Three new Recovery Act grants will provide more than $1.1 million to the West Virginia University Center for Neurosciences this year, says George Spirou, Ph.D., who leads the organization and is principal investigator on all three grants.

The extra funds from National Institutes of Health will allow the center to:

  • hire five researchers
  • support research on the development of cells in the nervous system
  • strengthen core laboratories

Core laboratory facilities serve many researchers across WVU and also assist research faculty at other colleges and universities.

One core facility, for instance, has been established to study nonlinear optical microscopy, a rapidly developing field that takes advantage of advances in the study of the physics of light. Working with Feruz Ganikhanov, Ph.D., in the WVU Department of Physics, researchers at the Center have built a complex array of microscopes and light sources that can be arranged to study the possibilities of examining living tissues with beams of light. The setup sprawls across a large room in the new Erma Byrd Biosciences Center.

“This is really on the cutting edge, and WVU has capabilities that are available at only a handful of labs around the world,” Spirou said.

The nonlinear microscopes can peer up to a millimeter below the surface of an organ, blood vessel or nerve so scientists can study neural activity, blood flow or diseases without disturbing the tissue.

“There are many unexplored applications for this technology,” Spirou said. “If it could be miniaturized to the size of a medical instrument, you could build devices that would change the way doctors detect and diagnose many diseases.”

One of the Recovery Act grants will fund the hiring of a biophysics post-doctoral student to assist with research in the nonlinear facility.

A second grant, to WVU’s genomics core facility, “will give researchers the capability to study gene expression on a grand scale,” Spirou said. “We can identify tens of thousands of genes out of individual cell types or tissues.” The grant will support the hiring of a Ph.D.-level laboratory manager and a faculty member in biomedical informatics who can assist scientists in the complex task of processing masses of data that the lab can produce from a tiny cell sample. The faculty member will be a part of WVU’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

“The core facility is useful in the study of normal development and of almost any disease,” Spirou said. “You can determine which genes are changing as a disease progresses.”

Peter Mathers, Ph.D., a member of the neurosciences group and the WVU Department of Ophthalmology, was key faculty proponent of the grant and wrote the grant proposal. He conducts much of his research in the facility.

A third Recovery Act grant will support a research project based on the microarray technology offered in the genomics facility. A group of researchers at WVU and Johns Hopkins University, led by Spirou, is studying a set of connections in the auditory system and how the brain “wires up” in early development. “It’s a great model for the study of development throughout the nervous system,” Spirou said.

Spirou’s team will study gene expression patterns that develop in this structure over a 48-hour period in the early development of nerve growth, studying both normal and abnormal development. “Our goal is to identify the factors that support growth of nerve connections,” he said.

The grant will support an extra lab technician at WVU and cover half the cost of a post-doctoral student at Johns Hopkins.


For More Information:
Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087