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Undergrads learn the power of partnership

Collaboration with other universities, community agencies and local artists, maximizes Lipscomb's impact on the future.

Janel Shoun-Smith | 

Professor Susan Haynes with students organizing Post-It notes to begin their geographic database project

Political science students and Lipscomb Associate Professor Susan Haynes partnered with Engage Together, a nonprofit contracted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) Human Trafficking Task Force to help it strengthen its network of services for survivors.

Every day, Lipscomb students and faculty members partner with the nation’s top thought influencers and changemakers to make the world a safer, healthier and more beautiful place. Check out a few of the impactful projects ongoing this school year below:

Learning the power of data to influence lives for the better

There is power in a Post-It Note®.

That’s what a group of undergraduates in Dr. Susan Haynes’ Research Methods course learned in fall 2022 when they researched community organizations statewide to overlay new finds with known services for victims of human trafficking throughout the Tennessee geographic area.

Now the data they collected is packing a punch as it is being used by the state of Tennessee to create an interactive online dashboard that allows organizations and individuals to help victims of human trafficking faster and more effectively.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) Human Trafficking Task Force contracted Engage Together to help it strengthen its collaboration among services for survivors. Engage Together does that through data, and lots of it, posted on easy-to-navigate, seamlessly connected digital dashboards that organizations and service providers can access to find the best resources available just down the street from their locations.

But to make that happen, Engage Together needs a lot of brains to help collect all that data to make the dashboards as accurate as possible. Lipscomb students got started with Post-It Notes on a projected map.

“People underestimate the power of data,” said Haynes, associate professor in the Department of History, Politics and Philosophy, who wanted to highlight data-driven solutions to social justice problems in the course. “It was great to have a project that was truly helping people, so they can see that data can be so incredibly powerful.”

Woman places sticky notes on a white board

In fall 2021, four student interns carried out a beta test reaching out to hundreds of organizations and businesses that worked with vulnerable populations in a specific five-county area to collect information on their services and contact processes. This included everything from local police departments to homeless shelters, from individual doctors to hotels.

That work was presented to the TBI task force in January 2022, and they gave the go-ahead to take the data collection statewide, which started in July 2022. Engage Together put a few research fellows of their own to work collecting data as well as some social work interns from the University of Memphis. Lipscomb’s contribution was unique in that it dedicated an entire class of students to work together on the project and the skills the students used were direct learning outcomes of the class, said Chapman.

Engage Together initially had a list of about 50 organizations in the state that Engage Together knew provided services to fight or mitigate human trafficking. The Engage Together research fellows then made phone calls to confirm the information plus obtain recommendations of other organizations or individuals they worked with: from church congregations to local lawyers, from volunteer groups to government-funded agencies. 

When the fellows pivoted to survey distribution, the baton was tossed to Lipscomb students, who did their own research online to identify even more service providers, paying special attention to the geography of the providers to note which counties needed extra attention.

Students’ social media and online knowledge came in handy for finding new partners that Engage Together didn’t know about, said Haynes, 

“We really take a multi-sector approach that wildly increases the number of organizations we know about,” said Chapman. “Dr. Haynes’ students helped us unearth hundreds of organizations within the service continuum, from prevention to intervention to care, and more. They helped us dig deep.”

Engage Together is compiling more than 3,000 organizations across the state into its user-friendly online dashboards. The students’ work will be part of the final project presented to the TBI in March. The work of the TBI task force could lead to reformed laws, better care and services provided for victims and survivors, and strengthened partnerships across the state, said Chapman.

Haynes, Chapman and Lipscomb’s undergraduates put their passion into those Post-It Notes, and now they can see it saving lives. 

Mending Rainbows along with Meharry

Dr. Cayce Watson

Dr. Cayce Watson

Last year when Dr. Sam MacMaster at Meharry Medical College’s Lloyd C. Elam Mental Health Center wanted to apply for a federal grant to create a new program that provides a comprehensive continuum of care for pregnant women with opioid use disorder, there was one person he knew he wanted involved in the new venture.

Dr. Cayce Watson (’99), associate professor in Lipscomb’s social work program, had already served as the research coordinator for one of the first international clinical trials to determine the safety of medication-assisted recovery for pregnant women with opioid use disorder. She took on the role for the five-year study at the Vanderbilt University Department of Addiction Medicine Research in 2005.

