Marshall scientist awarded NIH grant for lung cancer research

The following story from the Marshall University Research Corporation highlights two researchers within the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program: Piyali Dasgupta, Ph.D., and Monica Valentovic, Ph.D.

Piyali Dagupta, Ph.D., and Monica Valentovic, Ph.D.

 HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – A Marshall University faculty member has been awarded a three-year, $426,000 grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further her lung cancer research.

Dr. Piyali Dasgupta, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology in the university’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, will use the grant to continue her work to determine if the nutritional agent capsaicin—the active ingredient in chili peppers—can improve the anti-cancer activity of the commonly used chemotherapy drug cisplatin in patients with small cell lung cancer.

Dasgupta received the funding through the National Cancer Institute’s Academic Research Enhancement Award program. The program supports research projects in the biomedical and behavioral sciences that strengthen the research environment of the institution and expose students to research. Her co-investigator is Dr. Monica Valentovic, a professor in the same department.

“Small cell lung cancer is characterized by a high rate of growth, early metastasis and a dismal survival rate,” said Dasgupta. “Although chemotherapy works well initially in these patients, they often relapse quickly and become unresponsive to chemotherapy. Since the preliminary data in our laboratory shows that capsaicin manifests anti-cancer activity in this type of cancer, we are hopeful our studies under this new grant may lead to new treatments.”

She continued, “I am thrilled to receive this funding and I am grateful to a lot of people who have been instrumental in our success to this point. My collaborator Dr. Valentovic is a fabulous scientist to work with. I am also grateful to all the members of my lab for their hard work and dedication.”

Dasgupta also acknowledged the support of the chairman of her department, Dr. Gary Rankin, and acknowledged Dr. Marcia Harrison and the MU-ADVANCE program, which she says made it possible for undergraduate students to work in her lab. MU-ADVANCE is a National Science Foundation-funded program to help increase the number of female science and engineering faculty at the university.

Dasgupta says she believes her proposal was selected for funding at least in part because the grant program’s focus on student research made it a good match for her lab. Undergraduates working in her lab have a track record of receiving research grants, authoring publications and presenting their findings at international conferences.

Dr. John M. Maher, Marshall’s vice president for research, congratulated the researchers, saying, “NIH grants are extraordinarily competitive, and I applaud Drs. Dasgupta and Valentovic for having a successful application. They are doing vital research that may very well have a positive impact on human health in the not-so-distant future. In addition, the grant will allow them to continue to give students hands-on, meaningful research opportunities in the lab.”

In addition to receiving the new NIH funding, Dasgupta recently was notified that her grant from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute has been renewed for an additional two years. The renewal, which extends the original three-year award, makes the total grant worth nearly $550,000. That grant is funding Dasgupta’s study of how nicotine, the active component in cigarette smoke, facilitates the progression of lung cancer. Valentovic is also the co-investigator on that award.

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

Faculty Spotlight: Piyali Dasgupta, Ph.D.

Piyali Dasgupta, Ph.D.This month’s faculty spotlight is on Piyali Dasgupta, Ph.D. Dr. Dasgupta has had a great year at the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, including being promoted to Associate Professor. She instructs within the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology.

She has attended many conferences over the past year, including co-chairing a minisymposium at Experimental Biology 2012.

Dr. Dasgupta’s research examines how the components of tobacco can promote the progression of lung cancer. She researches within the Cancer Biology research cluster.

In 2011, she was recognized with the university’s “John and Frances Rucker Graduate Advisor Award.”

Congratulations, Dr. Dasgupta!

