By Ian Moore
Seven clinical and translational researchers from across West Virginia have been named Research Scholars by the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI). These investigators from West Virginia University and Marshall University have diverse research interests that cover the full clinical and translational science spectrum. Selected scholars include: James Bardes, M.D., Brian Hendricks, Ph.D., V. Blair Journigan, Ph.D., Midhun Malla, M.D., Samantha Minc, M.D., Toni Rudisill, Ph.D., and Ankit Sakhuja, M.D.
Each of these investigators, through their supported research projects, address one or more of WVCTSI priority heath areas that include addiction and resulting emerging epidemics (such as hepatitis C), cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, and neurological diseases.
The WVCTSI Research Scholar Program was created to accelerate and enhance the development of early-stage investigators. Research Scholars receive protected time to focus on research projects and professional development, a variety of mentored research experiences, and funding to support research projects that can be used as preliminary data for future external funding.
Dr. Journigan is an assistant professor in Marshall University School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Her project, “Somatosensory-targeting Probes for Neuropathic Pain,” aims to develop a series of Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Subfamily M Member 8 (TRPM8) agonists and antagonists similar to menthol. The goal is to use these agonists and antagonists as an innovative approach to controlling the somatosensory responses to pain.
Dr. Bardes is an assistant professor in WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. His project, “Guiding Prehospital Transport – Development of an AI Algorithm,” seeks to utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the efficiency with which trauma patients are referred to critically important care. This project will accomplish this by examining the connections between proximity and access to care and effect on recovery or mortality of rural trauma patients.
Dr. Hendricks is a research assistant professor in WVU School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. His project, “Coping with a Pandemic - Addressing Inequalities and Increasing Reliance on Telehealth Services for Pregnant Women with Substance Misuse Disorder,” will examine telehealth, its utilization rates, barriers to use, and the potential advantages for pregnant women with substance use disorder.
Dr. Malla is an assistant professor in WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine and member of the WVU Cancer Institute. His project is dubbed “Does Colorectal Cancer Expression of Mesothelin Predict Future Peritoneal Recurrence? A Retrospective Translational Study.” The aim of this retrospective study is to determine if the presence of Mesothelin, a cell surface protein that is expressed by many malignant tumors, correlates with an increased risk of developing peritoneal cancer.
Dr. Minc is an assistant professor in WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery and member of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute. Her supported project is titled “Understanding Diabetes and Peripheral Arterial Disease-related Amputation at the Community-level High-risk Rural Area Using Mixed-methods and Community Engagement Approaches.” Through this project, Minc will investigate the epidemiology of foot complications, as well as barriers and facilitators to preventing amputations. Data from this project will then be used to design treatments and interventions designed to reduce foot complications in these patients.
Dr. Rudisill is a research assistant professor in WVU School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. Rudisill will be conducting a project titled “The Effects of Cannabidiol on the Driving Ability of Healthy Adults: A Clinical Trial.” In this project, she will examine the effects of cannabidiol, or CBD, in young and healthy adults. Driving performance, psychological status, and cognitive function will be measured in participants via driving simulators, self-report instruments, and cognitive tests.
Dr. Sakhuja is an assistant professor of medicine in WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. The goal of his research dubbed “Towards a Clinical Decision Support System for Acute Kidney Injury in Patients after Cardiac Surgery” is to improve the management of acute kidney disease after cardiac surgery. This project will utilize a clinical decision support system as a resource for healthcare providers treating these patients to receive clinical guidance and recommendations for their course of treatment.
“This year’s cohort of research scholars is an exceptionally talented group of early stage investigators who, through their research projects, have the promise to greatly improve the health and well-being of West Virginians,” said A. Courtney DeVries, Ph.D., professor of medicine in WVU’s School of Medicine and director of the Research Scholars Program. “I am excited to be part of the effort to provide them with the resources and skills necessary to achieve their full potential.”
“The Research Scholars Program provides the support needed for these dedicated investigators to develop their research programs and become leaders in clinical and translational research,” said Joan Lakoski, Ph.D., co-director of the Research Scholars Program said.
This is the fifth cohort of WVCTSI Research Scholars to date. These seven investigators join fifteen others who have been supported as Research Scholars over the past several years.
“This cohort of scholars is a great example of the exceptional early-career investigators both at WVU and our partner institutions,” said Sally Hodder, M.D., WVCTSI director and associate vice president for clinical and translational science at WVU. “The Research Scholars Program is one of WVCTSI’s flagship programs that develops tomorrow’s scientific leaders.”
WVCTSI is funded by an IDeA Clinical and Translational grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (U54GM104942) to support the mission of building clinical and translational research infrastructure and capacity to impact health disparities in West Virginia.