A man in his 50s told his doctor that he wanted to go off dialysis after years of treatment.
Dr. Alvin Moss knew that the typical length of survival for patients with kidney diseases after ending dialysis is eight days.
He knew the man was asking to die.
So Moss asked him to wait, just a month longer, before giving up on the machines that were sustaining his life. It was still cold outside. As the days became warmer and longer, the man’s spirits brightened, and he couldn’t imagine what he had been thinking to give up on life. Such is the stuff of Moss’ research.
To see Lederman at work on his computer, it would be hard to guess the magnitude of his pursuit. He takes theories and properties behind the very small electronic components in items that we love – like cell phones, global positioning systems and mini-computers – and pursues ideas that will make them even smaller and more efficient.
He’s also experimenting with using proteins and other elements of biology and their magnetic properties to enhance the effectiveness of technologies.
But their daily work affects our lives, so much so that the University has chosen them because of their scholarship and results to be this year’s Benedum Distinguished Scholars.
The award, handed out this year in two categories – biociences and health sciences, and physical sciences and technology – recognizes distinction in research, scholarship or creative activity. Each will receive $5,000, provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
“As a land-grant University, we must not forget that our mission includes not only research, but also putting that research into practice as a service to our state and our nation,” WVU Provost Michele Wheatly said. “These two recipients are model examples of how things we do at WVU enrich the world beyond campus.”
C.B. Wilson, associate provost for academic personnel noted, “This year there were strong candidates in both categories. The success of professors Lederman and Moss in their respective disciplines helps us to celebrate the quality of research, scholarship and creative activity that occurs throughout West Virginia University.”
Each will present lectures in conjunction with the award.
Lederman will speak on “Magnetic interfaces: Controlling information storage at the nanoscale” on Wednesday, March 30, at 4 p.m. in the Rhododendron Room in the Mountainlair.
Moss will speak on “How to reform health care: 10 key lessons from dialysis” on Tuesday, April 12, at 4:30 p.m. in room 1905 of the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center. Receptions will follow both presentations, which are open to the public.
Click below to hear Dr. Alvin Moss explain how WVU helped him develop as a researcher, professor and doctor.
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Finding the right way
Moss, a professor of medicine who specializes in nephrology and palliative medicine, directs the WVU Center for Health Ethics and Law and the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care. Because of his work on the ethics of care for dialysis patients, West Virginia has become an international leader in communications surrounding end-of-life care.
For the last decade he’s led the effort for the Renal Physicians Association that published the renal clinical practice guideline “Shared Decision-Making in the Appropriate Initiation of and Withdrawal of Dialysis.”
It’s only within the last 10 years that research has been published about the pain experienced by dialysis patients, patients who on average live for three to four years after going on dialysis. After five years of treating patients and going further into the field of medical ethics, he began surveying both patients with kidney illnesses and the nephrologists who treated them.
“What I found is that patients by and large did not understand their kidney condition well at all,” Moss said. “They did not understand their prognosis, they were not well informed and the nephrologists were not good at informing them.”
In his research, he discovered that about 25 percent of nephrologists surveyed were more inclined toward social and emotional areas than technical science. He is one of those 25 percent.
Moss, the face of medical ethics in West Virginia who is also the chairman of the WVU Hospitals ethics committee, graduated with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University in social relations. He received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
It’s the freedom to be involved in multiple medical fields as well as serve different roles at WVU that has helped his experience and his research to be so rich.
“The research then gives me interesting provocative things to be able to teach to students,” Moss said. “If I wasn’t doing patient care and research, I think my teaching would really suffer.”
With more than 27 years at the University, he’s had chances to leave, but WVU remained a draw.
“I just made the decision to stay,” he said. “I was doing well here. My family was very happy here. I had the freedom to do what I wanted here. And I felt I could thrive here.”
Click below to hear Professor David Lederman describe how beneficial research is to students.
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Researchers work at the same problems for years and 90 percent of the time don’t see stellar results or much of a result at all.
“It can be frustrating a lot of the time,” Lederman says. “So you live for those moments where you succeed and you discover something new. It takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work but those few successes make it worth it.”
For 40 years, physicists endeavored to understand a property of magnetic interfaces called exchange bias. Then at WVU, Lederman made a breakthrough.
Now, because scientists have a better understanding of magnetic properties through his work, innovations can be made in electronic devices such as those used for data storage.
Physics is a study that uses math as its language and experimental and computational equipment as its muscle. The fundamental science studied by Lederman makes him the researcher behind the inventors of the technology of the future.
His work continues to have applications for the future of health, electronics and energy.
As cell phones and other electronic items grow smaller, the surface material of the devices becomes more important and temperature and quantum mechanics play into their efficacy.
Some of the solutions Lederman is working on include the stuff of life. Through the eons of evolution, proteins like hemoglobin have developed magnetic ions at their cores that are stable at room temperature, ideal for use as magnets in nanotechnology. But biological applications can go beyond making technology more functional and energy efficient. Biologically compatible electronic sensors could be used to detect cancer or other markers as well as biological weapons.
Originally from Chile, Lederman was raised in Costa Rica and Mexico before graduating from Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He made a choice to stay in the United States because of the emphasis on research, which is also the reason he has stayed at WVU.
“It’s really a great place,” Lederman said of his department. “I think it’s one of the best kept secrets in the United States. Our undergraduates who major in physics go to the best graduate schools; we can do all of the projects and more that other universities can do.”
Lederman is the Robert L. Carroll Chair of Physics and a Robert C. Byrd Professor. He has received the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER grant and is currently supported by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. He was also the interim director of the WVNano Initiative between 2008 and 2010. WVNano is WVU’s focal point for nanoscale science, engineering and education.
Next year, the Benedum award will consider faculty in behavioral and social sciences, and humanities and the arts.
By Diana Mazzella
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