Applications are now being accepted for the Fralin Futures Scholarship, providing eligible Virginia Western Community College students enrolled in any STEM-H (science, technology, engineering, math and health) program with the opportunity to receive full tuition and living expenses funding. The merit-based scholarship program was established in 2019 with a $5 million gift from the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust. 

Over the past three years, the competitive scholarship program has supported 74 students, called Fralin Futures Scholars. Thirty-five students, or 92%, have successfully completed the program and graduated on time from Virginia Western. The scholarship uniquely focuses on the student’s two last semesters prior to graduation, providing supplemental income and career coaching that aims to reduce barriers to completion.

“The pandemic and resulting economic instability certainly amplified the needs of our students,” said Amanda Mansfield, philanthropy director of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation, in a statement. “Being able to provide this type of funding and support has a real impact on keeping our students in their educational track and preparing for jobs in fields that are in high demand.” 

Students may apply for the Fralin scholarship if they are enrolled in a STEM-H program, within two semesters of graduating from Virginia Western and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Deadline to submit an application is May 1. To apply, visit

In addition to the scholarship, Fralin Futures Scholars are guided by a success coach and participate in cohort activities through partnerships with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and STEM-H related employers that expose them to hands-on learning opportunities and career exploration. 

For more information about the Fralin Futures Scholarship Program, contact Success Coach Schuyler van Montfrans at or 540-857-6272.

Fralin Futures is one of 91 scholarships worth more than $366,000 offered by the Virginia Western Educational Foundation this fall. A new online application offers students the opportunity to receive funding from the educational foundation as well as regional and national funders. Apply through May 1 at  

* * *

Robert Gourdie. Courtesy of Fralin Institute.

Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC researcher is Virginia Tech’s first NIH Outstanding Investigator Award recipient

Robert Gourdie, a cardiovascular scientist at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, is the first Virginia Tech researcher to receive an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health. 

The seven-year, $6.4 million grant is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the NIH. Known as an R35, the grant provides Gourdie with increased freedom to carry out inventive research concepts that aren’t tethered to specific, finite projects.

For decades, Gourdie’s research has focused on how cells in the body communicate with each other and applying that knowledge to treat disease.

Now, his research in intercellular communication has yielded novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of medical challenges including: preventing heart attack damage, healing chronic wounds, improving the appearance of surgical scarssensitizing treatment-resistant glioblastoma to chemotherapy, and treating aggressive forms of cancer. His lab has also pioneered the extraction and development of organic nanocapsules, called exosomes, which can deliver fragile peptide drugs to the heart, brain, and other difficult-to-reach tissues.

Gourdie also co-founded a cancer research startup company, the Roanoke-based Acomhal Research Inc., with Samy Lamouille, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and the company’s chief executive officer. Acomhal is undertaking preclinical development of a novel drug, JM2, that targets cancer stem cells to prevent tumor recurrence and metastasis. The company has secured nearly $1 million in private investments and Small Business Technology Transfer grants.

Gourdie received a master’s degree in cell and molecular biology with first class honors from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and his doctoral degree from the University of Canterbury. He then completed a British Heart Foundation fellowship in developmental biology and anatomy at University College London in the U.K., before being recruited to the Medical University of South Carolina in the U.S.

He joined the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the College of Engineering in 2012.

* * *

Carilion hospitals to relax visitation rules today

Effective today, all Carilion Clinic hospitals will transition to green level restrictions for inpatient visitation, according to a release from Carilion. When transitioning from yellow- to green-level visitation, the primary change is permitting two visitors per day for adults during their stay. Previously, they were only allowed one in most cases.

Green visitation allows inpatient visitors with the following guidelines:

  • Adult patients are allowed two visitors. If deemed appropriate by the care team, children may visit if accompanied by an adult, and children do not count as visitors.
  • Pediatric patients are allowed two visitors over 18 (must be family members).
  • Emergency Department patients are allowed two visitors.
  • Labor and Delivery patients are allowed two visitors.
  • End of life patients are allowed up to four immediate family members.
  • Same-day surgery patients are allowed one visitor while being prepped. Once the patient is in their room, two visitors are allowed.

There are no visitors permitted for COVID-19 patients, and shared spaces (bays, waiting areas, etc.) remain visitor-free zones. Visitation is assessed every week based on community positivity rate, the spread of COVID-19 and mask compliance.

Disclosure: Carilion is one of our donors but under our policies, donors have no say in news decisions. Read our full policy.

* * *

Brandon Jutras. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech professor receives grant to study Lyme disease

Brandon Jutras, assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has received a grant from the Global Lyme Alliance to improve diagnostic testing for all stages of Lyme disease and to develop new ways to treat patients when conventional treatment options have failed.

When the infection is caught early and treated with antibiotics in the preliminary stages, patients often recover quickly without long-term effects. Patients who are treated in later stages of the disease may continue to suffer from ongoing symptoms, termed post-treatment Lyme disease.

“According to the CDC, cases of vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease transmitted from vectors to people, more than doubled between 2004 and 2018 in the United States. The Jutras lab already made a number of important discoveries about the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, B. burgdorferi,” said X.J. Meng, University Distinguished professor and interim director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute in a statement.

 “The Jutras lab recently discovered that the Lyme disease spirochete possesses a unique property in that it sheds peptidoglycan after it infects the human host. This discovery affords the opportunity for scientists to develop novel diagnostics by utilizing a unique biomarker for different stages of Lyme disease. This new grant from the Global Lyme Alliance will now allow the Jutras lab to further explore innovative therapeutic strategies against Lyme disease.”

Virtually all bacteria have a cell-wall component called peptidoglycan. But, as it turns out, the peptidoglycan of the Lyme disease bacterium is unique. They also shed it as they replicate. The B. burgdorferi peptidoglycan can be found in the joints of Lyme arthritis patients with post-treatment Lyme disease, and it can cause arthritis on its own. 

The Jutras lab is developing methods focused on using peptidoglycan as a marker for new diagnostic tests for Lyme disease. Their research now includes using anti-peptidoglycan antibodies to improve existing diagnostics.

The Jutras lab is currently developing new ways to either mask or destroy lingering B. burgdorferi peptidoglycan to treat patients suffering from post-treatment Lyme disease.