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Research Highlights

Dear Friends, It is indeed my pleasure to present this year’s look back at highlights from Marshall University’s research enterprise. As you can see from the exciting projects featured here, it is an exceptional time for research at our institution. Our outstanding, dedicated faculty and students are engaged every day in the pursuit of knowledge, looking for solutions to many of the world’s most pressing issues—from clean water and energy to safer highways and railroads to prevention and treatment of cancer, influenza and dementia. Perhaps one of the most sweeping research-related developments this year was the successful completion of the university’s campaign to raise $15 million to meet the “Bucks for Brains” Research Trust Fund challenge from the State of West Virginia. The proceeds from the 16 new endowments created through the program are already impacting research programs across the university— from science to engineering to medicine. Thank you to the donors and the state leaders who helped establish the trust fund. We look forward to watching these research and economic development initiatives grow and prosper over the coming years. Our vision is for a diverse, growing and successful research enterprise that will enrich the educational experience of our students, enable the scholarly mission of our faculty and provide an engine for economic development. I think you will agree we are making great progress toward that goal. Thank you for your ongoing support as we work to advance research and collaborations, win grant funding and enhance our students’ educations. Sincerely,

John M. Maher, Ph.D. Vice President for Research

Dr. Bin Wang

Developing labs-on-a-chip


ome 6,000 miles from her childhood home in Beijing, Dr. Bin Wang has found a place at Marshall, teaching and conducting research in the field of analytical chemistry.

“Even though Marshall is a small school, we have almost all of the state-of-the-art instruments here. Other similar-sized schools can’t compete.”

She came to the university in 2007 as part of the National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and is a key member of an interdisciplinary research team working to develop hand-held devices—essentially laboratories on a chip—that can remotely identify potential environmental threats, pollutants and even diseases. Wang says Marshall compares well to other institutions, adding, “Even though Marshall is a small school, we have almost all of the state-ofthe-art instruments here. Other similar-sized schools can’t compete.” With a background in developing and working with RNA structure analyzing technology, Wang also has experience developing methods for testing anticancer drugs and Chinese medicines. Her first book, RNA Nanotechnology, is due out later this year.

Improving railroad track inspection systems


nspection of railroad tracks may soon be safer, more accurate and less expensive thanks to technology developed by two Marshall professors.

Engineers Dr. Richard Begley and Dr. Tony Szwilski invented a system that uses a combination of GPS devices, cameras and ground penetrating radar to measure track wear and other problems. The device is mounted on a mobile platform attached to a sports utility vehicle or rail bike that has been adapted to run on the tracks and is intended to complement visual inspections. The researchers were awarded a U.S. patent last year for the invention and recently were notified that their application for a Canadian patent has been approved. Szwilski and Begley are now working with Marshall’s Technology Transfer Office to identify companies that might be interested in commercializing the technology. Szwilski says, “We’re encouraged because this technological innovation has been industry ‘pulled’ by three major railroad companies keenly interested in applying this technology to address their specific needs. We think there’s a market.”

Dr. Richard Begley and Dr. Tony Szwilski

Dr. Laura McCunn

Studying biofuels and pollution


elping to predict the pollutants or soot that could be generated from fuel mixtures is the goal of a research project Dr. Laura McCunn is conducting with the help of undergraduate chemistry students. McCunn hopes the results of their research will help shed light on biofuels and the mechanisms for combustion of conventional fossil fuels like petroleum.

“Because of research opportunities like this, the quality of our students is just getting better and better. We are better as a whole because of undergraduate research.”

To conduct the experiments, she and her students are using an instrument they constructed in her laboratory. The hyperthermal nozzle allows the research team to cause the thermal breakdown of sample molecules in an oxygen-free environment. The products of the process are condensed and trapped for analysis using a special spectrometer. Their research is funded through a grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund. McCunn says undergraduate research programs like the one funded through the grant have enhanced the Department of Chemistry at Marshall. “Because of research opportunities like this, the quality of our students is just getting better and better,” she says. “We are better as a whole because of undergraduate research.”

