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Deciphering the biological roles of RNA modification enzymes linked to Intellectual Disability disorders. Shown here is a tRNA molecule and a tRNA modification enzyme. The Fu Lab wishes to discover the cellular pathways linked to tRNA modification enzymes. Image of the brain:

Furth winner focuses on RNA-modifying enzymes in neurological disorders

Intellectual disability (once referred to as mental retardation) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired intellectual functioning and limitations in adaptive behavior during everyday life.

Dragony Fu, Assistant Professor of Biology, hopes to discover the molecular and cellular mechanisms that appear to underlie certain ID disorders.

His lab focuses on the role that enzymes play in modifying RNA, including transfer RNA (tRNA). These modifications are necessary for the stability and biological function of tRNA. DNA sequencing has shown that certain individuals with ID and other neurological disorders have alterations in the genes for RNA modification enzymes.

But at that point the trail starts to turn cold. To what extent do the resulting changes in RNA modifying enzymes contribute to ID? And if so, which biological pathways are involved?

"That is the link between our research and potentially understanding these neurological disorders," Fu said. "Recent studies have revealed apparently causative variants in candidate genes for intellectual disability. What's happening in between? We do not know, and we're trying to answer what's happening in this black box."

With support from a recent University Furth Fund award, Fu's goal is to focus on several RNA-modifying enzymes that have been linked to neurological disorders. Fu's lab will create human cells in culture that lack these RNA modifying enzymes — mimicking the molecular conditions in ID patients — then compare them to cells containing the enzyme.

"What if an important cellular or developmental pathway is dependent on RNA modification? If we have an understanding of the proteins that are affected by these genetic changes, one could potentially develop early interventions to help individuals at risk for neurological disorders," Fu noted.

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University among first to receive NSF traineeship award

Henry Kautz, the Robin and Tim Wentworth Director of the Goergen Institute for Data Science and Professor of Computer Science, along with co-PI's Ehsan Hoque, Assistant Professor of Computer Science; Greg DeAngelis, Chair of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; and Robert Jacobs, Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences -- has secured one of the eight inaugural National Research Traineeship Awards from NSF to "energize and advance cutting-edge research in high priority areas" and improve the way graduate programs produce STEM professionals across multiple disciplines.

The University's project, awarded $2.9 million for five years, will help train doctoral students to harness the power of data science to advance our understanding of the neural foundations of human behavior, and apply it in industrial and academic settings. Nine faculty members in BCS and Computer Science will be involved. Read more . . .

Patent issued for tool developed here to track risk of heart attack

The patent covers outcome event mapping or OEM, a novel graphical data map that charts the levels of two well-established biomarkers for heart health — HDL cholesterol (the "good cholesterol") and C-reactive protein (for inflammation), reports the Research@URMC blog.

OEM paints a picture of peaks and valleys that correspond to high- and low-risk patient subgroups. The contours in the data map allow classification of individuals. In addition, the method can be extended to accommodate genetic data such as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

By identifying small subgroups of patients and determining what puts them at high risk, doctors can better deliver personalized medicine.

The inventors are Profs. James P. Corsetti, Charles E. Sparks, and Daniel Ryan of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Arthur J. Moss, Professor of Medicine (Cardiology Heart Research).

Prizes will be given at local Falling Walls conference

Three minutes is all it takes to earn an expenses paid trip to Berlin this November to present your research on a world stage.

Any University grad student, post-doc, scientist or faculty member who is 35 years or younger can sign up by April 26 for a May 19 conference to select a UR representative to the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin in November. Local prizes will be awarded — $200 for third place, $300 for second place, and $500 for the winner, who will also be awarded an expenses paid trip to Berlin, where researchers from around the world share their ground-breaking ideas.

The UR conference, like the finals in Berlin, consists of a series of rapid-fire presentations. Each presenter will have just three minutes and three slides — one slide with his or her name and presentation title followed by two content slides — to convey any number of major themes and ideas.

This is an opportunity to share some of the best and most creative ideas coming out of the University and the Rochester region, in addition to having an opportunity to network with distinguished leaders in academia and industry who will make up the judges panel. Click here to apply by April 26, and here to learn more about the Falling Walls Conference and its origins. Questions? Contact

Chinese University of Hong Kong welcomes PhD students for research projects

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, a University of Rochester partner and fellow member of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), is accepting PhD student applications for its 2015-2016 Global Scholarship Programme for Research Excellence.

The program supports overseas PhD students who undertake short-term research attachments of at least a month at CUHK (under a host supervisor). Free on-campus accommodation will be provided.

The application deadline is April 24 for visits taking place between Aug. 1, 2015 and July 31, 2016. Visiting PhD students should submit their applications via the CUHK Host Department, so they should file as soon as possible. Click here for further details.

Neuroscience retreat features keynote on Parkinson's Disease

Today's all-day retreat for University students, postdocs, faculty, and staff who share an interest in neuroscience features keynote speaker Valina Dawson, Johns Hopkins Institute, presenting "PARsing Cell Death in Parkinson's disease."

Click here for more details of the program, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Memorial Art Gallery auditorium.

CTSI seeks your input at town hall meeting

Save the date for the Clinical and Translational Science Institute town hall meeting on Thursday, May 7, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Evarts Lounge in Helen Wood Hall. CTSI Directors Nana Bennett, Karl Kieburtz and Martin Zand will provide a few brief updates, but the main event will be to hear from you.

What is the best thing about the CTSI?
What would you miss the most if the CTSI vanished?
What else could the CTSI do to accelerate your research?

