Seale Innovation Fund
2022 Seale Innovation
The first seven Virginia Tech research teams each to receive one-year, $75,000 Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC Seale Innovation Fund awards have been selected. The awarded pilot projects address a broad spectrum of biomedical and health science challenges that have impact on millions of Americans, including cancer, chronic pain, brain development, obesity, and COVID-19 complications.
More than eight million cancer patients received radiation therapy in 2018, yet less than half finished a full course due to rejection and gastrointestinal side effects. Robert Gourdie, professor and director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Center for Vascular and Heart Research, is developing an orally administered countermeasure to prevent radiation side effects. Rachel Letteri, assistant professor in UVA’s Department of Chemical Engineering, and her research team will assist Gourdie’s lab by loading milk-derived nano-capsules - purified at large scales for the first time by Gourdie’s laboratory last year – with a peptide currently in Phase III clinical trials that’s been previously shown to reduce radiation burns on skin. Ilektra Athanasiadi, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Cancer Care and Research Center will evaluate the peptide’s effects on weight, activity levels, illness and mortality, as well as gut tissue analysis in mice following radiation therapy. Gourdie is also a professor in the College of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM).
Nearly 100% of children diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas, an aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer, die within five years of diagnosis. The treatment-resistant tumors are often inoperable due to their location in the brainstem. Interdisciplinary researchers led by Jennifer Munson, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, will combine and evaluate focused ultrasound therapy – hypothesized to improve drug delivery across the blood-brain barrier – with sonodynamic therapy, and various cancer drug combinations. Munson is joined by co-investigators Javad Nazarian, head of the DIPG/DMG Center Zurich at University Children’s Hospital in Switzerland and associate professor at George Washington University and Children’s National Hospital; and Eli Vlaisavljevich, assistant professor in BEAM, where Munson is also a faculty member.
Patients with underlying cardiovascular disease are at higher risk of developing cardiac symptoms following COVID-19 infection. Similarly, healthy athletes are also predisposed to cardiac complications, such as viral myocarditis, after testing positive. A research team led by Jamie Smyth, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, hypothesizes that gene expression in stressed heart muscle cells – due to disease or exercise-related conditioning – may increase the risk of COVID-19 infecting the heart tissue. In 2020, Smyth’s laboratory conducted a study that illuminated how the common cold virus remodels molecular communication structures in the heart leading to arrhythmias. In the new study, Smyth’s team will evaluate how COVID-19 infections alter gene expression, protein distribution, and heartbeat regularity in both normal and hypertrophic, or stressed and enlarged, heart muscles in mice. The study aims to identify molecular changes in the heart and whether preexisting hypertrophy puts some at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 cardiac symptoms. Smyth is also a faculty member in the College of Science Department of Biological Sciences.
Human milk is one of the best nutritional sources for babies – yet its molecular contents remain largely unknown. Previous research has shown that infants fed exclusively human milk show different developmental trajectories in major white matter tracts in the brain, when compared to formula-fed infants. Brittany Howell, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, hypothesizes that nano-capsules composing 20% of human milk are transporting microRNAs to the baby – genetic instructions that may help guide myelination and white matter development postnatally. The researchers want to begin evaluating which specific microRNAs in human milk are linked with certain features of neurodevelopment. Howell is also a faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences' Department of Human Development and Family Science. She is joined by co-investigators Yassine Sassi, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP), and Paul Morton, assistant professor in DBSP.
In 2016, Read Montague, professor and director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Center for Human Neuroscience Research, and his research team made groundbreaking, first-ever measurements of dopamine in a conscious human subject. The tiny carbon fiber probes, temporarily implanted in the brain during an awake neurosurgery procedure, provided the researchers with real-time measurements of both dopamine and serotonin in 2020. Now, Montague’s team is adding statistical learning procedures to correlate brain chemistry with rapid pupil dilation changes to detect sub-second fluctuations in a third neurotransmitter: norepinephrine. These first-of-their-kind measurements will reveal relative roles of dopamine and norepinephrine, revealing further insight into the chemical interactions underlying human cognition. Montague is also a professor in the College of Science Department of Physics.
Ultra-processed, calorically dense foods are linked with increased risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – yet these foods continue to be overconsumed. Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, assistant professor and associate director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s Center for Health Behaviors Research, will relate metabolic, neural, and behavioral data to understand how our brains process nutrient availability and food preference. The project uses the institute’s new whole-room calorimeter facility – among the first of its kind - to measure changes in metabolic rates. DiFeliceantonio also is a faculty member in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise.
