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ETSU faculty member receives two awards for research

JOHNSON CITY (February 7, 2012) – Her research into how plants make lipids has earned Dr. Aruna Kilaru, a faculty member at East Tennessee State University, two prestigious awards.

Kilaru, a plant biochemist, received the Arthur C. Neish Young Investigator Award from the Phytochemical Society of North America (PSNA) in recognition of “excellence in research in phytochemistry.” In addition, the society gave her a U.S. National Science Foundation-sponsored travel award that allowed her to present her research findings at an international meeting.

According to Kilaru, lipids (fats or oils), a primary component of cell membranes, also act as storage reserves in various plant tissues. The fleshy parts of avocado fruits, as an example, contain 60-70 percent oil. While the majority of lipids are processed and stored in seeds, she is interested in how oils are produced outside of the seeds.

Kilaru is in her first year as an assistant professor in ETSU’s Department of Biological Sciences and teaches biochemistry. She came to the university last fall from Michigan State University.

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ETSU senior researches history of Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute

JOHNSON CITY (January 27, 2012) – Decades ago it was a bustling hospital that was almost a town within itself, but Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute (SWVMHI) in Marion is now a shadow of what it once was. An undergraduate student at East Tennessee State University is doing her part to see that the voices who know its history are not lost to time.

Sarah Hoover, a Jonesborough native who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, has collected oral histories of employees who worked at the institute. Her work is a key component of an ongoing project by two faculty members in the ETSU Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr. Anthony Cavender and Dr. Melissa Schrift, who are researching its history.

Hoover displayed her research findings in a poster last year during the Appalachian Student Research Forum, and she will present more of her work to the Tennessee General Assembly in February in Nashville. Her faculty collaborator on the project is Schrift.

“We wanted to collect as many oral histories as possible to add to the knowledge we have about perceptions of mental illness in the Appalachian region,” Hoover said. “Through the personal accounts of employees, we were also able to get an idea of whether the culture of the institute reflected the culture of the region. It really was a community within a community.”

Cavender said that when he began his investigation of SWVMHI, there was a paucity of study on the subject of whether there was a cultural influence to how mentally ill patients were treated in Virginia. The institute was founded in 1887 as the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, and that year through 1935 has been the focus for him and Schrift.

“There wasn’t much information on the perceptions of mental illness in the Appalachian region in those years,” Cavender said, “and we knew that researching the institute would give us a good understanding. We’ve gotten access to years of case histories, and they’ve given us a wealth of information.”

And some of it is fascinating. Schrift cited one example.

“Every patient admitted up through 1940 was given a laxative,” Schrift said. “That tied into the thinking back then that mental illness developed through an accumulation of toxins in the body, and they needed to be purged.”

The oral histories that Hoover collected were from employees who worked at the institute from the 1950s to the present. There was a nationwide movement toward deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in the 1940s and ’50s, and the Marion location felt the effects. Care for the mentally ill there has since been collapsed into a smaller group of buildings compared to the original, stately facility, and a separate area for criminally insane patients is not operated by the SWVMHI.

The treatment that early patients received there, Cavender said, was in line with the universal treatment regimens followed throughout the nation. Cavender and Schrift generally attribute that to Dr. Robert Preston, the second superintendent of the institute who was very much a progressive in the field.

Hoover was also interested to learn what general perception residents of Marion had of the SWVMHI, and she got her answer: There was definitely a sense of pride in the facility, even affection. Most employees at the institute were from the area. Schrift and Cavender even pointed out that people who lived in Marion would casually mention that a friend or relative needed to stay at the SWVMHI for a time, and they generally attached no stigma to that whatsoever.

“The institute was a great source of pride for Marion, and people who worked there and lived there were protective of it,” Hoover said. “The people who worked there almost became like family.”

Hoover first got involved in the Southwest Virginia Mental Health Institute through a student-faculty collaborative grant awarded to her and Schrift by the ETSU Honors College in the spring of 2010. She was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program later that summer and continued on to participate in the McNair Academic Internship through March 2011, which funded the rest of her involvement in the research project.

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ETSU senior studying possible factors that may lead to childhood obesity

JOHNSON CITY (January 20, 2012) - Vince Carroll is still an undergraduate student, but his faculty mentors describe his research work at East Tennessee State University as “pioneering.”

A psychology major in ETSU’s Honors College, Carroll, of Chattanooga, is a senior in the University Honors Scholars Program and is currently writing his honors thesis. His research study examines the relationship between maternal feeding style and infant weight as well as the potential roles of temperament and parenting style when the child is 18 months old.

Research into the issue of childhood and adolescent obesity is widespread. Carroll’s study, however, is among the first to address this issue by focusing on infants starting at the age of 18 months.

Carroll provided an example of how temperament or child characteristics and parental behaviors may interplay. “What we’ve observed is that often times when a child becomes fussy, the mother assumes it is because of hunger so she feeds the child. But what if the infant wasn’t really hungry?”

Food may become a “soothing” factor, Carroll explains, and this unhealthy eating style may continue into childhood and beyond, possibly leading to obesity.

Carroll is analyzing data collected from the Program for the Study of Infancy, which is housed within the ETSU Department of Psychology under the direction of Dr. Wallace Dixon, one of Carroll’s faculty mentors. Mothers who participated in the research completed three surveys when their infants were 18 months old. These assessments included the Infant Feeding Questionnaire (IFQ), the Early Childhood Behavior Questionnaire (ECBQ), and the Parental Authority Questionnaire (PAQ).

“The child’s temperament is an important element of this study,” Carroll said. “The child could be fussy for a reason other than hunger. Misinterpreting the cues as hunger could be detrimental to healthy development.”

Another factor to be considered, Dixon explained, is the parenting style.

“Some parents are authoritative, while others are more permissive or indifferent, so there will be differences in how they will respond to a child who appears to be fussy.”

Dr. William Dalton, an assistant professor of Psychology who also is mentoring Carroll on this study, says that in light of soaring pediatric obesity rates, prevention and intervention strategies during infancy and toddlerhood are in urgent need.

“We are examining potential risk behaviors for the development of obesity by looking at temperaments and parenting styles and how feeding may come into play,” he said. “This study may facilitate further research that may one day become groundwork for a possible new intervention model.

“Vince has done outstanding work and we are very proud of him.”

Carroll will continue analyzing his findings as he writes his thesis and prepares to present his work to members of the Tennessee General Assembly this spring when he and other ETSU students participate in “Posters at the State Capitol Day” along with other undergraduate researchers across the state.

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Department of Family Medicine shares in $8.3 million grant for substance abuse intervention

JOHNSON CITY (Posted Dec. 16, 2011) – The Department of Family Medicine at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine is sharing in a federal grant of $8.3 million to institute a program intended to curb substance abuse through early detection and intervention.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health (TDMH) is managing the grant, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The ETSU Department of Family Medicine will implement the evidence-based, multi-faceted practice known as “screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment” (SBIRT) in the department’s three Tri-Cities practice sites where family medicine residents train.

ETSU will receive $1.7 million in funding over five years, with Meharry Medical School and Nashville-based Centerstone Research Institute sharing in the grant as partners. The program is designed to allow access to more comprehensive substance abuse screening and referrals to treatment for people at higher risk.

The program will be installed first at ETSU Family Physicians of Bristol, followed by family medicine clinics in Johnson City and Kingsport in successive years. The project will also provide community-based SBIRT services for members of the Tennessee National Guard, identified by TDMH as a population at high risk for alcohol misuse and abuse.

“We’re excited to participate in a project that addresses current patient needs, while also addressing the need for better physician training in behavioral health,” said Dr. Michael Floyd, a professor and clinical psychologist in the Department of Family Medicine and principal investigator for ETSU on the grant. “This shines a light on an area of patient care that hasn’t received enough attention, so we applaud the Department of Mental Health for choosing this proactive approach.

“Putting substance abuse intervention more clearly on the front burner in the primary care setting should make a difference in reducing the problem across our region and state. And through collaboration with our residency programs, SBIRT practices will be more ingrained in the next generation of family medicine physicians at ETSU and internal medicine physicians at Meharry.”

Tennessee was one of nine states awarded the SBIRT grant, which is partly supported by the Affordable Care Act.

“Tennessee’s current continuum of care lacks the ability to identify patients using substances at risky levels and provide services that reduce and prevent related health consequences, accidents and injuries,” said Doug Varney, commissioner of TDMH. “Partnering with ETSU and Meharry will bring focus to risky use and preventable harm and costs at the population level.”

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Dr. Yue Zou receives grant to study disease that causes premature aging in children

JOHNSON CITY (Posted Dec. 6, 2011) – A scientist at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine who is noted for his explorations of how the body repairs damaged DNA has received a research grant to study new treatment strategies for progeria, a genetic disorder that causes premature aging in children.

Dr. Yue Zou, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Quillen, received the grant from the Progeria Research Foundation. The organization awarded Zou $100,000 in extramural funding over two years.

Progeria is a rare condition that has no known treatment. Those who suffer from it usually die during their teens.

Zou’s primary research focus is the physiological mechanisms and pathways that lead to repair of damaged DNA. If the damaged DNA goes unrepaired, mutations are likely to occur via error-prone replication, which is the catalyst of many cancers. In the study of progeria, Zou’s lab, in collaboration with Dr. Phillip Musich from the ETSU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, will seek to define the molecular basis of replication abnormality and genetic instability in Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS) cells.

Through an understanding of why the process of DNA repair is defective in those cells, researchers could better discern why progeria develops and discover treatments for the disease. Zou is highly regarded for his work in the field, and he has received extramural grant support from a variety of sources, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. He received ETSU’s Distinguished Faculty Award for Research in 2009.

“Progeria is a devastating genetic disorder, so we’re hopeful our work will lead to new treatments,” Zou said. “The things we learn from our study of this disease could also help with our research on DNA repair and cancer.”

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Dr. Marc Fagelson presents research on blast-induced tinnitus

JOHNSON CITY (Posted Dec. 5, 2011) – A professor of audiology at East Tennessee State University who has explored the connection between tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among U.S. military veterans recently presented his research findings at a conference held by the United States Department of Defense (DoD).

Dr. Marc Fagelson, the director of ETSU’s audiology program, works with veterans at the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in a clinic that specializes in management of bothersome tinnitus, a condition where a person hears a sound – often characterized as a “buzzing” or “ringing” – that has no apparent external cause. He was one of only 12 researchers to present at the “International State-of-the-Science Meeting on Blast-Induced Tinnitus,” held recently by the DoD in Chantilly, Va.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are the most common injuries in military veterans returning from battle in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in most cases, the injuries are blast-related, according to the DoD. Fagelson’s work with veterans handicapped by their tinnitus has led to several publications, as well as national and international presentations. A class he created on the condition makes ETSU one of the nation’s few universities to offer a course devoted to tinnitus as well as hands-on clinical training experiences.

Fagelson said tinnitus is particularly vexing for those who suffer from it because it is a genuine perception with no external cause, no simple cure, and most patients believe they cannot control the sound. The sounds reported by those who endure the condition range widely in persistence and volume and are characterized as everything from a “pulse” to a “whoosh” to an insect-like “chirping,” Fagelson said.

“This unusual situation also provokes or worsens psychological problems that many of these patients experience,” said Fagelson, assistant chair of the ETSU Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, which is housed in the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences.

Fagelson opened the Quillen VAMC Tinnitus Clinic in 2001, and it now serves more than 800 patients. Early on in his 10 years of working with veterans there, he observed that tinnitus affected some patients more acutely than others, and there was often a common denominator associated with that group: PTSD.

“I began to notice there was a group of patients that was more bothered than others by the condition,” Fagelson said. “They expressed difficulty tolerating many routinely-experienced sounds, sounds that do not bother most people; they startled easily, and when they did, they noticed that the tinnitus sound became more bothersome. On the whole, they tended to have more difficulty coping with tinnitus.”

Fagelson’s research revealed that tinnitus symptoms are more severe in patients with PTSD when compared to those who do not have PTSD. He also determined that a patient’s confidence in his or her ability to manage tinnitus successfully was lower in those who have PTSD.

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, Fagelson said that doesn’t mean there is no help available for those who cope with it.

