Learning, Discovery Know No Season

Learning, Discovery Know No Season

By Eugene Curtin

Creighton’s campus may be a little more quiet during the summer months, but behind the scenes, in labs and libraries, and at home offices across the city and nation, students and faculty are hitting the books, powering up microscopes and even wading through streams in search of new knowledge.

A long tradition of summer research is well underway, which is good news for students, who are developing skills that will serve them for a lifetime, and for faculty, too, whose investigations keep them on the cutting edge of their disciplines.

Creighton chemistry professor Lynne Dieckman, PhD, and her team of students are prying loose a secret of the human cell — specifically, how DNA molecules arrange themselves when they fold into the nucleus of a human cell. Therein, the research team suspects, lies a clue to the origin of a variety of diseases, including cancer.

“Understanding how this process occurs will provide insight into how issues may arise and lead to a diseased state,” Dieckman says.

Among a number of research projects underway in the School of Medicine, Tal Teitz, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and neuroscience, and his students are investigating whether drugs already approved by the FDA can be repurposed to treat hearing loss.

“Repurposing FDA-approved drugs is an attractive and effective approach because it can reduce the development timeline by five to eight years and reduce the cost up to 40% compared to new chemical compounds,” Teitz says.

Yaping Tu, PhD, professor of pharmacology and neuroscience, is leading a team project investigating the scourge of colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

“While chemotherapy combinations have improved survival of colorectal cancer patients over the past 20 years, less than 20% of patients diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer survive for five years, mainly due to drug resistance,” Tu says. “Despite decades of investigation, the molecular mechanisms underlying drug-resistant colorectal cancer progression remain largely unknown, preventing effective treatment of these patients.”

Law professor Raneta Mack, JD, is researching the historical role of the American jury system in perpetuating exclusion and racial oppression, research that will become part of a book she is writing tentatively titled Unpacking Race in the American Jury System: Cases, Readings, and Perspectives.

“From the founding of our country, and long before that, the jury trial system has served as an exclusionary and racist barrier to real justice while simultaneously providing a cover of fairness and legitimacy to the process by promoting the ideal of public participation,” Mack says.

Her law colleagues Pat Borchers, JD, and Michael Kelly, JD, LLM, also are hard at work on summer research projects. Borchers is formulating an argument that big corporations have become too hard to sue and is building evidence from cases reaching back to the middle of the 19th century. Kelly, professor and holder of the Senator Allen A. Sekt Endowed Chair in Law, is looking into the status of Americans living in U.S. territories, with the intent of advocating that they should be granted voting representation in Congress.

Heider College of Business colleagues Sijing Wei, PhD, and Regina Taylor, PhD, found that work-life balance and organizational culture are significantly higher in organizations when women are members of the top management team. Wei, an assistant professor of accounting and business intelligence and analytics, and Taylor, an associate professor of marketing and management, were part of a team that reviewed employee ratings from more than 5,000 firm-year observations.

Matthew Huss, PhD, a professor of psychological science, and two student researchers are investigating the risk of recidivism on the part of sex offenders, while Amy Worthington, PhD, assistant professor of biology, and a team of four students have been wading through streams gathering horsehair worm cysts that they will use to experimentally infect crickets in hopes of shining light on the wider mechanisms of parasitic manipulation. Misty Schwartz, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of nursing, is leading a research team analyzing the relationship between nutrition and growth in infants who are born up to three weeks before their due dates. 

“Specifically, we are focusing on those growth measures that may reflect growth related to lean mass, sometimes known as muscle mass, versus fat mass, which is the amount of fat the body has,” Schwartz says.

“The long-term goal of our research group is to establish evidence-based nutritional guidelines for LPT (late preterm) infants that will promote healthy growth, while preventing obesity.”

Kailey Snyder, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy, along with colleagues from the Creighton Therapy and Wellness Clinic, director Julie Peterson, DPT, and Kari Bargstadt-Wilson, MPT, are looking to better educate rural mothers about pelvic floor health following childbirth.

The pelvic floor muscles have several functions, including assisting with bladder and bowel control and pelvic organ support. It’s proper functioning is critical for women managing the demands of a newborn baby.

“Few education interventions exist to improve pelvic floor dysfunction among postpartum women despite it greatly influencing a women’s ability to be physically active as well as impacting her mental and sexual health,” Snyder says. She and her colleagues are trying to better equip women, particularly those living in rural settings, to self-manage their pelvic floor issues.

Asking questions. Seeking answers. These are but a few examples of the research that is ever-present at Creighton during these summer months, across multiple disciplines and interests.

“Creighton has long prided itself on the opportunities we afford our students to engage in important and significant research across many medical and academic disciplines,” says Mardell Wilson, EdD, Creighton University provost.

“These opportunities introduce students to the real-world challenges they will face after graduation. The confidence they build as they interact with their professor/mentors is extremely valuable and a great foundation for future success.”