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.
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David Topham, shown taking U.S. Sen. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on a tour of his lab in 2012, is leader or co-leader of three major projects at the University of Rochester.

'Surround yourself with good people, then let them do their thing'

(This is part of a series identifying faculty leaders who have assembled teams to pursue large research awards or other projects, and explaining their approach and motivation in building a team.)

David Topham, the Marie Curran Wilson and Joseph Chamberlain Wilson Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, is a big advocate of incorporating the fundamentals of team science into the University's curriculum and training programs.

He had to learn those fundamentals the hard way, through "trial by fire."

Topham first participated in a large, multi-investigator project in 2005 as an investigator for the University's Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling. Now he leads or co-leads three major projects: He is co-director with John Treanor of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence, established in 2007 and renewed in 2014. He has been Executive Director of the Health Science Center for Computational Innovation (HSCCI) since 2009. And he is now in his fifth year as director of the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center, which, through a contract will NIH, will bring up to $80 million to the University.

"I've gained a lot of experience in managing these multi-investigator projects and realized that it's actually one of my skills," Topham says. "Not everybody can do it. It's not always obvious how to get people to work together."

For Topham, key elements include:

1. Surrounding yourself with good people.
2. Getting them in a room together — right off the bat — and really talking with each other.
3. Setting clear expectations and timelines
4. Then empowering team members to do what they do best without a lot of micromanaging.

It especially helps if the PI can put his or her ego aside for the good of the project as a whole. "I'm just as satisfied, if not more so, watching others around me — people who I've helped and supported — succeed and get credit, as I am in getting credit myself," Topham says. "That's a critical trait to have. If you're selfish about these things, people won't work with you, or they won't contribute everything that they could, because they're not getting the credit for it; you're taking the credit instead."

So, even though Topham's own research has often taken a back seat — especially when he's immersed in preparing an application, renewing a contract, or setting up a center — he's found immense satisfaction in helping orchestrate the efforts of talented colleagues toward a common goal.

"We're going to change how premature infants are cared for," he says of the research being done by the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center. "We're going to change how we identify which ones are at risk and which ones aren't, and we're going to change how we treat them. I think we're going to make their lives substantially better."

(Click here for a transcript of the interview with David Topham.)

Next: The first step for young investigators is to become part of a community of researchers, says Christopher Ritchlin.

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Members of a women's self-help group in the village of Matho, India, sit with Nancy Chin, Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences, and undergraduates Sanuja Bose ('16), Lisle Coleman ('16), and Kara Rubio ('15) following an in-depth interview. This was the first experience with public health field work for Bose, a Neuroscience and Public Health double major who provided this photo. "I learned so much more about what it takes to be a researcher in the field, and so much more about myself, than I ever could have learned in a classroom," she said.

Young researchers learn what it means to adapt in the field

You've flown halfway around the world to conduct public health research and you've only got three weeks to do it.

So what do you do when several members of your team get altitude sickness or fall ill from bacteria in the drinking water?

When violent lightning storms and torrential rains terrify the community?

When the Dalai Lama, of all people, suddenly shows up, disrupting your scheduled interactions with key community partners?

As Shakti Rambarran learned as a research project coordinator this past summer in Ladakh, India, you pivot, troubleshoot, and adapt. And, above all, you rely on the team dynamics you began building months earlier to get the project done.

"Learning to be a quick thinker is huge," added Rambarran, a senior majoring in public health and psychology. "Very rarely do things happen according to schedule once you get in the field."

This is one of many valuable lessons undergraduate students like Rambarran learn each summer when they accompany Nancy Chin, Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences, to Borca di Cadore, Italy, and Ladakh, India, to study how these remote mountain communities build, maintain and recover social cohesion in the face of economic, political and geographic upheavals.

Borca, for example, experienced a devastating landslide 200 years ago and several subsequent ones of less severity. In recent years it has undergone a rapid transition from a primarily agricultural way of life to industry and tourism, disrupting historic ties to the landscape. Those ties in the past helped foster a close sense of community cohesion that is now in danger of fragmenting.

