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In The News: URMC utilizes motion capture technology to study brain, how it ages

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The following article originally appeared on WHAM 13:

Rochester, N.Y. – From Hollywood to Healthcare: Technology used to make movies is being used at the University of Rochester Medical Center to help scientists understand the brain and how it ages.

What researchers learn could help predict a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

13WHAM watched researchers in the Mobile Brain Body Imaging – or MoBi – Lab attach wires to a cap covered in electrodes. The cap picks up the brain wave activity of a volunteer, while infrared cameras surrounding him pick up how his body moves on a treadmill.

This lab is one of 12 around the world combining motion capture technology with brain scans used in real time.

“What we’re saying is: Let’s get people up, let’s get them in a walking situation where they’re solving a task, where we can kind of stress them a bit, and then we can ask, ‘How’s the brain working under duress?’ explained Dr. John Foxe, director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. “And that gives us a window into function, maybe like a neural stress test, akin to the cardiac stress test.”

Armed with that information, doctors hope to one day be able to predict a person’s dementia risk a decade before symptoms show up. It can also help give us clues about a person’s risk of falling as they get older.

“We all see it,” said Dr. Foxe. “In certain folks, as they get older, you start to worry about them. You can see their gait and posture is deteriorating, and you know that they’re not as sharp, that they’re not able to flip their mind from one task to the other.”

He added, “The number one killer of people over the age of 65 in the U.S. is falls, not heart disease or cancer. Those are very important issues, but simply falling down, and you end up in the hospital, you end up with a secondary infection; we all know this story.”

But the story doesn’t have to end that way. The work being done is still very much experimental, but researchers feel confident the information could – within a decade, possibly – end up at a doctor’s office near you.

The technology will also help doctors understand other conditions, like autism and Parkinson’s. The hope is that, one day, this technology will be wearable, so patients won’t have to go into a lab.

Researchers are looking for volunteers. If you’re interested, call 275-1674.

Read More: In The News: URMC utilizes motion capture technology to study brain, how it ages

Study Confirms Central Role of Brain’s Support Cells in Huntington’s, Points to New Therapies

Thursday, December 13, 2018

New research gives scientists a clearer picture of what is happening in the brains of people with Huntington’s disease and lays out a potential path for treatment. The study, which appears today in the journal Cell Stem Cell, shows that support cells in the brain are key contributors to the disease.

“Huntington’s is a complex disease that is characterized by the loss of multiple cell populations in the brain,” said neurologist Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author of the study and the co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). “These new findings help pinpoint how the genetic flaw in Huntington’s gives rise to glial cell dysfunction, which impairs the development and role of these cells, and ultimately the survival of neurons.  While it has long been known that neuronal loss is responsible for the progressive behavioral, cognitive, and motor deterioration of the disease, these findings suggest that it’s glial dysfunction which is actually driving much of this process.”

Huntington’s is a hereditary and fatal neurodegenerative disease characterized by the loss of medium spiny neurons, a nerve cell in the brain that plays a critical role in motor control.  As the disease progresses over time and more of these cells die, the result is involuntary movements, problems with coordination, and cognitive decline, depression, and often psychosis. There is currently no way to slow or modify the progression of this disease.

Read More: Study Confirms Central Role of Brain’s Support Cells in Huntington’s, Points to New Therapies

In The News: How well can you walk, think at same time? URMC uses ability to predict Alzheimer's risk

Monday, November 19, 2018

The following article originally appeared in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and was written by Patti Singer.

I’m giving my brain a stress test.

I’m walking on a treadmill in a dark room where every second or so, two sets of lines flash on the wall-sized screen in front of me. I have a second to decide which set is rotated farther clockwise. If it’s the left one, I push the button I’m holding in my left hand. If it’s the right one, I push the button in my right hand.

“Jeez,” I mutter after getting it wrong, again.

Turns out, walking while thinking isn’t as easy as it looks.

Neuroscientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center want to find out whether older adults who struggle to do both at once might be at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers recently started using motion capture technology — what’s used to get the realistic movements in sports video games — and recording brain activity to see at what point communication from the brain to the muscles breaks down. They want to know what that means for someone still trying to function in the everyday world.

The technology can be applied to autism, traumatic brain injury, concussion, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or Parkinson’s disease. Right now, the focus is Alzheimer’s, which is the sixth leading cause of death nationwide. According to a 2017 report from the state Department of Health, nearly 400,000  New Yorkers had Alzheimer's disease. The figure was expected to be 460,000 by 2025. There is no cure for the disease, but the goal of researchers is to predict who might be at risk so that treatments start earlier and slow the progression of Alzheimer's.

Researchers in the Ernest J. Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience are enrolling three groups of older adults — those who are healthy, those with cognitive impairment and those with Alzheimer’s — to determine whether they can predict someone’s risk of developing the disease. At some point, the technology could be used to track the effectiveness of treatment.

Moving targets

Most brain activity is measured when a person is still — either lying in an MRI tube or sitting in chair.

“That’s not what human beings do most of the time,” said John Foxe, director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. “We like to think that people will get up and move around, and of course that’s when people run into problems."

He gave the examples of someone with Alzheimer's who gets lost, a child with autism who has poor motor skills or a person who had a stroke and can't walk.  "A lot of the things that happen to people because of brain dysfunction happen to them while they're walking around and trying to do stuff.”