Dr. Piyali Dasgupta

EXPLORING nicotine and lung cancer


esearchers in Dr. Piyali Dasgupta’s lab are exploring how the various components of tobacco, especially nicotine, advance the progression of lung cancer.

Nicotine itself is not a carcinogen, but studies have shown it can encourage the growth and metastasis of lung cancers. It can also protect lung cancer cells against the beneficial effects of chemotherapy. In a recent study, Dasgupta and her colleagues looked at the cellular pathways through which nicotine—the addictive component in cigarettes—promotes the growth and survival of bronchioalveolar carcinomas, a specific type of lung cancer known to be associated with smoking. The researchers found that nicotine raised the levels of specific neurotransmitters, or “chemical messengers,” in the tumors. When they used a drug to interrupt the neurotransmitters’ pathways, the nicotine-induced growth of these carcinomas was significantly suppressed. Their findings may be useful in developing new treatments for human lung cancer. The study was funded in part by a Young Clinical Scientist Award from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute.

Rahall Transportation Institute

Engineering traffic safety


educing traffic congestion and improving highway safety are the goals of research being conducted in the Traffic Management Center at Marshall’s Rahall Transportation Institute. The Traffic Management Center at RTI is one of two satellite offices operated in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Transportation. While engineers working in the center at RTI are engaged primarily in research and evaluation of deployed transportation

“Often, the product of research is published in a report that sits on a shelf and never gets implemented. Our unique ability to deploy these advanced algorithms to control traffic provides benefits to the WVDOT and the traveling public.”

systems, they also manage and monitor nearly 100 traffic signals in Huntington, Morgantown, Teays Valley, St. Albans and Elkins. By developing optimal traffic signal timing plans and, in some cases, deploying adaptive control algorithms, the full-time staff and undergraduate students working at the center are able to make a positive impact on everyday travel for people across the state. Students working at the center include undergraduate majors from both engineering and computer science. Group leader Dr. Andrew Nichols, an associate professor in the university’s Weisberg Division of Engineering, says, “Our partnership with the WVDOT allows RTI to be on the forefront of application-based traffic signal research. Often, the product of research is published in a report that sits on a shelf and never gets implemented. Our unique ability to deploy these advanced algorithms to control traffic provides benefits to the WVDOT and the traveling public.”

Equipping laboratories


esearchers and students in biochemistry, chemistry and physics will benefit from new high-end laboratory equipment obtained through a recent grant from the National Science Foundation.

Chemistry professor Dr. Derrick Kolling recently secured the $339,000 grant to purchase an electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometer he and colleagues will use to enhance research projects to help improve alternative energy production, detect environmental toxins and chemical and biological threats, design more efficient semiconductors and safer radioactive waste disposal systems, and further the medical community’s understanding of the disease atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries.” The availability of the spectrometer is also expected to bring together faculty from different departments and institutions for collaborations, and will give students valuable hands-on experience with sophisticated laboratory equipment.

Rounak Nande and Johannes Fahrmann

Taking top awards


iomedical sciences doctoral students from the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine captured first place in both categories of a research competition held in October in conjunction with the first Appalachian Regional Cell Conference.

Rounak “Ron” Nande, who is also a doctoral student in the university’s biomedical sciences program, was awarded first place in the poster category for a display describing his project to help develop a delivery system for targeted gene therapy to improve the treatment of prostate cancer.

Doctoral candidate Johannes Fahrmann received first place in the oral presentation category of the competition for a presentation about his research to explore the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in late stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

They were among more than 40 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from Marshall, West Virginia University, University of Kentucky and Ohio University competing at the conference.

Dr. Nalini Santanam

Tracking the pain of endometriosis


t least one in seven women suffers from endometriosis—a condition in which cells normally present in the uterus migrate outside the organ and attach to other places in the pelvis. Despite the prevalence of the disease, there is no consensus among scientists about its cause, the existing treatment options leave a lot to be desired and there are too few ways for women to, at the very least, effectively reduce the pain the disease provokes. Dr. Nalini Santanam has studied endometriosis for more than 20 years and leads a team of researchers who are looking into the epigenetics of pain in endometriosis— the changes caused to DNA and gene expression by environment and lifestyle. “Endometriosis is not a well understood disease,” she says. “When you look at pain research, they mostly focus on

back pain, fibromyalgia—those types of diseases. They are only now looking at the epigenetics of pain.” If scientists can identify the epigenetic markers of the disease, Santanam says it may lead to better understanding about what causes endometriosis in some women and could help develop new diagnostic and treatment options. Her research is funded through a pilot grant program set up by Marshall and the University of Kentucky as part of their National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Award partnership.