“While there is no simple cure,” Fagelson said, “we offer management strategies and coping skills that can make it easier to live with the condition. Even though the tinnitus doesn’t go away, most patients can learn to manage the condition more effectively.”

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Groundbreaking cardiac research began with ETSU professor Dr. Race Kao

JOHNSON CITY (Nov. 15, 2011) — A newly released research study by University of Louisville scientists is being hailed by some as groundbreaking for its potential to restore or reverse damaged tissue to the human heart, and the genesis of that research got its start with Dr. Race Kao, a renowned researcher at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine.

Scientists at the University of Louisville used cardiac stem cells taken from patients with heart failure to grow new cells, which were then infused into the patient’s heart in hopes of regenerating heart muscle and improving cardiac function. Their results, reported in The Lancet and presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, were so successful that some scientists are hailing it as a potential medical breakthrough.

Kao, a professor in the ETSU Department of Surgery and the holder of the Carroll H. Long Chair of Excellence for Surgical Research at Quillen, made the first advances in the field more than 20 years ago. He published the first paper in 1989 on a surgical technique called cellular cardiomyoplasty, and he wrote a book on the subject in 1997, Cellular Cardiomyoplasty: Myocardial Repair with Cell Implantation. In 2001, he instructed physicians in China on the procedure, in which stem cells grown from a patient’s leg muscle tissue were injected into that same patient’s injured heart. That study, too, had encouraging results.

He remembers fondly those early studies and is heartened about the new developments.

“In the early days, you could fit all the researchers in the field into a phone booth,” Kao said Monday from his office at the Department of Surgery. “Now everybody’s doing stem cell research. It’s exciting.”

Kao moved onto new research interests when the implantation of stem cells into the heart reached the human clinical trial phase. He is now searching for new treatments that could better sustain the hearts of victim who suffer trauma-hemorrhage. That study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“About 40 to 50 percent of people who suffer unintentional injury through trauma, such as from car accidents, natural disasters or the battlefield, quite often will die because we can’t sustain their heart function, which is pumping blood to all vital organs,” Kao said. “We need treatments that will sustain better heart function until they can be transported to a hospital where they can receive proper treatment.”

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Dr. Cecilia McIntosh receives $369,000 National Science Foundation grant

JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 31, 2011) — The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant of more than $369,000 to Dr. Cecilia McIntosh, the dean of East Tennessee State University’s School of Graduate Studies and a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, for her research in plant biochemistry.

This grant funds research related to an earlier NSF grant that ended in 2010. “The ETSU Research Development Committee’s ‘in-house’ grant program allowed us to make additional progress that helped make the new, larger NSF proposal more competitive when reviewed for funding,” McIntosh says.

Her current research into enzymes found in grapefruits includes many years spent developing a suitable grapefruit clone to give her reliable results. She will complete a characterization of the clones to determine the reactions of each enzyme produced by the fruit. In addition, she will look at when the enzymes in all the various tissues of the grapefruit become active and at what point during the plant’s growth.

Finally, she will do a mutational analysis, changing the amino acids in proteins to learn how enzymes function. As custom-made enzymes become more common, this study will assist in their future production.

Another important component of her work is the involvement of undergraduate and graduate students. “One major mission of the NSF is mentoring and training the next generation of scientists,” McIntosh notes. “Currently I have two master’s degree students, Deborah Hayford of Ghana and Anye Wamucho of Cameroon, who will assist with the study. This gives them valuable experience in preparation for their careers.” The new grant will support an undergraduate research student, another master’s student, and a postdoctoral researcher.

Each year, McIntosh takes students to the annual Phytochemical Society in North America conference to provide them with an opportunity to present their research at a professional gathering of plant biochemists. “This year,” she says, “the conference will be held in Hawaii in celebration of the organization’s 50th year.” During the conference, McIntosh, now president-elect of the group, will be installed as president.

For further information, contact McIntosh at (423) 439-6147 or

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ETSU receives 'Research Experience for Undergraduates' grant from NSF

JOHNSON CITY (September 14, 2011) — The National Science Foundation recently awarded a grant to Dr. Rebecca Pyles, dean of East Tennessee State University’s Honors College and a faculty member in the Department of Biological Sciences.

The grant supports Research Experience for Undergraduates, a program that provides intensive summer research experiences for six undergraduate students during the summers of 2012-2014. The program includes a broad set of projects designed to investigate the development of vertebrate animals. Students will work individually as well as in groups with faculty members to cultivate their research skills, such as project design, responsible conduct of research, and a wide variety of laboratory techniques, in addition to collaboration and communication skills.

The grant is also a collaborative effort of faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences, located on the main ETSU campus, and the departments of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Physiology, and Pharmacology, all part of the James H. Quillen College of Medicine.

In addition to Pyles, participating faculty include Drs. James Stewart, Tom Ecay, Dennis Defoe, Donald Hoover and Theresa Harrison.

Further information may be found at:

For more information, contact Pyles at (423) 439-6076 or

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ETSU researcher helps students battle weight gain with ‘BUCS: Live Well’

JOHNSON CITY (Sept. 2, 2011) – So many of the benefits that students enjoy in the transition to campus life – perks commonly including a sense of freedom, intellectual challenges, college sports and, of course, midnight pizza – are often accompanied with an unwanted specter: the Freshman 15.

A researcher in East Tennessee State University’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences is enrolling students in a study that could help stave off the unwanted freshman bulge – be it 15 pounds, a little less or a little more.

The program is called “BUCS: Live Well,” which Dr. Michelle Lee designed to encourage healthy eating and exercise habits. Lee is an associate professor of nutrition in the ETSU Department of Allied Health Sciences. Her study is funded by the ETSU Research Development Committee’s major grants program.

“You see that phenomenon often with freshmen,” Lee said. “They’re adjusting to something new, trying to balance class time and study with a social life, and many end up not eating as well as they should, and they don’t allot time for exercise. Or they arrive on campus with good attitudes about diet and activity, then get overwhelmed by the adjustment of living away from home for the first time. That can lead to weight gain.

“We think ‘BUCS: Live Well’ could help counteract a problem common on campuses across the nation.”

The foundation of the 12-week program is a series of podcasts on such topics as “Do I Really Need Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements?”; “Drinking Your Calories”; “Workout Nutrition”; “Eating Out Survival Guide”; “Sticker Shock”; “What’s In Your Grocery Cart?”; and “The Good, Bad and Ugly of Dieting: What Really Works.”

Participants will also turn in weekly physical activity records, keep a log of their food intake and, optionally, meet with an ETSU dietitian for individual nutrition counseling. Upon completion of the program, participants will receive a $25 stipend.


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Dr. Cecilia McIntosh receives a university grant for her research involving the properties of compounds found in grapefruit

JOHNSON CITY (September 1, 2011) — Dr. Cecilia McIntosh, the dean of East Tennessee State University’s School of Graduate Studies and a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has received a grant from the university’s Research Development Committee to continue her research in plant biochemistry.

Using grapefruit for her study, McIntosh investigates plant compounds called secondary metabolites and their roles in plant life cycles as well as in human health and nutrition.

A major emphasis area concerns the regulation of enzymes called glucosyltransferases (GTs). Of the more than 400 possible secondary product GTs identified from plant genome projects, less than 10 percent have been functionally characterized, and two of these have been characterized in the lab of McIntosh and her collaborators.

“Grapefruit plants are a rich source of unique GT enzymes and afford an opportunity to expand our knowledge in the field,” McIntosh explains.

Her current research will test whether grapefruit clones actually produce secondary product GTs, specifically flavonoid GTs, and if they have properties that could make them subject to regulation at the biochemical level.

Flavonoids are a group of chemicals produced by plants and involved in flower color, fruit color, and some fruit flavors. Research in the field has suggested the significant effects of flavonoids on human physiology.

For further information, contact McIntosh at (423) 439-4221 or


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Study at ETSU could lead to new treatment for speech disorders
related to cleft palate

JOHNSON CITY (July 22, 2011) – Dr. Nancy Scherer, dean of East Tennessee State University’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, is conducting a groundbreaking study that could lead to new treatments for speech disorders in young children with cleft palate.

Scherer, a speech pathologist, is internationally renowned for her expertise in the field. New participants in her study are currently being enrolled in Johnson City and Knoxville. Scherer also has a particular interest in helping children who have been adopted internationally, as they may have a later start to their treatment. Children from the Knoxville area who are accepted into the study will be seen by Scherer at the University of Tennessee Hearing and Speech Center in Knoxville.

The currently accepted treatment therapies for children with cleft lip and cleft palate do not address both language and speech at the same time – but this study, being conducted at ETSU and Vanderbilt University, could change that.

The study is funded by a $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. ETSU is conducting the study with Vanderbilt’s Kennedy Center, also widely regarded as one of the nation’s preeminent destinations for language study.K

Scherer and her colleagues will simultaneously address the speech and language development of children ages 1 to 3 years after they have had their palates surgically repaired. The current model for intervention, Scherer said, isn’t always effective at preventing the emergence of speech problems before they begin to interfere with communication.

The study will compare treatment that synchronizes intervention in speech and language delays with the more traditional treatment. Scherer hopes this new clinical approach will prove more effective at normalizing speech development before speech deficits become ingrained.

“This is the first early speech intervention to target prevention of speech disorders in children with cleft palate,” said Scherer, the study’s principal investigator. “The speech-language intervention will target speech sounds and vocabulary simultaneously when the children are really young. The results so far show that intervening with language and speech at the same time results in faster speech acquisition and fewer speech problems associated with the cleft.”

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Quillen endocrinologist to study strength training as means of reducing diabetes risk

JOHNSON CITY (July 13, 2011) – An endocrinologist at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine has received research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and ETSU to study exercise training in people with pre-diabetes.

Dr. Charles Stuart, a professor with the ETSU Department of Internal Medicine, has focused his clinical research on identifying ways to prevent type 2 diabetes. Through an ETSU Research Development Committee grant and the renewal of an NIH grant, Stuart will study whether intensive, extended strength training can improve insulin action in people at risk for developing diabetes.

He is conducting the study with ETSU colleagues that include Dr. Mike Stone, who has worked with Olympic athletes on strength training. Stone is the exercise and sports science laboratory director in the university’s Department of Kinesiology, Leisure, and Sport Science.

This study of strength training and its relation to insulin levels is not the first for Stuart. A previous study of more limited duration showed fitness improved but there was little effect on insulin action. This time, Stuart and Stone have devised a 16-week training regimen that doubles the time frame from the previous study.

“We hope that we’ll be able to push these people to better insulin responsiveness by putting them on a more intensive, extended training schedule,” Stuart said. “What we hope to suggest is that people at risk for diabetes can still get where they need to go with strength training – but it just takes a little longer to get there.”

Weight loss will reduce a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes, but this study is meant to evaluate the beneficial effect of exercise on insulin resistance minus that variable. Stuart said he and his colleagues will closely monitor weight levels to ensure these remain constant until the study is complete. As obesity has increased in the United States, so has the disease. In the past two decades, the prevalence of obesity in adults has doubled. In that same time, there has been a 50 percent increase in diabetes.

“Weight loss will reduce insulin resistance – there’s no doubt about that,” Stuart said. “We hope to prove that the right exercise training schedule can help independent of weight loss.”

Stuart said Stone’s collaboration is an invaluable component of the study.

“To have Mike here at ETSU is an incredible resource,” Stuart said. “This study could not have been done without his help. He’s written the textbooks on strength training.”

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Dr. Jay Franklin excavates prehistoric sites in France with help from university grant

JOHNSON CITY (July 5, 2011) — Dr. Jay Franklin, East Tennessee State University’s anthropology program coordinator, has received a grant from the university’s Research Development Committee (RDC) to continue researching prehistoric tool-making in France.

Franklin’s areas of interest include prehistoric archaeology of the Southeastern United States; “karst,” or caves and rock shelters; archaeology of the Southern Appalachians; stone tool technologies; material culture; and the European Paleolithic era.

Franklin focuses on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee and the Haute-Loire region of France, exploring the ways prehistoric peoples used these highland regions. He says, “Contrary to folk wisdom, highland areas were not cultural backwaters but rather vibrant culture areas in their own right.”