He said researchers have been working on new ways to image and record brain activity to see where things go wrong, and what can be done about it. Hence, the brain stress test of walking and doing a mental task at the same time.

Foxe said the Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab of the Del Monte Institute is one of few labs in the world using mobile brain/body imaging, called MoBI. The lab receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, and the technology is open source, meaning URMC researchers will share it with scientists elsewhere.

Over the past 10 years, URMC has been involved in 86 research projects into understanding, diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's, according to the university. Total funding for the projects exceeded $33 million.

Two things at once

David Richardson, who works with study volunteers, cited scientific literature when he said people with Alzheimer’s can struggle with doing a physical and cognitive task at the same time.

“What happens if you ask somebody with Alzheimer’s to walk and talk?” said Richardson, a medical student and doctoral candidate in the medical scientist training program. “If they want to talk, they stop walking. If they want to walk, they stop talking.”

They may do it subconsciously as a way to keep their focus on one task at a time. By asking study participants to do simultaneous physical and mental tasks, the researchers are looking for clues about what happens when a person perceives one of the tasks as difficult.

Divided attention

I’m wearing a snug black suit that makes me feel like Catwoman without the tail.

The suit has more than two dozen reflective orbs attached at all the major joints on my body so that each movement can be picked up by one of 16 cameras positioned around the room.

If I were enrolled in the study, my brain activity also would be recorded by an electroencephalogram. In order to present a fuller picture of my brain function, I also would have identified the images while sitting, and I would have walked without looking at the images. The motions would be melded into a 3-D avatar and my gait analyzed to see how well my brain and body work when absorbed in their own tasks.

For demonstration purposes, I completed two rounds on the treadmill while evaluating the images.

Richardson strapped me into a harness in case I lost my balance, gave me instructions, let me practice a little, then set the treadmill at a comfortable speed and started the images.

Because I’m an overachieving perfectionist, I really wanted to get each response correct. My “ugh” every time I realized I hit the wrong button was a good thing, I later learned.

Ed Freedman, associate director of the lab, said my reaction caused my brain to send a signal that could be picked up on an EEG. “What if somebody is not recognizing that they’re making errors, their brain is not detecting the error or they’re not operating on the error?”

Basically, a healthy brain knows it messed up, and a cognitively impaired one doesn’t, he said. “We can see that.”

Freedman made me feel better about my mistakes.

“When two images are close together, they’re hard to discern,” he said. “They’re flashed pretty quickly. We put a time pressure on you to respond. You hit the button, then, oh, that wasn’t the right one. That’s not unusual.”

For study participants, the data would be analyzed to see if their gait changed, and if so, if it changed at a particularly difficult time in the task.

Seeking answers

The questions of how people with Alzheimer’s think and how the disease affects memory are routinely asked. Richardson and his mentors are asking how people move and what that means for the current and future state of their disease.

“That hasn’t been well described,” he said.

More to the point, how are they moving when they also have to think, and how do they think when they have to move?

“It’s not that they can’t do certain tasks, remember things, think the things they used to think,” Freedman said. “But they may not be able to do it when they’re also walking down the street or driving or other daily tasks. You need to do them not in isolation, sitting down, when you have as much time as you want to figure out the answer. You need to do it when crossing the street.”

The moving brain

The Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center is using motion-capture technology in several studies to track movement and brain activity.

Work is being done on sports concussions, autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information about enrolling, email or call (585) 275-1674.

Read More: In The News: How well can you walk, think at same time? URMC uses ability to predict Alzheimer's risk

Save the Date: Poster Session & Happy Hour

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Rochester Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience is hosting a Poster Session and Happy Hour with prizes for the best posters. Students and Postdoctoral fellows may register any poster that you have presented in the past year (SfN Meeting, VSS, IMRF, ARO or other recent meetings).

To register your poster please email your name, poster title, department affiliation and status (graduate student, undergraduate, postdoctoral fellow) to Tori D'Agostino:

Neuroscience Poster Session and Happy Hour
LeChase Hall, Medical Center
3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Friday, November 30, 2018

Maiken Nedergaard Recognized for Groundbreaking Research on Glymphatic System

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., has been awarded the with the 2018 Eric K. Fernstrom Foundation Grand Nordic Prize for her work that led to the discovery of the brain’s unique waste removal system and its role in a number of neurological disorders. Nedergaard maintains labs at the Medical Center and the University of Copenhagen.  

In 2012, Nedergaard’s lab was the first to reveal the brain’s unique process of removing waste, dubbed the glymphatic system, which consists of a plumbing system that piggybacks on the brain’s blood vessels and pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through the brain’s tissue, flushing away waste. 

Nedergaard’s lab has since gone on to show that the glymphatic system works primarily while we sleep, could be a key player in diseases like Alzheimer’s, is disrupted after traumatic brain injury, may be enhanced by moderate alcohol consumption, and could be harnessed as a new way to deliver drugs to the brain.  

The Eric K. Fernstrom Foundation annually awards the Grand Nordic Prize to a medical research from one of the Nordic Countries. The award was announced during a ceremony on November 7 at Lund University in Sweden.

