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College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific

Research Interests

Anatomy

Brion Benninger Brion Benninger, MD, MSc
Professor of Medical Innovation, Technology and Research Professor of Clinical Anatomy Executive Director, Medical Anatomy Center
COMP-Northwest
bbenninger@westernu.edu
Research Interests: Formal training and interests in Sports Medicine, Imaging Technology, Clinical Anatomy, Medical Technology Development, Innovative Medical Education, Hyperbaric Medicine, Surgical Specialty Research and Reverse Translational Research. Professor Benninger is known internationally as one of today’s most progressive medical educators and has been recognized as a distinguished innovator with his work and integration of emerging technologies. He invented and developed the Triple Feedback Technique resulting in simultaneous physical and imaging examination of a patient. He is an ambassador for medical student and residency research. He has mentored more then 100 students with over 200 research projects presented at national/international conferences receiving several awards. He has taught and worked in the medical field in several countries, which has provided him invaluable insight and experience regarding patient care and research.
Mathew Wedel Mathew Wedel, PhD
Associate Professor of Anatomy
COMP-Pomona
mwedel@westernu.edu
Research Interests: The two major threads of my research are the evolution of large size and long necks in sauropod dinosaurs, and the evolution of pneumatic (air-filled) bones in birds and other dinosaurs. I am also interested in the evolution and biogeography of dinosaurs in the Early Cretaceous Period in North America, and posture and function of the head and neck in living and fossil animals. Most of my work can be summarized by the question, “How much can we know about the soft tissue, appearance, and lifestyle of an animal based on its skeleton?”
Vicki Wedel Vicki Wedel, PhD
Associate Professor of Anatomy
COMP-Pomona
vwedel@westernu.edu
Research Interests:

  • Developing new forensic science methods for determining age and season at death from human skeletal remains
  • Detecting skeletal blunt force trauma and patterned bone injuries including defense wounds
  • Determining which medicolegal investigations of death are most likely to turn into cold case investigations
  • Measuring bone quality and quantity to study health and nutritional status among enslaved and free American blacks
Thierra Nalley, PhD Thierra Nalley, PhD
Assistant Professor of Anatomy
COMP-Pomona
tnalley@westernu.edu
Research Interests: My principal research interests focus on the biomechanics of primate locomotion, specifically the relationships among the vertebral column, skull, and the pectoral girdle. Using comparative morphology and locomotor modeling, my research investigates the evolution of bipedality in the human lineage, as well as the historical patterns of positional behavior in living and fossil apes. Other research interests include examining musculoskeletal plasticity in the vertebral column and how behavior and ontogeny influence adult morphologies at both the microscopic and gross levels.

Cancer

R Kandpal Raj P. Kandpal, PhD
Assistant Chair of BMS Associate Professor of Biochemistry
COMP-Pomona
rkandpal@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 706-3520 – Lab#: (909) 706-3533
Research Interests: We have been using cell biological, molecular biological and genetic approaches to understand mechanisms underlying disease processes and indentifying targets for therapeutic interventions. We have been applying these approaches toward investigating breast, prostate and ovarian cancer, human deafness, and diabetic retinopathy.
Li Zhong Li Zhong, PhD
Associate Professor of Physiology
COMP-Pomona
lzhong@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-8220 – Lab#: (909) 469-8236
Research Interests: Dr. Zhong’s research interests focus on early cancer detection using autoantibody profiles as biomarkers. They have developed novel screening technology for early detection of lung cancer using T7 phage display cDNA libraries and differential biopanning to isolate epitopes reacting with antibodies present specifically in the sera of patients with lung cancer. Using five combined biomarkers, they have achieved both sensitivity and specificity of 91.3 percent for stage I non-small cell lung cancer detection (Zhong, 2005), and sensitivity of 82.6 percent and specificity of 87.5 percent for detection of occult (one to five years prior to diagnosis) non-small cell lung cancer (Zhong, 2006). The results were much more sensitive and specific than the traditional biomarkers for lung cancer.

Clinical Research

Educational Research

Evolutionary Biology

Immunology and Microbiology

Hendrik Szurmant Hendrik Szurmant, PhD
Associate Professor of Microbiology
COMP-Pomona
hszurmant@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 706-3938 – Lab#: (909) 469-8493
Research Interests:

Pathogenic bacteria are some of the most formidable threats to human health. These threats appeared all but eliminated, thanks due to the discovery of powerful antibiotics. The constant exposure of bacteria to these antibiotics has selected for potent multi-drug resistant bacteria, so called superbugs, that are making a strong comeback. To cope with this renewed threat a dedicated effort by the scientific community is needed to identify new drug targets and to generate inhibitors of such targets. The Szurmant laboratory contributes to this endeavor by studying essential aspects of bacterial physiology and signal transduction in model bacteria and selected pathogens. A unique feature of the lab is the integration of information stemming from numerous disciplines, including structural biology, genetics, molecular bioinformatics and biophysics.

