Drs. Xie and Claudio receive grants for orthopedic and lung cancer research

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Two Marshall University scientists have been awarded grants of $25,000 each to advance their research, encourage collaborations and spur innovative approaches to healthcare.

Dr. Jingwei Xie and Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio are the recipients of the first grants awarded through the Joint Pilot Research Program set up by Marshall and the University of Kentucky (UK) as part of their Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) partnership. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the CTSA program is aimed at speeding the time for laboratory discoveries to benefit patients.

A senior scientist at the Marshall Institute for Interdisciplinary Research, Xie will use his award to develop a method that may improve surgical repair of rotator cuff injuries.

Jingwei Xie, Ph.D.Xie, who is an expert in bone growth and development, will be working with Dr. Franklin D. Shuler, associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the university’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

Among the most common conditions affecting the shoulder, rotator cuff injuries can occur from falls or repetitive motions like throwing a baseball. Rotator cuff repair is also one of the most common orthopedic surgeries, with approximately 300,000 procedures performed annually in the United States alone.

Xie explains that successful healing from rotator cuff surgery done with current methods has a failure rate that ranges from 20 to 90 percent, due in large part to the manner in which the tendons are reattached to the bone. For this project, he will use a multidisciplinary approach combining principles of engineering and biomedicine to construct a new type of biological device that will better mimic an uninjured tendon-to-bone attachment, and result in improved healing.

“We are pleased to be able to take advantage of this opportunity to combine expertise from two research groups at Marshall,” Xie adds. “My background in tissue engineering and Dr. Shuler’s extensive experience in clinical treatment of rotator cuff injury will allow us to do work that may very well improve the health and quality of life for individuals afflicted with these injuries. This research could also have a significant impact on the treatment of other, similar injuries of soft tissue-to-bone interfaces.”

Pier Paolo Claudio, M.D., Ph.D.The second grant went to Claudio, associate professor in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program and the Departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Surgery at the medical school, to help develop an assay that will potentially allow the development of personalized treatment for lung cancer. He will collaborate with Dr. Rolf J. Craven of UK’s Department of Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology on the project.

According to Claudio, lung cancer patients generally have a poor survival rate, mostly because of the high number of relapses they typically experience. Scientists believe these relapses are due to the presence of a rare population of cancer cells—called cancer stem cells—that have become resistant to conventional treatments.

Claudio’s laboratory in the university’s new McKown Translational Genomic Research Institute at the Edwards Cancer Center has developed an assay (ChemoIDSM) that measures the sensitivity of tumors to chemotherapy drugs. He says the work funded through this grant will provide information about how lung cancer cells respond to specific types, doses and combinations of drug therapies.

Claudio says, “Our model concentrates on recent discoveries that most tumors are derived from a small number of highly resistant cancer cells having stem cell properties, called cancer stem cells. By recognizing the existence of cancer stem cells, we have taken an important step toward understanding this complex disease.

“Once we have identified the cancer stem cells from patient tumor biopsies, we know how to identify most effective chemotherapy drugs that are already part of the standard of care. Our assay technology has particular value because it can help to determine the most effective drug for a patient’s tumor based on results from an in vitro chemo sensitivity assay.”

Currently, Claudio is conducting Phase-I clinical trials on lung, breast and brain cancers.

“We know that patients with the same stage and grade of cancer often vary considerably in their response to chemotherapy,” he adds. “Our research will provide information that may allow development of tailored therapies for lung cancer, resulting in more effective treatment strategies and better clinical outcomes in the very near future.”

Xie and Claudio both intend to use their findings from these awards as springboards to apply for larger federal grants for related research.

Dr. John M. Maher, vice president for research at Marshall, says this “seeding effect” is one of the emphases of this grant program.

“These pilot awards are relatively small from a research funding perspective, but they allow recipients to test their ideas and generate concrete results as the basis for proposals to the National Institutes of Health’s large grant programs,” Maher said. “It’s not unusual for collaborative projects like these to lead to multimillion dollar awards down the road, after the initial results show significant promise.”

The CTSA partnership between Marshall and UK supports scientists in Marshall’s clinical research program, training fellowships and early stage clinical research trials. The collaboration also gives Marshall investigators access to the expertise and resources at UK’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science, and opportunities to apply for significant research grants accessible only through the CTSA program.

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.