VCU researchers are developing a device to restore a person’s sense of smell

Two VCU faculty are developing a device meant to restore the sense of smell.

Scott Moorehead was thrown into a deep depression when he lost his sense of smell five years ago due to a traumatic brain injury. Moorehead fell in the driveway of his Marion, Indiana, home while teaching his then 6-year-old son, Mason, how to skateboard.

Moorehead suffered a major concussion and internal bleeding, but the long-lasting consequence was severing the connection of the olfactory nerves in his nose to his brain, which resulted in total smell loss, or anosmia.

It is an “invisible injury,” Moorehead said. The sense’s tie to memory and enjoyment made the loss debilitating.

“Until you can’t smell at all you have no idea how emotional the experience can be,” he said. “You start to think about these really awful things, like, someday my daughter is going to get married and I’m going to walk her down the aisle and I’m going to give her a big hug, and I’m going to have no idea what she smelled like.”

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Fulbright scholar develops technology to bring independence to people with disabilities

VCU Engineering alumnus Shawn Joshi in front of Oxford University’s Radcliffe Camera.

When Shawn Joshi (B.S.’12/H&S; B.S.’12/En) was 14, his brother suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Joshi was able to find technological solutions for the family’s day-to-day life, and has carried that idea with him to this day.

“While I never saw medical science perform any miracles for his condition, I would say there have been remarkable technologies that have made both his life and our family’s lives easier,” he said. “He has a standing wheelchair that can relieve tension and pressure as it stands and supports him. We have put Alexa in our house and have controlled lights and cameras. And while we can easily Google anything that comes to our mind, he too can ask Alexa for answers and play music any time he wants.”

Bringing independence to people with impairments has been important to Joshi ever since.

“I am always trying to use technology to make life easier for any population that may have a harder time than others,” said Joshi, who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012 with dual degrees in physics and biomedical engineering.

At VCU, Joshi worked with Paul Wetzel, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering in the VCU College of Engineering, to design glasses that could control a computer mouse via eye blinks and head movements. The device could bring independence to people with paraplegia or other disabilities.

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VCU receives $21.5M National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Award

Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded $21.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to promote and expand research and improve access for Virginians to cutting-edge treatments for diseases, including cardiac disease, pulmonary disease and addiction. This is the largest NIH grant ever awarded to VCU.

The five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) through NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was awarded to VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, allowing the center to support clinical research, integrate research and clinical practice and provide training to develop the clinical research workforce.

“As a governor and physician, nothing is more important to me than the heath of Virginians — the Wright Center’s historic grant is a huge boost to the commonwealth’s ability to bring innovations in clinical research that will result in better treatments and new cures,” Northam said. “This funding will support collaboration across the state and speed translation of research to patient care, and I look forward watching VCU solidify Virginia’s place as a research leader.”

Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, which played an essential role in supporting the grant, celebrated the award Monday.

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Ultrasound technology can help paramedics save lives in the field. A groundbreaking new class at VCU is training them how.

Michael Ny (B.S.’13/H&S), a firefighter and paramedic for Chesterfield County, practices using ultrasound to find a vein to insert an IV.

A 62-year-old male has collapsed on a treadmill at the gym. First responders arrive to find that he’s unconscious and without a pulse. They start CPR.

“Let’s see what’ve got,” says paramedic Shawn Lawrence (B.S.W.’10/SW), as he runs a small ultrasound probe over the man’s chest, conjuring up a black-and-white image of the heart on a handheld monitor.

The ultrasound reveals the heart is quivering, just slightly.

“OK, so what do you think?” asks Stephanie K. Louka, M.D. (H.S.’17/M), an emergency medical services fellow and clinical instructor in the Department of Emergency Medicine of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

“So, we’re going to shock him,” Lawrence replies. He applies a defibrillator. The ultrasound shows the man’s heart has started beating again with an organized rhythm.

“Oh, I’m happy with that,” Lawrence says. “It looks good.”

