Marshall experts to speak at state biosciences summit

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Several Marshall University representatives are among more than 20 life science experts who will share experiences and discuss strategies for successfully growing the state’s bioscience industry during the upcoming West Virginia Bioscience Summit.

Sponsored by the Bioscience Association of West Virginia (BioWV), the summit will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 :30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Marriott Town Center in Charleston. The annual event brings together members of the state’s bioscience community with policy and opinion leaders, economic developers and others who are interested in learning more about how to grow and nurture the industry.

At the summit, Dr. John Maher, Marshall vice president for research, will join representatives from the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, West Virginia State University, the University of Charleston and West Virginia University on a panel highlighting research being conducted in the state.

“The BioWV Summit is a tremendous opportunity to bring attention to the significant economic development happening via West Virginia’s life sciences community,” said Maher. “At the other end of the pipeline we have a great deal of exciting biotechnology work happening here at Marshall and we are pleased to have this chance to share it with our colleagues and friends from around the state and region.”

Dr. Nader Abraham, vice dean for research at the university’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, is on the program to share information about clinical trials at Marshall, and the assistant director of Marshall’s Technology Transfer Office, Amy Melton, will participate in a panel discussion about commercialization opportunities and recent changes in U.S. patent law.

In addition, representatives of two Marshall spinout companies, Derek Gregg of Vandalia Research and Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio of Cordgenics, are scheduled to be on a panel of bioscience company representatives and funders who will discuss the challenges of raising capital and creating an environment for life science growth in the state. Gregg and Claudio both founded their companies on technology they developed in the university’s labs.

A host of industry leaders, policy-makers and other experts also will participate in the conference, including the following:

•           Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (invited);

•           Fritz Bittenbender, Vice President, Alliance Development and State Government Relations, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO);

•           Jeff May, Vice President, Product Strategy, Mylan North America;

•           Dr. Paul Hill, Chancellor, West Virginia Higher Education Commission;

•           Jeff Trewhitt, Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

The summit’s keynote speaker will be Dr. David Scholl, who helped grow Athens, Ohio-based Diagnostic Hybrids into a $100 million biotech company. He is now a partner in a regional venture capital firm and is involved with the billion-dollar Ohio Third Frontier program.

Gregg, who serves as the chairman of BioWV, said, “A successful life science industry begins with research, which then leads to discoveries. Those discoveries provide the basis for company development and economic growth for the state. West Virginia is having success but there is much more that can be done to help grow this industry within our borders.

“The bioscience industry is creating new technologies—pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, medical technologies, chemical processes and more—that not only advance science but provide high-wage jobs to West Virginia residents. This conference will bring people together to highlight what is currently under way and to discuss how we can grow the industry.”

In addition to BioWV, summit sponsors include BIO, PhRMA, Mylan, Pfizer, Fisher Scientific, Amgen, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, West Virginia Small Business Development Center and TechConnect West Virginia. BioWV also receives funding through a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. 

Marshall University is a founding member of BioWV. The purpose of the association is to promote and strengthen the bioscience industry in the state by developing a cohesive community that unites biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical device and research organizations.

For more information or to register for the summit, visit www.biowv.org.

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Marshall investigators to help lead Research Challenge Fund projects for energy, cancer studies

The following story from the Marshall University Research Corporation highlights the cancer research of two professors from the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, Dr. Richard Niles and Dr. Donald Primerano. It also provides a spotlight on the WV Cancer Genomics Network,  which these two faculty members helped launch as Principal Investigators.


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Researchers at Marshall University are among the lead investigators on two projects to be funded through the state’s Research Challenge Fund, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission announced today.

Photo of Dr. Thomas WilsonMarshall faculty members Drs. Thomas Wilson, Richard Niles and Donald Primerano will help direct the projects—one to develop better electronics and the other to learn more about cancers affecting West Virginians. The projects began this month and will be conducted in cooperation with researchers at West Virginia University (WVU). Each project will receive a total of $1,350,000 over the next five years.

The Research Challenge Fund was established by the state legislature in 2002 to provide seed money for new research. Projects funded through the program support the creation of research centers and start-up businesses, and foster economic development and work force advancement.

Announcing the awards, Dr. Paul L. Hill, the commission’s chancellor, said, “The primary goal of the Research Challenge Fund is to sponsor innovative research at our colleges and universities while improving the institutions’ ability to compete for federal and private funding on the national level.”

