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Projects in Medicine, Health, Alternative Energy and Social Media Get Seed Grant Support

The Old Dominion University Office of Research has announced nearly $360,000 in multidisciplinary seed grants for 2011, with the support going to a range of health and medicine projects and to others exploring the harnessing of ocean waves and social media communications during disasters.

Sixteen teams involving 75 faculty researchers, six of whom are from Eastern Virginia Medical School, applied this year and six teams were funded, according to Mohammad Karim, the ODU vice president for research.

The purpose of the program is to nurture fledgling research projects so that they can win support from external funding agencies.

Here are the 2011 funded projects:

---"A Multidisciplinary Approach to Nanoscale Measurement and Image Analysis of Patient Cartilage for Predicting Surgical Response" ($70,000) -- Nikos Chrisochoides (principal investigator), computer science; Ali Beskok (consultant), aerospace and mechanical engineering; Andrey Chernikov (consultant), computer science; Shuiwang Ji (consultant), computer science; Shizhi Qian (consultant), aerospace and mechanical engineering; Mike Stacey (consultant), Center for Bioelectrics; Eric Dobratz (consultant), EVMS; Joe Han (consultant), EVMS.

Collagen fibers - or nano-straws - are responsible for tensile strength of cartilage. The cartilage of patients with chest wall deformities has been described as weak; therefore, abnormalities of collagen fibers observed in the cartilage of these patients may underlie these disorders. But until recently, it has not been possible to accurately and reproducibly measure biomechanical properties of collagen fibers.

This study will leverage research personnel and instrumentation that arrived at ODU in the past year in order to assess collagen fibers.

The MultiView4000 system of atomic force microscopy, near field scanning optical microscopy and scanning probe microscopy was installed in the ODU Bio-Microfluidics Laboratory this year at a cost of nearly $500,000. This instrument package is the only one in the United States that allows simultaneous four-probe nanoscale measurement, and this gives the ODU research team a unique opportunity to examine molecular- and atomic-level structures of cartilage. Beskok, Qian and Stacey will use the MultiView 4000 system to measure nano-straw stiffness and biophysical, chemical and electrical properties.

Chrisochoides, the Richard T. Cheng Professor of Computer Science, joined ODU in the fall of 2010. An expert in medical imaging computing, he, Chernikov and Ji will evaluate the displacements and the deformations of nano-straw components revealed by MultiView4000 imaging.

The study will be the first ultrastructural investigation of costal cartilage in patients with chest wall deformities. It is relevant to public health because these disorders severely impact heart, lung and psychological functions.

The clinical importance of the information gained from this study will 1) fill critical gaps in the nature of the chest wall cartilage and the underlying biology of chest wall deformity development, 2) relate biological findings with the degree of clinical severity, 3) provide a biomarker for those patients predestined to respond poorly to surgery and 4) define commonalities between disparate connective tissue disorders that exhibit chest wall deformities. Children predestined to fail surgery because of the characteristics of their costal cartilage may then be offered a more relevant clinical intervention.

---"Nanoindentation to Determine Turgor Pressure in Escherichia Coli" ($85,135) - Abdelmageed Elmustafa (PI), mechanical engineering, also affiliated with ODU's Applied Research Center in Newport News; Claretta J. Sullivan (co-PI), Ph.D., EVMS; L.D. Britt, M.D. (consultant), EVMS; David Gauthier (consultant), biological sciences.

Turgor pressure is produced by the contents of a cell pressing against the cell wall. In healthy bacteria, the barrier function of cytoplasmic membrane contributes to the ability of the cell to modulate turgor pressure. When the integrity of the cytoplasmic membrane is compromised, the cell is likely to have difficulty regulating turgor pressure.

Elmustafa is an expert in nanoindentation, in which a nanoscale indenter probes the nanomechanical properties of a material. For Elmustafa, this work has often involved probes of new materials designed to be used in the construction of aircraft.

But he switches in this study to probes of living bacteria cells. The researchers have at their disposal normal E. coli cells as well as a strain with a defective lipoprotein. They hypothesize that without the function of this lipoprotein the E. coli cell is weakened. Findings from this project are expected to advance the basic understanding of how bacteria maintain turgor pressure and could lead to the development of strategies to reduce bacterial contamination in the food supply, treatment for infectious diseases and improved bioremediation efforts.

