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Neurobiology and Addiction Research Cluster

Neurobiology and Developmental Biology Research Cluster - Coordinator, Brandon Henderson, PhD

The Neuroscience and Developmental Biology Research Cluster has a diverse range of faculty from across the Marshall Campus. In recent years a core group of faculty with interest in addiction has started to strategically focus on the issue of substance use disorders (SUDs). It is well established that WV/CA has a significant issue with SUDs. The primary problem is opioid addiction; however, there is also a significant polysubstance abuse issue in the area. Marshall University has made a significant commitment to lead the region in treatment, education and research in the area of addiction. Researchers in our cluster and educators across all disciplines, including the STEM disciplines, work in collaboration at Marshall to address this important regional/state/national issue. The BMR graduate program researchers, collaborating with the College of Science (CoS) are investigating multiple aspects of this issue ranging from clinical-based studies to basic science research. This has provided graduate students with projects that not only provide an excellent research opportunity but can also have a significant impact on the region’s health.
Clinically our research studies have focused on pregnant women with opioid addiction. WV leads the nation in substance use in pregnancy which leads to a high rate of opioid withdrawal in neonates (over 10% of all live births at Marshall/Cabell Huntington Hospital (the region’s academic health center) also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Under Dr. Egleton’s supervision, Masters Students in the CTS program are involved in conducting IRB approved trials investigating what factors (type of drug, maternal mental health, genetics) can predict the incidence and intensity of NAS in neonates.
In basic science research, PhD and MD/PhD students are investigating how NAS may affect the developing brain in animal and cell culture models (Drs. Chris Risher, Drs. Egleton, Grover, and Georgel). Drug interactions and drug metabolism are key factors in addiction. Recent studies by graduate students in Dr. Rankin’s lab have shown that single nucleotide polymorphisms in P450 metabolizing enzymes can play an important role in drug overdose. Dr. Waugh’s students are currently investigating these polymorphisms in umbilical cord samples from infants exposed to opioids in utero to determine if they can also be linked to withdrawal. Dr. Waugh’s lab is also investigating differential metabolism of buprenorphine as a potential mechanism of the higher rate of NAS in the region. Dr. Henderson’s studies investigate the neural basis of tobacco and opioid interactions in adults. Water contamination is also a common issue in areas with large SUD problems. Several studies have reported measurable levels of opioids and other drugs in the water. Dr. Georgel is investigating the effects of low levels of opioids on cellular development, particularly on epigenetic regulation of endothelial cell function. Outside the focus of opioid addiction, Dr. Louise Risher’s lab studies the neurobiology of alcohol addiction and specifically the impact that binge drinking has on astrocyte expression and function.


Basic Science Researcher             Research Interests

Jonathon Day-Brown, Ph.D                   Visual and Limbic systems

Price E. Dickson, Ph.D                           Addiction Genetics 

Richard Egleton, Ph.D                           NAS, genetics and brain development

Philippe Georgel, Ph.D                          Epigenetics of opioid

Larry Grover, Ph.D                                 Opioids and Brain development

Brandon Henderson, Ph.D                     Opioid addiction and nicotine interaction

Blair Journigan, Ph.D                             TRP ion channels, somatosensation and chemical probes

Gary Rankin, Ph.D                                 Genetics of opioid overdose

Chris Risher, Ph.D                                  Glia and synaptic development, opioids, and NAS

Louise Risher, Ph.D                                Binge drinking, adolescence, and glial development

Lauren Waugh, Ph.D                              Opioid metabolism

Sasha N. Zill, Ph.D                                 Mechanoreceptors and coordination of movement

Clinical Researcher                         Research Interests

David Chaffin, MD                                  High risk pregnancy

Todd Davies, PhD                                  Neonatal abstinence syndrome

Marianna Foto-Linz, PhD                       Child development

Sean Loudin, MD                                   Neonatal abstinence syndrome

Kalpana Miriyala, MD                             Pediatric psychiatry

Mitzi Payne, MD                                     Pediatric neurology

Amy Saunders, MA                                Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) Director