Dr. John M. Maher, Marshall’s vice president for research, said, “Marshall University is pleased to have been selected to receive funding through this important program. The Research Challenge Fund is one of the state’s largest investments in research and innovation, and the application process is always quite competitive. The fact that our investigators are integral to two of the projects announced today speaks volumes about the quality of research being done at Marshall. I look forward to watching these projects develop over the coming years.”

The funding to create a Center for Energy Efficient Electronics at Marshall and WVU will be used to investigate and develop devices that will lead to next-generation electronics that are smaller, faster and more energy efficient than current technology allows. The principal investigators on the project are Wilson, who is a professor of physics at Marshall; Dr. David Lederman, a professor of physics at WVU; and Drs. Alan Bristow, Mikel Holcomb and Tudor Stanescu, associate professors of physics at WVU.

According to the investigators, there is strong interest in the research community in the concepts of spintronics and magnonics, where spin degrees of freedom and magnetic excitations are used for information storage and processing. Spintronics and magnonics are expected to result in electronic devices that are faster and use substantially less power than current electronics because spin and magnetic excitation currents do not dissipate nearly as much energy as charge currents.

“In my lab at Marshall, I will be probing the effects of applying uniaxial stress to the magnonic devices to adjust their frequencies,” said Wilson. “This proof-of-concept experiment will permit us to determine whether it is feasible to use strain to fabricate THz magnonic devices for ultrafast communication applications.”

The second research project will further develop and expand the West Virginia Cancer Genomics Network to involve Marshall, WVU and Charleston Area Medical Center. Network partners will develop a genetic database for cancers with a higher incidence in West Virginia. Researchers will use the data in studies and clinical trials funded by federal and/or private grants and to help develop start-up biotechnology companies. Principal investigators for this study are Niles, who is a professor and chairman of Marshall’s Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology; Primerano, who is a professor of biochemistry and microbiology at Marshall and the director of the university’s Genomics Core Facility; Dr. William Petros, a professor of biochemistry at WVU; and Dr. Todd Kuenstner, the director of pathology at Charleston Area Medical Center.

Photo of Dr. Richard Niles

Niles said, “We started the Cancer Genomics Network several years ago with money from the federal stimulus, to collect genetic information about cancers that have a high prevalence in West Virginia—namely lung, colorectal and ovarian cancers, and acute myeloid leukemia. Through this award, along with our network partners at WVU and CAMC, we’ll be working to identify new diagnostic/prognostic markers and new targets for cancer therapy.”

 

Primerano added, “At our Genomics Core Facility, we will be sequencing and analyzing the tissue samples collected through the network, allowing us to gain information critical to understanding, preventing and treating cancer in future patients.”

Photo of Dr. Donald Primerano

The grants announced today are the third round of Research Challenge Fund awards made since the program began. According to the Higher Education Policy Commission, the first round—a state investment of $8.4 million—produced more than $20 million in external funding, helped create five startup companies and led to 10 patent applications. Results from the second round of grants, awarded in 2007, are being analyzed and will be reported to the governor and legislature by the end of the year.

More information about the Research Challenge Fund program and other research initiatives is available at www.wvresearch.org.


Contact:  Ginny Painter, Communications Director, Marshall University Research Corporation, 304.746.1964

Progenesis to be featured at international biosciences conference

The following story from the Marshall University Research Corporation (MURC) features Progenesis Technologies, co-founded by Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program professors Dr. Hongwei Yu and Dr. Richard Niles. Progenesis is a research and development company focused on demonstrating the feasibility of manufacturing its genetically-engineered bacterial alginates on an industrial scale. It is one of the “high-tech spinout companies” from Marshall University mentioned in the article.

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Bio International Convention
The largest annual global event for the biotechnology industry, the BIO International Convention attracts an audience of more than 15,000 biotech business leaders, scientists, executives and investors from around the world.

Dr. John Maher, Marshall’s vice president for research, says the Bioscience Association of West Virginia (BioWV)—along with the West Virginia Development Office and the Biotech Alliance of the Huntington Area Development Council (HADCO)—is hosting a West Virginia Pavilion at the convention.

Maher, who is also vice-chairman of BioWV, said the Marshall-related companies to be featured at the pavilion include Vandalia Research, Progenesis Technologies and Cordgenics. All three businesses were founded based on technologies developed at Marshall and are headquartered in the state.

