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Auburn University receives national recognition for fostering economic growth, prosperity and innovation

One of the nation’s top higher education associations today recognized Auburn University for leadership in fostering economic growth, prosperity and innovation.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities named Auburn an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University, a designation that recognizes the university’s strong commitment to economic engagement and its work with public and private sector partners in Alabama and the region.

“Auburn is in the business of helping people achieve their hopes and dreams, and that’s why we’re committed to working alongside entrepreneurs, industry leaders and government officials as an engine of economic opportunity,” Auburn University President Jay Gogue said.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, or APLU, is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Auburn began the application process for the Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation in September and engaged in an extensive self-study which included, among other things, surveys and focus groups with stakeholders from around the state of Alabama. The study found Auburn had a $5.1 billion economic impact on the state economy in 2014 and supports 23,600 jobs, in addition to direct employment.

“We are establishing partnerships and providing support to business and industry with an eye toward spurring growth,” said John Mason, Auburn University vice president for research and economic development. “These relationships benefit our students with learning experiences, while companies benefit from Auburn’s world-class faculty and research.”

A highlight is the university’s engagement with GE Aviation to help bring high-volume additive manufacturing to the GE facility in the city of Auburn, where it will manufacture jet engine fuel nozzles. The facility will be the first of its kind to mass produce additive components for the jet propulsion industry. The university will collaborate on training and industrializing processes as well as developing a curriculum for engineers interested in industrialized additive manufacturing.

Auburn is also home to a 13,000-square-foot Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, Lab focusing on the business and technical implementation of RFID and other new technologies in retail, supply chain management and manufacturing. It is a unique private and academic partnership between major manufacturers and retailers, technology vendors, standards organizations as well as top faculty and researchers from many disciplines.

Auburn is one of 18 universities named in APLU’s third annual class of Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities and is the only university named in the state of Alabama. Joining Auburn this year are Binghamton University; Clemson University; East Carolina University; Mississippi State University; New Jersey Institute of Technology; New Mexico State University; Ohio University; Southern Illinois University; University of Arizona; University of Kansas; University of Louisville; University of Maryland; University of Nebraska-Lincoln; University of New Mexico; University of South Florida; Utah State University; and Western University.

With a membership of 238 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and affiliated organizations, APLU’s agenda is built on the three pillars of increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research and expanding engagement.

To learn more, visit www.auburn.edu/externalengagement

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Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer announces academic-biotech collaboration

Auburn 748

Researchers from the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer, or AURIC, and Nuovo Biologics LLC, of Davie, Florida, have announced a partnership to develop new therapies for cancer.

Initially targeting canine malignant melanoma, or skin cancer, a deadly tumor that affects many dogs, the team will be testing Nuovo’s innovative anti-cancer peptide drug MMX for its ability to treat these tumors.

The National Institutes for Health recently awarded a grant funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to support a clinical trial of the new peptide treatment. According to Dr. Bruce Smith, director of AURIC and leader of the Auburn component of the research effort, the clinical trial will begin to recruit patients as early as June or July.

Jay Yourist, CEO of Nuovo Biologics, Auburn’s biotech partner, said, “This clinical trial represents the next step in moving MMX forward to FDA approval.”

In addition to the planned research with Nuovo, AURIC scientists are pursuing a wide variety of interdisciplinary cancer research, ranging from identifying the basic mechanisms that make normal cells become cancerous to a variety of new approaches to treating cancers. Funding for AURIC research is provided by the state of Alabama, federal research grants, funding from private organizations and donations from individuals.

Both AURIC and Nuovo Biologics take a One Health/One Medicine approach to cancer treatment, allowing discoveries in one species to be translated to other species. This latest partnership builds on the collaborative approach Nuovo has implemented with academic institutions, researchers and veterinarians across the country.

Founded in 2010, Nuovo Biologics is focused on developing a unique set of therapeutic protein drugs. Extensive in-vitro and animal model studies have shown these new peptide drugs to be promising in the oncology sphere, but also to have broad anti-viral application. Nuovo’s business model leverages strong collaborations to test animal products, which serve as models for the human market moving forward. For more information about Nuovo Biologics, go to http://www.nuovobiologics.com/.

The Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer promotes research that enhances competitiveness to advance the understanding of the biology of cancer, and fosters the translation of novel technologies from the laboratory to the clinic. AURIC is human medicine, animal medicine, research and diagnostics where faculty, students and staff work together to solve the complex puzzle of cancer. AURIC is based within the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. For more information about AURIC, go to http://www.auriconline.org/.

by Janet McCoy

Avian Influenza Outbreak in the U. S.: Auburn University Professor Answers Frequently Asked Questions

Robert NortonAvian Influenza has gained the public attention again as the U.S. deals with a widespread outbreak in the upper Midwest of the “Highly Pathogenic (HPAI) H5” form of the disease. Avian Influenza is a viral disease of birds, more specifically one caused by a Type A Orthomyxovirus, which has also infected other species, including birds, pigs, horses, seals, whales, and humans. The size of the current outbreak is quite large and unfortunately spreading into areas where commercial poultry (chickens and turkeys) are grown. The first case was identified in a backyard flock in Oregon on December 19, 2014. The disease then rapidly spread to Washington, eventually moving into turkey flocks in Minnesota and chickens in Iowa. As of 23 April, almost 7.5 million birds have been destroyed in an attempt to get ahead of the outbreak, with the hope of preventing it from spreading into the southeast U.S., where very large numbers of commercial poultry are produced.

Up-to-date details on the ongoing outbreak are available from USDA-APHIS.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_animal_disease_information/sa_avian_health/ct_avian_influenza_disease

Where did the disease come from? The general scientific consensus is that the virus originated in free ranging waterfowl, where the virus easily circulates without causing overt disease or large scale mortality. Waterfowl carrying the H5N8 form of the virus are thought to most likely have picked up the virus during migration out of Asia, carrying it into the Pacific flyway and eventually eastwardly into the upper Midwest. Other forms of the virus may also have been present, some mutating so that they became very pathogenic (i.e. deadly) to poultry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has subsequently identified other forms of the virus, including H5N2 and H5N1. Some strains of H5N1 Avian Influenza Viruses have caused human sickness and mortality in Asia. It is important to note that the strains of the virus found in North American waterfowl are not the same as those causing human illness and mortality in Asia. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded that the human risk from the North American waterfowl viruses is very low. To date, the outbreak has been associated with the Pacific, Mississippi, and Central flyways, where weather conditions were cool and wet, so the disease was able to migrate out of ducks and geese and into hobbyist and eventually commercial poultry flocks. Many scientists feel that the spread of the disease will slow as weather conditions change to warmer, dryer air. This change, however, will not eliminate the virus in waterfowl populations, where it will continue to circulate and potentially cross once again into commercial poultry when fall and winter conditions return. If this scenario plays out as many scientists expect it will, the disease will become endemic (if it is not already) to the North American continent, likely resulting in an eventual adoption of a federal preventative vaccination approach.

What is the government doing to prevent the spread of the disease? The USDA is aggressively moving to contain the disease. Commercial poultry flocks are being monitored by both state and federal scientists and if identified as infected, these flocks are quickly euthanized and buried in approved sites. To date, the USDA has chosen not to vaccinate nearby flocks (a process called “ring vaccination”) because of the potential effect this might have on international trade and the unavailability of the vaccine in quantities necessary for the scope of the current outbreak. The USDA is, however, currently working on the development of a vaccine, and many expect that they will eventually allow its use if the disease continues to spread.

The USDA’s current approach to dealing with the problem occurs in five stages (see this link: www.aphis.gov/wps):

  1. Quarantine – restricting movement of poultry and poultry-moving equipment into and out of the control area
  2. Eradicate – humanely euthanizing the affected flock(s)
  3. Monitor region – testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area
  4. Disinfect – killing the virus in the affected flock locations
  5. Test – confirming that the poultry farm is Avian Influenza virus-free.