Read More: Maiken Nedergaard Recognized for Groundbreaking Research on Glymphatic System

Neuroscience Grad Student Named to Equity and Inclusion Search Committee

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Monique-MendesMonique Mendes, Neuroscience PhD Candidate, has been named to the search committee for the University of Rochester's first vice president for equity and inclusion. Monique was peer-nominated and chosen to join the committee which includes faculty, staff and students from across the University and will be led by University President Richard Feldman. She is one of just three students who were selected to participate. Congratulations, Monique!

Read More: Neuroscience Grad Student Named to Equity and Inclusion Search Committee

Mock Receives National Recognition for Leadership in Inclusive Higher Education

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Martha MockIn a room packed with hundreds of colleagues, policymakers, and families at the 2018 State of the Art (SOTA) Conference on Postsecondary Education and Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities in Syracuse, N.Y., Martha Mock was presented the Leadership in Inclusive Higher Education Award on October 10. The award recognizes an administrator, program director, or staff member with a higher education institution who epitomizes leadership in the postsecondary field.

Cindi May, a 2018 SOTA Conference advisory board member and a professor from the College of Charleston, presented the award with a powerful speech outlining Mock’s leadership in higher education.

“Martha’s passion for inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disabilities is contagious, and her work for the past decade has helped make tremendous gains in our still-new field,” May said. “Her dedicated leadership has directly resulted in the establishment and growth of opportunities in the state of New York and across the country. She employs an approach that emphasizes empowerment of people with intellectual disabilities, strong community collaborations, and effective advocacy at all levels.”

Mock is a clinical professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, where she serves as director of both the early childhood and inclusion/special education teacher preparation programs and the Center on Disability and Education. Mock’s career in inclusion, transition and education spans more than two decades, including her time as a teacher, professor and advocate working alongside and on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families. For more than a decade, she has worked to change the landscape of educational opportunities for transition-age students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In doing so, she has impacted practice, policy, and outcomes for students across the nation.

Read More: Mock Receives National Recognition for Leadership in Inclusive Higher Education

New Research Initiative to Focus on Cerebrovascular Diseases

Monday, October 29, 2018

ConnectomeA multidisciplinary group of clinical and bench researchers has been formed at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) to study cerebrovascular disease. The Cerebrovascular and Neurocognitive Research Group (CNRG), which consists of faculty from Neurology, Neurosurgery, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Microbiology and Immunology, and Vascular Biology will leverage advanced brain imaging technologies to investigate a number of diseases, including stroke, cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD), and vascular dementia.

These efforts are being supported in part by a new $2.7 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, to study how chronic inflammation drives cerebrovascular disease and disrupts the structure and connections between different parts of the brain.

Read More: New Research Initiative to Focus on Cerebrovascular Diseases


Friday, October 26, 2018

The former Rochester Center for Brain Imaging has been renamed the University of Rochester Center for Advanced Brain Imaging & Neurophysiology (UR CABIN). UR CABIN is a research facility offering a state-of-the-art 3 Tesla magnet for the purpose of conducting investigations using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center and River Campus, neighboring institutions, and the science and technology industries. UR CABIN is also home to several high-density electrophysiology recording suites, as well as the Mobile Brain/Body Imaging system, or MoBI, which combines virtual reality, brain monitoring, and Hollywood-inspired motion capture technology, allowing researchers to track and study the areas of the brain being activated when walking or performing tasks. UR CABIN is located in the Medical Center Annex building at 430 Elmwood Avenue. For more information, please reach out to Kathleen Jensen.

Read More: RCBI is Now UR CABIN

Study Points to New Method to Deliver Drugs to the Brain

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have discovered a potentially new approach to deliver therapeutics more effectively to the brain. The research could have implications for the treatment of a wide range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and brain cancer.

“Improving the delivery of drugs to the central nervous system is a considerable clinical challenge,” said Maiken Nedergaard M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Center for Translational Neuromedicine and lead author of the article which appears today in the journal JCI Insight. “The findings of this study demonstrate that the brain’s waste removal system could be harnessed to transport drugs quickly and efficiently into the brain.”

Many promising therapies for diseases of the central nervous system have failed in clinical trials because of the difficulty in getting enough of the drugs into the brain to be effective. This is because the brain maintains its own closed environment that is protected by a complex system of molecular gateways – called the blood-brain barrier – that tightly control what can enter and exit the brain.

Read More: Study Points to New Method to Deliver Drugs to the Brain

New Neuroscience Grant Awards – August 2018

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Congratulations to the following faculty members who received funding for various neuroscience research projects in August!

Investigator: Harris A Gelbard
Project Title: URMC-099 In in vivo AAV-hSYN and in vitro Dopaminergic Neuron Models
Sponsor: The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Disease

Investigator: Cornelia Kamp
Project Title: Clinical Coordinating Center Network of Excellence in Neuroscience Clinical Trial
Sponsor: Massachusetts General Hospital

Investigator: Anne E Luebke
Project Title: NeuroDataRR. Collaborative Research: Testing the relationship between musical training and enhanced neural coding and perception in noise
Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Investigator: Margot Mayer-Proschel
Project Title: Gestational Iron Deficiency disrupts neural patterning in the embryo
Sponsor: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Investigator: Thomas G O'Connor
Project Title: Pre- and Post-Natal Exposure Periods for Child Health: Common Risks and Shared Mechanisms
Sponsor: NIH Office of the Director

Investigator: Krishnan Padmanabhan
Project Title: CAREER: Investigating how internal states, learning and memory shape olfactory coding
Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Investigator: Christoph Proschel
Project Title: iPSC-derived astrocytes to model Vanishing White Matter Disease
Sponsor: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Investigator: Marc H Schieber
Project Title: Injecting instructions using intracortical microstimulation in association cortex
Sponsor: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Investigator: Marc H Schieber
Project Title: Observation of Performance
Sponsor: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Study Points to Possible New Therapy for Hearing Loss

Monday, October 15, 2018

Photo of elderly manResearchers have taken an important step toward what may become a new approach to restore the hearing loss. In a new study, out today in the European Journal of Neuroscience, scientists have been able to regrow the sensory hair cells found in the cochlea – a part of the inner ear – that converts sound vibrations into electrical signals and can be permanently lost due to age or noise damage.

