Research Projects

Quick Links: Click on the mentor’s name for a quick link to the research project description or simply scroll down to each of the projects.

Project Title: Investigating the mechanisms that promote Cancer Progression: a Native Hawaiian Perspective

Courtesy: DKICPFaculty: Dr. Dana-Lynn Ko’omoa-Lange
Department: Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy
Synopsis: High-risk Neuroblastoma (NB), an extracranial pediatric tumor, is associated with poor prognosis. Dr. Ko’omoa-Lange is investigating the genetic mechanisms that make NB so aggressive and develop drug-resistance. Knowing more about these mechanisms will enhance efforts to develop more effective treatments for high-risk NB. This project also investigates the Native Hawaiian perspective of health and well-being and alternative treatments for advanced stage cancers.
Skills students will acquire: Mammalian cell culture, assays, western blot analysis, and laser scanning microscopy.
No. of SHARP Students: 2 (1 PhD, 1 Undergrads)
Status: Open (1 undergrad)

Project Title: Key mechanisms of ion channel signaling in cancer drug resistance and the tumor microenvironment

Mentor - Ingo Koomoa-Lange-smFaculty: Dr. Ingo Ko’omoa-Lange
Department: Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy
Synopsis: Neuroblastoma (NB) is an extra-cranial solid tumor that occurs mainly in infants and children. NB is difficult to treat due to the development of multi-drug resistance resulting in lack of response to current therapies and aggressive disease progression. The development of resistance in the NB cells also involves the response of immune cells and the tumor microenvironment (TME), which contribute to treatment failure. The objectives of this project are to identify the molecular components of ion channel signaling pathways within the TME that can be targeted towards effective treatment of NB.
Skills students will acquire: Live cell calcium imaging, confocal imaging, patch-clamp electrophysiology, mammalian cell culture.
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Open

Project Title: Anti-Cancer and Anti-Bacterial Agents from microorganisms and Herbal medicine

Mentor - ShugengFaculty: Dr. Shugeng Cao
Department: Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy
Synopsis: Dr. Cao is examining bacteria and endophytic fungi isolated from Native Hawaiian plants as anti-cancer and antibacterial agents. His lab is also studying traditional herbal medicine.
Skills students will acquire: Use of modern spectroscopic techniques such as HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography), MS (Mass Spectometry), and NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance).
No. of SHARP Students: 2
Status: Open

Project Title: Staphylococcus and MRSA in Hawaiian Coastal waters

wiegner02Faculty: Dr. Tracy Wiegner
Department: Marine Sciences
Synopsis: Dr. Wiegner is examining the effect of climate change on the presence of human pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA (methicillin resistant S. aureus) in the Hilo Bay watershed area. MRSA patients at the Hilo Medical Center are part of this study to determine what kind of activity put them at risk for MRSA and how timing of infection relates to rainfall conditions.
Skills students will acquire: Project planning, sample collection and processing (includes filtering and culturing bacteria), data analysis using Excel and stats programs, and GIS map making.
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Filled

Project Title: Screening of Hawaiian Medicinal Plants and Marine Algae  for anticancer activities using Streptomyces Kinase Inhibitor Assay \ Evaluation of Hawaiian Medicinal Plants in the Treatment  of Infectious Diseases

Chang-CaoFaculty: Dr. Leng Chee Chang & Dr. Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit
Department: Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy
Synopsis: An evaluation of Hawaiian traditional medicine  (lāʻau lapaʻau) may prove beneficial in reducing the health disparities seen among Native Hawaiians. In particular, this could be accomplished by demonstrating the efficacy of traditional medicine and/or identifying agents from Hawaiian medicinal and marine plants in the treatment of infectious and cancer diseases. In particular, the usage of ‘Uhaloa in traditional medicine should be scientifically evaluated and access to its use as an alternative treatment for infectious diseases increased. The non-toxic antibacterial efficacy of edible limu kohu warrants further study.
Skills students will acquire: Extraction and isolation of compounds found in natural products, spectroscopy (NMR and mass spectrometry), and analytical chemistry, antioxidant and antibacterial assays, statistical analysis, writing manuscript
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Open

