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Research at Boston College

2015 Ignite Award Winners

2016 Ignite & RADS Award Recipients: 1. Sharlene Hesse-Biber 2. Eva-Katharina Pauli 3. Yaguang Zheng 4. Emily Thorson 5. Michael Serazio 6. Michael Naughton 7. Jinhee Park 8. Michael Barnett 9. Alan Kafka 10. Helen Zhang 11. David Blustein
1. Sharlene Hesse-Biber 2. Eva-Katharina Pauli 3. Yaguang Zheng 4. Emily Thorson 5. Michael Serazio 6. Michael Naughton 7. Jinhee Park 8. Michael Barnett 9. Alan Kafka 10. Helen Zhang 11. David Blustein

2016 Ignite and RAD Award Recipients

In May of 2016, three Ignite grants and three Research Across Departments and Schools (RADS) grants were awarded to 11 faculty members from three different schools.

The Ignite Award program was established by the VPR’s office to help kick-start a faculty member’s research ideas with the goal of turning the idea into a publication or an external grant. Available to full-time faculty, Ignite grants are awarded twice a year, for an amount up to $30,000. The next application deadline is September 30, 2016.

The RADS program aims to support interdisciplinary research projects between faculty in different disciplines, departments, and schools across BC. The VPR will support five projects annually for up to $50,000. The next application deadline is December 2, 2016.

For more details on the Ignite and RADS Programs, as well as other internal funding opportunities please visit:

The projects awarded in the spring of 2016 were:


Genetic Testing and Post-Testing Decision Making Among BRCA-Positive Mutation Men: An Extended Psycho-Social Standpoint Mixed Methods Approach
Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Professor, Sociology

It is becoming increasingly well known that women who undergo genetic testing
and test positive for the BRCA1/2 genetic mutation face an increased risk of developing cancers, especially but not limited to breast (a 60% lifetime risk) and ovarian (15–40%) cancers, but what is often left out of BRCA research and the medical literature is the increased risk of developing hereditary cancers for men who test positive for BRCA1/2. Every year, approximately 2,000 men are diagnosed with and 400 men die from breast cancer (Stöppler, Lee, & Shiel, 2011). An estimated 4–40% of male breast cancer cases result from genetic mutations, including BRCA1/2 mutations (American Cancer Society, Inc., 2013). BRCA1/2 may also increase the risk for pancreatic, testicular, and early-onset prostate cancers in men, and BRCA-positive men with prostate cancer have poorer survival rates than non-carriers because the cancer develops at faster, more aggressive rates (Agalliu et al., 2007; Narod et al., 2008).

This proposed research builds upon my ongoing research while extending my research questions to a new area of inquiry. Currently, my ongoing project focuses on women’s BRCA-related decision making; data collection continues, and preliminary results are being prepared. However, men face a different set of challenges than women when facing a positive BRCA and/or cancer diagnosis and approach their medical options differently. This proposed project will examine men's medical decision making pre- and post–BRCA testing and attend to aspects of the process that are gender-specific. The survey and interviews will accommodate these differences by utilizing questions that will be relevant to men's unique experiences.



MERS CoV ORF4a interactome: detailed analysis of individual interactions with host proteins
Eva­Katharina Pauli, Assistant Professor, Biology

Coronaviruses are enveloped RNA viruses that cause respiratory illnesses in humans ranging from common cold to bronchitis or pneumonia. Coronaviruses are separated into four genera (α-, β-, γ-, δ-CoV), which are further subdivided into lineages. The newly emerging Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS CoV) belongs to the genus of β-CoV, lineage C and is the etiological agent for an ongoing epidemic outbreak of severe respiratory illness centered in the Middle East. As of April 2016, 27 countries reported 1,728 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS CoV infection, including 624 deaths ( MERS CoV remains a source of heightened concern due to the lack of vaccines and/or therapeutics. Pathogenesis following infection is characterized by aberrant cytokine expression and delayed induction of interferon beta (IFNβ), and thus causes self-damage of infected host cells and a poor adaptive immune response. These effects are likely to involve immune antagonistic mechanisms of the virus mediated by its accessory. Our research aims to untangle the interaction network of viral accessory proteins within the host cell proteins (viral interactome) by combining global screening with detailed investigation of individual interactions. While studying the interactome of the accessory protein MERS CoV ORF4a we identified TRIM25 - an important modulator of the antiviral immune response - as new binding partner. Moreover, our pilot data confirm inhibition of the antiviral immune response due to this protein-protein interaction. In the proposed study we aim to define the detailed architecture of the newly identified virus-host protein-protein complex (Aim 1). In addition, we will study its impact on the antiviral immune response, including expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines (Aim 2)
and viral replication (Aim 3).


