Research at West Virginia University Ranks Near Top

Photo Provided by West Virginia University Travis Knuckles, assistant professor in the West Virginia University School of Public Health, works with undergraduate research assistants Allison Tolbert, left, a public-health major, and Haley Twilley, a recent graduate of the public-health program. Knuckles is studying the effects of fracking emissions on cardiovascular function. School officials discussed the university’s research investment Monday during its Academic Media Day.

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University is the key player in research efforts to move the state forward and enhance residents’ lives, according to university officials.

Fred King, vice president for WVU research, and Laura Gibson, senior associate vice president of WVU School of Medicine, discussed the university’s research investment Monday at the WVU Academic Media Day.

WVU conducts 87 percent of the university-based research in the state and accounted for $104 million in externally-sponsored research expenditures in fiscal 2017, they said.

Among doctoral universities ranked by the Carnegie Foundation for Higher Education, WVU is designated as an R1 institution, representing the highest research activity. The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are the only other schools in the region to hold the R1 label.

WVU maintains five research focus areas: energy, water stewardship, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, gravitational wave astrophysics and health needs in West Virginia and Appalachia.

King said the WVU Energy Institute was ranked 34th in the nation by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2016, ahead of Pitt, CMU and Virginia Tech. The institute is involved in partnerships with the national laboratory system to convert shale gas into carbon fiber and hydrogen and with the Chinese Energy Investment Corp. to develop technology for natural gas and coal conversion.

With West Virginia situated at the headwaters of the Mississippi River basin and the Chesapeake Bay, water stewardship remains an important concern. King said WVU is involved in the Institute of Water Science and Security, Water Research Institute and the Appalachia Freshwater Institute (in partnership with Marshall University). WVU researchers also study rare earth elements in acid mine drainage and the local water environment of the West Run Watershed.

For its research in gravitational wave astrophysics, WVU is one of 10 National Science Foundation Frontier Centers, in partnership with Green Bank Observatory, and participates in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, a national network of high school students who search for pulsars.

WVU’s health research involves partnerships, innovation and workforce development. Gibson said WVU’s health sciences operate five signature programs with clinical components: the Cancer Institute, Women and Children’s Health, Heart and Vascular Institute, Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

The Cancer Institute’s mission includes clinical care, research, education and service. Gibson said one of its exciting partnerships runs Bonnie’s Bus, a mobile unit that conducts breast cancer screening and collects blood samples for a genome-based test for colorectal cancer.

The Women and Children’s Health program conducts research on under-served populations and participates in a partnership on Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes.

Through its work, the Heart and Vascular Institute has developed a new device for aortic valve repair. Gibson said the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute seeks to transform lives through innovative patient care, research and education. She said the focus of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute mirrors the state’s needs for cancer and cardiovascular care.

Regarding workforce development, Gibson said WVU’s schools of medicine, pharmacy, nursing and public health have 160 students in Doctor of Philosophy programs. In terms of diversity, the 552 students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs represent 30 states and 38 West Virginia counties, she added. Twenty percent of WVU’s first-year medical students engage in research.