USC Upstate to expand biomedical research

SPARTANBURG — The University of South Carolina Upstate has been invited to be a member of the South Carolina IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (SC INBRE) as a Primarily Undergraduate Institution. As part of the application process, they detailed plans for an eight-week summer research program to support five to six faculty researchers and up to 12 student researchers yearly. If South Carolina is renewed as an IDeA state in 2020, Upstate will receive $500,000 to fund the summer program that they call ER(Up)T (Engaged Research and Training at Upstate) from 2020-2025.

“Investment in the ER(Up)T program will allow USC Upstate to mentor and engage the next generation of biomedical scientists and create a pipeline to increase the number of skilled biomedical professionals in South Carolina,” said Dr. Jeannie Chapman, interim dean of the College of Science and Technology at USC Upstate. “While there is biomedical research being conducted at USC Upstate, the ER(Up)T program will increase our ability to attract and retain more undergraduate students in our laboratories and further enhance the research culture at our institution, particularly amongst underrepresented minorities.”

“This new funding will create a summer research program that offers transformative, high-impact learning experiences for students who wish to pursue a career in biomedical research,” said Dr. Joshua Ruppel, associate professor of chemistry, co-author of the SC INBRE proposal, and ER(Up)T program director. “Over the course of eight weeks, students will conduct research in the laboratory with a faculty mentor and attend a number of research-related activities, including lab meetings about ongoing research, scientific ethics seminars, and graduate school information sessions. The students will be immersed in the culture of basic science research, and they will be provided opportunities that enhance their ability to achieve their career goals.”

According to Chapman, “USC Upstate is uniquely suited to enhance the pipeline of students attending graduate and professional schools in South Carolina. Our student body is primarily composed of S.C. residents (94% of all enrolled students), many of whom choose to stay in South Carolina upon completing their degrees. The research and programming that students will experience through ER(Up)T will increase students’ knowledge of careers in the biomedical sciences, groom them for graduate and professional school, and will ultimately enhance South Carolina’s biomedical industries by way of a better-educated and more scientifically-minded workforce.”

Both Chapman and Ruppel have a clear vision of how creating a summer research program will enhance the biomedical research currently underway at USC Upstate.

“USC Upstate has a vibrant biomedical research program, spearheaded by five faculty in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering,” Chapman said. “During the past five years, their combined research efforts have resulted in 20 peer-reviewed publications that have included multiple undergraduate co-authors, 46 scholarly presentations, and $652,000 of internal and external funding. While their individual efforts and achievements are impressive, this funding support from SC INBRE allows us to create a cohesive undergraduate research program.”

Current biomedical research at USC Upstate includes:

• Dr. Joshua Ruppel, associate professor of chemistry, received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) Program (R15) in collaboration with Dr. Nicole Snyder of Davidson College to support meritorious research, expose students to research, and strengthen the research environment of the institution. His research is used to create and study the interaction of a class of new compounds with a protein associated with certain types of cancer.

• Dr. Bradley Baumgarner, assistant professor of biology, investigates the effect of various xenobiotics on skeletal and cardiac muscle metabolism, growth, and differentiation. In the past five years, his work has been focused on defining the mechanisms by which caffeine promotes macroautophagy and its role in regulating caffeine-dependent protein turnover (protein synthesis/protein degradation) in mammalian skeletal muscle cells.

• Dr. Ginny Webb, assistant professor of microbiology, investigates virulence factors of Cryptococcus neoformans, a facultative intracellular pathogen responsible for the most common cause of fungal meningitis worldwide. She also investigates the transmission of hospital acquired infections, which are a growing public health concern, accounting for 1.7 million infections each year in inpatient or outpatient medical facilities. The research aims to study the mechanisms of transmission of hospital-acquired infections with specific examination of pediatrician outpatient facilities to determine what touch surfaces may harbor pathogenic organisms and therefore potentially serve as a reservoir for harmful microbes.

• Dr. Anselm Omoike, assistant professor of chemistry, investigates the unique magnetic, large surface area, and nontoxic properties of iron oxide nanoparticles (magnetite) in synthesizing materials for drug delivery and biochemical separations. One aim is to coat magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles with lysine, producing free surface active amino groups for the delivery of curcumin, a drug with well-established wide ranging chemotherapeutic activities. His other project involves removing allergenic proteins from food products to develop fast and recyclable multilayer magnetic nanoparticles for the removal of major allergens from peanuts and peanut products. This work may contribute to knowledge of the conditions for efficient removal of allergenic proteins from a food system and help produce hypoallergenic peanut products.

• Dr. Kimberly Shorter, assistant professor of biology, investigates the potential negative consequences of excess folic acid consumption and its potential correlation with increases in autism rates. Her lab currently uses a human neuronal cell line as a model for testing the effects of excess folic acid (at a 2x dose) on epigenetic changes (DNA methylation/hydroxymethylation and histone modifications), gene expression changes, and neuromorphological changes (dendritic spines and vesicle trafficking).

SC INBRE is a five-year, $18.2 million renewable grant funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Grant funds are administered through the University of South Carolina and go to financially supporting biomedical research throughout the State of South Carolina at SC INBRE’s network institutions and outreach institutions.

“We are very pleased to introduce some new faces in the renewal and are excited to see USC Upstate as one of those new faces,” said Cyndy Buckhaults, communications manager with the SC INBRE Program. “USC Upstate has a very active science research component and will be a great fit with the network.”

The Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program broadens the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research. The program fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions located in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical, and translational research; faculty development; and infrastructure improvements.

For more information, contact Dr. Jeannie Chapman at 864-503-5768.

About USC Upstate

The University of South Carolina Upstate is a regional comprehensive university offering more than 40 undergraduate and graduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, business administration, nursing, and education. Located along the I-85 corridor in Spartanburg between Greenville and Charlotte, USC Upstate is ranked by U.S. News & World Report at #2 among Top Public Schools. It serves as a major talent producer for the region, with more than 6,000 students, approximately 1,300 new graduates a year, and nearly 30,000 alumni, many of whom live and work in the state. The USC Upstate Spartans compete in 17 NCAA Division 1 sports as a member of the Big South Conference. For more information, visit www.uscupstate.edu.