February 3, 2020

UMD News

Assistant Professor Ming Hu (MAPP) and Associate Professor Ed Bernat (PSYC) are featured in the Winter 2020 edition of the Society for Women Engineers magazine for their BBI Seed Grant-funded collaboration examining the neuroscience of sustainable architecture. Along with Professor Madlen Simon (MAPP), they are developing technology-enabled, repeatable measures for assessing the human brain’s responses to pre-build design features of green buildings.

While there was no shortage of great neuroscience courses already on the UMD campus, undergraduates who wanted to sign up for them sometimes had to wait years. Beginning June 2020, current freshmen and sophomores can apply to the major as internal transfers, and some of them will be UMD’s first neuroscience graduates in Spring 2022.

Mark Your Calendars – BBI Spring Schedule

Speaker: Beth Brittan-Powell (University of Maryland)
Title: "Investigating NIH RePORTER"
Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Location: 1105 Kim Engineering Building

Info Session: Wednesday, February 19, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.
Letter of Intent: Monday, March 2, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.
Full Proposal: Monday, March 30, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.

Please see this year's Frequently Asked Questions or direct your queries to

Speaker: Nenad Sestan (Yale University)
Title: TBA
Date: Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Time: 9:30 a.m.
Location: 2204 Edward St. John Center


People who develop Parkinson’s disease before age 50 may have been born with disordered brain cells that went undetected for decades. Researchers generated pluripotent stem cells from cells of patients with young-onset Parkinson’s disease, from which they were able to produce dopamine neurons from each patient and subsequently analyze the neurons' functions. This technique gave researchers a window back in time to see how well the dopamine neurons might have functioned from the start of a patient’s life.
Researchers have discovered a unique pattern of DNA damage that arises in brain cells derived from individuals with a macrocephalic form of autism spectrum disorder. The observations help explain what might go awry in the brain during cell division and development to cause the disorder. Although most DNA damage is repaired through a remarkably efficient repair process, errors occur when the rate of division is altered genetically or environmentally, which can lead to long-term functional defects.
Scientists have created a biodegradable nerve guide consisting of a polymer tube filled with a growth-promoting protein, glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). GDNF is a protein that is naturally found in the body and that is upregulated immediately following a peripheral nerve injury in order to start the nerve regeneration process. The results in nonhuman primate studies are promising: whereas empty nerve guides demonstrated little recovery, the nerve guide containing GDNF was comparable to the standard of care, the autograft.
Cerebral edema, or swelling that occurs in the brain, is a severe and potentially fatal complication of stroke. Now, new research conducted in mice shows for the first time that the glymphatic system, normally associated with the beneficial task of waste removal, goes awry during a stroke and floods the brain, triggering edema and drowning brain cells. The findings, which appear in Science, suggest potential new treatment strategies in combination with existing therapies focused on restoring blood flow to the brain quickly after a stroke.
Since the rise of optogenetics, various types of optical stimulators have been proposed and realized, including wired and wireless, single-site and multi-site, and with and without integration of other measurement or stimulation modalities. In pursuing devices that enable freely moving optogenetic experiments, scientists have pursued very small, lightweight, implantable devices. But how should these be powered? Here researchers argue for the superiority of photovoltaic over electromagnetic powering.
Drug overdoses continue to take far too many lives, driven primarily by the opioid crisis, and new findings serve as a further wake-up call that young people battling opioid addiction need a lot more assistance. In a study of more than 3,600 individuals, aged 13-22, who survived an opioid overdose, researchers found that only about one-third received any kind of follow-up addiction treatment. Even more troubling, less than 2 percent of these young people received the gold standard approach of medication treatment.
The ability of the nervous system to sense cellular stress and coordinate protein homeostasis is essential for organismal health. Unfortunately, stress responses that mitigate disturbances in proteostasis, such as the unfolded protein response of the endoplasmic reticulum (UPRER), become defunct with age. In this paper, researchers express the constitutively active UPRER transcription factor, in a subset of astrocyte-like glia, which extended the life span in Caenorhabditis elegans. They find that astrocyte-like glial cells play a role in regulating organismal ER stress resistance and longevity.
While the NIH Human Connectome Project is working to develop a complete map of the connectivity network among neurons in the human brain, smaller initiatives have also been popping up—for example, the recent unveiling of the complete mapping of a worm's neuronal pathways. Now we can add to this list of smaller, more manageable projects last week's release of an almost-complete connectome of the fruit-fly brain. This IEEE blog post shows you a video rendering of the fruit-fly brain and allows a peek into some of its 25,000 neurons and 20 million synapses.
Part of the brain’s allure for scientists is that it is arguably the core of who we are and what makes us human. But this fact also renders a large share of imaginable experiments on it monstrous. Enter tissue organoids: tiny blobs grown from human stem cells that self-organize into brainlike structures with electrically active neurons. However, as organoids become increasingly similar to human brains, ethicists and biologists face questions about a possible future in which organoids might feel pain or even become conscious. Researchers are now embarking on studies to illuminate the differences between organoids and real brains.
The history of AI is inextricably intertwined with the history of neuroscience, yet in spite of their intimate link, ethical reflections on these disciplines have developed quite independently of each other. Now, several ethically-sensitive developments are occurring at the interface of neuroscience and AI: the testing of AI algorithms in clinical neuroscience research for predictive and diagnostic purposes, the attempt to use AI models to create virtual simulations or functional representations of brain activity, and the weaponization of AI, particularly in military research.
The NIH is hoping universities will use a controversial—and largely untested—method of hiring junior faculty members to improve the diversity of the U.S. biomedical research workforce. Last week, a top-level advisory group gave NIH officials the green light to launch a $241 million initiative called Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST). The money, over 9 years, would go to help each of roughly a dozen universities and medical schools support a cluster of 10 or more newly hired young faculty members. 
The Scientist Speaks is a new monthly podcast by and for scientists that will bring you the stories behind news-worthy molecular biology research. In this month’s episode, The Scientist Speaks explores the neural mechanisms behind birdsong and what they tell us about human vocal learning and speech deficits in diseases such as autism spectrum disorder. The host interviews Stephanie White, a professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, to learn more.