Biomedical Sciences students recognized at international science meeting

M. Allison Wolf, Ph.D. candidateHUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Two Marshall University students received special recognition for their research at this year’s international Experimental Biology conference held April 21-25 in San Diego.
M. Allison Wolf, a biomedical sciences doctoral candidate from Parkersburg, received first place in her group in a poster competition held as part of the conference’s Diet and Cancer mini-symposium. The mini-symposium was funded by the American Society of Nutrition.
Wolf’s presentation focused on her research on the anticancer effects of isothiocyanates—a natural compound extracted from cruciferous vegetables—on head and neck cancer. Her work shows the compound both inhibits head and neck metastasis and greatly increases sensitivity to chemotherapy in therapy-resistant head and neck cancers. Wolf works in the lab of Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio, an associate professor in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program and the Departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Surgery at the university’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
Wolfe said she gained a great deal from the experience of attending the program and presenting her work.
“I really enjoyed this conference, particularly the Nutrition and Cancer Research Interest group, because it allowed me to be surrounded by people in my field,” she said. “Discussing my research with others also interested in or working on isothiocyanates gave me some promising future directions to pursue.”
Aaron Dom, a first-year MUSOM student and graduate of the Biomedical Sciences Graduate ProgramIn addition, Aaron M. Dom, a first-year medical school student from Wellersburg, Pa., was invited to do a special oral “blitz” presentation about his research on how a synthetic drug called MG624 can prevent new blood vessel growth in small cell lung cancer and could potentially serve as a therapy for the disease. Dom was invited to present by the Blood Vessel Club of the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP). ASIP held its annual meeting in conjunction with the Experimental Biology conference. The club sponsors the short oral presentations to present exciting new vascular biology research and to give audience members an opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions about the research.
Dom, who is the president of the medical school’s Class of 2015, did the research in the lab of Dr. Piyali Dasgupta, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacol­ogy, Physiology and Toxicology.
He said of the experience, “Our lab is honored that I was selected to present at this special session, and we were excited to share some of the work that we are doing here at the medical school. Experiences like these—in both helping with this research and in presenting at and attending a conference of this size—have helped me gain a greater appreciation for research in medicine.”
Nearly 14,000 scientists and exhibitors representing academic institutions, government agencies, non-profit organizations and private corporations attend the annual Experimental Biology meeting to share information about recent developments in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, nutrition and pharmacology.

Dr. Travis Salisbury featured in the Neuron for cancer and obesity research

Dr. Travis Salisbury, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology, was featured in the Spring 2012 issue of the Neuron for his research into the link between cancer and obesity.

Dr. Salisbury was recently awarded a $60,000 grant from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Foundation to further his study.

The Neuron is a quarterly journal of science and research that contains features about research, researchers, and science-related news from West Virginia.

To read the story (featured on page four of the issue), download the pdf of the Spring 2012 issue of the Neuron:

Dr. Monica Valentovic serves as Chair of NIH Special Section

Monica Valentovic, Ph.D.Monica Valentovic, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology, was invited by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to serve as Chair of a study section. The invitations to serve as study section member and Chair both come at the discretion of NIH. The study section took place between July 19th-20th. The NIH provides the largest amount of research funding in the United States, and, like other agencies funding research, the NIH asks scientists to serve as reviewers of grant applications.

When faculty members submit any NIH grants, they are peer reviewed in a confidential, formal meeting called a study section. Most grant applications submitted to the NIH are reviewed by their Center for Scientific Review, or CSR. Grant applications are assigned by the CSR to study sections that consist of 20-40 scientists who review applications in a specific field of study. Study section members are selected by NIH based on their expertise related to the grants being reviewed in a given cycle. The study section that Dr. Valentovic chaired is part of the NIH National Institute of Digestive, Diabetes and Kidney Disease (NIDDK). She was the alternate chair of the same study section when it met in Washington, DC in March 2011. The proposals this section reviews are all in the areas of liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal health.

Each study section is managed by a CSR Scientific Review Officer (SRO) employed by the NIH. This officer is the person who initially asks scientists to participate in a study section. SRO’s use a variety of different sources to draw section members, who include authors of recent publications, speakers at scientific conferences, scientists recommended by other section members, and scientists who have received NIH grants. University deans and professional organizations may also volunteer scientists to be added to CSR’s database of potential reviewers, searchable by expertise. Scientists who are members of study sections usually have a strong record of publishing research, major peer-reviewed grants, and extensive research experience. Those who participate in study sections enjoy many professional benefits, including exposure to the newest research, the ability to broaden scientific exposure to other fields, improving one’s success rate in obtaining grants, and gaining valuable professional and mentoring experience. Congratulations to Dr. Valentovic!

