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.”

2011 SRIMS participant wins travel award to present at national conference

Rebecca Furby, 2011 SRIMS studentRebecca Furby, a participant of the 2011 SRIMS program at Marshall University, has won an award from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, or FASEB, to present at a national conference. The FASEB Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program’s mission statement is to “achieve greater participation in the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise of this country by individuals from underrepresented minority groups.” Underrepresented minority undergraduate and graduate students, post-baccalaureates, postdoctorates, junior faculty, and faculty scientists in the behavioral and biomedical sciences are eligible to apply for the award.

The MARC program reimburses students for meeting registration and travel-related expenses, including lodging and transportation. Rebecca Furby will be using her award to attend the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) 2011 meeting in St. Louis, MO, November 9-12. According to its website, the ABRCMS meeting is the largest professional conference for biomedical and behavioral science students and attracts over 3,300 participants from more than 350 U.S. colleges and universities. In addition to poster and oral presentations, students have the opportunity to network with representatives from graduate schools, summer research internships, government agencies, and professional scientific societies.

Rebecca researched in Dr. Nalini Santanam’s lab over the summer. Dr. Santanam, a professor in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, studies obesity, cardiovascular disease, and reproductive endocrinology within the Cardiovascular Disease, Obesity, and Diabetes research cluster.

Congratulations, Rebecca, on winning the FASEB MARC award!

To learn more, use the following links:

Dr. Nalini Santanam selected to present at World Congress on Endometriosis

Nalini Santanam, Ph.D., M.P.H.

An abstract by Nalini Santanam, Ph.D., of the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program has been selected for oral presentation at the 11th World Congress on Endometriosis. The World Congress on Endometriosis is held once every three years to focus on new developments in the field of Endometriosis. This year, the Congress will take place from September 4 – 7 in Montpelier, France.

Endometriosis is a clinical condition that afflicts 10-15% of women of reproductive age (mainly diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 35), posing a major cause for infertility and chronic pain. Since the etiology of this disease is still unknown, very few treatment options are available. Surgery is currently the best treatment; however, due to a high recurrence rate, the disease commonly returns within three to six months post-surgery. The conference provides attendees the opportunity to present and discuss new research relating to the condition. The meeting promotes exchange between biologists, scientists, endocrinologists, and gynecologists in order to disseminate information and promote research in the treatment and pathogenesis of the condition. Most attendees at the Congress are scientists and clinicians, and new findings are presented from both perspectives.

Each abstract that is submitted to the Congress undergoes a rigorous selection process, and only the top five abstracts in each category are accepted for oral presentation. In the “pain mechanisms” category, Dr. Santanam’s abstract, entitled “Pain sensitive microRNAs in women with Endometriosis,” was one of the five abstracts selected for oral presentation. The abstract presents recent research from Dr. Santanam’s lab identifying biomarkers called “microRNAs” that are not only altered during endometriosis, but also correlated with patients’ pain symptoms. Dr. Santanam also submitted a second abstract, “Oxidized lipids and pain in endometriosis,” that was selected for a poster presentation. This study investigates the role of oxidative stress in the etiology of pain associated with endometriosis.

Dr. Santanam has been involved in endometriosis research for the past 15 years and has been a biomedical researcher at Marshall since 2007. Her laboratory research focuses on identifying unique biomarkers that could assist in either the diagnosis or treatment of endometriosis. There are many collaborators who Dr. Santanam would like to thank for the success of her research. She expresses gratitude for her collaboration with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Marshall University and Cabell Huntington Hospital. In particular, she would like to single out her collaboration with Dr. Brenda Dawley, Dr. Robert Nerhood, Dr. David Jude, and Ms. Sandra White. She is excited to be attending the Congress in order to present some of the fascinating data that she has recently generated in her laboratory with the help of Marshall undergraduate and graduate students. Students and lab personell who participated in the data collection include: Johannes Fahrmann, Holly King, Courtney Crain, and Carla Cook.

Congratulations, Dr. Santanam, on the success of your research!

You can learn more about the World Congress on Endometriosis from their website: http://www.wce2011.com/.

BMS Ph.D. candidate Mike Brown presents paper at symposium in Ireland

Mike Brown, Ph.D. candidateMike Brown, a Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, recently presented at the Lipid Biology and Lipotoxicity Symposium in Kerry, Ireland. The meeting was organized in collaboration with the Science Foundation of Ireland. The symposium focused on metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, conditions of high prevalence in West Virginia.

