News and Analysis



Researchers at GW earned a $2.1 million grant from the National Institutions of Health to start a phase one clinical trial of a hookworm vaccine in Brazil, according to a press release.

The leading researchers – Jeffrey Bethony, a professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine and David Diemert, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine – will partner with the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz in Brazil, the University of California at San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University, as well as the Sabin Vaccine Institute to conduct the trial, according to the release.

“Tropical vaccines are getting a boost at GW,” Bethony said in the release. “We have the capacity to do vaccine clinical trials here and in developing countries. It’s what we’re good at. Besides malaria, there isn’t another group that does this for tropical diseases.”

The researchers will test two existing hookworm vaccines to see if they can create one effective vaccine, Diemert, one of the SMHS professors, said in the release.

“What we need to know is if by combining these two vaccines, the immune response to either of them is impaired,” he said. “We want to know whether there is competition between the vaccines and if there are any safety risks with combining them.”

Bethony and Diemert also received a planning grant from the NIH to vaccinate D.C. volunteers and then infect them with hookworm to test how well the vaccine works – the next step in a clinical trial from last year in which volunteers were also infected with hookworms, according to the release.

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The Office of the Vice President for Research announced a partnership with the University of Rome Tor Vergata Thursday.

Vice President of Research Leo Chalupa signed a collaboration agreement with Fondazione INUIT, University of Rome Tor Vergata Thursday. Chalupa said in an email that the collaboration will create a structure for both institutions to explore joint opportunities for research, especially around cultural heritage and other shared priorities.

Chalupa, who is “mostly fluent” in Italian, said the new agreement with the University of Rome has grown out of longstanding relationships with colleagues in Italy.

“GW is committed to enhancing the global reach of our research enterprise,” Chalupa said. “By collaborating with international partners, GW is building capacity for new research opportunities.”

Chalupa was hired as the University’s first vice president for research in 2009 with goals of becoming a top-tier research institution.

The University of Rome also presented Chalupa with a distinguished professor award and he gave a lecture on the strategies for building university research at the University in Rome, according to a release.

Chalupa said the goal of the partnership is for GW investigators to partner with peers in Italy to secure grants from European Union sources.

“While in Rome I discussed the breadth of research at GW, the university’s international research portfolio, and the establishment of focused university-wide research initiatives,” Chalupa said.

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Researchers at GW’s medical school found that while healthcare providers have become more comfortable treating transgender patients over the past decade, the self-comfort of those professionals is still considered to be low according to a press release.

The study focused on endocrinologists, who often administer hormone therapy to transgender patients.

The researchers surveyed attendees at a conference of clinical endocrinologists and found that one in five endocrinologists said they are “very” comfortable discussing a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Less than half of respondents said they are “somewhat” or “very” competent to provide care to transgender patients.

The Endocrine Society updated its guidelines for providing care to transgender patients in 2009, and researchers said care has improved since then, according to the press release. The majority of survey respondents said they did not have any transgender patients.

Michael Irwig, an associate professor of medicine and a researcher on the study, said in the press release there needs to be more research and exposure on transgender patients and their level of care.

“Progress has been made, but there is still more work to be done,” Irwig said in the release. “The transgender community represents one of the most underserved and marginalized populations in health care.”

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A professor earned a $2.6 million grant to research possible treatment for malaria and tuberculosis.

Cynthia Dowd, an associate professor of chemistry, received a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to lead a team of researchers at five institutions to find possible medications for these lethal diseases, according to a University release.

“Drug resistance is so rampant that we need to design new ways to treat these diseases. This is one way to keep the issue in the spotlight,” Dowd said in the release. “The fact that the NIH is putting funds into this research on infectious diseases is very significant.”

The research will examine molecules that stop a specific biochemical reaction, which can otherwise fight the pathogens that cause these diseases. Dowd’s lab will be in charge of the molecule design and chemical synthesis in the study, according to the release.

NIH, Washington University in St. Louis, George Mason University, Saint Louis University will also have labs involved in the research. The other institutions will run tuberculosis and malaria testing.

Ben Vinson, the dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said in the release that Dowd’s research is an example of institutions working together to “improve public health on a global scale.”

“We applaud researchers like her who see the value of collaboration across institutions, sharing resources and brain power to better the world,” Vinson said.

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Lifesaving drugs are in short supply in emergency rooms across the U.S., according to a team of GW researchers.

The study, which was published in the Academic Emergency Medicine journal found that drug shortages have quadrupled in emergency rooms across the country over a eight-year period.