“The West Virginia Pavilion will highlight key participants in our state’s life sciences community,” he said. “There is a great deal of very exciting biotechnology work happening here at Marshall and we are pleased to have this opportunity to share it with conference attendees from the rest of the country and around the world.”

Bryan Brown, executive director of BioWV, added, “Not only will the West Virginia Pavilion highlight the outstanding bioscience companies in West Virginia and the excellent biomedical research at our major universities, we will also showcase all the state has to offer in terms of quality of life and increased business competitiveness to our colleagues from the rest of the country and around the world. We hope that participation in this event will help to attract new entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers, investors and businesses to West Virginia.”

BIO International Convention attendees include a mix of biotechnology, pharmaceutical, plant and life science, medical diagnostic, instrumentation and technology companies of all sizes, including the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world. Also represented are economic development organizations and businesses that support the industry, including law firms, service providers, investors, and suppliers of laboratory equipment and products. Representatives from more than 200 universities and academic communities also attend for networking, educational sessions and collaboration opportunities. There is a strong international attendance, with participants from approximately 60 countries.

Marshall University is a founding member of the Bioscience Association of West Virginia. The purpose of the association is to promote and strengthen the bioscience industry in the state by developing a cohesive community that unites biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical device and research organizations. To advance this mission, BioWV provides educational, networking and commercial opportunities for its members, and serves as an educational and information resource to advance public understanding about the bioscience industry. For more information, visit www.biowv.org.

Progenesis bioengineering company bringing ideas to Huntington

Dr. Niles and Dr. Yu (both pictured right) are the founders of ProgenesisHUNTINGTON Hongwei Yu, chief science officer and co-founder of Progenesis Technologies, is in the market for new business cards after the company hosted a grand opening in its new Huntington office and lab in the Red Cross Building.

As West Virginia’s only locally owned and operated genetic engineering company, Progenesis recently changed its address from South Charleston to Huntington, a move that was celebrated during a grand opening at the new office Friday.

The company has long had ties to Huntington, as it is a spin-off of sorts from Marshall University, where Yu is a professor.

The company, which was founded in 2008, had been operating out of South Charleston until moving into the Red Cross Building and beginning renovations in January.

Most of the Progenesis work force lives in Huntington, so Friday’s grand opening had been eagerly anticipated, Yu said.

“We are very excited to get to work so close to home,” Yu said. “It will make a big difference between shuttling back and forth. We work with the Biotechnology Center at Marshall, so this will allow us to come in anytime we want to or need to and be able to do our work more efficiently.”

Progenesis is a research and development company, which is focused on demonstrating the feasibility of manufacturing its genetically-engineered bacterial alginates on an industrial scale.

Bacterial alginates absorb water quickly, which makes them useful in everything from the agricultural and food industries to the cosmetic and drug markets.

In addition to the new office space, Progenesis’ new digs include a bigger, brighter lab space for employees to do their work in, said Richard Niles, CEO of Progenesis.

“It really is going to be a wonderful place to work,” Niles said. “We are on an upward curve of developing our product and the company, and these new facilities are part of the attraction of significant revenue that will allow us to add more employees, which is what we need to continue to produce and test the product of this company.”

While the company is the only one of its kind in the state, Niles said he sees a bright future for biotechnology in Huntington.

“We are part of a new group of companies, which, locally, includes Vandalia, in biotechnology, which is a growing field. It’s one that is going to diversify the economy in Huntington,” Niles said. “Anyone who is curious about what we do is welcome to come and look at what it is we’re doing. All it takes is giving us a call setting up a time to visit.” 

MU, WVU, business officials gather for Bioscience Summit

The following article was taken from the website of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch. It highlights the work of many of the professors researching in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at Marshall University.


Dr. Nalini SantanamCHARLESTON - There is no shortage of exciting research going on in the laboratories at Marshall University. Scientists and technicians from this region and from around the world have converged at Marshall to do research on topics such as heart disease, cancer and many others. Their research might one day save a life, or at least make someone’s life better.Their work might not be easy for the layperson to understand, but university and business officials are working diligently to help ensure the work West Virginia’s scientists are doing also results in three simple words: dollars and cents.

The economic potential for bioscience research in West Virginia is still hard to grasp, but there is a lot happening already and much optimism for the future.

“We are looking at a pipeline of commercial opportunities coming out of research being done in West Virginia,” said John Maher, vice president for research at Marshall University.

