Tag Archives: Research

COE professor works with UN for new higher education policies

Olajide Agunloye Dr. Olajide Agunolye, associate professor in the Department of Counselor Education, Leadership, and Research, was featured in The Augusta Chronicle regarding his work with the United Nations to strengthen global policies for higher education.

Click here to view the article.

Agunloye joined GRU in 2008. He is a member of several professional organizations including the United Kingdom’s Association of Business Executives as well as the American Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Agunloye received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. He earned his educational specialist degree from the University of West Georgia and earned a doctoral degree from the University of Georgia.

Baylor Blog: A Fond Farewell

Hello from Baylor University for week eight of my REU program in chemistry. This will be my last blog post of the summer as I approach the final week and a half of my program. With that said, I will try to tell you all about my progress in the past week and where I plan to take my experiment in the final week.

With only 11 days left in the program, I feel the pressure to get all of the experiments done that I want to complete before leaving Waco and Baylor. This week I spent more time in the lab trying to conduct as many experiments as possible so I can have more data for my presentation in the final week of the program. If you recall from previous weeks, I am trying to create six mutation in E.coli’s DnaB helicase using the CRISPR/Cas9 system. Last week I talked about how I was able to get my positive control to work for one colony on one plate from a transformation. These results were good, but the paper that we referred to has the mutation rate at 65 percent, which does not correspond with the small percentage I was able to achieve. To try to correct this discrepancy, I tried the experiment using more than four different strains of E.coli that were developed for recombineering. My idea was that I could find a better strain than the one I was using. Interestingly enough, the three other strains I tested (I also re-tested the strain I was using, HME63), turned out to be horrible at recombineering with CRISPR/Cas9. I was not able to get a single positive colony from those strains. However, HME63 yielded 100 percent genome editing in this second trial. This leads me to believe that my glycerol stock of HME63 with my Cas9 plasmid from the first experiment was bad and that the protein wasn’t functioning properly. This week I will retry all of my other mutations, and I expect that I’ll be able to obtain some of the correct mutations!

At the same time, a freshman in our lab, Benji Son, was able to create two other mutations in the EcDnaB helicase via an in vitro Quickchange procedure. Since Benji is still working on making other mutations as well, I was put in charge of purifying his mutant EcDnaB helicases. This is an awesome experience for me because I am able to use our fast protein liquid chromatography (FPLC) system. This is an advanced instrument used to separate proteins based on their affinity for a stationary phase in differing columns. Over the weekend I was able to run this machine six times and my proteins are nearing purification. I will run a gel filtration column today and hopefully the two mutants will be purified and ready for use in kinetic assays. This is an amazing experience for me because it gives me more skills that I can take forward into graduate school. Likewise, Dr. Trakselis has been away at conferences this week so any problems I encounter, I must solve with limited assistance. This is helping develop me into a better researcher and getting me one step closer to being completely autonomous in the lab setting.

In all, the REU program at Baylor has taught me a lot of helpful techniques that will help me both when I return as an undergraduate researcher at Georgia Regents University and when I apply to graduate programs in biochemistry. There are REU programs across the country and they can easily be found by doing a simple Google search, speaking with your faculty mentor or by talking to Abigail Drescher in the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. I encourage all faculty and students to get their lab members to apply for next summer’s programs.

Thanks to everyone who kept up with my research this summer. I look forward to presenting my research when I get back to GRU!

Baylor Blog: Success and Future Possibilities

Hello again from Baylor University!

I just finished week seven of the 10-week REU program in chemistry and would like to share with you what I’ve experienced.

Last week I mentioned that I would be spending a lot of time in the lab trying to get a positive control to work for our experiment. If we could get a positive control to work, then we know that it is likely that our other trials will work too.

I tried and re-tried a lot of experiments this week, and on Sunday, I was able to verify that I got the positive control to work properly. As I mentioned before, I am trying to make mutations in E.coli’s DnaB helicase using a recently discovered method of genome editing in bacteria. My positive control consisted of making a silent mutation that would not change the amino acid sequence but would insert a restriction enzyme site so I could screen my colonies to see if I correctly created the mutation. Sunday, I screened the colonies and the restriction enzyme did cut one of my colonies’ genome so I am sure that the mutation was made and that this method of genome editing is viable but that the percentage of recombination reported in the literature may be wrong.