That experience made her uniquely qualified to help shape Meharry’s new Mending Rainbows program from the ground up in 2023. She was recruited as a subject matter consultant to the program, which was successfully funded for $2.6 million through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Mending Rainbows brings together Meharry with two local nonprofits—My Father’s House and Mending Hearts—to provide seamless wraparound care for women from initial health care to assistance with personal housing and job hunting.

Watson, who brings more than 20 years of experience as a social worker specializing in pregnant women with substance use disorders, is providing staff training, data analysis, program development and policy recommendations.

Specifically, Watson is helping the staff provide trauma-informed care, she said. This population is highly stigmatized, said Watson, so it’s important for care workers to see past the stigma and know that many of the women they serve have a significant trauma history.

“Our system of care is oftentimes primed for re-traumatization. Promoting safety, collaboration, and choice is critical when serving this population through a trauma-informed lens,” said Watson. 

Watson published an article on the ethical and spiritual implications for serving this population in the journal Social Work and Christianity, and has worked with Lipscomb’s social work students to develop an anti-stigma campaign for this population.

As part of their senior practicum hours in the field, Lipscomb students and Watson have worked together to develop capstone research projects related to these complex social problems such as best practices for working with substance exposed infants, health equity and food insecurity in minority populations and addressing systemic barriers to reporting interpersonal violence and protecting survivors.

Lipscomb will place social work students in a practicum and an internship with Mending Hearts in the upcoming academic year. The organization’s clinical director, Yolanda Maness (BSW ’15, MS ’19) will supervise the students and  is also working on the Mending Rainbows grant.

Partnership sparked by personal loss

Dr. Klarissa Jackson with pharmacy students during her time at Lipscomb

Dr. Klarissa Jackson conducted research at Lipscomb in the College of Pharmacy before moving on to the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

In 2022, Chemical Research in Toxicology published an article that was the culmination of a venture that not only brought new knowledge to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but also exhibited the Lipscomb spirit of collaboration and partnership, even across university lines.

In 2013, Tom Vergne, the father of Dr. Matt Vergne, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, was diagnosed with ALS. At the time he passed away in 2014, there was only one drug approved to treat ALS, riluzole, and it only slows the progression of the disease by about two months, said Vergne.  

Dr. Matt Vergne

Dr. Matt Vergne

In 2015, Matt Vergne learned about several drugs that were being studied to treat ALS including one called masitinib, which is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that had been used to treat cancer in dogs. Vergne knew that Dr. Klarissa Jackson, who was at that time his fellow faculty member in the Lipscomb College of Pharmacy, was an expert on drug injuries caused by tyrosine kinase inhibitors. 

He took the idea to study masitinib to Dr. Jackson, who took on the task along with Dr. Vergne’s undergraduate student assistant at the time, Spencer Oskin (’19). Vergne, Jackson and Oskin conducted a pilot study on the metabolism of the drug in 2018. 

In 2019, Jackson joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, but that didn’t stop the team from continuing to study the drug. In 2020, Jackson and one of her UNC students, Bethany Latham, began a more intensive study on masitinib. They incubated the drug with human liver tissue fractions (microsomes) at UNC to study its metabolism and sent the samples to Vergne for mass spectrometry analysis at Lipscomb.

Dr. Rachel Crouch, assistant professor of pharmacy and  pharmaceutical sciences, was brought in to complete the mass spectrometry analysis and to conduct an additional study to further elucidate the metabolism pathways of masitinib.  

Dr. Rachel Crouch

Dr. Rachel Crouch

The finished result, published in a research article entitled, “Cytochromes P450 2C8 and 3A Catalyze the Metabolic Activation of the Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor Masitinib” in Chemical Research in Toxicology showed how the liver produces metabolites from masitinib, some of which are potentially toxic.

“These are findings that need to be considered as masitinib is being studied in clinical trials,” said Vergne. The drug is in phase 3 clinical trials for ALS treatment and in phase 2 trials for COVID-19 and mast cell activation.

Vergne and Jackson were co-corresponding authors and Crouch and Oskin were also co-authors.

“I was inspired to do this research because my father suffered from ALS, and it is my hope that we may have been able to help in some way with the search for safe and effective drugs for the disease,” said Vergne

Bringing new creativity to an age old tradition

Performers in reshearsals for the concert

Photo Credit: @Marycarolinerussell

A partnership between Lipscomb’s Dr. Ben Blasko, assistant professor and director of instrumental studies, and songwriter and producer Tommee Profitt brought a special gift for nine students in the School of Music at Christmas time: a chance to hear their own orchestral arrangements performed live by established artists such as Fleurie, Crowder, Colton Dixon, Rachel Lampa and Jordan Smith.

