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Medical school faculty awarded $3 million

Nov. 21, 2009 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Faculty members at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine have been awarded $3 million in federal grants to work on biomedical research and workforce development programs.

The money was given from the National Institute of Health through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Dr. Richard Niles, a professor in the medical school, said Marshall is well on its way to becoming a leading research institution.

"It's really taken off in the last five or six years," Niles said. "Now hiring faculty from other institutions, and they are bringing grants with them to Marshall. We are well on our way to not only becoming a great academic institution, but a great research institution as well."

Four of the projects, which account for about $2.5 million of the total, are associated with the West Virginia-IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence.

Those projects include:

Identification of Potential Biomarkers for Cardiovascular Disease, $529,000: Led by Dr. Nalini Santanam, associate professor of pharmacology, to discover biomarkers that could help identify people predisposed to heart disease. If the research is successful, it could lead to non-invasive testing to predict who might be at risk of having a heart attack and allow for preventive treatment. Dr. Ken Cushman of West Liberty University is a collaborator on the project.

Prevention of Kidney Damage Caused By Anticancer Drug, $651,000: Dr. Monica Valentovic, professor of pharmacology, physiology and toxicology, will use the award to further her lab's efforts to evaluate methods for reducing the side effects of the widely used cancer chemotherapy drug cisplatin. Dr. Elaine Hardman, associate professor of biochemistry and microbiology, and Dr. Tim Troyer of West Virginia Wesleyan College are collaborators on the project.

Summer Research Experiences for Students and Science Educators, $751,000: A two-year supporting summer research interns at Marshall, West Virginia University and the state's undergraduate institutions. In addition, faculty from the undergraduate institutions and high school science teachers are involved in biomedical research projects, including cardiovascular disease and cancer summer research programs, on the Marshall and WVU campuses.

Research Workforce Development and Dissemination, $590,000: In a complementary effort to encourage students to choose a career in biomedical research, the grant will fund a two-year program to pay undergraduate students and high school science teachers to work on WV-INBRE-funded projects in campus labs. The students will be graduates of the Health Science Technology Academy (HSTA) program funded by NIH for minority and other underserved high school students, while the teachers will work with HSTA students at their local high schools.

The funds will support students working on research projects in undergraduate institution labs during the academic year and high school science teachers working in Marshall, WVU and undergraduate labs during the summer.

"It's going to provide additional training for our students, mainly at the undergraduate level," Niles said. "We can take more and train them in research for biomedical sciences."

The fifth grant, $490,000 for "Transcription Factors of Cancer," supplements existing funding for Marshall's NIH-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, which emphasizes research related to melanoma, reproductive/endocrine cancers and the role of nutrition in cancer.

The award will be used to help set up a network between Marshall and West Virginia University's Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center to help researchers study the genetic makeup of donated tumor material. Researchers hope to use the information collected through the network to create more customized prognoses and cancer treatments.

Niles, who was the principal investigator for this grant, said this grant, combined with another, will pay for a gene sequencer. Marshall will have the only one in the state, and it will provide data on specific tumors given by cancer patients after surgery.

The hope is to use the tumor tissue to figure out what therapies the patient will best respond to and provide a more personalized plan.

"These awards will allow more students and faculty members from the state's undergraduate institutions, as well as high school science educators, to participate in biomedical research projects and gain valuable skills and experience," said Dr. Gary Rankin, chairman of the university's Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Toxicology and WV-INBRE principal investigator.

He added that the awards will further the efforts to build infrastructure for biomedical research and develop research programs at the state's undergraduate institutions.

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