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AREA grant promotes faculty, student research and collaboration

Working in the lab alongside Dr. Boyd Rorabaugh, third-year pharmacy student Sarah Hebble studies tissue samples under a microscope. Hebble is one of sixteen student researchers working with Dr. Phillip Zoladz and Rorabaugh, the recipients of a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Ohio Northern University faculty members Boyd Rorabaugh, Ph.D., and Phillip Zoladz, Ph.D., will be furthering their research on the impact of chronic psychological stress on the heart alongside student researchers thanks to a grant received Dec. 12, 2016 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In October 2015, the colleagues published a paper on their initial research and applied for the NIH grant several months later. Being awarded the $411,453 grant has provided them with a newfound motivation to advance their studies.

“There’s a certain sense of validation that people think your ideas are worth pursuing [and] that people who make those decisions think they are worthwhile,” Rorabaugh said. “It gives more purpose to the science. Obviously it makes it easier to do, but it makes you feel that your research is respected by your peers and the science community.”

This is not the first time Rorabaugh and Zoladz have collaborated, having received over $835,000 in NIH funding within the past two years. The Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) grant holds great emphasis on undergraduate involvement in the research environment of the recognized institution.

For third-year pharmacy student Sarah Hebble, this is a dream come true and a valuable learning opportunity.

“I’ve had a passion for research since high school,” Hebble said. “Therefore, my research experience in college is essential in continuing to fuel my passion and potentially in pointing me to a career involving research—more specifically research regarding cardiovascular disease.”

In addition to the purpose of the grant, Rorabaugh and Zoladz have outlined two key goals they would like to meet, including understanding how stress worsens injury in the heart during a heart attack and understanding why males and females respond differently to stress, all while assessing the therapeutic use of drugs to not only prevent stress disorders but also prevent injury.

Third-year pharmacy student Thorne Stoops said he looks forward to finding answers to these questions and to develop other questions based on the results.

“This research is extremely important to me,” he said. “To be able to be a part of this research is a huge opportunity as it will help me to further my future career as a researcher and will help me develop the necessary skills to succeed in future studies.”

Zoladz, too, expressed the benefits to undergraduate research.

“This is a big thing for them to get experience that will help them be more marketable for grad school, or a decent Ph.D. program,” he said. “Being involved in research is a really good way to get a foot on this [application] process.”

Sarah Seeley is a research technician at ONU. She has worked with Rorabaugh for six years while aiding students in the laboratory.

“It’s been enjoyable [working with Rorabaugh],” Seeley said. “There’s a lot more focus, a lot more planning. Now we have a firm direction, [and] it takes a lot off the weight.”

The research is expected to take three years to complete. During this time, undergraduate students will gain hands-on experience. Both professors agreed that conducting their own research provides them with more knowledge and experience in their classes, too.

“There are numerous reasons participating in research is beneficial,” she said. “Whether you’re interested in pursuing a career in research or not, you will be able to apply information you’ve learned from your classes and have a much deeper understanding of the disease state or topic your research is focused on. Your findings could greatly impact your field of study, you may have the opportunity to present your research at school and conferences, and your work could even be published.”