Tommee Profitt’s The Birth of a King live concert in Nashville on Dec. 6, featured the work of the students who collaborated with Blasko to research and compose orchestral arrangements of 17 songs originally included on Profitt’s 2020 Birth of a King Christmas album.

The Dove Award-winning Profitt, whose music has been heard on 24, Quantico and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, among other shows, created a live, staged version of his Christmas album with guest artists, a 50-person orchestra and a 100-person choir.

To arrange the original music for an orchestra, Profitt turned to Blasko, who has conducted groups such as the Nashville Symphony, Boston Symphony, the North Texas Wind Symphony and the Agora Brass Ensemble. 

Blasko with some of the students who arranged the orchestrations

Dr. Ben Blasko with seven of the students who both composed the orchestrations and attended the performance in the Fisher Center.

Blasko recruited composing students to help research, analyze and rearrange the songs for an orchestra. Luke Snyder, senior; Vincent Reed, senior; Kaleb Clarke, senior; Tyler Skrove, junior; Brett Boyd, senior; Jonathan Morris, senior; Tyler Lewis, sophomore; Kennoniah Bellile (BM ’22) and Janelle Spiers (BA ’22) worked from July to December, investing more than 600 hours of study and work on the project.

The students had to use creativity in thinking about what instruments were not originally included and how new ones could be incorporated into the music to best effect and still be playable for the musicians. One example of the students’ creative process was the arrangement for “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which Profitt envisioned as having the epic, over-the-top tone of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. The soloist for that piece was Tino Guo, a musician who plays the electric cello and is well known within the film music community. 

“I had to think about how to capture epic,” said Blasko. “I spent a lot of time listening to the version (Profitt) created and the Pirates soundtrack. We thought a lot about brass instruments and the power they bring to a piece and about strings, which are versatile, active and bring a swashbuckling feel. Plus you also have to stay out of the way of the sound of the electric cello. The end result was really special.”

Pharmacy tests drugs to treat heart arrhythmias

Pharmacy student Anne Carlisle with Dr. Scott Akers in the lab

Dr. Scott Akers and his student assistant Anne Carlisle are currently working on a study of a compound, or drug, to treat heart arrhythmias alongside Northwestern University and Vanderbilt University.

Lipscomb’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Center for drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics continues to work with collaborators across the nation to accelerate drug molecules through preclinical and clinical stages of drug development.

As a spin-off from past work funded through grants from the American Heart Association, Lipscomb’s Dr. Scott Akers, executive director of the pharmaceutical sciences research center and associate dean of research, and his student assistant Anne Carlisle, a third-year pharmacy student, are currently working on a study of a compound, or drug, to treat heart arrhythmias alongside Northwestern University and Vanderbilt University.

Northwestern came up with a model for testing the drug, called 2-hydroxylbenzamine (2HOBA), to treat arrhythmias using an animal study. Dr. Kathy Murray at Vanderbilt and Dr. Rishi Arora at Northwestern were working together to understand how 2HOBA works by studying tissues and cells from an animal model that develops the heart arrhythmia.

The three universities’ research interests aligned under one grant, and today Akers and Carlisle are analyzing the pharmacokinetics of the drug, or how the body processes the compound, in order to determine the appropriate dosage for optimum effectiveness.

Carlisle, who is part of the Lipscomb-Vanderbilt Pharm.D.-to-Ph.D. pathway program, has been working with Akers on the project for a year and a half. From her experience working as the clinical research coordinator for phase one clinical trials at the University of Wisconsin Madison before coming to Lipscomb, she knew the training pathway was for her. 

“Northwestern sends us blood samples, and we analyze those to see how much of the drug was in the animal at different time points,” she said. “We’re working to make sure the time it takes for the drug to travel through the body is within a therapeutic range, so we can figure out how to dose the drug to prevent or treat heart arrhythmia.”

Carlisle says that while she is eager to continue working with cancer drugs in her professional career, the heart arrhythmia project has been “beneficial to see the pre-clinical aspect of a study and the challenges that come with it.”

Lispcomb’s subaward for the project was $25,000, and all of the data collected will hopefully support a new drug application reviewed by the Federal Drug Administration when the drug is ready to be reviewed for use in humans, said Akers. Data from this study is being developed as an original research manuscript and they hope to submit the study for publication this year.