Elmustafa will perform the measurements on samples prepared by Sullivan and both scientists will review and interpret the data. The seed funding will allow the researchers to purchase equipment required to locate individual cells so that single-cell measurements can be made. The money will also boost Elmustafa's efforts to establish a nanobiotechnology research program at ODU in collaboration with EVMS.

---"Robust, Multifunctional, Bio-compatible Nanocapsules for Intraoperative Imaging and Other Biomedical Applications" ($56,572) -- Balasubramanian Ramjee (PI), chemistry and biochemistry; Khaled Sakhel, M.D. (co-PI), EVMS; Chris Osgood (consultant), biological sciences; Shizhi Qian (consultant), aerospace and mechanical engineering; R. James Swanson (consultant), biological sciences; David Gauthier (consultant), biological sciences; James Lukban, M.D. (consultant), EVMS.

In this multidisciplinary project, the research team proposes to develop hollow polymeric nanocapsule-based platforms for biomedical applications, such as the delivery of dyes to highlight ureters and bladders. Accidental injury to the lower urinary tract is of significant concern to surgeons performing abdominal and pelvic procedures. The majority of ureteral injuries, in fact, are attributed to gynecologic surgeries.

Laparoscopic hysterectomies offer perioperative advantages, but, still, the surgeon is unable to feel the ureters and bladder during minimally invasive surgery, thus making visualization of their anatomic proximity more essential to complication-free surgery. Dyes such as indigo carmine, methylene blue and most recently near-infrared (NIR) fluorophore indocyanine green have been employed as contrast agents for visualizing ureters. The major limitation of visible dyes is that they are not sensitive, in spite of being specific. Hence, there is a need to develop novel biocompatible systems, which can be injected intravenously to highlight the ureters and bladder during laparoscopic or robotic procedures.

Ramjee proposes to build upon his recent development of hollow resorcinarene nano-capsules. One goal of this study is to make these nano-capsules water soluble so that after they provide their function they can be passed out of the body.

"We will develop new methods to generate water-soluble and biocompatible nanocapsules. Also, methods will be developed for encapsulating nanoparticles, dye molecules and combinations thereof for imaging and other applications. This multidisciplinary effort will develop and evaluate biocompatible nanocapsule-based imaging and therapeutic platforms to increase the scope of funding sources that can be targeted," the project proposal states.

Materials the researchers will develop are to be characterized by means of analytical tools in the College of Sciences Major Instrumentation Cluster (COSMIC) Laboratory and the Bio-Microfluidics Laboratory that Qian directs for the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

---"Wave Energy Dynamics: Simulation, Experiment and Optimization" ($55,500) - Jin Wang (PI), mathematics and statistics; Miltiadis Kotinis (co-PI), aerospace and mechanical engineering; Gene Hou (co-PI), aerospace and mechanical engineering; Ravindra Joshi (Consultant), electrical and computer engineering.

This project involves a comprehensive and multidisciplinary study that combines numerical simulation and laboratory experiments on the complex dynamics of ocean wave energy. The researchers aim to develop the basis for an optimal design study of a device that converts wave energy into electrical energy.

Particularly, the researchers intend to establish a new and more accurate computational framework that integrates wind-wave interaction and wave-structure interaction, and that overcomes the limitations of current dynamic theory and methods for wave energy prediction.

The first major task of this project is to establish the new computational framework and to conduct careful numerical simulation of the wave energy dynamics. Wang and Joshi will lead this effort, which will be aided by a algorithm recently developed by Wang for two-dimensional viscous two-phase Navier-Stokes flow computation.

Laboratory experiments will be conducted to validate the numerical results, led by Kotinis and Hou. Experiments will be performed in the model basin of the Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory at the University of Michigan, with which Kotinis has collaborated.