West Virginia Research Trust Fund Supporting research for generations to come Marshall University reached a milestone in January when it was announced that the university had secured the final private donation needed to reach its $15 million West Virginia Research Trust Fund fundraising goal—more than two years before the deadline. The West Virginia Research Trust Fund, also known as the “Bucks for Brains” program, was created by the West Virginia Legislature in 2008 to stimulate both world-class research and the related benefits of high-tech industries. Marshall was able to tap into the trust fund—up to $15 million—to double private gifts that support targeted research initiatives linked to economic development, health care and job growth. Gifts were matched dollar-fordollar by the state. The trust fund has had a dramatic effect at Marshall University. The $15 million in private gifts from 170 donors has been combined with proceeds from the trust fund to create 16 research endowments at Marshall—for a total benefit to the university of $30 million!

For instance, at the Marshall Institute for Interdisciplinary Research, scientists funded through the endowment’s proceeds are conducting vital research to develop tissue repair techniques that could someday improve the lives of people everywhere who suffer from heart disease, burns and wounds, sports injuries and other conditions. And engineers at the Nick J. Rahall II Appalachian Transportation Institute are developing systems and processes to make our highways and railways safer. The trust fund is also supporting research in obstetrics/ gynecology, occupational and environmental health, and aging and dementia at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine; mechanical engineering, risk management and bioengineering in the College of Information Technology and Engineering; and aquatic research and student summer chemistry research in the College of Science. In addition, the trust fund will support new faculty and scientists in the university’s planned sports medicine translational research center.

The endowments funded through the trust fund at Marshall include the following: Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Herbert Louis Eiselstein Memorial Scholarship Endowment Donald Cain Tarter Biological Sciences Student Research Scholarship Endowment Marshall Institute for Interdisciplinary Research Endowment Rahall Transportation Institute Endowment Pew Endowment for River Research Maier Endowment for Dementia Research BrickStreet Endowment for Safety Engineering Research Fred and Isabella Zacharias Endowment for Obstetrics and Gynecology Research Cline Endowment for Translational Sports Medicine Research Fletcher Mechanical Engineering Endowment Rezulin Endocrinology Research Fund BrickStreet Research Endowment Fund Huntington Foundation/Frank E. Hanshaw Sr. Endowed Chair of Geriatrics Underwood Endowment for Translational Sports Medicine Research Steve and Mary Beckelhimer Science Education Graduate Scholarship Endowment

For more information about “Bucks for Brains” at Marshall, visit

These “Bucks for Brains” endowments have increased Marshall’s overall endowment by more than 15 percent, and the funds will continue to support critical, productive and economically beneficial research long into the future.

Jumpstarting manufacturing innovation Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing


arshall’s advanced manufacturing institute is partnering in a large federal initiative to spur one of today’s hottest technologies—additive manufacturing. Commonly referred to as 3-D printing, additive manufacturing allows production of solid objects of virtually any shape from digital models. The technology has applications in the aerospace and automotive industries, health care, architecture, engineering and countless other fields, and can be used for anything from rapid prototyping to fullscale production. Through the $30 million investment by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the university’s Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing will be part of the nation’s first Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. RCBI’s role in the new institute will be to use its statewide Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centers and skilled instructors to provide additive manufacturing degree and certification programs, workforce training and K-12 and college “cradle to career” educational opportunities. RCBI director Charlotte Weber says, “RCBI will be a key player in this partnership because our centers provide the region’s manufacturers—small and large—with a unique set of offerings of shared manufacturing equipment availability, additive manufacturing expertise and 3-D design technology.”

“RCBI will be a key player in this partnership because our centers provide the region’s manufacturers—small and large—with a unique set of offerings of shared manufacturing equipment availability, additive manufacturing expertise and 3-D design technology.”

