Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio explores gene therapy ‘cocktail’ for feline fibrosarcoma

Pier Paolo Claudio, M.D., Ph.D.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – A team of researchers led by a Marshall University faculty member has found that a gene therapy “cocktail” may hold the key to treating feline fibrosarcoma—an aggressive type of cancer that affects thousands of cats in the U.S. each year. Current therapies for the disease are often ineffective for long-term tumor eradication.

The research was conducted by Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio, 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, and colleagues from the McKown Translational Research Institute at the school of medicine, the university’s Department of Biology, the Martin Veterinary Clinic in Ashland, Ky., and the University of L’Aquila in Italy.

According to Claudio, there are two types of feline fibrosarcomas. The most common type has been linked to the use of vaccines administered to prevent rabies and feline leukemia, and occurs at the site of the injection. The second type appears to occur spontaneously, without any known external cause.

The study at Marshall focused on the more rare, non-vaccination site fibrosarcomas, which have been found to be associated with genetic alterations. It seemed a natural fit for Claudio, whose research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms governing the growth of cancers to help develop new strategies for treatment.

“Gene therapy, which we study in my lab, uses genetic and cell-based technologies to treat disease,” he said. “Essentially, we were able to develop a cocktail of adenoviruses carrying functional therapeutic proteins that can be used to eliminate this deadly disease.”

Claudio pointed out that more studies need to be done to determine if his lab’s findings could also be applicable to cases of vaccine-induced fibrosarcomas.

The research was published yesterday in the journal PLoS ONE. The full article, “Targeting a newly established spontaneous feline fibrosarcoma cell line by gene transfer,” is available online at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0037743.

Claudio is in Italy this week to present three invited lectures about his research. He will be speaking at the National Cancer Institute and the CEINGE Institute in Naples, and at the meeting “Fragment of history:  Seminar on the oral medicine of the past and of the future” in Sorrento.

For more information, contact Claudio at claudiop@marshall.edu or 304-696-3516.

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 STEM Fellows Program honors undergraduate research day attendees

Dr. Jan Taylor, the Director of Research Programs with WV’s Higher Education Policy Commission, speaks to URDC awards ceremony participantsOn January 26, 2012, the Ninth Annual Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol (URDC) was held in the Capitol Rotunda in Charleston, West Virginia. At this event, members of the State legislature are able to spend time with the students whose research projects the State of West Virginia helps to fund. At the conclusion this event each year, the Marshall University STEM Fellows Programs and Graduate Programs cohost a luncheon and awards ceremony with WVU and the WV Higher Education Policy Commission Division of Science and Research. Dr. Richard Niles, Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education for the Marshall University Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, welcomed attendees on behalf of the university and introduced them to the research graduate opportunities available at Marshall. Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, President of Marshall University, also spoke for the attendees. Dignitaries from West Virginia University were also in attendance.

The awards distributed at the luncheon included innovation grants, instrumentation awards, mini-grants, a research incubator grant, and a research trust fund. Awards ranged from $5,000 to $100,000.

The following press release from the main Marshall University news page offers further information on the Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol. This video news piece also comes courtesy of the Marshall University Research Corporation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg5-w8rTOoo&feature=youtu.be

You can learn additional information about the URDC by visiting its official webpage: http://www.marshall.edu/urdc/.


The Marshall University STEM Fellows Programs and Graduate Programs cohosted the luncheon and awards ceremony with WVU and the WV Higher Education Policy Commission Division of Science and Research.HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Thirty-two students from Marshall University will be among 106 students from throughout West Virginia who will present their discoveries in poster format in the 9th annual Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Charleston on Thursday, Jan. 26.

The event, which takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. in the Capitol rotunda, helps members of the state Legislature and the executive branch understand the importance of undergraduate research by talking directly with the students who produced these projects. The projects are original research and the posters are designed for a general audience.

“This is a fun event for both students and members of the Legislature,” said Dr. Michael Castellani, professor and chair of Marshall’s chemistry department, and co-chair of the event’s organizing committee. “Students engage in original research projects for as long as four years and this event provides them a chance to share their work with delegates and senators.”

The posters will be in the areas of biochemistry, biology, chemical engineering, chemistry, communications, computer science/information technology, economics, engineering, English, environmental sciences, environmental studies, geology, mathematics, physics and psychology.

In addition to Marshall, the other 14 universities and colleges represented are Alderson-Broaddus College, Bluefield State College, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, Ohio Valley University, Shepherd University, the University of Charleston, West Liberty University, West Virginia State University, West Virginia University, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Wheeling Jesuit University and WVU Institute of Technology.

“Descriptions of some projects are distributed worldwide and much of the work is on par with that done at the best universities in the country,” Castellani said. “This event provides a unique opportunity for members of the Legislature to see an aspect of higher education that is normally hidden from public view, but is one of the most important tools for developing students for entry into the workplace or postgraduate education.”

Attendees of the 9th Annual Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol (URDC) awards ceremony and luncheon

Clayton Crabtree receives grant from Sigma Xi to study diabetic retinopathy

Clayton CrabtreeA Marshall University biology student has been awarded a grant to conduct research on diabetic retinopathy, a common eye disease during which excessive growth of blood vessels causes damage to the retina.

Clay M. Crabtree, a senior from Kenova, will receive the $1,800 Grants-in-Aid of Research award from the national science society Sigma Xi. The award will help fund his project to test potential treatments for the disease, which is the leading cause of blindness among working-age Americans.

According to Crabtree, cigarette smoking is a risk factor for diabetic retinopathy because nicotine promotes the growth of blood vessels.

“Agents that can block the actions of nicotine should be useful for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy,” he continued. “My research involves testing three of these compounds for their ability to block the growth of new vessels in the retina.”

Crabtree’s mentor, Dr. Piyali Dasgupta of Marshall’s Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology, said the grant will give Crabtree the opportunity to further his education through hands-on experience conducting research that could have a real impact on the health of people across the region.

“The findings from Clay’s project will be highly relevant to West Virginia because our state has a large number of diabetic patients who are active smokers,” she added. “It is a very commendable achievement to receive one of these grants and I look forward to seeing his project progress.”

Sigma Xi promotes the scientific enterprise and honors scientific achievement. The organization’s Grants-in-Aid of Research program, with funds designated from the National Academy of Sciences, provides undergraduate and graduate students with up to $2,500 for vision-related research.

Students use the funding to pay for travel expenses to and from a research site, or for purchase of laboratory equipment necessary to complete their research project.

According to Sigma Xi, the Grants-in-Aid of Research program is highly competitive and only approximately 20 percent of applicants receive funding.

For more information, contact Dasgupta at (304) 696-3612.