The researchers, who were affiliated with the Milken Institute School of Public Health, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the University of Utah School of Medicine, analyzed data from the University of Utah Drug Information Service for the years 2001 to 2014. Over the 13-year timeframe, 1,798 drug shortages were reported and 52.6 percent of the shortages were for lifesaving interventions. Ten percent of those were for drugs with no substitute.

“Many of those medications are for life-threatening conditions, and for some drugs no substitute is available,” Jesse Pines, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at GW, said in a release. “This means that in some cases, emergency department physicians may not have the medications they need to help people who are in serious need of them.”

The researchers report that the emergency room shortages dropped from 2002 to 2007, but 435 percent more shortages appeared from 2008 to 2014. As the emergency room drug shortages quadrupled since 2008, 393 percent of those drugs lacking were used as a direct lifesaving intervention.

The study attributed the shortage to manufacturing delays, supply and demand issues and issues with raw materials, but 46.6 percent of shortages were for undetermined reasons.

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The University increased its total research spending in fiscal year 2014 by more than $25 million according to data from the National Science Foundation.

GW spent more than $227 million on research and development in fiscal year 2014, landing in the 15.3 percentile of universities included on the list. The University also jumped six places to No. 92 out of the 632 academic institutions ranked. GW has doubled its total of research expenditures since fiscal year 2009.

The total includes the amount spent on research out of the University’s own budget and the amount covered by grants, from both federal and private sources.

The University’s ranking has fluctuated over the years, hitting No. 98 in fiscal year 2010 before sliding for the next two years. The amount spent has increased steadily nearly every year except fiscal year 2012, when that total dropped by roughly $1 million.

GW was outspent by eight of its peer institutions, including Boston, Duke and Northwestern universities, but ranked higher than six other peers like Georgetown and American universities. Johns Hopkins grabbed the top spot with more than $2.2 billion spent on research.

Research spending has increased University-wide in the past few years as part of a greater effort to boost GW’s research profile, despite cramped federal budgets. Last year, research expenditures grew by 11 percent, more than administrators had expected.

December 11, 2015 at 9:41 p.m.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Johns Hopkins spent $2.2 million on research last fiscal year. They spent $2.2 billion on research. The Hatchet also failed to clarify that the research data came from fiscal years, and not calendar years. We regret these errors.

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Biological researchers have published the first draft of the Tree of Life, which links the evolutionary histories of close to 2.3 million named species of microbes, plants, and animals, according to a University release.

GW is one of 11 institutions to contribute to the new project, which was led by Karen Cranston, a research scientist at Duke University. It is the first complete compilation of all species, and will include data from smaller and previously published trees of life. It is now available online to browse and download.

The project will not be “static,” but rather “will develop tools for scientists to update and revise the tree as new data come in,” according to the project’s website website. The researchers say this will most likely be an important attribute, considering that when researchers started the project three years ago, there were only 1.8 million species recognized.

Keith Crandall, director of the Computational Biology Institute, brought a $350,000 grant to assemble the tree with him to GW in 2012. He said in the University release that compacting the pieces of evolutionary history into one database would be essential to further biological research.

“Now, we have a framework to take advantage of previously splintered knowledge joined through the OpenTree project into a single Tree of Life,” Crandall said in the article.

Christopher Owen, a post-doctoral scientist at GW also working in the Computational Biology Institute, was also a co-author of the draft.

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Chemistry professor Akos Vertes developed a new technology called the REDIchip, which he has licensed to Protea Biosciences Group. Hatchet File Photo by Lydia Francis | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Chemistry professor Akos Vertes developed a new technology called the REDIchip, which he has licensed to Protea Biosciences Group. Hatchet File Photo by Lydia Francis | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Updated: June 2, 2015 at 4:53 p.m.

One GW faculty member is credited with turning millions of dollars into a coveted piece of technology.

Akos Vertes, a professor of chemistry, has been researching at GW for more than 23 years and holds several patents. His latest project, the REDIchip, was funded with grants from the Department of Energy and a $14 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The chip examines small molecules in biofluids for dangerous materials. Protea Biosciences Group, based in West Virginia, licenses the technology from Vertes.

Vertes spoke with The Hatchet about his latest piece of technology, including how he created the REDIchip. This interview has been edited for length.

Hatchet: Tell me a little about your new technology.

Vertes: The idea is that in the analysis of very small amounts of biological material of environmental samples, there’s a great need to develop new techniques to lower and lower amounts of material that can be analyzed. So in order to produce ions, which is the basis of detections, we use a laser. And this is very common. People use lasers to produce ions from samples. Most of samples do not interact with the laser light — they just pass the light through.