Modeling influenza pandemics


recent study brings new insight into the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 and may help officials prepare for future flu outbreaks.

Marshall mathematics professor Dr. Anna Mummert participated in the study, which was led by researchers at Mississippi State University. The team developed mathematical models to explain possible causes of multiple peaks in pandemic flu, testing factors like border control strategies and the effects of vaccinations. They found that strong border control would not have decreased the total number of infections but that an earlier school vaccination schedule might have helped. The research team plans further collaborations and hopes their work will provide timely information to health organizations and others who work in infectious disease prevention.

Evaluating desert iron ore deposits


eology professor Dr. Aley El-Shazly has made two recent trips to the Eastern Desert of Egypt to map and collect samples from banded iron ore deposits found in that section of the Sahara Desert, east of the Nile River. The 13 formations are exposed in the desert, scattered around an area of about 30,000 square kilometers.

Back on campus, students in El-Shazly’s lab are using a scanning electron microscope to identify and analyze the samples collected in Egypt. They are also conducting chemical analysis of the rocks.

El-Shazly and his colleagues at Alexandria University in Egypt hope to learn more about how the iron ore deposits were formed and how old they might be. According to El-Shazly, those particular deposits have not been mined before, and the study will allow the researchers to determine the ores’ overall grade and economic potential for use in steel production. Their work was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Shirley Neitch

Solving the puzzle of dementia


inding the answers to a baffling condition that affects millions of Americans is a mission for geriatrics specialist Dr. Shirley Neitch.

sees plenty of patients with dementia—a progressive deterioration in reasoning, memory and other mental abilities.

As professor of internal medicine and chief of geriatrics at Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, Neitch

Through an endowed professorship funded by the “Bucks for Brains” West Virginia Research Trust Fund and the Maier Endowment for Dementia Research, Neitch is leading a research project to investigate the causes, management and treatment of dementia, including a genetics study of a family whose affected members develop symptoms at a very young age—in their late 20s. Her next step will be to pursue treatment options.

“I’ve been able to do some small research projects before, but this will allow me, with the help of many dedicated colleagues, to pursue more in-depth clinical research projects, which will have significant impact on the lives of persons with dementia.”

“It is a tremendous honor to be named as the first Maier Professor,” says Neitch. “I’ve been able to do some small research projects before, but this will allow me, with the help of many dedicated colleagues, to pursue more indepth clinical research projects, which will have significant impact on the lives of persons with dementia.”

Expanding our understanding of the universe


r. Miaozong Wu of the School of Pharmacy is using a grant from the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium to explore how obesity and metabolic syndrome affect bone health. Wu is one of 13 Marshall faculty members and students who received grants from the consortium this year to conduct aerospace-related research and educational programs. The projects funded at Marshall range from a study to explore microgravity and diet to a grassroots outreach program showcasing 3-D printing technology.

Creating research centers, fostering economic development


arshall researchers are among the lead investigators on two projects recently funded through the state’s Research Challenge Fund to support the creation of research centers and start-up businesses, and to foster economic development and work force advancement. Drs. Thomas Wilson, Richard Niles and Donald Primerano are helping to direct the projects—one to develop better electronics and the other to learn more about cancers affecting West Virginians. The five-year projects are being conducted in cooperation with researchers at West Virginia University.

Wilson is helping create a Center for Energy Efficient Electronics to investigate and develop devices that will lead to next-generation electronics that are smaller, faster and more energy efficient than current technology allows. Niles and Primerano are working to expand the West Virginia Cancer Genomics Network. Network partners will develop a genetic database for cancers with a higher incidence in West Virginia, and researchers will use the data in studies and clinical trials.

Protecting our region’s water resources


nationally respected aquatic ecotoxicologist with 15 years experience in the commercial sector, Dr. Mindy Armstead has led research projects to determine water quality standards, assess aquatic community health and develop strategies to improve or protect stream ecosystems. Now at Marshall, Armstead is drawing on her background to assemble an interdisciplinary team of scientists focused on research associated with water and energy resources in Appalachia.

