Student investigates marijuana ingredients as potential HIV treatment

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Molly Long studied how the ingredients in marijuana could protect the brain from the spread of the HIV virus.

Molly Long spent her final summer as a Virginia Commonwealth University student surrounded by psychoactive drugs, but the 22-year-old wasn’t getting high. She was helping to develop a treatment for people who have late-stage HIV and AIDS.

From May through August, Long studied how the ingredients in marijuana could protect the brain from the spread of the HIV virus. “It’s not a cure to HIV or AIDS,” the clinical laboratory sciences major said. “It’s just a form of treatment for cognitive issues.”

The work was done under an undergraduate research and creative scholarship summer fellowship that is administered through the undergraduate research opportunities program and the VCU Office of Research and Innovation.

Molly learned a lot of laboratory techniques through this fellowship that she didn’t get as a student,” said Melissa Jamerson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, VCU School of Allied Health Professions, and affiliate faculty in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, VCU School of Medicine. Jamerson mentored Long through the fellowship, which allows faculty members and students to partner on funded research in their fields. The idea behind the fellowship is to give undergraduates early hands-on experience under the guidance of faculty members with the goal of making significant progress throughout the summer on formal, structured research.

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Medical student one of 30 nationwide to be selected for national physicians’ leadership program

Alexandra Tee

Alexandra “Lex” Tee is part of the inaugural class of the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation’s Family Medicine Leads Emerging Leader Institute. She was one of 30 students selected for the program, which is designed to give leadership opportunities to family medicine-minded medical students and residents who demonstrate leadership potential.

As a second-year medical student, Tee is still exploring what the different fields of medicine have to offer and is eager for any experience or mentorship she can get along the way. “I decided to apply because I would get to attend AAFP’s national conference and work with a mentor and a project of my choice,” Tee said. “I always enjoy learning from physicians and older students and residents, and this opportunity seemed like the perfect environment for growing and learning.”

The institute offers three tracks that participants can choose from: policy and public health leadership, personal and practice leadership, and philanthropic and mission-driven leadership.

Tee is pursuing personal and practice leadership and hopes she will learn how to handle increased levels of responsibility as she continues her education and career. Both the national conference in Kansas City, Missouri, and the institute offer exceptional opportunities for her to network and continue learning about the field.

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How a career in emergency medicine introduced an alumnus to helicopters and kangaroos

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Early in her career, emergency medicine physician Laura Diegelmann, a School of Medicine alumna, spent a year in Australia with the Royal Flying Doctors.

Laura Diegelmann, M.D. (B.S.’02/H&S; M.D.’07/M), was mesmerized by the stories her father used to share around the dinner table.

She was a teenager then, but remembers vividly the detailed accounts of life and death he gave while volunteering with the local rescue squad. She knew then that what she was hearing would shape the rest of her life.

“I think it was the excitement that drew me in,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

When she turned 16, Diegelmann signed up as a volunteer EMT with the rescue squad near her Richmond-area home. Her father, Robert Diegelmann, Ph.D. — a longtime faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine — was often the driver, and the two headed out on calls together.

“It was amazing,” she said. “That sealed the deal for me.”

Her experience as an EMT confirmed her desire to work in emergency medicine. After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences in 2002, she worked for a year on the MCV Campus as a tech in the emergency room. She entered the School of Medicine the following year.

During her third year, she completed an internal medicine rotation in Alaska. While there, her supervising physician introduced her to the crew of Guardian Flight. Diegelmann flew a few times with them to remote areas of the state, providing emergency care to those in need. The adventure exposed her to a whole new world.

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At Virginia Museum of Natural History, students help design exhibit on Virginia exploration

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Brenna Geraghty, a senior anthropology major, paints a 3-D-printed artifact replica. She worked on the exhibit as part of the class and then as a summer intern at the museum.

Anthropology students at Virginia Commonwealth University helped design a new exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Natural History that features more than 200 3-D-printed artifact replicas from sites such as George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Mount Vernon, James Madison’s Montpelier, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, and Jamestown.

The exhibition, “Exploring Virginia,” at the Martinsville museum, tells the story of how 17th-century explorers from England, Spain, France and Portugal explored the New World, while also demonstrating how scientists are exploring Virginia’s past today through archaeological research methods and technology.

The students worked on the exhibit as part of an assignment for their class, Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology, taught by Bernard Means, Ph.D., an anthropology professor in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences and director of VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory, which specializes in the 3-D scanning and printing of artifacts.

“The students in the Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology course not only designed the text and assembled images for over a dozen panels, but also selected over 200 objects for the various parts of the exhibit,” Means said. “These were then 3-D printed and painted, either by these students, or by interns in the Virtual Curation Laboratory — or, in some cases, by Dr. [Elizabeth] Moore [curator of archaeology at the museum] and her daughter during the summer leading up to the exhibit.”

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Grant to expand Richmond’s capacity to address HIV crisis in African-American community

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Faye Belgrave, Ph.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University professor has been awarded a nearly $1.5 million grant to expand the Richmond region’s capacity to prevent HIV and substance abuse, particularly among young African-Americans.

Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., a professor in the Health Psychology Program of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, received the five-year research grant, “Building Capacity for Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention,” from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“HIV continues to be a crisis in the black community, especially among young black adults,” Belgrave said. “One in 16 black men will be diagnosed with HIV and one in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV at the current prevalence rate. So you can see that HIV continues to be a huge problem, despite the research and advances in programs to prevent HIV.”