Hearing impairment has long been accepted as a fact of life for the aging population – an estimated 30 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss. However, scientists have long observed that other animals – namely birds, frogs, and fish – have been shown to have the ability to regenerate lost sensory hair cells.

“It’s funny, but mammals are the oddballs in the animal kingdom when it comes to cochlear regeneration,” said Jingyuan Zhang, Ph.D., with the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neuroscience and first author of the study. “We’re the only vertebrates that can’t do it.”

Research conducted in the lab of Patricia White, Ph.D., in 2012 identified a family of receptors – called epidermal growth factor (EGF) – responsible for activating support cells in the auditory organs of birds. When triggered, these cells proliferate and foster the generation of new sensory hair cells. She speculated that this signaling pathway could potentially be manipulated to produce a similar result in mammals.  White is a research associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience and lead author of the current study.

Read More: Study Points to Possible New Therapy for Hearing Loss

URMC Joins Network Dedicated to Improving Care for Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Monday, October 15, 2018

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has been selected as one of the first four institutions in the U.S. to participate in the SMA Care Center Network. The network is being created as new treatments and approaches to care are transforming how spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is treated.

Read More: URMC Joins Network Dedicated to Improving Care for Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Professor Carney will speak at Rochester Science Cafe

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Professor Laurel Carney will be speaking at the Rochester Science Cafe at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble on Tuesday, October 23 at 7pm. She will be speaking in the community room on the topic, “‘What?’ How Hearing Loss Affects Speech Perception.” Science Cafes are interactive events involving face-to-face conversations with leading scientists about relevant current topics. For more information, visit

Professors Anne Luebke and Ross Maddox receive NSF award

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

BME Professors Anne Luebke and Ross Maddox along with Co-PI Elizabeth Marvin (Eastman School of Music) have received an award from the National Science Foundation for their project, "NeuroDataRR. Collaborative Research: Testing the relationship between musical training and enhanced neural coding and perception in noise.” This is a collaborative effort involving several universities: University of Minnesota (Dr. Andrew Oxenham, Lead PI), Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, University of Western Ontario, and the University of Rochester.

This project will determine whether formal musical training is associated with enhanced neural processing and perception of sounds, including speech in noisy backgrounds. Music forms an important part of the lives of millions of people around the world, and it is one of the few universals shared by all known human cultures. Yet its utility and potential evolutionary advantages remain a mystery. This project will test the hypothesis that early musical exposure has benefits that extend beyond music to critical aspects of human communication, such as speech perception in noise. In addition, this project will test whether early musical training is associated with less severe effects of ageing on the ability to understand speech in noisy backgrounds. Degraded ability to understand speech in noise is a common complaint among older listeners, and one that can have a profound impact on quality of life, as has been shown by the associations between hearing loss, social isolation, and more rapid cognitive and health declines. If formal musical training is shown to be associated with improved perception and speech communication in later life, the outcomes could have a potentially major impact on many aspects of public and educational policy.

UR Medicine Unveils Upstate New York’s First Mobile Stroke Unit

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Mobile Stroke UnitNext month, UR Medicine will begin operation of a Mobile Stroke Unit (MSU), a high-tech ‘emergency room on wheels’ that is designed to provide life-saving care to stroke victims. The $1 million unit will be operated in partnership with AMR as a community resource and represents a significant step forward for stroke care in the Rochester region.

While the MSU resembles an ambulance on the outside, inside it contains highly specialized staff, equipment, and medications used to diagnose and treat strokes. The unit is equipped with a portable CT scanner that is capable of imaging the patient’s brain to detect the type of stroke they are experiencing. The scans and results from a mobile lab on the unit are wirelessly transmitted to UR Medicine stroke specialists at Strong Memorial Hospital, who will consult with the on board EMS staff via telemedicine and decide if they can begin treatment immediately on scene.

If it is determined that the patient is experiencing an ischemic stroke – which account for approximately 90 percent of all strokes – the MSU team can administer the drug tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to attempt to break up the clot in the patient’s brain. While en route to the hospital, UR Medicine specialists will continue to remotely monitor and assess the patient’s symptoms.

“The UR Medicine Mobile Stroke Unit essentially brings the hospital to the patient,” said Tarun Bhalla, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Surgery the UR Medicine Comprehensive Stroke Center. “This unit will improve care and outcomes by shortening the gap between diagnosis and treatment and enable us to initiate care before the patient reaches the hospital.”

Read More: UR Medicine Unveils Upstate New York’s First Mobile Stroke Unit

Common Painkiller Not Effective for Traumatic Nerve Injury

Monday, September 24, 2018

A new study out today in the Journal of Neurology finds that pregabalin is not effective in controlling the chronic pain that sometimes develops following traumatic nerve injury. The results of the international study, which was driven by an effort to identify effective non-opioid pain medications, did show potential in relieving in pain that sometimes lingers after surgery.

“The unrelenting burning or stabbing symptoms due to nerve trauma are a leading reason why people seek treatment for chronic pain after a fall, car accident, or surgery,” said John Markman, M.D., director of the Translational Pain Research Program in the University of Rochester Department of Neurosurgery and lead author of the study. “While these finding show that pregabalin is not effective in controlling the long-term pain for traumatic injury, it may provide relief for patients experience post-surgical pain.”

Pregabalin, which is marketed by Pfizer under the name Lyrica, is approved to treat chronic pain associated with shingles, spinal cord injury, fibromyalgia, and diabetic peripheral neuropathy. However, it is also commonly prescribed as an “off label” treatment for chronic nerve injury syndromes that occur after motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports injuries, knee or hip replacement and surgeries such as hernia repair or mastectomy.

Read More: Common Painkiller Not Effective for Traumatic Nerve Injury

Krishnan Padmanabhan 2018 CAREER Recipient

Friday, September 14, 2018

Krishnan Padmanabhan was among the eight University of Rochester researchers are among the latest recipients of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious recognition for junior faculty members: the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.

Krishnan will use neural tracers, ontogenetic technology, and electrical recordings in the brain to understand how internal state, learning, and memory influence the neurons that shape the perception of smell. “The same cookie may smell and taste differently, depending on our emotional state, our experiences, and our memories,” he says. By interrogating a recently characterized connection between the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb, he aims to understand how perception is reshaped by experience.

Read More: Krishnan Padmanabhan 2018 CAREER Recipient

Neuroscience Graduate Program Student Receives Award for SfN Trainee Professional Development

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Photo of Emily WarnerEmily Warner was recently selected to receive a 2018 Trainee Professional Development Award (TPDA) from the Society for Neuroscience.  These are highly competitive awards and it is a great achievement for Emily.

The award comes with a complementary registration to the conference in San Diego and a monetary award of $1000.  Emily will present a poster at a poster session for other recipients and will be able to attend several Professional Development Workshops while at the conference.

Congratulations Emily!

Drug Shows Promise in Slowing Multiple Sclerosis

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Research appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine could herald a new treatment approach for individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) if confirmed in future studies. The results of a clinical trial, which involved researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), showed that the drug ibudilast slowed the brain shrinkage associated with progressive forms of the disease.

“These results indicate that ibudilast may be effective in protecting the central nervous system and slowing the damage to the brain that is caused by MS,” said URMC neurologist Andrew Goodman, M.D., a co-author of the study who served on the national steering committee for the Phase II clinical trial, dubbed SPRINT-MS. “While more clinical research is necessary, the trial’s results are encouraging and point towards a potential new type of therapy to help people with progressive MS.”

MS is a neurological disorder in which the body’s own immune system attacks myelin, the fatty tissue that insulates the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.  These attacks are caused by inflammation which damages myelin, disrupting communication between nerve cells and leading to cognitive impairment, muscle weakness, and problems with movement, balance, sensation, and vision. MS usually presents with a relapsing-remitting course, in which symptoms occur then disappear for weeks or months and then may reappear, or primary and secondary progressive courses, which are marked by a gradual decline in function.

Read More: Drug Shows Promise in Slowing Multiple Sclerosis

Researchers Harness Virtual Reality, Motion Capture to Study Neurological Disorders

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Neuroscientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have a powerful new state-of-the-art tool at their disposal to study diseases like Autism, Alzheimer’s, and traumatic brain injury. The Mobile Brain/Body Imaging system, or MoBI, combines virtual reality, brain monitoring, and Hollywood-inspired motion capture technology, enabling researchers to study the movement difficulties that often accompany neurological disorders and why our brains sometimes struggle while multitasking.

“Many studies of brain activity occur in controlled environments where study subjects are sitting in a sound proof room staring at a computer screen,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the URMC Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. “The MoBI system allows us to get people walking, using their senses, and solving the types of tasks you face every day, all the while measuring brain activity and tracking how the processes associated with cognition and movement interact.”

The MoBI platform – which is located in the Del Monte Institute’s Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab – brings together several high tech systems. Using the same technology that is employed by movie studios to produce CGI special effects, study participants wear a black body suite that is fitted with reflective markers. Participants are then asked to walk on a treadmill or manipulate objects at a table in a room fitted out with 16 high speed cameras that record the position of the markers with millimeter precision. This data is mapped to a computer generated 3D model that tracks movement.

Read More: Researchers Harness Virtual Reality, Motion Capture to Study Neurological Disorders

Professor recognized for transforming understanding of human language

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Photo of Michael TanenhausMichael K. Tanenhaus, a longtime professor of brain and cognitive sciences, is being recognized for work that has “transformed our understanding of human language and its relation to perception, action, and communication” by the premier academic society in his field.

At the annual meeting of the Cognitive Sciences Society this summer, Tanenhaus was formally awarded the David E. Rumelhart Prize from the Cognitive Science Society and the Robert J. Glushko and Pamela Samuelson Foundation. The prize is the highest honor given by the Cognitive Science Society to recognize a “significant contribution to the theoretical foundations of human cognition.”

