February 10, 2020

UMD News

UMD received $1.16 million for an endowed professorship through a state program created to spur basic and applied research in scientific and technical fields at Maryland colleges and universities. The grant will partially match a $2 million private donation for its Clark Leadership Chair in Neuroscience.


Since its launch in 2013, the BRAIN Initiative has doled out about $1.3 billion in grants to develop tools that map and manipulate the brain. Until now, it has operated with no formal director. But last week, the NIH, which manages the initiative and is a key funder, announced that neurobiologist John Ngai (UC Berkeley), whose lab focuses on the neural underpinnings of the sense of smell, would take the helm starting in March. In this Q&A, Ngai discusses how the initiative is evolving and how he hopes to influence it.
Freezing of gait is a leading cause of falls for patients with Parkinson's disease. Now, a new device provides visual and auditory cues to help patients overcome freezing. Using the device allows people with Parkinson’s to retain their independence and mobility through being able to walk confidently and reduce the fear of freezing, which can enable a person with Parkinson’s to maintain independence and continue exercising. That exercise can also help slow the progression of the disease and improve day-to-day life.
New research has revealed specific types of neurons that control eating behavior. A team used genetic methods to classify and distinguish various types of neurons that are bundled together in the vagus nerve, the conduit connecting the brain with the stomach and intestines that plays a central role in how the body regulates feeding behaviors. The research has important implications for obesity and metabolic disorders, and possibly also for eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
In a landmark study that analyzed the DNA of more than 35,000 people from around the world, the international Autism Sequencing Consortium (ASC) identified variants in 102 genes associated with increased risk of developing ASD, up from 65 identified previously. Of the 102 genes, 60 had not been previously linked to ASD and 53 appeared to be primarily connected to ASD as opposed to other types of intellectual disability or developmental delay. The hope is that this growing list of genes will point the way to new and more precise ways of treating ASD in all its complexity.
While the early signs of Parkinson's and MSA are similar—disturbances in movement, tremors, impaired speech, etc.—each disease progresses differently and can require distinct a treatment plan. Moreover, both diseases are characterized by deposits of a protein known as alpha-synuclein (aSyn) in the nervous system, which can become corrupted and start to change shape in a process called misfolding. However, new technology can now detect misfolded aSyn aggregates as a way of developing a sensitive biochemical diagnosis specifically for Parkinson's.
In a swift rise to prominence, Jonathan Pruitt drew attention to the small field of behavioral ecology with eye-catching findings about contrasting personalities—meek and aggressive—in social spiders. But in just 2 weeks, the field has turned on its young star. What began with questions about data in one paper has flared into a scandal, with dozens of papers based on his data on spiders and other animals being scrutinized by scores of co-authors. The furor has even earned a Twitter hashtag—#PruittData—where former collaborators and others are discussing how to analyze his results and debating the implications for their field.
The movie of fruit flies seen here may help explain the ancient origins of the “startle response” and other biomechanical aspects of motion. The video shows a footrace between two flies: one zips along at about 25 millimeters per second, while the second clocks in at a mere 15 millimeters per second. What is causing the delay of the second fly is the rapid release of serotonin into its nervous system, which models a startle response. Scientists suspect the release of serotonin activates motor neurons much like an emergency brake, stiffening and locking up the fly’s leg joints.
You might mistake jewel wings for their colorful cousins, dragonflies. However, new research shows that these two predators share something more profound than their appearance. A team of researchers revealed that the neural systems behind jewel wings’ vision are shared with dragonflies, with whom they have a common ancestor that lived before the dinosaurs. But over the eons, this brain wiring has adapted itself in different ways in each creature, enabling radically different hunting strategies.
Insufficient myelination, likely caused by a lack of mature oligodendrocytes (OL), is linked to autism spectrum disorder, according to a study in mice and postmortem human brains. Myelin, the fatty substance that sheaths and insulates the axons of neurons, is responsible for aiding the quick delivery of signals throughout the brain. Too little myelin leaves the cells vulnerable to damage (as with multiple sclerosis), while too much can muddle the message. OL are the cells that control myelination.
Already half of US adults use intelligent virtual assistants. Moreover, many of the makers of intelligent virtual assistants are poised to roll out health care advice, including personalized wellness strategies. But do intelligent virtual assistants provide actionable health support now? Among 70 different help-seeking queries, the assistants returned actionable responses only four times, with the most common response being confusion. The research team notes there is evidence of capacity among the makers of intelligent virtual assistants to build in resources quickly.
This Washington Post feature follows the Dumsch family as they struggle to find a livable situation for a family member diagnosed with schizophrenia. Scientists don’t know exactly what causes schizophrenia.  While some of the risk has to do with genetics, most people with schizophrenia don’t have a first-degree relative with the illness. Environmental factors—such as stress, trauma, and maternal malnutrition—can play a role. Evidence also shows that heavy marijuana use is a factor, especially among young people with a history of family psychosis, though this connection is controversial.
The scientific peer review process benefits greatly when the study section reviewers bring not only strong scientific qualifications and expertise, but also a broad range of backgrounds and varying scientific perspectives. Bringing new viewpoints into the process replenishes and refreshes the study section, enhancing the quality of its output. In this story, Noni Byrnes, the Director of NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR), provides data about scientific review committees and outlines the CSR's efforts to broaden its diversity of expert perspectives.