This week, I will be working on creating the mutant strains again. I will be using different strains of E.coli to test whether the recombineering genes in the strain I was using were bad (we are only using recombineering strains). We have also been working on creating these same mutations in a plasmid and have succeeded in making some of the mutations and thus this week I will start protein purification on that mutation while I continue to try to make the other mutations using the CRISPR/Cas system. We also get to present our research at a symposium in two weeks, so I’ll be spending extra time this week working on the poster for the symposium. I feel I’ve learned a lot about being a graduate-level researcher over the course of this program, and I look forward to sharing my results with others and hearing about what everyone else did over the summer.

Outside of the lab, I have enjoyed seeing more of the campus by walking along the Baylor Bear Trail. I met with Dr. Karla Leeper at GRU before leaving Augusta (her previous position was at Baylor) and received tips on where to eat in Waco. Since then, I’ve been trying to visit all of the places she mentioned. I’ve also continued to visit the student life center in my free time to try to enjoy all of the things the campus has to offer.

So far, the REU program has helped ensure that I want to pursue graduate school and more years of research. I have been challenged to solve problems, create new ideas, and produce results. I think that a full summer of research is a must for anyone applying to graduate school and that it will really advance your skills as a researcher.

Until next time!

 

-Preston Jones

High blood levels of growth factor correlate with smaller brain areas in patients with schizophrenia

High blood levels of a growth factor known to enable new blood vessel development and brain cell protection correlate with a smaller size of brain areas key to complex thought, emotion and behavior in patients with schizophrenia, researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Higher blood levels of vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, also correlate with high blood levels of interleukin 6, a cytokine that can cross the protective blood-brain barrier and typically promotes inflammation, said Dr. Anilkumar Pillai, neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. As with many disease types, inflammation is increasingly associated with schizophrenia, and high blood levels of IL-6 already have been found in these patients.

The new findings appear to point toward a blood test as an easier way to confirm the diagnosis of schizophrenia, rather than complicated and expensive imaging studies of the brain, and, ultimately, better disease understanding and treatment, said Pillai, the study’s corresponding author. “We are talking about a molecule where you can just draw blood and look at the lab profile,” he said.

A smaller prefrontal cortex is one of the brain abnormalities identified through brain scans of living patients as well as autopsies. Pillai’s lab had earlier shown low brain levels of VEGF, which could help explain lower blood flow and brain volumes in these patients. “Decreased blood flow leads to decreased brain tissue volume,” he said. Inflammation also can reduce brain size.

While findings of higher blood levels may sound counterintuitive to low VEGF levels in the brain, they likely indicate a “feedback inhibition” with the brain recognizing high circulating levels and deciding to produce less VEGF itself, Pillai said. In fact, high blood levels of VEGF may contribute to the disease process, the researchers write.

More patients need to be studied to see if the correlations hold up, Pillai said, and work also is needed to determine which comes first: high blood levels or low brain levels of VEGF.

The study, in collaboration with scientists at the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales in Australia, looked at 96 people with schizophrenia as well as 83 healthy individuals. Brain scans were available on 59 of the patients and 65 healthy controls. Patients were recruited to Neuroscience Research Australia, a not-for-profit research institution based in Sydney that focuses on the brain and nervous system, as well as Lyell McEwin Hospital, a teaching hospital in South Australia affiliated with the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia.

While likely best known for its role in making new blood vessels, VEGF also is key to the brain’s ability to adapt to change, such as respond to an injury, and protect against brain cell loss.

Kidney, bladder stones do not increase postmenopausal women’s risk of osteoporosis

Postmenopausal women with kidney or bladder stones are not at increased risk for osteoporosis, but they do have about a 15 percent increased risk of another painful stone, physician-scientists report.