Can I, or my family, be infected by Avian Influenza? Infection can occur with the virus, but it is highly unlikely because of the current genetic makeup of the virus. There does not appear at this time to be any significant risk in the U.S. of a widespread or epidemic outbreak of Avian Influenza in humans. This opinion is based on current epidemiological data, medical and veterinary diagnostic availability in the U.S., and societal norms and practices, which limit virus spread. The American public is widely separated from commercial food production and unlike Asia, where human disease has occurred, generally does not buy poultry from live markets (in such markets, inspection may not be as stringent as in commercial agriculture). Avian Influenza deaths have occurred in Asia and other places around the world, but these instances were unique and often the result of long-term exposure or consumption of sick or dead birds. The viruses found in the current U.S. poultry outbreak are not the same viruses that caused human sickness and death in Asia. The U.S. food supply is the safest in the world. Sick birds infected with Avian Influenza do not enter the food chain in the U.S. because of the very vigorous monitoring and inspection process, cooperatively led by the commercial poultry production companies as well as state and federal authorities. Full monetary compensation for infected flocks by the federal government, which is often not available in other countries, also encourages reporting, lessening the risk even further.

Is the USDA working with other agencies to ensure the disease does not cross into humans? Yes. The USDA-led efforts to contain and eradicate HPAI is part of a larger program that includes cooperative efforts with the CDC. The concept behind this and other joint animal health efforts is called “One Health.” The One Health program recognizes that the health of animals, people, and the environments in which they live are intricately linked. The USDA is working to contain and eradicate the disease in poultry. The agency also works with the CDC to ensure the disease has not jumped from the avian species to humans.

A detailed description of the One Health program is available from USDA-Veterinary Services and the CDC.

Link 1:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/one_health_strategic_direction.pdf

Link 2:

http://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/

Additional information on Avian Influenza is available from the CDC.

Link 1:  http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-in-birds.htm

Link 2:  http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/index.htm

Does USDA work with state agencies to monitor animal diseases like Avian Influenza? Yes. Animal health surveillance is a cooperative effort of federal, state, and agribusiness animal health professionals.  The USDA has established the National Animal Health Surveillance System (NAHSS) to integrate animal health monitoring and surveillance at the state and federal level, creating a comprehensive and coordinated system.

Details of the NAHSS program are available from USDA.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_monitoring_and_surveillance

The USDA also coordinates another program called the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), which conducts national studies on the health and health management of U.S. domestic livestock and poultry populations.

Details of the NAHMS program are available from USDA.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_monitoring_and_surveillance/sa_nahms/ct_national_animal_health_monitoring_system_nahms_home/

The USDA has also created the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which includes state animal health laboratories. When a large-scale animal outbreak occurs, like the current HPAI outbreak, tracking and diagnosis can severely overtax federal laboratory capacity. The collaborative state-level NAHLN then becomes an important partner in response. At the Federal level, the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) coordinates diagnostic efforts and serves as the reference and confirmatory laboratory. State and University veterinary diagnostic laboratories that are members of the NAHLN network perform routine diagnostic tests and targeted surveillance testing, including that which is occurring in this outbreak.

Details of the NAHLN are available from USDA-APHIS.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_lab_information_services/sa_nahln/ct_national_animal_health_laboratory_network

Are poultry products (meat and eggs) safe to consume? Yes! It bears repeating. The U.S. food supply is the safest and most abundant in the world. Poultry meat and eggs are inspected and never put into the food chain if originating from flocks infected with HPAI. Even so, like all raw meat products, due diligence in the kitchen should always be practiced to ensure safe handling and storage. Poultry meat and eggs are perishable products that can be cross-contaminated with bacteria or viruses, causing food safety problems. Poultry products should always be thoroughly cooked and never consumed raw—not because of the potential presence of the Avian Influenza virus but instead because other potential food-borne pathogens may be present.

Additional information on food safety practices is available at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets

Is there anything I should do if I am a poultry hobbyist to protect my flock against Avian Influenza? Yes. Practicing effective biosecurity is essential when dealing with hobby poultry flocks.  Hobby flocks should not be allowed to comingle with wild birds or waterfowl or range in areas where these may be present. Water supplies should also not come from lakes or ponds where waterfowl are present. Wild birds should also be excluded from pens or feeding areas. When handling birds, the USDA recommends the following:

Do not pick up deceased or obviously sick birds. Contact your state, tribal, or federal natural resources agency if you find sick or dead birds. Other safe practices include:                                                                              (Link: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/biosecurity/wildbirds.htm)

  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning your bird feeders
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning feeders
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning bird feeders

What does a sick bird with Avian Influenza look like? The signs for sick birds can be very subtle or quite distinct depending on the type of Avian Influenza virus involved and the stage of the disease. The USDA lists the following signs, which may be singly present or in combination:                                     (Link:http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/AI/)

  • Sudden death without other clinical signs
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Decreased egg production; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing and/or sneezing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Diarrhea

Domestic turkeys infected by HPAI may show similar signs to chickens, shown here, including swollen head and eyelids.