Dr. Mindy Armstead

She says, “I’m excited to be at Marshall and look forward to leading a research program that will address some of the most pressing environmental issues in West Virginia and the Appalachian region. Water and energy present tremendous challenges and opportunities for research. I’m happy to be here!” Her group’s recent projects include investigations to help determine the level of dissolved solids that results in toxicity, describe biological community changes as a result of mining disturbances and establish the level of selenium that leads to biological impairment in the region’s streams. Armstead was recruited to Marshall through the state’s Eminent Scholars Recruitment and Enhancement Program. Her group’s current research is funded by the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science.

Undergraduate Research

Building a pipeline for tomorrow’s researchers


arshall University is committed to creating meaningful research opportunities for undergraduate students.

This year, the university offered several intensive undergraduate summer research programs. The nine- and 10-week programs allowed the students to gain valuable, hands-on experience doing graduate-level research in the labs of some of Marshall’s top scientists and engineers, and promoted awareness of graduate degree programs and careers in science and technology. Participants were selected competitively. During their time at Marshall, they worked on research projects related to a variety of topics, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, neuroscience, toxicology and environmental health, infectious diseases, bioinformatics, chemistry and psychology. Support for the summer programs came from the West Virginia Research Challenge Fund, West Virginia INBRE/National Institutes of Health, the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program and the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, Division of Science and Research.

Excelling at all levels


enior Courtney Hatten of Wayne was selected from among 700 applicants to display her chemistry research at April’s “Posters on the Hill” event in Washington, D.C. She was the only West Virginia student from 60 chosen to participate in the event sponsored by the national Council on Undergraduate Research. “I am very excited to share my research with our nation’s leaders and to promote research as a valuable component of undergraduate education,” Hatten said before her trip to Washington. “As an undergraduate researcher, I have had the opportunity to think critically about real problems, conduct experiments to solve these problems and communicate my findings to the public.”

Preparing athletes to compete


r. Suzanne Konz served as an athletic trainer at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and is regularly sought out by the NFL, USA track and field and collegiate athletics for her expertise in biomechanics. Most recently, the kinesiology faculty member conducted a study about the mechanics of the windmill pitch in softball. She studied 30 athletes in game settings by filming their pitches and then analyzing the mechanical changes of each throw over the course of a game situation.

“We found a definite difference in angles, whether it’s within an athlete’s hips, knees or elbows,” she says. “From a strength and conditioning perspective, we realized the overhead throwing position really affects the release. If strength and flexibility issues exist, we know the athlete will benefit from strengthening and flexibility at the overhead position to increase their release velocity.” Konz says the ultimate goal is to better tailor strength conditioning and preventive components that will help athletes in the long run.

Key Research Contacts John M. Maher, PhD Vice President for Research, Marshall University Executive Director, Marshall University Research Corporation 304.696.4748 Joe Ciccarello Director, Grants and Contracts/Associate Executive Director 304.696.4837 Karla Murphy, CPA, MBA Chief Financial Officer 304.696.7118 Bruce Day, CIP Director, Office of Research Integrity 304.696.4303 Amy Melton Assistant Director, Technology Transfer Office 304.696.4365 Ginny Painter, MBA Communications Director 304.746.1964

Acknowledgements: Angela Hopp, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Kelly Merritt, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission; Rahall Transportation Institute; Karen Templeton, Mississippi State University; Marshall University Office of University Communications; Megan Archer, Marshall University College of Health Professions; and Diana Maue, Marshall University Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program. Photo Credits: Bruker BioSpin Corp.; “Creek Geeks� in the lab of Dr. Mindy Armstead, Marshall University College of Science; Dr. Khalil Ebeid, Alexandria University; Rick Haye, Marshall University Office of University Communications; Rick Lee; Rahall Transportation Institute; Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing; John Sibold, Commercial Photography Services of West Virginia; and West Virginia Department of Commerce.

To find out more about these research projects and others, please visit our website.

Marshall University Research Corporation 401 11th Street, Suite 1400 Huntington, West Virginia 25701 304.696.6598

Research Highlights 2012-13  

A look at the past year’s highlights from Marshall University’s research enterprise

Research Highlights 2012-13  

A look at the past year’s highlights from Marshall University’s research enterprise