In his current project, Franklin will analyze Gravettian stone tools from a cave — La Grotte XVI — and at La Ferrassie in Dordogne in southwestern France. He is also excavating new sites in the Haute-Loire with Frédéric Surmely as part of an international exchange between ETSU and Université Baise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand.

Gravettian is the term for a European Upper Paleolithic Ice Age archaeological culture existing 22,000-32,000 years ago.

All Upper Paleolithic (anatomically human) cultures made and used blade stone tools. These tools are flint objects that are at least twice as long as they are wide and have razor-sharp edges. Flint blades made during the Gravettian time are more refined and have greater variety than those of the preceding Aurignacian era.

During the Gravettian, successive migrations into Europe from the East probably brought about some changes in tool-making. While a number of scholars believe the truncated elements found in Gravettian tools are merely broken and recycled blade projectile points, Franklin’s research will explore the hypothesis that the truncated elements were intentionally created. He believes the blade tools were snapped at both ends and retouched or re-shaped along the broken edges and one lateral edge. These “elements” were then placed into the shafts of spears immediately below the actual projectile point, creating a composite projectile technology. These improvements created a more effective and violent hunting technology allowing Gravettian hunters to inflict more physical damage to their prey.

By comparing morphological features such as form and thickness of both truncated elements and Gravette points, Franklin hopes to lend support to the hypotheses that truncated elements were deliberately produced formal tool types and part of a composite hunting technology and not merely recycled tools.

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Summer research fellowships awarded to Barker, Haynes

JOHNSON CITY (June 16, 2011) – Research fellowships awarded to two East Tennessee State University faculty members will allow one to spend the summer traveling through Europe gathering information for a new film book, and help another in possibly unraveling a legendary mathematics mystery that has puzzled scientists for some 50 years.

Dr. Jennifer Barker and Dr. Teresa Haynes are the 2011 recipients of the Summer Research Fellowship in Arts and Sciences, funded by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Administration and presented annually to one or two faculty members in the college. The fellowships provide up to $7,500 to support specific research projects.

Barker, an assistant professor of Literature and Language and director of the Film Studies Program, will visit archival sites in Paris, Berlin, London, and Bloomington, Ind., where she will collect research for a manuscript now in progress.

The manuscript is for her upcoming book, Radical Projection: The Aesthetics of Antifascist Film, currently under contract with Routledge Press. Barker said the book will explore film depictions of antifascism, which opposed the fascist-type philosophy of an authoritative, anti-democratic government.

“I’ll be looking at pictures dating back to the 1930s and 1940s when there was a large presence of German and Jewish directors in Hollywood, but also moving forward through the years looking at some 21st -century films and studying current ideals about government that resemble those antifascist beliefs,” Barker said.

“Getting to visit these national archival sites is a phenomenal opportunity and a great boost for my work.”

Meanwhile, Haynes will spend the summer trying to solve a widely-believed theory in mathematics that has yet to be proven.

According to Haynes, “conjectures” are educated guesses that are based on current information of how things appear to “work.” If proven, they become theorems, or mathematical truths. In established fields of mathematics, such as geometry and algebra, there are many theorems, but in the emerging area of graph theory, many beliefs remain as conjectures.

One that has baffled mathematicians for years is the Murty-Simon Conjecture.

“Graph theory looks at the relationships between different points on a graph, and it is the basis for many types of networks and systems,” said Haynes, a professor of Mathematics. “Obviously, in these systems, a goal is for information to be passed as quickly as possible between points of the graph modeling an underlying network.

“The Murty-Simon Conjecture is related to the problem of ‘distance in graphs.’”

But proving the Murty-Simon Conjecture is something researchers have been trying to do since the 1960s. The summer fellowship will allow Haynes to collaborate with two internationally-known mathematicians – Dr. Michael Henning from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and Dr. Anders Yeo from the University of London – along with Dr. Lucas van der Merwe, an ETSU graduate and current mathematics faculty member at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

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Chen to use university grant to investigate Mongolia’s prehistoric past

Dr. Ke Chen of the Department of Geosciences has received a grant from ETSU’s Research Development Committee (RDC) to continue her study of the Altai Mountains in western Mongolia.

Chen’s research interests center around the application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to human geography. GIS can collect, store, manage, analyze and present spatial data, and it has been used by Chen in many research settings, including urban economic clusters, capital investment, housing prices and even tree diseases.

In her current project, Chen will rely on GIS in the archeological study of rock art in the Altai Mountains. Her research is part of a larger study led by Dr. Richard Kortum of the Department of Philosophy and Humanities and Dr. William Fitzhugh, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Arctic Studies Center. The two men received a $210,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities to study the many petroglyph images and man-made features located in their chosen area of Mongolia.

Kortum discovered the site in 2004, when he encountered fanciful images of animals, humans, wheeled vehicles, and strange anthropomorphic figures on a glacier-smoothed granite boulder the size of a house. In the area were 3,000-year-old Bronze Age burial mounds, stone circles and squares, enormous standing stones, and carved stone men from the Turkic era, some 1,400 years ago.

Chen will create a set of interactive three-dimensional maps of the archeological sites and analyze the spatial and temporal orientation of archeological features.

Chen’s GIS investigation will reveal far more than the exact location of each feature. She explains, "The understanding of how early cultures interacted with their physical environment to create sacred places is of immense importance to the study of world cultural history.

"Our foremost problem is to establish a reliable chronology in conjunction with GIS analysis of spatial organization. This will likely confirm a religious or cosmological component. Social, economic and political structures and patterns of activity are deduced from each feature’s size, quantity, style, content, technique and tools. Locations within the landscape of burials, deer stones and deer imagery will further illuminate social, ceremonial, and belief practices of Bronze Age and early Iron Age societies."

Chen’s project includes several major steps. First will be a field survey using the Trimble Global Positioning System (GPS) to record the physical and cultural landscape at the site. Next, the GPS coordinates will be integrated with satellite photos of the study area. A variety of types of maps will be created, along with a geodatabase for all cultural features, and a relational model will follow with the image index, coordinates and elevations for each area of interest. Other activities include an analysis of the space-time patterns of images and stone features in GIS. Correlations will be sought in many categories, such as elevation, cultural period, motif and directional orientation.

Champney studying new drug that could fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria

A professor of Biochemistry in the James H. Quillen College of Medicine has received a research grant to study the effectiveness of a new antibiotic that could treat infectious bacteria more effectively, including those that have developed drug resistance.

Dr. Scott Champney is the principal investigator for the study and will oversee testing of the drug CEM-101, which is still in the experimental stages. The $75,000 grant is sponsored by Cempra Pharmaceuticals, based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Champney, interim chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is an authority on how antibiotics attack and kill bacteria. He said CEM-101 was developed as an alternative to common antibiotics as scientists searched for new ways to battle infectious cells that have developed defenses against commonly prescribed medicines.

"The continuous increase in antibiotic-resistant pathogens – such as MRSA – is a serious threat to human health," said Champney, referring to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. "Developing new, more effective antibiotics is crucial to dealing with that threat."

Champney’s laboratory will study a particular trait of CEM-101 that could differentiate it from other treatments. Antibiotics typically bind to the ribosome of bacteria and prevent it from making new proteins, effectively killing the cell by prohibiting growth. This new drug is designed to interfere earlier in the molecular process, at the assembly point of ribosome.

"The intent of this drug is to stop the building of the ribosome in the first place," Champney said. "That could make it a more potent treatment. If the testing bears out and it receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration, it could be an antibiotic capable of being administered at lower dosage levels and for a shorter period of time."

Nauli receives RDC grant to pursue breakthrough in lipid physiology

JOHNSON CITY (June 16, 2011) – A researcher in East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health has received an ETSU Research Development Committee (RDC) grant as he strives to achieve what many of his peers consider improbable or even impossible: reproduce in the laboratory human dietary fat particles that may contribute to a host of diseases.

Dr. Andy Nauli, an assistant professor in the ETSU Department of Health Sciences, will advance his studies of fat absorption in the intestine through aid of the RDC Major Grant Program.

Nauli said the scarcity of worldwide labs conducting similar research is one reason large fat particles have not been created artificially. Only four or five big labs are intensively studying fat absorption in the intestine, he said. Another reason is that the complexity of the small intestine – with its undulating, uneven surface affecting the creation and growth of fat particles – makes it difficult to recreate those conditions in artificial mediums. His peers also assert that feeding particles enough lipids to classify them as large fat particles kills them off before success can be declared.

Nauli admits the challenge is daunting. But he was successful enough in previous attempts as a postdoctoral research associate at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., to be convinced his ETSU lab will yield a breakthrough. Nauli earned his doctorate in lipid physiology from the University of Cincinnati.

“A lot of the challenge in this study is convincing my peers that it can be done,” Nauli said. “But my theory is that it can be. This research field basically gets stopped right there, with the inability to create large fat particles.”

As for the hurdle of fattening up the particles without killing the cells, Nauli said his lab will use what is essentially a biochemical detergent to counteract what amounts to “fat poisoning.”

Nauli said a better understanding of how our dietary fats are processed in the small intestine could lead to novel approaches to reduce the incidence of obesity, a major contributor to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. He especially wants to determine if dietary fats could be burned as energy by muscle tissues instead of being stored as body fat by fat tissues. Particles created in the lab would make for purer research experiments that are free of variables in the body such as hormones and age.

“Creating large fat particles could play a big role in improving research in this field,” Nauli said. “Even with the problems of obesity in our society, we don’t really know for sure the role the intestine plays in its development.”

RDC awards boost ETSU research efforts

JOHNSON CITY (June 15, 2011) – A total of over $242,000 has been awarded to faculty members at East Tennessee State University from the Research Development Committee (RDC) to support major projects for the 2011-2012 year.

The RDC is coordinated by the ETSU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Administration and is responsible for awarding intramural research dollars to faculty. In addition, the RDC anticipates funding as many as 25 additional proposals during the upcoming academic year through the small grants program.

“Historically, RDC grants have proven to be vital in furthering the university’s research efforts,” said Dr. David Hurley, committee chairman and professor/vice-chair of pharmaceutical sciences at the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. “For faculty, especially those new to the research process, these grants offer ‘seed money’ that helps them launch specific projects and collect data that can be used as a basis for larger, extramural grants.

“But for others who already have received extramural support in the past, the awards may serve as bridge money when a particular grant has ended and a new one isn’t immediately funded. In these situations, the research continues moving forward between grant cycles, and that is especially crucial during these times when obtaining federal research dollars is increasingly competitive.”

A listing of the 2011-2012 RDC major grant and interdisciplinary award recipients can be found at

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Quillen endocrinologist receives grant for diabetes program at JCDC

JOHNSON CITY (June 6, 2011) – A professor of internal medicine at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine has received a grant from the Tennessee Department of Health for two new programs aimed at preventing the incidence of type 2 diabetes among people especially at risk for the disease.

Dr. Charles Stuart, a board-certified endocrinologist at Quillen, is directing the new programs for patients at the Johnson City Downtown Clinic (JCDC), which treats more than 300 people with diabetes. Managed by the ETSU College of Nursing, the JCDC offers primary health care services to all patients, including those who are underserved, underinsured or uninsured.

Through the aid of $224,000 in grant funding from the state, Stuart has launched a primary prevention program intended for the non-diabetic family members of persons who are being treated at the clinic for the disease. That program focuses on teaching patients proper nutrition and sustainable regular exercise.

To address secondary prevention, the grant will enable the clinic to expand staff and capacity and provide focused care and follow-up of patients being treated for diabetes, with a goal of preventing the associated cardiovascular complications that can result. Stuart has volunteered his time at the JCDC in a weekly diabetes clinic the past two years.

“What we’re trying to do is prevent type 2 diabetes from developing in people who don’t yet have the disease, but are at risk because of family history,” said Stuart, the principal investigator. “This will also make a difference in terms of secondary prevention for people who have diabetes and are receiving care from us. We’ll be able to follow them more closely and improve the care we offer to manage diabetes.”

ETSU co-investigators are Dr. Mike Stone, a professor of Kinesiology, Leisure and Sport Sciences; Dr. Michelle Lee, an assistant professor of nutrition and foods in Allied Health Sciences; and Dr. Patti Vanhook, associate dean from the College of Nursing. All partnered in the design and implementation of the primary prevention program, in which participants meet each week in the ETSU/Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center for coordinated exercise and nutrition education.