Mike’s paper is entitled “S-Adenosyl-L-methionine Attenuation of Lipid Peroxidation Markers Following Acetaminophen Toxicity.” Acetaminophen toxicity induces cellular changes that generate a reactive substance called 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE). 4-HNE can become adducted to proteins through lipid peroxidation, which is the free radical break down of lipids. According to Mike, before this study, no one had studied exactly how this by-product binds to proteins. S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) has many important functions in the liver and serves as the body’s main defense mechanism against oxidative stress. It helps to replenish the cellular supply of glutathione, an important antioxidant that is depleted by acetaminophen poisoning. Mike prepared this paper in coordination with research technician John G. Ball, and his mentor, Dr. Monica Valentovic. His research is part of an ongoing collaboration with the University of Arizona that has been in existence for five years.

Although Mike has been to many conferences, this was his first time attending a Keystone Symposium. Keystone is a non-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, “is dedicated to connecting the scientific community for the benefit of the world community and accelerating life science discovery.” Mike calls the event an “immersive experience” that spanned seven days and included a plethora of oral presentations on cutting-edge science. Attendees came from across Europe and from as far as Asia, and Mike valued the opportunity to interact with people from such diverse places. In addition, Mike was able to see much of Southwest Ireland, as the meeting allowed plenty of unstructured time for participants to engage in local tourism. Mike’s travels included Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone of St. Patrick’s Day lore. He also had the opportunity to travel to the town of Killorglin to participate in the King Puck festival, one of Ireland’s oldest celebrations, in which a wild goat is caught and crowned king.

In order to qualify to attend and present at the conference, Mike was required to submit an abstract of his research, which had to withstand a selection process. He recommends the conference highly, as it provided an intimate setting of only a few hundred participants. Mike has attended conferences with thousands of attendees, and he appreciated the opportunity to have more one-on-one time to discuss his poster.

Mike’s travel to the conference was funded for by the Biomedical Science Graduate Program’s Best Overall Performance Award of 2010. Each year, this award is given to a BMS Graduate Student with the best overall combination of academic achievement, research achievement, and service to the BMS Graduate Program. It provides $3500 toward attendance at an international research meeting. The award covers airfare, accommodations, and conference fees.

For Mike, the greatest benefit of the conference was the opportunity to gain valuable résumé-building experience. “The opportunity to attend an international conference is invaluable,” he says, “and this is something that Marshall makes a good push to get students to do.” Mike was even approached with a post-doctoral opportunity, proof of the amazing networking opportunities such a conference brings.

To learn more about the Lipid Biology and Lipotoxicity Symposium, you can review Keystone Symposia’s Lipid Biology and Lipotoxicity Symposium website.

Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program to be showcased at BIO International Convention

Marshall University biotechnology research and three of the university’s high-tech spinout companies will be showcased as part of this week’s BIO International Convention in Washington, D.C.

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.

According to Jennifer Kmiec, associate vice president for economic development for the Marshall University Research Corporation, the Bioscience Association of West Virginia (BioWV)—along with the Biotech Alliance of the Huntington Area Development Council (HADCO) and the West Virginia Development Office—is hosting a West Virginia Pavilion at the convention.

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

Kmiec, who is also vice-chair 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.

South Charleston-based biotechnology company TRAX BioDiscovery, as well as West Virginia University and its spinout Protea Biosciences, also will be represented at the convention.

Kmiec said the Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation (DRWVF) is sponsoring a reception Tuesday afternoon at the pavilion to promote opportunities for investment and expansion in West Virginia. Guest speakers will include U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

During the reception, Rockefeller will invite biotech executives to visit West Virginia this fall as part of a DRWVF-sponsored biotech trade/investment mission.  

Kmiec added, “In addition to featuring the biotech research being done in West Virginia, the pavilion and the reception will show the world what a great place our state is to live and work. We hope to use the events to help attract new entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers, investors and high-tech 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.

For more information, visit www.biowv.org or contact Kmiec at kmiecj@marshall.edu or (304) 840-3374.

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About BioWV
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 the 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.

BMS graduate student Ben Owen debriefs on National Student Research Forum

Ben Owen, Ph.D. candidateA few months ago, we announced that Ben Owen, a BMS graduate student, would be attending the National Student Research Forum in Galveston, Texas. Ben has since attended and returned from this event, and I sat down with him recently to discuss his experience. 

