Science & Research

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission


News about science and research


Marshall University team publishes study on long-term effects of pneumonia

News about science and research

A Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine research team has published findings that show patients who recover from invasive pneumococcal pneumonia, on average, live 10 years less when measured against life expectancy tables for the state of West Virginia as well as two other techniques.


Maurice A Mufson

Dr. Maurice A. Mufson, professor emeritus in the department of internal medicine at the school, is the senior author of the study.

Researchers say the findings underscore the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all adults over 65 years old should be immunized with pneumococcal vaccine and that younger adults with chronic disease should be vaccinated.


The study, which gathered data from over three decades (1983-2003) at community hospitals in Huntington, West Virginia, was published in the May 2017 issue of the American Journal of Medicine Sciences.

“Our study group comprised 155 adults who survived invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), a particularly deadly infection,” said Maurice A. Mufson, M.D., professor emeritus in the department of internal medicine at the school and senior author of the study.  “Only 14 patients lived longer than their life expectancy, indicating the importance of immunization of adults with pneumococcal vaccines as well as the pernicious severity of IPD.”

The team reported that the presence of two comorbid diseases—cancer and neurologic diseases—as well as the total number of comorbid diseases suffered by each patient with invasive pneumococcal disease were significantly associated with increased risk of mortality.

The researchers employed a variety of methods to help ascertain lifespan of the patients in the study including electronic medical records, state health records and in a few instances, the popular genealogy website,

“The strengths of our study, in addition to the long follow-up interval of patients, included three different techniques for assessing lifespan,” Mufson said.

The Marshall research team included Nancy Norton, M.D.; Todd W. Gress, M.D., M.P.H.; Ronald J. Stanek, M.S.; Oluwandamilare Ajayi, a fourth-year medical student; and Mufson.



WVU research aims to increase addiction treatment effectiveness

News about science and research

Up to 20 percent of people with opioid use disorder may not respond to standard treatment. A new study at West Virginia University seeks to understand why.

According to data compiled by The New York Times in a report earlier this month, the opioid epidemic in America has reached a critical level with last year seeing the largest ever annual jump in drug overdose deaths. West Virginia has been hit especially hard by this problem, leading the nation in drug overdose death rates.

The fixed-dose combination of buprenorphine/naloxone is one of only two major pharmacological interventions approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid dependence. This treatment helps those suffering with opioid dependence by activating opioid receptors in the brain.

Galvez Peralta

WVU’s Dr. Marina Galvez Peralta is the principal investigator of this study.

“Sadly, not all patients struggling with opioid dependence who seek help respond to treatment,” said Marina Galvez Peralta, Ph.D., PharmD, principal investigator of the study and assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy. “We need to identify why some patients are not responding to buprenorphine/naloxone treatment so we can better target this population and provide recommendations to improve treatment efficacy and therapeutic success.”

It’s a life-or-death question for many patients.

There are many factors that are involved in treatment response, but so far there are only preliminary studies trying to address individual response to buprenorphine/naloxone.

“Although there are environmental and social factors that affect how patients respond to buprenorphine/naloxone and their ability to win their personal fights against addiction, we are seeking to identify genetic variations that could affect how buprenorphine works in the brain or is metabolized,” said Galvez Peralta. “By comparing genetic variants with metabolomics of buprenorphine we can identify patients at risk of failure, and potential new targets for treatment. This way, we could provide better and more personalized care to these patients and really fight back against the opioid crisis in our state.”

The new study will be looking to identify these genetic variants, as well as buprenorphine and major metabolite norbuprenorphine levels in urine among patients enrolled in WVU Medicine’s Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment, or COAT, program.

The program is an innovative group-based extended treatment approach that serves as a model for addiction treatment throughout the state. If the study is successful, the roughly 575 monthly patients who rely on the program for treatment will have an increased chance of beating their opioid dependence.

“Using buprenorphine products to manage opioid addiction has been an absolute game changer in the field of addiction treatment,” said James Berry, D.O., addiction psychiatrist and medical director at WVU Medicine’s Chestnut Ridge Center. “Prior to their availability, the vast majority of patients with heroin or pain pill addiction were only given the option of detoxification, which has proven to be woefully unsuccessful.”

“This treatment is a dramatic improvement from the over 90 percent drop out rates of detoxification, but, still unacceptable as many of these patients will go on to relapse and possibly die,” said Berry.

Along with Galvez Peralta and Berry, this study leverages the work and expertise of Mark Sarlo, M.S., Vincent Setola, Ph.D., Carl “Rolly” Sullivan, M.D., Laura Lander, MSW, LICSW, the physicians and therapists at the COAT program, Stephan Brooks, MPH, and several PharmD students. The genetic analyses will be performed at the WVU Laboratory of Neurobiology and Genetics of Substance Abuse directed by Setola.

The study is being funded by WVU’s Substance Abuse Task Force and the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute. WVU has prioritized research addressing addiction in response to the state’s ongoing crisis.

WVCTSI Background
WVCTSI is funded by an IDeA Clinical and Translational grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (1U54RR033567-02) to support the mission of building clinical and translational research infrastructure and capacity to impact health disparities in West Virginia.



W.Va. State University day camp promotes ocean exploration

News about science and research

West Virginia State University (WVSU) is hosting a free science-themed summer day camp July 17-21, entitled “Get Hooked on Ocean Exploration.” The camp targets students in grades K-2 with information and activities relating to ocean life, ecology, conservation and marine food chains.

“During the summer months, when many of us vacation at the beach, kids’ curiosity about ocean life and ecology is at its peak,” said Program Specialist Hannah Payne, camp coordinator. “Our goal with this day camp is to strengthen children’s understanding of the ocean through inquiry-based lessons and hands-on activities.”

The program is a special topic in WVSU’s growing list of youth programs focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The initiative is hosted by the University’s Center for the Advancement of STEM, with sites in both Charleston and Beckley.

“Get Hooked on Ocean Exploration” will take place in Hamblin Hall on the University’s Institute campus. Registration is required by contacting Hannah Payne at (304) 553-8218 or



WVU takes first place in Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition

News about science and research

The WVU Experimental Rocketry Team poses with a WVU flag in the New Mexico desert. 

West Virginia University’s Experimental Rocketry team captured first place in the 10,000-foot launch category at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition during the Spaceport America Cup, held near Las Cruces, New Mexico, June 20-24.

The competition challenges teams of college students to design, build and launch solid-, liquid- or hybrid-fuel rockets to a targeted altitude. More than 100 teams from around the world competed in the event, which is run by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association.

The six-member team from WVU crafted a 12-foot long fiberglass rocket – emblazoned with the words “Wild and Wonderful” – that performed exceptionally well, soaring to an altitude of more than 9,600 feet while carrying nearly nine pounds of payload.

“Our key to success was all of the preparation we did for the competition,” said Cameron Hale, a petroleum and natural gas engineering major from Blaine, Kentucky, and WVUERC vice president. “This was actually the first year that we had the time and budget to test fly the rocket before the competition so we knew that all of the individual systems of the rocket worked ahead of time.”

In April, the team traveled to Price, Maryland, for a test flight at a Tripoli Rocketry Association event where their rocket successfully flew to an altitude of 9,100 feet.

“After the test flight we ran simulations to compare our test site with the one in New Mexico, taking into consideration the temperature, altitude and wind in the desert,” Hale said. “The results showed us reaching a much higher altitude under those conditions so we actually decided not to make any changes to our rocket, which proved to be the right decision.”

Prior to launch, the team was scored on a poster presentation that explained the rocket’s specifications as well as various technical papers and progress reports that were submitted throughout the year.

“While flying the rocket is by far one of best parts of the competition, there is so much more that we are scored on,” said Hale.  “We have to do well in every portion of the competition to even be considered for a win.”

The team received top scores in all aspects of the competition, beating out 24 teams in their category for the victory.

“This year’s competition was one of the toughest yet with more than 94 teams registering for the event overall,” Hale said. “We were competing against some of the best teams in the world, so taking home first in our category is an unbelievable honor! Seeing all this year’s hard work payoff is one of the best feelings in the world.”

Team members joining Hale in New Mexico were mechanical and aerospace engineering majors Matt Hines (Buffalo, WVU Honors College), Austin Hodges (Millsboro, Delaware, Honors College), Zach Maddams (Claymont, Delaware, Honors College) and Kevin Nadler (Southbury, Connecticut), and chemical engineering major Nick Haynes (Princeton, Honors College).

This is the second year WVU has fielded a team in the competition.

The team was sponsored by the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the WVU Student Government Association, NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Facility, Aurora Flight Sciences, Pscolka Woodworks, Reid and Tonya Elattrache, Jim Bordas and the Fritzinger family.



