For the fall/winter 2017 issue of our magazine, Ohio State Public Health, we sat down with Associate Dean for Research Christopher Weghorst, PhD, to talk about research at the college and the role his office plays to advance discoveries.
You’ve experienced success as a cancer researcher in the college and at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. Can you speak to the team approach to research and how collaboration helps researchers be successful?
First, thank you for recognizing my successes here at OSU. However, the truth of the matter is that much of my success as a cancer researcher has come as the result of collaboration with others. Some of the most exciting and productive research efforts happening today are the result of large interdisciplinary teams of scientists focused on leveraging their expertise and perspectives from a wide array of disciplines and technologies on a particular research problem.
A perfect example of such collaborative team science is the Center of Excellence in Regulatory Tobacco Science, which is located within our college.
How does that same spirit of teamwork help the college’s Office of Research?
We also use a similar “interdisciplinary” approach within the Office of Research to accomplish our goals. The college has an outstanding team of highly trained, capable and dedicated individuals who are passionate about seeing our researchers and students succeed in making great discoveries and positively impacting public health.
I am very proud to be working with Emily Modak (Director of Research Administrative Services), Scot Erbe (Senior Grants and Contracts Specialist) and Mischa Hitchcock (Grants and Contracts Specialist). Each of them bring a unique and valuable set of skills to the office that together result in the high level of support provided to our researchers and students.
How does the Office of Research support faculty and students?
As associate dean for research—in addition to maintaining the office’s outstanding record of traditional pre- and post-award activities, my desire has always been to expand the role of the office to include services that foster not only the quality and quantity of research, but also assist faculty at all levels in their pursuit of independent and sustained research programs. For example, we have developed a series of new initiatives aimed at promoting proposal development, data collection and collaborations/mentoring, and faculty development.
The office also actively underwrites faculty access to grant writing workshops and outside consultants, provides funds for seed grant and collaborative postdoc programs, supports faculty development seminars, as well as provides consultation and training related to laboratory safety and research compliance issues.
What are the some of the strengths of the college’s research . . . and how might emerging public health needs dictate that work?
The college’s research portfolio is quite strong and diverse. CPH researchers are currently leading research and innovation efforts in a variety of impactful areas of public health, including tobacco control and prevention; reproductive and sexual health; healthcare access, costs, and policy; childhood obesity; cancer prevention; global health; heath disparities; and water and air quality, to name a few.
In addition, several new areas of research interest are emerging that focus on local and national public health crises, such as the opioid epidemic and high infant mortality.
You’ve been involved with some important research over the years related to the effect black raspberries may have on cancer. What’s the latest with that work?
My research team and I are currently working as part of an interdisciplinary team with other researchers from the OSU Colleges of Medicine; Dentistry; and Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences on a clinical trial-based project that was recently funded by the National Cancer Institute. The project is an extension of my group’s initial finding that dietary administration of black raspberries dramatically reduced the number of oral tumors in a hamster model of oral carcinogenesis. The current translational project explores the critical bi-directional interaction that exists between oral bacteria and phytochemical-rich black raspberry food products within the oral cavity of smokers and non-smokers.
Studies suggest that the polyphenols found in black raspberries may have an impact on the types of bacteria found in the mouth, or prevent damage from cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke. This may ultimately result in the attenuation of inflammation within the mouth and subsequent reduction of oral disease progression.