Research in Brief


See just a snapshot of current research projects underway at Creighton University. 


What: Biochemical research: Riboswitches, a group of non-coding RNAs found in virtually all bacteria, are RNA sequences that bind cellular metabolites, inducing a structural change that “switches” expression of essential metabolic genes off.

Who: Juliane Strauss-Soukup, PhD
Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences

How: By investigating exactly how bacterial riboswitches interact with metabolites, Soukup can design non-natural metabolites that bind and upset the normal functioning of metabolic pathways. Therefore, riboswitches provide a unique and distinct set of targets for development of new antibiotics to treat dangerous bacterial infections.

Why: This basic biochemical research could inform better drug development to counteract the worldwide problem of antibiotic resistance.

Role of Dividends in Investors' Portfolios

What: The important role that dividends play in an investor's portfolio

Who: Gerald Jensen, PhD
Department of Economics and Finance, Heider College of Business

How: Jensen’s paper published in the Nov./Dec. issue of the Financial Analysts Journal shows that the success of an investor's investment strategy is impacted dramatically by the dividend level paid by the firms selected by the investor. Whereas value and growth investing are popular investment strategies, this research shows that the dividend component is crucial to the success of those strategies.

Why: Investors that follow a growth strategy could quadruple their returns and lower their risk by targeting firms that pay a meaningful dividend.

Health Sciences Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research

What: Extending the work of the Center for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (CIPER): $100,000 in funding to support interprofessional training for “Cultivating Collaboration: Building a Successful Collaborative Care Model in an Academic Health Partnership, Accelerating Interprofessional Community-Based Education and Practice.” Funding is provided by the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Who: Meghan R. Potthoff, PhD, APRN-NP; Catherine A. Carrico, DNP, APRB-NP, FNP; Joy D. Doll, OTD, OTR/L; Gail M. Jensen, PT, PHD, FAPTA, Joan M. Lappe, PhD, RN, CNE, and Kandis L. McCafferty, PhD, RN (representing Creighton's College of Nursing, School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, and the School of Medicine)
Center for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research

How: Nurse practitioners lead teams of health professionals and health professions students – including dentistry, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy and physical therapy – in a collaborative and patient-centered approach to care. 

Why: Health care is changing and Creighton is preparing students – and educating other forward-thinking providers and educators – who will be part of the latest team-based approach. Interprofessional education and collaborative practice supports health care teams’ ability to ensure positive patient outcomes.

Psychological Safety in the Workplace

What: Psychological safety (PS): A recent internal study conducted by Google to determine what led to team success resulted in one concept emerging that was crucial for effective teams: psychological safety (PS). PS is the belief that the team is safe for taking risks and raising potentially controversial and unpopular ideas. As people feel safe to take risks without fear of negative consequences, they are more likely to challenge the status quo and engage in behaviors that result in learning and innovation.

Who: Lance Frazier, PhD
Department of Marketing and Management, Heider College of Business

How: The study examines the factors that lead to, and are the result of, psychological safety. 

Why: The study findings could highlight the important role that leaders play in fostering psychologically safe workplaces. 

Refugee Resettlement and Social Capital

What: Exploring how social capital influences refugee resettlement dynamics in Omaha, Neb.

Who: Laura Heinemann, PhD; Claire Herzog, MA; Margo Minnich, RN, DNP, Celeste Mitchell, MA, Laeth Nasir, MD, Alexander Roedlach, PhD, SVD; Joseph Vorhees, MA, and Creighton undergraduate students (representing the Department of Sociology and Anthrolpology, College of Arts and Sciences; College of Nursing; and Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine)

How: This research project highlights the crucial role social capital plays in successful refugee resettlement, through a look at two refugee communities in Omaha. Researchers identified that two types of social support - bonding social capital, which refers to certain norms and networks within a community, and bridging social capital, referring to certain norms and networks between the community and other groups, tend to compete. In addition, communities' emphasis on one type or the other changes over time. This insight is valuable for refugee resettlement organizations in Omaha and elsewhere, guiding them in tailoring services for these communities to facilitate successful refugee resettlement.

Why: This project evolved from an earlier study by this team, which sought to understand health issues faced by refugees and how health professionals can address these issues. Both studies were inspired by Creighton's charism that encourages faculty, staff and students to become women and men for and with others. During these studies, the researchers not only explored themes important for refugee communities and those who assist them to adjust to life in the United States, but they did so together with the refugees. The researchers and refugees spent time together in conversation and both groups developed an ongoing reciprocal relationship with one another.


autoimmune disorder treatment

What: Investigation of the role of a cytokine called interleukin-10 (IL-10) in suppressing antibody production: In December 2016, Swanson was awarded a new 2-year $400,125 grant from the National Institutes of Health. This award follows up a $100,950 equipment supplement from the National Institutes of Health in 2015 to acquire a state-of-the-art YETI (now ZE5) flow cytometer that his laboratory uses to identify and analyze various immune cell populations.

Who: Patrick Swanson, PhD
Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine

How: The grant will support research into the role of a cytokine called interleukin-10 (IL-10) in suppressing antibody production, specifically in mice that accumulate an unusual population of IL10-expressing B cells due to a defect in a process that normally works to reprogram self-reactive B cells. Swanson’s new ZE5 YETI flow cytometer represents a state-of-the-art tool for analyzing cells. Dr. Swanson’s lab uses flow cytometry to distinguish B cell populations from one another based on various "markers". The acquisition of the new YETI flow cytometer enables the researchers to analyze up to 15 different markers simultaneously – nearly four times more than with previous equipment. One can analyze many different samples much more quickly as well.

