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Research

“In fiscal year 2009, Boise State’s research funding jumped 32 percent to a university record $37 million, making this the fastest growing research program in Idaho. The upswing accelerated into the first quarter of fiscal year 2010, when we recorded our highest quarterly total in school history with $16.1 million in research funding – a 77 percent increase from the $9.1 million in the first quarter last year.”  –President Kustra

 

 

Investigators and their focuses:  

Abdelkrim Alileche — Cancer and Chemotherapy, Infectious Diseases, Biochemistry

Tim AndersenBioinformatics  

Elisa Barney-Smith  – Musculoskeletal  

Knowledge of the movement and forces on joints during motion and loading can be obtained by the combination of 3D static images and 2D images taken during dynamic activities. The correct relative positioning of the 2D image with respect to the 3D volume enables dynamic information to be extracted from the static 3D image. Methods of doing this are under development for both CT/Fluoroscopic image pairs and MRI images in the BSU Signal Processing Lab. Barney-Smith also has three graduate students working under her.

Eric Brown – Biochemistry   

Henry Charlier – Cancer and chemotherapy, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics

Ken Cornell  — Cancer and chemotherapy, Infectious Diseases, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics   

Antibiotic Development Targeting Bacterial Communication. Bacteria secrete a variety of small molecule autoinducers that are used to com-municate population wide changes in gene expression that govern such things as virulence factor production and biofilms. We are examining small molecule inhibitors of the enzyme 5’ Methylthioadenosine/S-adenosylhomocysteine nucleosidase (MTN) from a variety of bacterial pathogens for their ability to block enzyme activity and subsequent autoinducer signaling events. A variety of techniques are being used including molecular modeling, spectrophotometry, gene cloning, confocal microscopy and mass spectrometry.  Dr. Cornell has two graduate students aiding in research.

Eric Dugan – Cancer and chemotherapy, Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal, Biomaterials, Biophysics

Injury mechanisms and related preventative strategies, the effectiveness of clinical intervention strategies, the effects of fatigue, structural limitations, and load carriage on various aspects of human motion and performance, and the influence of both short-term and long-term exercise protocols on various biomechanical aspects of human health and performance.

Hilary Flint-Wagner — Diseases of Aging and Musculoskeletal

Jennifer Forbey  — Cancer and chemotherapy, Infectious Diseases, Biochemistry 

Ecology Guided Drug Discovery and Development. BSU researchers use knowledge of the ecological and chemical interactions between plants and herbivores to discover biologically active chemicals in plants and to understand the mechanism of action of these chemicals for potential drug development. Ecological systems being investigated include the interactions between sage-grouse and sagebrush in Idaho, snoeshoe hares and birch in Canada, butterfish and brown algae in New Zealand and brushtail possums and eucalyptus in Australia.  

 

Greg Hampikian  — Cancer and chemotherapy, Infectious Diseases, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics   

The Hampikian lab studies DNA and protein sequences that are rare or absent in nature. Several of these small molecules are being used in medical and forensic research projects in the lab. One application of these “Nullomer” sequences is to label forensic reference samples. Other applications include anticancer and antimicrobial activities of synthetic peptides based on these sequences. The laboratory, which currently includes an MD, an MD/Ph.D., and three graduate researchers also works on the discovery and taxonomy of new ciliate species isolated in Boise, and human population genetics studies of Northwest populations.  

 Will Hughes – Cancer and chemotherapy, Biomaterials

Science, engineering, and art are respectively the pursuit, application, and expression of knowledge. Perceived as independent, these vocations are intimately linked through creativity and imagination. Although the interdependence of these fields is historically undeniable [1], the established cultures and vernacular used within each discipline often promote isolation; thereby retarding the exchange of information and progress. The life long goal of Dr. Hughes is to work along the frontiers of these seemingly distinct fields to help expedite the exchange of information between science, engineering, and art, as well as challenge the boundaries by which they have been confined. Once barriers are perforated, new fields of study will emerge that may shed light on historically unresolved questions and lead to solutions never before imagined.

 Amit Jain – High Performance Computing for Biological Applications

  Cheryl Jorcyk – Cancer and chemotherapy, Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics  

Studies to understand the process of cancer metastasis at the molecular level are essential in developing effective treatments and detection methods.  Work at Boise State indicates that Oncostatin M facilitates angiogenesis and metastasis, an observation that is likely to change the present view of this compound as a potential therapeutic drug.  Dr. Jorcyk has four graduate students aiding in research.

 

 

Byung Kim – Biophysics

Boise State is home to three Atomic Force Microscopes; two housed in Materials Science Engineering and one in Physics.  They are integral to interdisciplinary research at Boise State into the development of biomaterials and nanotechnology.

