Become a VCU Work Study Research Assistant!

into HireVCURams to search for open positions, you can do a search for “Work Study Research Assistants”.  These positions give you the opportunity to conduct research in a wide variety of disciplines and projects under the guidance of faculty mentors on campus (and get paid for it!!).  There are openings in the Sciences, Biomedical, Engineering, Arts, Social Sciences, Humanities and more.

You do not need to have previous research experience to apply for these positions.  These are research exposure opportunities, so your faculty mentor will provide you with the appropriate training to prepare you to work on your project.  You also do not need to be a major in the discipline in which you would like to do research.  You just need to be interested in the project and be available during the week to contribute.  Research is great experience to prepare you for application to graduate school or for a career in your chosen field.  In fact, this experience makes you a very competitive applicant for a wide variety of future opportunities!  Check out some VCU students talking about their research experiences HERE.

If you have questions or concerns about this opportunity, please email the VCU Office of Undergraduate Research Opportunities at urop@vcu.edu

VCU researchers receive $4.2M NIH grant to study treatment for chemical attacks

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With the backing of a five-year award of approximately $4.2 million in total costs from the National Institutes of Health, Robert DeLorenzo and a team of Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are studying and developing ways to treat and prevent human fatalities and morbidity that could result from chemical attacks on U.S. soil.

Robert DeLorenzo, M.D., Ph.D.

DeLorenzo, M.D., Ph.D., the George Bliley Professor of Neurology in the VCU School of Medicine, is the principal investigator on the team that received the grant from the NIH Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats program. CounterACT supports basic and translational research aimed at identifying medical countermeasures against chemical threats.

DeLorenzo said public safety is the key goal behind the research. He is working with Robert Blair, Ph.D., and Laxmikant Deshpande, Ph.D., assistant professors in the VCU School of Medicine Department of Neurology, as well as Rakesh Kukreja, Ph.D., the Eric Lipman Professor of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, and Matthew Halquist, Ph.D., assistant professor and laboratory director in the Department of Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy.

“We’re trying to create [counteract] agents that the government can stockpile in case this type of attack happens here,” DeLorenzo said.

Foaming at the mouth, permanent neurological damage and death are some of the results of exposure to a chemical attack or nerve gas. Another result is a severe form of seizure called status epilepticus. This type of seizure can last more than 30 minutes or may manifest as separate seizures without a full recovery of consciousness in between. DeLorenzo has studied status epilepticus and epilepsy, with continuous NIH support, at VCU since 1988. Thus far, his study, which includes how to successfully treat sufferers, has focused on the molecular mechanisms involved in the seizures and the brain damage it causes.

“The CounterACT project is the continuation of us using that information,” he said. “When you get [mass] nerve agent exposure, a large number of people go into these types of seizures. It’s obvious now that terrorists can get their hands on this [weapon], and that means it is possible that they can put it in a New York City subway or other crowded areas.”

VCU was one of a select few institutions awarded NIH CounterACT grants. The initial award amount was approximately $831,178 total costs. Researchers are currently working out of the Neuroscience Research Center inside the Herman A. Kontos Medical Science Building. Success would be to develop effective counteract agents that could decrease death and improve the quality of life of survivors of a chemical attack, DeLorenzo said.

We’re trying to make it so that more people survive, and the survivors have fewer complications.

“We’re developing treatments that you could give to a patient, treatments you could administer,” he said. “We’re trying to make it so that more people survive, and the survivors have fewer complications such as cognitive impairment, behavioral abnormalities and the development of epilepsy. These treatments are being designed to decrease and prevent these outcomes.”

DeLorenzo’s neuroscience research laboratory has received continuous NIH funding since 1985. From 2006-2015, DeLorenzo received funding to study organophosphates, such as parathion organophosphate pesticides, which have been identified as one of the highest priority chemical threats for civilians. Acute parathion exposure can cause death, severe seizures, brain injury, cognitive deficits and epilepsy.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 225 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Seventy-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The VCU Health brand represents the health sciences schools of VCU, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.

Open undergraduate biochemistry research positions with the Deb Labs

The Deb Labs are currently seeking undergraduate assistants to assist with their research endeavors.  There are opportunities for independent study, work-study research positions, and potentially part-time employment for Fall semester and beyond.

Interested students should email a resume with work, lab experience and current GPA to post-doctoral fellow, Catherine Vaughan at (vaughanca@vcu.edu).  An attached, current class schedule would also be helpful.

A brief summary of research areas is included below.  More information is available at the Deb Labs link above.

The major research interest of our laboratory is to understand the molecular biology of cellular proliferation and its control and how that get altered in cancer. In this regard we are currently focusing on understanding the molecular biology of the human tumor suppressor p53 and how mutations in p53 lead to cancer. The following are short descriptions of a current funded grant and a planned program project grant that our laboratory will lead.

