Posted November 11, 2020, 3:33PM

Restaurant Labels Could Help Diners and Industry Analysts 


Remember when the most vexing part of a dining-out experience was deciding which restaurant  
to visit? 

Barry K. Shuster
Photo by Chioke Brown 

As the country navigates its response to COVID-19, many restaurants are now reopening and diners are again facing that familiar dilemma: Where do you want to go eat?

While a lavish menu and relaxing atmosphere might be perfect for date night, families on vacation might prefer other qualities, such as “fast” and “inexpensive.” 

Determining which dining establishment offers the right combination of aesthetics and value was the subject of a recent study by NCCU School of Business Associate Professor Barry K. Shuster. 

Shuster said there are many potential benefits of adopting a standard classification system based on restaurant characteristics. His concept is to first group restaurants into one of four categories: luxury, fine-dining, casual, or quick-service.  

Such a system could also help restaurant owners and industry analysts by providing feedback on dining trends, operational efficiencies, and investment potential, said Shuster, who founded the trade magazine Restaurant Startup & Growth in 2004.  

He also hopes such a classification system might be an advantage in training future hospitality industry leaders at NCCU. “The main objective of this study is to develop a theory-based classification of the restaurant industry that could serve academic researchers and industry practitioners,” wrote Shuster and his co-authors, H.G. Parsa of the University of Denver and Milos Bujisic of The Ohio State University. 

Illustration by Macrovector,

The article based on their study was published in the spring 2020 edition of Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. According to Shuster, classification is common in other industries, citing hotels, banking, and automobile manufacturing.  “The vast diversity among  

restaurants made their classification more complicated since they can be classified based on a number of different attributes,” the article said.  

To overcome this complexity, the proposed system would label restaurants based on a continuum of aspects, ranging from “utilitarian” - such as price and convenience - to “hedonistic,” which might include emotional gratification and a sense of indulgence. 

If adopted nationwide, such a rating system could make it easier to reserve a perfect table for your big anniversary dinner or find the most convenient place to fill up a family of four on a budget.  



Rise in Esophageal Cancers Examined with $2.7M Grant 


Biological and Biomedical Sciences Professor Xiaoxin (Luke) Chen, M.D., Ph.D., was awarded $2.7 million by the National Institutes of Health to investigate new treatment options for a type of esophageal cancer that disproportionally affects African Americans. 

Illustration by GreenApple78, 

The award, to be distributed over five years, will support Chen’s research into the role of a molecular pathway in squamous-cell carcinoma, an understudied type of cancer that resists treatment by traditional techniques. 

“We are in an era of personalized medicine, but esophageal cancers are still all treated the same,” Chen said. “With this grant, we will be trying to tell whether there is a better approach for this specific subgroup of patients.” 

Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye said the funding represents the university’s commitment to research, particularly in regard to health disparities. 

“Among my top priorities as chancellor has been to help the university expand the reach of its research initiatives,” Akinleye said. “This new project under Dr. Chen’s leadership will put more resources into the hands of our investigators, perhaps leading to new treatments and saving lives.” 

The researchers will be examining the nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2-like 2 (NRF2) molecular signaling pathway in the esophagus, which may become hyperactivated in individuals with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and block traditional treatments, Chen said. Once the scientists better understand how the pathway is activated, specific treatments may be formulated to target that pathway for therapy, he added. 

Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma begins in cells in the upper or middle part of the esophagus, a long tube of muscle that helps move food into the stomach. Esophageal cancer is one of the 10 most common cancers in the world. It has a five-year survival rate of just 20%. 


Chen named Glaxo Distinguished Professor 


Xiaoxin (Luke) Chen, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, has been named the Glaxo Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Science.

Xiaoxin (Luke) Chen, M.D., Ph.D.
Photo by Chioke Brown 

The award was established by GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company to help attract and retain outstanding faculty who are leading the development of biomedical research. 

 “Your credentials and accomplished career as a research scientist and educator is evidence of your commitment and standing in the field of biomedical science, especially as it relates to NCCU's emphasis on health disparities among select populations,” said Carlton Wilson, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, in informing Chen of the award. 

 “In addition to your outstanding research, the university appreciates you mentoring students and developing partnerships and collaborations that are providing opportunities for students and junior faculty. In particular, your work with the doctoral program in Integrated Biosciences has been critical to developing students as well as sustaining the program.” 

Chen arrived at NCCU in 2005 and serves as an associate professor in the Cancer Research Program at the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute. 

He also conducts research at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and teaches at the Center for Gastrointestinal Biology & Disease Center for Esophageal Disease and Swallowing at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

He is a native of China and attended Beijing Medical University before relocating to the United States in the 1990s. 




Biology Research to Help Homeland Security Identify Potential Border Threats 


Biological and Biomedical Sciences Associate Professor TinChung Leung, Ph.D., is leading a project to assist in developing new risk-assessment tools for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

Tinchung Leung, Associate Professor, Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Photo by Chioke Brown 

A $330,000 grant from the Minority Serving Institutions STEM Research and Development Consortium (MSRDC) supports research into state-of-the-art forecasting and alerting capabilities to help the Customs and Border Protection unit of Homeland Security safeguard against pests and diseases that could have a detrimental impact on the nation’s environment or economy. 

The goal is to identify and contain threats in passenger luggage, cargo or mail shipments at U.S. ports of entry.  

The project involves a multidepartmental team, including the university’s Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute (JLC-BBRI). 

“This project will enhance the research and educational capability at NCCU and provide opportunities for our students and faculty to gain experiences in national security areas such as data science and border security,” said Deepak Kumar, Ph.D., director of JLC-BBRI. “Students will obtain balanced mentorship from both industry and academia, with the goal of gaining hands-on experience of complex data analysis used to solve real-life problems.”  

Additionally, the project is anticipated to increased participation of minority students in the Homeland Security workforce. 

Another major collaborator is Orion Integrated Biosciences, a specialized biodefense company based in Kansas with locations in North Carolina.  

Orion chief executive officer Willy Valdivia said the work extends Orion’s ongoing efforts to use genomic bio-surveillance systems to assess potential threats. 

“More importantly, teaming up with researchers from the NCCU will open new directions and collaborations and will strengthen our presence in North Carolina,” Valdivia said. 

Williams Named First Merck Distinguished Professor 


Kevin P. Williams, Ph.D.
Photo by Chioke Brown 

Kevin P. Williams, Ph.D., of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was named as the university’s first Merck Distinguished Professor in Integrated Biosciences.

Carlton Wilson, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, announced the award, established through a $1 million Merck Foundation endowment gift in support of pharmaceutical sciences research, as well as teaching and mentoring of students. 

Wilson called Williams, who joined the faculty in 2006, “the perfect candidate for the chair.” 

“He is an internationally respected scientist who mentors and supports our graduate students, in particular,”  
Wilson said. “Some of the first graduates of the Ph.D. program were his students, and he has supported them since the program started.” 

Merck is a 125-year-old manufacturing company that conducts research for disease treatment and prevention using biopharmaceuticals. NCCU’s Ph.D. degree in Integrated Biosciences was introduced in 2012. Seven doctoral students have so far graduated and another 17 are enrolled in the program, two of whom graduated in May 2020. 

Williams joined the faculty at the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) after more than a decade in the private sector.  

A native of the United Kingdom, Williams earned his doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. He conducted postdoctoral work in immunology and diabetes at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. 

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