BRAIN and BEHAVIOR INITIATIVE WEEKLY DIGEST

December 9, 2019


UMD News

Scientists have known that depriving adult mice of vision can increase the sensitivity of individual neurons in the part of the brain devoted to hearing. Now, new research from biologists at UMD reveals that sight deprivation also changes the way brain cells interact with one another, altering neuronal networks and shifting the mice’s sensitivity to different frequencies.

News

Until now, neurons have been like black boxes. But one international team of scientists has managed to open the black box and peer inside. The researchers have developed artificial neurons on silicon chips that behave just like neurons in the body. This first-of-its-kind achievement could lead to the development of medical devices for treating chronic diseases, such as heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, or other neurodegenerative disorders. Critically, the artificial neurons not only behave just like biological neurons, but require just one-billionth the power of a microprocessor, making them ideally suited for use in medical implants and other bio-electronic devices.
In September, two pharmaceutical companies announced that they were halting clinical trials of a drug, elenbecestat, aimed at thwarting amyloid-β buildup in Alzheimer’s disease. Although the drug had initially seemed promising, preliminary analyses determined that its risks outweighed its benefits. But now some Alzheimer’s researchers say that they think they’ve spotted a silver lining in this bad news—a hint in the data from these studies about how future work might meet with more success. Circulating biomarkers might enable earlier detection and better monitoring of Alzheimer's and perhaps help usher in new treatments.
A novel engineering process can deliver a safe and effective dose of medicine for brain tumors without exposing patients to toxic side effects from traditional chemotherapy. Researchers have developed a treatment for glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The treatment involves applying an industrial fabrication process called coaxial electrospinning to form drug-containing membranes, after which process the treatment is implanted directly into the part of the brain where the tumor has been surgically removed. By selecting the base materials of the fiber and the thickness of membrane, researchers are able to control the rate at which the drug is released.
It is often said that music is a universal language. But is it really universal? Some argue that humans are just too culturally complex and their music is far too varied to expect any foundational similarity. Some researchers recently decided to take on the challenge, using the tools of computational social science to analyze recordings of human songs and other types of data gathered from more than 300 societies around the globe. These analyses showed that all of the cultures studied used song in four similar behavioral contexts: dance, love, healing, and infant care. What's more, songs used in each of these ways were found to share certain musical features, including tone, pitch, and rhythm.
An international team of researchers has identified key networks within the brain they say interact to increase the risk that an individual will think about—or attempt—suicide. The first of these networks involves areas towards the front of the brain known as the medial and lateral ventral prefrontal cortex and their connections to other brain regions involved in emotion. The second involves regions known as the dorsal prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus system, which may influence suicide attempts due to its role in decision making, generating alternative solutions to problems, and controlling behavior.
While researchers do not fully understand which factors in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) act as a trigger for the immune system to attack the brain and spinal cord, the gut has long been suspected to play a role. Now, recent research in PNAS describes how medical researchers used an animal model to show that the protein Smad7 mobilizes immune cells in the intestines. These cells, in turn, trigger inflammation in the central nervous system. Smad7 has previously offered a promising therapeutic target for autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases, and the researchers' results suggest that the same may be true for MS.
This still from a video of a fluorescent worm showcases a significant technological leap forward in our ability to capture in real time the firing of individual neurons in a living, freely moving animal. In the video, as a Caenorhabditis elegans worm undulates, 113 neurons throughout its brain and body get brighter and darker as each neuron activates and deactivates. Until now, it would have been technologically impossible to capture this “speed of life” with such clarity.
Some people wake early every morning to run, bike, swim, or lift. For others, finding the motivation to work out can be more of a challenge. A new study shows that the difference between the two may be held in the epigenetic control of the expression of certain genes. And, since epigenetic mechanisms are inherently more malleable than genetics, the findings suggest a potential way to help “program” people to enjoy being more physically active.
New understandings in neurobiology are emerging from experiments on Drosophila, raising hopes the tiny insect will aid insights into human cognition and dementia. In the last decade, technical achievements have allowed scientists to witness the fly brain in action: Drosophila offers a small brain alongside some of the most advanced genetic, anatomical, and physiological methods in neuroscience.

