Re:Search Magazine 2020
The Re:Search Magazine is published by SU’s Graduate Studies and Research Office, spotlighting academic work and accomplishments of the campus community. It’s published once annually.
A First Step on the Research Path In 2011, the University Research Council at Salisbury University awarded more than $23,000 during its inaugural round of the Faculty Mini-Grant Program. The program encouraged SU faculty to develop research, scholarly or creative programs that provide potential for sustained professional development and extramural support. Faculty are awarded up to $2,500 to fund their research. Now, nearly 10 years later, those first Faculty Mini-Grant recipients are still dedicated to furthering their work and providing an environment where students can learn from the research process to develop their own career paths.
Community Media as a Voice for Change
Vinita Agarwal Associate Professor
of Communication The voice of community traditions can be powerful. One Salisbury University professor used that voice for an expansive research project in India that now, 10 years later, brings a unique perspective to approaches in health and wellness. Dr. Vinita Agarwal in the Communication Department received a Faculty Mini-Grant to help her understand the role of community voices in articulation of women’s local health traditions. The funds were used for travel to New Delhi, India, where Agarwal visited urban resettlement neighborhoods – or slums – to meet with the women there. “My intent going into the field was to observe women’s traditional health practices,” Agarwal said. “I wanted to understand how women’s negotiations of their practices could help design community media programs and public service messages that positively impact women’s health.” While establishing contact with the women and identifying a site, Agarwal realized that the women’s local health traditions were influenced by the women’s own collective decision-making as they made sense of messages in mainstream media. The study goals were modified to examine how women negotiated their maternal health practices alongside sociocultural and biomedical practices presented in mainstream media. Agarwal’s research was presented at several conferences and published in the top-tier disciplinary journal, Health Communication. It won the Eastern Communication Association’s top two paper award in the Health Communication Division. Agarwal’s research has since evolved to focus on patient-centered care, provider-patient communication in the therapeutic relationship, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches in chronic illness and pain management. She has explored approaches to long-term pain management that have the potential to reduce provider burnout and support self-management in chronic illness and long-term cancer survivorship domains. This body of research has resulted in many presentations at communication, integrative medicine and yoga conferences and publication in peer-reviewed journals in medicine, nursing and communication. Her presentation on embodied provider care recently won the top paper award at the National Communication Association’s Applied Communication Division. Agarwal is currently engaged in examining data exploring CAM provider approaches to breast cancer survivorship care. Her book, An Ecology of Wholeness: Medical Humanism, Chronic Disease, and the Fractured Body, stemming from prior research, observations of Ayurvedic physician’s chronic pain management protocols in India, and meditation training experiences from her recent travel to Nasik, Pune and New Delhi is in the final stages of revisions for the publisher. The research also has supported curriculum development at the Fulton School of Liberal Arts. Agarwal created a new Health Communication course she offered for the first time during the fall 2019 semester. She participated as a member of the Health Humanities Faculty Learning Community in establishing the new interdisciplinary health humanities minor approved last fall. “The research brings a unique point of view to understanding healing and wholeness in the domain of chronic illness and pain management,” Agarwal said. “By examining patient and provider practices and experiences, this body of research goes beyond mainstream approaches to health outcomes to envisage healing and wholeness in integrative ways.”
Learning Is In Our DNA
By Patti Erickson Associate Professor
of Biological Sciences Genomes contain the code for life, carrying all the information necessary for living things to function and create offspring. Which genetic information codes for which traits? The question has existed since the discovery of DNA as the genetic material, but the tools for addressing it improve constantly. Bringing modern molecular genetic approaches into my laboratory and classroom has been one of my persistent goals. Although my research focus has changed over time – including plants, animals and microbes – what has remained consistent is using model organisms and cutting-edge technologies to answer fundamental questions about genetic relationships. The goal of my first Faculty Mini-Grant project was to identify mutant plants with altered sensitivity to an antioxidant with reported medicinal values. Finding a target in plants, which were quick and easy to grow, might provide insights into human therapeutic responses. After screening thousands of mutagenized seedlings, I found a potential mutant – in the laboratory of my colleague Les Erickson. Serendipitously, mutations in a gene he was studying in yeast caused cells to become more sensitive to this specific antioxidant. He even had some plants with mutations in this very same gene. Although the genetic mutation in these plants was known, the physiological effects had not been characterized. My second Faculty Mini-Grant focused on determining the physical consequences of this genetic mutation throughout plant development. Meanwhile, my research students and I also were exploring the effects of antioxidants on a microscopic nematode worm, renowned for its use in genetic studies. Excessive oxidative stress is linked to age-related disorders, such as chronic heart, lung, neurodegenerative and kidney diseases. We analyzed genetically engineered worm strains expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP), which served as an indicator of oxidative stress levels. Needing a specialized instrument to measure production of GFP led to a successful National Science Foundation proposal and the acquisition of an extremely versatile instrument, which is often used at capacity.