So what we developed is a nanostructure made out of silicon using technologies that I used in microelectronics, the methods people use to manufacture computer chips. We used the same type of technology to develop a platform that does not require any external material so the sample remains pristine and unaltered. And as a result, we are able to detect a lot more of the molecules that are in the sample, a larger variety of the molecules, at much lower concentrations compared to the existing techniques. So this is in a nutshell what makes this new technology so attractive.

Hatchet: How will it be used in the field? When will a company need this technology?

Vertes: We have explored the use of this in detecting trace amounts of illicit drugs during samples for example, but practically anything that’s currently being analyzed in the liquid form can be analyzed by using with this technique. In addition to analyzing biofluids and other fluid samples, we’ve also explored using these platforms for chemical imaging. So we can take a tissue section, brain tissues or kidney tissues — and we have already tried this with mouse brain and mouse kidney — and we can put this section down on the surface of this microchip and then use the laser to interrogate the structure point by point just like forming pixels. From one experiment, we can form 100 to 200 different images and learn the distribution of different chemicals in in the brain, or in the kidney or any other organ we are sectioning.

Hatchet: How long have you been working on this project?

Vertes: Maybe I can give you a broader perspective. [Protea] has also licensed and commercialized another technology from my lab. We started working on both of these technologies back in 2006, 2007. So approximately by the time the [first] technology was commercialized, the [REDIchip] was about ready to be commercialized. We worked out many of the kinks, improving ion yields, making stable structures, making sure they don’t degrade over time, and so on. So then they licensed this one and started to commercialized it.

Hatchet: How did you go about licensing it to Protea labs?

Vertes: They showed up at my doorstep. The president of the company, Steve Turner, one day knocked on my door, and he said they were interested in our work. And I don’t know where he picked up on our work, but that was seven, eight years ago, and we have been working together ever since.

Do you have any other projects down the pipeline?

Vertes: We have of course more advanced versions of both technologies that are being considered for commercialization, and they don’t want to give out the details on those, but we already have ideas about the next generation.

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GW Hospital

Mohamed Koubeissi, the director of the GW Hospital Epilepsy Center, led the group of researchers. Hatchet File Photo

A team of GW researchers may have accidentally discovered an on-off switch for consciousness in the human brain.

The group was trying to find the source of a woman’s seizures when it made her lose consciousness by stimulating a part of the brain called the claustrum, according to a report published this week by the research magazine New Scientist.

Led by Mohamed Koubeissi, an associate professor of neurology and the director of the GW Hospital Epilepsy Center, the researchers activated the thin sheet of neurons in the center of the brain repeatedly, and the woman reacted the same way each time: She lost consciousness but had no recollection of doing so.

Koubeissi told the magazine that they are sure the loss of consciousness was not a side effect of a seizure. He likened the case to a car.

“A car on the road has many parts that facilitate its movement – the gas, the transmission, the engine – but there’s only one spot where you turn the key and it all switches on and works together,” he told New Scientist. “So while consciousness is a complicated process created via many structures and networks, we may have found the key.”

Because the woman has epilepsy, a healthy brain may react differently to the treatment. The team is now planning to test whether triggering the claustrum can jolt a patient out of a minimally conscious state.

“Perhaps we could try to stimulate this region in an attempt to push them out of this state,” Koubeissi said.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014 4:44 p.m.

Business students collaborate with SEC

Updated: June 3, 2014 at 7:22 p.m.

This post was written by contributing news editor Jacqueline Thomsen.

Graduate business school students will spend the summer drawing up recommendations for the Securities and Exchange Commission about how to improve public disclosure of Fortune 500 companies’ financial records.

Eight students will review the annual financial statements of almost 50 companies before submitting a report in October to the federal agency’s top official, according to a release. They will suggest improvements to Form 10-K, the annual disclosure form for public companies.

The project, a collaboration between the University’s Institute for Corporate Responsibility and the Center for Audit Quality, a D.C.-based nonprofit, launched after SEC chair Mary Jo White called for investor-friendly improvements to the disclosure form.

Cynthia Glassman, a former commissioner and senior researcher at the Institute for Corporate Responsibility, and the Center for Audit Quality’s executive director will advise the students.

The University has looked to raise the business school’s profile and jolt fundraising after former dean Doug Guthrie was fired last year. GW announced last week that Linda Livingstone, dean of Pepperdine University’s business school, will replace Guthrie.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the last name of the incoming business school dean. It is Livingstone, not Graziado. Livingstone is currently the dean of the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University. We regret this error.

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