The Ladakh region experienced a catastrophic flood in 2010, which has left psychological scars on its residents. It also confronts growing public health concerns, such as increased tobacco use as companies shift their marketing efforts to less-developed areas of the world.

Chin relies almost entirely on undergraduate students to assist her in planning the trips, conducting the research through in-depth interviews and participant observation, then analyzing the results and presenting them at conferences and in papers when they return. "One of the reasons the University of Rochester is designated nationally as such an outstanding university is because of our strong emerging focus on undergraduate research experiences," she said.

These experiences encourage students to consider graduate school and research-oriented careers, help them develop critical thinking skills that will serve them in any field, and help them become better "consumers" of research when they enter the work force, she said.

(Next: Chin's students say their summers in Italy and India have given them a much more realistic understanding of the challenges involved in anthropological and community health fieldwork.)

Furth Fund seeks nominations for 2016-17 awards

The Furth Fund, established in 1986 by Valerie and Frank Furth, provides early career faculty with $10,000 in research funds to help foster their development as scientists.

Nominees should be junior, tenure track faculty appointed in natural or biological science departments within Arts, Science and Engineering or the School of Medicine and Dentistry who have been hired within the past three academic years. Preference will be given to nominees who wish to use the award to support the active engagement of graduate students or postdocs in their research.

Nominations will be accepted through Feb. 26. Additional information about the Furth Fund may be found here.

Community Health mini-grant applications now being accepted

These grants of up to $1,000 support the development, strengthening or evaluation of community-URMC health improvement partnerships for research, education, intervention, or service.

In general, mini-grants could be used to support community-URMC partnerships to:

1. Initiate new research or program partnerships between URMC and community partner(s).
2. Help sustain ongoing community efforts in periods of transition (e.g., between grant funding).
3. Help existing partnerships grow to the next level (e.g., adding research activities to an ongoing community service project).

Applications should be emailed to Mary McDonald by Feb. 10. For more information and the application form, see the "quick link" at the Center for Community Health website.

Introducing a new faculty member

Felix Yarovinsky has joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology as an associate professor and is a member of the Center for Vaccine Biology. Before joining the University, he was an Assistant (2007-2013) and an Associate (2013-2015) Professor in the Department of Immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He discovered the function of the Toll-like receptor 11 (TLR11) in recognition of parasite profilin and in the induction of IL-12 response by dendritic cells during Toxoplasma gondii infection. More recently, his laboratory revealed a role for the microbiota in the control of parasitic infection. Much of his current work fouses on elucidating the molecular mechanism underlying parasite recognition by the mucosal immune system. The Yarovinsky lab is particularly interested in dissecting the signaling pathways by which neutrophils, dendritic cells, and Paneth cells cooperate in protective and immunopathological IFN-gamma dependent immune responses to Toxoplasma gondii and other intracellular pathogens. The lab employs flow-cytometry, high-throughput sequencing, biochemistry, molecular biology, and highly specialized germ-free mice to discover novel mechanisms of host resistance and immune regulation in parasitic infection.

University research in the news

Findings of a University study in the Journal of Neuroscience show that the brain's immune system is responsible for disrupting communication between nerve cells in people with multiple sclerosis, even in parts of the brain that are not normally considered to be primary targets of the disease. "This study identifies for the first time a new disease mechanism in MS which causes damage to neurons independent of the loss of white matter and demyelination that is the hallmark of the disease," said the lead author Matthew Bellizzi, Assistant Professor of Neurology with the University's Center for Neural Development and Disease. "This damage represents another component of the disease and one that is not prevented by the current immunosuppressive drugs employed to treat MS." Read more . . .

Inspired by the theoretical work of Allan Greenleaf, Professor of Mathematics, scientists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain report they have created a device capable of generating the first-ever 'magnetic wormhole' in a laboratory. The spherical device is capable of transferring a magnetic field from one point in space to another. In a study that appeared in 2007, Greenleaf and his co-authors presented a theoretical proposal for designing a wormhole for electromagnetic waves. The Barcelona study is published in Scientific Reports.