Shepherd student interning in university president's cancer research lab

News about science and research

Shepherd University student Adam Hull, a senior biology major from Inwood, is the first recipient of the Robert Louis Katz Medical Research Foundation internship in Shepherd President Mary J.C. Hendrix’s cancer research laboratory at West Virginia University. Hull is spending June and July working in the laboratory with researchers Dr. Richard Seftor, Elisabeth Seftor, and Dr. Naira Margaryan, who have worked with Dr. Hendrix for a number of years.

 “I’m thrilled,” Hull said. “I think this is a really interesting area of research that I’m excited to participate in it.”

 Hull, who hopes to one day conduct his own “preferably breakthrough research,” will have to complete an independent research project that aligns with and supports the overall direction of the lab.

 The Hendrix research team focuses on cancer biology, including the identification of genes responsible for the metastatic phenotype of aggressive cancer cells, including tumor angiogenesis and vasculogenesis, and the effects of anti-cancer agents on tumor cell behavior.

 “We are delighted to host Adam in our laboratory at WVU with the hope that he will share exciting new scientific findings with his Shepherd colleagues when he returns to campus,” said Hendrix.

 The Robert Louis Katz Medical Research Foundation of Chicago was established by James and Ellyn Katz in memory of their son, Robert, to support research for diseases in children.




Maier Institute at Marshall School of Medicine receives Benedum Foundation grant

News about science and research

Shirley Neitch, director of the Maier Institute and a professor of geriatrics at Marshall.

The Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine’s Maier Institute for Excellence in Prescribing for Elders with Dementia has been awarded a $150,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to study the overuse of benzodiazepines (BZDs)  in geriatric patients, as well as to educate physicians on appropriate prescribing.

The project is in partnership with the Higher Education Policy Commission’s Improving Clinical Outcomes in Geriatrics or ICOG.

 “West Virginia has a significant elderly population and, unfortunately, is also known as one of the states with the worst health outcomes for older patients,” said Shirley Neitch, M.D., director of the Maier Institute and a professor of geriatrics at Marshall. “The preliminary data we have reviewed indicates there is significant prescribing of benzodiazepines in the elderly population, some of which may occur without knowledge of the increased risk of dementia and other illnesses posed by these medications.  These data lay an enormous challenge at the feet of primary care providers in West Virginia and our project is designed to address it directly.”

 Neitch says the funding will allow researchers to identify prescribing issues and then develop techniques to aid physicians in determining appropriate prescribing strategies for the elderly.

 “We know that primary care physicians are dedicating to addressing their patients’ concerns,” Neitch said. “Our goal is to help community physicians with identifying better treatment options.”

 A small chart review in 2015, completed by Neitch and Daphne Hollingsworth, Pharm.D., who, at the time, was a student at the Marshall University School of Pharmacy, showed physicians in the study underestimated the number of patients who’d been prescribed benzodiazepines.

 “This review, albeit very small and at one primary care practice in West Virginia, showed the physicians estimated that 19% of their patients between 65 and 90 years of age had active BZD prescriptions, when in fact, 31.5% did,” Neitch said.

 The study, set to begin at the end of June, will involve gathering data from emergency departments, primary care clinics, and long-term care facilities in West Virginia. 



STEM Speaker Series continues with presentation on brain imagery

News about science and research

There have been extraordinary advances in understanding the brain, but how do scientists actually study the neurons inside it? The nervous system presents a fundamental challenge: it remains the most elusive, mysterious and maddeningly complex object in the universe. This is according to Carl Schoonover, a Columbia University neuroscientist. In an upcoming talk, titled The Brain Revealed, Schoonover will explain to a West Virginia audience the ingenious tools that let allow insight into the human brain. He will also share the gorgeous imagery they reveal.

 Schoonover’s presentation is part of the popular STEM Speaker Series. The event will take place at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater on Summers Street in downtown Charleston on Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 7 p.m. Tickets are free but, due to space constraints, must be obtained in advance via

  Schoonover is also the author of Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century and has written for The New York Times, Le Figaro and Scientific American. Schoonover will participate in a book signing immediately following his presentation. Copies of the book will be sold by Taylor Books at the event.

 The Chancellor’s STEM Speaker Series is organized by the Higher Education Policy Commission’s Division of Science and Research with support from a federal grant from the National Science Foundation. The goal of the series is to promote the importance of research and the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields to all West Virginians.

 The Division of Science and Research directs the EPSCoR program in West Virginia, while also managing other state and federally-funded academic research programs across the state. The program provides strategic leadership for infrastructure advancement and development of competitive research opportunities in STEM disciplines.




WVU professor’s patented system could save lives and make cities more resilient after natural disasters

News about science and research

Hota GangaRao and Praveen Majjigapu inspect a structure after a WVU lab test.