Researchers looked at data on approximately 150,000 postmenopausal women and found, despite the two conditions being clearly associated in men, the same did not hold true for women, said Dr. Laura D. Carbone, chief of the Section of Rheumatology at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

“We know in men that if you have a kidney stone, you are more likely to have osteoporosis,” said Carbone, corresponding author of the study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. “We were trying to find out if that is also the case for women. We found that, unlike what has been reported in men, a woman having a kidney stone is not a risk factor for osteoporosis. However, having one urinary tract stone does put women at increased risk for a second stone.”

“We wanted women and their physicians to have this information,” said Dr. Monique Bethel, a research resident in the MCG Department of Medicine and study co-author. “If the two relate, and a patient who has not been screened for osteoporosis comes to the office with a kidney stone, her physician might have been concerned she also has a higher risk for osteoporosis. Our studies indicate she likely does not.”

However, women with a stone likely should work with their physician to reduce their increased risk of a subsequent stone, the physicians said, noting that low water/fluid intake and a high-salt, high-calorie diet are common stone risks. Having a stone also was known to put people at risk for subsequent stones, but the new study helps clarify the risk, Carbone said.

Their data came from participants in the National Institutes of Health Women’s Health Initiative, a major study to address common health problems, such as osteoporosis and cancer, in postmenopausal women. Out of more than 150,000 women followed in the WHI, 9,856 women reported urinary tract stones at the start of or over the course of the study. They were followed about eight years, on average. MCG researchers believe theirs is the largest, most comprehensive study of the association of the two conditions in postmenopausal women. They looked at the data several different ways, adjusting for factors that could also influence outcome, such as physical inactivity, a known risk factor for both osteoporosis and kidney stones. They only looked at whether urinary tract stones increased the risk of osteoporosis, not the reverse.

The incidence of urinary tract stones is on the rise generally, particularly in women, with a 70 percent increase in the last 15 years. Osteoporosis already affects about 1 in 3 postmenopausal women and 1 in 5 older men, although the incidence of hip fractures is trending downward, Bethel said.

The Osteoporotic Fractures in Men, or MrOS, study, which looked at nearly 6,000 men with a mean age of 73.7 to determine risk factors for osteoporosis, identified urinary tract stones are a risk factor.

One link between the seemingly disparate conditions of stones and weak bones is an excess of calcium in the urine, which tends to be more common in men, Carbone said. Sodium and calcium share a common transport mechanism at the kidney, and sodium affects reabsorption of calcium by that organ. When sodium levels are high, from eating too much processed or fast food, for example, more calcium is eliminated in the urine. Also, overactivity of the parathyroid glands, which regulate levels of calcium in the blood, is associated with both urinary tract stones and fractures of the vertebra in the spine, a sign of the typically silent osteoporosis.

Interestingly some treatments for osteoporosis, including calcium supplements, can increase the risk of stones. Conversely, individuals who’ve already experienced a urinary tract stone might avoid calcium to help avoid a subsequent stone and inadvertently increase their osteoporosis risk, the researchers write.

Davies uses Love of Learning grant to learn more about homicide

While the ABC television show “How to Get Away with Murder” may have racked up an impressive audience during its first season last year, Dr. Kim Davies’ Sociology of Murder class does a pretty good job of packing them in as well.

“Last time, it had around 100 students,” Davies said. “It’s the first time I let it get that big.”

It’s so popular, she said, because homicide is all around us. On the news. In the movies. On television.

“It’s everywhere in entertainment these days,” she said. “Students flock to that class.”

Recently, Davies received a $500 Love of Learning Award from Phi Kappa Phi honor society which, combined with the in-house Pamplin Professional Impact Fund, allowed her to go to the Homicide Research Working Group conference in Clearwater Beach, Florida. There, she presented a literature review on homicide survivors, who are family members of homicide victims.

“It’s the conference I prefer to go to over any other,” she said. “It’s a group of about 50 of us, and every session it’s everybody in the room. You can’t sneak out. We are all there weighing in on each other’s work and really helping each other.”

