Academic Senate

Research Committee

University Research Committee Webpage

Mission: advocate on behalf of the faculty with regards to the research enterprise at Western University of Health Sciences.


Members: 12 elected faculty members that represent the various colleges at WesternU, with 3 at-large members elected by the full faculty.



  • Creating an environment that fosters collaboration of research among faculty and students
  • Reviewing intramural research proposals and funding mechanisms for faculty and students
  • Identifying mentoring opportunities for faculty and students that advance programs of study
  • Contributing expertise to the development, implementation, and monitoring of the University’s research strategic directions
  • Communicating decisions affecting the research enterprise to the Academic Support Service and Planning Committee, and the Chair of the Academic Senate
  • Participating in budgetary processes affecting the research enterprise.

The current Research Committee bylaws can be found here.

Research Funding Opportunities:

The URC provides intramural funding for investigators or research teams for projects with one year of duration. The call for applications is announced during the fall of each year. For the grant cycle of 2015, the deadline was February 13, 2015. The selected proposals are listed below.

 Currently Funded Grants

  1. Evaluation of the bacterial burden of polymer nails, nail polish and natural nails on the hands of healthcare workers
    Investigators: Rod Hicks, PhD, MSN, MPA, BSN; Angela Hewlett, MD; Heather Hohenberger, BSN, MSNc.

We aim to study the number and type of bacteria on fingernails of health care workers.  Each worker will have a polymer nail, a polished nail, and a nail in its natural state.  By collecting cultures over a period of time, the investigators hope to determine if there are differences in the quantity of microorganisms that might be found on the fingertips of health care workers.  The information from this study will help leading organizations develop practice guidelines which may reduce acquiring an infection in the healthcare environment.

  1. Documenting a set of repeated natural experiments in climate change in deep time
    Investigator: Amy Chew, PhD, MSc.

Scientists are increasingly turning to deep-time fossil records to decipher the long-term biotic effects of climate change. ‘Hyperthermals’ are past intervals of geologically rapid global warming that provide the opportunity to analyze the effects of climate change on existing faunas over thousands of years. This project capitalizes on an extraordinarily dense fossil record from the southern part of Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin, which documents much of the regional ecosystem that existed during a series of three hyperthermals in the early Eocene (~56-54 million years ago). The first of them has been comprehensively studied and is considered analogous to modern anthropogenic warming. The effects of two subsequent hyperthermals are currently unknown but the later events occurred in a period of substantial environmental and biotic upheaval that makes them better analogues of modern anthropogenic change. This project will identify the geochemical signatures of the later hyperthermals, characterize related environmental stressors, and analyze existing mammal faunal response in the exceptional fossil record from the southern part of the Bighorn Basin. This project represents an unparalleled opportunity to study what is effectively a set of repeated natural experiments in climate change. This project will improve our understanding of faunal sensitivity to climate forcing by expanding the pool of analogous events for comparative analysis and identifying consistencies in faunal change that provide clues to predictable response to climate change and related stressors.

  1. The chicken as selective enrichment vessel: validation of in vivo selective cultivation of probiotic communities via serial transplants of the chicken cecal microbiome.
    Investigators: Brian Oakley, MS, PhD; Yvonne Drechsler, Dipl.Biol. (equivalent MS), PhD.

This project will meet critical milestones towards the general goal of managing the GI microbiome of agricultural animals. One of the most promising alternatives to the use of antibiotics in agriculture is probiotics designed to mimic natural gastrointestinal (GI) bacterial communities. Recent technological advances in DNA sequencing have cracked open what used to be a ‘black box’ of the microbial community comprising the GI microbiome. We now know, for example, that a diverse and abundant bacterial community makes essential contributions to the nutrition and growth of the animal host and can also exclude undesirable human pathogens. We propose a novel approach of in vivo cultivation of naturally-occurring microbial communities with potential to function as probiotics. The main focus of this project is to assess the host immune response when such communities are provided to newly-hatched chicks. A variety of metrics of the innate immune response will be measured and the community composition of the microbial community will be described with high-throughput DNA sequencing. The ultimate goal of the work is to contribute to three of the foremost goals of agriculture: improve efficiency of production, reduce colonization by food borne pathogens, and develop viable alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters.

  1. BMP signaling and chemoresistance of prostate cancer
    Investigator: Jijun Hao, PhD

Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among men in the United States. Patients with metastatic castration-resist prostate cancer typically develop chemoresistance to the mainstay chemotherapy treatment within one year. This project potentially leads to a new therapeutic approach that would restore the chemotherapy’s potency and extend patients’ lives.