Calendar of Events

Business Fundamentals for Scientists
Speaker: Cheryl Y. Heusser and Barbara Murphy Kromer (SnyderCohn)
Title: "Accounting 101 for Startups"
Date: Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Location: Diamondback Garage, Suite B
More info
 
Neuropsych Workshop @ GW
Title: "Cultural Factors in Neuropsychiatric Disease: An Interdisciplinary Analysis"
Date: Friday, December 13, 2019
Time: 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Location: Cloyd Heck Marvin Center (800 21st St NW, Washington DC 20052)
More info
 
BIOE Seminar
Speaker: Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert (University of Texas at Austin)
Title: "Biomaterials for Drug Delivery and Cell Transplantation to Treat Nerve Injury"
Date: Friday, December 13, 2019
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: 2132 A. James Clark Hall
More info
 
Maryland Innovation and Technology Series: Neurotechnology
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Time: 8:00 a.m. – 12 noon
Location: NIH Building 45
More info
 
Business Fundamentals for Scientists
Speaker: Phil DeShong and Felicia Metz (University of Maryland)
Title: "Identifying and Managing Conflict of Interest at UMD"
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Location: Diamondback Garage, Suite B
More info

Funding Announcements

Please visit bbi.umd.edu/news/FOA for the complete list of open Funding Announcements.
 
*New!* The Simons Foundation invites applications to conduct Autism Research, particularly on questions that connect etiology to brain function and behavior. Multiple awards of up to $1.3 million each for a combined period of four years may be made. Applications due January 10, 2020.
 
The NIMH Instrumentation Program (RFA-MH-20-555) encourages applications from NIH funded investigators to purchase or upgrade a single commercially available instrument or a group of components to create an instrument that is not commercially available. Examples of instruments that might be submitted under this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) include light microscopes, electron microscopes, spectrophotometers, and biomedical imagers. Letters of intent due January 10, 2020. Applications due February 10, 2020.
 
The NIMH Research Career Enhancement Award program (RFA-MH-20-420) invites applications from experienced investigators seeking to redirect or expand their research programs through the acquisition of new skills and knowledge in the area of autism services research for adults and transition-age youth, which is beyond and   complementary to their current areas of expertise. Letters of intent due January 13, 2020. Applications due February 13, 2020.
 
*New!* The Spencer Foundation invites applications for its Education Research Grants to support broadly conceived education research projects that will contribute to the improvement of education. Multiple awards of up to $500,000 each may be made. Letters of intent are due January 14, 2020. Applications due February 7, 2020.
 
The NIMH (RFA-MH-20-400) encourages studies that develop and test the effectiveness of strategies for implementation and sustainable delivery of evidence-based mental health treatments and services to improve mental health outcomes for underserved populations in under-resourced settings in the United States. Letters of intent due January 24, 2020. Applications due February 24, 2020. This FOA is published in parallel to a companion R34 RFA-MH-20-401 below.
 
The NIMH (RFA-MH-20-401) supports pilot work for subsequent studies testing the effectiveness of strategies to deliver evidence-based mental health services, treatment interventions, and/or preventive interventions in low-resource mental health specialty and non-specialty settings within the United States. Letters of intent due January 24, 2020. Applications due February 24, 2020.
 
The NIMH (RFA-MH-20-345) seeks applications to test the feasibility and safety of treatment protocols for rapid-acting interventions that have the potential to reduce severe suicide risk. Letters of intent due January 26, 2020. Applications due February 26, 2020.
 
The NIMH (RFA-MH-21-100) seeks applications for the systematic fine-mapping of genome-wide significant risk loci associated with serious mental illnesses through robust statistical genetic and functional genomic approaches. Letters of intent due January 28, 2020. Applications due February 28, 2020.
 
The NIH Office of Strategic Coordination (RFA-RM-20-005) supports projects that apply new or existing tools to monitor and/or manipulate the 4D nucleome in the context of human health and disease. Any human disease or biological process relevant to NIH’s mission may be proposed including environmental exposures (e.g. addictive substances, toxins, psychosocial stress), or studies across development or lifespan. Letters of intent due February 2, 2020. Applications due March 2, 2020.
 
The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, and potentially transformative models for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate education training. The NRT program seeks proposals that explore ways for graduate students in research-based master’s and doctoral degree programs to develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to pursue a range of STEM careers. Applications due February 6, 2020.
 
The NIH Office of Strategic Coordination (RFA-RM-20-004) solicits applications for research projects to generate reference datasets and to create navigable maps for the study of the spatial and temporal organization of the nucleus, using genomic and imaging data as well as newly developed visualization and integrative analysis tools. Letters of intent due February 17, 2020. Applications due March 17, 2020.
 
*New!* The NSF seeks applications both for the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization, and for the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from among the most meritorious recent CAREER awardees. Applications due July 27, 2020.

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