The feedback she received at the conference is helping her decide whether to pursue what is, for her, a new line of research.

“I thought I’d be gung-ho to get into this, but as I worked with it more, I began to wonder,” she said. “We always have to be careful about our subjects, but I just want to be really careful with these particular subjects. They’ve gone through a lot, and though I think I’m a kind human being and careful not to hurt anyone, I’m a sociologist, not a psychologist.”

In fact, one of the suggestions made at the conference was to add a psychologist to her research team to monitor the effects of her questioning, which is something she says actually meshes with the overall mission of the school.

“Any time we can mix whatever we’re studying with the health sciences campus, that’s logical for the university.”

Her interest in homicide stems from her master’s thesis, where she began by studying pornography from a women’s studies perspective. When the faculty member she was working with retired, she moved to studying homicide, and now she’s become an expert in the field, someone who is not only a department chair, but a leader in research.

She’s not just a leader in research, she’s an advocate for it.

“I think good teachers need to be good researchers, or at least need to be active in researching,” she said. “I think one of the things I bring to my teaching is my research. I think students find it fascinating when you bring up something you’ve done.”

And she speaks from experience. Davies has been here since 1996.

“I didn’t think I’d stay,” she admitted. “Like lots of people, you get a job and figure you’ll move around. But for me, one of the things that’s happened is that we have changed, and that’s allowed this job to continue to stay challenging and interesting. I’m in another institution, a more challenging institution, and I’m smiling. I think it’s great.”

 

Baylor Blog: Learning from Failure

Hello again from Baylor University!

Week six in the REU program has been a real test. This week, I faced some more frustrating lab results and have had to put my best problem-solving skills to work. Outside the lab, I have enjoyed the Baylor student life center and have started studying for the GRE so I can apply to graduate school in the fall!

The largest part of my week was spent in the lab working on getting my positive control to work properly. Since we were unsure about our previous attempt at creating mutations in the EcDnaB helicase, we decided to go back and restart the process from the beginning with a positive control I designed last week. The goal in this was to get the positive control to work properly so we could trust our results with the other mutations. I spent all week repeating all the previous procedures. On Saturday, I came in to check the results, and I saw we were not able to get good results from the positive. Because of that, I spent the rest of the weekend reading the literature to come up with a way to circumvent my mistakes and get the procedure to work.

In week seven, I will be trying to implement some of the things I came up with over the weekend in order to get the positive control to work. I will also focus on getting the negative control to work as well so I can move forward with the project and get the desired mutations. I think this is an important part of the research, as I can learn to grow as a biochemist from experiencing failures and challenging myself with tough problems. Although it is always nice when experiments work, there is also a lot to learn from the mistakes as well.

Outside of lab, I have spent a lot of time enjoying the student life center here at Baylor. I am trying to enjoy more things on campus while I am here, and the SLC is a wonderful place to spend time. I have played basketball, gone to the gym, and enjoyed the facilities. I look forward to seeing what else there is to offer and fully enjoying my time on campus here at Baylor.

Next week, I plan to spend a lot of time in the lab working on my problems as well as enjoying the SLC more and seeing more of Baylor’s campus. The school has a bear exhibit where the mascot is housed, and I plan to make a trip to see the bears this week as well. Once again, the program has been an amazing learning experience thus far, and I look forward to all that might happen this next week!

Baylor Blog: Setbacks and Successes

Hello again from Baylor University!

It’s hard to believe it’s already week five of the REU program in chemistry! We just completed half of the program, and this week was filled with lots of research successes, setbacks, and other fun things outside the lab.

First off, this week was filled with many more hours in the lab. Last week, I mentioned I had performed my transformation and got bacteria colonies, so I was hoping that I had successfully made some mutations in the DnaB helicase of E.colli. This week was spent screening the colonies that grew for possible successes. We started by doing a genomic prep to purify the genomic DNA from each of the colonies we wanted to screen (I screened about six colonies from each of the six mutations] for a total of 36 colonies screened this week). We then amplified the EcDnaB gene in each of those genomes and finally digested the PCR product with restriction enzymes that should only cut the DNA if we had a successful mutation.