Promoting Lifestyle Changes with Mobile Health Technologies for Overweight or Obese Older Adults with Type 2 Diabetes ­­­­ Pilot Testing
Yaguang Zheng, Assistant Professor,  Connell School of Nursing

Primary Specific Aim (Aim 1): Examine the feasibility and acceptability of a self-regulation theory-based mobile health (mHealth) behavior intervention for overweight or obese older adults with T2DM.
1a: Feasibility will be assessed by number of participants recruited within allotted timeframe, retention rates, as well as the amount of remotely data collected (e.g., data loss).
1b: Acceptability will be assessed by actual use of technology (adherence to self-monitoring) as well as the end of study interview about the experience of using technolo.

Exploratory Aim (Aim 2): Explore the effects of the self-regulation theory-based mHealth behavior intervention on changes in cardiovascular risk (body weight, HbA1c, blood pressure, and waist circumference) and lifestyle behaviors (adherence to energy intake and physical activity goals) over 3 months. The proposed study is significant because of the following features. First, Developing effective high-quality weight loss interventions for overweight or obese older adults with comorbid conditions like T2DM has been identified as an essential research need. Second, research regarding weight loss interventions tailored to older overweight or obese adults with T2DM has not been well studied and there is a dearth of evidence for weight loss intervention in this age group. Third, mHealth technology is promising for promoting behavioral changes for weight loss; however, the majority of reported mHealth intervention studies have been conducted among younger populations with limited research on older adults. Therefore, exploring the feasibility and acceptability of an mHealth intervention will inform a new behavior intervention for weight loss for this population.


Development and Validation of the Infant Sucking Measurement System
Michael J. Naughton, Professor, Physics and Jinhee Park, Assistant Professor, CSON

This is a proposal for an integrated science collaborative project involving faculty members from the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences and the Connell School of Nursing. It aims to develop an in situ pressure measurement system for use in monitoring preterm infant feeding, toward a better understanding of health and developmental outcomes associated with preterm birth. Phase 1 is the Development of an Infant Sucking Measurement System.
Aim 1: Develop an ecologically valid system to measure VP infants’ sucking behavior, i.e., the Infant Sucking Measurement System.
Aim 2: Refine the Infant Sucking Measurement System through an iterative trial in various feeding conditions.

Phase 2 constists of a validation study.
Aim 1: To determine the effectiveness of the Infant Sucking Measurement System in detecting maturational changes in sucking behavior of VP infants over the preterm period.
Aim 2: To determine the effectiveness of the Infant Sucking Measurement System in detecting immature patterns of sucking behavior of VP infants compared to full-term infants.

Our new system will allow for consistent assessment across feeding methods that will be used to guide clinical assessment, document sucking behaviors, tailor feeding interventions, and evaluate intervention effectiveness. This study will provide important preliminary findings for future studies on the impact of feeding positions and support us in moving the Infant Sucking Measurement System to a validated commercial product that has potential to identify infants at risk for long-term feeding problems and later neuro-developmental outcomes. To this end, we plan to use the results obtained in this project to prepare a multi-year proposal to NIH, directed to either or both of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Charles H. Hood Foundation Child Health Research Award Program. For example, a relevant program announcement would be PAR-15-319, Biomedical and Behavioral Research Innovations to Ensure Equity (BRITE) in Maternal and Child Health (R15). Further details are provided in our Leveraging Plan.