In light of the opioid epidemic, alternative, non-addictive treatments for pain are critically needed. A neuroscience team led by Wynn Legon, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, will advance and optimize low-intensity focused ultrasound to non-invasively control chronic pain. The researchers – using the institute’s new MR-guided focused ultrasound facility – will target different areas in the insula, a brain region that prior research suggests plays a role in processing pain perception in humans. Legon also is a faculty member in the College of Science’s School of Neuroscience.
Article ItemFor Bud: Robertson Memorial Endowment lays foundation for generations of Civil War education at Virginia Tech and beyond , article
“The endowment significantly strengthens our ability to keep doing what Dr. Robertson did so well: teaching anyone who cares to listen, inside and outside the classroom, about the experiences of the Civil War generation,” said Paul Quigley, the James I. Robertson, Jr. Associate Professor of Civil War Studies.Date: Mar 24, 2022
Article ItemGiving Day brings Hokies together to celebrate and support Virginia Tech , article
Members of the Hokie community from around the world are coming together to celebrate Virginia Tech in a shared moment of philanthropy as the university prepares to kick off Giving Day 2022.Date: Feb 21, 2022
Article Item‘A fulfilling purpose’: Scholarship recipient grateful, ready to serve , article
“The Beyond Boundaries Scholars program gives you so many connections to other Virginia Tech students,“ said Vince Vasudevan. “Being able to link up with other people who are passionate about learning and passionate about subjects you’re interested in is just a great experience.”Date: Feb 15, 2022
Article Item‘Pay it forward’ to science, humankind during Virginia Tech Giving Day , article
Gifts of all sizes help unlock up to $20,000 in match funding to the new Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Seale Innovation Fund, fueling innovative pilot research projects with transformative potential in health care.Date: Feb 09, 2022
Article ItemBoundless Impact Campaign gifts top $1 billion , article
Passing the $1 billion threshold capped a calendar year that saw multiple fundraising records, including the largest corporate gift, the largest gift from a Virginia Tech graduate, and the most dollars raised and donors participating in a Giving Day.Date: Jan 12, 2022
Article ItemTBMH graduate student awarded two grants to advance brain cancer research , article
Joelle Martin, who will defend her doctoral dissertation this month, received the Zeta Beta Tau Cancer Research Award and a graduate fellowship provided by philanthropist, alumnus, and longtime Virginia Tech benefactor Ray Gaskins ‘64.Date: May 05, 2021
Article ItemInternships can be inspirational and even life-changing for students , article
The opportunity to receive hands-on experience before graduation can have reverberations that last a career.Date: Feb 23, 2021
Article ItemFamily of Roanoke lawyer, philanthropist William Lemon contributes $1 million to support Fralin Biomedical Research Institute , article
The gift will help the rapidly expanding research institute continue to recruit and retain world-class researchers.Date: Sep 12, 2019
Article ItemStepping forward to serve: Record gift to Virginia Tech is in keeping with Heywood Fralin’s family legacy , article
Through his service and leadership, Fralin has become a central figure in the Roanoke Valley and one of its most outspoken advocates.Date: Dec 06, 2018
Article Item$50 million gift transforming biomedical research institute , article
The research institute is taking a giant leap forward with a new name — the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC — to tackle the top challenges in biomedical and health sciences research.Date: Dec 06, 2018
Article ItemRecord $50 million gift to Virginia Tech results in naming of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke , article
Historic donation will help recruit and retain world-leading researchers, further bolstering Virginia’s economy.Date: Dec 06, 2018
Article ItemArea businessman, benefactor Maury Strauss gives $1 million to VTCRI lecture series , article
Renamed the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series, the new season begins Oct. 4.Date: Oct 01, 2018
Article ItemVirginia Tech appoints Assistant Vice President of Advancement for Roanoke Kim Blair , article
The move reflects the university’s growing presence in the city, where the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine have emerged as economic anchors.Date: Sep 14, 2018
Article ItemReport shows strong impact, predicts economic growth for Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology Campus , article
The report, conducted by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Center for Economic and Policy Studies, analyzed current and future spending and employment growth at the campus, which is a physical representation of the unique partnership between a public institution, Virginia Tech, and Carilion Clinic, the third-largest private health system in Virginia.Date: May 23, 2018
Article ItemCartledge Charitable Foundation fights breast cancer with gift to Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute , article
The foundation made the $100,000 gift to support promising research taking place in Roanoke, Virginia, to prevent and treat breast cancer.Date: May 07, 2018
Article ItemVirginia Tech Carilion Research Institute names advisory board , article
Fifteen leaders of business, industry, and education — including a former Virginia Tech president — have been named to serve on the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s advisory board.Date: Jun 19, 2017