Project Title: Endophytic fungi of Hawaiian medicinal plants: a sustainable drug discovery approach and a revolutionary source of new drug leads

Mentor - Ghee Tan-144Faculty: Dr. Ghee Tan
Department: Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy
Synopsis: As a result of an intimate (albeit cryptic) relationship, endophytic fungi and plants share metabolic pathways that mediate secondary metabolite production. Resident foliar endophytes will be isolated and purified from Hawaiian medicinal plants. The endophytes will be identified by the amplification of the internal transcribed spacer region of the 5.8s rRNA followed by PCR and DNA sequencing. Organic fungal extracts will be tested for activity against major cancers that afflict humans. Work on endophytes may be initiated using only a few fresh leaves from host medicinal plants. Therefore, the validation of ethnomedicines, and full scale drug discovery may be conducted in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner without inflicting destruction on the terrestrial environment.
Skills students will acquire: General skills pertaining to cell biology, molecular biology and pharmacology, mammalian, bacterial and fungal cell culture techniques, DNA sequencing, PCR, column chromatography and medium (MPLC) and high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC)
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Filled

Project Titles: Role of HSF1 in Pulmonary Fibrosis / Mechanisms of Cell Death in Response to Chemotherapy

Mentor - JacobsFaculty: Dr. Aaron Jacobs
Department: Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy
Synopsis: Dr. Jacobs focuses on the role of transcription factors in cellular processes associated with human disease. Project 9 looks at a protein called c-Myc, and how it controls the death of cancer cells when treated with chemotherapy.  Project 10 looks at protein called HSF1 and how it may be involved in pulmonary fibrosis. A greater understanding of basic disease mechanisms and responses to drug therapy can ultimately contribute to improved treatments.
Skills students will acquire: Cell culture, RNA, protein, nuclei and mitochondrial isolation, Western blot and Real-time PCR analysis.
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Open

Project Title: Discovery, Synthesis, and Evaluation of Antibacterial  and Anti-Cancer Agents in Natural Products

Mentor - Dianqing SunFaculty: Dr. Dianqing Sun
Department: Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy
Synopsis: Dr. Sun’s research program focuses on discovery and development of antibacterial and anticancer agents using small molecule-guided and natural product-inspired approaches. Specifically, this project will provide an exceptional opportunity engaging the undergraduate and graduate students, particularly those who are currently underrepresented in biomedical research, to participate meritorious research and to help strengthen the research environment at UH Hilo.
Skills students will acquire: Drug discovery, bioanalytical research, and state-of-the-art instruments such as NMR, HPLC, LC-MS, and microwave parallel synthesizer
No. of SHARP Students: 1-2
Status: Open

Project Title: Occupational Stress and Animal Welfare in Humane Societies

Mentor - morrison-181Faculty: Dr. Lynn Morrison
Department: Anthropology
Synopsis: East Hawaii has a high rate of animal neglect and abandonment, and lack of spaying/neutering, resulting in a euthanasia rate of 14,000 animals per year.  The Kea’au employees euthanize 34 animals per day on average.  This study will compare the stress levels of the employees at the Kea’au site to those at the Kona Humane Society where there is a much lower euthanasia rate and higher animal adoption rate.  Stress is measured through blood pressure, cortisol, and a battery of survey instruments.  Unique to this study is the incorporation of animal welfare by examining the cortisol levels of dogs as a measure of stress.
Skills students will acquire:Monitoring blood pressure, administering surveys, and obtaining hair samples from both human and dog participant for cortisol assays.  Assist in downloading equipment, entering data, and coding qualitative interviews.  SHARP student will also assist with cortisol assays in co-PI Dr. Dana-Lynne Ko’omoa-Lange’s lab.
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Open

Project Title – Investigating the anti-bacterial efficacy of native Hawaiian plant-based medicines

