In this edition of Research Connections, find links to researchers in the news, updates on important deadlines, and more news for University of Rochester researchers. Email not displaying correctly?
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Images of research

This image from the lab of Patricia White, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy, shows a cross section of a young mouse's cochlea -- the fluid-filled, inner ear structure that contains the receptor organ for hearing. Sensory hair cells are shown in pink and supporting cells in green. The sensory hair cells translate the fluid vibration of sounds into electrical impulses that are carried to the brain by sensory nerves. Age-related and noise-induced loss of hair cells in the cochlea of our inner ear is a major cause of hearing loss. So why can't mammals replace these cells as other vertebrates do? Why do surrounding supporting cells simply expand to create a scar that is insensitive to sound vibrations? White's lab is investigating those questions, especially in light of the fact that purified immature mammalian supporting cells can divide and differentiate into new sensory hair cells under certain conditions in culture. Moreover, even mature mammalian supporting cells can differentiate into sensory hair cells, when inducted with certain genes. In rare instances, hearing loss can occur even when hair cells remain intact, due to impaired transmission by cochlear synapses. This is called auditory neuropathy. In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, White and colleagues linked this condition in mice to a lack of transcription factor Foxo3.

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An exploration of music's relationship to nature

Holly Watkins, Associate Professor of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music, is recipient of a 2014-2015 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship to support work on her new book, Echoes of the Nonhuman: Organicism, Biology, and Musical Aesthetics from the Enlightenment to the Present.

One of only 65 scholars from more than 1,000 applicants to receive the competitive grant, Watkins will be on leave next year to continue her research and writing on the project. Her book explores why 19th-century writers on music tended to compare music to the growth of plants or to other aspects of the nonhuman world, and examines the cultural and scientific contexts of such comparisons. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, for example, connected the voices of four-part harmony -- soprano, alto, tenor, and bass -- to the human, vegetal, animal, and mineral kingdoms, while musician and writer E.T.A. Hoffman compared the structure of a Beethoven symphony to that of a tree.

Watkins will also approach her subject from the viewpoint of biomusicology, which studies the biological aspects of musical production and the physical and emotional experience of music in humans. Biomusicology is also concerned with animal sound production and with the meanings and purposes shared by human and animal uses of sound.

"Through this research, I hope to transform the 19th-century preoccupation with music's relationship to nature into a new source of inspiration in the modern era, which is profoundly marked by ecological crisis," said Watkins.

NSF launches website for BRAIN Initiative

On the first anniversary of the announcement of President Obama's BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a new online portal that allows visitors to find NSF brain-related information in one place. The Understanding the Brain Portal will be a centralized source for the latest funding for brain related research, event announcements and federal resources that support neuroscience research.

Environmental Health Sciences Center Pilot Program

The Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) has funds to support a limited number of meritorious Pilot Projects. The focus of the pilot project should be relevant to "Environmental Agents as Modulators of Human Disease and Dysfunction," with special emphasis on proposals addressing how the environment modifies stem cell function, affects early life origins of adult diseases, and disrupts host/pathogen interactions. Applicants may request a maximum of $30,000 for the duration of one year and must hold a tenure-track position. Initial applications are due on May 5. Click here to learn more.

Guidelines to minimize cross-contamination in labs

While chemicals, biologics, and radiation are the major areas of concern in lab safety, there are other potential health risks, such as cross-contamination. Cross-contamination happens when an unintentional transfer of microorganisms, chemical contaminants, or any other foreign substance is spread from one object or person to another. Carolyn Pokora, Laboratory Safety Technician, offers guidelines to minimize cross-contamination in laboratories.

Consent quandaries: Community participatory research must be a partnership

(Last in a series of postings examining ethical dilemmas in obtaining informed consent from human research subjects, explored at the recent 2014 CTSI symposium "Ethics in Research: Consent Quandaries.")

During one of the HIV prevention network trials (HPTN) that Cindi Lewis cited during her talk, persistent rumors surfaced in the community that blood samples taken from people participating in the study were "being sold to Satanists" and that the money was "going to be used to buy the vehicles that the researchers were using."

Ludicrous? Of course. "But people really thought blood money was somehow involved and they were superstitious about it and were not going to participate," said Lewis, a UR Ph.D. student in translational biomedical sciences. Her dissertation topic is how to make the informed consent process more accessible and understandable, especially in minority or disadvantaged communities where research is poorly understood and researchers themselves are often mistrusted.

The consent process can be improved -- and rumors like "blood money" can be quickly addressed -- if researchers approach community participatory research as a true partnership with the community, she noted.

Elements of that partnership include identifying areas of shared interest, building trust, and getting the support of key "gateholders" who are not only respected but have their finger on the pulse of the community.

Those gatekeepers, for example, can help a research team determine:

1. The kind of basic information -- so basic it might never have occurred to researchers -- that research participants need in order to be fully informed.

2. Whether members of the research team or members of the community would be best suited to obtain consent.

3. Cultural nuances that should be respected in the way staff members interact with research subjects while obtaining consent -- and throughout the trial.

4. Whether consent should be obtained at the trial site, or in the subject's home to avoid possible stigma associated with participating in the project.

5. What type of decision is needed for consent. In some cultures, "an individual's consent might not be enough. You might need the consent of an elder or family member," Lewis noted.

6. How to provide an adequate incentive to participate, without being coercive. "When you're working with a vulnerable population, with people of low socio-economic status, or intravenous drug users, offering a certain amount of money is actually quite coercive," Lewis noted, "because they will feel compelled to participate in your trial because they need the resources that you're offering." It may be necessary to come up with a different incentive.

