New Zealand officials tap VCU professor’s expertise to learn about potential vaping hazards

Michelle Peace, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Forensic Science (left), with Robyn Somerville, Ph.D., a senior forensic scientist in New Zealand’s Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor who studies illicit drug use and e-cigarettes traveled throughout New Zealand this summer as part of a fellowship to inform law enforcement and health officials about how e-cigs work and potential misuse of the devices.

Michelle Peace, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’05/M), an associate professor and a forensic toxicologist in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, visited New Zealand as this year’s International Vision Fellow of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research. She has received funding the past four years from the National Institute of Justice to evaluate e-cigarettes’ potential for abuse and the subsequent impact on the criminal justice system.

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How will climate change impact coastal communities? VCU researchers look to Virginia’s barrier islands for clues

Photo of a dried maritime forest.

On Parramore Island, what was once a maritime forest is now essentially dead — a change brought about, at least in part, by climate change.

Off the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a chain of uninhabited barrier islands that help protect the mainland coast from storms that — thanks to climate change — are increasing in both frequency and intensity.

However, these 23 islands stretching from Assateague Island at the Maryland border to Fisherman Island near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel are themselves under threat from climate change and sea level rise.

As the average temperature ticks up slightly, a species of shrub — Morella cerifera (wax myrtle) — has proliferated to a staggering degree across many of the islands. In the past, the shrub would die in extreme winters. Now it grows year-round, pushing out grasses that build sand dunes essential to protecting the islands.

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Massey becomes first treatment center in Virginia to offer FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy

3d illustration of a cancer cell and lymphocytes.

Medical illustration of a T-cell attacking cancer.

VCU Massey Cancer Center is now an official treatment center for Yescarta by Kite Pharma for adult patients living with certain types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (recurrent or refractory B-cell lymphoma), making it the first treatment center in Virginia to offer an FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy. Massey, in partnership with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, also will soon be offering another FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy, KYMRIAH by Novartis, for children and young adults with recurrent or refractory B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

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Thousands of women with breast cancer may be spared chemotherapy, landmark study shows

Infusion pump feeding IV drip into patients arm focus on needle

The 12-year TAILORx study, co-authored by a VCU Massey Cancer Center physician-researcher, shows chemotherapy does not increase disease-free survival rates for women with early stage breast cancer and an intermediate risk of recurrence.

Seventy percent of women with the most common type of newly diagnosed breast cancer can now be identified and safely skip chemotherapy, according to the results of a landmark 12-year clinical research study.

Data from the Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment show that chemotherapy does not increase disease-free survival rates for women with early stage breast cancer and an intermediate risk of recurrence determined by the Oncotype DX Recurrence Score test. The study was designed to more precisely determine the effect of chemotherapy, if any, for women with hormone receptor (HR)-positive, HER2-negative, axillary lymph node-negative breast cancer.

The findings, recently presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are expected to inform treatment decisions for thousands of breast cancer patients.

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VCU receives $2.7M to study use of anti-inflammatory medicine for treatment of heart failure

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a $2.7 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine to evaluate the use of anti-inflammatory therapy to treat heart failure.

The grant will fund a clinical trial with 102 heart-disease patients. Researchers will investigate if reducing inflammation in the heart muscle can improve the patients’ health and reduce the need for hospitalization. Researchers expect to begin enrolling patients later this year.

It is the fourth NIH grant for the research team that is co-led by Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., vice chair for clinical research and associate professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, and Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair of the Division of Cardiology in the VCU School of Medicine. The current study will build on encouraging results from a smaller 2016 study also funded by the NIH.

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Template to create superatoms, created by VCU researchers, could make for better batteries

A rendering of protons, neutrons and electrons in an atom.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have discovered a novel strategy for creating superatoms — combinations of atoms that can mimic the properties of more than one group of elements of the periodic table. These superatoms could be used to create new materials, including more efficient batteries and better semiconductors; a core component of microchips, transistors and most computerized devices.

