MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Andrea Armstead, a Ph.D. student in the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences program, is researching ways to protect the health of workers in the mining and drilling industries and recently received a fellowship award renewal to further her education and research.
Armstead was awarded an American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) 2013 Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in Pharmaceutical Science. The AFPE Fellowship is awarded to outstanding pre-doctoral students nationwide, who have completed at least three years of graduate study, to encourage them to continue their pursuit of pharmaceutical sciences.
Armstead first received the fellowship in 2012 to investigate how particles of tungsten carbide cobalt can enter cells and damage them. Her nanoparticle toxicity research over the past year focused on testing the effects of particle size, concentration and lengths of exposure time on lung epithelial cells.
Tungsten carbide cobalt — a hard composite metal — is used in mining and drilling industries as a coating for machinery that will have prolonged use. Workers are potentially exposed to the nanoparticles — ultrafine, microscopic particles — because when the machinery metal heats up during use, the coating breaks down and becomes dust. Exposure to these materials can cause hard metal lung disease, a type of lung fibrosis.
Armstead found that these hard metal particles are more toxic when they are nano-sized — very small — compared to larger, micro-sized particles, and are more toxic at higher concentrations and longer durations of exposure.
The $6,500 AFPE fellowship renewal enables Armstead to continue to fund her education allowing her to focus on the next step of her study — researching how tungsten carbide cobalt particles affect the immune system and at what stage of exposure they are capable of causing inflammation.
“Currently, there is no solid explanation for how people develop chronic hard metal lung disease after exposure to these particles and how the disease may progress to cancer,” Armstead said. “In my research, I methodically test the effects of these particles under specific, controlled conditions. By observing and learning the outcomes of particle exposure at the cellular level, we may better understand how hard metal lung disease develops. Ultimately, the goal is to develop disease-prevention strategies that will protect worker health and create a safer workplace environment for those working with these materials.”
Armstead will continue her research under the guidance of her mentor, Bingyun Li, Ph.D., associate professor in the WVU School of Medicine Department of Orthopaedics.
Armstead is a native of Topeka, Kan. She received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Washburn University. She anticipates graduating from the WVU School of Pharmacy’s Ph.D. program in May 2014.