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The very latest Washington University research news

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8.10.20
COVID-19 has upended daily life, including scientific research. However, the pandemic has not impacted men and women equally. While women scientists seem to be submitting fewer papers for publication, men are submitting more.

In a recently published editorial for ScienceCaitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences, said gender equity in science has always been an issue because in most households, women perform the bulk of child care and housework. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem.

“Nothing is likely to change until there are policies to support parents, not just in academia but in all walks of life,” she wrote. Read the full editorial.


8.10.20
The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx communities in the United States has demonstrated that racial disparities persist in health care.

In a recent editorial for Science, Adia Harvey Wingfield, professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences, said racial disparities persist despite the safeguards scientists have put into place to keep their work bias-free because racial biases are also embedded in our institutions.

“The first step toward addressing these issues is to recognize that despite the pride scientists take in being analytical thinkers, these problems persist,” Wingfield said. Read the full editorial.


8.5.20
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $3.3 million grant to Lori Setton, the Lucy & Stanley Lopata Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering and chair of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering, and Simon Tang, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the School of Medicine.

They will work with a multidisciplinary research team to better understand the interactions between nerve cells and degenerating discs that might be behind the pain in intervertebral disc degeneration, a common cause of age-related back pain. Read more on the engineering website.


8.3.20
Leopoldo J. Cabassa, associate professor and co-director of the Center for Mental Health Services Research at the Brown School, has received a five-year $2.2 million training grant renewal from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This training program previously led by Enola Proctor, builds upon the center’s 25-year history of successfully training mental health services researchers. The renewal will prepare two predoctoral students and two postdoctoral scholars per year to acquire advanced mental health services research skills to address challenges faced by the nation’s most vulnerable populations.


7.28.20
For a companion piece to a recently published study, PNAS editors asked Fiona Marshall of Arts & Sciences to quickly author a commentary about the global context of cat domestication, published July 20 by the journal.

Titled “Cats as predators and early domesticates in ancient human landscapes,” the commentary related to a study published a week earlier from a team of researchers in Poland, Germany and Belgium. Marshall is the James W. and Jean L. Davis Professor in Arts & Sciences.


7.22.20
An interdisciplinary team from Washington University in St. Louis will investigate a novel protein component of the cardiac sodium channels to determine its functional effects in the physiological regulation and pathophysiological remodeling of electrical propagation of the heart.

Jeanne Nerbonne, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology in Developmental Biology and director of the Center for Cardiovascular Research at the School of Medicine, and Jonathan Silva, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering, are teaming up to study intracellular fibroblast growth factor 12 (iFGF12), a novel sodium channel accessory protein, with a four-year $2.3 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Read more on the engineering website.


7.20.20
Jeffrey Zacks, professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, received a nearly $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in support of a multiyear project titled “Improving Everyday Memory in Healthy Aging and Early Alzheimer’s Disease.”


7.15.20
Michael Gross, professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences and of immunology and internal medicine in the School of Medicine, received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support a biomedical mass spectrometry resource and ongoing biomedical projects.


7.13.20
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded the lab of Vijay Ramani, the Roma B. & Raymond H. Wittcoff Distinguished University Professor at the McKelvey School of Engineering, $2 million to further develop and de-risk its electrode-decoupled redox flow battery technology, and to position the team for scale-up and deployment after the course of the project.

Ramani’s lab pioneered this battery concept to be used for long-duration, grid-scale energy storage. The researchers developed membrane technologies and novel patent-pending flow battery chemistries that promise to significantly reduce the levelized cost of grid scale (think gigawatt-hours of energy stored) energy storage.

This is the second such award for Ramani’s lab; the first was awarded in 2016.


7.10.20
Fred Ssewamala, the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor at the Brown School, and Proscovia Nabunya, research assistant professor, have received a two-year $425,000 award from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address HIV/AIDS-associated stigma among adolescents in southwest Uganda.

The study will test two evidence-based interventions, group cognitive behavioral therapy and multiple family group sessions, to see which is more effective in reducing such stigma at both the individual and family level.


7.1.20
With a three-year, $453,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research, Chien-Ju Ho, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering, and his co-investigator, Yang Liu, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz, will study AI-augmented human decision-making. Read more on the engineering website.


6.26.20
Hong Chen, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering and of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine, will address the need for innovative approaches to treating pediatric brain cancer with a three-year, $500,000 grant from the Australia-based Charlie Teo Foundation.

With the funding, she and her team plan to develop the focused ultrasound mediated intranasal (FUSIN) delivery technique to deliver drugs from the nose to the brain, bypassing the blood-brain barrier and minimizing exposure of other organs to the drug. Read more on the engineering website.


