Posts filed under ‘Research’

Penn State Health mentors cutting-edge student scientists

By Jennifer Vogelsong

Two teenage girls in a research lab look into microscopes. Both are wearing lab coats and gloves.

Science Research Institute participants Rachel Maurer, front, and Rachel Kesselring examine the shape and structure of mammalian cells under a microscope.

Rini Kaneria suspects that a peptide found in wasp venom could break down cancer cells.

Kyle Blimline wants to know if DNA extracted from maggots found on corpses could help identify crime victims.

And Rachel Maurer works as part of a team developing a way to use 3D printing and bioglass to create custom bandages and heal wounds faster.

These researchers aren’t employed by scientific laboratories, academic institutions or medical centers. They’re all teenagers who spend their days attending a rural public high school in Berks County.

Their work has drawn the attention of medical professionals at Penn State Health, financial support from cutting-edge companies and invitations to international science and engineering fairs.

Adelle Schade, a science teacher at Conrad Weiser High School in Robesonia, Pa., spent the past decade building a program now known as the Science Research Institute (SRI) that engages 130 students in scientific research of personal interest, some of which has patent potential.

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June 12, 2018 at 1:18 pm Leave a comment

College of Medicine grad student among young scientists chosen to meet Nobel laureates

By Carolyn Kimmel

A young man working in a medical research lab inserts liquid into a test tube. He is pushing a plunger with his thumb. The photo is shot at an angle. The man is wearing a lab coat and rubber gloves. Other lab equipment is on the table, and a door is behind him out of focus.

Robert Nwokonko performs research on calcium signaling in cells, which can help improve understanding of autoimmune diseases and diseases that compromise the immune system.

When he started his studies at Penn State College of Medicine, Robert Nwokonko never imagined his research would land him in the company of 43 Nobel laureates.

The fourth-year biomedical science graduate student from Downingtown, Pa., will travel to Lindau, Germany, for the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting from June 24-29. He will join 600 students, doctoral candidates and post-doctoral scholars under the age of 35 competitively selected for the rare chance to hear from some of the world’s most lauded scientists and researchers.

This year’s meeting is dedicated to physiology and medicine and will set two records—the most Nobel laureates ever assembled at a medicine meeting and the most diverse set of participants who represent 84 countries of origin, according to meeting organizers.

“To be among most of the living Nobel laureates and hear them talk about the future of research and their sciences—that’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Nwokonko, the first College of Medicine student to attend the event. “I was really excited and surprised when I found out I was chosen.”

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May 29, 2018 at 2:24 pm Leave a comment

From One Cancer to Another

By Katherine Brind’Amour

Man with beard looks through microscope. He wears a white lab coat with Penn State Hershey College of Medicine logo. In the background are test tubes and lab equipment.

David DeGraff examines tumor samples of bladder cancer.

In all of the ways you might think of fighting cancer, perhaps one of the last things on your mind would be to turn one type of cancer into another. After all, who wants to turn a tumor into…a different kind of tumor?

David DeGraff does.

As a 2018 recipient of the American Cancer Society’s Research Scholar Grant for nearly $800,000 over the next four years, DeGraff has big plans for his latest funding. Hear him discuss his findings in this video:

“If we understand what makes a given type of tumor tick, we may be able to force it to become another type of tumor—something that responds to therapy,” says DeGraff, assistant professor of pathology and surgery and a member of Penn State Cancer Institute.

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February 21, 2018 at 11:23 am Leave a comment

‘Four Diamonds is absolutely instrumental for testing novel ideas’

FourDiamonds_Logos1

Four Diamonds support brings new pediatric cancer researchers to Penn State College of Medicine

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s THON Weekend is Feb. 19-21. Students will dance for 46-hours to support pediatric cancer patients. To date, $127 million has been raised and donated to Four Diamonds, a foundation that supports the families of pediatric patients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and the cancer research done here. For more information on THON, or to watch the activities live, visit THON.org. For more information on Four Diamonds, visit FourDiamonds.org.

Their journeys started halfway around the world, but their shared passion for uncovering the causes of pediatric cancer brought them to Penn State College of Medicine. Dr. Wei Li is originally from Peking, China, and Dr. Vladimir Spiegelman is originally from Moscow. Now both are in Hershey, through funding from Four Diamonds, working to understand how pediatric cancers develop in the hopes of discovering new lifesaving therapies.

Dr. Li, assistant professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, came from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Dr. Spiegelman, Pan Hellenic Dance Marathon Endowed Chair in Pediatric Oncology and professor in the Department of Pediatrics, was most recently at University of Wisconsin.

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February 16, 2016 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Innovative social media program designed to keep HIV-affected individuals healthy

Dr. John Zurlo

Dr. John Zurlo

Dr. John Zurlo saw his first AIDS patients during his internal medicine residency training in 1984.

The mysterious new disease robbed patients of their ability to fight off infections. They developed an aggressive form of an unusual skin cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma. Their mouths and throats were covered with oral thrush. They suffered from unusual forms of pneumonia and meningitis and often developed dementia.

Back then, “almost everybody died from AIDS,” says the physician, who went on to train in infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Zurlo came to Penn State Hershey Medical Center in 1990 and became director of the HIV/AIDS program later that decade. Today, as director of the infectious diseases training program, he still spends much of his time providing care to those with HIV – the virus that leads to AIDS.

