) manuscript, Drug Abuse and the Neurovascular Unit, was included in the prestigious journal, Advances in Pharmacology (71: 451-480, 2014). Published on August 22, the article focuses on the role of the neurovascular unit in addiction and the brain’s response to diseases.

This is important research because a better understanding of this function could assist in the development of more effective therapeutic methods for those who are drug-dependent.

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.