6.23.20
Jeffrey P. Henderson, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and of molecular microbiology at the School of Medicine, has received a $20,000 grant from the Longer Life Foundation, a cooperative effort between the School of Medicine and the Reinsurance Group of America, to help fund his research, which has pivoted in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. His project is titled “Prognostic Biomarkers of Severe Disease in COVID-19 Patients.”


6.22.20
David Patterson Silver Wolf, associate professor at the Brown School, is part of a two-year, $1 million grant that will create a data warehouse ─ a system that collects and analyzes information ─ to improve outcomes and reduce costs for mental health and substance use treatment services in underserved rural areas of New York state. Patterson will collaborate with Catherine Dulmus and Gregory Wilding of the University of Buffalo.

The collaboration is jointly funded by the New York State Office of Mental Health and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The two-year project with Integrity Partners for Behavioral Health will prepare 25 organizations across 14 rural counties in New York for a value-based payment health-care environment.


6.18.20
Michael Krawczynski, assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences  in Arts & Sciences, received a $234,692 grant from NASA for a project titled “Investigating Mechanisms for Producing Metallic Fe Enrichments and Magnetic Anomalies within Planetary Crustal Materials.” Krawczynski also won $136,725 from the National Science Foundation for collaborative research on the Earth’s deep interior titled “Experimental Partitioning of Highly Siderophile Elements at Ultratrace Level for Understanding the Conditions of Core Formation.”


6.15.20
Todd Braver, professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, received a $432,938 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support a project titled “Healthy Aging and the Cost of Cognitive Effort.”


6.10.20
Xiang Tang, professor of mathematics and statistics in Arts & Sciences, has received a $252,305 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

To explain the research, Tang asks: How does the sound of a bell determine its shape, or vice versa? The collection of frequencies at which a geometric structure resonates is called its spectrum. The spectrum contains a great deal of information, but it’s difficult to extract. A new approach, based on a concept called the hypoelliptic Laplacian, has shown great promise. The overall goal of this research is a clearer and more powerful understanding of the algebraic and functional analytic foundations of the hypoelliptic Laplacian; extensive development of its applications to tempered representation theory; and a deepened understanding of the geometric and topological invariants of singular spaces.

The grant is part of a focused research team also funded by the NSF. The team consists of four principal investigators: Nigel Higson, of Pennsylvania State University; Tang and Yanli Song of Washington University; and Zhizhang Xie of Texas A&M University.


6.1.20
Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, received a $1,029,281 grant from the National Science Foundation to better understand the molecular underpinnings of the process in which photoautotrophic microbes convert electricity and carbon dioxide to sustainable biofuels.

The research aims to address fundamental gaps in knowledge surrounding extracellular electron uptake (EEU), or what Bose called “a paradigm shift in microbial biogeochemistry.” The project will use synthetic biology, metabolic engineering and material science to improve sustainable production of bioplastics and biofuels using phototrophic-EEU. Students from high school, undergraduate and graduate levels will participate in the research.


5.29.20
Erin Bondy, a graduate student in the BRAIN Lab in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences, has received a $45,520 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) .

Bondy will investigate behavioral mechanisms that may underlie a link between inflammation and anhedonia, the loss of or inability to feel pleasure. She will carry out two studies examining whether variability in reward-related neural circuitry and behavior may plausibly contribute to inflammation-related anhedonia.


5.19.20
Timothy M. Lohman, the Marvin A. Brennecke Professor of Biophysics and professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at the School of Medicine, received a new five-year Maximizing Investigators’ Research Awards grant totaling nearly $3.8 million from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes for Health (NIH) for his research titled “Mechanisms of Helicases, Translocases and SSB Proteins involved in Genome Maintenance.”


5.12.20
During the past two decades, researchers have been able to engineer simple RNA-based genetic circuits in bacteria. They still, however, have difficulty with more complex circuits.

Toward this end, the National Science Foundation awarded a $664,519 grant to Tae Seok Moon, associate professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering.

The multidisciplinary project will utilize biophysics, biochemistry, molecular biology and engineering to understand generalizable design principles by which simple RNA-based genetic circuits can be combined to generate complex ones.


5.7.20
A new technology — tablet-based ultrasound — has been used to measure bone age in relation to stunted growth and nutrition in children in Ecuador. Researchers hope to use the information to better address global public health.

“We adapted field-based ultrasound technology for use in public health research, with application possibilities in other low-resource settings where access to MRI might be limited,” said Lora Iannotti, associate professor at the Brown School and expert in nutrient deficiencies related to poverty and infectious diseases. “Importantly, the imaging allowed us to examine connections between bone development and child nutrition.”

Iannotti is senior author of the paper, “US Evaluation of Bone Age in Rural Ecuadorian Children: Association with Anthropometry and Nutrition,” published in the journal Radiology.


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