Vishwanath Venketaraman Vishwanath Venketaraman, PhD
Associate Professor of Microbiology/Immunology
COMP-Pomona
vvenketaraman@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 706-3736 – Lab#: (909) 469-6621
Research Interests:

My laboratory studies the pathophysiology of tuberculosis in the context of HIV co-infection and type II diabetes. We are pioneers in reporting that glutathione (GSH) has both antimycobacterial effects and immune enhancing effects and is necessary for the control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection. We also reported that the levels of GSH were significantly compromised in macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells and T cells derived from individuals with HIV infection. Decreased levels of GSH in individuals with HIV infection was accompanied by diminished control of intracellular Mtb infection. We then demonstrated that the levels of enzymes that are responsible for the synthesis of GSH such as GSH synthase (GSS), g-glutamyl cysteinyl ligase (GCLC), and GSH reductase (GSR) were significantly reduced in individuals with HIV infection and this reduction correlated with decreased levels of intracellular GSH. We recently conducted a clinical trial in HIV positive individuals to test the efficacy of liposomal glutathione (L-GSH) in restoring the levels of GSH and improving the functions of immune cells. Findings from this study indicate a link between lower levels of GSH and dysregulation in the production of TH1 and TH2 associated cytokines. Furthermore, supplementing individuals with HIV infection for 13 weeks with L-GSH resulted in a significant increase in the levels of TH1 cytokines (IL-1ß, IL-12, IFN-y and TNF-a) along with a substantial decrease in the levels of free radicals and immunosuppressive cytokines (IL-10 and TGF-ß), relative to those in a placebo-controlled cohort. Our studies established a correlation between low levels of GSH and increased susceptibility to Mtb infection via TH2-directed response, which may be relieved with L-GSH supplementation enhancing the TH1 response. I look forward to continuing this important research work (preclinical and clinical studies) and develop immunotherapeutic agents that can be used as adjunct to prevent the development of active tuberculosis in individuals with HIV infection and in people with type II diabetes.

Beatrice Saviola Beatrice Saviola, PhD
Associate Professor of Microbiology
COMP-Pomona
bsaviola@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-5373 – Lab#: 469-5436
Research Interests: General focus of Dr. Saviola’s laboratory: Regulation of a Virulence-Associated Acid Response to Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. The bacterium that causes tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, can sense environmental stresses and resist them in order to survive in the body. Creating an acidic environment is one way the body controls bacterial infection. Bacteria can respond to this defense by altering the activity of many of their genes. I have identified in M. tuberculosis a gene, lipF, that is turned on in response to acid. I am studying the basis of this acid response, and anticipate it will provide the groundwork for the eventual identification of a general mechanism by which Mycobacterium tuberculosis can resist acidic stress. To this end I have defined a minimal DNA region upstream of the lipF gene which is transcriptionally upregulated by acidic stress. In addition, I am investigating a nearby gene, Rv3488, as its gene product binds to the lipF promoter region indicating that it may serve as a transcriptional regulator of acidic stress. Information about how virulent M. tuberculosis can respond to environmental stresses that commonly occur within the host could be used to develop therapies that target these mechanisms and make Mycobacterium tuberculosis more sensitive to the immune system’s host defenses.

Metabolic diseases

Mihai Covasa Mihai Covasa, PhD
Associate Professor of Physiology
COMP-Pomona
mcovasa@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-8215 – Lab#: (909) 469-8291
Research Interests: Obesity and diabetes are major causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide Using a combination of molecular, neuroanatomical, behavioral, biochemical and physiological approaches we are investigating satiation signals that control eating and regulation of body weight. Consequently, we are interested in the reduction of sensitivity to satiation signals in response to dietary adaptation (particularly dietary fat) and subsequent development of hyperphagia and obesity. We have developed several research programs in the following areas: 1) the interaction between metabolic events, orosensory factors, and central functions relevant to the initiation and termination of eating and the development of long term feeding patterns; 2) the neural regulation of eating during obesity and development of type-2 diabetes; 3) the central and peripheral taste and motivational processes in obesity and diabetes; 4) the effects of chronic exposure to dietary fats on neural adaptation, subsequent overconsumption and weight gain; 5) the role of gut microbiota in intestinal chemosensation. The control of eating and regulation of body weight require integration of sensory neural processes originating in the oral cavity and viscera and those systems that assign actual hedonic value to a meal. In obesity, this intricate relationship is perturbed. Using rodent models of obesity and diabetes, my laboratory demonstrated that, similar to obese humans, obese rats have an increased avidity for palatable foods (sucrose and oils) that progresses during prediabetes and diabetes. We also showed, that animal prone to become obese exhibit a host of postoral behavioral and neural deficits and fail to integrate postabsorptive and orosensory effects of palatable tastants.
Sebastien Fuchs Sebastien Fuchs, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pharmacology
COMP-Pomona
sfuchs@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-5232
Research Interests: I am studying the biochemistry and physiology of Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) in vivo in genetically modified animals. Beside blood pressure, ACE is involved in many other function including peptide presentation (immunology), extracellular matrix control (end-organ damages), male fertility, Alzheimer’s disease. My current areas of research are organ fibrosis (inflammation and extracellular matrix processing) and Alzheimer’s disease. I have acquired numerous scientific/technical skills (molecular biology: DNA manipulation, mutation, plasmid construction and analysis, animal genetic models, biochemistry, cellular biology, in vivo experimentation, animal physiology).
M Peterfy Miklos Peterfy, PhD
Professor of Biochemistry
COMP-Pomona
mpeterfy@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 706-3949
Research Interests: Dr. Peterfy’s research interest is the genetic and molecular basis of common metabolic diseases including obesity, diabetes and dyslipidemia. His goal is to identify novel genes and mechanisms responsible for metabolic abnormalities and provide the foundation for the development of novel therapeutic approaches.
Edward Wagner Edward Wagner, PhD
Professor of Physiology
COMP-Pomona
ewagner@westernu.edu
Office/Lab#: (909) 469-5239
Research Interests: My research interests focus on how cannabinoids regulate the hypothalamic feeding circuitry to affect changes in feeding behavior and energy homeostasis in male and female subjects, and how gonadal steroids modulate this interaction. I use state-of-the-art instrumentation to assess cannabinoid-induced changes in daily and hourly food intake, as well as meal size, frequency and duration, core body temperature and weight gain/loss, and how these changes correlate with alterations in neurotransmitter release and cell excitability at anorexigenic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) synapses within the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. I recently have discovered that males are much more sensitive to the appetite-modulating properties of CB1 receptor agonists and antagonists than females, which correlates with marked sex differences in the pre- and post synaptic actions of cannabinoids at POMC synapses. These findings indicate that gender should be taken into account when considering the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of HIV/AIDS- or cancer-related cachexia, or obesity.

Neurobiology

Xiaoning Bi Xiaoning Bi, MD, PhD
Professor of Physiology
COMP-Pomona
xbi@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-5487 – Lab#: (909) 469-5471
Research Interests: Research in my laboratory seeks to understand how neurons develop, mature, and function properly, and how they die when challenged by natural aging process, intrinsic genetic defects, or various insults. We hope that, by understanding the basic molecular and cellular mechanisms that govern these processes, we can develop better preventive and therapeutic strategies for central nervous system disorders in children as well as in elders. Current Research Projects: 1. Signaling pathways in learning and memory and other brain functions. Signal transmission at junctions between neurons, the synapses, is regulated by multiple signaling pathways. One of my lab projects for the last few years has focused on the mTOR (mechanistic/mammalian target of rapamycin) signaling pathway. The mTOR network consists of two complexes mTORC1 and mTORC2 and integrates signals from nutrients, energy levels, growth factors, and stress status. We have recently found that mTORC1 activity is increased while mTORC2 activity is decreased in a mouse model of Angelman syndrome (AS), a disease caused by maternal UBE3A deficiency. Furthermore, the imbalanced mTORC1 and mTORC2 activity is causally related to learning and memory impairment and motor dysfunction in AS mice. These results suggest that mTOR signaling is regulated by UBE3A. Since abnormal mTOR signaling has been reported in other neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and autism spectrum disorders, our findings may have broad implications. 2. Regulation of potassium channels by UBE3A Small conductance calcium-activated potassium channels (SK1-3) are widely distributed throughout the brain and other organs. SK2 channels play important roles in learning and memory and in abnormal brain functions, such as seizures. We have demonstrated that synaptic SK2 levels are regulated by UBE3A and the lack of this regulation resulting from UBE3A deletion contributes to learning impairment in Angelman syndrome mice. Since SK2 channels are widely expressed in mammalian brain, these findings have significant implications for a vast array of neurologic/neuropsychiatric disorders.
Portrait of Nissar A. Darmani Nissar A. Darmani, PhD
Associate Dean for Basic Sciences and Research Chair, Basic Medical Sciences
COMP-Pomona
ndarmani@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-5654 – Lab#: (909) 469-5218
Research Interests:

  • Developmental effects of drugs of abuse on the newborn.
  • Serotonergic mechanisms of cocaine’s actions.
  • Mode of action of antidepressant drugs.
  • Adaptive mechanisms of serotonergic 5-HT2 receptor functions.
  • The role of delta-9 -THC and synthetic cannabinoids on chemotherapy- and radiotherapy-induced vomiting. His laboratory had the first opportunity to demonstrate the mechanisms of antiemetic actions of marijuana.
  • Role of 5-HT3-, Dopamine D2/3-, Lekotriene CysLT1- and NK1- receptors in emesis and application of their antagonists as antiemetics.
  • Another of his research interests involves the role of osteopathic manipulative medicine on the blood levels of endogenous cannabinoid-like compounds and other pain markers in patients with back pain. He had been successful in obtaining several million dollars of research grants from numerous funding agencies including the Pharmaceutical industry, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Cancer, the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Edward Wagner Edward Wagner, PhD
Professor of Physiology
COMP-Pomona
ewagner@westernu.edu
Office/Lab#: (909) 469-5239
Research Interests: My research interests focus on how cannabinoids regulate the hypothalamic feeding circuitry to affect changes in feeding behavior and energy homeostasis in male and female subjects, and how gonadal steroids modulate this interaction. I use state-of-the-art instrumentation to assess cannabinoid-induced changes in daily and hourly food intake, as well as meal size, frequency and duration, core body temperature and weight gain/loss, and how these changes correlate with alterations in neurotransmitter release and cell excitability at anorexigenic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) synapses within the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. I recently have discovered that males are much more sensitive to the appetite-modulating properties of CB1 receptor agonists and antagonists than females, which correlates with marked sex differences in the pre- and post synaptic actions of cannabinoids at POMC synapses. These findings indicate that gender should be taken into account when considering the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of HIV/AIDS- or cancer-related cachexia, or obesity.

Pharmacology

Portrait of Nissar A. Darmani Nissar A. Darmani, PhD
Associate Dean for Basic Sciences and Research Chair, Basic Medical Sciences
COMP-Pomona
ndarmani@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-5654 – Lab#: (909) 469-5218
Research Interests:

  • Developmental effects of drugs of abuse on the newborn.
  • Serotonergic mechanisms of cocaine’s actions.
  • Mode of action of antidepressant drugs.
  • Adaptive mechanisms of serotonergic 5-HT2 receptor functions.
  • The role of delta-9 -THC and synthetic cannabinoids on chemotherapy- and radiotherapy-induced vomiting. His laboratory had the first opportunity to demonstrate the mechanisms of antiemetic actions of marijuana.
  • Role of 5-HT3-, Dopamine D2/3-, Lekotriene CysLT1- and NK1- receptors in emesis and application of their antagonists as antiemetics.
  • Another of his research interests involves the role of osteopathic manipulative medicine on the blood levels of endogenous cannabinoid-like compounds and other pain markers in patients with back pain. He had been successful in obtaining several million dollars of research grants from numerous funding agencies including the Pharmaceutical industry, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Cancer, the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency.
R Pechnick Robert N. Pechnick, PhD
Professor of Pharmacology
COMP-Pomona
rpechnick@westernu.edu
Office#: (909) 469-8669
Research Interests: The research in my laboratory has been focused on three aspects of neuropsychopharmacology: using animal models to understand the causes of and to develop new potential treatments for various forms of mental illness; utilizing both in vivo and in vitro approaches to study the neuropharmacology of drugs of abuse; and defining the role of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in health and disease states. Primary goals include: characterizing the role of developmental insults (prenatal, neonatal and adolescence) in producing neuropsychiatric disorders; defining the involvement of cytokines and stress in adult hippocampal neurogenesis and depression; understanding the role of neurogenesis in post-chemotherapy-induced cognitive function, and determining the neurochemical mechanisms underlying the effects and the pathophysiological and neurochemical consequences of the repeated administration of drugs of abuse. Experimental approaches involve studying the effects of the systemic and central administration of selective agonists, antagonists, using transgenic animal models, utilizing viral-mediated gene delivery and characterizing functional responses as well as changes in receptor subunit gene expression after acute and chronic drug administration.