WVU Ph.D. students receive national research fellowships

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Two Ph.D. graduate students in the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences program, recently received national fellowship opportunities to further their education and research.

The American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) 2012 Pre-Doctoral Fellowships are awarded to outstanding pre-doctoral students nationwide, who have completed at least three years of graduate study, to encourage them to continue their pursuit of pharmaceutical sciences.

Andrea-Armstead.jpgAndrea Armstead of Topeka, Kan., received the fellowship award in the amount of $6,500 to fund her education in nanoparticle toxicity research. She is investigating how particles of tungsten carbide cobalt — a hard composite metal— can enter cells and how they affect cells. Tungsten carbide cobalt is used in mining and drilling industries as a coating for machinery that will have prolonged use. Workers are potentially exposed to the nanoparticles because when the machinery metal heats up during use, the coating breaks down and becomes dust. Exposure to these materials can cause hard metal lung disease, a type of lung fibrosis.

Because nanoparticles are a relatively new technology, there isn’t a good understanding of how these molecules affect human cells in the long term. Armstead hopes to find how these molecules affect cells and how to make safer products to protect those who use them.

“Through this research, we can learn what is happening to those exposed to these materials and what potential hazards take place at a cellular level,” Armstead said. “By expanding our knowledge base, we can find out what is causing the potential toxicity and then create safer products to be used by workers in these industries.”

Armstead will conduct her research under the guidance of her mentor, Bingyun Li, Ph.D., associate professor in the WVU School of Medicine Department of Orthopaedics.

Ryan-Williams.jpgRyan Williams, a native of Bluefield, Va., received a fellowship award renewal to continue his research. He first received the AFPE fellowship in 2011 to fund his education in prostate cancer research — to create a mechanism for the targeted treatment and detection of the disease. His research during the past year focused on finding antibodies that would bind only to prostate cancer cells, not benign cells, which would allow for earlier cancer detection and treatment and reduce the potential of false positives in testing.

Through lab testing, Williams discovered an antibody with characteristics that could allow it to specifically bind to different cancerous cells.

The AFPE fellowship renewal, in the amount of $6,500, will enable Williams to continue his research, allowing him to focus on the next step of his study — applying the selected antibodies to human tissue specimens to see if they indeed bind to the specific molecule in cancerous cells.

He will continue to conduct his research under the guidance of his mentor, Letha J. Sooter, Ph.D., assistant professor in the WVU School of Pharmacy Department of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“It is truly an honor to have been selected as the recipient of the AFPE Fellowship again this year,” Williams said. “I’m happy that I can represent WVU and the WVU School of Pharmacy on a nationally-competitive fellowship and be able to continue this research.”