New Lab Changing Research at College of Nursing

A new laboratory is changing the climate of research at the USF College of Nursing, attracting bright students and accomplished veteran faculty from around the world.

The Biobehavioral Laboratory, which opened in the summer of 2009, is a comprehensive wet laboratory research facility that enables College researchers to launch and support biological data analysis for multiple faculty and student projects. The sophisticated, state-of-the-art lab allows the use of biological markers to develop deeper understandings of health and disease, as well as the effects of nursing interventions on patients.

“The new lab provides an incomparable resource for biobehavioral research, which has allowed many PhD students to add important biomarkers to their dissertation research,” said Maureen Groer, RN, PhD, FAAN, director of the Biobehavioral Laboratory, as well as director for the Center for Women’s Health Research.

Dr. Maureen Groer.

With more than 2,000 square feet, the Biobehavioral Laboratory supports the College’s Research Center and the Center for Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and houses equipment for conducting blood assays, such as inflammatory markers, stress hormones, proteomics, and RNA and DNA analyses. The facility also includes multiple patient rooms for conducting physical examinations, clinical measurements, and treatments for health care and research purposes.

The benefits of the new Lab are many and go beyond simply providing a facility with equipment. For example, faculty researchers are able to apply for a broader range of grants and faculty recruitment is expanded to include a broader range of researcher, Dr. Groer said.

“Several faculty members are putting in grants that include endocrine, immunological and molecular measures that will be analyzed in the new lab, and plans are underway to recruit post-doctoral scholars into this area of research as the college is preparing its first major institutional research support grant,” she said.

“It is anticipated that the availability of the lab facilities will attract seasoned faculty who will help the college achieve its research strategic goals.”

The research projects taking place in the Biobehavioral Laboratory are varied, but here are a few examples of how faculty researchers are using the space.

Dr. Groer and her collaborators, staff and students are currently measuring a variety of hormones, acute phase proteins, cytokines, cellular structure and function for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study of postpartum health. As the grant research nurse coordinator, Monalisa Harrington, RN, makes two or three visits to the homes of women enrolled in a study to collect stress and mood data, perform a short physical exam, screen for postpartum thyroid disease, and collect a blood sample, which is brought back to the Biobehavioral Lab for immediate processing.

Lab volunteer Nancy Le.

In the Lab, technician Nichole Williams processes the blood sample, which involves separating the lymphocytes and storing them in liquid nitrogen for later flow cytometry, aliquoting plasma samples, counting cells and performing multiple assays on these samples in batches. Also assisting in the Lab are Jessica Heckle, a USF College of Nursing doctoral student interested in genetics research; Brittany Hasty, a USF Honors College graduate planning to attend medical school; Nancy Le, a lab volunteer preparing for a career in cancer research; Ellen Marcolongo, a USF Nursing PhD student preparing for a dissertation on the immune effects of night shift working nurses; Melissa Molinari Shelton, a PhD student planning a genetics-focused dissertation in pregnancy and stress; Blake Rankin, a University of Tampa student studying chemistry and accounting; and Jeanne Van Eepoel, a Nursing PhD student studying with Dr. Groer.

Lab technician Nicole Williams and volunteer Nancy Le.

In addition, Dr. Groer is also collaborating with Terri Ashmeade, MD, from Tampa General Hospital, on a study comparing the biology of milk from mothers who have delivered preterm infants with milk from mothers who have delivered full-term infants. Preliminary finding indicate important differences in the chemical compositions of the milk, particularly of the cytokines, and suggest that mother’s milk, no matter when the infant is born, is uniquely suited to meet that infant’s needs.

A lab research assistant removes a rack of sample from a liquid nitrogen tank.

Dr. Groer and her staff recently completed a study made possible through a contract with Meggitt’s Training Systems, Inc., that measured salivary stress markers across 150 police officers participating in a virtual reality stress scenario. The data was presented at the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society meeting in Colorado, as well as at the USF College of Nursing Center for Psychoneuroimmunology’s second annual national conference.

Theresa Beckie, RN, PhD, FAHA, developed a “genetics bench” in the Lab, where she and her students are analyzing DNA and RNA, looking for critical gene mutations in cardiovascular disease.

And Cecile Lengacher, RN, PhD, utilizes the Lab for her NIH-funded study on the immune and stress-reducing effects of mindfulness meditation in women with breast cancer. Her research staff and students bring saliva samples they’ve collected from participants to the Lab for processing and analysis of the stress hormone cortisol.

Genetics research is a priority for the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) and in the past two years, four USF College of Nursing students have been selected to attend the Summer Genetics Institute sponsored by NINR. In addition, Drs. Groer, Beckie, and Cecilia Jevitt, CNM, PhD, have completed an intensive molecular biology summer training program sponsored by New England BioLab in order to learn the latest in genetics techniques and measurements.

Photo of Dr. Groer by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications.

All other photos by Luis Battistini, College of Nursing.