To learn more about the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR), review the following website:

Dr. Piyali Dasgupta receives John & Frances Rucker Graduate Advisor Award

The Biomedical Sciences Program is proud to announce that Dr. Piyali Dasgupta has been awarded Marshall University’s John and Frances Rucker Graduate Advisor Award. Each year, this distinction recognizes the efforts of outstanding graduate advisors and is awarded to one graduate faculty member from each campus (Huntington and South Charleston) who has not received the award in the past five years. Of winning the award, Dr. Dasgupta says, “I am very honored. I was nominated by the students in my laboratory for being an ‘Outstanding Graduate Advisor,’ which to me is the highest of honors.” The South Charleston winner this year was Dr. Mike Cunningham.

Dr. Dasgupta is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology & Toxicology. She was first informed of the honor earlier this month by Dr. Tracy Christofero, Chair of the Graduate Council. The Graduate Council Credentialing Committee selects recipients based upon the quality of the content of letters of recommendation received in response to a request for recommendations. All graduate students, graduate alumni, and faculty may submit recommendations, and the award is open to faculty members of all graduate programs. According to Dr. Christofero, what seems to stand out to the committee are student stories expressing how professors have personally helped them. Of Dr. Dasgupta, Dr. Christofero says, “She really came out ahead of the pack. We are honored to have a fine faculty, and she has done a great job according to her students.”

At least three students who have worked with Dr. Dasgupta — Brandon Shiflett, Aaron Dom, and Katie Brown — decided to nominate her after reading the online call for submissions, and each student reports sending in a glowing letter of recommendation. As Brandon Shiflett stated without reserve in his letter of support, “Piyali’s dedication to academia and her students is evident in and out of the classroom, and she is without a doubt one of Marshall University’s greatest research assets.” In his letter, Aaron Dom says, “I could not have asked for a better mentor and boss, and I think choosing to work in her lab was one of the best decisions I have ever made.” With such enthusiastic support, it is easy to see why Dr. Dasgupta was chosen. The list of reasons students gave for nominating her is lengthy and includes her accessibility and enthusiasm as a professor, her willingness to support student research, the quality of her instruction in the lab and classroom, and the successes that she has helped her students to garner.

Dr. Dasgupta would like to express her thankfulness to the students who nominated her, of whom she says, “I am lucky to have an outstanding team of researchers working with me.” To learn more about Dr. Piyali Dasgupta and her research, please visit her faculty directory page.

BMS Graduate Student Brandon Shiflett invited to special session by ASIP

Brandon ShiflettBiomedical Sciences Graduate Student Brandon Shiflett has been selected for a special honor by the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP). Brandon is only one of eighteen students who have been chosen to present their research projects at a special session of the ASIP Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2011 in Washington, DC. The session is entitled “Highlights: Graduate Student Research in Pathology.” According to the ASIP, it is considered an honor to be invited to this special session. More about the ASIP, its annual meeting, and this special session can be found on the ASIP website.

Brandon’s abstract is entitled “MG624, an α-7nicotinic receptor antagonist suppresses the growth of human SCLC.” SCLC, or Small Cell Lung Cancer, is a rapidly-progressing disease that metastasizes early and has very low survival rates. Interestingly, nearly 90% of all reported SCLC cases have been correlated to smoking, which suggests that nicotine and other tobacco components may contribute to the disease’s pathophysiology. The data Brandon will present shows that long-term nicotine exposure stimulates the growth of human SCLCs. Nicotine stimulates nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), causing these cells to proliferate. By isolating and disabling a specific subunit of a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, α7-nAChR, Brandon and others on his project were able to suppress nicotine’s stimulatory effects. This indicates that the α7-nAChR subtype is important in the proliferation of human SCLCs, and that antagonizing it could be a possible treatment for the condition. One such antagonist, called MG624, was shown in Brandon’s study to not only induce apoptosis, or cell death, in human SCLC cells, but also suppress the nicotine-induced growth of these cells. The data from his study suggests that MG624 may have potential for treating human SCLCs.

Brandon Shiflett works in the laboratory of Dr. Piyali Dasgupta at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. He is currently completing his second year as a Medical Sciences student in the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences Program at Marshall. He will join the medical school in the fall as a first-year student.

Congratulations to Brandon Shiflett, Dr. Dasgupta, and all others who participated in this project!