Bill Knowlton – Cancer and chemotherapy, Musculoskeletal, Infectious Diseases, Biomaterials  

Jeunghoon Lee – Biomaterials, Biophysics

Many inorganic materials in nanometer size scale exhibit unique properties that are not only scientifically intriguing but also technologically significant. These nanoparticles, however, have to be incorporated into architectures that provide specific functionality. Goal of my research is to 1) synthesize and fabricate nanoparticles with high degree of architectural control, 2) investigate fundamental physical and optical properties of the nanoparticles, and 3) devise methodologies to assemble functional structures from nanoparticle building blocks. Combining these capabilities new tools for biological sensing and analysis can be developed.

 

Owen McDougal – Diseases of Aging, Biochemistry, Biophysics, Bioinformatics    

Computational modeling can be used to investigate structure activity relationships for comparison with experimental nuclear magnetic resonance data. Show to the left is the penicillin binding protein 2a from methicillin resistant Staphylocaccus aureus with a box around the ligand binding domain. Proposed antibiotics are tested for vailidity in silico prior to more rigorous and expensive experimental validation. 

Liliana Mellor –The effects of microgravity on cartilage health.

Articular cartilage is a type of tissue constantly exposed to mechanical loading on Earth, and changes in gravitational forces such as the one experienced by astronauts during space missions may lead to a catabolic cascade resulting in early stages of arthritis. Arthritis is a progressive metabolic disease that can take years or even decades before becoming symptomatic, and currently there is no cure available due to the lack of understanding of the underlying mechanisms that produces an increased catabolic rate and a decreased anabolic rate that leads to cartilage degeneration. Due to the limited ability of cartilage to regenerate, early detection in changes of chondrocyte metabolism are crucial to prevent further degradation that can lead to limited mobility of the affected joint. My career goal is to understand the early events that involve subtle changes in chondrocyte metabolism that lead to an increased catabolic rate, resulting in degradation of the extracellular matrix components and the cartilage tissue in general, and to determine whether exposure to a microgravity environment can trigger some of the early catabolic events associated with osteoarthritis.

Kristen Mitchell – Cancer and chemotherapy, Musculoskeletal, Infectious Diseases, Biomaterials, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics Toxicology  

                                     

 Dioxins and related compounds are persistent environmental contaminants that elicit toxicity by activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor.  Current research efforts strive to identify receptor-mediated signaling events and protein-protein interactions that contribute to altered cell cycle progression and immunotoxicity.  Dr. Mitchell has five graduate students aiding in research.

 

 

Rajesh NagarajanBiochemistry, Enzymology, Infectious Disease Research, Bacterial Quorum Sensing

The projects in my laboratory are at the interface of chemistry and biology spanning the areas of organic chemistry, biochemistry and microbiology. Students working on these projects will have the opportunity to learn one or more of these tools including small molecule organic synthesis, protein purification, enzyme assays, HPLC, UV-Visible spectroscopy, NMR spectroscopy and gel-electrophoresis. Our research program is focused on developing chemical tools to understand the specificity of the language spoken by P. aeruginosa and other related AHL synthesizing bacteria. The knowledge gained from these studies will shed light on designing small molecules to curb chemical communication between these bacteria. We believe that this approach will curb pathogenic effects in bacteria, thereby improving the efficacy of existing antibacterial therapies.

x-ray structure of Last AHL synthase enzyme

x-ray structure of Last AHL synthase enzyme


 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Oxford – Cancer and chemotherapy, Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal, Biomaterials, Biochemistry, Biophysics, Bioinformatics 

Extracellular matrix assembly and organization is key in biological materials structure and function.  Age-related changes to the composition and organization of cartilage contribute to arthritis; changes in the vitreous of the eye may lead to retinal detachment and lens cataracts. Dr. Oxford currently has one graduate student aiding in research.

 

 Ronald Pfeiffer – Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal 

Dr. Pfeiffer currently has two graduate students aiding in research.

 Alex Punnoose  –  Cancer and chemotherapy, Infectious Diseases, Biomaterials,   Biophysics   

 

When reduced to nanoscale, many benign materials develop cytotoxi-city. If the toxicity of nanoparticles can be tailored to become cell or organism specific, it could be very useful for therapeutic applications. Interestingly, carefully engineered nanoparticles of certain metal oxides such as ZnO developed by Dr. Punnoose’s group have shown ability to efficiently and selectively kill (i) bacterial cells such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus and biofilm forming pseudomonas aeruginosa, (ii) activated immune cells, a subset of cells that can contribute to the development of autoimmune disease, and (iii) human cancer cells, all at concentrations at which their healthy counterparts exhibit no significant toxic response.  The cancerous T cells are ~28-35 times more suscep-tible to nanoparticle mediated toxicity (IC50 ~0.17-0.21 mM) than their normal counterparts (IC50 >5mM) indicating a substantially high therapeutic index compared to ex vivo indices of  ≤ 10 reported for current chemotherapeutic drugs such as doxorubicin and carboplatin.       