Fear of the “big one,” a magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake, has been fodder for cinema and amusement park rides for decades, but the reality could be devastating for communities who are unprepared for that rare rupture or even weaker, but more common, lower-magnitude tremors.

West Virginia University professor Hota GangaRao and Praveen Majjigapu, a Ph.D. student in civil engineering, have developed a system that will increase the strength and endurance of structures in earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and other large blasts, helping communities prevent catastrophe. The system is also beneficial for repairing historic or aging structures.

The three-piece system consisting of filler modules – wedge-like parts made to certain specifications – reinforcing dowels and composite materials allows buildings and bridges to resist heavier loads, and provides a significant amount of shock absorption as well as moisture and fire resistance.

“With this system, even if a joint cracks under excessive loads it won’t immediately collapse,” said GangaRao, who is the Maurice A. and Joann Wadsworth Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Constructed Facilities Center in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “By minimizing failures of structures, we can increase the safety and security of communities, prevent costly damage and save lives.”

Additionally, outfitting a building with the system is much more cost-effective and requires less time than traditional methods of retrofitting and yields better results.

“Rehabilitation of old buildings is expensive and labor intensive,” said GangaRao, who is also the director of the Center for Integration of Composites into Infrastructure. “An affordable solution will allow more buildings to be strengthened.”


The complexity of simplicity

At first glance, a wedge nestled into a joint seems like an easy solution – almost too easy.

“The beauty of the system is its simplicity,” GangaRao said.

But he is quick to point out that there is a substantial scientific method behind the patented system’s design.

In a cavernous lab, GangaRao works with Majjigapu and other team members to fabricate joints that can be tested under extremely heavy loads.

One test consists of two concrete members, a column and a cantilever, which are connected to form a sideways “T.” Then wedges are bonded to the two 90-degree angles on either side of the joint.

The system can work with structures made of various materials, such as concrete, timber and composites. The wedges can also be made of different advanced materials depending on their application.

Aside from material, one of the most important characteristics of the wedge is its shape, which is meant to eliminate high-stress zones in the joint and depends on factors such as load, material and the configuration of the joint.

“In an optimal system, the wedge will have some sort of curve,” GangaRao said. “But it requires a lot of mathematical computation behind the scenes.”

After the wedges are bonded to the joint, team members install steel bars through the wedges and into the concrete to reinforce and lock the pieces into place.

Next the team cuts multiple sheets of composite material – fabric made of carbon or glass fibers bonded with a polymer resin – into a series of puzzle pieces that are wrapped around the concrete, adhered with additional resin and left to cure.

Composite materials are noncorrosive, more durable and cheaper to install than more traditional methods, making them ideal for not only the construction of new structures, but also for the repair of aging structures.

Once the composite has hardened, the totality of dissimilar materials is bonded together and work as a single unit, stronger and more durable.


Testing for failure

GangaRao’s lab is full of impressive structures, and he hopes all of them will fail.

“We are testing this system to the point of failure,” he said. “Right now, we know how a column behaves under stress. We know how a cantilever behaves under stress. But we know little about what happens at the intersection of the two.”

To find this out, Majjigapu attaches a series of gauges to the wrapped structure. Some gauges measure strain, which is the amount of deformation that occurs under load. Some gauges measure tension, which is how much the concrete becomes stretched or elongated.

The basic idea is that concrete is not very good at holding tension, so when there is a lot of it the structure will not be as strong.

Think of a diving board, which is only supported on one end. When you stand on the edge over the water the board bends under your weight. If there is too much weight, the board or the joint – or both – could break.

Without the three-part system, GangaRao’s lab tests have shown failure under a 7-ton load. With the system, the team has been able to apply five to seven times that amount – nearly 50 tons – before failure.


The need for support

Engineers and scientists have developed ways to manage the stress put on aging buildings and bridges as well as those in seismic areas. Over the years, building regulations have tightened as earthquake- and hurricane-prone cities try to minimize fatalities, property damage and insurance claims.

Despite those efforts there are still thousands of structures that lack the appropriate levels of protection necessary to withstand blast-level loads.

“There is a significant need for this type of repair and retrofit around the world,” Majjigapu said.

For example, in 2010 a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people, many of whom could not escape buildings before they collapsed. Countries such as India and Nepal are in seismic zones with old buildings, monuments and transportation infrastructure that may not withstand a high-magnitude quake.

In the United States, The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Santa Monica is hoping to pass the “nation’s most extensive earthquake retrofit plan” to nearly 2,000 vulnerable buildings.