Lunch will be served.

Introducing a new faculty member

Sara Kerns has joined the Department of Radiation Oncology as a research assistant professor. Her research focus is in "Radiogenomics," the study of genetic factors associated with increased risk of developing late effects from radiotherapy used to treat cancer. The long term goal is to develop a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based signature that can identify individual cancer patients who are at high risk of developing these effects, then develop risk models that could be used to personalize radiotherapy. Kerns earned her PhD in Cancer Biology from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in 2007 and most recently was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

Congratulations to . . .

Michael Neidig, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, who has been recognized as a "rising star" by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Neidig is one of 126 U.S. and Canadian recipients of Sloan Research Fellowships for 2015. Neidig, who is also recipient of a 2015 NSF Faculty Early Career Development award, is working to better understand carbon-carbon bond-forming reactions, as well as catalysis in which carbon-hydrogen bonds are broken and other molecules replace the hydrogen atoms. One objective of Neidig's work is to develop ways to replace expensive and toxic precious metals as a catalyst in the making of pharmaceuticals. "Scientists have already shown that iron can be an excellent catalyst in these reactions," said Neidig. "But we still lack a detailed molecular-level understanding of how these reactions work with iron, which is a significant challenge in moving this field forward."

David Auerbach, a trainee at the Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute, who won the Clinical Science Young Investigator Award — Cardiovascular Section from the American Physiological Society, which recognizes an outstanding junior investigator involved in cardiovascular research. Auerbach, who also works in the lab of Robert Dirksen, Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology, received the award for his research on Long QT Syndrome, a rare, inherited disorder that makes the heart particularly susceptible to arrhythmias. He is studying the prevalence of seizures in patients with Long QT and how this affects heart function. Read more . . .

PhD dissertation defenses

Randy Sabatini, Chemistry, "Excited State Processes, Molecular Interactions, and Electron Transfer in Systems for the Photochemical Production of Hydrogen." 2 p.m., Tuesday, April 21, 2015, 473 Hutchison Hall. Advisor: Richard Eisenberg.

Chenggong Wang, Physics, "Interface Studies of Organic/Transition Metal Oxide with Organic Semiconductors and the Interfaces in The Perovskite Solar Cell." 2 p.m., April 30, 2015, Bausch and Lomb 372. Advisor: Yongli Gao.

Lan Qing, Physics, "Spin Transport in Semiconductors Manipulated by Extrinsic Factors." 1:30 p.m., May 1, 2015, Bausch and Lomb 372. Advisor: Hanan Dery.

Michael Baranello, Chemical Engineering, "Functionalized Poly (styrene-alt maleic anhydride)-b-poly(styrene) Micelles for Targeted Delivery of Parthenolide to Leukemia Cells." Noon, May 11, 2015, Goergen Hall 101. Advisor: Danielle Benoit.

Mark your calendar

Today: All-day retreat for students, postdocs, faculty, and staff from across the University who share an interest in neuroscience, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Memorial Art Gallery auditorium. Click here for program.

Today: "RNA and the New Genetics: From Bench to Therapeutics," the 17th Annual Marvin J. Hoffman Lecture by Lynne E. Maquat, Director of the Center for RNA Biology. Noon-1 p.m., Class of 1962 Auditorium. Complimentary boxed lunch provided. RSVP by April 8 to (585) 273-5937 or

Today: "Incorporating Uncertainty in the Estimation of Gene Regulatory Networks," by Matthew McCall, Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, and "Self-Training for Syntactic Parsing," by Adam Purtee, Department of Computer Science. Center for Intergrated Research Computing Symposium. 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., URMC 2-6408 (K-207 Auditorium).

April 20: "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2°C Global Warming is Dangerous," presented by James Hansen, Earth Institute at Columbia University. Center for Earth and Envivonment seminar series. 4-5 p.m., Lander Auditorium, Hutchison Hall. Reception to follow.

April 20: Deadline to apply to Cohort I of the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Site program, which provides entrepreneurial training and grants of $1,000 to $3,000 to enable teams to transition their technical ideas into the marketplace. Send to

April 20: AS&E workshop on applying for the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. 9 to 11 a.m., Gamble Room of Rush Rhees Library. For additional information please contact assistant deans Debra Haring or Cindy Gary.

April 20: Initial applications due for Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) Pilot Projects. Click here for more information.

April 26: Deadline to apply for Falling Walls Lab competition, to be held May 19 at Sloan Auditorium. Any grad student, post-doc, scientist or early career faculty member, born on or after Nov. 8, 1980, is eligible. Apply here. Questions? Contact

April 29: "Copyrights and Commercialization: Patient Outcome Measure Development," presented by Chad Heatwole and Scott Catlin as part of the Good Advice: Case Studies in Clinical Research, Regulation, and the Law series. Noon to 1 p.m., Helen Wood Hall Auditorium (1w-304).

May 1: Deadline for pre-proposals for University Technology Development Fund. Click here for more details about applying.

May 5: Fulbright Faculty Workshop with Peter VanDerwater, Director of Outreach for the Fulbright Scholar Program, 3-5:30 p.m., The Meliora, Frederick Douglass Building. Includes panel of University Fulbright alumni. To reserve a space, email

May 7: Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) town hall meeting noon to 1 p.m. in the Evarts Lounge in Helen Wood Hall. Brief updates from directors, then opportunity to give input, including other things CTSI could do to accelerate your research.

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections, an index of people and departments linked to those issues, and a chronological listing of PhD dissertation defenses since April 2014, by discipline.

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.