Tanenhaus, the Beverly Petterson Bishop and Charles W. Bishop Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, says he’s humbled to join a list of honorees that include “giants in cognitive science from multiple disciplines, including computer science, linguistics, and psychology.”

Over the course of his 40-year career, Tanenhaus has focused his research on the mechanisms underlying language comprehension. He is best known as the creator of the Visual World Paradigm, which uses eye movements to study the mechanisms behind speech and language comprehension. According to the society, the paradigm has been widely adopted for studying language development and disorders.

Read More: Professor recognized for transforming understanding of human language

Dr. Mayer-Pröschel to Research the Role of Iron Deficiency in the Developing Brain with a $2 Million Grant

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

margot photo


Dr. Margot Mayer-Pröschel, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Genetics, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Neuroscience, has received a $2 million, five-year grant to study the impact of gestational iron deficiency (GID) on the development of the brain.

Iron deficiency is still the most prevalent nutritional deficiency in the world. Optimal maternal iron stores during pregnancy are essential for providing adequate iron to the fetal brain. However, many women have insufficient iron reserves to optimally supply the fetus. This is a potentially serious problem as children born to gestational iron deficient (GID) mothers have a higher probability of developing autism, attention deficient syndrome and other cognitive impairments.

A major step towards understanding GID, and potentially preventing multiple types of impairment in children, is to conduct controlled mechanistic and cellular studies in animal models where variable factors can be controlled. Using this approach, the Mayer-Pröschel lab found that low iron supply during pregnancy can cause defects in fetal brain development resulting in a disability to generate appropriate reservoirs of cells that are needed later in life to establish balanced brain activity. This defect persists even if iron supplements are started at birth. This work using a mouse model of GID will provide a detailed understanding of the detrimental effects on child development and may point towards new strategies by which the defects can be normalized or prevented.


The grant, titled Gestational Iron Deficiency disrupts neural patterning in the embryo is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD), part of National Institutes of Health.


Richard Barbano Co-Authors New Guideline for Managing Consciousness Disorders

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A new practice guideline update for the diagnosis and ongoing medical and rehabilitative care of individuals in a vegetative or minimally conscious state has a result of a brain injury have been published by the American Academy of Neurology, the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

URMC neurologist Richard Barbano, M.D., Ph.D., was part of a team of physicians and researchers who prepared the new guideline, which appears in the journal Neurology

The experts carefully reviewed all of the available scientific studies on diagnosing, predicting health outcomes, and caring for people with disorder of consciousness, focusing on evidence for people with prolonged disorders of consciousness – those cases lasting 28 days or longer.

The guideline recommends that a clinician trained in the management of disorder of consciousness, such as a neurologist or brain injury rehabilitation specialists, should do a careful evaluation and the evaluation should be repeated several times early in recovery. 

Additional findings include:

  • The outcomes for patients with prolonged disorder of consciousness differ greatly.  It is estimated that one in five people with severe brain injury from trauma will recover to the point where they can live at home and care for themselves without assistance.
  • There is moderate evidence that patients with a brain injury from trauma will fare better in terms of recovery than a person with a brain injury from another cause.
  • Very few treatments for disorder of consciousness have been carefully studied.  However, moderate evidence shows that the drug amantadine can hasten recovery in patients with disorder of consciousness after a traumatic brain injury when used within one to four months after the injury.

Committed to Memory: How does memory shape our sense of who we are?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What do we remember? And how do we forget? Complicated questions, their manifold answers are pursued by scholars, scientists, and artists.

“Memory studies are a burgeoning area of humanistic inquiry that encompasses multiple fields,” says Joan Shelley Rubin, the Dexter Perkins Professor of History and the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center. The center chose memory and forgetting as the annual theme for its programs over the past year, with guest lectures, workshops, art exhibitions, and internal and external faculty research fellows in residence.

“It seemed an excellent way to achieve the Humanities Center’s goal of fostering collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange. Individual memories are such an integral part of our identities as people, and collective memories—entangled as they are with history and culture—shape the politics, society, and artistic expression of the present,” Rubin says.

Visit the site to read samples of how Rochester researchers are currently working with memory, including a section by John Foxe, Director of Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience."

Read More: Committed to Memory: How does memory shape our sense of who we are?

Tristram Smith, Pioneer in Autism Research, Dies at 57

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Photo of Tristram SmithTristram Smith, Ph.D., whose research on behavioral interventions changed the landscape of care for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), died after suffering a heart attack on Monday morning. He was 57.

At the time of his death, Smith was serving as the Haggerty-Friedman Professor in Developmental/Behavioral Pediatric Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), where he had worked since joining faculty in 2000.

His research in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, conducted alongside the late O. Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D., showed that many children with ASD could be successfully treated with behavior-based interventions, which allowed some to catch up to their peers in school. The work helped move treatment of children with ASD away from psychotherapy — which had been used with nominal effectiveness for decades — and toward applied-behavior based models. The sea change in treatment paved the way for ASD screenings in schools and pediatricians’ offices and led to numerous additional studies on behavior-based interventions.

Read More: Tristram Smith, Pioneer in Autism Research, Dies at 57

New blood test for brain injury at URMC

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have a new, FDA-approved test to detect brain injuries, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet Neurology.

The new test looks for certain telltale proteins that enter the bloodstream after a traumatic brain injury. Jeffrey Bazarian, a professor of emergency medicine and neurology at URMC and a lead author of the study, said the blood test promises to reduce the need for CT scans of the head, which he said have been the “gold standard” of brain injury detection.

Those scans are one of the few ways doctors have of seeing inside the head, Bazarian said. An opening in the blood-brain barrier, which happens as a result of a traumatic injury, offers another. “It’s usually closed,” Bazarian said of the barrier, “but a blow opens it up, which is lucky for us because it allows us to have a brief window into what’s happening in the brain.”

Read More: New blood test for brain injury at URMC

NIH Extends URMC’s Role in Network to Advance Neurological Care

Thursday, July 26, 2018

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) has extended the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) membership in the Network for Excellence in Neuroscience Clinical Trials, or NeuroNEXT, which was created to accelerate clinical research involving new treatments for neurological disorders.  The $1.5 million grant will provide patients in the region access to cutting-edge experimental therapies and continue the Medical Center’s key role in helping bring new drugs to market. 

“Neurological diseases are some of the most challenging in all of medicine and the process of translating promising discoveries into new treatments requires building partnerships across many institutions in order to create the infrastructure necessary to recruit patients and run multi-site clinical trials,” said Robert Holloway, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the URMC Department of Neurology and principal investigator of the URMC NeuroNEXT site. “The Medical Center has a long history in the field of experimental therapeutics and we are proud to be a part of NeuroNEXT and to support efforts that will make clinical research better, faster, and more efficient in the quest to aid patients and families affected by neurological disease.”

In 2011, URMC was one of the original 25 institutions selected to participate in NeuroNEXT.  The network was created to streamline the operations of neuroscience clinical trials and help increase the number of new treatments that get into clinical practice. The program is designed to encourage collaborations between academic centers, disease foundations, and industry.

Over the last five years, URMC has been involved in NeuroNEXT studies involving the testing of new drugs for myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, stroke, brain cancer, and neuropathy.  “We could not have accomplished this without the phenomenal talent and dedication of our faculty, study coordinators, and research teams.” said Erika Augustine, M.D., M.S., co-Investigator on the grant. 

“One of the advantages of NeuroNEXT, and something that makes it unique, is the network’s ability to quickly mobilize a group of specialists from a certain disease area to initiate a clinical study when opportunities emerge for trials,” said Robin Conwit, M.D., program director at NINDS. “The structure of NeuroNEXT, with its broad focus across neuroscience clinical studies, has the potential to reach many individuals who are affected by brain disorders.”  

The Medical Center’s site – dubbed UR NEXT – has made significant contributions to the success and vitality of the network.  URMC is the dominant provider of comprehensive neurological care in upstate New York with growing referral networks that have a regional, national, and international reach.  This breadth of geographic reach and specialization of services has resulted in the Medical Center being one of the network’s leading performers in terms of clinical trial recruitment and performance.

The Medical Center is also home to the Experimental Therapeutics in Neurological Disease post-doctoral training program now entering its 28th year of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health, and the Center for Health + Technology (CHeT), a unique academic-research organization with decades of experience in development, management, and operation of multi-site clinical trials. 

“The complexity of neurological diseases and the ever evolving nature of scientific innovation in this field mean that we must look always to the future and build the teams that turn new discoveries into new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent these diseases,” said Jonathan Mink, M.D., Ph.D., co-investigator on the grant who is leading Rochester’s training of its investigators. “The UR NEXT grant will help us train the next generation of experts in leading and conducting multi-center clinical trials,”

In addition to URMC’s role as a NeuroNEXT site, the Medical Center has two additional key roles supporting the national network. The URMC Clinical Materials Services Unit – part of CHeT – provides logistical support and drug supply distribution services for NeuroNEXT clinical trials and UR Labs provides central laboratory services for the network. 

Read More: NIH Extends URMC’s Role in Network to Advance Neurological Care

While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A study by Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery, suggests that while we’re awake, our neurons are packed tightly together, but when we’re asleep, some brain cells deflate by 60 percent, widening the spaces between them. These intercellular spaces are dumping grounds for the cells’ metabolic waste—notably a substance called beta-amyloid, which disrupts communication between neurons and is closely linked to Alzheimer’s.

Read More: While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey

AHA Grants Will Accelerate Search for New Stroke Therapies

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A series of awards from the American Heart Association (AHA) to a team of researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) will focus on the development of new treatments to thwart the damage in the brain caused by stroke.

One of the research projects brings together experts in stroke, cardiovascular biology, platelet biology, and peptide chemistry. Marc Halterman, M.D., Ph.D., with the URMC Center for Neurotherapeutics Discovery, Scott Cameron, M.D., Ph.D., and Craig Morrell, D.V.M., Ph.D., with the URMC Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute, and Bradley Nilsson, Ph.D., with the University of Rochester Department of Chemistry will focus on the role that platelets play in acute brain injury and inflammation during stroke.

Platelets serve an important role in protecting against blood loss and repairing injured blood vessels. However, during a stroke the inflammatory properties of platelets can interfere with the restoration of blood flow once the clot in the brain is removed, particularly in micro-vessels, which can lead to permanent damage of brain tissue.