  1. Mutation in the p53 tumor suppressor gene is a common event in human cancer and in the majority of human carcinomas containing p53 mutations the mutant protein is over-expressed suggesting the existence of a selection pressure to maintain expression. This also suggests an active role for mutant p53 in oncogenesis and follows the gain-of-function (GOF) hypothesis, which predicts that mutations in the p53 gene not only destroy the tumor suppressor function of the wild-type (WT) protein, but also leads to the gain of oncogenic functions.

    The long-term goal of our laboratory is to understand how p53 mutations may lead to cancer development.The short-term objective is to test the followinghypothesis:

          Expression of p53 mutants in human cells results in deregulation of pathways controlled by the transcription factor NF-kB2 This may be critically important for chemosensitivity and other aspects of tumor progression . 

  2. We are also leading an investigation on Lung Cancer research being conducted by several independent investigators in the university. This is summarized below.

    Lung cancer is currently responsible for the largest percentage of cancer-related deaths in the USA. Disruption of the p53 pathway occurs in up to 80% of lung cancers making it imperative to elucidate how the pathway is compromised in this disease. Mutation of the p53 gene is observed in 30-50% lung tumors, while the human oncoprotein MDM2, which inactivates and degrades p53, is over-expressed in 25 to 30% of the tumors with or without wild-type (WT) p53. Our studies show that while MDM2 over-expression may contribute to lung oncogenesis by inactivating WT p53, it may also cooperate with the gain of function p53 mutants independent of its WT p53 inactivating function. Similarly, the gain of function p53 mutants can induce the expression of CXC chemokines which have been implicated in angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis in lung cancers. Recently we have shown that Tim50, a mitochondrial protein implicated in apoptosis, is up-regulated by mutant p53. Since human oncoprotein MDM2 can modulate transcriptional activation of tumor-derived p53 mutants, mutant p53-mediated chemokine or Tim50 activation can be modulated by MDM2 over-expression.

Research Assistant Positions with the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry

Apply to be a Research Assistant for the Adolescent and Young Adult Twin Study!

Here’s a little about the project…

In the past few decades there have been many advances in our understanding of human emotions and psychology. These advances have led to improvements in how doctors treat internalizing disorders like depression and anxiety.  Internalizing disorders have a significant impact on the quality of life of individuals as well as on society. Though we have made many advances, there is still a great deal more to learn about these conditions and their causes. Improved scientific techniques now offer researchers opportunities for an even deeper level of understanding about internalizing disorders.

The goal of this study is to learn more about genetic and environmental factors that could influence the likelihood of someone developing an internalizing disorder.  To help accomplish this, the researchers are inviting parents (or legal guardians) and their adolescent/young adult twins, ages 17 to 22 years old, to participate in this study.  This age group of twins is key to the study because it allows the researchers to observe behaviors and collect basic data during a significant developmental period.

Dr. Roberson-Nay, the primary investigator for this study, and her team are looking to acquire a small group of highly motivated, enthusiastic individuals to be research assistants in this study. The types of research experiences that you will gain depend largely on your own interests as the current twin study touches on many different aspects of psychology and biology. Some examples of the experiences you are likely to gain from the lab include:

Extensive participant interaction
Working with psychophysiological software and equipment                                                Opportunities for posters and papers                                                                                 Collaboration with researchers from a variety of backgrounds

We are requiring that all students dedicate a minimum of 8 hours a week to working in the lab. We are also requiring at least a one-year commitment, as the level of training on our part is quite high. We are especially interested in applicants that can devote time to volunteering during winter break 2017.

If you are interested working with our lab please contact the project coordinator, Jennifer Cecilione (jennifer.cecilione@vcuhealth.org) with a CV/resume. Please include your year in school, GPA, and major as well as a brief summary of your academic and research interests.

Two students will use research fellowships to advance inclusiveness

Featured photoChristine Wyatt, left, and Cheyenne Johnson are recipients of Undergraduate Research Fellowships for Inclusive Excellence. (Photo by Deaudrea Rich, Inclusive Excellence)

Two Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduates, Cheyenne Johnson and Christine Wyatt, are recipients of Undergraduate Research Fellowships for Inclusive Excellence for 2017.

Each fellow receives a $1,500 award, while their faculty mentors receive a $500 award. Both Johnson and Wyatt will present their work at the Spring 2018 Poster Day during the Undergraduate Research Symposium. This is the third year that the Division for Inclusive Excellence has sponsored an award.

The undergraduate research fellowships are awarded to faculty-mentored research projects focused on diversity, through the lens of gender, race and ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, disabilities and/or international issues.