"People like to think the informed consent process is a fixed point in time, that you bring people in to give their consent, and the trial just goes on from there," Lewis added. "That's not really how it is. It's a dynamic process, and it happens in a cyclic manner. You need to assess an individual's understanding of the project they're involved in all the way through.

"If a trial goes on for two years, and yet six months down the road I ask a participant to tell me about the trial and that participant knows nothing, can we really say that this person is informed, that informed consent is still being ethically upheld?"

Congratulations to . . .

Thomas Christensen, a doctoral student in counseling and counselor education at the Warner School, who has been presented with a competitive research grant award for his studies on adult development and healthy aging. The award from the Association for Adult Development and Aging (AADA) Research Grant Program will provide financial support while Christensen continues to research and write his dissertation on older adults, one of the most marginalized populations today.

Alex Iacchetta, a Ph.D. student working with James Fienup, the Robert E. Hopkins Professor of Optics. Iaccetta has received a 2014 NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship for his proposal, "Astro-Interferometric Modeling and Spatio-Spectral Reconstruction," in concert with activities at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

UR research in the news

Researchers at the School of Medicine and Dentistry were awarded approximately $3 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health to continue the work being performed by the New York Influenza Center of Excellence (NYICE).

A preliminary study by researchers from the School of Medicine and Dentistry and the School of Nursing delves more deeply into the relationship between depression and memory loss, and how the connection may depend on levels of insulin-like growth factor.

Doing fewer blood transfusions reduces infection rates by nearly 20 percent, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association co-authored by Neil Blumberg, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Dissertation defense

Xiao Zhang, Statistics, "Hypothesis Testing Problems Involving Order Restricted Parameters," 9:30 a.m., April 24, Hylan 1106A. Advisors: Michael P. McDermott and Govind S. Mudholkar.

Mark your calendar

Today: HIV/STD Mini-Residency Program for Clinicians, a free training seminar, will provide clinicians with experience in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). The program will include a four-hour seminar in the morning followed by a four-hour period of clinical observation that will be completed at the participant's convenience. Contact Tom Della Porta or call (585) 275-7655.

Today: A Center for Integrated Research Computing (CIRC) symposium, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Adolph Lower Auditorium (URMC 1-7619). Juilee Thakar, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Biostatistics and Computational Biology , will demonstrate the use of Boolean networks in immunology and discuss their computational complexity. Brendan Mort, Director of the Center for Integrated Research Computing, will give a summary of the capabilities of the new BlueHive 2 computing cluster, an update on the timeline of its deployment, and its capabilities for research. Pizza and soda will be served during the event.

April 25: Conversation & Book Signing with Joanne Larson, the Michael W. Scandling Professor of Education at the Warner School, author of Radical Equality in Education: Starting Over in U.S. Schooling, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Writers & Books, 740 University Ave. Free and open to the public. (Checks are requested for book purchases.)

April 25: International experts in infectious diseases and vaccine development gather to honor their colleague and collaborator, Caroline Breese Hall. Join the Department of Pediatrics for a Festschrift involving a full day of scientific talks and discussions. See Schedule of Events.

April 28: WiSTEE Connect, an organization connecting women in science, technology, engineering and entrepreneurship, will present its vision and progress, followed by a roundtable discussion and networking session, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Vignelli Center at RIT. Click here to RSVP by Wednesday; contact Jie Qiao, WiSTEE Connect Chairperson and Associate Professor of Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, with questions or call (585) 475-6221.

May 1: Deadlline to apply to the Institute for Innovative Education for grants of up to $5,000 each to support interprofessional research projects that examine how electronic health records can be used to improve access to information and foster and improve humanistic patient interactions. Click here for complete details.

May 1-2: 2014 Forum on Science and Technology Policy. The annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy is a conference for people interested in public policy issues facing the science, engineering, and higher education communities. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC. Learn more.

May 2: Paul Tymann, Program Director in NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education, will deliver a workshop on the NSF proposal review process from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Louise Slaughter Hall at RIT. This is also an opportunity to improve your proposal writing. RSVP by email to Kathy Fay (cc to Cindy Gary) or call (585) 475-7983.

May 7: Seminar on Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium (CPTAC) and other NCI initiatives such as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) to comprehensively characterize tumors, featuring talk by Henry Rodriguez, Director, Office of Cancer Clinical Proteomics Research, National Cancer Institute (NCI). 10-11 a.m., URMC 2-6408 (K-207). Co-hosted by Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the CTSI.

May 9: The Center for Integrated Research Computing 4th Annual Poster Session, 10 a.m. to noon in the Flaum Atrium. Attendees discover the wide range of research that is enabled by computation. This event provides an informal venue to share computational techniques and methodologies with colleagues from a wide variety of disciplines. Click here for more information, and to submit your poster.

May 16: Scientific Session on Neuroscience Research including keynote presentations by Jonathan Wolpaw, Research Physician at the Wadsworth Center of Neural Injury & Repair and Gerv Schalk, Research Scientist at the Wadsworth Center for Neural Injury & Repair. Hosted by UNYTE Translational Research Network. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., LeChase Assembly Hall, G-9576. Click here for details.

June 5: Study Coordinators Organization for Research and Education (SCORE) Annual Seminar, focusing on Health Research Management for the Human Subject Research Coordinator. 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Helen Wood Hall (1w-304). Additional details and registration information to come.

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Copyright 2013, All rights reserved.
Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter for all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.