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Edison Biotechnology Institute celebrates student research partnership with AMVETS

Andrea Gibson | May 24, 2016
Distinguished Professor John Kopchick provided an overview of the AMVETS Diabetes Research Institute at Ohio University to visitors and guests. The program has provided support for dozens of students seeking to gain experience with medical research while contributing new scientific knowledge about diabetes.
Distinguished Professor John Kopchick provided an overview of the AMVETS Diabetes Research Institute at Ohio University to visitors and guests. The program has provided support for dozens of students seeking to gain experience with medical research while contributing new scientific knowledge about diabetes. Photo credit: Lori Bauer/Ohio University.


The Edison Biotechnology Institute recently celebrated the 13 th anniversary of its partnership with AMVETS, a U.S. veterans service organization that has raised more than $300,000 to support students conducting research within the AMVETS Diabetes Research Institute at Ohio University.

Representatives of AMVETS visited the institute in late April to hear research presentations from six undergraduate award recipients and three alumni of the program, which has supported a total of 40 Ohio University students.

“We now have students who are practicing doctors. That was a dream for us,” said John Kopchick, Goll-Ohio Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and senior scientist at Edison Biotechnology Institute.

Kopchick launched the program with AMVETS in 2003. He noted that diabetes is a significant issue for veterans, as an estimated 18 to 20 percent of patients admitted to VA medical centers have the condition.

Razzano_amvets story

OHIO alumnus Andrew Razzano describes the impact of his experience as an AMVETS scholar on his career. He is an orthopedic surgeon in North Canton, Ohio. Photo credit: Lori Bauer/Ohio University.

The program, the AMVETS Diabetes Research Institute, provides funding to Ohio University undergraduate students to conduct diabetes research with faculty and staff at the Edison Biotechnology Institute, located at the Konneker Research Laboratories at The Ridges. To qualify, students must have a 3.0 GPA and either be a military veteran or have parents or grandparents who served.

Of the 40 students who have received funding from AMVETS for undergraduate research, all but one have continued on to graduate school or medical school, Kopchick reported.

Andrew Razzano, a student in the first cohort of AMVETS research scholars, returned to campus to discuss his journey from undergraduate researcher to clinician. He emphasized how the AMVETS award gave him a “foot in the door” to his career.

“Without AMVETS support, I wouldn’t have had a job to start. That financial support was an investment,” he said.

After conducting research at Edison Biotechnology Institute in 2004, Razzano earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a medical degree from the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. Today he is an orthopedic surgeon with Spectrum Orthopaedics in North Canton, Ohio. Although sports medicine is a change from endocrinology, Razzano notes that he’s still using his expertise in diabetes, as the condition can have an impact on wound healing and present other complications for surgery patients.

Sarkes_amvets story

OHIO undergraduate student and current AMVETS scholar Celina Sarkes has studied how fat can be more harmful depending on its location in the body. Photo credit: Lori Bauer/Ohio University.

Alumni Ellen Lubbers and Adam Jara also spoke to the AMVETS about the impact of their participation in the research program on their careers. Lubbers, who graduated from the Honors Tutorial College, was an author on 14 scientific journal articles, a large portfolio for an undergraduate student. She is now attending medical school at Ohio State University.

Lubbers called her AMVETS-sponsored work “an invaluable experience” that prepared her for graduate school.

“It’s a great environment you’re promoting here at the Edison Biotechnology Institute,” she said.

Jara, who completed the dual D.O./Ph.D. program at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine this spring, provided an overview of his research on the impact of growth hormone on the heart and its implications for body fat and insulin sensitivity. Jara, a lieutenant in the Ohio National Guard, next will pursue a residency in psychiatry at Ohio State University.

“I’m so honored that you continue to give back,” Jara told the AMVETS visitors.

Current AMVETS undergraduate scholars Celina Sarkes, Mathew Buchman, Grant Gase, Jesse Kowalski, Cody Wilson and Nathan Arnett offered a summary of their research projects and discussed their family connections to the military.

Kowalski_amvets story

OHIO undergraduate student and current AMVETS scholar Jesse Kowalski discusses his research on weight loss and gain. Photo credit: Lori Bauer/Ohio University.

Kowalski, a biological sciences major from Cleveland, has worked at Edison Biotechnology Institute for three years. He has studied the impact of cycles of weight gain and loss on mice, finding that weight loss changes the composition of fat tissue in the body. Weight loss, even sustained for only a short period of time, can help the immune system, he reported. Kowalski plans to attend Kent State’s doctoral program in cell biology.

Sarkes, also a biological sciences major, has studied how fat can be more harmful depending on its location in the body. She has examined proteins secreted by body fat to understand more about the differences. Sarkes has worked at Edison Biotechnology Institute for two years and plans to attend the University of Toledo for medical school after graduation.

“The lab is very conducive to learning, and the experience is awesome,” she said about her time at the institute.

Representatives from AMVETS also shared news about their current fundraising activities for the research program, as well as how the initiative is meaningful for them. They expressed appreciation to the alumni who had returned to campus to demonstrate the long-term impact of the awards.

“What a payback—thank you,” said AMVETS commander Jim Graham.

For more information about the AMVETS Diabetes Research Institute at Ohio University, contact the Edison Biotechnology Institute at 740.593.4713.