Funding for collaborative medical research announced at Marshall University

Translational research aims to transfer discoveries from the laboratory to the bedside quickly

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine officials today announced $150,000 in funding for six research grants associated with the school’s translational medicine research program.

The Marshall Health Translational Pilot Grant program, created in 2012, encourages collaborative research between basic scientists and clinical physicians in an effort to speed up the process of laboratory discovery to clinical application for patients.  The grants are funded by Marshall Health.

“We are very pleased that Marshall Health has created this grant program to stimulate research efforts,” said Richard M. Niles, Ph.D., senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences at the School of Medicine. “Moving Marshall to the next level of medical research takes vision, commitment and of course, funding.  This grant allows 12 researchers, as well as medical residents and students, the opportunity to explore very diverse areas.”

Marshall Health is the faculty practice plan for the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and supports the clinical, educational, research and services missions of the school.  Beth Hammers, executive director of the organization, says the pilot grant program provides one year of support at $25,000 for each grantee, with additional funding based on progress of the research.

“Medical research is essential to the development of new medical treatments and cures for patients,” Hammers said.  “We are thrilled to help stimulate a robust, viable grant program which pairs basic scientists from Marshall University with School of Medicine physicians to work on projects which will lead to the betterment of our community.”

The investigators and their projects are listed below:

Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, and Dr. Anthony Alberico, Department of Neuroscience – “Chemotherapy resistance and sensitivity testing in tumors of the central nervous system”

Dr. Elaine Hardman, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, and Dr. James Jensen, Department of Surgery – “Feasibility and Safety of Nutritional Supplementation with Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Reduce Prostate Specific Antigen Rise in Men with Biochemical Failure after Prostatectomy or External-Beam Radiotherapy”

Dr. Nalini Santanam, Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology, and Dr. Paulette Wehner, Department of Cardiology – “Perivascular Fat Relation to Hypertension—Appalachian Heart Study”

Dr. Nalini Santanam, Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology, and Dr. Abid Yaqub, Department of Medicine, Endocrinology Section – “Impact of Technology-based Behavioral Intervention on Molecular and Clinical Parameters in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes”

Dr. Monica Valentovic, Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology, and Dr. Brenda Dawley, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology – “Prenatal Exposure to Heavy Metals and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) Alter Umbilical Cord Blood Levels of Thyroid Hormone and Vitamin D”

Dr. Hongwei Yu, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, and Dr. Yoram Elitser, Department of Pediatrics – “Investigate the distribution of segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB) in American children and the presence of SFB with childhood diseases”

Other current translational research under way at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine includes a partnership with the University of Kentucky (UK) as part of the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards program, which also is aimed at speeding the time for laboratory discoveries to benefit patients.

In 2011, UK and its partners received $20 million for the program to support research at UK’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science, making Marshall part of a select national biomedical research network.


Contact:  Ginny Painter, Communications Director, Marshall University Research Corporation, 304.746.1964, or Leah C. Payne, Director of Public Affairs, Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy, 304-691-1713

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.”

Pathogenesis cluster announces a name change

In order to align its name with that of other research departments and to better capture the interest of prospective research students, the Pathogenesis Cluster has undergone a name change. One of the five research clusters in the Biomedical Sciences Program, this cluster will now be known as Infectious and Immunological Diseases.
The primary emphasis of the Infectious and Immunological Diseases Cluster is the study of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of diseases. Faculty research interests are diverse and include: induction and regulation of immune responses in autoimmune disease; characterization of leukocyte response to Streptococcus infections; developmental regulation of gene expression; mapping and cloning of human disease genes; epigenetic control of pathogenesis; epigenetic and genetic control of myeloid progenitor cell maturation as pertaining to leukemia; respiratory infection mouse models for cystic fibrosis; and control of mucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms.

Dr. Hongwei Yu is the Research Cluster Coordinator. Faculty members performing research in this cluster also include Dr. Susan Jackman, Dr. Donald Primerano, Dr. Vincent E. Sollars, and Dr. Wei-ping Zeng.

Marshall receives 17.8-million-dollar NIH grant for research

Gary O. Rankin, Ph.D.Congratulations to Gary O. Rankin, Ph.D. and his WV-INBRE team for receiving the National Institutes of Health (NIH) competitive renewal grant of 17.8 million dollars! The grant will be for five years and will help continue a multidisciplinary research network with a scientific focus that will build and strengthen the lead and partner institutions (primarily undergraduate institutions) across West Virginia. “(This money) establishes research in colleges and universities around this state where research was never happening,” Dr. Rankin said. “It will lead to more dollars going to these universities, which will create new jobs.”

The WV-INBRE phase I was of great assistance to these WV institutions and the biomedical research infrastructure and network as a whole. Institutions have been able to purchase much needed research equipment, to be more competitive for funding, and to initiate more research projects. Additionally, when asked if he thought phase one of WV-INBRE was successful, Dr. Rankin noted “I think we have made quite a bit of progress. We have seen a cultural change; the value of research has been recognized. There is a greater appreciation for research as part of faculty career development and it is included when evaluating faculty for promotion and tenure.” With the newly awarded NIH funds for WV-INBRE phase II, these experiences will continue and enhance the science and technology knowledge of the state’s workforce.

Another benefit of WV-INBRE is the highly successful summer research experience that takes place at the lead institution, Marshall University, and the partner lead institution, West Virginia University. This nine-week summer research experience is designed to provide research opportunities for undergraduate students and help serve as a pipeline for undergraduate students to continue health-related research careers.

Ten interns are currently conducting research with their mentors at Marshall University and nineteen are participating in the WV-INBRE program at West Virginia University. At Marshall University,
Dr. Elsa Mangiarua coordinates a schedule for the students to augment their research experience. The students attend workshops concerning: biosafety, chemical safety, animal care, radiation safety, biomedical career opportunities, scientific communication, and graduate school. At the end of the experience the interns will present their research findings at a research symposium, to be held at Marshall and WVU on alternate years.

Below is a list of Marshall’s WV-INBRE participants and their laboratories. To learn more about the ongoing research in these labs, please click the links provided on Marshall’s Biomedical Sciences website faculty directory.

Don Bertolotti from WV State University – Dr. Larry Grover
Amanda Cochran from Bluefield State University – Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio
Elisa Evans from University of Charleston – Dr. Richard M. Niles
Kayla Fazio from Bluefield State University – Dr. Elaine Hardman
Brittany Greene from University of Charleston – Dr. Gary Rankin
Amelia Lloyd from University of Charleston – Dr. Hongwei Yu
Sumanth Manohar from WV State University – Dr. Maiyon Park
Kayanna Sayre from University of Charleston – Dr. Eric Blough
Donald Weller from University of Charleston – Dr. Piyali Dasgupta
Andrew White from University of Charleston – Dr. Philippe Georgel