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First-ever lab model of human eye offers hope for macular degeneration patients

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Rochester researchers say their breakthrough could lead to patient-specific treatments.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which leads to a loss of central vision, is the most frequent cause of blindness in adults 50 years of age or older, affecting an estimated 196 million people worldwide. There is no cure, though treatment can slow the onset and preserve some vision.

Recently, however, researchers at the University of Rochester have made an important breakthrough in the quest for an AMD cure. Their first three-dimensional (3D) lab model mimics the part of the human retina affected in macular degeneration.

Their model combines stem cell-derived retinal tissue and vascular networks from human patients with bioengineered synthetic materials in a three-dimensional “matrix.” Notably, using patient-derived 3D retinal tissue allowed the researchers to investigate the underlying mechanisms involved in advanced neovascular macular degeneration, the wet form of macular degeneration, which is the more debilitating and blinding form of the disease.

The researchers have also demonstrated that wet-AMD-related changes in their human retina model could be targeted with drugs.

“Once we have validated this over a large sample, the next hope would be to develop rational drug therapies and potentially even test the efficacy of a specific drug to work for individual patients,” says Ruchira Singh, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University’s Flaum Eye Institute.

The lab of Danielle Benoit, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Materials Science Program, engineered the synthetic materials for the matrix and helped configure it, as described in a paper in Cell Stem Cell.

Read More: First-ever lab model of human eye offers hope for macular degeneration patients

Dr. Martina Poletti Honored with Award from Vision Sciences Society

Monday, March 29, 2021

Photo of Marina PolettiMartina Poletti, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, has received the 2021 Elsevier/Vision Sciences Society Young Investigator Award for her fundamental contributions to better understanding the fovea—a small region of the retina that is essential for high-resolution vision—and how it works in tandem with microscopic eye movements and attention to enable vision.

Read More: Dr. Martina Poletti Honored with Award from Vision Sciences Society

NGP student honored with significant national achievement

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Photo of Sarah YablonskiSarah Yablonski received an honorable mention on her NSF GRFP proposal!

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is a National Science Foundation-wide program that provides Fellowships to individuals selected early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant research achievements in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. The NSF accords Honorable Mention to meritorious applicants who do not receive Fellowship offers. This is considered a significant national academic achievement.

Read More: NGP student honored with significant national achievement

MRIs from Study by John Foxe & Ed Freedman Reveal More Incidental Findings in Children

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Photo of Ed FreedmanPhoto of John FoxePublished in JAMA Neurology, scan results from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study revealed one in 25 children needed further medical evaluation. The findings by the Del Monte faculty members and their colleagues could change our understanding of the prevalence of neurological problems in children and how neuroimaging is used to screen for these problems.

Read More: MRIs from Study by John Foxe & Ed Freedman Reveal More Incidental Findings in Children

An experimental neurofeedback imaging treatment has emerged for psychiatric patients. Does it work?

Monday, March 22, 2021

Does neurofeedback imaging work for psychiatric patients?

University of Rochester psychologists have found that real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback (rtfMRI-NF) can help a person regulate neural activity in a way that might improve psychiatric illness.

Photo of David Dodell-FederDavid Dodell-Feder, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, together with Emily Dudek, who after graduating from Rochester became Dodell-Feder’s full-time lab manager, looked at 17 relevant studies that included a total of 410 participants. The findings of their meta-analysis have been published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.

According to lead author Dudek, their review found that when people were shown their own brain patterns in real time, they were able to regulate activity in specific regions of the brain. “This training, known as neurofeedback, offers an exciting and novel treatment method for psychiatric illness.”

Coauthor Dodell-Feder agrees that the findings are “very promising,” especially because there are very few treatments, psychopharmacological included, that specifically target neural circuits known to contribute to psychopathology.

Yet, there are caveats: the data show less clear evidence that volitional control over the brain regions targeted by neurofeedback translates to an improvement in a person’s symptoms or cognitive impairments. For example, when analyzing the impact of rtfMRI-NF on symptoms, the team found an approximately 60 percent chance that a randomly selected person who received rtfMRI-NF showed improvement in symptoms compared to a randomly selected person who received a placebo procedure.

Read More: An experimental neurofeedback imaging treatment has emerged for psychiatric patients. Does it work?

Andrew Anderson & Edmund Lalor Explore How Brain Comprehends Sentences

Monday, March 22, 2021

Photo of Andrew AndersonPhoto of Edmund LalorThe Del Monte Institute faculty members and their colleagues studied and described the complex network within the brain that comprehends the meaning of a spoken sentence. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, is an example of how the application of artificial neural networks, or A.I., is enabling researchers to unlock the extremely complex signaling in the brain that underlies functions such as processing language.

Read More: Andrew Anderson & Edmund Lalor Explore How Brain Comprehends Sentences

NGP well featured in recent publications

Friday, March 5, 2021

Photo of MaKenna CealieCongratulations to MaKenna Cealie for publishing an article with NGP alums Rebecca Lowery and Monique Mendes. MaKenna is a second year NGP student in Dr. Ania Majewska’s lab.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33606320/

Photo of Uday ChockanathanPhoto of Emily CrosierCongratulations to Uday Chockanathan and Emily Crosier for their work being accepted into the Journal of Neurophysiology. Uday is an MD/PhD student and third year in NGP; Emily is a 5th year NGP student.  Both Uday and Emily are members of the Neural Circuits and Computation Laboratory lab. You can find their article here https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33656931/

Drs. Ania Majewska and Monique Mendes in a podcast for NINDS on F applications

Monday, March 1, 2021

Icon for NINDS Building up the Nerve PodcastDr. Ania Majewska and NGP alum, Dr. Monique Mendes, will be featured in The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s Building Up the Nerve podcast on 3/5/2021. In this episode, our grantee guests discuss how they involved their mentor(s)/sponsor(s) in the application process to ensure the training plan reflects their individual needs and the mentor is able to provide the appropriate level of support and expertise to achieve those training goals.

The podcast features Jaroslaw Aronowski, PhD, Professor, UTHealth McGovern Med School; Alexis S. Mobley, MS, PhD Candidate, UTHealth McGovern Med School; Ania Majewska, PhD, Professor, University of Rochester; Monique Mendes, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Stanford University; Mark Wu, MD, PhD, Professor, Johns Hopkins University; Margaret Ho, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Spread the word.

Read More: Drs. Ania Majewska and Monique Mendes in a podcast for NINDS on F applications

Two faculty members received Sloan Awards for research on how the brain perceives the world.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Two University of Rochester researchers in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences are being honored with a celebrated award for their contributions to and leadership in the scientific community.

Martina Poletti and Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, both assistant professors of brain and cognitive sciences and of neuroscience, are among this year’s recipients of Sloan Research Fellowships. Awarded annually by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation since 1955, the fellowships recognize young scientists for their independent research accomplishments, creativity, and potential to become leaders in the scientific community. Each fellowship carries a $75,000, two-year award. This year, 128 scientists across the US and Canada were awarded fellowships. Gomez-Ramirez and Poletti are the University’s fourth and filth Sloan fellows in the last three years.

Read More: Two faculty members received Sloan Awards for research on how the brain perceives the world.

2020 in a Word

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

During the NGP 2020 Holiday Party, students were asked to provide a word to describe 2020. 

The image below reflects the results. A larger font size indicates a word mentioned more than once.

Words describing the year 2020

 

Brain changed by caffeine in utero, study finds

Thursday, February 4, 2021

New research finds caffeine consumed during pregnancy can change important brain pathways in baby.

New research finds caffeine consumed during pregnancy can change important brain pathways that could lead to behavioral problems later in life. Researchers in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) analyzed thousands of brain scans of nine and ten-year-olds, and revealed changes in the brain structure in children who were exposed to caffeine in utero.

“These are sort of small effects and it’s not causing horrendous psychiatric conditions, but it is causing minimal but noticeable behavioral issues that should make us consider long term effects of caffeine intake during pregnancy,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, and principal investigator of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development or ABCD Study at the University of Rochester. “I suppose the outcome of this study will be a recommendation that any caffeine during pregnancy is probably not such a good idea.”

Elevated behavioral issues, attention difficulties, and hyperactivity are all symptoms that researchers observed in these children. “What makes this unique is that we have a biological pathway that looks different when you consume caffeine through pregnancy,” said Zachary Christensen, a M.D/Ph.D. candidate in the Medical Science Training Program and first author on the paper published in the journal Neuropharmacology. “Previous studies have shown that children perform differently on IQ tests, or they have different psychopathology, but that could also be related to demographics, so it's hard to parse that out until you have something like a biomarker. This gives us a place to start future research to try to learn exactly when the change is occurring in the brain.”

Investigators analyzed brain scans of more than 9,000 nine and ten-year-old participants in the ABCD study. They found clear changes in how the white matter tracks – which form connections between brain regions – were organized in children whose mothers reported they consumed caffeine during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman standing at window holding mug.

Researchers analyzed the brain scans of more then 9,000 nine and ten-year-olds and found a change in important brain pathways in those whose mothers retrospectively reported consuming caffeine while pregnant.

URMC is one of 21-sites across the country collecting data for the ABCD study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Ed Freedman, Ph.D., is the principal investigator of the ABCD study in Rochester and a co-author of the study.

“It is important to point out this is a retrospective study,” said Foxe. “We are relying on mothers to remember how much caffeine they took in while they were pregnant.”

Previous studies have found caffeine can have a negative effect on pregnancy. It is also known that a fetus does not have the enzyme necessary to breakdown caffeine when it crosses the placenta. This new study reveals that caffeine could also leave a lasting impact on neurodevelopment.

The researchers point out that it is unclear if the impact of the caffeine on the fetal brain varies from one trimester to the next, or when during gestation these structural changes occur.

“Current clinical guidelines already suggest limiting caffeine intake during pregnancy – no more than two normal cups of coffee a day,” Christensen said. “In the long term, we hope to develop better guidance for mothers, but in the meantime, they should ask their doctor as concerns arise.”

Motion got you feeling queasy? It may be all in your head... or your ears

Friday, January 29, 2021

New research from the University of Rochester Medical Center has detailed a part of the nervous system by which the brain can modify our sense of balance. The current study expands our understanding of how balance stimuli are received by the brain while also offering insights into potential drug targets in the ear, which may be leveraged for treating motion sickness and balance disorders.

“In my opinion, these data are one of the first steps in beginning to unravel the functional significance of the efferent vestibular system,” Joseph C. Holt, Ph.D., senior author of the study published in the journal Scientific Reports said. The efferent vestibular system (EVS) begins as a small collection of neurons that travel from the brainstem out to the ear where our sense of balance begins. While there is still little known about the function of the EVS, URMC researchers are uncovering more about the role these neurons may play in processing motion stimuli and maintaining our balance.

Read More: Motion got you feeling queasy? It may be all in your head... or your ears

NGP student wins award at NE Regional APSA Conference

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Congratulation Udaysankar Chockanathan whose talk at the American Physician Scientists Association won second place. Uday presented his exciting work on population coding in the APP/PS1 mouse model of Amyloid pathology.