Why: Autoimmune disorder treatment: Certain human autoimmune disorders are caused by unregulated production of “self-reactive” antibodies. One example is autoimmune hemolytic anemia, in which antibodies start targeting one's own red blood cells. Swanson believes that IL10 plays a role as part of a feedback mechanism to prevent B cells from producing self-reactive membrane-binding antibodies in some cases. Understanding that mechanism could reveal new ways to shut down B cells that start producing such self-reactive antibodies.

Antimicrobial Resistance of Hospital Patients

What: A $75,000 award from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) through Douglas County Health Department for antimicrobial resistance of hospitalized patients

Who: Renuga Vivekanandan, MD
​Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Creighton University School of Medicine

How: The project will help protect patients by integrating information about microbiological susceptibilities of organisms and the antimicrobials used with the CDC's database.

Why: Antibiotic stewardship – when, where, how, why and to whom doctors administer antibiotics – is increasingly important as many antibiotics become resistant.

Preventing Infection Following Surgery

What: Preventing infection following hip or knee replacement surgery

Who: Marvin Bittner, MD
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Creighton University School of Medicine

How: An earlier research study showed a way to cut the risk of infection through special tests before surgery--and sometimes special drugs. Though these measures to cut infection worked in artificial research situations, they have not yet been proven effective in practice. Creighton University School of Medicine faculty at the Omaha VA Hospital are working with about a dozen other VA hospitals to find out how well it works in an actual hospital setting.

Why: Many people get bad arthritis in the hips and knees. One common solution is hip or knee replacement surgery. Though most surgeries go well, infections can prove devastating. Implementation of findings could cut the risk of a serious infection after hip or knee surgery by about 50%.

Development of kits to test for antibiotic resistance

What: Development of commercially available testing kits for doctors to test for antibiotic resistance: Four kits have been commercialized with an industry partner (Streck) to identify genes in bacteria that can lead to death of patients if not detected. These kits can identify these resistance genes in isolates collected from patients, animals, and the environment. They have the potential to give physicians the information they need to determine the optimal treatment for empiric therapy in hospitalized patients and even save lives.

Who: Nancy Hanson, PhD
Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, ​School of Medicine

How: In the lab, Hanson, her colleagues and students work to understand the molecular mechanisms that promote antibiotic resistance in today’s superbugs such as E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Salmonella spp. and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Through that knowledge, they develop molecular tests to detect resistant genes in bacteria that infect both human and animals.

Why: Antibiotic resistance is a global health problem that impacts humans, animals, and the environment. Without a basic understanding of how these organisms emerge resistant, we cannot contain them as they spread. Molecular diagnostic approaches are crucial for identifying which organisms to target and what impacts their survival. In addition, state health labs can track these organisms and understand the epidemiology involved in the movement of these dangerous organisms. The data collected in Hanson’s lab supplies knowledge needed to develop future diagnostic tests for both human and animal use.

Stem Cell Injection to Delay Dialysis

What: Phase II trial using autologous renal stem cells that are re-injected into diseased kidneys due to diabetes to delay dialysis, funded by the CHI Health Research Office.

Who: Joe Stavas, MD
Department of Radiology, School of Medicine

How: Stavas designed a unique injection technique, which allows access to the kidney through the skin (percutaneous) rather than an invasive method. The stem cells injected are the patient’s own.

Why: This trial, if proven to be safe and effective, will reduce the number of people on dialysis or in need of a kidney transplant. It could reduce the cost of renal failure treatments and improve the quality of life of patients seen at the CHI Health - Creighton University Medical Center Bergan Mercy. Stavas has extensive clinical research experience and saw in this opportunity a chance to combine his skill sets of imaging, interventional radiology treatments.

High Sensitivity LC-MS-MS (API 5500 Q-tap)

What: A grant from the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation and matching gift from Dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions J. Chris Bradberry allowed for the purchase of a High Sensitivity LC-MS-MS (API 5500 Q-tap)

Who: The instrument will be used by used by faculty and collaborators across Creighton University conducting competitive basic, translational or clinical research.

Why: The equipment will address an unmet need to quantitate drug concentrations in biological samples and tissue samples at a very low concentration. The major research projects that will benefit the most pertain to cancer, HIV, and tuberculosis (TB).

Scandinavian Choral Literature

What: Contemporary A Cappella Scandinavian Choral Literature

Who: Barron Breland, DM, Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Fine and Performing Arts

Why: Through involvement with local choirs, Breland noticed contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s choral pieces had become very popular. Curious about this trend, Breland looked deeper and found that a whole cohort of Scandinavian composers with similar styles had gained recent popularity beyond their native shores.

How: Through much listening and interviewing, Breland considered whether the music was based on Scandinavian folk music or other traditions, and how to describe the styles of the compositions. Most of the music is a cappella, a style that has enjoyed great popularity of late. He found that, as suspected, the composers’ work was based on folk music, both sacred and secular, and that Scandinavia has a longstanding choral and a cappella tradition.

The project will culminate in a performance, “Sounds of Scandinavia,” sung in the original Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian.