SAFE Student Spotlight: Ryan Whitfield

Ryan Whitfield, B.S. Psychology
Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund Recipient: Fall 2022

Project: "HPLC Column Chromatography for Identification of a Novel Phospholipase A2 Inhibitor"

Whitfield, a senior psychology major from Chapel Hill, received a Fall 2022 Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) grant to support work on his project, “HPLC Column Chromatography for Identification of a Novel Phospholipase A2 Inhibitor.” The grant enabled Whitfield to purchase equipment necessary to modernize his methods, thus accelerating the project's timeline.

Whitfield's research is advised by Dr. Mark Venable, professor in the Department of Biology. He described the research taking place in Dr. Venable's lab: "Our lab is looking into a naturally-produced antivenom compound, particularly working to fractionate out components of this natural extract to determine the active ingredient that leads to these effects."

Prior to receiving the SAFE grant, Whitfield and the team in Venable's lab were using a technique called thin-layer chromatography (TLC). "This is an older technique that is not as sensitive or quantitative as more modern methods like High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). With the SAFE grant funding, we were able to purchase high-purity solvents, liquid chromatography columns, and other assorted equipment to allow us to use HPLC to better purify the whole-lipid extract and separate out the active fraction. Thanks to this new technology, these samples should be pure enough to be analyzed by mass spectrometry. From there, a chemical identity for the compound should be well within reach, allowing clinical trials to begin," wrote Whitfield.

Whitfield, who began working on this project in Spring 2021, shared that the ultimate goal is to develop a novel antivenom that is cheaper and shelf-stable, thus more accessible in remote areas. "Current antivenoms are made up of antibodies that are expensive to produce and fragile, needing to be replaced relatively soon after purchase and requiring refrigerated supply lines to be delivered," explained Whitfield. "As a lipid, our novel antivenom is not nearly as temperature-dependent - we have samples that are more than five years old and still appear to have inhibitory activity. Finally, in humans the PLA2 enzyme is also implicated in inflammatory diseases like Alzheimer's and arthritis, meaning this inhibitory compound could potentially be a therapeutic for these ailments as well."

Whitfield, who will graduate later this month with his bachelor's degree in psychology and minors in chemistry and biology, shared the results via a poster presentation at the 2023 Celebration of Student Research and Creative Endeavors hosted by the Appalachian State Office of Student Research. After graduation, he plans to attend medical school. "I hope to continue doing research throughout my medical education and aspire to become a psychiatrist," said Whitfield.


About the SAFE Fund
Initially endowed by Hughlene and Bill Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund provides resources that can be used to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty experiences. The SAFE Fund provides funding for college priorities and opportunities that arise throughout the year. These unrestricted funds support student and faculty travel, publication support for faculty and student research opportunities. Learn more at

About the Department of Biology
The Department of Biology is a community of teacher-scholars, with faculty representing the full breadth of biological specializations — from molecular genetics to landscape/ecosystem ecology. The department seeks to produce graduates with sound scientific knowledge, the skills to create new knowledge, and the excitement and appreciation of scientific discovery. Learn more at

About the Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology
Appalachian State University’s Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology serves more than 1,400 undergraduate majors seeking the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, as well as 90 graduate students across four graduate programs: experimental psychology (MA), industrial-organizational psychology and human resource management (MA), school psychology (MA/SSP) and clinical psychology (PsyD). Learn more at

Written by Madison Breedlove
Edited by Lauren Andersen

December 5, 2023

Ryan Whitfield
Published: Dec 5, 2023 8:50am