The research team will build synthetic peptides that activate platelets to study the phenomenon – which is called no-reflow – in an effort to identify specific switches within platelets that can be turned off and limit the cells’ inflammatory functions without blocking their ability to prevent bleeding.

Two AHA pre-doctoral fellowship awards Kathleen Gates and Jonathan Bartko in Halterman’s lab will support research that examines the link between an immune system response triggered by stroke in the lungs that can exacerbate damage in the brain and investigate the cellular mechanisms that determine whether or not brain cells die following stroke.

A final AHA award to the Halterman lab will seek to identify new drug targets by focusing on specific proteins activated during stroke that are suspected to play an important role in determining the survival of neurons.

Collectively, the AHA Collaborative Sciences Award, Pre-Doctoral, and Innovation awards represent $1.09 million in funding.

Read More: AHA Grants Will Accelerate Search for New Stroke Therapies

Kevin Mazurek Receives CTSI Career Development Award

Friday, June 15, 2018

The University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute has selected the recipients of its Career Development Award, which provides two years of support to help early career scientists transition to independent careers as clinical and translational investigators. This year’s awardees will study suicide prevention among Hispanic populations and how the brain controls voluntary movements.

Kevin A. Mazurek, research assistant professor of neuroscience, whose project is “Determining how Cortical Areas Communicate Information to Perform Voluntary Movements.” Mazurek, whose primary mentor is John Foxe, professor of neuroscience, received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Brown University in 2008 and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. He studies the neural control of voluntary movements in order to develop rehabilitative solutions that can restore function to individuals with neurologic diseases by effectively bypassing impaired or damaged neural connections.

The Career Development program is supported by a KL2 award from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The UR CTSI Career Development Award Program releases its request for applications each September with applications due in November.

Read More: Kevin Mazurek Receives CTSI Career Development Award

Neuroscience Grad Student Awarded NIH Diversity Fellowship

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Photo of Monique MendesMonique S. Mendes, a neuroscience Ph.D. student, is the first University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) graduate student to receive a prestigious diversity award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders in Stroke (NINDS).  Mendes works in the laboratory of Ania Majewska, Ph.D. and studies the role that the brain’s immune cells play in development, learning, and diseases like Autism.

Mendes, originally from Kingston, Jamaica, received her undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Florida. She came to URMC in search of a robust program that focused on glial biology and a collaborative environment.  She chose the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience to complete her thesis work due in part to Majewska’s record of mentoring students and her lab’s reputation for conducting leading research in brain development. 

Mendes has been awarded a F99/K00 NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) fellowship from NINDS.  The award was created to provide outstanding young neuroscientists from diverse backgrounds a pathway to develop independent research careers.  Unlike traditional graduate student fellowships, this award provides research funding for 6 years, including dissertation research and mentored postdoctoral research career development.

Read the local Jamacian Observer newspaper article.

Read More: Neuroscience Grad Student Awarded NIH Diversity Fellowship

UR Medicine Recognized for Excellence in Stroke Care

Monday, June 11, 2018

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) has once again honored the UR Medicine Strong Memorial Hospital for having achieved the highest standard of care for stroke. This award identifies hospitals that provide care that can speed the recovery and reduce death and disability for stroke patients.

Strong Memorial Hospital has received the 2018 AHA/ASA Get With The Guidelines program’s Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award.  The hospital was also recognized for the Target: Stroke Honor Role Elite Plus designation, which identifies hospitals that have consistently and successfully reduced door-to-needle time – the window of time between a stroke victim’s arrival at the hospital, the diagnosis of an acute ischemic stroke, and the administration of the clot-busting drug tPA.  If given intravenously in the first four and a half hours after the start of stroke symptoms, tPA has been shown to significantly reduce the effects of stroke and lessen the chance of permanent disability.

Read More: UR Medicine Recognized for Excellence in Stroke Care

Ian Dickerson awarded University seed funding

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

University Research Awards, which provide “seed” grants for promising research, have been awarded to 15 projects for 2018-19. The projects range from an analysis of the roles of prisons in the Rochester region, to a new approach to genome editing, to new initiatives for advanced materials for powerful lasers.

The funding has been increased from $500,000 to $1 million. Half of the funding comes from the President’s Fund, with the rest being matched by the various schools whose faculty members are recipients.

Ian Dickerson, associate professor of neuroscience, and Joseph Miano, professor, Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute received the funding for "Pre-clinical mouse model for atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS)".

Read More: Ian Dickerson awarded University seed funding

URMC Researcher Featured in Academic Stories

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Kevin Mazurek, PhD recently gave an interview for the online Academic Stories blog, entitled "Researchers Discover How to Inject Instructions into the Premotor Cortex".

"Thanks to our brain’s complex network of connections, we are able to effortlessly move through and react to the world around us. But for people with strokes or traumatic brain injuries, these connections are disrupted making some basic functions challenging. Kevin Mazurek and his mentor Marc Schieber at the University of Rochester have made a discovery with the potential to help restore neural connections in patients. They have found a way to “inject” information directly into the premotor cortex of two rhesus monkeys, bypassing the visual centres."

Academic Stories, a division of Academic Media Group, aims to inspire more people to pursue academic careers by sharing groundbreaking research and the people and places that make it possible. Academic Stories brings their stories to a larger audience in an accessible way.

Read More: URMC Researcher Featured in Academic Stories