Faculty: Dr. Stan Nakanishi
Department: Biology
Synopsis: Briefly, my lab is using a native Hawaiian-oriented ethnobotany approach aimed at screening plants for novel antibiotic and anti-inflammatory efficacy.  We have access to a set of plant-based Hawaiian medicinal (La’au Lapa’au) manuscripts and we are using that information to drive our lab-based screening process to identify novel compounds.  Our long-term goal is to contribute to a better appreciation of native Hawaiian medicine and discover new treatments for modern diseases.
No. of SHARP students: 1
Status: Open

Project Title: Brown adipose tissue, cold exposure, and adiposity: a comparison of college students brought up in a warm climate and those brought up with seasonal cold exposure

mentor-dan-brownFaculty: Dr. Daniel Brown
Department: Anthropology
Synopsis: The study seeks to extend our knowledge about human variation in brown adipose tissue (BAT), a tissue that is involved in metabolism and is related to adaptation to cold exposure.  Specifically, the research proposes to study the difference in amount of active BAT in college students who have been brought up in a warm climate year-round (specifically, Micronesia) and those brought up where there is seasonal exposure to cold (many places on the U.S. mainland).  Students will be asked questions about their experience with cold exposure, and the amount of brown adipose tissue will be measured non-invasively through Infrared thermography after mild cold exposure.  Additionally, participants height and weight will be measured.
Skills students will acquire: Students will learn to interview and collect biological data from human participants during “real time,” including temperature measurement, anthropometrics (measurement of height and weight), and use of infrared thermography to measure BAT. Students will also learn data management and analysis skills.
Additional Requirements: This research entails work with human subjects, doing real-time measurements.  Student assistants must be mature, reliable, and responsible.
No. of SHARP Students: 2
Status: Open

Project Title: Effects of long-term stimulant self-administration on the aging primate brain.

Faculty: Dr. Eric Heuer
Department: Psychology
Synopsis: My current research project involves examining a cohort of aged squirrel monkey’s that have long (>10yrs on average) histories of cocaine self-administration (as part of an NIH funded research study at Emory University on cocaine abuse). The squirrel monkey is a commonly utilized non-human primate model of aging and cognition and as such serves as an ideal subject to examine the neurobiological consequences of stimulant use/abuse in our aging population. The focus of this initial project will be to evaluate the damage sustained to the brains of these subjects using immunohistochemistry, protein chemistry, histopathology and stereological approaches. Ultimately, this study will utilize well-characterized histological techniques to assess the integrity of the vascular system (previous/potential strokes, micro-bleeds), integrity of the blood brain barrier, white matter integrity and changes to the neuronal architecture.
No. of SHARP Students: 1 – 3
Status: Filled

Project Title: Inflammatory signaling in breast cancer

Faculty: Dr. Linda Connelly
Department: Pharmaceutical Sciences
Synopsis: We are researching the molecular mechanisms whereby breast cancer cells grow and spread to other tissues with the goal of identifying new therapeutic targets. We are particularly interested in the role of inflammatory signaling in this process.
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Filled

Project Title: ʻoihana lapaʻau: a history of Hawaiian medical practices through analysis of Hawaiian medical texts

Faculty: Dr. Kerri A. Inglis
Department: History
Synopsis: This research will focus on the history of Hawaiian medical practices through the analysis of several Hawaiian medical texts – held in the Hawaiʻi State Archives and Bishop Museum archives – seeking to understand Hawaiian concepts of health, disease, and medicine as demonstrated in the manuscripts of kāhuna laʻau lapaʻau (Hawaiian medical practitioners). Project will also include a synthesis of reliable secondary texts on Hawaiian medical practices.
Skills students will acquire: Student researcher will acquire skills in archival research, analysis of primary documents, synthesis of research and materials, and communicating findings in oral and written forms of communication, along with knowledge and insights into early Hawaiian medical thought and practices. Student researcher will eventually be involved in a lab component related to the project as well.
Preference: Ability in the Hawaiian language is an asset (not required)
No. of SHARP Students: 1
Status: Open