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Claflin University earns federal grant to enhance STEM research
HBCU lands gift from Department of Defense
Published Monday, February 24, 2020 6:00 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Claflin University interim dean of natural sciences and mathematics Derrick Swinton is conducting research with a spectrometer to find markers for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among African American smokers. The spectrometer will be paid for by a $470,000 Defense Department grant.

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Claflin University has earned a federal grant for medical research, professional development and new technologies in the sciences.

The Department of Defense gave the Orangeburg, South Carolina school $470,000 to buy a spectrometer that can measure the accurate mass of molecules in research to detect diseases and develop drug targets for potential cures. 

“The recent acquisition of the mass spectrometer is consistent with Claflin's research and STEM agendas,” Claflin President Dwaun Warmack said. “We want to recruit and retain outstanding STEM students. It is imperative that we offer advanced technology and training that will prepare them for prestigious professional schools, research laboratories and other career opportunities. I applaud Dr. [Derrick] Swinton and his team for developing a comprehensive and compelling proposal that effectively articulated why the mass spectrometer is important to the high-quality research conducted at Claflin. The grant provides a vital resource for preparing Claflin students in STEM disciplines.”

Swinton, interim dean of Claflin’s School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the spectrometer can separate molecules that have similar or the same molecular weight and the ability to find those that may be abundant at low levels. Researchers who are working to detect diseases and develop drug targets will have the capability to locate metabolites or proteins responsible for diseases.

“The mass spectrometer can detect and identify proteins that are responsible for causing types of diseases,” Swinton said. “It can differentiate proteins down to the per million level. The spectrometer allows us to find a needle in the haystack in identifying molecules. It has the ability to analyze blood or tissue samples to determine if any levels of drugs or pesticides exist in molecules with pinpoint accuracy.” 

Swinton will use the spectrometer for research in finding markers for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an inflammatory lung ailment, among African American smokers. COPD obstructs airflow from the lungs. Although blacks usually smoke less than whites and start later, they are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Data shows that drugs on the market now that treat COPD are not as effective in the African American population,” Swinton said. “I am looking for targets that can be used to design drugs specifically for African Americans.”

Swinton's other research priorities include a collaboration with the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and Winthrop University to design tissue implants from swine to humans. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the South Carolina Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, an initiative to increase research support for states that have historically received less in federal research and development funds.

“This requires analyzing the protein profile of the tissue after it’s removed from the pig," Swinton said. “This process also involves removing - as much as possible – cells and proteins from the tissue to prevent a negative immunological response if it is transplanted into human patients. We will use the mass spectrometer to look at the proteins in the tissue after we prepare it for implantation.”

In addition to Swinton’s research, the mass spectrometer will boost training infrastructure for faculty and students as Claflin aims to increase access for women and minorities in STEM disciplines and academics.

“Claflin students will train on advanced instruments used in industry,” Swinton said, “thus preparing them for success in the workforce.”


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