Batteries and semiconductors rely on the movement of charges from one group of atoms to another. During this process, electrons are transferred from donor atoms to acceptor atoms. Forming superatoms that can supply or accept multiple electrons while maintaining structural stability is a key requirement for creating better batteries or semiconductors, said Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., Commonwealth Professor and chair of the Department of Physics in the College of Humanities and Sciences. The ability of superatoms to effectively move charges while staying intact is attributed to how they mimic the properties of multiple groups of elements.

“We have devised a new approach in which one can synthesize such metal-based superatoms,” Khanna said.

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VCU forensic science professor’s breakthrough in cell imaging could have major impact in crime labs

Unlike traditional forensic testing methods, Christopher Ehrhardt’s procedure can be used to identify different cell types in a sample without damaging the sample.

A Virginia Commonwealth University researcher has developed a procedure for identifying the source of cells present in a forensic biological sample that could change how cell types are identified in samples across numerous industries.

Many traditional techniques for distinguishing between saliva, blood, skin or vaginal tissue in an evidence sample are based on microchemical reactions that can be prone to false-positive or false-negative results, according to the researcher, Christopher Ehrhardt, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Additionally, they may be difficult to use on aged or heavily degraded samples.

“The information is often limited,” Ehrhardt said. “And when using conventional methods, you have to be prepared to consume part of the sample in most cases, which decreases the value of it.”

VCU receives funding for oyster restoration work

 

The partnership with Toadfish Outfitters will allow VCU to plant more than 2 million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program has partnered with Toadfish Outfitters of Charleston, South Carolina, to advance its efforts to replenish oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Toadfish Outfitters, a manufacturer of coastal lifestyle products, has designated the VOSRP as the sole recipient of proceeds from the sale of Toadfish products in Virginia. VOSRP will use the funding initially to acquire 20 million oyster larvae that will be planted on recycled oyster shell placed in Chesapeake Bay waterways. This will allow VCU to plant more than 2 million oysters in the watershed, and coincides with Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.

“Oysters are the ultimate friend of the coast as they help to keep our waters clean,” said Casey Davidson, founder of Toadfish Outfitters. “Since day one, we’ve promised to give back a portion of every product sold toward oyster habitat restoration, so working with VCU was a natural fit.”

VOSRP, part of VCU’s Rice Rivers Center, is a collaborative, community-based oyster restoration program that works closely with the Virginia seafood industry. The VOSRP currently collects recycled oyster shells from more than 50 restaurants and 30 public drop-off locations statewide to use in the creation of sanctuary oyster reefs. The shells are seeded with juvenile oysters before they are planted. These efforts are direly needed because the Virginia oyster population is currently estimated to be at two percent of peak numbers.

“We are excited about the new partnership between Toadfish Outfitters and the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program to help bring the Virginia oyster back to Chesapeake Bay,” said Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of VCU Rice Rivers Center. “The work of Toadfish has supported oyster restoration in other states and this contribution will advance our waterway conservation efforts.”

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A new positioning system invented by a VCU professor delivers where GPS fails

Wei Cheng’s system allows a group of devices to know where they are in relation to one another, and could have hundreds of practical applications, from finding a friend at a concert to locating a Lyft driver at the airport.

A Virginia Commonwealth University computer science professor has developed a system that could change how we find friends in crowded places, Uber drivers in busy cities, and even family spread across a cruise ship.

Unlike GPS, which provides location data based on latitude and longitude, this new system — invented by Wei Cheng, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering — tells users where they are compared to others.

The system allows a group of devices to know where they are in relation to one another, what direction each device is traveling, and how fast each is moving.

“Think of this technology like a swarm of bees,” Cheng said. “The bees all know where the other bees are, and where they’re going.”

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VCU School of Nursing receives $2.6M award to improve educational and clinical practices in primary care setting

Tamara Zurakowski, Ph.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing has received a $2.6 million award to advance nursing’s influence in the primary care setting through educational and clinical practice improvements.

The award from the Health Resources and Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was granted to Tamara Zurakowski, Ph.D., clinical associate professor and director of undergraduate programs in the VCU School of Nursing.

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