Troy Rohn – Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal, Biochemistry 

The primary focus of my laboratory is involved in the research involving neurodegenerative diseases including to a large extent, Alzheimer’s disease (AD). During the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, many neurons die particularly in the area of the hippocampus. Because the hippocampus is an area of the brain involved in memory, AD is primary a disease where afflicted individuals lose their capacity for memory. A primary question in this field is how are neurons dying during the progression of AD.

 Recently, we have began to investigate whether caspase-cleavage of APOE4 underlies its pathogenesis in AD. The APOE4 allele, if inherited greatly increases the risk of AD, but how it contributes to disease progression is not known.  We believe this protein may be susceptible to proteolytic cleavage by caspases and this inactivates the ability of this protein to function properly in the brain.  This could contribute to disease progression by allowing for the accumulation of the toxic protein, beta-amyloid, that is normally removed from the brain, in part by functional APOE4.  We are currently seeking funding from NIH to support these studies.


Michelle Sabick – Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal, Biomaterials  

Shoulder Joint Mechanics. The shoulder joint is incredibly mobile, and as a conseuqence of this mobility it is also relatively unstable. Researchers in the biomechanics laboratory at Boise State study the function of both the normal and pathologic shoulder to understand the motion of the healthy shoulder, and also help to prevent, diagnose and treat shoulder injuries.   

 

 

Ko Sasaki – Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal, Biomaterials   

Dr. Sasaki’s work involves musculoskeletal modeling and forward dynamics simulations of human motor activities to identify muscle mechanical functions and internal forces developed in the body. He has focused on muscle contributions to task requirements during various types of locomotion. His current research includes muscular influence on the forces developed in joints and bones, which plays an important role in some of the musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. 

 

 Marion Scheepers – Bioinformatics  

Dr. Scheepers’ research interests include Set Theory and its relatives, Game Theory, Cryptology, Elementary number theory and Algorithmic phenomena in Biology. One algorithmic phenomenon Dr. Scheepers has been examining is related to a process occurring in ciliates (single celled eukaryotes with two types of nuclei). The one type of nucleus is an encrypted version of the other type. Some events in the cell’s life cycle trigger decryption of the encrypted version, while the previously unencrypted nuclei present during the decryption process are degraded. Currently very limited data is available about this whole process, and the process is not yet understood. Models for parts of the process suggest that the ciliate micro nuclear decryption apparatus has highly nontrivial computational capabilities.  

Susan Shadle 

Shawn Simonson – Diseases of Aging, Musculoskeletal 

Jennifer Smith  – Bioinformatics  

Non-coding RNA gene search requires specialized statistical models that take secondary structure into account due to the low level of sequence conservation as compared to protein-coding genes. The use of these covariance models in gene search algorithms is still not very highly developed and they are also extremely computationally demanding. Non-coding RNA bioinformatics research at Boise State focuses on three topics: Covariance model parameter estimation improvement using experimental thermodynamics data, computational intelligence methods to generate fast approximate partial covariance models for ncRNA gene search, and special-purpose computing hardware to accelerate the standard search algorithms.   

 

Juliette Tinker – Infectious diseases, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics 

Bacterial enterotoxins are potent mucosal immune stimulators.  Boise State researchers are fusing the non-toxic subunit of Cholera Toxin to a protein from a pathogen of interest to create a mucosal vaccine.  Under development are potential vaccines against Vibrio cholerae, Helicobacter pylori and Yersinia pestis.  Vaccines also have the potential to fight autoimmune disease and cancer.

Don Warner – Cancer and chemotheraphy, Biochemistry

Anthracyclines are cancer chemotherapeutics that have irreversible, cumulative cardiotoxic side effects.  Structural analogs of anthracylcines with reduced cardiotoxicity are being developed at Boise State.  Basic research into the mechanism of cardiotoxicity includes focus on enzymatic pathways and on calcium regulation by calsequestrin in the heart.  These efforts may lead to prevention of cardiotoxicity.

Merlin White 

Denise WingettCancer and chemotherapy, Infectious Diseases, Biomaterials, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics 

BSU researchers study how regulators of the immune system contribute to the pathogenesis of asthma.  β-adrenergic agonists found in common asthma medications alter the regulation in asthma subjects compared to healthy control subjects.

Dong Xu

The Xu computational research lab at Idaho State University College of Pharmacy focuses on computer aided drug design, advanced biomolecular and biophysical simulations, and novel computational methods development.

Bernard Yurke Cancer and chemotherapy, Biomaterials, Biophysics, Bioinformatics  

Research interests are varied, but currently my focus is on DNA nanotechnology and the use of DNA self-assembly to fabricate electrical and optical devices and circuits with a few nanometer feature size.  Dr. Yurke currently has two graduate students aiding in research.

  

  
 
 
 
  
Grant Number P20RR016454 funded by NIH NCRR
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