VCU receives nearly $6 million grant to advance youth violence prevention strategies in Richmond

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently awarded Virginia Commonwealth University a nearly $6 million research grant to promote healthy communities and reduce violence rates in Richmond.

The grant resulted from a strong collaboration between community partners and the university. The university will work closely with members of the Richmond community and local organizations to carry out objectives detailed in the five-year grant.

“We will be working with city residents and community partners to improve our capacity to overcome issues that affect the health of youth,” said co-principal investigator Saba Masho, M.D., DrPh, professor of family medicine at VCU School of Medicine.

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VCU sponsored research reaches new all-time high

The university closed the 2016 fiscal year at a new record institutional high of $271.1 million in funding.

The university closed the 2016 fiscal year at a new record institutional high of $271.1 million in funding.

Virginia Commonwealth University closed the 2016 fiscal year at a new record institutional high of $271.1 million in sponsored research funding, surpassing the previous year’s record-setting total by approximately $1 million. It marks the eighth time in the past 10 years that VCU’s researchers have taken the institution to record levels of external funding. During that time, the record high has grown by $60 million.

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Where you are born can predict how long you live

There’s a growing understanding of what’s causing big differences in people’s health — and it’s far more than having access to a doctor. The Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently concluded a 21-part series with the release a life expectancy map of the Washington, D.C. region showing an eight-year gap between just a few stops along Metro’s Blue and Orange Lines.

The maps, which show life expectancy at birth have been utilized by public health officials, business owners, housing advocates, and other community leaders across the country to raise awareness of the many factors that shape health and to advance their work to improve health for residents of their communities.

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International study led by VCU chemistry professor finds promise in new class of anti-cancer drugs

Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D.

Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D.

A new class of platinum-based drugs has shown significant anti-metastatic effects in fighting cancer, according to a recently published study led by a Virginia Commonwealth University chemistry professor and cancer researcher.

The study, “Antiangiogenic platinum through glycan targeting,” which was published in the August edition of Chemical Science, found that polynuclear platinum-based drugs are effective by identifying new targets in tumor cells, which had previously been unidentified for platinum-based anti-cancer drugs. Chemical Science is the flagship journal the U.K.-based Royal Society of Chemistry, publishing research of exceptional significance from across the chemical sciences.

“We think our findings are very significant because it gives a whole new direction to platinum-based drugs,” said Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences and a member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “And it gives us a whole new understanding of what was going on with the original drugs. It’s an area that might have been overlooked for 30 years. It’s opening up a whole new avenue of research for platinum-based drugs.”

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VCU researchers receive $1 million grant to test a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Schools of Medicine and Engineering to test a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease that was developed by university researchers.

The noninvasive eye-tracking device uses infrared light to follow a patient’s eye movement as the patient attempts to fix his or her gaze on a screen-displayed object. While normal eye movements are highly regulated and follow well-defined patterns, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease alter eye movements.

“One aim of the grant is to validate that we can use eye tracking to diagnose Parkinson’s disease with high accuracy,” said principal investigator Mark Baron, M.D., professor of neurology at the VCU School of Medicine and interim director of the VCU Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center. “Another aim is to validate that we can diagnose Parkinson’s disease well before a patient displays outward symptoms.”

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Engineering students design thermoregulated gloves that help people with Raynaud’s disease, including one of their own

Every time Jessica L. Bishop (B.S.’16/En) suffered an attack of Raynaud’s disease during her senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University, it motivated her to work even harder on her School of Engineering Capstone Design project, a pair of “magic gloves.”

The gloves help regulate the fingers’ temperature, which is relevant because Raynaud’s disease affects extremities in such a way that people with the condition are unable to tell when their hands get cold, among other symptoms.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about. It’s something that definitely affects me,” Bishop said. “There’s a slew of medications that they can put you on, like blood pressure medication, [but] there’s nothing specific to the Raynaud’s. It’s really just remedying the symptoms [by] wearing gloves, avoiding cold, avoiding stressors. Not drinking a lot of coffee.”

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School teachers from across U.S. to visit VCU to explore history of school desegregation in Virginia

Civil rights protesters in Prince Edward County in 1963, demanding that authorities eliminate racial segregation and reopen the public schools in the county, which had been closed since 1959 to avoid integration. Photo credit: VCU Libraries’ Freedom Now Project.

Civil rights protesters in Prince Edward County in 1963, demanding that authorities eliminate racial segregation and reopen the public schools in the county, which had been closed since 1959 to avoid integration. Photo credit: VCU Libraries’ Freedom Now Project.