Although we were able to successfully amplify EcDnaB in all of the colonies, we were not able to get any restriction enzyme activity with any of the colonies. We aren’t really sure why this is happening since the literature quotes a 65 percent success rate in this procedure, so I’ll be spending week six working on an explanation. I plan to work mostly with our positive control this week. If I can get the positive control to work properly, then there should be no reason for my other mutations not to work. If that’s the case, I’ll simply repeat the procedure and screen more colonies. It could be the literature value isn’t correct and the mutation rate is much lower than 65 percent. If that’s the case, a larger population should help me get the desired mutations.

Outside the lab this week, we attended a Fourth of July celebration that the city of Waco and Baylor put on. This took place on Baylor’s campus, and thus we were able to walk over and enjoy the food trucks and watch the fireworks. We also spent Sunday cheering on the U.S. women’s national soccer team as they defeated Japan in a 5-2 victory in the FIFA World Cup. Although the focus of the REU is on research and developing future graduate students, it’s nice that we’re also afforded the opportunity to enjoy the Baylor campus and events put on by the city of Waco.

I look forward to week six and furthering my research. I will also spend this week working on a presentation that we all will give on our research at the conclusion of our time here. With the help of my PI, Dr. Trakselis, I am learning how to use new software to create interesting graphics that will serve as great visual aids on posters and presentations to come!

Higher vitamin D doses may be needed to restore healthy levels in overweight blacks

The current recommended minimum daily dose of vitamin D is not sufficient to restore healthy vitamin D levels in overweight or obese blacks, researchers report.

Rather, daily intake of more than three times the recommended minimum is needed to restore what is generally considered a healthy blood level of vitamin D, said Dr. Yanbin Dong, geneticist and cardiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

Overweight blacks are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency because darker skin absorbs less sunlight – the skin makes vitamin D in response to sun exposure – and fat tends to sequester vitamin D for no apparent purpose.

The study, published in the journal BioMed Central Obesity, looked at the effects of three levels of vitamin D supplementation in 70 overweight-to-obese blacks under age 50 living in the Southeastern United States who appeared healthy, although their circulating level of vitamin D was considered low.

The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 600 international units of vitamin D for most children and adults; 800 IUs for those age 70 and older. For adolescents and adults, they recommend 4,000 IUs as the upper daily limit; 2,000 was the previous upper limit.

In what appears to be the first randomized controlled study in this cohort, researchers found that 600 IUs did not restore what many experts consider the optimal blood level of vitamin D within 16 weeks.

However, both 2,000 and 4,000 IUs restored the desirable levels of 30 nanograms per milliliter to individuals with previous levels of less than 20 ng/mL, levels which put them at high risk for bone-weakening rickets and potentially other maladies.

The 4,000 upper-limit dose restored the healthy blood level quicker – by eight weeks – and was also better at suppressing parathyroid hormone, which works against vitamin D’s efforts to improve bone health by absorbing calcium, said Dong, the study’s corresponding author.

“We hope these studies will give physicians better guidelines for some of their patients,” said Dong.  “As with many therapies in medicine today, evidence is emerging that a more personalized approach is likely the best approach when determining how much vitamin D is optimal for an individual. Dose definitely matters.”

As an example, participants in the group he studied who had high parathyroid hormone levels likely should take 4,000 IUs daily while the remainder appear to achieve desired results with 2,000 IUs.

Although long known as a way to build strong bones and teeth, there is increasing evidence of vitamin D’s role in the cardiovascular and immune systems, kidneys, mental health, and more. It’s likely, as with high parathyroid hormone levels, patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease might benefit from higher doses, said Dong, noting that much work is needed to identify optimal dosing for specific conditions.

Although wide ranges of daily doses already have been studied and there are no known serious side effects, there is no point in people taking more than they should, even if it’s only to save money, Dong said. Also, correlations are emerging –  but no hard science yet – that at too-high doses, for example, vitamin D can go from being a cancer preventer to a cause, he said.