“The more closely-related family members you have with diabetes, the more likely you are to develop it, and if you add obesity into the equation you’re at very high risk,” Stuart said. “Exercise and weight management are your best shot. Previous large clinical trial research shows there’s at least a 58 percent decrease in diabetes incidence for people who engage in regular exercise. And that can be as simple as walking 30 minutes a day, five times a week.”

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Public Health receives NIH grant to curb obesity among young people

JOHNSON CITY (June 3, 2011) – East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health has received notice that the National Institutes of Health will fund an innovative research project aimed at curbing obesity among young people.

The highly interdisciplinary grant will use Public Health students at the university as facilitators in a peer-based health education program for area high school students. The NIH grant falls under the R-01 classification and is funded at $978,000 for three years. The R-01 category is a highly competitive form of investigator-initiated research grants.

The ETSU students will facilitate group sessions that, over the course of several weeks, will promote supportive peer relationships and positive attitudes in regard to healthy eating habits and physical activity.

The research project is the culmination of the life’s work of the late Dr. Tiejian Wu, a widely admired associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology and the Department of Family Medicine in the James H. Quillen College of Medicine. Wu, who was known by many colleagues simply as “TJ,” designed the research project and guided it through the grant submission process. He passed away earlier this year after a long battle with cancer.

Dr. Deborah Slawson, an assistant professor of Community Health, has assumed the role of lead investigator.

“This award honors TJ’s efforts,” Slawson said. “We miss him, and it is exciting to be part of the team that will push this forward so we can help realize his vision.”

Slawson said employing college students as the lead ambassadors should increase the effectiveness of the message in high schools.

“Our students will emphasize the importance of eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle,” Slawson said.

The project will draw together ETSU faculty members from across the campus, including co-investigator Dr. Karen Schetzina, a pediatrician from the Quillen College of Medicine. Others engaged in the research include Dr. Mary Ann Littleton and Dr. Michael Stoots, faculty from Community Health; Dr. Diana Mozen, an associate professor of physical education; Dr. Will Dalton, assistant professor of psychology; and Bruce Behringer, associate vice president and executive director for ETSU’s Office of Rural and Community Health and Community Partnerships.

Dr. Liang Wang, a former doctoral student in Public Health who has since graduated, and Dr. Michael Floyd, a licensed psychologist from the Quillen College of Medicine, were also instrumental in developing the proposal.

Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of Public Health, noted that obesity is not only a national health threat, but also a particular concern in Tennessee. The Volunteer State is ranked 48th among U.S. states for its percentage of residents considered obese.

“There are some data that suggest that childhood obesity in Northeast Tennessee is even worse than the state average,” Wykoff said. “Dealing with this problem is a major emphasis for our college, and I am proud that this grant will allow us to both address this challenge and, at the same time, honor TJ’s legacy.”

Wykoff said Wu’s research serves as a lasting reminder of his positive influence at ETSU.

“Even though TJ is no longer with us, we’re excited that his work could make a difference for years to come,” Wykoff said. “And because this is such a collaborative project – one that includes partnerships between ETSU and area high schools, as well as teamwork among faculty from throughout our university – it does reflect his spirit. TJ was the kind of person who naturally brought people together.”

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ARC awards ETSU $293,000 grant to work with
community groups battling substance abuse

JOHNSON CITY ( Posted May 18, 2011) – East Tennessee State University has received a grant of $293,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to work with coalitions of community groups battling substance abuse throughout rural Appalachia.

ETSU’s Office of Rural and Community Health and Community Partnerships (ORCHCP) will manage the grant, which will be used to fund mini-grants and technical assistance for about 30 community groups in the Appalachian region concerned about substance abuse. The program is designed to assist groups from counties that are the most economically distressed.

“Almost 200 mostly rural counties in the Appalachian region from New York to Mississippi have been designated as distressed or at-risk due to economic conditions,” said Eric Stockton, Health Programs Manager for ARC. “High substance abuse rates just seem to make a poor economic condition worse, so ARC has prioritized those counties’ substance abuse coalitions as eligible to apply for small grants.”

Stockton said ETSU’s Office of Rural and Community Health and Community Partnerships was selected to manage the program, called the Competition for Community Based Substance Abuse Initiatives, because of its previous success at managing a similar grant sponsored by ARC and the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy in 2006.

“We are excited to partner with ARC again on a program that can help community groups solve the scourge of substance abuse,” said Bruce Behringer, ETSU Associate Vice President and Executive Director for the ORCHCP. “We’re of the belief that no one group or organization is responsible for or can solve a community’s substance abuse problems. Our previous work tells us that involving leaders from many stakeholder groups in a broad coalition is the most effective way to solve a community’s substance problems.”

ARC and ORCHCP will use a competitive process to select 30 community groups. Each will receive grants of $5,000, support and professional expertise and technical assistance by ETSU staff, as well as education at two training conferences for coalition members. Each grant applicant will design an intervention plan that is tailored to the needs of its community, Behringer said.

“Some will focus on prevention activities within their own communities; some will focus on strengthening the relationships between different groups; others will put together aggressive substance abuse awareness campaigns,” Behringer said. “Applicants will be responsible for devising their own plans because they’re most familiar with their needs.”

Behringer said abuse of non-medical use of pain relievers has skyrocketed in particular across the Appalachian portions of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland in recent years.

The Louisville Courier Journal recently published a comprehensive report on prescription drug abuse that noted this: More people died in Kentucky from prescription drug overdoses than traffic accidents in 2009,” Behringer said. “We have to be diligent and proactive to turn around statistics like that.”

Duckworth earns NEH grant for research in Tibet

JOHNSON CITY (May 2, 2011) – Dr. Douglas Duckworth, a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Humanities, has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Award of $6,000 to travel to Tibet and complete his latest book.

Duckworth’s book, Jamgön Mipam: His Life and Teachings, concerns the life, works and cultural world of Mipam (1846-1912), one of the most prolific and important authors in the recent history of Tibet. Mipam is an influential figure in the Nyingma school of Buddhism. His writings fill 30 volumes and are part of the curriculum in monastic colleges in India, Nepal and on the Tibetan plateau.

In 2008, Duckworth published his first book, Mipam on Buddha-Nature: The Ground of the Nyingma Tradition, a work aimed at scholars. In his new book, he hopes to present a broader scope of information for a wider audience, giving non-specialists access to careful scholarship in Tibetan cultural and literary studies.

Dr. Deling Yin receives NIH grant for immune system study

JOHNSON CITY (Posted April 29, 2011) – A researcher at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine has received grant funding from the National Institutes of Health to continue his search for new medical treatments that would stop damage that stress and drug abuse can cause to the body’s immune system.

Dr. Deling Yin, an associate professor in the ETSU Department of Internal Medicine, has dedicated a number of years to studying how physical and psychological stress – as well as drug abuse of opioids such as heroin and morphine – can affect the immune system. The effects are harmful enough, Yin said, to increase the chances of a person contracting certain diseases.

“If you experience stress and/or abuse drugs, your body’s immune system will be suppressed – we know that,” Yin said. “And if a person suffers from opioid abuse and you put that together with stress, it can intensify the effects. This is a significant public health issue, because suppression of the immune system reduces your body’s ability to fight off diseases. In particular, it can leave a person more at risk for contracting diseases such as cancer and AIDS.”

Yin’s grant amount is $500,000, and NIH has now funded his research on stress and drug abuse-related immune suppression 10 consecutive years.

Studies at Quillen have already yielded promising developments, Yin said. Research in the ETSU lab and others has shown that a genetic protein – called Beta-arrestin 2 – may be the key molecular factor in stress-related immune suppression. It is also responsible for sending multiple signals to the human body in assisting with physiological function, and one of those signals causes cell death. Beta-arrestin 2 also can contribute to opioid addition, which can lead to cell death.

Yin is focused on a way to block Beta-arrestin 2, which could be the turning point in his research. Other ETSU co-investigators on the grant are Dr. Gene LeSage and Dr. Hui Li from the Department of Internal Medicine, and Dr. Gregory Hanley from the Division of Laboratory Animal Resources.

“If we’re able to block that protein, it could prevent opioid abuse and stress-related immune suppression,” Yin said. “Our research could lead to novel therapies and strategies that could make a real difference in public health.”

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Trailblazing scientist earns international recognition for life-long research

JOHNSON CITY (Jan. 25, 2011) – The respect for Dr. Priscilla Wyrick and her contributions to scientific advancement keeps rippling outward, now beyond the eastern shore, across the Atlantic and on to Europe.

Wyrick, who is chair of the Department of Microbiology at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine, is one of the university’s most renowned faculty members. She was honored two years ago as one of the 2009 Notable Women of ETSU. The National Institutes of Health has acknowledged the value of her work through 30 continuous years of NIH funding to support her research.

And recently, one of the leading research universities in Europe, the University of Zürich in Switzerland, recognized Wyrick’s work by presenting her with an honorary doctorate.

“I was totally stunned and startled, but I was very, very honored,” Wyrick said. “It does mean quite a lot to me, to be recognized by someplace else, especially a prestigious European university, for what you’ve done. It’s humbling.”

The University of Zürich bestowed Wyrick with an honorary doctorate in veterinary medicine for being at the forefront of research breakthroughs in chlamydia, a sexually-transmitted disease. Wyrick is internationally known for her investigations of chlamydial/host cell interactions in women, but her research is recognized by her peers in Zürich for its interdisciplinary applications regarding chlamydial diseases in animals as well.

Wyrick was a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when she developed a polarized orientation model that led to the discovery of how chlamydiae were able to enter epithelial cells. It turned out to be a watershed moment for research advancement in the field.

Wyrick retired from UNC in 2000 to become department chair at Quillen. Not only is UNC where she first made her mark in the research world, but it is also Wyrick’s alma mater. The undergraduate degree she earned at that school and her honorary doctorate bear similarities, even though they are separated by about five decades and cross continents.

In both instances, forces worked against Wyrick receiving her diplomas. Fifty years back, it was men who didn’t like the fact she was a woman. In this most recent case, in Zürich, she was up against a volcano.

Wyrick was slated to receive her doctorate from the University of Zürich in April 2010, but the volcanic eruption in Iceland that polluted the skies with ash grounded her flight. It was not until early November that Wyrick actually traveled to Zürich as a guest of the university, where she was given an honorary doctoral degree during a special ceremony that also included a lecture presentation by her.

The honorary doctorate hangs on her office wall at Quillen, where Wyrick can speak as vividly about her earliest academic achievements as she can her latest. As for the earliest, she was among the first women accepted at UNC in 1958, the year the Chapel Hill school began to dissolve barriers that kept female students out.

Wyrick, then a medical technology student, remembers French class, where a professor allowed her to come to class only to submit homework and take exams; she was not allowed to physically be in class with her male classmates. Another professor, in chemistry, looked at his female students on the first day of class and told them, “You women don’t belong here.” His edict: No matter how hard they worked, no matter how much they excelled, he would never award any woman a grade higher than C.

“It just made me mad. I just put my head down and said, ‘Son, I’ll show you,’” Wyrick said. “All you have to do to get me to do something is tell me I can’t do it.”

Wyrick went on to obtain her Ph.D. in the Department of Microbiology at UNC-Chapel Hill. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill in London, Wyrick was the first woman invited to return to UNC-Chapel Hill to become a faculty member in microbiology. She has since gone on to publish 94 peer-review manuscripts, eight book chapters and two books.

The University of Zürich honored Wyrick for her continuous outstanding achievements in chlamydia research, but Professor Andreas Pospischil said her accomplishments in a male-dominated field should not be overlooked. Pospischil, director of the Institute of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Zürich, nominated Wyrick for the doctorate and presented the argument for it to faculty. They voted unanimously in favor, he said.

“I cited Pris Wyrick’s continuous outstanding achievements over decades in chlamydia research and her research career from laboratory technician to full professor with special reference to gender aspects in times when science and research were male-dominated – these questions are still very important for European universities and not adequately solved,” Pospischil said. “Also, we considered her qualities as a teacher and motivator/promoter of young academicians regardless of their medical or veterinary training to pursue a research career.

“And we also considered Pris Wyrick as a person: open-minded, free of prejudice, helpful and inspiring.”

