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Transformational research: ETSU nutrition professor combines entrepreneurship, research

Contributed • Nov 22, 2019 at 5:42 PM

From his laboratory at East Tennessee State University’s Eastman Valleybrook campus, Dr. W. Andrew Clark combines his interests in research and entrepreneurship to inspire his students to see how their own research can result in innovative health care solutions.

Clark’s research endeavors at ETSU have resulted in several products, including his most recent discovery of a nutrition-based soothing skin gel called Lavengel that he is preparing to market this winter.

Clark, who is associate dean of research and clinical practices in ETSU’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, worked at Eastman for 18 years in research and other capacities before coming to ETSU. When he began his career in academia, he taught entrepreneurship in the College of Business and Technology. For the past eight years, he has served in the CCRHS, overseeing research and teaching in the college’s nutrition and dietetics program.

He has mentored many undergraduate and graduate students in CCRHS, including John Sterrett, an ETSU senior who will graduate in spring 2020. Sterrett has been offered a Ph.D. scholarship at the University of Colorado.

“Though I have learned a lot of biochemistry and nutrition research, the most valuable information I have picked up is Dr. Clark’s wisdom about entrepreneurship and innovation in research,” Sterrett said. “It’s fascinating to see how his nutritional biochemistry background can combine with his ideas and experience related to innovation and business management as he launches Lavengel.”

Over the past decade, approximately 20 ETSU students, including Sterrett, have worked with Clark on numerous projects including the development of Lavengel, which is currently being marketed online and to veterinarians for use on dogs for itchy or irritated skin, hotspots, insect bites, wounds and post-surgical incisions. An ETSU interdisciplinary scientific advisory panel (James Batchelder, CCRHS; Dr. Chuck Collins, Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy; Dr. Sean Fox, College of Public Health; and Dr. Ken Phillips, retired from the College of Nursing) has worked alongside Clark through the development of Lavengel.

“We have tested Lavengel in Dr. Fox’s laboratory using in vitro (in glass) microbiology tests and have found that the gel has topical effectiveness against a variety of microbes that reside on the skin including Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),” Clark said.

Clark recently presented his findings at the 2019 Annual meeting for the American Society for Nutrition in Baltimore.

“In the future, we hope to go to clinical trials so that Lavengel can eventually be marketed to humans,” Clark said.

Lavengel is not the first product that Clark discovered in his ETSU laboratory. He is the co-inventor of AquADEKs, a vitamin supplement for patients with cystic fibrosis, and Moondance Night Cream, which counteracts the effects of UV radiation on the skin. He is also conducting nutrition research that studies the microbiome and metabolic syndrome in HIV and AIDS patients.

Clark’s projects sparked an interest in research for Annie Malcolm, a first-year graduate student in the clinical nutrition program. Malcolm also worked with Clark as an undergraduate student, and her research on gut health inspired her to present at Eastman’s IDEAcademy in 2018. She was the only undergraduate student to speak on the IDEAcademy’s main stage that year.

“Besides the numerous technical skills I learned, working in his lab taught me the important role that researchers play in communicating with health care professionals, educators and the public,” Malcolm said. “It is incredible to me how his work is driving transformation in research in health care. His research is so fascinating because it actually results in products that are improving the quality of people’s lives.”

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