  1. Develop a curcuminoid loaded nanoparticulate drug delivery system to diagnose and monitor progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the retina.
    Investigators: Manish Issar, PhD; Guru Dutt Sharma, OD, PhD

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia among elderly that is characterized by progressive memory loss, cognitive deterioration and behavioral disorders. A lack of early diagnosis is a major problem in effective patient management.  A lack of early diagnosis has been a major problem with the management of this disease; typically 10-15 years go by before the clinical symptoms become evident.  There have been strong evidences indicating that this disease first appears in the retina of the eyes of AD patients but often goes undetected.  Many diseases show their signs of appearance in the eye that correlates very well with systemic disease progression (e.g.: diabetic retinopathy, hypertensive retinopathy).  Curcuminoids are found in the root of a plant Curcuma longa that has been used in various food preparations and in the treatment of numerous ailments over centuries in India and China. To exploit the various properties of curcumin for the early diagnosis of disease, the authors plan to prepare a novel eye drop formulation of curcuminoids which can pass through various layers of eye and reach retina to stain specific cellular structures. This approach would open new avenue towards potential contribution in the diagnosis and treatment of AD. Another advantage would be the ease of adaption of this diagnostic tool within primary eye care hospitals and clinics.

  1. Correlation of bisphosphonate-related vascular changes in the eye and mandible
    Investigators: James L. Borke, PhD; Bennett McAllister, OD, FAAO

Bisphosphonates are powerful compounds used to treat osteoporosis and the complications of bone metastasis of several cancers. Certain individuals on bisphosphonate therapy suffer from the debilitating complication of developing bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw (BRONJ). This disorder is characterized by death of the bones of the jaws (mandible and maxilla) and protrusion of portions of the dead bone into the oral cavity. The goal of the research in our laboratory is directed toward early detection and prevention of these negative effects of bisphosphonates on bone before the frank onset of bone necrosis and BRONJ. Earlier studies in our laboratory developed a rat model of BRONJ and quantified the bisphosphonate-relate changes in the vasculature of the mandibles by microCT imaging. Our recent studies quantified similar changes in the vasculature of the eye using non-invasive slit lamp techniques commonly used in optometry. The current grant seeks funding to find and label with fluorescence, marker molecules found in both the eye and mandible that change in tandem prior to the onset of BRONJ. We propose to use fluorescent imaging ofthe eye as a window to bisphosphonate-related changes that occur in the development of BRONJ. If successful, future studies will involve optometric screening of all dental patients taking bisphosphonates for the non-invasive tracking of vascular changes and the prevention of BRONJ.

  1. Prevention of taste bud deterioration by innate overexpression of BDNF caused by chemotherapy
    Investigator: Irina Vukmanovic Nosrat, DDS

Our studies of the taste system have proved that the protein BDNF plays several important roles in taste buds, the chemical sensors that detect tastants. Presence of larger amounts of BDNF than what is normally present in taste buds leads to increased size of taste cells, and provides a larger number of nerve fibers that convey the taste information from the receptors to the brain. Our preliminary data indicates that BDNF contributes to better taste perception. Overexpression of innate BDNF in taste buds is also able to up-regulate genes that are important for cell signaling and development. Vismodegib® is an FDA approved drug and is the most commonly used chemotherapy agent in patients suffering from basal cell carcinomas that cannot be surgically treated. Patients receiving Vismodegib® exhibit many negative side effects such as weight loss, vomiting and taste disturbances, and many patients discontinue the treatment because of these problems. Utilizing BDNF or its signaling mediators to prevent taste bud deterioration and dysfunction in these patients have not been explored previously. We propose that BDNF is able to prevent the taste dysfunctions, which would ease the discomfort of the patients and decrease the risk of discontinuance of the chemotherapy. This innate BDNF support would enable us to study how BDNF and its mediators affect the taste system and the knowledge gained could be used to prevent negative side effects of chemotherapy in the peripheral taste system.

Past Funded Grants

                                 (To be completed)

Current members:

Harshavardhan Deoghare 2015-2018 CAHP
Glen Kisby 2014-2017 COMP
Fadi Khasawneh* 2015-2016 COP
Babak Faramarzi 2015-2018 CVM
Rodney Hicks 2015-2018 CGN
Joshua Cameron 2014-2017 CO
Diane Folmsbee 2015-2018 CDM
Pen-Jen Lin 2015-2018 GCBS
David Shofler 2015-2018 CPM
Suzie Kovacs 2014-2017 AT LARGE
Quang Le 2014-2017 AT LARGE
Ed Wagner 2014-2016 AT LARGE

Administrative assistance is provided by Susan Dominguez

Meeting schedule:

                No future meetings have been scheduled at this time.