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.


Research Faculty

Research Interests 

Jonathon Day-Brown, PhD Visual and Limbic systems 
Price E. Dickson, PhD  Addiction Genetics 
Richard Egleton, PhD  NAS, genetics and brain development 
Philippe Georgel, PhD  Epigenetics of opioid 
Larry Grover, PhD  Opioids and Brain development 
Brandon Henderson, PhD  Opioid addiction and nicotine interaction 
Blair Journigan, PhD TRP ion channels, somatosensation and chemical probes 
Daniel Morgan, PhD Cannabinoid and neuropeptide signaling 
Gary Rankin, PhD  Genetics of opioid overdose
Chris Risher, PhD  Glia and synaptic development, opioids, and NAS
Louise Risher, PhD  Binge drinking, adolescence, and glial development 
Lauren Waugh, PhD  Opioid metabolism 
Sasha N. Zill, PhD  Mechanoreceptors and coordination of movement 
David Chaffin, MD  High risk pregnancy 
Todd Davies, PhD  Neonatal abstinence syndrome 
Marianna Foto-Linz, PhD  Child development 
Mitzi Payne, MD  Pediatric neurology 
Amy Saunders, MAR  Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) Director