Posted on Apr 13, 2010

Changing the Climate of Research

Changing the Climate of Research

USF College of Nursing Biobehavioral Lab  Summer 2009 

A lab research assistant removes a rack of samples from a liquid nitrogen tank used to store cells at -196 degrees Celsius to ensure survival for future experiments.

In Summer 2009 the University of South Florida College of Nursing joined a few other elite nursing institutions with comprehensive wet laboratory research facilities. The new lab is a state-of-the-art, sophisticated new facility that enables the College to launch and support biological data analysis for multiple faculty and student projects, using biological markers to develop deeper understandings of health and disease, as well as the effects of nursing interventions on patients.

Before the opening of the new nursing biobehavioral lab, the College of Nursing’s lab equipment was located in a borrowed space in the College of Public Health. Now, the USF College of Nursing is able to launch and support biological data analysis projects on its own.

Maureen Groer, RN, PhD, FAAN, 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. On a typical day, the grant’s research nurse coordinator, Monalisa Harrington, RN, makes two or three visits to the homes of women enrolled in the study in order 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.

Back at the College, lab technician Nicole Williams processes the blood sample. The processing of the blood 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 lab are a collection of talented “lab rats,” including Jessica Heckel, a USF College of Nursing DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) -to-PhD 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 in 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.

Dr. Groer is also collaborating with Dr. 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 findings 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. 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 at the USF College of Nursing Center for Psychoneuroimmunology’s second annual national conference “Frontiers in Psychoneuroimmunology: Emotions, Immune System and Performance” at Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Florida.

Theresa Beckie, PhD, RN, FAHA, is working in the lab to develop a “genetics bench.” Dr. Beckie and her students are analyzing DNA and RNA, looking for critical gene mutations in cardiovascular disease. Dr. Cecile Lengacher utilizes the Biobehavioral 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. Maureen Groer, Cecilia Jevitt and Theresa Beckie 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.

The new laboratory is changing the climate of research at the USF College of Nursing, attracting the brightest students and accomplished veteran faculty from around the world. The science generated in the biobehavioral lab at the University of South Florida College of Nursing will ultimately have major impacts on nursing science and health.

Story by Maureen Groer
Photo by Luis Battistini
Originally published in the Fall 2009 Nursing Life magazine