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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This image from the lab of Alayna Loiselle, assistant professor of orthopaedics, shows the anatomy of the flexor tendon in the murine hind paw at top. Below, the tendon is magnified at 8X to compare uninjured tendon tissue (B) to healing tendon with scar tissue (C).

Grant will help Loiselle test hypothesis
on impaired hand function in diabetic patients

One of the many debilitating affects of Type 2 diabetes occurs when the flexor tendons that control our finger movements thicken and scar. The tendons can no longer glide smoothly through the synovial sheath that separates the tendon from surrounding tissue.

The result: impaired hand function in up to 50 percent of diabetes patients, and a greater risk that the tendons will rupture.

Alayna Loiselle, assistant professor of orthopaedics in the Center for Musculoskeletal Research, has been awarded a $483,624, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to test her hypothesis — that loss of insulin receptor functioning in flexor tendon cells is the underlying cause of the scarring and thickening, by suppressing the matrix metalloproteinase (Mmp) enzymes that play a critical role in maintaining normal tendon organization and morphology.

Exactly how that happens at a molecular level is a major focus of her study, which will use mouse models and second harmonic generation imaging at the Medical Center's Multiphoton Core.

"One of the problems we have with tendon tissue is that, relative to other musculoskeletal tissues, such as bone, we know very little," Loiselle said. "While our goal is always to be translational, there are some fundamental things we don't know yet that make translational studies involving tendons much more difficult."

Preliminary studies by Loiselle's lab have established, for the first time, that tendon is an insulin-target tissue. She has also demonstrated impaired insulin receptor signaling, as well as decreased gliding function and strength in flexor tendons of diabetic mice.

Other studies have identified pathways linking insulin receptor signaling and Mmp activity in other kinds of tissue. "So we're trying to establish whether the link that has been demonstrated for other tissues is involved in diabetic tendinopathy as well," Loiselle said.

But she's taking nothing for granted. "There's always a possibility that the tendinopathy may not be related to Mmp activity, because there's a whole host of other ways reduced insulin receptor signaling could be causing this," she said.

"The way we translate this is (into actual therapies) is going to depend on what we find. If we are able to show diabetic tendons are weak and disorganized due to suppression of Mmp activity, there are ways to activate Mmp as a possible therapy."

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New hearing test may identify autism risk

Researchers have identified an inner ear deficiency in children with autism that may impact their ability to recognize speech. The findings, published in the journal Autism Research, could ultimately be used as a way to identify children at risk for the disorder at an early age.

"This study identifies a simple, safe, and non-invasive method to screen young children for hearing deficits that are associated with autism," said coauthor Anne Luebke, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience. "This technique may provide clinicians a new window into the disorder and enable us to intervene earlier and help achieve optimal outcomes."

Some of the earliest and consistent signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) involve auditory communication. However, most tests rely on speech, and are often ineffective in children who are very young or who have communication delays.

In the study, researchers used a technique that measures otoacoustic emissions. The test is akin to the screening that many newborns undergo before leaving the hospital to check for hearing problems. Using miniature speaker/microphone earplugs, the researchers can detect minute sound emission made by inner ear outer hair cells in response to certain tones or clicking sounds. If these cells are not functioning properly, the device fails to detect an emission which indicates that inner ear — or cochlear — function is impaired.

"While there is no association between hearing problems and autism, difficulty in processing speech may contribute to some of the core symptoms of the disease. Early detection could help identify risk for ASD and enable clinicians to intervene earlier," said coauthor Loisa Bennetto, an associate professor of psychology.

Because the test is non-invasive, inexpensive, and does not require the subject to respond verbally, it could be adapted to screen infants, an approach that the team is currently exploring. Read more here

Call for proposals to support new disabilities research center

The Ernest J. Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience is accepting applications for pilot funding, for awards to begin on Nov. 1, 2016. This special call for proposals is in support of a major initiative by the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience to launch an Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at the University of Rochester. Awards will be given to projects that draw together interdisciplinary teams to advance the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and amelioration of intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more information and to download the RFA, click here. Application submissions are due on Sept. 1.

University researchers in the news

Golisano Children's Hospital is joining several other universities in one of the largest family-based childhood obesity studies ever conducted to discern the effectiveness of a treatment program that teaches both a child and their parents how to change their behaviors and attitudes regarding food, exercise, and stressful situations. This method deviates from traditional efforts that emphasize patient education. The study is supported by $9.6 million from the National Institutes of Health, of which Rochester will receive $1.5 million. "At least 4 percent of children and teens have what is considered severe obesity," said Stephen Cook, associate professor of pediatrics at Golisano Children's Hospital and the study's lead researcher locally. "This program will help them get their weight under control through a change in mindset and by behavior change for the child and family that targets problem solving mechanisms." Past studies have shown that this type of behavioral approach can carry a "halo effect," with other family members often seeing benefit as well. Read more.

Scientists working with Chawnshang Chang, the George Hoyt Whipple Distinguished Professor of Pathology, Urology and Radiation Oncology, have identified a microRNA molecule (miR-367-3p) that correlates with the androgen receptor (AR) to suppress liver cancer metastasis, they report in an article published online by eBioMedicine. The team not only identified miR-367-3p as a potential metastasis biomarker, but also the gene pathways that miR-367-3p targets to increase AR expression. After additional study, researchers believe that miR-367-3p, as an AR enhancer, could be tested in clinical trials in combination with other therapies to stabilize or treat late-stage or metastatic liver cancer. Read more,

PhD dissertation defenses

Haomin Yao, Optics, "Ultra-High Efficiency Rare-Earth-Doped Fiber Lasers in the Visible and Infrared." 10 a.m., Aug. 18, 2016. Goergen 109. Advisor: John Marciante.

Wei Jiang, Optics, "Applications of High-Q Microresonators in Cavity Optomechanics and Nonlinear Photonics." 1:30 p.m., Aug. 22, 2016. CSB 523. Advisor: Qiang Lin.

Mark your calendar

Today: Xerox Engineering Research Fellows poster session. Twenty-seven undergraduate engineering students showcase the mentored projects they've worked on this summer. 9 a.m., Munnerlyn Atrium, Goergen Hall. Read more here.

Aug. 1: Deadline for faculty and administrators to apply for Fulbright U.S. Scholar awards for 2017-18. Click here to learn more.

Aug. 2: "Physical Models of Biological Systems," a workshop aimed at fostering research collaboration across multiple departments. Noon to 5:30 p.m. Lunch in Hopeman 224 and talks in Bausch and Lomb 106. Read more here.

Sept. 1: Deadline to apply for pilot funding in support of a major initiative by the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience to launch an Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center. Read more here.

Sept. 22-24: Department of Neurology 50th anniversary celebration, including gala banquet, department updates, and poster and platform presentations showcasing research by current faculty, alumni, fellows and residents. Read more here.

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.