AIDS drugs, known as antiretroviral therapy, first came on to the market in 1987. Within the next 10 years they became miracle drugs. Today, thanks to advancements in the drugs and better understanding of the disease, people with HIV who take their medications can control their infections and live full lives without ever developing AIDS. Some of these drugs can now be used as pre-exposure prophylaxis, and can help protect people who are at high risk of contracting HIV. These drugs are highly effective in preventing HIV infection. If you know someone suffering Herpes or any STDs check this article https://healthyusa.co/herpes-blitz-protocol-review/ about blitz protocol on healthy usa to learn how to eliminate herpes or fight infections.

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November 30, 2015 at 10:41 am 1 comment

Mentorship and Funding Award Supports Up-and-Coming Researchers

For researchers early in their careers, it’s not just funding that matters—mentorship is also critical for success.

Dan Morgan

Dan Morgan

Dr. Dan Morgan has been studying cannabinoid signaling in the brain. Dr. Greg Lewis recently developed simulation software for fracture surgeries. Dr. Joslyn Kirby investigated bundled payments for management of a skin condition. These three Penn State College of Medicine doctors received guidance from senior researchers, along with $200,000 to fund their research, through the College’s Junior Faculty Research Scholar Awards program.

The program, launched in 2011, provides support to early-stage investigators in basic, clinical, and translational science research.

“It’s a way for us to jump start the research programs and career development of researchers here,” says program co-director Dr. Sarah Bronson, who is also director of Research Development and Interdisciplinary Research and co-director of the Junior Faculty Development Program. “We put equal weight on funding the scholar’s research program and recognizing a career and development plan that is going to make that research program happen.”

Joselyn Kirby

Joslyn Kirby

To that end, applicants don’t just propose the research they want to do. They also submit mentorship “dream team”—at least three experienced investigators who will provide advice and assistance in developing and executing a research proposal and a career development plan. The mentoring team meets with the scholar a minimum of once every six months.

Each scholar’s award is named to honor the contributions of senior investigators at Penn State Hershey who made a difference through their own research and through the mentoring of colleagues and trainees.

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October 14, 2015 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Physician of the Year honor caps off 40-year career of serving hemophilia patients

Dr. Elaine Eyster

Dr. Elaine Eyster

When Elaine Eyster traveled to Dallas in mid-August to receive the National Hemophilia Foundation’s 2015 Physician of the Year award, she was more impressed by those in attendance than the plaque she received.

Many there had survived the HIV epidemic. Others had been cured of their Hepatitis C infections.

“Earlier in my career most would have been in wheelchairs or walking around on crutches,” she said. “Because of the availability of good treatment, they are leading active, productive lives.”

When Eyster was in medical school, half of the boys born with a severe form of hemophilia died before their 19th birthday. Those who survived were destined to spend most of their lives on crutches or in wheelchairs as a result of joint and muscle damage from repeated bleeding episodes.

Eyster has spent more than four decades conducting research, caring for patients, working on teams, mentoring others and providing leadership to bring such changes about. That is why the executive committee of the Mid Atlantic Region III Federally funded Hemophilia Treatment Centers and the Hemophilia Center of Central PA in Hershey nominated her for the award.

James Ballard, professor of humanities, medicine and pathology at Penn State Hershey, was hired by Eyster 40 years ago as the institution’s second hematology fellow.

“She was my mentor, and we have had a long period of collaboration,” he said. “She is an incredibly talented person who has great scientific skills and is a great problem solver.”

He has seen Eyster care for hundreds of patients with hemophilia and advocate for their well-being on a regional and national level.

“She has been a friend and doctor to many, and I think she has reached a point in her career where it is obvious to everyone that she has made significant contributions scientifically and in terms of patient care and advocacy.”

Eyster’s early research focused on the HIV epidemic in the hemophilia population. In 1982, when three people with hemophilia who had been heavily transfused with blood clotting factors developed an immune disorder similar to those described in gay men, her team was in a unique position to investigate this mysterious illness.

She had saved samples of plasma because she was interested in the transmission of hepatitis by clotting factors.

“At that time, we didn’t know anything about what caused AIDS or how it was transmitted,” she said. Those samples played a key role in helping to explain how HIV infections were transmitted and how the immune deficiency progressed after an individual became infected.

Similar research conducted later with her collaborators at the NIH addressed the transmission and the outcomes of the hepatitis C virus infections that were acquired  by  almost all people with hemophilia who had received clotting factor concentrates during the 1970s and 80s, before effective donor screening and viral inactivation methods were developed.

“Hepatitis B was a big problem for people with hemophilia, so I was saving the samples because I thought there would be more to learn and I wanted to be prepared by having materials to study it,” she said. “Or – as my late husband would say – because I never threw anything away.”

Eyster was also instrumental in getting state funding to establish The Hemophilia Center of Central PA, which has grown over the years to serve about 450 active patients who now receive comprehensive hemophilia care at Penn State Hershey.

She hopes the future will bring development of replacement blood clotting factors that remain active for weeks rather than days for people with hemophilia– and that can be given subcutaneously rather than intravenously to prevent and treat bleeding.

Eyster also would like to see researchers find a way to prevent the body from attacking and destroying the transfused clotting factors – or develop an effective gene therapy that will allow people with hemophilia to produce their own clotting factors.

Although she no longer works full time, Eyster gets excited when she talks about the staff at the hemophilia center.

“It’s so gratifying to have such a great team of people to work with and to see what we can accomplish,” she said. “It has been a most rewarding experience to get to know so many families and to help care for so many wonderful people.”

-Jen Vogelsong

September 16, 2015 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

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