"Wave energy offers a clean and renewable energy source for new generations. However, to design cost-effective devices that optimize wave energy extraction, one needs to have deeper understanding of the complex dynamics," the proposal states. "Currently available dynamic theory and models on wave energy application lack realistic nonlinear waves and realistic wave-buoy interactions, and neglect wind effects; thus the accuracy of their predictions is unclear. The computational framework and experimental validation proposed in this project will overcome these limitations and provide a new, systematic, and accurate study on the nonlinear dynamics involved in wave energy application."

The researchers want this work to be the basis of further studies by the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC), which is based at ODU. They say wave energy devices could be developed very efficiently if built in conjunction with offshore wind turbine farms.

---"Identifying and Archiving Socially Important Conversations in the Social Web" ($54,000) - Michael Nelson (PI), computer science; Michele Weigle (Co-PI), computer science; Kathie Gossett (Co-PI), English; Liza Potts (Co-PI), English.

Social media on the Web have excelled at rapid dissemination and organization of information about disasters such as the London bombings (2005), Hurricane Katrina (2005), Virginia Tech shootings (2007), Mumbai attacks (2008) and Haiti earthquake (2010). When a disaster occurs, information, and the dissemination of that information, becomes vital. Those who are affected need to share information with authorities and loved ones, who in turn need access to the information to determine where to best allocate resources.

Gossett and Potts study the use of social software such as Twitter, Facebook, photo sharing sites, news websites, forums and blogs during disasters to help us understand how people communicate online.

In order to investigate online communication during past disasters, researchers need to examine the Web of the past. Memento, a Web architecture funded by the Library of Congress and developed by the Department of Computer Science at ODU, led by Nelson, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, provides the ability to go back in time and browse the Web as it existed at a given point in time.

The researchers propose to extend research and development with Memento to 1) develop replay and analysis tools of past disasters as drawn from various Web archives, 2) detect, in real-time, the conversations about current disasters in the social Web, and 3) channel public Web archiving resources to where the conversations are occurring so they can be preserved and analyzed using the tools developed in the first task.

The natural intersection of the computer science work of Nelson and Weigle (who focuses on networking) and the communication work of Gossett and Potts is often referred to as Digital Humanities, an emerging interdisciplinary area that leverages computational techniques for issues concerning the acquisition and interaction with cultural artifacts. "Although ODU has the necessary components to be active in Digital Humanities, to our knowledge this will be the first funded research project that integrates this breadth of research experience. This seed project and follow-on project that we hope it will lead to could be used to bootstrap the field of Digital Humanities at ODU and bring together researchers who would not normally be able to work together," the proposal states.

---"Tool Development for Perioperative Blood Management Simulation Training" ($37,000) - Catherine Banks (PI), Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC); John Sokolowski (Co-PI), VMASC; Paul Hakim, M.D. (Co-PI), VMASC/EVMS; Aryeh Shander, M.D. (Co-PI), Englewood Hospital and Medical Center/Mt. Sinai Medical Center; Karen Gillikin (Co-PI), nursing.

This project combines simulation training in medicine developed by ODU's VMASC and EVMS with the case studies and everyday needs of a major United States teaching hospital, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey. The work proposes to develop a virtual training environment in blood management for surgeons and anesthesiologists.

Blood transfusions are expensive and carry the risk of blood-borne illnesses including HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Human Lymphocytotrophic Virus, Cytomegalovirus, West Nile and sepsis among others. These facts have led to the development of blood management programs in several major hospitals in the United States. One such program at Englewood Hospital was able to reduce blood use by 42 percent over four years, which lowers patient morbidity and mortality, while also lowering cost.

Surgeons and anesthesiologists who are experts in the field of bloodless surgery have inquired with VMASC about the development of a blood management training tool, and this project has been the result of those inquiries. VMASC/EVMS are providing the technology-development expertise that already has resulted in the creation of a virtual operating room. The new training tool will also use real patient case studies, and analytical and verification capabilities of hospitals such as Englewood.

The tool will provide hands-on exercises. Simulations will consist of perioperative bleeding conditions due to expected, unexpected, and persistent blood loss as well as resuscitative scenarios. The tool will comprise computer simulations of patient vital signs (and projections) accompanied by haptic devices interfacing with the visual representations.

This article was posted on: December 9, 2010

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