A wide range of research projects at West Virginia University have been selected for funding under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Eight WVU faculty members will share in more than $3 million in economic stimulus support over the next two years.
All of the funds were awarded competitively, with proposals from WVU judged against those from research universities across the country.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided the largest share of the grants, funding eight of the 10 projects, which total $2.3 million. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Americorps were also funding sources. NIH was the first federal agency to make funding available under ARRA . Other agencies are still working on assessment of funding proposals.
Among the projects were:
Ruthellen Phillips, a WVU Extension specialist, was awarded $174,616 through the West Virginia Commission for National and Community service for a summer literacy and nutrition program for children in rural or low-income communities. Energy Express has already been named a Program of Distinction by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under the leadership of WVU Extension Services 4-H Youth Development, Energy Express served nearly 3,000 school-age children in 39 West Virginia counties in 2008.
Small groups of eight children or less are paired with one of nearly 500 West Virginia college students engaged in service with AmeriCorps.The students serve as mentors.Under their direction, children create books, read aloud, write and perform plays, and read silently or with partners. Energy Express is a partnership between WVU Extension Service, the W.Va. Commission for National and Community Service, the W.Va. Department of Education and the Arts, the W.Va. Department of Education and numerous partners at the local level.
The biology of learning
Dr. Bernard Schreurs, of the WVU School of Medicine and the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute was awarded $402,854 by NIH to study the changes that take place in individual cells in an animal brain as learning takes place. The study builds on earlier work in Schreurslab that used a virus to trace the path from muscle cells into the specific brain cells that are associated with the use of that particular muscle.
For the first time, we can actually study and record from the individual identified cells that are involved in learning a memory,Schreurs said.
The work will preserve the jobs of three to four researchers and laboratory employees.
Long-term effects of medical injuries
Dr. Mary Carter, of the WVU School of Medicine and the Center on Aging, will analyze the health records of thousands of senior citizens to measure the impact of adverse medical events on the long-term health of older patients. She was awarded $329,214 by NIH to determine which seniors in a large survey of Medicare beneficiaries have suffered injuries due to medical treatmentincluding drug reactions, medical errors and other eventsand trace their medical care after the event through billing records.
The goal of the research is to use health data to improve the ability of health care systems to identify and prevent medical injuries. Carter believes that the full impact of adverse medical events among older adults is not easily measured by studying single incidents in a patients care, or studying just what happens in a hospital or a doctors office. Instead, this research will study all aspects of care over a long period.
The work is being conducted in cooperation with the WVU Injury Control Research Center and is expected to support five jobs, including faculty researchers and graduate assistants.
Herbicide exposure and altered immune function
Dr. John Barnett, of the WVU School of Medicine was awarded $402,875 by NIH to continue his laboratorys studies on the lifelong immune system impact of prenatal exposure to the herbicide atrazine. More than 70 million pounds of the herbicide are used in the U.S. each year, largely on corn and sugar cane crops, and it is the most common herbicide contaminating groundwater.
Healthy people and animals are born with an immune system that fights infections and also appears to have a role in preventing cancers. As we age, the immune system weakens. Earlier research in Barnetts lab has shown that animals whose mothers were exposed to atrazine before birth experience this weakening at an earlier age, making them much more susceptible in infections. The new grant will allow the lab to continue the studies further out in an animals life spans.
The funds will support the work of two faculty scientists and a lab technician.
Health effects of nanoparticles, arsenic and cancer, faculty development
Dr. Bing-Hua Jiang, of the School of Medicine and the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center and Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, was awarded three separate stimulus grants totaling more than $1.1 million over two years.
The largest project funded at $862,444, will study the biological effects of exposure to nanoparticles of tungsten carbide-cobalt. Nanoparticlesmanufactured substances of extremely small sizeare finding wide use in industry. Tungsten compounds are particularly common in aviation and ceramic coatings.
Theres a lot of active research developing new uses for nanoparticles, but we dont know enough about their potential toxic effects,Jiang said.Our research is aimed at learning how the nanoparticles interact with lung cells, and if they can activate cell responses that can contribute to cancer.
The research is being carried out in partnership with scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Morgantown.
Jiangs other grants will fund a study to determine the mechanism by which arsenic exposure leads to cancer and a summer research program for science educators at small colleges that will allow them to spend time working in the Cancer Center laboratories and participate in ongoing prostate cancer research.
About six researchersjobs will be supported by the grant.
Experimental investigation of ion heating due to magnetohydrodynamic waves
Dr. Earl Scime, Eberly Distinguished Professor and chair of the WVU Department of Physics was awarded $562,569 to create in the laboratory, plasmas that have some of the same key features of the solar corona. One of the major unresolved issues involving the sun is how the solar atmosphere, the corona, can reach temperatures of millions of degrees when the surface temperature of the sun is some thousands of degrees.
Imagine traveling from a valley to the top of a mountain in West Virginia and having the temperature increase the higher you went,Scime said.This project involves a series of laboratory experiments in which West Virginia University will explore different mechanisms that have been proposed to explain the coronal heating problem.
Medication to counter effects of drug abuse
Dr. Rae Matsumoto, associate dean for research and graduate programs at the WVU School of Pharmacy, was awarded a $19,924 ARRA grant through the NIH to support student summer research interns who will work side-by-side with scientists studying new approaches to mitigate the effects of drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine.
Cocaine and methamphetamine are the leading drug threats in the U.S. today, yet no effective treatments for their abuse are available,Matsumoto said.The aim of this project is to develop and test new compounds as potential medications to counteract the effects of the abused substances.
Matsumoto and other WVU pharmacologists plan to evaluate a number of potential anti-drug compounds developed by her research team.
Cell heterogeneity and emergent trastuzumab resistance in breast cancer
David Klinke, assistant professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, received $39,000 for a study involving sophisticated computer modeling techniques aimed at understanding cell behavior, and the statistical analysis of data collected through those techniques. Klinkes work is ultimately aimed at development of improved treatments for breast cancer.