The future is created today. What we’ll eat, what we’ll wear, how we’ll heal, the crises we’ll avert. West Virginia University has already started these improvements to our lives. Now it’s time to count down . . . 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.
METALLICA TREES When it’s time to bring toxic land back to life, you need plants that can thrive, even while surrounded by metal. Biology professor Jonathan Cumming is exposing the genotypes of plants to soils from mine sites. In one example, he exposes willows and poplars to soils with metals, including aluminum, and then looks at how the trees work to exclude the metals from their systems. Plants that prove to be resistant to metals could end up being suitable to live on reclaimed mines and put land across West Virginia back to use. Equipment that supports this research was purchased through support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
We know that people with autism spectrum disorder prefer to look at objects rather than people’s faces. But we don’t know how the brain makes that choice. Assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering Shuo Wang is working to find out by monitoring electrodes inside the brains of patients with autism who are also being treated for epilepsy. Electrical recordings will look at how neurons in the brain behave when patients focus on the center of an image instead of scanning a scene for a face or other target, which is a neurotypical behavior. His work is supported by the Dana Foundation.
When we think about beating breast cancer, we think about the chemotherapy we use to weaken it. But what if the answer were electric? Epidemiologist Sarah Knox and tumor immunologist Timothy Eubank are exploring the idea that a change in electrical charge at the cell wall can grow or prevent the growth of tumors. The two researchers and a colleague at Tufts University are finding that an increase in the difference between positive charge outside a cell and negative charge inside a cell can prevent the growth of tumors. But when that difference in potential charge is decreased, tumors are more likely to grow. “We’re a long way out,” Knox said, “but it’s a different approach to cancer than what we’ve been taking.”
You don’t expect your doctor to crank up their sound system during a checkup. But that could change with the development of a new non-invasive technology. Scientists are developing a new sound system — a chip that uses high frequency sound waves that we can’t hear to isolate tiny molecule carriers called exosomes in our blood. Chemistry assistant professor Peng Li is part of a team that is developing the device to extract these microscopic vesicles from whole blood. As research shows that exosomes could be markers for diseases ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s disease, this invention could one day be used in health monitoring, diagnosis, targeted drug delivery or personalized medicine. The work is supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
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As drone and robot technology develop separately — picking up rocks on Mars and taking bird’s-eye photos over stadiums — there are researchers at WVU who think they can be trained to work together to save lives. In an old highway tunnel outside Charleston, W.Va., used by the West Virginia National Guard for training, assistant professor Jason Gross and associate professor Yu Gu will work to help robots and drones cooperate on search and rescue missions. The plan is for the robot to generate a map of the space to be explored and control the drone’s flight path as it examines the scene. This work is supported by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.