Dr. Philip Bagnell, dean of the Quillen College of Medicine, certainly agrees with Pospischil’s assessment.

“It is wonderful to see Pris and the significance of her life’s work be acknowledged with this prestigious international recognition,” Bagnell said. “She has excelled as a scientist and as an educator and mentor of young scientists and medical students. She has also been an inspiration and source of wise counsel for many of us; our lives at Quillen have been richer because of her.”

Wyrick, who continues to push ahead with her research focus and mentor young microbiology students at Quillen, considers the ceremony in Zürich one of the high points in her career.

“It was a special day,” Wyrick said. “I’ve been fortunate. I swam upstream sometimes, but I’ve always tried to maintain a positive attitude.”

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Dr. Tammy Ozment-Skelton receives
prestigious AHA grant

Researcher studies effect of molecular protein
in sepsis syndrome, septic shock

JOHNSON CITY (Feb. 3, 2011) – A researcher at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine who is studying a molecular protein key to the ravaging effects of sepsis syndrome and septic shock has received a prestigious grant award from the American Heart Association (AHA) that is reserved for promising young scientists.

Dr. Tammy Ozment-Skelton, an assistant professor in the ETSU Department of Surgery’s Division of Surgical Research, is the recipient of an AHA Scientist Development Grant, a program created by the association to support the work of scientists who show great potential early in their careers. Ozment-Skelton is only the third Quillen researcher ever to receive the grant, which has a funding amount of $280,000 for four years.

Support from the Scientist Development Grant will advance Ozment-Skelton’s studies of a cell surface receptor called macrophage class A scavenger receptor (SR-A), which is most notable for its role in atherosclerosis, a cardiovascular condition that can cause coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

In cases of atherosclerosis, SR-A contributes to the buildup of bad cholesterol that results in arterial plaque formation, Ozment-Skelton said, and it also plays a detrimental role in sepsis syndrome and septic shock by amplifying the body’s inflammatory response. She found in studies at Quillen that SR-A affects morbidity and mortality in mice suffering from the disease – which is believed to be a new discovery in the role of SR-A in the innate immune response.

Sepsis syndrome can develop in critically ill patients and cause multiple organ failure. It kills more than 200,000 patients annually in the United States alone.

“There’s no hard and fast treatment that solves the problem, and the disease process is a highly complex one that can have devastating effects,” Ozment-Skelton said. “Around 750,000 patients in the U.S. develop sepsis syndrome each year, and 215,000 of them will die – that’s a mortality rate of 29 percent. So our goal is to not only understand the role of SR-A, but also to explore new treatment options that can improve outcomes or perhaps even prevent the disease from developing.”

Ozment-Skelton was formerly on a career track as a veterinarian. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and practiced eight years as a vet in Northeast Tennessee, but even in the earliest years of veterinary practice, she was already feeling drawn toward research in the field of innate immunity. She resumed her academic studies and graduated from ETSU with a doctorate in biomedical sciences in 2006, and then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Quillen in 2009.

“I felt I could be of more use in the research community than in practicing as a vet,” Ozment-Skelton said. “Here, I’m part of a team where we’re working on global problems and searching for solutions that could potentially result in new and better treatment options for many people. I’m grateful to the AHA for supporting our work, because we’re hopeful these studies will someday make a difference in patient outcomes.”  

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Study: Small, rural hospital efficiency:  Researchers find such hospitals usually operate more efficiently than larger counterparts


JOHNSON CITY (Jan. 13, 2011) – A researcher at East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health measuring the technical efficiency, or operating efficiency, of nonprofit hospitals has found that smaller hospitals in rural settings have an edge over larger ones.

Dr. Chul-Young Roh, an associate professor in the ETSU Department of Health Services Administration, concluded that not only size but also location are significant variables in determining whether nonprofit hospitals are likely to operate efficiently. Roh’s research paper was published in a recent issue of the journal Public Performance & Management Review. His co-authors are Drs. M. Jae Moon of Yonsei University and Changhoon Jung of Inha University, both in South Korea.

The researchers determined that large, nonprofit hospitals generally operate more efficiently when located in urban areas. Even though hospitals with larger numbers of beds should realize economy of scale, the reverse actually proved true in rural settings: As bed counts go up, efficiency typically goes down. Roh said that small, community hospitals generally are more efficient than their counterparts of medium and especially large size. A hospital’s number of acute care beds were used to categorize its size.

“It might be valuable for the leadership of larger nonprofits to look at the management style and efficiency of smaller hospitals and use that for their benchmarking,” Roh said. “All around the country it’s a challenging time for hospitals in general, with rising health care costs, rising competition and a shortage of health care professionals in some areas. Also, developments in technology have made it possible for some complex procedures to take place in an outpatient setting instead of in the hospital.”

Employing a well-regarded research analysis tool called data envelopment analyses, Roh used a wide range of variables to assess technical efficiency. Some of those variables were the number of inpatient days, the number of full-time physicians and other employees, the number of hospital beds, the number of outpatient visits and outpatient surgeries, the amount of charity care provided and a hospital’s current assets – a key diagnostic measure of a hospital’s financial health.

“We found that large, urban hospitals often had an advantage in technical efficiency over rural hospitals because of demographics and competition,” Roh said. “Urban hospitals often have to operate in more competitive markets, and it forces them to be more efficient.”

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Research project ETSU Women Firsts yields roadmap illustrating rich history


JOHNSON CITY (Jan. 7, 2011) – A research project celebrating the history of women at East Tennessee State University includes so many notable “firsts” that a reader could spend hours investigating the stories behind the people and their achievements.

As familiar as Dr. Karen Cajka is with ETSU Women Firsts: 1912-present, she still relishes that trip down memory lane. Cajka is director of the ETSU Women’s Studies program, which is promoting the research project in conjunction with the university’s centennial. Women’s Studies is housed in the Department of Literature and Language, where Cajka is an associate professor of English.

“It gives you a roadmap of the history of women at ETSU, with a number of markers along the way,” Cajka said. “Reading it gives me a real sense of pride for the accomplishments of women at the university.”

ETSU Women Firsts starts with a watershed historical marker: the first eight women who earned diploma degrees in 1912 from what was then East Tennessee State Normal School. That was the name of the university when it opened Oct. 2, 1911, and ETSU is recognizing its 100-year history with a variety of events and activities through October of this year. The research was conducted by Sheryl Lewis and Allison Morris, who were students in the ETSU Department of Communication.

Cajka considers it a fascinating exercise to ponder what campus and academic life was like for those first students and graduates.

“The first women who came to this school were pioneers,” Cajka said. “There were traditions and certain societal norms they had to follow. Someone who chose that path would also have to be fearless, too, because they were stepping into a world that was unfamiliar to most women of that time.”

The first women to earn degrees from many ETSU colleges and programs are included, as well as achievements such as the first alumna to practice law in the county and state courts of Tennessee, the first woman to be elected Student Government Association president and the year women first qualified as regular ROTC students. ETSU Women Firsts can be found at under the Highlights tab.

Repeat visits to ETSU Women Firsts could yield a list that grows during the university’s centennial year.

“I consider this something of a living list, because there are other accomplishments and experiences worth adding,” Cajka said. “I’m interested in hearing from other women who went to ETSU. Who was the first woman to live in a co-ed dorm, for example? Who are the first women who worked in an ETSU science lab? There are so many women who have stories to tell – what are their stories?”

For more information about ETSU Women Firsts: 1912-present or the Women’s Studies program, send mail to:

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ETSU researcher studying effects of concussions on high school and collegiate athletes


JOHNSON CITY (October 20, 2010) – East Tennessee State University is one of seven universities nationwide participating in a research study evaluating the cognitive performance of high school and collegiate athletes who have recently sustained a concussion.

Dr. R.J. Elbin, an assistant professor of kinesiology, leisure and sport science in the Claudius G. Clemmer College of Education, is leading ETSU’s involvement in the study.

“Concussions are hidden injuries and very often go unreported,” he said, “but the truth remains that they can have serious consequences that may result in prolonged post-concussion symptoms and even death in rare cases.”

Elbin is currently evaluating athletes participating in football, soccer, and volleyball at three local high schools who have sustained a concussion during practice or a game. His review includes a balance test as well as a computerized cognitive assessment. He is also looking at the incidence of depression among players who’ve been sidelined due to a concussion.

In general, studies have shown that recovery time from a concussion is longer for the high school athlete than a collegiate athlete or adult, which is why Elbin says it is important that the younger athlete is managed more conservatively, as they are at high risk for “catastrophic consequences” if returned to play too soon.

“The worst thing an athlete can do after being diagnosed with a concussion is to immediately go back on the field,” he said. “These athletes often feel pressured and want to ‘play through pain,’ and may not even realize they have been injured.”

Elbin said that while many believe that a loss of consciousness must have occurred in order for a person to have a concussion, less than 10 percent of patients with a concussion actually experience that.

The bottom line: when it comes to managing concussions, the saying “when in doubt, sit them out,” is good advice for coaches and medical professionals.

“Sports medicine experts are more aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion and are being especially conservative when one has been suspected,” he said. “There are also new rules that officials and coaches must adhere by. For example, in some states, if an athlete sustains a concussion, the player cannot return to play.”

Elbin joined the ETSU faculty this fall after completing a Ph.D. degree at Michigan State University. His area of expertise is in factors related to risk of concussion and issues surrounding the cognitive recovery following concussion in athletes. 

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ETSU gets $6.8 million grant for new clinic


JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 11, 2010) – During a news conference this morning, officials from East Tennessee State University’s College of Nursing and the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences announced that a $6.8 million grant has been secured from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to build a new comprehensive health care facility that will house the Johnson City Downtown Clinic (JCDC) as well as other allied health services. These include speech-language pathology, audiology, nutrition, physical therapy, radiography and dental hygiene.

Groundbreaking for the 22,000-square-foot clinic is anticipated to take place in fall 2010.

The JCDC, which is managed by the College of Nursing and a Community Health Center Governing Board, provides primary, prenatal and behavioral care and outreach services to many underserved and at-risk populations, including those with no health care insurance.

“One of the greatest challenges the Johnson City Downtown Clinic has been facing for quite some time has been inadequate space,” said Dr. Wendy Nehring, ETSU dean of Nursing. “This has been a serious issue almost since the first day we moved into our current clinic, and it is one that has been mirrored by a dramatic rise in the number of patients turning to us for care. In fact, we are continuing to set records for the number of monthly client encounters.”

During the past five years, the clinic has reported some 38,350 patient visits.

The new facility will be located on N. State of Franklin Road across from Johnson City Medical Center. Another federal grant recently awarded to the College of Nursing will allow the JCDC and two other nurse-managed clinics to offer extended weekday and weekend hours, a move expected to reduce the number of patients who visit the emergency room for non-emergent needs.

The center will be more than just a new home for the Johnson City Downtown Clinic. With the expanded space, the university will bring other patient care and teaching services to this facility, according to ETSU Dean of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences Dr. Nancy Scherer.

“Throughout the history of the allied health college, we’ve never had an opportunity to train students together in one central location,” Scherer said. “We will continue utilizing our facilities on the ETSU and VA campuses and at the Nave Center in Elizabethton, but now we are in the position to expand, particularly in the scope of our current patient care for the ETSU Dental Hygiene Clinic and the Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic.”

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Family Medicine receives $1.2 million grant to expand AppNET


JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 5, 2010) – A professor of family medicine at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine has received a $1.2 million federal grant to help improve the quality of health care through expansion of the Appalachian Research Network (AppNET).

The $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Academic Administrative Units program will fund a five-year health care improvement project that will emphasize cultural competency, health literacy and health disparities in rural underserved areas. Dr. Fred Tudiver, who is Director of Primary Care Research in the ETSU Department of Family Medicine, is the principal investigator and project director.

“Primary care providers in Appalachia and other rural areas in the United States address nearly all aspects of patient care,” Tudiver said. “One way to improve health status is to train primary care physicians in skills needed to complete quality improvement projects, enabling them to evaluate and improve quality of care through the development of new evidence-based protocols and interventions.”

AppNET is the only active Practice Based Research Network in Appalachia. Established in 2009 by the ETSU Department of Family Medicine, AppNET is a collaborative network of academic researchers and community-based health care practitioners, most of whom serve as part-time faculty with the department. The network’s mission is to conduct and support practice-based research to improve the quality of rural primary care delivered in the region and work toward the goal of eliminating health disparities of the people of South-Central Appalachia.