Training materials for recognizing Avian Influenza Symptoms is available from USDA-FSIS                                                              Link:  http://www.fsis..gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/inspection/workforce-training/regional-on-site-training/avian-influenza-training

Additional downloadable biosecurity resources for the poultry hobbyist are available from the following USDA Websites.

Link 1:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/about/downloads.htm#1767

Link 2:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/aphis_pubs.php?ndx=2&fltr=Bird%20Biosecurity

Link 3:  http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov/

Instructions for obtaining hard copies of the materials are available at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/how_to_order_publications.pdf

Do pet bird owners need to practice similar biosecurity measures? Yes. Avian influenza has on occasion infected other avian species beyond ducks, geese, and turkeys. Birds are very popular pets and sometimes originate in other parts of the world that may be experiencing HPAI outbreaks. Unfortunately, many of the most exotic birds are highly prized, often endangered, and therefore very expensive and frequently smuggled. The USDA quarantines and tests live birds legally imported into the U.S. Exotic bird owners should not patronize bird smuggling operations—not only because it is a federal offense but also because it endangers the very birds they may already possess. USDA recommends the following standards of practice:                                                                                                                                                      (Link: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/biosecurity/petbirds.htm)

  • When buying a pet bird, request certification from the seller that the birds was legally imported or came from U.S. stock and was healthy prior to shipment.
  • It is a good idea to have your new bird examined by a veterinarian.
  • Isolate new birds from your other birds for at least 30 days.
  • Restrict access to your birds, especially from people who own birds that are housed outside.
  • Keep your birds away from other birds.
  • Clean and disinfect your clothing and shoes if you have been near other birds, such as at a bird club meeting or bird fair or at a venue with live poultry.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap, water, and disinfectant before and after handling your birds.
  • Keep cages, food, and water clean on a daily basis.
  • Remove feed from bags; place it in clean, sealed containers; and throw bags away.
  • Do not borrow or share bird supplies. If you must, clean and disinfect the items before bringing them home.

Is there anything that hunters should do to protect themselves and their families? Again, yes. Diligent biosecurity is essential. If practiced effectively, it costs very little. Commercial poultry farmers should refrain from waterfowl or turkey hunting since the risk of carrying back the virus is too great.  Many commercial poultry companies actually contractually prohibit their growers from conducting practices outside a set of very strict guidelines, including hunting waterfowl. It obviously is in the best interest of the growers to adhere to the guidelines since compensation for infected flocks comes to the owner of the flocks (In the U.S., these owners are generally the poultry production companies) and not the grower. The USDA recommends the following:

Follow routine precautions when handling wild birds.

  • Do not handle or consume game animals that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning game.
  • Wash hands with soap and water, or alcohol wipes, immediately after handling game.
  • Wash tools and working surfaces with soap and water and then disinfect.
  • Keep uncooked game in a separate container, away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook game meat thoroughly. Poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites .
  • To report unusual signs in birds you have seen in the wild, call 1-866-4-USDA-WS. To learn more about how you can help, visit usda.gov/birdflu.