Calendar of Events

Developmental Science Colloquium
Speaker: Lana Karasik (City University of New York)
Title: "Cultural Influences on Infant Motor Development"
Date: Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Location: 1107 Benjamin Building
More info

Cognitive Science Colloquium
Speaker: Edward Vogel (University of Chicago)
Title: "The impact of distraction on working memory"
Date: Thursday, February 6, 2020
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: 1103 Bioscience Research Building
More info

NACS Seminar
Speaker: David Leopold (National Institute of Mental Health)
Title: "What’s in a Face Patch? The good, the bad, and the ugly"
Date: Friday, February 7, 2020
Time: 10:15 a.m.
Location: 1103 Bioscience Research Building
More info

Funding Announcements

**Below is a list of recent funding announcements; a running compendium of open FOAs can be found at**
The purpose of this Notice (NOT-OD-20-058) is to inform the research community of the NIH requirement to adhere to the Revised Common Rule to use a single IRB for NIH-supported multi-site studies conducting research at more than one domestic site. Effective January 20, 2020.
*New!* The NIBIB intends to publish a Prize Competition Announcement (NOT-EB-20-001) to solicit entries for the NIH Technology Accelerator Challenge: Non-invasive Diagnostic Technologies for Global Health. The NIH is supporting the bioengineering competition to spur the design and development of non-invasive, handheld, digital diagnostic devices that will target anemia, sickle cell disease, malaria, and other blood-related diseases. Release date January 31, 2020.
The New York Stem Cell Foundation invites applications from early career investigators to its Neuroscience Investigator Awards supporting bold and innovative scientists with the potential to transform the field of neuroscience. Applications due February 19, 2020.
The NIH HEAL Initiative (RFA-AT-20-004) encourages UG3/UH3 phased cooperative research applications to conduct efficient, large-scale pragmatic or implementation trials to improve pain management and reduce the unnecessary use of opioid medications. Awards made under this FOA will initially support a one-year, milestone-driven, planning phase (UG3), with possible transition to an implementation phase (UH3) of up to 4 years duration (5 years total for the two phases). Letters of Intent due February 29, 2020. Applications due March 30, 2020.
The American Psychological Association's Esther Katz Rosen Fund seeks proposals to support activities related to the advancement and application of knowledge about gifted children. Applications due March 1, 2020.
The Massage Therapy Foundation invites applications for its Research Support Grants funding high-quality, independent research that investigates massage therapy as a wellness, medical, or mental health treatment and/or prevention intervention. Applications due March 2, 2020.
*New!* The NIMH seeks R25 proposals to support creative educational activities with a primary focus on mentoring activities, and in particular, mentoring networks (PAR-20-080). All proposed networks should provide significant new opportunities, and should comprise efforts substantially beyond any ongoing mentoring, networking, or research education within academic programs, institutions, or pre-existing networks; or educational collaborations among institutions. Applications due May 26, 2020.
*New!* The NIMH encourages applications for Silvio O. Conte Centers for Basic Neuroscience or Translational Mental Health Research (PAR-20-093). The Conte Centers program is intended to support interdisciplinary basic neuroscience or translational research that demonstrates an extraordinary level of synergy, integration, and potential for advancing the state of the field. Applications due May 27, 2020.
*New!* A new NSF proposal guide (PAPPG [NSF 20-1]) effective for proposals submitted or due, and awards made, on or after June 1, 2020. Significant changes include: (1) NSF will require use of an NSF-approved format in submission of the biographical sketch and current and pending support documents; (2) New requirement for providing e-mail documentation of Program Officer approval for the submission of RAPID and EAGER proposals; and (3) Clarifications to current and pending support coverage as well as other changes throughout the document.
The NIH issues Notice NOT-MH-20-030 to extend RFA-MH-20-310, BRAIN Initiative: Non-Invasive Neuromodulation - New Tools and Techniques for Spatiotemporal Precision (R01 Clinical Trial Optional), which solicits grant applications in two related but distinct areas: the development and testing of novel tools and methods of neuromodulation that go beyond the existing forms of neural stimulation, and the optimization of existing stimulation methods. Applications due February 14, 2020 and October 15, 2020.

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