In a first for the Medical Center, researchers built analytics software to mine New York's Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System (SPARCS) database and found that longer hospital stays spelled worse results for patients recovering from hip fractures. The findings of the team, led by John Elfar, Associate Professor of Orthopaedics, support the Geriatric Fracture Center's previous research suggesting that patients fare better with a shorter hospital stay. Elfar launched the study after a January 2015 study of Swedish hip fracture patients, published in the British Medical Journal, offered a seemingly opposite finding: After reviewing nearly 120,000 patients from 2006-2012, authors concluded that patients with shorter hospitalizations had an increased risk of death. "Our analysis shows that the difference in hospital stays and results between Sweden and the U.S. is related to a difference in health care systems," Elfar said. "Patients do as well here with short hospital stays as they do with longer hospital stays in Sweden because U.S. hospitals focus on acute care and transfer patients to rehabilitation facilities as soon as possible. Such facilities are not available in Sweden, so patients rehab in the hospital setting and spend longer periods of time there.". Read more . . .

Congratulations to . . .

Angela Ryck, master's student in the Center for Medical Technology and Innovation, who is winner of the University's third annual "America's Got Regulatory Science Talent" competition, in which students come up with possible solutions to issues confronting the Food and Drug Administration in eight priority areas. Ryck's idea involves a universal card that could be used at stores or restaurants when a person buys food. The card would be linked to their contact information so that, in the event of a recall, those who purchased the recalled item could receive direct notification. "Stores like Wegmans and Costco are already doing exactly this, but it is not yet widespread or used by restaurants," Ryck explained. She has also devised an online survey to help the Food and Drug Administration get a sense of how people in different geographical areas have received and/or understood past communications. She will travel to Washigton later this spring to present her idea to the FDA. The CMTI program trains engineering students in the design and commercialization process of medical devices.

PhD dissertation defense

LinLin Guo, Genetics, "The interaction of innate immune signaling pathway, gut microbiota, tissue homeostasis in the aging fly intestine." Noon, Feb. 3, 2016, K-307 (3-6408). Advisor: Henri Jasper.

Mark your calendar

Today: Deadline for Environmental Health Sciences Pilot Projects. Click here for more information.

Jan. 31: Deadline to apply for the E. Cowles Andrus Summer Fellowship for Community Health Improvement, which give medical students, and occasionally exceptional public health master's students, the opportunity to plan and conduct projects to improve the health of the community. Click here for the application materials.

Feb. 1: Presentation on "Getting started in online learning in 3 easy steps." 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Natapow CR, 1-9545. Part of spring series on online learning. To register, contact

Feb. 1: Deadline to apply for University Research Awards. The Request for Proposal and a simplified application are available here. Questions about the awards and completed applications should be directed to Adele Coelho at

Feb. 1: Deadline to apply for AS&E Pump Primer II awards, which help researchers develop data in order to seek extramural funding for "bold new research directions." Guidelines for the award are available at

Feb. 1: Deadline to apply for the 2016–2018 Dean's Teaching Fellowship Program to further develop a core group of master educators, promote the careers of MD and PhD faculty in medical and dental education, and support educational innovations and research at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Read more here. Email completed applications to

Feb. 4: Getting Started with Online Learning in 3 Easy Steps. First in series of Online Learning Faculty Workshops. Genrich Rusling Room, LeChase Hall, 11:30 to 1 p.m. Registration is today, Jan. 29.

Feb. 10: Deadline to apply for Center for Community Health mini grants to support the development, strengthening or evaluation of community-URMC health improvement partnerships for research, education, intervention, or service. For more information and the application form, see the "quick link" at the Center for Community Health website.

Feb. 26: Deadline to nominate junior, tenure track faculty in natural or biological science departments for the Furth Award. Read more here.

Feb. 29: Deadline to file initial applications for pilot project funding from the Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Populations (IIMP) program. Read more. . .

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.

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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter 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.