“There are any number of ways in which we are fortunate as a learning community at VCU, and one of them is the diversity of our student body,” said Herb Hill, director of undergraduate research opportunities. “What is most interesting to me are the ways in which that diversity manifests itself in our students’ research interests.

“The fellowships for Inclusive Excellence were essentially a response to our students’ commitment to learning more about difference through a variety of lenses. Our students and faculty are invested in contributing to new knowledge in these areas. The advancement of knowledge is at the heart of Cheyenne’s and Christine’s respective projects, but what makes their work so representative of the student body at VCU is the impetus for personal and societal change towards a more inclusive reality.”

Examining inequality and mental health care

For Johnson, a rising junior majoring in psychology and minoring in statistics in the College of Humanities and Sciences, that means using existing data to explore how inequality can affect access to mental health care.

Her proposal, “The Role of Inequality on Health Care Seeking,” was inspired by taking the course, “Sex and Sexuality in the U.S.” last fall. The course linked contemporary issues about sexual identity, reproductive rights and sexual violence to “historical legacies of power and control.”

“I took a class with my mentor [Bethany Coston, Ph.D.] … and it focused on different marginalized groups,” Johnson said. “I realized that they need more mental health care and they get it less. It’s important to me that people who need care, get it.”

According to Johnson’s developing research, previous studies related to mental health care avoidance don’t examine the role of inequality for those who may fall into several minority identity statuses. When you consider the fact that mental health issues are often associated with other chronic medical diseases, this becomes an especially serious issue when people do not receive the care they need.

By analyzing data from the National Health Interview Survey, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johnson will investigate the link between variables such as demographics, mental health conditions and health insurance coverage for marginalized populations — including people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and those affected by poverty.

Johnson hopes to not only use her research as material for her graduate application, but also to disseminate her findings widely in a national psychology journal or at a conference. She hopes her research can build on previous smaller studies and shape our understanding of diversity and difference within health and health care.

The Yorktown, Virginia, native has worked as a research assistant in labs for Suzanne Mazzeo, Ph.D., and Terri Sullivan, Ph.D., in the VCU Department of Psychology. Even before enrolling at VCU, Johnson knew that graduate school would be her next step after graduation. She hopes to enroll directly in a clinical psychology doctoral program.

Deconstructing identity through dance

For Wyatt, a rising senior and dance and choreography major in the School of the Arts, the fellowship comes at the perfect time as she reconciles her current discontent with her creative work and her goals for the future.

The Baltimore native, who was also the recent recipient of an Undergraduate Student Research Grant from the School of the Arts for “Journeys,” an interdisciplinary dance concert, describes frustration as being the catalyst for her project, “Depths of Identity: Decolonizing through Dance.”

“Once I was honest with myself about not being happy with what I was creating, it sparked this [line of questioning],” Wyatt said. “‘Well, what do I like?’ ‘What am I interested in?’ ‘Why am I even in this position in the first place?’ ‘What systems are in place that influence me to create work that isn’t really me?’ It sparked a whole lineage of research.”

Wyatt, who is also passionate about community building and engagement, was also inspired by the work of internationally renowned chorographer Liz Lerman, who visited campus last year. There, she was exposed further to the diversity of the dance community, working with a diverse set of seasoned professionals, and even children, for the work, “Still Crossing.”

“Working in a multigenerational space redefined what it means to be a dancer. I love the idea of dance being for everyone, which is interesting because not everyone in the dance world believes that,” Wyatt said. “It does the dance community, and everyone, a disservice when we limit what it means to dance.”

Wyatt’s fellowship will allow her to attend the Summer Leadership Institute, an annual 10-day intensive workshop sponsored by Urban Bush Women at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The program unites a variety of artists and community organizers around the topic: “You, Me, We,” addressing internalized racial oppression in the arts community. Wyatt will use what she’s learned from the SLI to develop her senior project.

“I’m super excited,” she said. “This 10-day workshop is going to be … a vehicle for activism and talking about things that are difficult.”

Wyatt is no stranger to the difficult, and uses art to celebrate and investigate those fraught spaces. In addition to her recent projects, “Journeys” and “Decolonizing Dance,” Wyatt co-produced a concert entitled “Only in America” in Baltimore last winter, where she worked with other artists to “examine the tapestry of black life in America.” Wyatt is also the choreographer for #donttouchmyhairRVA, one of the recipients of Inclusive Excellence’s inaugural Student Social Justice Fund.

After graduating from VCU, Wyatt hopes to be doing a “more amplified version” of her current work which includes dance, choreography, community engagement, activism and research. For her, “decolonizing” is not only about finding her way through art, but also about giving back.

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