This was Ben’s first time presenting outside of Marshall, and he feels that it was a great experience. His greatest hope for this conference was to get a sense of what to expect at the Society for Neuroscience National Meeting, taking place in November. As described in the last article, the National Student Research Forum provides an opportunity for graduate students, medical students, interns, and residents conducting research in the biomedical sciences to assemble and receive recognition and feedback from established scientists. This event takes place yearly at the University of Texas Medical Branch campus in Galveston, TX and is planned and managed by students. 

While at the conference, Ben met a lot of other presenters, who he was surprised to find were mostly medical students. In addition to being able to mingle and discuss their projects, they were able to have a bit of free time fun as well. About sixty students were in attendance by Ben’s count. He says that he would recommend the conference highly, especially to medical students. To him, the forum has many benefits to graduate and medical students alike. It’s not a lengthy event that takes a lot out of one’s work time, it’s small and somewhat laidback, and it offers an opportunity to discuss one’s research with people who are studying very similar topics. For example, Ben was able to interact with researchers studying the hippocampus, and he was able to recommend Dr. Egleton’s work to a student researching the blood brain barrier. Mostly, the event offers an opportunity to break through one’s first-time anxiety at a smaller conference and prepare for the larger events in one’s area of research.

Ben’s project is entitled “Short-Term Activity-Dependent Changes in Axonal Function in Hippocampal CA3 Pyramidal Neurons,” and he researches in Dr. Larry Grover’s lab. To learn more about Dr. Grover’s research and his lab, navigate to his faculty page.

Aileen Marcello to present at international symposium in Barcelona

Aileen Marcello, Ph.D. candidateAileen Marcello, a Ph.D. graduate student in the Biomedical Sciences Program at Marshall University, has been invited to present a poster at the International Symposium in Cerebral Blood Flow, Metabolism, and Function in Barcelona, Spain. She will present her research project entitled “Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) Signaling and Its Potential Role at the Blood Brain Barrier in Diabetes.” This is Aileen’s first time attending an international conference, which she learned of from Dr. Egleton, who has previously attended. You can download Aileen’s research abstract at this link.

I recently interviewed Aileen to get her thoughts on attending, and the following is a transcript of that exchange.


Question: How did you learn about the conference, and what is its significance in your field?
Answer: I heard about the conference from Dr. Egleton, as he has been to this conference before. It is my first international conference so obviously I’m very excited. I will probably meet some familiar faces in Barcelona, as some of the experts in the blood brain barrier field will be there. Hence, this conference is significant in my field because of the blood brain barrier connection, but also it will give me an opportunity to see what other scientists are doing in the area of cerebrovascular research. This is especially important since I am a senior graduate student, and I’m sort of “testing the waters” as to where I may go when I “retire” from being a graduate student.

Question: What was the application process like?
Answer: The application process is fairly similar to other conferences. I had to submit an abstract, signifying that I was interested in attending the conference. The abstracts are pooled together and the committee will select abstracts to be included in the conference. So, acceptance of your abstract is an invitation to register for the conference, as not all abstracts are accepted. Upon registration, you have to submit a letter from the head of the department (Dr. Rankin) to show evidence that you are indeed a graduate student. After that, you can book your hotel through the conference website.

Question: How do you feel about being accepted and being able to travel to this conference?
Answer: It’s an honor to be accepted to such a prestigous conference. I think this is one of the important conferences to attend in my area of research, and to go as a graduate student is exciting because it will surely give me avenues to think about when I pursue my career outside of graduate school.

Question: Will you be able to stay the full four days?
Answer: I will be gone all week!!! I leave on May 23 and arrive in Barcelona on the 24th. So that gives me a couple of hours to relax and enjoy the scenery. I believe I present on the 26th (have to double check on that) so I hope to experience more of Barcelona and enjoy some tapas.

Question: Will you be able to do any travel activities outside of the conference?
Answer: As in sight seeing? I hope so. I’ve been to Barcelona before so my plan is to go to the places I didn’t have a chance to see. Picasso Museum!!!

Question: What are you hoping to bring back to Marshall from this experience?
Answer: I hope to get some fresh ideas on which direction to take my research.

Question: Is there anything else you’d like to say about this opportunity?
Answer: I AM TOTALLY EXCITED TO BE LEAVING THE AREA FOR A WEEK!!!