Activities during the grant period will include developing and implementing a quality improvement (QI) curriculum, including peer mentoring, for community-based faculty physicians who are members of AppNET; hiring practice enhancement assistants to train physicians and staff and assist them in conducting QI projects; establishing an AppNET Quality Improvement Steering Committee; and establishing elective experiences for third-year medical students and establishing medical student preceptor sites for QI projects across the network.

The project will enable AppNET to partner with the Quillen College of Medicine to serve as a regional resource for testing interventions in South-Central Appalachia. Tudiver said the project could bear results that resonate beyond AppNET.

“The knowledge gained from these efforts will be directly applicable not only to this region, but also to other areas of the country,” Tudiver said. “The QI curriculum for community-based faculty can serve as a model for others to follow in designing similar programs beyond our region.”

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Nursing receives $1.4 million federal grant to offer extended hours at three clinics


JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 4, 2010) – East Tennessee State University’s College of Nursing has received a $1.4 million federal grant that will allow three clinics managed by the college – in Johnson City, Mountain City and Hancock County – to offer extended hours on weekdays and add weekend hours so patients will have increased access to primary health care.

The university received the grant from a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) program, “Affordable Care Act: Nurse-Managed Clinics.” The ETSU College of Nursing will apply the grant to the Johnson City Downtown Clinic (JCDC), the Mountain City Extended Hours Health Center and the Hancock County School-Based Health Centers, three of the nine clinics in the college’s Faculty Practice Network.

“This is great news for our clinics and the patients who rely on them for primary health care,” said Dr. Patti Vanhook, associate dean for Practice and Community Partnerships and principal investigator for the grant. “We’ve received abundant feedback from patients who said they need health care after normal business hours, so we applied for this grant with those folks in mind.

“We expect to see a significant increase in our patient numbers because we’re expanding access.”

The College of Nursing’s oldest clinic and its flagship clinic, the JCDC, will institute evening hours within the month and Saturday morning hours as well. The Mountain City clinic will also add more evening hours, and the Hancock County clinics will begin opening on weekends during the second year of the three-year grant. All of the Faculty Practice Network clinics deliver primary health care for historically underserved populations, serving a wide spectrum of patients that include those with TennCare, the underinsured and the uninsured on a sliding fee scale.

Vanhook estimates the three clinics will see a 35 percent increase in patient encounters over the life of the grant. The JCDC, for example, had 38,350 patient visits last year, and expanded hours would increase volume by more than 13,000 visits in three years. This will enable the College of Nursing to hire additional nurse practitioners, a faculty nurse practitioner, registered nurses and administrative staff.

Dr. Wendy Nehring, dean of the College of Nursing, said the HRSA grant will not only offer patients increased access but also provide more training opportunities for students enrolled in other ETSU Division of Health Sciences programs.

“The most important aspect of this grant is our increased ability to meet the unmet needs of patients – that will be an immediate benefit that will improve their lives immensely,” Nehring said. “The long-term benefit is that we can expand the depth and breadth of clinical training experiences for our nursing students, as well as those opportunities for allied health, behavioral health, pharmacy, public health, social work and medical students. All will have better access to valuable training that will make them better professionals who will help improve the health of our region over the long term.”

Vanhook said after-hours availability of primary care will also reduce the numbers of patients who visit the emergency room for non-emergent needs, and to that end, Johnson City Medical Center provided relevant data in support of the grant. More than 10,000 visits to the JCMC emergency department over the past two years were for non-emergent care, the hospital estimates.

“An important point to make is that in the vast majority of those cases, no one is claiming those patients aren’t in need of care – they just aren’t in need of emergent care,” Vanhook said. “What they really need is primary care and preventive care. They may be visiting the ER because they don’t have many options for after-hours care, and keeping the JCDC open late will help fill that gap.”

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ETSU gets $2 million grant to renovate campus science building


JOHNSON CITY (Sept. 27, 2010) – Approximately $2 million has been awarded to East Tennessee State University to support the renovation of research laboratories in D.M. Brown Hall.

The National Science Foundation’s Division of Biological Sciences is funding the project through its Academic Research Infrastructure program.

D.M. Brown Hall provides teaching and laboratory space for the departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Physics and Astronomy. The original wing of the building opened in 1948, and a new wing was added during the 1960s.

“The need for these renovations is dire,” said Dr. Gordon Anderson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at ETSU. “In addition to their teaching loads, faculty in these departments are participating in highly sophisticated research projects supported by many of the nation’s leading funding agencies.

“The renovations will allow scientists to be more productive in their labs and also accommodate more students,” he added.

Architectural planning will begin immediately, Anderson said, and major components of the four-year project will include consolidating three faculty computer laboratories into one area with improved HVAC equipment and electrical circuits; reassigning biology and chemistry research areas and installing fume hoods, controlled heating and lighting, and emergency power; and upgrading other fume hoods in the building and making enhancements such as adding chemical-resistant countertops.

“With this grant, we will create a number of state-of-the-art science laboratories within an old building that was not built originally for that purpose,” said Dr. William Duncan, Vice Provost for Research. “This will also support our ability to recruit and retain talented researchers.”

Anderson noted that grants from the NSF academic research infrastructure program were highly competitive this year, with funding awarded to only 25 percent of the 495 proposals submitted.

ETSU is using other stimulus dollars to renovate teaching labs in Brown Hall, which was dedicated in honor of D.M. Brown, who taught at the university until his death in 1952. At the time he was hired in 1923, he was the only biology teacher at the school.

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ETSU receives $250,000 grant for exchange student project with Brazil universities


JOHNSON CITY (Sept. 17, 2010) – East Tennessee State University’s Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology has received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to promote cross-linguistic understanding of communication disorders in children through a student exchange program with universities in Brazil.

The grant, awarded from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), will foster student exchange and curriculum development, as well as language and cultural skills, among ETSU speech-language pathology students and their peers in Brazil. The Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology is housed in the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences.

ETSU will partner with two Brazilian schools, the University Federal of Santa Maria and the University of Sao Paulo, as well as the University of Northern Iowa. The universities in Brazil are funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Education.

During the four-year program, ETSU speech-language pathology students will attend academic courses, participate in clinical rotations and receive instruction in language and cultural education in Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language. Brazilian students will do likewise during their exchange visits to ETSU.

Dr. Brenda Louw, professor and chair of the Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, is principal investigator for the project. She collaborated on the grant with Dr. Nancy Scherer, professor of speech-language pathology and dean of the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, and Dr. Lynn Williams, professor of speech-language pathology and associate director for ETSU’s Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development.

“We’re excited for the opportunities this project will create for our students, as well as the students from Brazil we will host on our campus,” Louw said. “Because there are unique challenges our institutions face in terms of cultural, socio-economic and linguistic differences, there is much we can learn from each other.”

Scherer said the exchange program would benefit the department’s ongoing research in speech-language pathology.

“The understandings we gain from this exchange of knowledge and practices could lead to improved therapeutic strategies for children here and in Brazil,” Scherer said. “The FIPSE grant is also a great opportunity for our college to develop new clinical and research partnerships.”

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College of Nursing Ph.D. program receives $890,000 grant; enrolls largest class in program history


JOHNSON CITY (Aug. 31, 2010) – East Tennessee State University’s College of Nursing has received an $890,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to support its growing nursing doctor of philosophy in nursing program, which enrolled its largest class ever this semester.

The HRSA Advanced Education Nursing Grant will be used to support a Ph.D. program that the College of Nursing recently transitioned to a blended model of education that combines online instruction with short academic and professional development sessions on campus each semester.

The class of 11 is the largest cohort in the history of the Ph.D. program, and it includes not only in-state students but also those from South Carolina, Virginia and North Carolina. The HRSA grant will be used to enhance online teaching and learning resources for faculty and students and to support faculty development in online teaching strategies.

“Our Ph.D. program is already highly regarded for preparing nurses for careers in nursing research, leadership or academia, and the increase in class size shows that this new curriculum model resonates with students,” said Dr. Wendy Nehring, dean of the college. “The HRSA grant will help as we continue to evolve the program to meet student need for more distance learning without sacrificing the face-to-face education experience, which provides an extra layer of support through getting to know your professors and developing camaraderie with your cohort.”

The grant of nearly $900,000 and the increase in Ph.D. enrollment marks another leap forward for doctoral education at the College of Nursing. Earlier this month, the college received approval from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Board of Regents to begin a doctor of nursing practice program, which will enroll its first students in January 2011.

“For any nurse who’s been considering whether to pursue a doctorate in nursing philosophy or practice, there’s never been a better time to go back to school,” said Dr. Kathleen Rayman, director of graduate programs for the college. “The geographic diversity of this Ph.D. cohort speaks to the need for us to emphasize convenience for students. We’re grateful to HRSA for awarding us grant money that will make a strong program even stronger.”

The diversity of the student base was generated in part by a program through the ETSU School of Graduate Studies that, for out-of-state graduate students, provides scholarship funding for part of the out-of-state tuition and thus brings tuition closer to in-state tuition rates.

“Our first charge is always to serve graduate students in our region and our state, but we’re always looking for ways to enhance opportunities for out-of-state students, too,” said Dr. Cecilia McIntosh, dean of the ETSU School of Graduate Studies. “Having a student population from a wide geographic base makes for a richer and stronger academic environment.”

In fact, Dr. Sadie Hutson has fielded inquiries about the doctor of philosophy program from well outside the Southeast – one prospective student called from Alaska – and even outside the country. Hutson is an assistant professor of nursing and coordinator of the Ph.D. program.

“When we conducted a needs assessment of prospective students, by and large what people said we needed was an online option,” Hutson said. “It’s exciting to see so many students in this class. The HRSA grant will allow us to continue to grow and sustain the program, so we can offer students the convenience they need to pursue a degree that will open the door to many new opportunities in nursing science.”

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Hillhouse receives $2.7 million NIH grant for indoor tanning study


JOHNSON CITY (Aug. 18, 2010) – A researcher with East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health has received a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for his innovative strategy aimed at curbing indoor tanning use among teens. This is the largest federal grant in the history of the College of Public Health.

Dr. Joel Hillhouse, a professor with the ETSU Department of Community Health, is the study’s principal investigator and already a national authority on interventions designed to lower skin cancer risk through reducing indoor tanning. Hillhouse’s research team at ETSU will work with colleagues at Penn State University to educate teens through the Internet and social media.

Hillhouse’s work is driven by research that shows the risk of melanoma skyrockets for those who use indoor tanning before they turn 30. While the cancer risk increases, the acknowledgment of the danger does not.

“Indoor tanning can cause cancer – we know that,” said Hillhouse, a clinical psychologist. “But young people in particular ignore the message about cancer, because they think it’s too far in the future. They’re not thinking about their own mortality.”

What many do think about, Hillhouse said, is their appearance. So the research team doesn’t focus on the cancer risks related to indoor tanning, but the potential risk to their appearance – mainly in the form of prematurely wrinkled skin. Vanity can be a powerful motivator for the young, Hillhouse said.

“We’ll be reaching out to teens on what resonates with them, and at this age it’s appearance,” Hillhouse said. “You have to communicate with them through the right channels, too, and that means connecting through the Web. We’ll also be using Facebook and Twitter.”

The grant falls under NIH’s R-01 classification. Dr. Robert Pack, the College of Public Health’s associate dean for academic affairs, said that research must tie directly to NIH’s mission to compete for R-01 funding. In addition to funding Web and social media development, the NIH grant will also support additional positions for researchers and staff in the College of Public Health.

“NIH’s funding for this project says a lot about the respect for Professor Hillhouse’s work in this field,” Pack said. “We expect that the work done here at ETSU will influence teenagers to make better, more informed choices, which would improve public health overall.”

Hillhouse has published previous research that shores up his approach of changing tanning behaviors through a focus on appearance. The May 2010 issue of Archives of Dermatology, a journal of the American Medical Association, published the results of a similar study by Hillhouse that focused on female college students.