This scenario — a simulation in which Lawrence was resuscitating a medical training mannequin — took place in VCU’s trauma skills classroom as part of a new course in which first responder medical personnel from across Virginia are getting hands-on training to use ultrasound technology before the patient reaches a hospital.

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How do we view the Syrian refugee crisis? A new study looks to Instagram and Pinterest for answers

Sentiments about the Syrian refugee crisis are increasingly being expressed on social media. A new study led by Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, provides new insight into what and how information about Syrian refugees is being shared.

As millions of Syrians have fled their country’s civil war, the influx of refugees has prompted both humanitarian efforts to help them as well as growing views of refugees as a threat to the receiving countries’ security and autonomy.

Sentiments about the refugee crisis are increasingly expressed on social media. A new study led by Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’17/M), an assistant professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences, provides new insight into what and how information about Syrian refugees is being shared.

The study, “Welcome or Not: Comparing #Refugee Posts on Instagram and Pinterest,” was a quantitative content analysis of a random sample of 750 Instagram posts and 750 Pinterest posts to evaluate and compare visual and textual messaging surrounding the crisis.

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Three new genetic markers associated with risk for depression

After becoming the first to definitively discover genetic markers for major depression, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and collaborators have found more genetic clues to the disease.

study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry details the discovery of three additional genetic risk markers for depression, which builds on the groundbreaking discovery of two genetic risk factors in 2015. Lead authors include Roseann Peterson, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’12/M), an assistant professor of psychiatry at the VCU Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, and Na Cai of the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom.

Both sets of findings were the result of an international collaboration among researchers from the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, the University of Oxford and throughout China to shed light on genetic causes of the disease. Principal investigators Kenneth Kendler at VCU and Jonathan Flint at the University of California, Los Angeles led this large-scale collaborative effort, which resulted in a study of more than 10,000 Han Chinese women from 50 hospitals across China.

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VCU anthropology professor hunts for fossils of humans’ earliest origins

Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., and Omar Abdullah show off hominin teeth fossils that they found in the Afar region of Ethiopia.

Virginia Commonwealth University anthropology professor Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., just returned from a research trip to Ethiopia where she served as part of the Ledi-Geraru Research Project that in 2013 discovered a fossil of the earliest member of the genus Homo, pushing back the origin of humans’ genus to 2.8 million years ago.

Rector Verrelli, an assistant professor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was one of a team of researchers from Arizona State University, Pennsylvania State University, George Washington University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas hunting for fossils in the Afar region of Ethiopia, between the Ledi and Geraru rivers.

“It has deposits that are between about 1 million and 3 million years ago, so the goal is to look for fossils of our ancestors from that time period,” Rector Verrelli said. “In that area, that usually means Australopithecus afarensis (famous for the Lucy skeleton), but in 2013 project scientists discovered the earliest member of our genus, the genus Homo.”

Researchers in 2013 found a partial hominin mandible with teeth from the Ledi-Geraru research area, thereby establishing the presence of Homo between 2.8 million and 2.75 million years ago. The find extended the record of recognizable Homo by at least a half-million years, shedding new light on human evolution.

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VCU’s new La Esperanza Lab to study health disparities, impact of immigration policy on Richmond’s Latinx population

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Growing up in Arizona as the son of Mexican immigrants, Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D., saw firsthand how the United States’ immigration policies could affect Latinx communities.

Now, as a new faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, Moreno is gearing up to study how policies — including access to health care, immigration restrictions and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — are affecting Latinx students at VCU, as well as the growing Hispanic population of the Richmond region.

“The reason why I do this is because I feel heavily involved with these communities. I come from a Latin community myself. I was raised in Phoenix, the hub of immigration policies [that were characterized by] discrimination constructs, prejudice and institutional biases,” said Moreno, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Now all that’s on a national platform, impacting communities like Richmond.”

Moreno’s La Esperanza Lab (“esperanza” is Spanish for “hope”) at VCU aims to understand and address health care disparities in the United States that affect individuals from low-income and racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

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