Since altering expression levels of specific genes in worms by feeding them sequences of genetic material was simple, I incorporated it into both my research and teaching laboratory projects. Soon an even better technique was developed, but it required a more sophisticated delivery system. Taking advantage of my sabbatical leave and a third Faculty Mini-Grant, I learned how to inject DNA directly into these worms, permanently altering their genetic composition. During this sabbatical, I also spent time mastering genetic manipulation on an entirely different scale by using yeast to capture and modify huge stretches of DNA. This technique facilitates modification and characterization of genomes previously intractable to genetic studies. The potential capacity for this method to explore the relationship between genes and traits, including bacterial pathogenicity, is immense. My desire to share this technology with SU students led to Building Research Excellence funding and a pending National Institutes of Health proposal. While my path has been anything but straight-forward, multiple genetic approaches using three different organisms has led to collaborations at four different institutions and more than a dozen independent student research projects and presentations over the past 10 years. As new technologies, like direct DNA sequencing, become accessible, I will continue introducing them to students, hoping to share my excitement for further genetic discoveries.
Moving Medicine Forward, One Molecule at a Time
Scott Mazzetti Professor of Exercise Science Anyone who has tried and struggled to lose weight often faces the question eventually:
“What am I doing wrong?” Weight loss and developing healthy exercise habits are often a long journey. This was also the case for one project funded by the Faculty Mini Grant Program. Dr. Scott Mazzetti of the Exercise Science Program received an award to fund his study to examine exercise energy expenditure following different resistance training programs. The study was designed to evaluate whether weight training using different contraction intensities was advantageous to the total calories a person could expend. The study involved testing subjects for six weeks, training them for 12 weeks and testing them again over five weeks. It required more than half of the fall and spring semesters, and all of winter, with a short break for holidays. “It was a very lengthy study,” Mazzetti said. “We calculated we were putting in almost 300 student contact hours per subject.” The goal was to optimize exercise programs for weight management. They found training explosively would make exercise sessions a little more effective, but the difference was somewhat minimal. Mazzetti had planned to apply for a grant to continue this study, but through thoughtful mentoring from a dean at SU, he realized that it was not a realistic study design for undergraduate research. Recognizing his students needed experience with all parts of the scientific method and would not get to see the presentation and publication stages at the rate the study was going, Mazzetti moved from long-term training studies to acute designs. However, he said they learned a lot about exercise and calories that has dramatically influenced the way they conduct studies now. “We’re probably working on the best studies we’ve ever done in my lab,” Mazzetti said. “It’s all a function of the support the grant gave to help us run well thought-out studies.” Mazzetti now has three students doing Honors theses related to his current research, which involves training subjects for two weeks, with testing before and after. Two of his former students also are working with him on publications involving studies completed at SU. “We’ve come farther, and the studies are more manageable,” Mazzetti said. “I can’t put into words the effect it’s had on our lab. We’re extremely efficient. We learned so much from that initial experiment, because the University gave us the chance to work through it.” In a society where obesity is a growing problem and everyone is confused about how to exercise for weight loss, Mazzetti said their work is making gains. “What I teach in my classes is eating healthier is a missile launcher for weight loss, while exercise is an air gun,” Mazzetti said. He explained changing dietary habits, while very difficult, is a much more efficient weapon, whereas exercise is not nearly as effective as many believe. “Exercise is still valuable to improving your health,” Mazzetti said. “But knowing that, we can attack life and weight management in a meaningful way. It changes the disappointment I might get when I exercise and don’t see results right away. I’m smart enough to keep exercising, but I emphasize dietary habit changes, because I know that exercise isn’t the driving factor. We can enjoy life, with a goal to be healthier.”