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Monday, July 22, 2013

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – From studying how the nanoparticles we breathe could affect the heart to determining the effects of stress on the mind and body, graduate students at the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center are ushering in the next generation of researchers.

Fourteen HSC graduate students have captured external and internal fellowship grants.

American Heart Association pre-doctoral fellowships
WVU School of Medicine graduate students Cody Nichols and Shyla Stanley earned individual pre-doctoral fellowship grants from the American Heart Association (AHA). These awards, which have become exceptionally competitive in the current funding climate, will support Stanley and Nichols over the next two years.

Nichols, who hails from Williamstown, W.Va., is a Ph.D. trainee working with John Hollander, Ph.D., an associate professor in the WVU Department of Exercise Physiology's graduate program. The title of Nichols’ new AHA grant is “Effect of Engineered Nanomaterial Inhalation on Cardiac Mitochondria.”

“I am studying nanoparticles that people breathe in and how they might affect the heart,” Nichols explained. “I am focusing mainly on titanium dioxide, which is commonly used in sunscreen, paint and air filters. This may help determine ways to prevent against damage in the future.”

Stanley is a Ph.D. trainee working with Professor Jefferson Frisbee, Ph.D., in the Cellular and Integrative Physiology graduate program, and her grant is titled “Chronic Stress, Depression and Vascular Dysfunction: The Protective Effect of Gender.” The Cumming, Ga., native is using animals to explore how stress may cause behavioral changes and depression.

“The effects of depressive symptoms and vascular dysfunction differ between genders,” Stanley said. “While females suffer more severe depression, they are protected from the vascular dysfunction. In males, they suffer less severe depressive symptoms but a greater degree of vascular disease. Our goal is to determine why this is the case.”

National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program
Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation’s IGERT program to WVU, four HSC students were recently named IGERT fellows for 2013. They are WVU School of Pharmacy Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences program Ph.D. students Christopher Bostick, Emily Despeaux and Katherine Dunnick, and Cellular and Integrative Physiology program Ph.D. student Valerie Minarchick.

The IGERT program takes an interdisciplinary approach to educating U.S. Ph.D. scientists, engineers and educators by honing their deep knowledge in their chosen disciplines while drawing on their technical, professional and personal skills. With the goal of developing career leaders and creative agents, the IGERT program is intended to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education for students, faculty and institutions by establishing innovative new models.

West Virginia’s initiative for nanoscale science, engineering and education, NanoSAFE at WVU, is funded by the NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Cooperative Agreement, West Virginia EPSCoR and WVU Research Corporation. NanoSAFE provides the infrastructure necessary to stimulate innovative research in the area of nano-enabled science, engineering and medicine while integrating education, workforce development and outreach programs. Providing research and education experiences for a diverse group, including graduate students, NanoSAFE enhances the prosperity of the nation by preparing citizens for an increasingly knowledge-based economy.

The following received 2013 NanoSAFE fellowships: Katherine Hickey, Ka Hong, Amy Mihalchik and Alysia Salva, all Ph.D. students in the Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences program, and Kyle Mandler, a Ph.D. student in the Exercise Physiology program.

WVU-Novo Nordisk Health Outcomes Research Fellowship
WVU-Novo Nordisk Health Outcomes Research fellows are selected from a national pool of applicants who have a professional degree or graduate degree in public health, economics, healthcare administration, epidemiology, sociology or related disciplines. The fellowship also includes a summer internship at Novo Nordisk headquarters in Princeton, N.J., assisting the Health Economics and Market Access Strategy staff on research projects to gain hands-on experience with clinical, economic and humanistic data in supporting the development and marketing of pharmaceuticals. Elvonna Atkins, a Ph.D. student in the Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences program, Health Services and Outcomes pathway, is the recipient of this fellowship.

West Virginia STEM Mountains of Excellence Fellowship
The West Virginia STEM Mountains of Excellence fellowships are supported by a grant to WVU from the West Virginia Research Challenge Fund. Fellowships are competitively awarded to incoming doctoral students. Awardees must be planning to engage in research in one of the following Mountains of Excellence areas: achieving international leadership in radio astronomy, utilizing shale gas, promoting stewardship of water resources, improving STEM education and scientific literacy and eliminating health disparities in Appalachia.

Awardees are Evan DeVallance, who will start his graduate education this fall as a Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs in the Biomedical Sciences, and Rachel Stone, a Ph.D. student in the WVU School of Public Health’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Public Health Sciences, Social and Behavioral Sciences track.