A downloadable safe biosecurity practices wallet card for hunters is available at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/downloads/USDA_HntrCd_Hi.pdf

Will the disease continue to spread and if so, what will be the effect on consumers? Prediction of how or where the disease might spread is difficult, if not impossible, at this time. Many scientists feel the problem will persist, but again that is an opinion, the accuracy of which has not yet been proven. Every step of containment and eradication, short of vaccination, is being conducted by poultry experts, including corporate, state, and federal officials. Exports of poultry meat, eggs, and egg products from the areas associated with the current outbreaks have been negatively affected. A substantial number of poultry have also been eradicated, causing regional decreases in supplies. Combined, these two, in some ways competing, elements have yet to cause any substantial increase in overall U.S. poultry prices. This trending or neutral effect on U.S. poultry prices is likely not to be maintained, should the outbreak continue to spread in the upper Midwest and euthanized bird numbers increase dramatically. If the disease spreads to the Southeast, the consumer economic effect is likely to remain unavoidable, and prices of poultry meat and eggs will probably increase, perhaps dramatically. However, the situation will remain complex and largely dependent on the consumer response. Some consumers will likely turn from poultry consumption either from unwarranted fear or from price increases that may occur. Such responses ease pressures on prices and with time can cause price increases to moderate.It is important to note, however, that the medium to long-term economic effect predictions are made more difficult to predict because Avian Influenza is occurring in other countries around the world, in some places even becoming endemic (meaning persistent in the local bird population). These countries might export to the U.S. as substitute suppliers.  If this worldwide trend continues, the overall availability of poultry meat, eggs, and egg products will likely decrease, thereby causing an overall increase in poultry prices.

If HPAI crosses the continent and enters into the Southeast commercial poultry flock, as some speculate it will in the fall of this year when cool moist weather returns, the economic effect could be severe and prolonged, particularly if breeder flocks (the birds that provide the eggs that become the broilers we consume and the layers, which give us the eggs we eat) become sick from the virus. Should the breeder flock be affected on anything approaching a large scale, we are looking at a potentially unprecedented negative economic effect to the U.S. economy. American citizens expect a readily available and economical food supply. If HPAI continues to spread at the current rate or is proven endemic on the North American continent, implementation of additional strategies, including vaccination, are highly likely. The alternative, at least for poultry and poultry products, is to surrender the assurance that ready availability at reasonable prices is be possible.

Auburn University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School team with French Biotech Company to treat neurologic disorder in children

Cat and Child

Auburn University and the University of Massachusetts Medical (UMMS) school have partnered with Paris-based biotech firm, Lysogene, in studies related to GM1 glandliosidosis.

GM1 gangliosidosis is a member of a group of about 40 related disorders that result from dysfunction of lysosomal enzymes or related proteins. GM1 is a neurologic condition of children that is typically fatal by two years of age. An inherited disorder, GM1 progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and is a neurodegenerative disease much like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. There is no cure or effective treatment available and it affects one in every 100,000 to 200,000 newborns.

For more than 40 years, Scott Richey Research Center  (SRRC) in Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has researched GM1 gangliosidosis in felines, as GM1 also occurs naturally in cats. The goal of SRRC’s GM1 research is to find a cure for feline GM1 and, through research partners, successfully apply similar therapies for application in humans.

One of the most successful experimental treatments found to date is gene therapy, using a non-harmful viral vector (AAV) to produce missing enzymes, in this case beta-galactosidase. In feline trials at SRRC, it has successfully restored beta-galactosidase levels to normal, prevented storage of GM1 ganglioside, and quadrupled the lifespan of GM1 cats as survival benefits continue to increase.

Auburn University, Lysogene, and the UMMS will work together on preclinical studies related to AAV gene therapy.   According to a press release from Lysogene, the collaboration will combine Lysogene’s outstanding translational and clinic expertise in gene therapy for central nervous system disorders with the unique preclinical expertise and infrastructure of UMMS and with Auburn’s ability to design and text innovative AAV-based gene therapy approaches to treatment.

To learn more about this collaboration, visit: http://www.clinicalleader.com/doc/lysogene-university-of-massachusetts-medical-school-and-auburn-university-0001

To learn more about Auburn’s Scott Richey Research Center, visit:  http://www.vetmed.auburn.edu/srrc/#.VOJVyU331aQ

Pharmacy faculty, engineering student find common ground in research collaboration

Research Collaboration

Rusty Arnold, an associate professor in Auburn’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, believes in academic units working together and crossing departmental lines to further research.

That collaboration does not stop at the faculty level as Arnold, a recipient of the President’s Collaborative Units Award, also benefits from the work of undergraduate students such as chemical engineering major Christy Pickering.

