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King University News :: Fort Valley State University Studies Toxicology Research Program at King College

King College’s neuroscience program, part of the Biology department in King’s School of Arts Sciences, has gained significant recognition for research in the field of toxicology.  

This summer, Dr. Celia Dodd, assistant professor of Biology at Fort Valley State University, and two of her students, junior James Hernandez and senior Governor Henderson, spent time at King College conducting research in toxicology alongside King senior Isaac Snapp and Rekek Negga, a 2009 alumna and lab manager for Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis, chair of King’s Biology department.  

“The collaboration began with a recommendation from Celia’s postdoctoral advisor,” said Dr. Fitsanakis.  “When Celia completed her postdoctoral work about a year ago and accepted a professorship at Fort Valley State University, she expressed interest in learning the intricacies of how a small college the size of King manages a toxicology research program.  It became evident that Celia needed to visit King and see our research in progress rather than simply discuss it through an exchange of emails.”

In January of this year, Dr. Fitsanakis was awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).  It is one of the largest grants in the College’s history and will be distributed over the course of three years.  The grant, which was secured through a rigorous national competitive process with a funding success rate of only 8.5%, represents a major milestone in scientific research at King.  The grant, entitled “Role of Oxidative Stress and Protein Transporters in Glyphosate and Mancozeb Neurotoxicity”, focuses on the potential ability for widely used pesticides to cause oxidative stress.

The NIEHS funding enables undergraduate students in the health sciences, predominantly biology and neuroscience, to engage in hands-on original research that is usually only available to students of large metropolitan universities. 

“This summer, I invited Celia, along with two of her students, who would be performing the research at Fort Valley, to spend a week here at King to learn about our program,” said Fitsanakis.  “They were in the lab 8 to 10 hours a day for three and a half days.  At the end of the week, we were able to provide them with worms, called C. elegans, which they could use, along with a copy of our lab protocols.  The experience will help Dr. Dodd as she works towards establishing a research program at FVSU.” 

“We are grateful for the opportunity to observe the research program at King College,” said Dr. Dodd.  “Research we will be conducting will examine how chemicals in flame retardant materials affect developing nervous systems.  Although we are a larger institution than King, we are small in comparison to other colleges and universities that typically conduct research.”

While the FVSU students were in the lab absorbing as much information as possible and gaining practical experience, Dr. Fitsanakis provided additional guidance to Dr. Dodd concerning the grant writing process for applying for funding through NIEHS. 

“In addition to our work at King being recognized, I have been recognized within the Society of Toxicology, particularly within the Neurotoxicology Specialty Section, as a kind of an oddity in the field because I am performing research at a small institution that receives little scientific research funding.  When my colleagues in the field have graduate students or postdoctoral fellows who want to perform the type of research I am doing in a similar environment, they are now referring their students or fellows to me for mentoring, much like what happened with Dr. Dodd. 

“The work we are doing is a key portion, but it is not so much that others want to emulate the work specifically, but rather the model for which we have been so successful, and successful in an atypical collegiate setting that has not been historically known for research,” continued Dr. Fitsanakis.

“Originally, I was thinking about working as a nurse or going into medicine,” said Henderson.  “I never thought of research at all as a career. It’s now one of my options. The summer experience has opened up new avenues to career paths for me.”

“We are excited to see how Fort Valley’s research program progresses and look forward to collaborating with them in the future,” stated Dr. Fitsanakis.  

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