As part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 72 social studies teachers from across the United States will visit Virginia Commonwealth University next summer to gain an in-depth understanding of Virginia’s experience with school desegregation.

The one-year, $175,000 grant — awarded to project co-directors Brian Daugherity, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and Yonghee Suh, Ph.D., associate professor of social studies and history education at Old Dominion University — will explore the history of school desegregation in Virginia, as well as the ramifications and legacies of that process for the state and the rest of the country.

“One of the misperceptions of the civil rights era is that it occurred primarily in the Deep South — states like Alabama, Mississippi and others,” Daugherity said. “In reality, the struggle for equality was taking place all over the nation, and Virginia’s role was particularly important.”

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“The best year of my life:” Neurosurgery resident conducts brain tumor research in New Zealand

Supported by the most prestigious fellowship in neurosurgery, VCU Medical Center resident Lisa Feldman spent a year doing research in New Zealand.

Supported by the most prestigious fellowship in neurosurgery, VCU Medical Center resident Lisa Feldman spent a year doing research in New Zealand.

As a sixth-year neurosurgery resident at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Lisa Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., aches for her patients battling aggressive brain tumors.

Despite surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the average life expectancy for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive type of brain tumor, is 15 months.

“We have to do better than that,” Feldman said. “It’s so frustrating. I see so many patients suffering.”

Thanks to a prestigious fellowship and numerous collaboration efforts, Feldman is feeling optimistic about the future. The Chicago native was selected last year for the William P. Van Wagenen Fellowship, which awarded her a $120,000 stipend and $15,000 in research support. She used the funds to travel to New Zealand, where she studied perfluorocarbons as a new oxygen delivery therapy in hope of reversing the death of healthy cells that results from radiation treatment of brain cancers.

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Replicating research

Fraternal twins Cathy, left, and Christine Davison have participated in twin studies through the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry since early childhood.

Fraternal twins Cathy, left, and Christine Davison have participated in twin studies through the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry since early childhood.

When twins Cathy and Christine Davison were 9 years old, Virginia Commonwealth University researchers attached electrodes to their arms and asked them a series of increasingly difficult math questions. “Then they had us run on a treadmill with the electrodes,” Cathy recently recalled, 25 years after the test. By that point, the twins were already regular participants in studies and had grown accustomed to the odd requests of researchers, who on another occasion had allowed them to drink more sugary soda than their parents would ever permit, later collecting their urine in plastic cups.

Sometimes researchers visited the twins at their home in Spotsylvania County.

“They would ask us a ton of questions about our thoughts and feelings,” Cathy said.

“If you ever said yes,” Christine said, “there would be a zillion follow-up questions.”

The fraternal twins, now 34 years old, have participated in twin studies through the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry since early childhood. The registry, which is located at the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park on VCU’s MCV campus, is one of the largest twin databases in the world. For more than four decades, researchers have been working with MATR twins to uncover the roots of psychiatric and physical conditions.

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Professor’s research demonstrates link between gut bacteria and brain inflammation in chronic liver disease

Jasmohan Bajaj, M.D.

Jasmohan Bajaj, M.D., associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, had findings from his research on gut bacteria in cirrhosis published recently in the journals Hepatology and Scientific Reports.

The findings conclude that gut bacteria, found in the intestinal tract and stool, are associated with brain inflammation in cirrhotic patients and animals known as hepatic encephalopathy (HE). HE can lead to fatigue, the inability to concentrate, mental confusion and death.

“HE is an epidemic in patients with liver disease and cirrhosis,” said Bajaj, associate professor in the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition in the VCU School of Medicine. “Bacteria can result in inflammation in the systemic circulation, which in turn could inflame the brain.”

His research published in Hepatology involved the study of germ-free and conventionally raised mice with cirrhosis. The researched shows that gut microbes are essential for brain inflammation in cirrhotic mice. The human study published in Scientific Reports shows that specific bacteria were associated with nerve cell or neuron damage, while others were associated with damage to supporting cells or astrocytes.

Further investigation must include HE treatment that targets particular gut bacterial populations and specific affected brain region that might be affected as a result, said Bajaj, who practices at both VCU Health and the McGuire VA Medical Center.

Despite treatment for HE using the current standard of care, patients still experience the progression to overt HE and residual brain damage, Bajaj said. Consequently, further treatment options must be researched and made available to patients, Bajaj said.

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