Officials from Marshall, West Virginia University and several business related to the bioscience industry gathered last week for the Second Annual West Virginia Bioscience Summit, held Wednesday at the Marriott Hotel in Charleston.

“This conference is a unique opportunity for people interested in the biosciences to get together and get an update on the status of the industry over the last year,” said Derek Gregg, CEO of Vandalia Research here in Huntington and chairman of BioWV.

The summit featured presentations from West Virginia University, Marshall, Mountwest Community & Technical College, Vandalia Research, Protea, TRAX Biodiscovery, and others to talk about what their organizations have accomplished over the past year.

“This also allows new collaborations and partnerships to be developed,” Gregg said. “Additionally, we had substantial representation from out-of-state organizations looking for new partners and opportunities.”

The biosciences in West Virginia are growing rapidly and the state’s credibility is increasing in the United States and around the world, Gregg said.

“We are spinning out new enterprises, and some of those enterprises are raising capital and hiring people,” he said. “Protea was recently recognized world-wide as having one of the top 10 innovations of 2011. They now employee over 50 people.”

Four companies are now being housed and supported at Vandalia Research’s facility in Huntington, including Progenesis, Maven Analytical and Parabon Nanolabs. These companies sell to pharmaceutical, chemical and diagnostic companies around the world, Gregg said.

Marshall has a lot of exciting research under way right now, said Dr. Richard Niles, senior associate dean for Research and Graduate Education at Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

Here are some examples:

Dr. Piyali Dasgupta is looking at lung cancer and at how capsaicin, the hot stuff in chili peppers, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells in animals.

Dr. Nalini Santanam is looking at the effects of age and gender on the fat around the heart, and at oxidative stress in endometriosis.

Dr. Eric Blough of the Center for Diagnostic Nanosystems has 16 different projects going on.

Dr. Jingwei Xie is working with glass tubes for bone tissue engineering.

Dr. Hongwei Yu is working on genetic regulation of biofilm formation by pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that can cause disease in animals.

Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio is doing cancer research that involves gene therapy using microbubbles for delivery of a virus.

Niles is co-founder with Yu on the biotech business Progenesis, which provides natural, biodegradable polymers for industrial and medical applications through genetic engineering of bacteria. He talked about his experience of starting a biotech business at Wednesday’s Summit.

The universities are working to help others make discoveries and translate them into businesses as well. And the state is helping.

Both Marshall and WVU have received state funding for research through the West Virginia Research Trust Fund, providing $35 million to WVU and $15 million to Marshall for research, provided they come up with a match. WVU has reached its goal and Marshall has $9.4 million secured in gifts and pledges and the potential to reach, or go beyond, its goal very shortly, Maher said.

The universities also have attracted a lot of federal grant funding, all of which rolls over in the local economies as it provides high-paying jobs that attract scientists to the community.

Also in Huntington, Mountwest Community and Technical College is hard at work training students to become biological technicians, environmental science and environmental protection technicians, biomedical laboratory technicians and health technicians, said Jean Chappel, dean of Allied Health at MCTC.

It has a state-of-the-art lab where they can learn molecular diagnostics, tissue culturing, electrophoresis and use a digital fluorescent microscope.

MCTC also works on community outreach, not only targeting science teachers but high school and middle school students. It has a camp where “they’re isolating DNA just like they do on CSI,” Chappel said.

Over the course of one week, students’ aspirations might change from working a minimum wage job to becoming a PhD scientist, she said.

The college wants to help the state have “a well-rounded, educated workforce that wants to stay right here,” Chappel said.

It’s great to see several different parties working toward the same goal, said Laura Gibson, deputy director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center and a professor at WVU.

“The greatest measure of our success is really how we partner,” she said.

Capital formation, attraction and retention of talent, and community development are focus areas for Bio West Virginia in the coming years, Gregg said.

“Incentivizing investment in this area is critical,” he said, “Nearly all of our neighboring states have a program or programs for stimulating investment in high-technology, high-growth, high-RISK businesses to stimulate economic development. West Virginia has had programs in the past that were successful in helping companies raise capital, such as the High Growth Business Investment Tax Credit.

“BioWV is strongly encouraging the renewal of this and other programs that can help companies transition from the campus to the market.”

Marshall research institute adds expert in bone growth, development

A third senior scientist is being added at the Marshall Institute for Interdisciplinary Research (MIIR), effective Jan. 3.

