WVU Announces $11.79 Million Wyeth Grant

Pharmaceutical giant supports heart, diabetes, obesity researchers

Click to watch the Video News Release on the Wyeth Research Fund

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has committed $11.79 million in support of biomedical research at West Virginia University over the next three years, the University announced today (August 22).

The Wyeth Pharmaceutical Research Fund at WVU will be used to support up to 15 new faculty positions at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center.

The University hopes to hire scientists in heart and vascular diseases, diabetes and obesity, neurobiology and respiratory biology.          

“These Wyeth Research Scholars will contribute their efforts toward finding the causes and cures of diseases that afflict tens of thousands of West Virginians. This will add immeasurably to the advancement of WVU as a research institution, and the achievement of our strategic research plan,” says David C. Hardesty, University President.

"Wyeth chose WVU for this research support because of its history of high quality research and a faculty and administration committed to pursuing the best science possible in state-of-the-art biomedical research facilities," says Robert R. Ruffolo, Jr., Ph.D., President, Research & Development, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Senior Vice President, Wyeth.

Wyeth agreed in 2000 to fund this research as part of an agreement that settled West Virginia diet drug litigation.

The Wyeth Fund will enable WVU to take immediate action in filling faculty positions called for in its long-term bioscience research plan.

WVU health researchers have identified six core areas of research, based in large part on the health needs of the state. The Wyeth funds will support basic research in three of the core areas: cardiovascular sciences, respiratory biology and diabetes/obesity.

“We have a very high incidence of obesity and diabetes in our adult population in West Virginia, especially in women,” says Thomas Saba, Ph.D., WVU’s associate vice president for health sciences research. “There is an unusually high incidence of diabetes in children, likely also linked to obesity. Respiratory mechanisms are significantly altered by obesity. We can use the Wyeth Research Fund to accomplish the University’s strategic goals in research, and honor the desire by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to strategically invest in these areas of research.

The new researchers will help WVU fill laboratory spaces being constructed as part of the University’s ambitious research expansion project. Among projects under construction at WVU  or planned for the immediate future -- funded in large part with Federal dollars secured by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd  -- are the Health Sciences Library/Learning Center; the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Center (which also has state and  private funding); a new biosciences research building; and renovations and expansions to existing spaces in the Health Sciences building.

“Because of the infrastructure we are building – with the support of Senator Byrd, Senator Rockefeller and the State of West Virginia – we are ready to move forward with recruitment,” says Robert M.  D’Alessandri, M.D., WVU vice president for health sciences.

“We are already in an aggressive recruitment program,” D’Alessandri notes. In the last year, WVU has attracted several established scientists with ongoing NIH research projects. “The Wyeth Research Scholars will include both junior and senior scientists, and will join either the WVU School of Medicine or School of Pharmacy at the professor, assistant professor or associate professor level. In addition to strengthening our research programs, they will add depth to our teaching faculty and to our clinical departments.”

WVU’s Core Biosciences Research Areas

The Robert C. Byrd Health Science Center’s Strategic Research Plan focuses on six core areas of interest. These focus areas coincide with areas of expertise already available at the HSC, or are areas of special interest to the health and welfare of West Virginians. The research plan also follows a pattern set by the National Institutes of Health, a major source of funding for health-related research.

Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Cardiovascular Sciences

Matthew Boegehold, Ph.D., director

CIRCS investigators are working to deepen our understanding of the mechanisms that govern normal and abnormal cardiovascular function, as well as cardiovascular growth and development. Under this broad umbrella of cardiovascular research, scientific investigation within the center is organized more specifically around the following themes: Angiogenesis and Vascular Development, The Endothelium and Vascular Control, Inflammation and Oxidative Stress, Lipid Metabolism and Gene Expression, and Hypertension and Aging. In addition to its research mission, a second and equally important mission of the CIRCS is to provide first-rate training of students, residents and fellows to produce the next generation of scholars in cardiovascular science and medicine.

The CIRCS is comprised of individuals who hold faculty appointments in ten different academic departments at WVU. This cross-disciplinary nature provides an environment that is conducive to collaborative research and teaching. Through these efforts, CIRCS investigators are working to help develop more effective strategies to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease.

Center for Diabetes and Obesity Research

Director – Search is under way.

Diabetes and obesity are major health issues in West Virginia, and particularly so in women and children. WVU has committed to building a multi-disciplinary research team that will investigate basic biological processes that are involved in the development of these conditions.

Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Respiratory Biology and Lung Diseases

Richard Dey, Ph.D., director

The Center promotes the application of knowledge from basic and clinical sciences to increase understanding, identify methods for prevention, and improve the treatment of respiratory diseases, especially those important to people in West Virginia and Appalachia. A primary focus will be to establish research collaborations between basic and clinical sciences and to develop novel and innovative translational approaches to bring laboratory discoveries into clinical applications.

Activities focus on two areas of lung diseases. In one area, we are studying the effects of inhaled exposures to lung irritants during early life. Exposure to environmental pollutants, cigarette smoke, and household allergens during the first few months of life may have long lasting and detrimental effects on lung capacity and may increase susceptibility to lung disease. The other area of interest examines the health effects of air pollutants in adult populations. Of particular interest in role of nanoparticle composition and toxicity in diesel exhaust and in novel materials that will be used in the future to manufacture a wide range of products we use every day. Nanomaterial present great promise for future, but the toxicity of these chemicals is untested in the lung and other organs.

Center for Immunopathology and Microbial Pathogenesis

John Barnett, Ph.D., director

Advancing knowledge that improves human health and the quality of life is the ultimate goal of each investigator. The faculty research interests are diverse. Faculty research interests include studies in molecular mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis and immunity, cell biology, and immunology. The department offers many opportunities to conduct groundbreaking research in these fields in a collaborative, stimulating environment. Current research is conducted in immunology, molecular genetics, and medical bacteriology.

Interdisciplinary Center for Neuroscience

George Spirou, Ph.D., director

Neuroscience research at WVU is organized around interdisciplinary approaches to thematic focus areas. There are strong programs in sensory and cognitive neuroscience, along with studies of cellular responses to injury, neuroendocrinology, and autonomic control of feeding and respiration.

The Sensory Neuroscience Research Center is a multidisciplinary group of scientists studying sensation at levels of organization ranging from molecules to perception. Its mission is to link biological processes across levels of organization and among sensory systems to their functions in perception, as a basis to develop solutions and assistive technologies for human sensory disorders. It is organized along the premise that comparing biological mechanisms across sensory systems is a key to understanding each individual system. SNRC faculty study normal function and development of sensory systems, and explore the genetic basis and loss of function resulting from congenital sensory disorders.

Center for Cancer Cell Biology Research

Daniel Flynn, Ph.D., director

The research arm of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center has 34 basic and translational research scientists whose work are focused in three distinct area of cancer cell biology. The Signaling Networks and Cancer Program has 14 faculty and focuses on how tumor cell process a signal that allows it to grow or move. The Tumor Microenvironment Program has 10 faculty members and focuses on how tumor cells and normal cells send signals back and forth that promote tumor growth. The Molecular Therapeutics Program has 9 faculty members and focuses on the mechanism of action of novel chemotherapeutic agents as well as drug development. Together, these three research programs generate $6 million in annual research funding and sponsor centralized core facilities for our investigators to support studies on how tumor cells are able to grow and move in an effort to develop novel strategies and targets for treating cancer.

The Center also has an academic Ph.D.-awarding program of study for graduate students and offers education and research opportunities to undergraduate students.

Click to watch the Video News Release on the Wyeth Research Fund

- WVU -

For more information:
Bill Case, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

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