Pickering, a senior from Hazel Green, Alabama, was recently awarded a $5,000 Gateway to Research Scholarship from the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education for her work in Arnold’s lab, called “Development and Application of Gold‐Lipidic Nanocomposites to Enhance Chemotherapeutic Delivery and Release.” She was one of seven recipients nationally.

The purpose of the scholarship is to support faculty-mentored research in the pharmaceutical sciences. For Pickering, an active student who has been a member of the Auburn University Marching Band the last four years, the funding will assist with tuition and research expenses in her final year at Auburn.

“Christy is very intelligent, extremely motivated and very thorough. What is unique about her is that most of the undergraduate honor students that I work with are pre-med and she is chemical engineering,” said Arnold. “She has a clear vision that she wants to go into research, she wants to go into academia.”

Pickering is in her second year in Arnold’s lab, coming on board shortly after he arrived on campus. For someone who knew she wanted to work in the medical field, it was a perfect match.

“I applied because I thought what Dr. Arnold did sounded really cool – working with cancer, looking at chemo – it just sounded like a project I would really be interested in,” said Pickering. “So I sat down with him and talked about the project, and he took on me and four other undergrads. My project, from the start, was set up to be a very engineering-based pharmaceutical project. It has been a really neat experience getting to work with him.”

For Arnold, Pickering stood out right away as someone who would bring a new approach and think outside of the box in his lab. Bringing on someone with a chemical engineering background has added a new perspective to his research.

“What immediately caught my interest in Christy is when I described some of the challenges with the formulations, she was asking have you tried composites, have you tried these other things. She was immediately thinking about how to solve the problems,” said Arnold. “She has been able to take a system we are working with and propose changes that are actually going to allow us to deliver more than one drug, use more than one imaging modality, and hopefully be able to improve therapy. Using her background in engineering, she is able to add value in an area that my lab did not have expertise in. Even though she is an undergraduate, some of the ideas she has are very different than some of the approaches we would use.”

Part of Pickering’s research is working with liposomes, small spherical particles commonly used for chemotherapeutic delivery because they capitalize on a unique quality of tumors called the enhanced permeability and retention effect, or the EPR Effect. In order for tumors to grow quickly, they stimulate the production of blood vessels, but the quick growth causes them to not be as organized as they are in the rest of the body and the cell wall is more porous.

“The cells aren’t fully connected in some places, which means there are holes that things can transport through,” said Pickering. “The holes are very small, but big enough that liposomes or drugs can pass through into the tumor cells.”

Liposomes, like the ones that Pickering works with in Arnold’s lab, can circulate the body for a long time. When they get to a tumor, holes in the tumor vessels allow the liposomes to pass from the blood into the space outside the blood vessel where the tumor is located.

“We can put these long-circulating liposomes into the body and just let them go through the blood stream until they passively accumulate in the tumor site,” said Pickering. “The treatment called Doxil is a liposome with the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin encapsulated within it.

“So, using the EPR Effect is a passive means of targeting a tumor because you are just relying on the liposomes to naturally accumulate there by passing through the blood vessel. What we are trying to do is use active targeting where there will be something on the liposomes that actually targets the cancer cell and not the other cells in the body.”

Specifically, what Pickering has been working on is using the liposomes with the doxorubicin as a treatment method, but also incorporating gold nanoparticles as an imaging contrast agent to be able to look at the tumors.

“If we can put drug and gold nanoparticles in a liposome at the same time and send it to the tumor cell, then we can image the tumor cell at the same time as we are killing the tumor cell, so it gives us combined diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities in one particle,” said Pickering.

“It is an exciting experience to work on a project that has the potential to help people fighting cancer, and I have learned so much though the challenges involved with this research. I am very grateful to Dr. Arnold for the opportunity to work in his lab and to AFPE and the Office of Undergraduate Research for the fellowships that allow me to continue my research.”

By: Matt Crouch

To learn more about the Office of Undergraduate Research, visit: http://www.auburn.edu/undgres/

Get to know Brian Vaughn, an award-winning Auburn University authority on children and peer-relationships

“I’m curious about puzzles and mysteries, and to me the interesting and exciting part about science is finding the solution to a puzzle or demystifying something that people don’t really know about.” -Brian Vaughn

Parents often find that no matter how much they prepare beforehand or think they know about children, they can learn more from simply watching and living the experience. That bit of advice to parents is based on research by Brian Vaughn, an award-winning Auburn University authority on children and peer-relationships.