How American Sports Coverage Shapes Political Attitudes
Emily Thorson, Assistant Professor, Political Science and Michael Serazio, Assistant Professor, Communication

Two-thirds of Americans self-identify as sports fans (Gallup, 2015), and sports broadcasts are consistently among the most-watched television programs in the country. In an era of increasing media fragmentation, sports continue to occupy a position of “cultural ubiquity, political prominence, and economic significance” (Carrington & McDonald, p. 1). Sports rituals offer a powerful shared social experience, even as faith and trust in other institutions – including Congress and the Supreme Court – continues to decline (Burstyn, 2000; Goldman and Papson, 1998, p. 174; Rowe, 2004).

But despite frequent invocations from journalists, athletes, and fans alike that politics and sports should not mix, sports coverage is saturated with ideological messages (Brohm, 1978; Jhally, 1989; Sage, 1998). Coverage of and value attributed to male and female athletics may reinforce outdated gender norms; narratives of who wins and loses can reify beliefs about American meritocracy; the U.S. armed forces colludes with leagues to promote militarism and recruitment; and questions of race are omnipresent (if often carefully sidestepped) across almost all professional sports.

Despite the many implicit political messages inherent in sports culture, the role of sports in shaping Americans’ political attitudes has gone largely unstudied. This two-part study will be the first comprehensive empirical analysis of how media coverage of sports shapes public opinion. The first part, a large-scale representative survey, will assess the relationship between sports viewership and political attitudes. The second component, a survey experiment, will focus on the causal impact of media coverage of sports, allowing us to examine how the media coverage of competition between teams “spills over” to affect citizens’ views of political contests. This project will make an important contribution to Dr. Serazio’s book-in-progress as well as provide the data for several stand-alone articles in peer-reviewed journals co-authored by Dr. Thorson and Dr. Serazio.


Converge Science Theater: Exciting Youth and Parents about Science through Theater
Michael Barnett, Professor, Teacher Education; Alan Kafka, Associate Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences; Helen Zhang, Visiting Assistant Professor, Biology and Teacher Education; David Blustein, Professor, Lynch School of Education

In this RADS project we are proposing the development, production, and implementation of Converge Theater. Converge Theater is a science theater play that demonstrates Scientific Practices and the Crosscutting Concepts as described in the Next Generation Science Standards (National Research Council, 2013) through interactive live theater that targets middle school aged youth and their parents. We are bringing together a diverse set of partners that include the Watertown Children’s Theater (WCT, Boston, MA), Boston College science educators (Barnett) and scientists (Kafka, Zhang), and educational researchers (Barnett, Zhang, Blustein). Together we will utilize the unique affordances of theater performance to inspire youth’s interest toward science and to pique the imagination and curiosity of the public (i.e., parents) about basic science and its relation to their lives. To that end, our goals are to:

  • Develop a science theater play to test the concept of Converge Theater, our research instruments and our
    methodological approach to collecting data in this context.
  • Develop touring versions of the play that can be staged at schools and other non-profit performance spaces (i.e. community centers, libraries). This will enable us to reach a broad and diverse audience and allow us to target under-represented populations in the sciences through the touring productions.
  • Develop a Playbill for youth and their parents. The Playbill will include descriptions of the practices and concepts that were presented in the play as well as activities that students can do at home with their parents based on the practices and concepts presented in each play. The Playbill will also include discussion tips and strategies for parents to talk about STEM and STEM careers with their children.
  • Develop supportive curriculum materials for teachers and schools that include both pre and post scientific learning activities, as well as learning experiences that will engage students in discussing how the play represented science and scientists. These curriculum packets will be provided to any school that attends the play at WCT or in a touring production. We anticipate that the curriculum materials will consist of five to seven pre- and post-lessons for the play (to allow teachers flexibility in adopting the materials to fit their particular context).
  • Research the impact of this project on student interest in science and perceptions of science (e.g., What is the role of failure in science?), parent perceptions of science, and how Converge Theater is or is not sparking discussion about science at home between parents and their children. This latter question is of great interest within the informal science learning research community.
  • Implement a longitudinal research agenda where we will attempt to track the residual impact on parents and youth after they have attended or seen a play (i.e. 2 weeks after they see a play). This research will provide us with knowledge regarding how to design plays for longer lasting impact and with data to apply for an informal science education National Science Foundation grant (