WVU Keeps Its R1 Status, 5 Projects to Keep an Eye On

This article was originally published by Her Campus.

West Virginia University continues to be ranked as an R1 institution, which means it is considered to be among the highest level of research activity. The amount a university spends on research, the size of its dedicated research staff and the number of doctoral students that graduate from the institution are all taken into consideration when ranking universities.

“West Virginians benefit every day from the extraordinary research being done at West Virginia University,” said Joyce McConnell to WVUToday. “Our faculty, staff and students are actively engaged in improving treatments and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, in addressing the nationwide opioid epidemic, in exploring our universe and in situation Appalachian arts and culture in the larger context of our nation’s history. Their work in all fields, from medicine to chemistry and psychology to philosophy, is positively impacting the lives of the people of our community, our state and our world.”

While WVU has countless research projects currently ongoing, here are five interesting ones to look out for.

1. Martina Caretta

Assistant Professor of Geography Martina Caretta is researching the connection between water and gender on a local and international level. In a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization report, she describes how water scarcity leads to migration. She also evaluated how water availability affects social stability and the number of jobs available for younger generations.

Caretta found that a half billion people face severe water scarcity year-round, while four billion people around the world face severe water scarcity for at least a month a year.

“Climate change is triggering migration, especially in areas of the world that are water-scarce,” Caretta told the Eberly College. “Water is a resource we cannot live without.”

Caretta is currently researching the response to the  2016 floods in southern West Virginia alongside Jamie Shinn, assistant professor of geography.

2. Justin Mathias and Nannette Raczka

Biology Ph.D. candidate Justin Mathias worked alongside Richard Thomas, chair and professor in the Department of Biology to link the Clean Air Act to red spruce recovery in the Appalachian region in a study funded by the National Science Foundation. He found that the combination of a declining air pollution with increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and warmer spring temperatures resulted in forest growth recovery.

“This is one of the few studies that documents the effect of elevated carbon dioxide on tree growth in a natural ecosystem,” Mathias told the Eberly College. “This research provides direct evidence of the efficacy of the Clean Air Act on forest ecosystems and reinforces that basic science can and should objectively inform environmental policy.”

Mathias received Smithsonian Center for Tropical Forest Science-ForestGEO funding for his research, alongside another biology Ph.D. candidate Nannette Raczka. She is researching the complexities of leaf litter, or the way leaves decompose to form a layer above the soil, using a technique called Quantitative Stable Isotope Probing to examine the way soil microbes process carbon from leaf litter.

“This is a new technique, but it’s really useful because we can measure the amount of leaf litter that’s incorporated into the microbial biomass,” she told the Eberly College. “This is really cool because it’s a critical step in understanding how carbon is stored in the soil and how it’s utilized from the inputs of the tree and the leaf litter to what stays in the soil or what is respired.”

3. Carsten Millsmann

Assistant Professor in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry Carsten Milsmann, who received the National Science Foundation’s prestigious CAREER Award, is developing cheaper and more efficient solar energy applications, alongside five WVU graduate students. Based on this research project, Milsmann hopes to work with artificial photosynthesis, or storing sunlight and transforming it into fuel.

“To me, the only real abundant energy source that we have that is renewable is the sun,” Milsmann told the Eberly College. “Fossil fuels are essentially sunlight that has been stored over millions of years via photosynthesis. I would like to be able to do the same thing as a chemist—harness and store the sun’s energy.”

4. Richard Goldberg

Richard Goldberg, director of the West Virginia University Cancer Institute, is researching ways to slow the progression of colorectal cancer. As part of an international team of researchers, Goldberg investigated a new drug combination for treating the cancer in patients who did not have success with traditional chemotherapy treatments. They tested the combination of a second-line treatment, called FOLFIRI, with another drug, called Regorafenib. In a double-blind study, the team found that “patients who received the drug combination tended to have a longer interruption of their cancer progression,” according to WVUToday. They also used varying degrees of Regorafenib, a drug whose side effects can be brutal, to see if it changed the side effects associated with the combination.

“I guess the 30,000-foot view on this is, when you get a new drug that shows activity, you try to look for ways of combining it with old drugs to exploit the value of it,” Goldberg told WVUToday. “You have to balance the benefit, in terms of slowing tumor progression and improving survival, with quality of life. And that often takes experimentation. That’s why we do studies like this.”

5. Amelia Adcock, Elizabeth Engler-Chiurazzi and Jessica Frey

Amelia Adcock, associate director of the WVU Stroke Center, Elizabeth Engler-Chiurazzi, a research assistant professor of neuroscience at WVU, and Jessica Frey, a WVU neurology resident, are researching ways to treat post-stroke depression, which stems from the cardiovascular changes in the brain and scientists are just now beginning to investigate. The researchers are investigating if using magnetic fields through a treatment called, transcranial magnetic stimulation, can help alleviate the depression.

“There’s not been a lot of attention paid to post-stroke depression in general,” Frey told WVUToday. “That’s kind of why we’re doing this study, because there’s not a lot of evidence for how you treat this.”

There are many, many more amazing and intriguing research projects happening at WVU. If interested, check out WVUToday.

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