While the number of new HIV infections has fallen over the past five years, the African-American community continues to be disproportionately affected. Black women have HIV at a rate 20 times higher than white women, while black men are six times more likely to have HIV than white men.

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Complex gut microbiota analysis is unnecessary in diagnosis of cirrhosis, Nature journal study finds

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Jasmohan S. Bajaj, M.D.

In a recent issue of the journal Nature, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine associate professor Jasmohan S. Bajaj, M.D., provides new data to reinterpret conclusions from a July 2014 Nature journal study that had reported on a novel way to diagnose cirrhosis using complex microbiota analysis. The term microbiota refers to the network of tiny organisms in the human body such as bacteria and fungi that can either bolster an immune system or weaken it.

Cirrhosis, which is characterized by prominent and irreversible scarring of the liver, is caused by a variety of conditions such as viral hepatitis and chronic alcohol abuse. It is diagnosed clinically using ultrasound or blood tests.

The original Nature journal study proposed a novel but complicated diagnostic approach to identify patients with cirrhosis and did not differentiate between patients with advanced, or decompensated, cirrhosis and those in the early stages of the disease. While novel, that diagnostic method is cumbersome, expensive and not available outside of a few centers. “Therefore, it is unlikely to replace current techniques, especially in decompensated cirrhosis,” Bajaj said.

Patients who have been diagnosed with cirrhosis can be categorized as having compensated or decompensated cirrhosis. Compensated cirrhosis means that the body still functions fairly well despite scarring of the liver. Decompensated cirrhosis means that the severe scarring of the liver has damaged and disrupted essential body functions.

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Females more at genetic risk for developing insomnia than males, VCU study suggests

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Mackenzie Lind

Genes may contribute more to the development of insomnia symptoms in females than in males, according to a new study led by a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate student.

Drawing on pre-existing data from the Virginia Adult Twin Studies of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders (VATSPSUD), a large data set collected by VCU psychiatry professor Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., Mackenzie Lind found evidence that the heritability of insomnia could be higher for females than it is for males, suggesting that genes influence sleep problems more for women.

“We found evidence for these differences between the sexes, which hadn’t been formally shown before,” Lind said. Lind is the first author in the study, “A Longitudinal Twin Study of Insomnia Symptoms in Adults,” which was published Sept. 1 in the journal Sleep, a joint publication of the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. She conducted the analyses under the guidance of her academic advisers, Kendler and Ananda B. Amstadter, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Psychiatry, VCU School of Medicine.

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VCU School of the Arts launches certificate program in advanced media

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts will launch a certificate in Advanced Media Production Technology this spring.

Designed to connect graduates with employment opportunities in the expansive field of digital media production, AMPT is a hands-on, project-based program that brings disciplined craftsmanship together with innovative technology. Students will be encouraged to approach the development of digital media with a cross-disciplinary, entrepreneurial spirit and to apply information and communications technology in novel ways.

“Students will be working with professionals in the vast arena of the media production industry,” said Matt Woolman (B.A.’90/A; M.F.A.’96/A; M.B.A.’01/B), VCU School of the Arts’ executive director of entrepreneurship. “And that includes sound, sight and motion. Those are the basic three categories in the technologies involved. So the applications range from animation [and] music videos to commercials … video games, everything that involves all those in one integrated form. The students will get an immersive experience in learning the technology while developing dynamic content for a range of applications.”

Learn more about the program.

VCU Alum Art-Directing New “Peanuts” Movie

Alumnus Nash Dunnigan (B.F.A.’92/A) was profiled by Style Weekly for his work on “The Peanuts Movie”:

The last few days, a lot of people are engaging in a promotional campaign online that allows them to create a rough “Peanuts” version of themselves. You see them all over Facebook.

In the spirit of “Peanut” mania, I made one that doesn’t look at all like me (but at least I got to listen to Vince Guaraldi’s toe-tapping jazz numbers while I did it). Nothing says fall for a certain generation like tunes such as the “Great Pumpkin Waltz.”

What you may not know about the highly anticipated “The Peanuts Movie” which opens Nov. 6, is that a Virginia Commonwealth University alum, Nash Dunnigan (B.F.A.’92/A), was the art director. Dunnigan has worked on projects including “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” “Rio” and “Robots.”

Read more from Style Weekly.

Engineering students create light display for UCI bike race

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Electrical and computer engineering students manually constructed a wire frame and then used LED rope lights to construct a bicycle for a light display that will play on the front windows of the Engineering West Hall building.

UCI Road World Championships cyclists and spectators who pass the 600 block of Main Street are in for a treat — a light animation display created by Virginia Commonwealth University electrical and computer engineering students.

“The School of Engineering is a central backdrop for the UCI bike race, a worldwide event with nearly a thousand athletes and countless viewers,” said Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We want to welcome everyone to Richmond in a special way that showcases the creativity and talent of our students.”

Topsakal, who joined VCU in June of 2015, quickly assembled an undergraduate student advisory board tasked with shaping the direction of department initiatives and helping to rally the student body to apply what they’re learning in classrooms out in the community. According to the chair of the student advisory board, Umar Hasni, the bike race presented the perfect opportunity for the board to bring their peers together to come up with an idea and use what they know to execute on that idea within a tight time frame.

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