Independent Public Mission Schools

Seton Hall’s Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology Receives $2.2 Million Grant from NIH

Samikkannu Thangavel, the new associate director of the Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology at Seton Hall University, has received a five-year $2.2 million research award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). The grant was awarded to Thangavel to conduct Neuro-AIDS research in the context of drugs of abuse.

According to the NIH, these grants are bestowed in recognition of research that has the potential to transform scientific fields and translate, ultimately, into improved health.

Prior to coming to Seton Hall, Thangavel, who holds a doctorate degree in biochemistry and did post-doctoral training in molecular toxicology in Academia Sinica in Taiwan, was an assistant professor in the Department of Immunolgy at the College of Medicine, Florida International University.

The scientific field within which Thangavel’s research will be conducted is known as mito-epigenetics. “Epigenetics” refers to the process by which external or environmental forces may cause a gene to be expressed — or not. The process is essentially the study of changes in gene activity which is not accompanied by underlying changes in the DNA sequence.

Simply put, what you eat, drink, breathe, how often you exercise or how you sleep and a myriad other life activities, including aging itself, “can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time.” In addition, certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and various cancers can also cause genes to switch on or off, from healthy to not. Those processes are the focus of epigenetics. Drugs of abuse can cause epigenetic changes.

Mito-epigenetics, the field of Associate Director Thangavel’s study, breaks down the process of gene expression one step further, and looks at the activity (or lack thereof) in the mitochondria of affected cells. Mitochondria are known as “the powerhouses of the cell,” and produce the energy that allows the cell to function properly.

HIV infection as well as drugs of abuse can affect the function of mitochondria and ultimately contribute to cellular dysfunction in the brain.

Thangavel’s research will focus on the HIV virus, and more specifically the impact that drugs of abuse such as cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids and alcohol can have on those who suffer from neuroHIV/AIDS.

Focusing on neurological impact, the planned study seeks to provide new information about HIV/AIDS and how different genes within people living with HIV are turned on or off within the brain— and how the use of these drugs of abuse contributes to the gene and brain abnormalities found within these individuals.

A particular emphasis of the study will be the genes of HIV/AIDS sufferers affected by cocaine use.

“This work is designed to contribute to the field of neuro-immunology in HIV/AIDS and our knowledge of the impact of drugs of abuse. In particular, information about the genes expressed during the course of HIV infection in the midst of cocaine use and other drugs of abuse – which can accelerate the disease— could improve our understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in the development of neurodegeneration.” said Thangavel. “The implications for this research are both crucial and manifold.”

An internationally renowned neuroAIDS researcher, Associate Director Thangavel has published extensively in the neuroscience areas of neurotoxicity, inflammation and epigenetics. He has been a leading author of articles in several high-impact journals, including Antioxidant and Redox Signaling, Scientific Reports, Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Journal of Neuroinflammation and AIDS Research and Human Retrovirology.

Focusing its research on the neuroimmunology of health and disease, the Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology at Seton Hall is committed to bringing knowledge of neuroimmune pharmacology to life via research, teaching, and community service. It cultivates research among and between the basic and social sciences, and prides itself on fostering research that can translate from the laboratory bench to impact within the community. Prior to this new grant, the Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology has received close to $12 million in grants from NIH.

Ongoing studies at the Institute are focused on the interplay of different types of brain cells within the neuroimmune system. The goal of the work is to reveal the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms behind the transition from normal central nervous system function to disorders including addiction and neuroHIV/AIDS. A better understanding of these processes is thought to be one of the first steps in guarding against— or even reversing— these disorders and a number of others that involve neurodegeneration.

Professor Sulie L. Chang, funding director of the Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology said, “Dr. Thangavel is a world-class expert in glia biology and energy metabolism in drug abuse. His joining us with this new NIH-funded project is an invaluable asset to the Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology at Seton Hall University.”

Professor Nicholas Snow, Director of Research at Seton Hall, agreed, adding, “The University has become a home for innovative research, top-tier scientists and important scholarship. This recognition from NIH for research that will enable us to better understand brain degeneration, HIV/AIDS and addiction is just one more example of what great minds can do at Seton Hall.”

#Christmas Kindness

The Seton Hall campus seems to shine even brighter each December. Named the best college in the nation for Christmas, the University hosts a variety of events designed to spread holiday cheer among the community. But it’s also the time of year that Seton Hall unites in the spirit of Christmas to give back to those less fortunate.

The University’s annual 12 Acts of Christmas Kindness is not just a tradition of giving started here at Seton Hall, but part of a wider movement of servant leadership gaining ground across America. The campaign encourages those in the Seton Hall community to perform 12 acts of kindness throughout the holiday season. These acts can range from donating to your local shelter, to simply going out of your way to make someone smile. As you perform these acts, help inspire others by sharing your Christmas Kindness stories and photos on social media using #ChristmasKindness and #HallChristmas.

You can participate beginning Giving Tuesday, November 28, by contributing to the University’s Division of Volunteer Efforts (DOVE). The Campus Ministry group raises awareness of social injustice by providing opportunities for the Seton Hall community to serve others – enabling us to live as Christ taught by putting our faith into action. These opportunities include service trips to Haiti and El Salvador, food drives, toy drives and carnivals for the disabled.

Here are a few more examples of simple ways you can give of your heart this Christmas – some of which you can perform right here on campus. Feel free to do any of these or to come up with your own:
•Donate to, or volunteer for, DOVE’s toy and food drives
•Purchase a pair of socks for the homeless and support Seton Hall student Jeremy Garriga’s initiative, Soxcess
•Write your mom and dad a thank you note for all they have done for you
•Send Christmas cards to soldiers overseas through the Red Cross
•Donate blood
•Volunteer at your local homeless shelter
•Pick up trash you see in the street
•Help an elderly person or a parent with small children load their groceries into their car
•Bring a cup of coffee for the local gas station attendant
•Pay the toll for the car behind you on the highway
•Walk the dogs at a local animal shelter (and pet the kitties)

The 12 Acts of Christmas Kindness initiative began in 2013 when Hillary Sadlon, a former Seton Hall nursing student, performed 21 random acts of kindness to celebrate her 21st birthday. Her dedication to helping others inspired the Seton Hall community to perform selfless acts during the holiday season in honor of the birth of Christ. Every year since then, students have followed in her footsteps, making strides towards changing people’s lives for the better.