Spit for Science Research Roundup #1

Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR)

Photo courtesy of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR)


Spit for Science is a VCU-wide research project that aims to understand how genes and the environment come together to influence substance use and emotional health. The project works with a large number of undergraduate researchers each semester. Assistants help with recruitment and data collection, meet different faculty involved in the project and work in teams to develop research questions and analyze Spit for Science data.  

Below are brief blog posts from current undergraduate researchers covering recent events and research relating to substance use and emotional health. For more information about the project, and to learn how to apply for the Spring 2017 team, please visit spit4science.vcu.edu.


Is Volunteering the Answer to Addiction?

Review by Deanna Pacitto

In this article, the behavioral tendencies of teen substance abusers is examined; and researchers conclude that teen users lack awareness  for the individuals around them. Therefore, Dr. Pagano suggests that volunteering be introduced into their schedules in order to combat their egocentricity. Previous research conducted by Dr. Pagano has proven that teen relapse rates and adult arrest rates are cut in half after volunteering.


Smoking Leaves a Lasting Impact on DNA

Review by Rampallyns

Researchers at the NIH working in the epidemiology branch found that DNA methylation patterns change because of smoking and that they could reveal smoking history which allows potential targets for new therapies.

Methylation is a mechanism through which DNA can be regulated. Smokers that have stopped for awhile are still at risk of developing diseases like COPD, cancer, etc. Most of the significant methylations sites were in genes that are related to cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers.


Ice Bucket Challenge Cash Helped Pay for ALS Gene Discoveries

Review by Hamakerdh

Thanks to the very popular ice bucket challenge from two years ago, new discoveries have been made in the fight to find a cure for ALS. Donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge allowed researchers to conduct two studies in which they tried to find faulty genes in people who were diagnosed with ALS. Both studies were able to find faulty versions of some genes.

The first study found a faulty version of the NEK1 gene in roughly 3 percent of the participants who were diagnosed with ALS. The NEK1 gene has many important functions including helping nerve cells to function properly, give them their shape, and also control the membrane of the mitochondria which provides the nerve cells energy so that they can carry out many important functions, even including repair of DNA.

The second study also found a few more gene variations that were associated with increased risk of ALS. The genes were C21,SCFD1 and MOBP all of which have variations that are associated with increased risk of ALS. These studies were very important in identifying risky gene variations so that they can be, hopefully, targeted for gene therapy in the future.