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Message from the Chair


Welcome to the Department of Biochemistry in the West Virginia University School of Medicine. In the past five years, the Department has grown with the recruitment of three junior faculty members, Peter Stoilov (alternative splicing), David Smith (regulation of the proteasome) and Roberta Leonardi (regulation of co-enzyme A production/degradation). All three have successfully launched their independent research programs and secured extramural funding from the NIH.

In collaboration with the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (WVCTSI) we have recruited Valery Khramtsov, Andrey Bobko and Mark Tseytlin to assemble a group using electron paramagnetic resonance to monitor metabolic changes in the tissue microenvironment in animal models of cancer. The Department plans to continue recruiting to replace recently retired faculty and expand our expertise in research areas of emphasis within the Department. Our strengths broadly fall into the areas of metabolism, neurobiology, cancer cell biology, protein biochemistry, biophysics and regulation of gene expression. We are particularly interested in recruiting additional expertise in the regulation of metabolism as it applies to metabolic diseases, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Our growth in these areas aligns with strategic initiatives in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences Center. Research in obesity and metabolic disease is an area of emphasis for the WVCTSI, which provides support for pilot projects in the area of metabolism.

Our faculty members also participate in the Obesity, Metabolism and Diabetes program that is part of the Prevention Research Center at WVU. This program seeks to foster collaboration in the study of metabolic diseases across disciplines including the basic and clinical sciences, public health, and community engagement. Developing infrastructure for metabolic research at the institution includes resources for analysis of body composition and metabolic measurements and state of the art imaging, genomics, metabolomics and flow cytometry facilities. We are striving to provide a supportive, collegial and collaborative environment in the Department to maximize everyone's potential in our research and teaching missions. I encourage you to explore the web site to learn more about the growing research programs in the Department, our efforts to mentor junior faculty, our commitment to the graduate and professional teaching missions and our history.

Meet Our New Mountaineer Family

Aaron RobartDr. Aaron Robart joined the Biochemistry Department in August. Prior to his move to Morgantown, Dr. Robart lived in San Diego, CA, with his wife and daughter, and has trained at multiple institutions such as the University of Calgary, UCLA and UCSD. He will establish his independent research program at WVU studying RNA splicing from a structural perspective. He is currently busy getting new lab up and running. Stop by and say hello! Welcome Dr. Aaron Robart!

Jianhai DuDr. Jianhai Du has a joint appointment with the Department of Biochemistry and the Ophthalmology Department. Dr. Du has trained at the Peking University in Beijing China and most recently in Seattle at the University of Washington. His current research is focusing on energy metabolism of neuronal retina and human RPE cells. Welcome Dr. Jianhai Du!

Richard Seftor Elisabeth SeftorDr. Richard E.B. Seftor and his wife, Elisabeth joined the Department of Biochemistry in September. Dr. Seftor is a Research Professor and Elisabeth Seftor is a Senior Research Scientist. Their most recent Research Lab was in Chicago at Northwestern University. They are part of the Mary Hendrix Lab and will reside in the Erma Byrd building. The Hendrix laboratory discovered that aggressive cancers can re-express the embryonic morphogen Nodal, a TGF-beta signaling molecule that contributes to maintaining pluripotency and is associated with stem cells, but do not re-express its primary inhibitor, Lefty. Since cancer stem cell populations are thought to contribute to drug resistance and recurrence, this work suggests that Nodal may be used as both a diagnostic marker and therapeutic target for aggressive cancers that become resistant to conventional front-line therapies. They are continuing this work in partnership with the pharmaceutical companies AbbVie and TaiRx, Inc. Welcome Dr. Richard & Elisabeth Seftor!

Grants Awarded

Things have certainly been moving in the right direction for faculty obtaining research dollars. Several of our enthusiastic researchers have successfully secured extramural dollars to support their research endeavors. At a time where securing grant dollars is not such as an easy feat, a special congratulations goes out to the following individuals whose tireless efforts and hard work has finally paid off!

Congratulations to Dr. Roberta Leonardi, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, who just secured a $1,856,000 funded, 5 year MIRA R35 project from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to study the mechanisms through which Nudt7 and Nudt19 regulate lipid and carbohydrate metabolism in the liver and kidney and to develop approaches to modulate the activity of these enzymes. The title of her 5 year project is "Changes in coenzyme A levels are a key mechanism regulating metabolic pathways".

Congratulations also goes to Dr. Elena Pugacheva, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, who just secured a $358,875 funded R21 project from the National Cancer Institute to determine the molecular mechanism(s) of KIF2C-driven cilium disassembly and any therapeutic benefits of cilium restoration in GBM patient derived xenograft (PDX) models. The title of her 2 year project is "The role of KIF2C/AURKA signaling in cilia loss and progression of glioblastoma".

A second shout out goes to Dr. Pugacheva for also securing a National Cancer Institute, $1,781,250, 5 year competing renewal for her R01 project focused on determining the role of nuclear AURKA in metastasis in TN and HER2+ breast cancers. The title of her 5 year project is "The role of HEF1/NEDD9 protein in proliferation and invasion of metastatic breast cancer".

Congratulations also goes to Dr. Jianhai Du, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Biochemistry, who just secured a $160,000 funded project from the BrightFocus Foundation to test specific hypotheses on NAD metabolism under oxidative stress to develop new treatments for Sorsby fundus Dystrophy (SFD) and Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). The title of his 2 year project is "NAD metabolism in normal and disease-specific human RPE cells".

Last, but certainly not least, congratulations goes out to Dr. Yehenew Agazie, who recently secured a $50,000 Pilot grant through the WV Clinical and Translational Science Institute to test and obtain preclinical data that strengthens the preliminary findings on SHP2 as a drug target and on WGMDY as an anti-cancer agent. The title of his pilot project is "Targeting SHP2 for the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer".