As Dr. Donald Primerano recalls joining the Marshall University Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Graduate Program, his eyes light up and he says with a smile, “There’s so much good fortune mixed up in it all.”
While Dr. Primerano counts himself fortunate to be teaching and researching at Marshall, his colleagues are thankful for his presence on the faculty. The Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program welcomes the opportunity of this inaugural issue to highlight Dr. Primerano’s accomplishments in establishing the Genomics Core Facility.
This is the story of Dr. Primerano and his service to the program, including the development of the core facility and its most recent acquisition, an Illumina HiSeq1000 Next-Generation Sequencer. The sequencer is a cutting-edge piece of equipment that has great scientific and medical significance, and is a superior achievement for the program.
Dr. Primerano came to Marshall University in 1988 as an Assistant Professor in the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. When he arrived, he intended to continue his research on the regulation of spore formation in baker’s yeast. However, Dr. Albert Moat (chair of Microbiology at the time) encouraged him to begin focusing on projects relating to human health, a recommendation that led him to begin collaborating on human genetics projects. His field of expertise has grown to encompass the genetic susceptibility of patients to cardiovascular disease.
In 1990, he established the Genomics Core Facility to provide access to instruments to aid in the analysis of gene expression. The establishment of the facility was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.
The grant enabled the purchase of several pieces of equipment—two DNA synthesizers, a peptide synthesizer, and a protein sequencer—that were used until 2005. Since that time, the facility has developed a reputation for providing superior service to its research clients.
Dr. Primerano’s next funding breakthrough came in 2000, when he received a grant from the West Virginia IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence program to establish the Microarray Core Facility, a subset of the Genomics Core Facility. Researchers in the Microarray Core Facility conduct gene expression, protein, and chromatin studies. DNA microarray experiments allow a researcher to assess the expression status of all genes in the human genome in a single experiment, markedly accelerating the pace of research. The grant funded the acquisition of critical equipment, including an Agilent microarray scanner, and several real-time thermal cyclers. These machines are still available in the facility. During this period, Jan Sikorski, a BMS graduate student, Dr. Terry Fenger, Dr. Jim Denvir, and Dr. Primerano used these instruments to develop a new method for quantifying damage to DNA.
To further enhance the Genomics Core Facility’s offerings, Dr. Primerano then set his sights on obtaining the next-generation sequencer. The Illumina HiSeq 1000 was acquired in April, and Marshall University is the only university in West Virginia that has one. This machine, funded by the National Institutes of Health, allows scientists to conduct DNA sequencing on many types of biological material including patient tumor samples. In addition, the machine can quantify known mRNA molecules and discover new mRNAs.
This powerful tool holds great benefit to the Marshall research and patient communities alike. The power to sequence a genome quickly—one of the benefits of the next- generation sequencer—can help doctors identify mutations that cause inherited diseases and based on that information tailor medical interventions to their patients’ unique characteristics. For example, a patient with a mutation that leads to a highly aggressive form of cancer could be identified early and receive intensive medical intervention to prevent that cancer from progressing to a more deadly state.
The data obtained using the sequencer will be cataloged and stored in the recently established West Virginia Cancer Genomics
Network, which supports a sophisticated database of patient information. Sequencing, storing, and analyzing the genetic code of patients who have suffered from various conditions will yield information critical to understanding, preventing, and treating cancer in future patients.
The database will provide valuable information about genetic changes in tumors, allow doctors to distinguish between cancers, and help researchers find the precise ways in which pharmaceuticals affect cancer cells.
Dr. Primerano’s own research directly impacts the health of patients in our region. He is primarily interested in discovering the ways in which patients’ genetics render them susceptible to complex diseases such as obesity, stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Also, Dr. Primerano plans to use the next-generation sequencer to identify genetic variants that lead to an inherited lipid disease
called Familial Combined Hyperlipidemia. His interest in these conditions and his expertise have led him to assume the role of director of the Appalachian Cardiovascular Research Network (ACoRN).
Now the head of the Division of Microbiology, Dr. Primerano has lectured in medical microbiology, human genetics, nucleic acids/ protein synthesis, and molecular and cell biology. He has served as a professor of distinction and has received multiple awards during his service at Marshall, including Professor of the Year and the Certificate of Teaching Excellence.
The BMS Graduate Program is thankful to Dr. Primerano for his years of service to Marshall University and for considerably growing its research infrastructure. For more information about the Genomics Core Facility, please visit http://www.marshall.edu/bms/facilities.