Dr. Jingwei Xie will join the team at MIIR, which was created in 2008 through the state’s Bucks for Brains West Virginia Research Trust Fund. Scientists at MIIR are conducting vital biotechnology research designed to improve the lives of people everywhere who suffer from Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, juvenile macular degeneration and other diseases.

The institute has experienced steady growth since its inception, and recently signed its second co-development agreement with a major biotechnology company.

Xie has more than 10 years experience in biomaterials, tissue engineering, micro-/nanofabrication, biosurfaces, formulations, drug delivery, biotechnology and nanotechnology. In his most recent appointment as a post-doctoral research associate at Washington University in St. Louis, he developed a number of projects related to biomedical applications, including neural tissue engineering, tendon-to-bone insertion site repair and drug delivery.

The goal of MIIR is to develop a focused program of pioneering research dedicated to producing patentable scientific breakthroughs and creating new high-tech businesses based on those discoveries. The institute is building on existing areas of research strength at Marshall and providing opportunities for collaborations with scientists already working at the university.

Xie’s group at the institute will focus on bionanotechnology and will collaborate with researchers at Marshall’s new Center for Diagnostic Nanosystems, where scientists are working to apply advances in nanosensor technology to improve the accessibility and capabilities of rural health care resources.

“He is an extraordinarily creative scientist with a strong background in one of today’s fastest-growing scientific disciplines. With his addition to the team at MIIR along with a growing portfolio of contracts with biotechnology companies we are rapidly approaching critical mass,” said Marshall President Stephen Kopp, in a news release. “Our strategic commitment to hiring the brightest, most talented researchers we can find is paying off. I am confident in our vision for the institute as an economic development engine and remain energized about the possibilities ahead of us.”

Dr. Eric Kmiec, director of MIIR and the institute’s lead research scientist, said Xie comes from one of the most respected nanotechnology labs in the country, and his work to develop devices to aid in bone growth and development will complement the genetics work currently under way at the institute and allow us to move into exciting new areas of discovery.

Kmiec said that in addition to working with colleagues at the Center for Diagnostic Nanosystems, Xie also will collaborate with researchers in the university’s College of Science and College of Information Technology and Engineering.

Prior to joining Washington University in 2007, Xie was a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Washington in Seattle and a research fellow at the National University of Singapore. He is the co-inventor on two patents, was co-investigator of a National Institutes of Health-funded pilot project and has co-authored more than 30 peer-reviewed journal articles.

Xie has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nanjing University of Technology in China. He earned his doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the National University of Singapore.

For more information about MIIR, visit www.marshall.edu/miir.

Area high school students perform award-winning research with Dr. Collier

From left to right: David Neff, Dr. Simon Collier, Nathan Wang, and Jared GallowayTwo area high school students are receiving national recognition for their research working in the lab of Dr. Simon Collier, Chair of the BMS program’s Neuroscience and Developmental Biology research cluster.

The students, Nathan N. Wang and Jared M. Galloway, are seniors at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio. They have been working in Collier’s lab since summer 2010 with Marshall graduate student David Neff on a project to explore the function of a rubber-like protein, resilin, in insect flight.

Research in Collier’s lab focuses on the genetic control of the basic developmental processes of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. According to Collier, Drosophila has been studied for more than 100 years because the organism has many genes and genetic pathways similar to humans. Collier is considered a pioneer in the field.

Neff, who is overseeing the students’ research, said, “This is an important project because not only has it increased our understanding of insect flight, it also has potential implications for the design of biotechnological devices and possibly tissue implants, which could employ molecularly engineered protein sheets.”

Wang and Galloway were nationally recognized for their research in October, when they were named semifinalists in the 2011 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. The highest science honor awarded to American high school students, the award is sponsored by the Siemens Foundation. Their project was one of only three from Ohio to reach the national semifinals.

Earlier this year, their project earned them superior ratings at the Fairland Schools Local Science Fair, the Ohio Academy of Science District 14 Science Day and the Ohio Academy of Science State Science Day, where they were recognized with the Sigma Xi Interdisciplinary Research Award presented by the Ohio State University chapter of the scientific research society.

Collier said, “Nathan and Jared are indeed outstanding young students with very bright futures ahead of them. They are doing exemplary research in our lab and I’m looking forward to watching where their academic careers take them.”

The research was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation and the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium.