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Dr. Richard Franklin, associate professor in ECU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, was among those receiving grants from the Brody Brothers Foundation Endowment Fund. His research will focus on breast cancer tumor cells. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Brody Brothers Foundation Awards Research Grants

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

Seven research projects led by faculty at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University have received grants from the Brody Brothers Foundation Endowment Fund at ECU totaling $172,500.

The grants were made possible through the income from an endowment established at the Medical Foundation of ECU by the Brody Brothers Foundation.

Dr. John M. Lehman, associate dean for research and graduate studies at the Brody School of Medicine, said the caliber of proposals that reached the final round for funding consideration was impressive. Lehman is also associate vice chancellor for research for the ECU Health Sciences Division and aided the committee in their evaluation of the grant applications.

“There were 12 really good proposals that came to the final round, and it was a difficult decision for the committee,” he said. “The final seven projects selected, with the exception of one, focus on the major diseases of eastern North Carolina. What we are doing is trying to stimulate more information for diagnosis, treatment, therapy and understanding cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke.”

The following researchers were awarded grants:

• Dr. Brian Shewcuk of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, who will investigate using a cell line from prostate cancer patient and how growth hormone affects certain genes in cell survival and cell death. His project was awarded $30,000.

• Dr. Rukiyah VanDross of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, who received $23,000 to study non-melanoma skin cancer, believed to be caused by excessive sun and tanning bed exposure.

• Dr. Mariavittoria Pitzalis of the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Cardiology, who will focus on the management of heart failure patients in eastern North Carolina. The proposal was granted $40,000. Other investigators for the project are Dr. Wayne Cascio of the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Cardiology; Dr. Omur Cinar Elci, Dr. Lloyd Novick, H. Ruth Little, all of the Department of Family Medicine; and Dr. M. Akpinar-Elci of Greenville.

The project will focus on Pitt, Hertford and Edgecombe counties and aims to increase adherence to evidence-based heart failure medical guidelines during treatment, improve survival and quality of life for the patients, and decrease heart failure hospitalizations and deaths in rural eastern North Carolina.

• Dr. Richard Franklin of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, who received $30,000 in grant funding to research a pathway in breast cancer tumor cells to see if they have a role in drug resistance to chemotherapy agents.

• Dr. Phillip Pekala, who is studying obesity and how it develops. The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology faculty member received $25,000 in grant funding for his project to investigate the control points in adipocyte (fat cells) differentiation and the identification of potential drug therapies in the onset of obesity and diabetes. “Dr. Pekala will be looking at some of the fundamental pathways of how obesity develops and how we develop fat cells. The idea is if you reduce the number of fat cells, then you reduce obesity,” Lehman said.

• Dr. Walter Quan of the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, who received $17,000 for his research focused on cancer patients before and after treatment with interleukin-2, a natural protein that activates parts of a person’s immune system. He will study patients with metastatic melanoma and kidney cancer.

Interleukin-2 does not kill tumor cells like chemotherapy but instead stimulates the growth of immune cells, including T-cells and natural killer cells, which can destroy cancer cells directly.

• Dr. William Meggs of the Department of Emergency Medicine, who received $7,500 to expand previous snakebite research. This research will use previous findings to investigate if using wraps and a splint, which is considered standard treatment for neurotoxic snakebites such as coral snake and cobra bites, will work for pit viper bites, including rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths.

The Brody Brothers Endowment Fund awarded its first grants, totaling $275,000, last year to four projects researching obesity in adolescents and prostate cancer, improving laparoscopic surgical skills using a simulator, and establishing a metabolomics core facility to research obesity and diabetes.

Those researchers will present their findings from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Nov. 29 in the Brody Medical Sciences Building auditorium.

The Brody Brothers Foundation Endowment Fund was established in 1999 when the Brody family of eastern North Carolina donated $7 million to fund research projects at the medical school for cancer, diabetes and obesity, cardiovascular disease and other prevalent health problems in eastern North Carolina.

Carole Novick, interim president of the Medical Foundation of ECU, said, “We are grateful for the continuing support from the Brody family as shown by these important new research grants that focus on efforts by scientists at the Brody School of Medicine in the areas of cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other health problems of the region.”

Medical Foundation committee members involved in awarding the research grants were Hyman Brody, David Brody, representing the Brody Brothers Foundation; Dr. George Ho Jr., professor of internal medicine; Dr. Cynda Johnson, dean of the medical school; and Shelby Strother of Edenton.

This page originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at