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Marshall faculty among network of researchers to receive $20 million from National Science Foundation for neuroscience research

Two Marshall University faculty members are among the co-principal investigators on a neuroscience research project for which $20 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) grant funds were announced Monday as part of NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

Dr. Nadja Spitzer (pictured at left), associate professor of biological sciences, and Dr. Suzanne Strait (pictured at right), associate director of science and research at the Higher Education Policy Commission and a tenured faculty member in Marshall’s College of Science, are among the leaders in the West Virginia Network for Functional Neuroscience and Transcriptomics (WV-NFNT), a statewide collaboration of neuroscientists and bioinformaticists working to position West Virginia as a center for impactful neuroscience research.

Others in the group include Principal Investigator Dr. Juliana Serafin, senior director of science and research at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission; and co-principal investigators Dr. Randy Nelson of the Department of Neuroscience at West Virginia University and Dr. Umesh Reddy, professor of genetics and genomics at West Virginia State University.

The West Virginia Science and Technology Plan, published in 2021, identified neuroscience and data science as areas that are strong with potential for growth in the Mountain State. According to the HEPC’s Science, Technology and Research Division, the new network established with support from this grant will foster collaboration among the state’s neuroscientists and bioinformaticists to help position West Virginia for impactful research in circuit and synaptic plasticity, the study of changes in neurons and the connections between them as the result of developmental or environmental changes.

According to the HEPC, the WV-NFNT will expand the capability and diversity of those working in the fields of neuroscience and data science by implementing specific education and workforce development activities to engage students, especially those who are rural, first-generation college students, and other underrepresented groups.

Marshall will receive $6 million as part of this NSF grant.

“We are extremely excited to receive this grant from the NSF, which will empower us to make an even greater impact in our college’s mission, and I am very proud of the hard work and dedication our faculty have shown over the years which led to the success on this grant application,” said Brian Morgan, interim dean of Marshall’s College of Science. “With this grant, we can now scale our efforts and accelerate progress towards a brighter future for all those we serve.”

“WV-NFNT will support several Marshall University researchers who will be using state-of-the-art tools to examine the function of the brain at the smallest levels,” Spitzer said. “It will also expand neuroscience expertise and student opportunities in the College of Science while building meaningful collaborations across West Virginia institutions.”

Marshall’s Dr. Brian Antonsen, interim associate dean of the College of Science, has served as administrative lead on the proposal.

“This award will trigger transformational growth in Marshall University and statewide research, with the goal of building an interdisciplinary group for high-resolution study of the mechanisms underlying changes in the nervous system,” Antonsen said. “At Marshall University, the award will support faculty hires in neuroscience and big data transcriptomics, expansion of our core facilities, a substantial number of graduate and undergraduate researchers, and K-12 school engagement. The integrative nature of the work will stimulate and strengthen institutional collaborations [among] the College of Science, the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences and the College of Education and Professional Development, while forging strong connections with WVU, WVSU and Shepherd University.”

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