In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card gave the nation’s roads and bridges a D+ as the physical condition and performance of decades-old structures continues to deteriorate.


Plans for the future

GangaRao will continue lab testing, but plans to begin field testing on towers, lattice structures and hydrostructures to record repeated performance of the retrofit in real-world applications.

Ultimately, he knows that the success of the system will rely on cooperation with industry, practicing engineers, construction companies, agencies, departments of transportation, cities, states and countries.

His goal is to provide maximum strength and endurance at very low cost, while also making it quick and easy to outfit buildings and bridges with a new system.

“We have to show people what we are doing at WVU, so they can see the broad range of applications that are possible in addition to the savings in time and cost,” GangaRao said.



Eleven Marshall students receive SURE fellowships

News about science and research

Eleven undergraduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields have been selected by a research proposal evaluation committee to receive Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) fellowships for summer 2017.

SURE is aimed at undergraduates who are interested in performing research in their future careers, according to Dr. Michael Norton, professor of chemistry at Marshall. Norton noted the SURE program, which has supported student research at Marshall since 2005, is funded through the West Virginia Research Challenge Fund, administered by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, Division of Science and Research.

“We want students to know how strongly Marshall and the state of West Virginia support undergraduate research. This is the time when these young minds sharpen their research skills in preparation for graduate school,” Norton said.

Students will receive stipends totaling $4,000 each for their research for a period of ten weeks uninterrupted by classes during the summer. The SURE program, now in its thirteenth year, will begin Monday, May 15, and continue through July 28. The awardees, their projects, their research mentors and research areas are listed below:

  • Dana Sharma, Opioids and Neuron Development, Dr. Richard D. Egleton, Biomedical Sciences
  • Deben Shoup, Modification of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles with Fluorinated Phosphonic Acids, Dr. Rosalynn Quinones, Chemistry
  • Ian Waddell, Assembly of Carbon Nanotubes on Linear Origami Arrays, Dr. Michael Norton, Chemistry
  • Jason Lykins, MonitOR – Operating Site Infection Incidence Monitoring and Analysis, Dr. Paulus Wahjudi, Computer Science
  • Thomas Whitlow, Development of a Novel Cellular and Molecular based Heavy Metal Toxicology Assay using Rtgill-W1 Cell Cultures Exposed to High Concentration of Manganese (II), Dr. Mindy Armstead, Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Kira Owsley, Even-Cycle Decompositions with no Subsystem, Dr. Michael Schroeder, Mathematics
  • Lauren Reasor, Manganese Neurotoxicity in Crayfish, Dr. Brian Antonsen, Biological Sciences
  • Mary Bunten, Investigating the Amino Acid Sites in Cytochrome C Vulnerable to Malondialdehyde (MDA) Modification: A Kinetics Study Focusing on Mass Spectrometry, Menashi Cohenford, Forensic Sciences
  • Patrick Shinn, Test Intelligence: Speeding the Analysis of Load Testing for Ultra-Large-Scale-Software Systems, Dr. Haroon Malik, Computer Science
  • Nick Nolan, Natural Derivatives of Capsaicin Induce Apoptosis and Inhibit Invasion in LAC Cell Lines, Dr. Piyali Dasgupta, Biomedical Sciences
  • Nicole Perry, How increasing manganese concentrations affect the metabolic processes of Chlorella vulgaris, Dr. Derrick Kolling, Chemistry

Learn more about last year’s awardees and their projects by visiting For more information about Marshall’s SURE recipients, contact Norton by e-mail at



FREE EVENT – ASK WVU MEDICINE: Breast to Brain Cancer – Risks and Research

News about science and research

According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 12 percent of women in America will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. While breast cancer alone is enough to cause a scare, the cancer cells also have the potential to spread to new areas of the body—including the brain.

Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, M.D. and Paul Lockman, Ph.D., doctors who are dedicating their efforts to research and treatment of breast cancer, will share what they have learned about blocking the cancer’s growth, increasing patient survival rates and new treatments.

Discover what they have learned at the upcoming “Ask WVU Medicine” Community Conversation, Tuesday, May 23 at 6 p.m. in Fukushima Auditorium at the WVU Health Sciences Center.

The event is free and open to the public, and parking is readily available. Participants will learn what is happening in clinics on the WVU Medicine campus as well as what is next on the horizon for treatment and research.

Interested participants can register at this link: Or, call Joanna DiStefano at 304-293-5755. Parking is free. Space is limited at events. A live stream link will be provided for those who are interested but can’t make it,