For the study, researchers gave all doses of vitamin D monthly rather than daily to help ensure that all participants were getting the correct doses. Giving this once-monthly version of even the maximum recommended daily dose was equivalent to spending an afternoon at the beach in a bathing suit, Dong said.

Dr. Jigar Bhagatwala, a research resident in the MCG Department of Medicine, is the study’s first author.  The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

Christmas in July: Research helps local nonprofit evaluate snowflake fundraiser

On Monday, June 29, students from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURS) Summer Scholars Program capped off their six weeks of work by presenting their research to a group of interested onlookers in the JSAC Ballroom before a dinner in their honor.

The program, which is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Dr. Carol Rychly, VP for Academic and Faculty Affairs, and Dr. Michael Diamond, Senior VP for Research, is unique because it provides undergraduate research opportunities for students in all areas, from Dr. Todd Hoffman’s group, which studied author Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Vineland” and its critique of neoliberalism, to Dr. Caterina Hernandez’s group, which looked at the effects of nerve agents on the brain.

Dejah
Dejah Johnson explains the research behind her work with Dr. Hernandez regarding the effects of nerve agent exposure on the brain

Hernandez, an assistant professor, was particularly excited about the impact the program had on her students.

“They got to do a ton and get their hands dirty, which is what it was all about,” she said. “Plus, I’m excited because they’re all coming back.”

While most of the research supported internal projects or were components of larger studies, Dr. Simon Medcalfe, Associate Professor of Finance and Director of the MBA program in the James M. Hull College of Business, directed his students in a project that was as much about community outreach as it was about learning research skills.

His group proposed to help the Augusta Training Shop understand the full cost of one of their most popular fundraisers.

Founded in 1947, the Augusta Training Shop is a nonprofit that employs adults with mental and physical disabilities. Known primarily for their furniture restoration, in 2012, Executive Director Audrey Murell built a fundraising program around decorative snowflakes made from the cane they were already using in their furniture repair.

IMG_3973
Snowflake assembly

In their first year of production, the snowflakes raised close to $25,000, but when wholesalers started looking to buy the snowflakes in bulk, Murell was unsure what kind of discount she would be able to give them, or even if such a strategy would be profitable.

We’ve had some big box stores express interest in us,” said Wendy Thoman, Executive Assistant at the Training Shop. “They wanted us to come down really low, but we’re just not sure whether we can do that or not.”

So after a friend of Medcalfe’s brought the project to his attention, Medcalfe decided to help them find out.

“I went down and talked to Audrey about the same time the CURS proposal came out, and I thought it would make a great project,” he said.

Medcalfe submitted his proposal, and it was one of 13 chosen for the summer session.

His students, two juniors and a senior, quickly went to work.

“As a group, we actually went down there and set up an assembly line where we could start them off with a certain amount of material in order to see how much they use to make each snowflake,” said Dantavious Whitaker. “From that, we came back and tried to calculate a direct cost for them.”

According to Thoman, the process was complicated by the fact that Training Shop employees make 63 different snowflakes.

To simplify things, the students chose to study three styles they felt were representative of the whole, then examined every part of the process. Along the way, they found themselves welcomed into the Training Shop family.

“The workers just love having people come in,” said Alisia Holsey, who handled the accounting portion of the study. “You really don’t understand until you go down there and actually see the work they do.”

Kelsey Smith agreed. “I thought it was a very rewarding process,” she said.

For Medcalfe, the opportunity offered a good lesson in the real-world challenges the students will eventually encounter in their careers.

“You can do all this in a classroom, but it’s entirely different when you actually go to a company and try to problem solve,” he said. “It’s completely different, and I think that’s something that this program has allowed this group of students to do.”

For the Training Shop, the information could have a major impact on how they plan for the future.

“What the students are doing is helping us figure out the cost, but they’re also helping us figure out what we might be able to do in the future,” Thoman said. “Just like with any organization, there comes a point with growth where you reach one level and the next step is a huge one. They’re helping us understand just where we are so we can make the best possible decisions moving forward.”