The NIH project will be centered on an extensive, interactive Web site geared toward female high school students. A combination of results from multiple studies has shown that the risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent for those who initiate indoor tanning before age 30.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer – the World Health Organization’s source for information on cancer – offers a dim view, too. The agency has assigned indoor tanning to its highest cancer risk category, “carcinogenic to humans.” Some other risk factors in that category include asbestos, tobacco, arsenic and mustard gas.

Hillhouse is sympathetic to young people who choose to tan, because he understands appearance can be a significant component of overall self-esteem. He’s not unsympathetic to the indoor tanning industry, either. He cites spray-on tanning as a preferable option to tanning beds.

“I’m not trying to shut down the tanning industry,” Hillhouse said, “but indoor tanning can cause cancer. I’d like to see the industry put more energy into marketing spray tanning as a safer option that can still give people the appearance they want.”

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Kortum wins major NEH grant to continue work in Mongolia


JOHNSON CITY (July 27, 2010) – When Dr. Richard Kortum of East Tennessee State University’s Department of Philosophy and Humanities leaves for his “summer job,” he goes to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport and, after appropriate connections, flies to Seoul, South Korea. Next, he boards a flight to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, where he arrives some 35 hours after leaving Johnson City. For the next few days, he confers with colleagues and takes care of logistics with expedition outfitters.

The next leg of his journey involves taking a small plane several hours until it lands on the single airstrip in Olgii, a Mongolian provincial capital city with a population of some 20,000. Then, the group faces a seven-hour ride in Russian-made jeeps traveling over a rutted track. At last, they arrive at the three mountains near the Chinese border where the expedition will set up a primitive camp.

Kortum has spent the past seven summers in “his” remote corner of Mongolia, where he studies ancient petroglyphs, burial mounds, deer stones, and other tangible remnants of ancient peoples. Now, he has received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant in excess of $200,000 to investigate, map and document his finds in Biluut, a site in the Altai Mountains.

The other principal investigator on the grant is William Fitzhugh, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Arctic Studies Center. Kortum studies culture, history and art, while Fitzhugh brings the expertise of an archaeologist to the project.

Other participants include David Edwards, a photojournalist associated with National Geographic magazine; Catherine Chen, an ETSU mapping specialist in the Department of Geosciences; Dan Cole, a fellow mapping specialist from the Smithsonian Institution’s Geographic Information System Center; Mel Wachowiak, a photogrammetry and 3-D scanning specialist with the Smithsonian Institution; both the director and the head of research at the Mongolian National Museum; and an archaeologist who is a rock art specialist with the Mongolian Academy of Science’s Institute of Archaeology.

Kortum first discovered the Biluut site in 2004, when he and a guide went exploring. They came to a cluster of three high, snow-capped hills, where they encountered fantastic images of animals, humans, wheeled vehicles and strange anthropomorphic figures on a glacier-smoothed granite boulder the size of a house.

Kortum scoured the topography and discovered increasing numbers of lively images, along with 3,000-year-old Bronze Age burial mounds, stone circles and squares, enormous standing stones, and carved stone men from the Turkic era, some 1,400 years ago. Since that day, Kortum has made this rich site a focus of his cultural and art-historical studies.

The recent grant will provide funding for the next three summers, in an area where the nearest town, a village with a population of 1,500, is five hours away. There is no doctor, and there are no helicopters for medical evacuation.

“We take a first-aid kit,” says Kortum. “Next year, when we have a larger group, we will just take a bigger first-aid kit.”

Although the region is one of the least inhabited places imaginable, that was not always true.

“About 3,000-5,000 years ago,” Kortum explains, “the area was a fertile valley, with forests and herds of game. The climate was warmer and wetter. Inhabitants kept herds of goats, yaks and camels, while others hunted deer, ibex, bear, game birds and fish.”

The region recently opened to outsiders after decades of Soviet control. Russian maps from 1942 indicate the presence of ancient burial sites in the vicinity, but, until Kortum arrived, no one had documented the finds. Before the rest of the world creeps into the area, bringing looters and graffiti, Kortum and Fitzhugh are striving to record the archeological treasures.

For further information, contact Kortum at (423) 439-6492 or

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ETSU funds faculty projects in support of research


JOHNSON CITY (July 16, 2010) – As part of East Tennessee State University’s mission to support faculty research, the Research Development Committee (RDC) has awarded over 20 grants to ETSU faculty for research to be conducted during the 2010- 2011 year.

Dr. William R. Duncan, ETSU’s Vice Provost for Research, said, “RDC grants are a stepping-stone for faculty to gain experience in applying for funding and to do basic research in preparation for expanded projects.”

“RDC award recipients often go on to propose their projects to federal agencies and private foundations for larger-scale funding,” added Dr. David Hurley, current Chair of the RDC and a professor in the ETSU Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy.

The RDC is an internal oversight committee of the university, charged with evaluating grant applications, selecting recipients, and distributing internal funds to those selected. Applications are accepted and funds awarded to ETSU faculty under three RDC-directed programs: the Small Grant Program (up to $1,500), the Major Grant Program (up to $10,000), and the Interdisciplinary Grant Program (up to $50,000).

Projects recently funded represent a wide variety of disciplines from all areas of the university, including the medical fields, health sciences, social sciences, education, and the arts. They range from Dr. Brajesh Dubey’s investigation into the fate of discarded silver nanoparticles to Dr. Karin Bartoszuk’s study of the transition to adulthood and family functioning among college students and their families, along with award-winning photographer Mike Smith’s work, in conjunction with a Fulbright Scholarship, photographing workers in Dublin, Ireland.

For a complete list of RDC grant recipients and their project titles, visit  .

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Quillen physiologist receives $901,764 VA grant to study heart failure

JOHNSON CITY (July 13, 2010) – A physiologist at the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center and East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine has received a Veterans Affairs Merit Grant of $901,764 to study cellular processes that can lead to heart failure.

Dr. Krishna Singh, a professor of physiology at the Quillen College of Medicine and physiologist with the Quillen VA Medical Center, said the grant will advance her laboratory’s ongoing work in studying cellular activity during heart failure, a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood throughout the body.

In this study, Singh and her research team will investigate the role that stress to the endoplasmic reticulum – which is essentially the body’s factory for producing proteins – plays in causing damage to cardiac myocytes, which are cells responsible for contraction of the heart. In normal body functions, the endoplasmic reticulum ensures that the right proteins are synthesized in the cardiac myocytes, but under stress, that process can go awry and cause cell death.

The resulting death and decrease of cardiac myocytes adversely affect heart function and can result in heart failure. This study could lead to new understandings of this process and uncover improved therapeutic strategies for the treatment of the disease, Singh said.

The four-year grant will yield a little more than $900,000 in direct funding, but when indirect costs – such as upkeep of research facilities and VA offices – are factored in, the amount could be higher, Singh said. The grant will fund three to four new positions for lab researchers, as well as help purchase equipment for research.

Singh is working in collaboration with Dr. Mahipal Singh, an ETSU associate professor of physiology who has been instrumental in idea development and implementation in these ongoing cardiac studies in the ETSU/VA laboratory.

Dr. Krishna Singh noted that therapies such as beta blockers have helped improve the outlook for those suffering from heart failure in recent years, but much work remains. Her cardiac research is also currently funded by two grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“Despite the improved survival rates, the disease process is still preeminent in affecting the morbidity and mortality of patients with chronic heart disease,” she said. “This grant will allow us to further study the complex processes that take place on a cellular level and perhaps develop new treatment therapies that could lengthen the life and improve the quality of life of people who suffer from the disease.”

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College of Nursing receives $50,000 scholarship grant for accelerated BSN program


JOHNSON CITY (June 11, 2010) – East Tennessee State University’s College of Nursing has been selected as one of 63 schools that will receive funding to award five $10,000 scholarships from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) through the RWJF New Careers in Nursing Scholarship Program (NCIN).

Grants provided through this competitive program will be given to students traditionally underrepresented in the field of nursing and strives to prepare culturally competent leaders in the ETSU College of Nursing’s accelerated baccalaureate program.

NCIN was launched in 2008 to address the national nursing shortage and fuel the pipeline of diverse nurse faculty members.

“Through the NCIN program, we are challenging the nation’s nursing schools to be innovative and resourceful in how they grow their nursing programs, diversify student populations and contribute to the nursing leadership of tomorrow,” said Dr. Denise A. Davis, RWJF program officer for NCIN. “We are very pleased to support this unique approach, particularly at a time when growing numbers of Americans are gaining insurance and entering our health care system.”

At ETSU, the $10,000 scholarships will be awarded to five students entering the accelerated second-degree bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program in the summer semester of 2011. To date, NCIN has supported 1,917 students at 101 schools of nursing, and continues to develop culturally competent health professionals and future leaders of the profession.

Rhonda Brodrick, an assistant professor and coordinator of ETSU’s accelerated BSN program, said the college is grateful to receive support from NCIN. History suggests that students who enter the ETSU accelerated nursing program will advance the profession. Accelerated BSN students start with at least an undergraduate degree in a major other than nursing, begin studies during the summer semester and complete their BSN degree in five semesters.

“Historically, the students in the accelerated program are a high-achieving group,” Brodrick said. “They’re used to doing college-level work and they come back very motivated to be here. We admit around 40 to each class, and the graduation rate for the accelerated program is 92 percent. Some of them are looking for a career change. With others, nursing is something they’ve always wanted to do – and this program gives them the opportunity to reach that goal.”

Dr. Joellen Edwards, professor and associate dean for research at the College of Nursing, collaborated with Brodrick on the grant application. The scholarship money will be particularly useful for students in the accelerated track, she said.

“In many cases, participants in the accelerated program are non-traditional students with families, and they need financial support to come back and pursue the degree,” Edwards said. “It’s difficult to work full-time because they go year-round. These scholarships will allow the recipients to more easily focus their energies on pursuing their BSN.”

Dr. Wendy Nehring, dean of the college, said the NCIN grant is one of the largest scholarship programs ever awarded to the College of Nursing.

“We’re especially excited about the NCIN scholarships because the accelerated track is such a successful program; one that is good for the university, good for students and good for the community,” Nehring said. “The nursing shortage still exists, so there will be lots of opportunities for nurses and nurse practitioners. And you have to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing before you can pursue becoming a nurse practitioner.”

The NCIN program was created through RWJF and AACN to enable schools of nursing to expand student capacity in accelerated baccalaureate and master’s programs, and build a more diverse workforce ready to serve the needs of a changing patient population. Schools receiving grants through NCIN provide scholarships directly to students from groups underrepresented in nursing or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In the second year of the NCIN program, 58 percent of scholarships went to students from diverse racial and ethnic groups and 37 percent went to male nursing students. Men currently account for only 6.6 percent of the national nursing population.

In the 2010 - 2011 academic year, 397 students in accelerated baccalaureate programs and 114 students in accelerated master’s programs will receive scholarship funding.

The NCIN program addresses a number of the challenges confronting nursing education, professional development, and the national workforce shortage. Accelerated programs like the ones supported by NCIN provide scholars with the most efficient route to licensure as a registered nurse and create opportunities for adults who have already completed a baccalaureate or graduate degree in a field other than nursing. These programs prepare students to pass the licensure examine required for all RNs in as little as 12-18 months and provide quicker routes to workforce eligibility than traditional programs.

By bringing more nurses into the profession at the baccalaureate and master’s degree levels, the NCIN program also helps to address the nation’s nurse faculty shortage. Data from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration show that nurses entering the profession via baccalaureate programs are four times more likely than other nurses to pursue a graduate degree in nursing. This trend is reflected in the NCIN scholars, as 95 percent of the students receiving funding in the first two years of the program indicate a desire to advance their education to the master’s and doctoral levels.

For more information about the accelerated BSN degree or the NCIN program, call the College of Nursing office of student services at (423) 439-4578.

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NSF grant funds summer excavations at Gray Fossil Site


JOHNSON CITY (June 1, 2010) – A $324,000 grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to East Tennessee State University will be used to support further excavations and research at the Gray Fossil Site for the next three years.

The principal investigators of the grant are Drs. Steven Wallace and Blaine Schubert, both members of the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology and faculty members in the Department of Geosciences at ETSU. The site is located next to the ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum.

“Though numerous discoveries have been made at the site, in many ways our work is only beginning, and this grant will allow us to have the personnel and resources in place for further excavations,” said Wallace, who also serves as a museum curator and the site manager.