Throughout the past decade, Vaughn, a professor of human development and family studies in Auburn’s College of Human Sciences, has conducted research on peer relationships at Auburn’s Harris Early Learning Center in Birmingham.

“I study how children learn to love in their families and how they learn to use the character that’s developed within the context of those early family relationships to accomplish the kinds of goals that they set for themselves as they move out of the family and into social groups,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn is an authority in child development with special emphasis on the social/emotional development of infants and young children. His published research has made important contributions for understanding the development and consequences of social attachments between children and their major caregivers. He has also contributed to the literature of social competence and peer relationships in early childhood.

“Unless you understand how trajectories unfold for the average case, you’re never going to understand the pathway that leads to deviance or problems,” Vaughn said. “If I’m successful in that, then it will be possible to put the atypical in context. I find that uncovering the mystery rather than changing the ways that trajectories move along motivates many people in science.”

Vaughn has discovered that children who enjoy interacting with other children become more socially skilled and socially competent. Most recently, his research has expanded to include the roles that sleep may play in a child’s cognitive and social/emotional development and adaptive functioning for preschool children. He has found that children who receive more sleep tend to develop higher quality social relationships and a larger vocabulary.

Vaughn is a recipient of the Creative Research and Scholarship Award, which was presented to him at the ninth annual Auburn University Faculty Awards ceremony in October. The award recognizes and encourages the individual efforts of Auburn faculty who honor the practice of mentoring undergraduate research and scholarship, and it is meant to highlight significant commitment to undergraduate scholarship and creative work outside the classroom.

Vaughn credits his career success to a personal drive to solve questions. “I’m curious about puzzles and mysteries, and to me the interesting and exciting part about science is finding the solution to a puzzle or demystifying something that people don’t really know about,” he said.

“When I was invited to come to Auburn, the most impressive thing I noticed was the degree of collegiality and support presence in my department and the College of Human Sciences,” said Vaughn, who has been at Auburn since December 1988. “I thought, ‘Yes. This is a place I could complete my career.'”

As a father, Vaughn’s advice for child rearing is “that not everything you learned in textbooks applies to you. Your family situation and your child is going to be unique, and many of the things that are given as advice don’t apply.”

Vaughn said he finds satisfaction in seeing students complete their programs, especially on a graduate level of instruction.

“Watching students who didn’t think they were ready or belonged walk across the stage at graduation gives me a thrill,” he said. “I really do like that. I am happy to talk to any student who really wants to learn about human development at almost any time.”

“I know that I will never stop being curious and never stop finding out things I didn’t already know,” Vaughn said. “I’ve been very fortunate to find interesting things several times. Staying curious and never thinking that you know all you need to know about some phenomenon, I think is the key to creativity.”

by Tori Rivers

To learn more about Brian Vaughn, visit his faculty page.

Auburn Undergraduate Research Fellow developing new drug delivery method for glaucoma patients

Andrew Hightaian checking a timolol maleate lens formulation after he synthesized it in lab via UV photopolymerization.

Andrew Hightaian checking a timolol maleate lens formulation after he synthesized it in lab via UV photopolymerization.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, and it’s a disease that lacks a permanent cure. People afflicted with glaucoma have the choice of applying eye drops two to three times daily for the rest of their lives or undergoing surgery, which still may require the administration of eye drops daily.

Andrew Hightaian, a senior in chemical engineering and undergraduate research fellow, is working with his research partner Carter Lloyd under Dr. Mark Byrne to engineer a contact lens that could administer medicine to glaucoma patients automatically.

“The great part about this research is that it allows glaucoma patients to have freedom from remembering to take eye drops every few hours,” said Andrew. “These lenses would dispense the medicine, and the patient could wear them for hours or days at a time without worrying.

Right now, Andrew is working on designing a contact lens with functional monomers that could hold medicine effectively. His next step will be to determine the rate at which the experimental lenses release the medicine to diffuse across the eye.

To learn more about undergraduate research at Auburn, visit their website or subscribe to their newsletter.