Dr. James Grinias receives $350K in funding from the US Army for Rowan research project

Grant graphic. - Graphic / Yaz Shaughnessy

A Rowan research project has just received over $350,000 in funding from the U.S. Army. The project is a collaboration between Dr. James Grinias, professor of analytical chemistry, and Luna Labs, a technology company specializing in “defense, medicine, and emergency services,” according to their website.

“I thoroughly enjoyed high school and college classes in chemistry. Additionally, I had an outstanding experience in undergraduate research involving chromatography at Eastern Michigan University that inspired me to pursue that field of study for my career,” Grinias said.

The grant has been issued to aid in the development of an “automated spectrometry system for PTSD biomarkers,” or in simpler terms, a portable blood test for PTSD.

The funding is derived from the Small Business Technology Transfer program, described on sbir.gov as “…highly competitive programs that encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) with the potential for commercialization.”

According to Mayo Clinic, “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

It’s estimated that 16 percent of those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are afflicted with the disorder.

In addition to the psychiatric symptoms, PTSD can also result in changes to the body at the cellular level. These changes are referred to as “biomarkers.”

“A biomarker is a measurable chemical compound (either large or small molecule) that can be used as an indicator of a disease, infection, exposure, or clinical condition,” Grinias said.

Grinias’ lab is developing a combined liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry machine. The group has gotten the device down to the size of a desktop laser printer, making it roughly 10 to 15 percent of the equipment’s original size.

“Our research group is very interested in miniaturizing chemical analysis instrumentation, and this project will help us pursue those goals,” Grinias said.

Grinias and his team are also working to devise and test effective methods for identifying PTSD-specific biomarkers. For that, they are receiving assistance from another Rowan instructor, Assistant Professor Dr. Dylan Klein, who works in the Department of Health and Exercise Science.

“In addition to new research directions, this grant will provide opportunities for Rowan students to gain hands-on experience in liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, which are important skills in today’s chemistry workforce,” Grinias said.

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