Schubert, who is director of the Center of Excellence in Paleontology, added, “This grant is so exciting because we now have the opportunity to explore the potential of this remarkable site in much greater detail.”

This spring marks the 10th anniversary of the discovery of fossils at the site in Gray. In May 2000, fossils were discovered by Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) workers while constructing a new highway. TDOT employees, researchers from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and the state archaeologist recognized the potential significance of the site and sought to protect it.

Then Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist and other state officials visited the area and announced that the road project would be relocated to save the fossil site for research and education. The site became an ETSU project and, one year later, the university hired Wallace as its first full-time paleontologist to oversee excavations and research. The university now has six full-time paleontologists on faculty.

In fall 2002, just before leaving office, Sundquist announced an $8 million Federal Highway Administration grant awarded to ETSU for the development of a museum and visitors’ center at the site. To accept the grant, ETSU had to match it with $2 million, for a total of $10 million going towards scientific education and outreach in Tennessee. The museum opened in 2007, and construction of an annex facility at the museum recently began.

Within a few years after the Gray excavation, the site earned distinction as being home to the greatest number of tapirs at any single fossil location. More than 80 individuals, including many articulated skeletons, have been recovered. In addition to the world’s largest find of tapirs, the collection also includes a saber-toothed cat, short-faced bear, fish, ground sloth, rhino, camel, shovel-tusked elephant, horse, red panda, bird, alligator, an Eurasian badger, and a beaver. The site is the only Mio-Pliocene fossil locality from the Appalachian region, revealing what both the forests and the animals were like at that time.

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ETSU group to reconstruct an ancient Etruscan kiln and study in Italy


JOHNSON CITY (May 21, 2010) – Don Davis of East Tennessee State University’s Department of Art and Design will lead a group to Spannocchia, Italy, in late May for the Forno Project, which involves building a replica of an ancient Etruscan kiln.

Last summer, Davis constructed an Etruscan kiln model that was included in an archaeological exhibition at Casa Masaccio Museum in San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy. His work was based on a kiln built approximately 300-200 B.C. and excavated at Cetamura Del Chianti by Dr. Nancy T. de Grummond, an authority from Florida State University on the Etruscans, a mysterious ancient culture whose past is coming to light through contemporary exploration.

Davis and de Grummond have collaborated and combined the archaeological evidence with hypothetical concepts to design the model, as well as the replica kiln to be built this summer.

Work on the kiln will take place May 28-June 10, and then Davis will conduct a two-week studio course for ETSU students at Castello di Spannocchia, with the firing of the Forno Etrusco culminating the session.

Spannocchia, a 12th century estate near Siena, is home to an archaeological and architectural conservation group and the site of Davis’s annual class in wood-fired terracotta.

The Forno Project is funded in part by grants from ETSU’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and College of Arts and Sciences.

For further information, contact Davis at (423) 439-7864.

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Students to display investigative abilities at research events


JOHNSON CITY (March 30, 2010) — Students and physicians-in-training at East Tennessee State University will participate in the 2010 ETSU Boland Undergraduate Student Research Symposium on Tuesday, April 6, followed by the Appalachian Student Research Forum on Thursday, April 8, at the Millennium Centre.

Undergraduate, graduate, and medical students, residents, and fellows will participate in the poster and oral presentation competition during the Appalachian Student Research Forum. The keynote speaker at the forum is Dr. William J. Martin II, associate director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and director of the Office of Translational Research of the National Institutes of Health. His presentation, entitled “Earth, Wind and Fire: The Struggle of the World’s Poor,” will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, in the main first-floor auditorium at the Centre and will be followed by the awards presentation ceremony.

Research posters will be on display April 8 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. in the Centre ballroom, located on the second floor. Oral presentations by graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and medical residents are planned that day from 9 a.m.-noon in the first floor auditorium, room 120 and room 130.

The ETSU Boland Undergraduate Research Symposium on Tuesday, April 6, will provide an informal, non-competitive environment in which students summarize their research through oral presentations followed by discussion with the audience. The event is sponsored by the ETSU Honors College and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Held from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Millennium Centre, the Undergraduate Symposium represents an array of research projects in many academic departments.

The students’ research interests are wide in scope, including presentations on such topics as the influence of newspapers across decades, prehistoric pottery, and the effects of music on dangerous driving.

A special “Meet the Artists” session will be held from 1-1:30 p.m. in the first floor Atrium, providing an opportunity for visitors to mingle with young artists from the Department of Art and Design.

Details of the events, which are free and open to the public, may be viewed at for the Appalachian Student Research Forum and at for the ETSU Boland Undergraduate Research Symposium.

To learn more about the symposium or to request special accommodations, contact Dr. Frosty Levy at (423) 439-6926 or For more information about the Appalachian Student Research Forum, or to request special assistance, call (423) 439-6000.

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Quillen College of Medicine receives $9.1 million grant, one of largest in school history


JOHNSON CITY (March 19, 2010) – East Tennessee State University has received a $9.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to renovate its major biomedical research facility for the James H. Quillen College of Medicine. This is one of the largest grants ever awarded to the medical school since its inception.

The funds will be used to renovate Building 119 – which is adjacent to Carl Jones Hall – on the Quillen VA Medical Center campus. The building houses a number of laboratories and offices for medical school researchers.

“Right here in East Tennessee, on the campus of the Quillen College of Medicine, our faculty members conduct cutting-edge biomedical research on a daily basis that has, and will continue to have, dramatic effects on health and the human condition,” said ETSU President Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr. “The Quillen reputation for biomedical research has advanced rapidly in recent years and with this grant, we will have a facility that will keep up with the pace of our research program. We are grateful to the National Institutes of Health for recognizing the good work being done at the College of Medicine and the needs we have to continue that work and even improve on it.

“This is great news for ETSU, the Quillen College of Medicine and all the people we serve in our region.”

Preliminary work on improvements on Building 119 will begin immediately, starting with a detailed plan for infrastructure and architectural improvements that must be accomplished without interrupting ongoing research projects. One of the main facets of the project will be the repair or outright replacement of the outdated electrical and air conditioning systems, which are crucial in a research environment where sensitive equipment is the norm. The air conditioning system in particular has failed sporadically in recent years. Updates to the mechanical systems will translate to dramatic improvements in energy efficiency.

All renovations and upgrades will be accomplished on the building’s interior over the course of five years, so those who walk by Building 119 likely will not notice the changes, said Dr. Philip C. Bagnell, dean of the College of Medicine and principal investigator for the grant.

“Signs of progress on the exterior may be few or may even go unnoticed,” Bagnell said. “But on the inside, a complete transformation will be under way. We are already accomplishing much in the way of research at Quillen, and this NIH grant will ratchet up our ability to do even more.”

The project will also allow the college to replace equipment that is outdated or no longer works, including every exhaust hood.

Bagnell said competition among medical schools for the NIH grant program was very intense.

“It’s difficult to overstate the enormous effect this grant could have on our biomedical research program,” Bagnell said. “There are a number of people at the College of Medicine who worked to make this happen, but Dr. Greg Ordway deserves a special mention. Greg wrote most of the funding application, and he essentially gave a month of his life to writing this grant.”

Ordway is chairman of the ETSU Department of Pharmacology. He has served as principal investigator on a number of research projects funded by NIH and other sources, and he is well aware of the current limitations of Building 119, as well as its potential.

“It’s not so much the building itself as the fact that it was built 30 years ago,” Ordway said. “With all the changes in science and technology, the building has really fallen way behind. Thirty years ago was essentially the beginning of the computer age, and now every piece of equipment you get is linked to a computer. We have a weak wireless network system now and we just limp along, but this project will allow us to install a new Ethernet network.”

Ordway cited a specific example where the facility can sometimes hamper production. The college has a laser capture microscope that is “a scientific wonder” in all it can do. Researchers are able to use it to capture a single human cell or even dissect a human cell postmortem. But it’s also a highly sensitive piece of equipment where even subtle changes in temperature or humidity can affect it.

“We’re able to do amazing things with this microscope,” Ordway said, “but when it rains outside, it changes the humidity inside and we can’t use it. It interrupts and slows down our work.”

Ordway cited increased productivity as a major benefit of the NIH grant.

“This will make our researchers more productive and more competitive when they’re applying for big-dollar grants,” Ordway said. “The funding process for grants is extremely competitive.”

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, Tennessee’s congressman for the 1st District, lauded news of the NIH grant.

“I am pleased that ETSU will receive this important grant from the National Institutes of Health,” Roe said. “Innovation that occurs through biomedical research is essential in the treatment and prevention of human diseases and increasing quality of life. Not only will this impact research, but it will also create more jobs at ETSU.”

The award was issued from NIH under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as the Economic Stimulus Act.

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Positive effect of ACTRID could be felt across region for years to come


JOHNSON CITY (Jan. 20, 2010) – A $1.2 million research program launched at East Tennessee State University to address health disparities in the Appalachian region recently drew to a close, but the effect it has on the area could be felt for years to come.

During its five-year run as a National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence, the Appalachian Center for Translational Research in Disparities (ACTRID) at ETSU was responsible for funding 18 pilot research studies and programs aimed at reducing the health disparities in African American, Hispanic and rural populations of the region. The initial funding for ACTRID came from NIH’s National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities.

The effect created by ACTRID’s research projects led to a wave of additional opportunities. Some studies that started as pilot programs through ACTRID mushroomed in scale by attracting additional grant funding from outside agencies. Those studies went on to gain an additional $3.3 million in funding, including two research programs that received grants of almost $1.5 million each.

“Some of the additional grant money that pilot studies received was a direct result of the ‘buzz’ created by ACTRID,” said Jill Bumpus, the program’s coordinator. Bumpus points to one instance in particular that proved to be invaluable for ETSU, Dr. Beth Bailey, and ultimately, the women in the region who will benefit from her work.

Bailey, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at ETSU’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine, received one of the first ACTRID grants for a study aimed at stemming the tide of low birth weight babies in the region, where incidences are among the highest in Tennessee and the nation. She targeted the roles of domestic violence against pregnant women, and smoking behaviors among those women, to determine relationships between these factors and low and premature birth weight.

Bailey had applied for additional, outside funding to expand the study, but those applications initially yielded no fruit. Her ACTRID grant, and the resulting publicity, led the State of Tennessee to come calling.

“She applied for a couple of NIH grants that had not been funded,” Bumpus said. “Then the state called and said, ‘We heard about your program – and we want to fund it.’”

Bailey received $1.4 million from Tennessee to launch a program across six Northeast Tennessee counties. Through the combined efforts of Bailey, ACTRID and the State of Tennessee, hundreds of pregnant women in the Appalachian region are now enrolled in a program to stop smoking – a key factor in improving birth outcomes. The program also received funding support from the March of Dimes.

And that was just one of the success stories of ACTRID. A team of faculty from the Quillen College of Medicine and the ETSU storytelling program in the Claudius G. Clemmer College of Education received ACTRID funding to teach effective communication skills to physicians and others who treat patients diagnosed with cancer using patients’ own stories. This innovative program went on to receive $1.4 million in NIH funding and will benefit cancer patients not only at ETSU but across the nation as well. The ACTRID grant application was written by Dr. Joellen Edwards, the program’s principal investigator and the director of the College of Nursing’s Center for Research.

There were other notable successes among the 18 ACTRID grant recipients. Based on her ACTRID findings, Dr. Karen Schetzina, a pediatrician with the Quillen College of Medicine, received $144,000 from the Tennessee Department of Health to expand a wellness program for elementary and middle school children across the state designed to slow the tide of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. And Dr. Tiejian Wu, an associate professor of Public Health and Family Medicine, used his pilot project to gain $214,000 in NIH funding for a program also aimed at decreasing childhood obesity, with a specific goal of involving parents in the process. Both programs will have long-term benefits for participants.

Bumpus said “involvement” is a salient word in assessing the success of ACTRID. The intended result of each pilot program, she said, was matched in importance by the approach in achieving it.

“All of the pilot programs were launched with the intention of improving community health, and in doing that we stressed the importance of involving the community in the research,” Bumpus said. “These weren’t programs where research was aimed at the community – it was research with the community, addressing needs that were important to people who live in East Tennessee.”

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