This Week's Events

HESP Seminar
Speaker: Yasmeen Faroqi Shah (University of Maryland)
Title: "The interaction between processing speed, cognitive control and word retrieval"
Date: Monday, February 10, 2020
Time: 12 noon
Location: 2208 LeFrak Hall
More info

Developmental Science Colloquium
Speaker: Peter Steiner (University of Maryland)
Title: "Ways Out of the Replication Crisis"
Date: Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Location: 1107 Benjamin Building
More info

NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series
Speaker: Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard University)
Title: "A Myth of Convenience: The Law Lag and Scientific Progress"
Date: Thursday, February 13, 2020
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Location: NIMH Neuroscience Center (6001 Executive Blvd, Bethesda, MD)
More info

Upcoming Workshops

Wednesday, February 19, 2020, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m., 1105 KEB
This workshop will show researchers and administrators alike how to use NIH RePORTER as a tool to find POs, study sections, who applied to what FOA, and comparative costs. After the workshop, you will be able to return to your desk and use this tool immediately.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 8:45 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., 1105 KEB
Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about new advances in Imaging Flowcytometery techniques and instruments. Users may also bring samples for one-on-one sessions during the afternoon demo held in the UMD BioWorkshop on the ImageStream X-Mark II.
Thursday, February 27, 2020, 9:00 a.m., Webinar online at TN
Impaired gamma rhythms have been associated with Alzheimer's disease, but do they play a causal role? New evidence from Li-Huei Tsai (MIT) shows that non-invasive sensory stimulation using 40 Hz rhythm power and synchrony reduces AD-like pathology.
Friday, February 28, 2020, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., 1312 SPH
Ten outstanding speakers from different application areas of big data analytics including social media, genomics and bioinformatics, health care, imaging and neuroscience, talk about their research using big data and its connection with public health data science.
Friday, February 28, 2020, 11:59 p.m., Google form submission
Mixed/Augmented/Virtual Reality Innovation Center seeks presentations related to MR/AR/VR from completed and in-progress projects with metrics that demonstrate effectiveness, efficiency, and/or impact.
Friday, March 20, 2020, 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Building 35A
The NIH Bioengineering Festival will highlight the importance and the opportunities in bioengineering in the NIH intramural research program, and seek to strengthen the interactions among bioengineers, basic scientists, and clinicians on NIH campuses.

Funding Announcements

**Below is a list of recent funding announcements; a running compendium of open FOAs can be found at**
*New!* The NIH has issued Guidance on Salary Limitation for Grants and Cooperative Agreements FY 2020 (NOT-OD-20-065) that restricts the amount of direct salary to Executive Level II of the Federal Executive pay scale. Notice effective January 5, 2020.
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. Estimated opening date March 2, 2020.
*New!* The NIMH invites R25 applications to its Short Courses for Mental Health Related Research program (PAR-20-096) supporting educational activities that complement and/or enhance the training of a workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical, behavioral and clinical research needs. Applications due May 26, 2020.
*New!* The NIGMS encourages grant applications for national Biomedical Technology Development and Dissemination (BTDD) Centers (PAR-20-104). The BTDD program supports the development of technologies once their feasibility has been established and the dissemination of these technologies to the wider biomedical research community. Applications due May 26, 2020.
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.
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.
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.
*New!* The NIA invites U24 applications to its Resource Networks for Protein Polymorphisms in Alzheimer’s Disease and its Related Dementias (AD/ADRD) program (RFA-AG-21-012) to standardize and distribute seed, oligomers, and fibrils to other investigators in order to clarify and improve the reproducibility of experiments in AD/ADRD. Applications due June 17, 2020.

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