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?
View it in your browser.

Examples of the "conflation" of religion and astrology in medieval images. At left, an illustration published in Venice in 1511 shows a philosopher, an astrologer, a Sibyl, and two contemporary mystics all taking direct inspiration from God above (Wellcome Library, London). Center, detail from an illumination by Niccolò di Giacomo da Bologna showing Moses, at left center, and astrologer Albumasar, with upraised hands nearly touching, from John of Legnano's De adventu Christi (1375). At right, the Sybilla Chimica, clutching Albumasar's text, from Filippo de' Barbieri, Discordiantiae sanctorum doctorum Hieronymi et Augustini (Rome, ca. 1482).

Did astrology's medieval advocates help pave the way for modern science?

The 14th century illustration on display in the office of History Prof. Laura Smoller initially caught her eye for two reasons:

First was its sheer beauty. And second, the remarkable way it connects Moses the prophet and Albumasar (Abu Ma'shar), a famed 9th century Arab astrologer.

They face each other from adjoining panels at the center of the illustration, their upraised hands almost touching as both point toward a panel depicting the birth of Christ.

It is, at first glance, an unlikely alliance. After all, astrology's premise that stars and planets determine our fate seems quite incompatible with Christian notions of free will and an omnipotent God.

And yet, this "conflation" of religious prophecy and astrology is central to Smoller's current research.

Smoller's interest in astrology and its role in medieval intellectual history — reflected in the classes she teaches here and in one of her two previous books — began during her studies as a graduate student. She read how St. Augustine effectively debunked astrology in his Confessions, written around 400 A.D. So she was intrigued to find that astrology continued to re-emerge as a "good science" in subsequent centuries, and especially in medieval times.

How could that be?

"In some respects the best comparison may be to economics today," Smoller said. "Economists try to predict the future. We know they don't always get it right, and that fact does not bother us."

She explained that astrology's leading practitioners often focused on large-scale predictions and prognostications: the rise and fall of dynasties, or predictions of the apocalypse.

Arab scholars, for example, theorized that certain conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter had heralded the rise of Islam and the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Christian scholars, not to be outdone, were soon using similar observations to signify the birth of Christ, and predict the coming of the Antichrist.

The acceptance by some medieval scholars of astrology as a way to reveal religious truths through observance of natural objects — as seen in that 14th Century illustration and others that Smoller has come across — intrigues her. She said it appears to foreshadow the emergence of natural theology, which postulates that God's truth is revealed not only in Scripture, but in the study of Nature as God's creation.

Smoller's goal is to document the extent to which astrology paved the way for natural theology, which in turn helped gain acceptance for modern science.

It would be ironic indeed if astrology nurtured the roots of modern science, which refutes astrology. And the growing body of scholarship around astrology's impact on medieval thought is also ironic. It suggests that astrology's most valuable legacy is not what it purports to tell us about our future, but what it reveals about our past.

Do you have an interesting photo or other image that helps illustrate your research? We would like to showcase it. Send a high resolution jpg or other version, along with a description of what it shows, to

Compound is first to be identified as inhibitor of an adhesion GPCR

(This is one in a series of articles about ideas presented at the recent Falling Walls competition.)

G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are a large family of proteins that span cell membranes, sensing molecules outside the cell, and then activating pathways inside the cell to trigger a response. They play valuable roles in a wide range of physiological processes, but also are involved in many diseases. Approximately 50% of FDA-approved drugs target GPCRs. However, the largest sub-class of GPCRs, the adhesion GPCRs (aGPCRs), have remained beyond the reach of drug therapies because their mechanism of activation was unknown.

For at least one adhesion GPCR, that may no longer be the case.

At the recent Falling Walls competition, PhD student Hannah Stoveken described how the lab of Gregory G. Tall, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology, has identified the mechanism of activation for these proteins, thus providing a rational platform for drug discovery and design.

Adhesion GPCRs cut themselves into two pieces that remain together at the cell surface. The Tall lab has shown that upon removal of the protein piece outside the cell, the receptor self-activator is revealed and turns on signaling inside the cell. Physiologically, this signaling is vital to development. Pathologically, over-active aGPCR signaling contributes to cancer progression.

Stoveken screened a 2,000 compound library to identify a signaling inhibitor for one of the adhesion GPCRs, GPR56. She validated this compound in secondary assays as a bona fide aGPCR inhibitor. The identified compound is the first in class inhibitor of any adhesion GPCR and will be used as a lead compound for drug development.

Many questions still remain in this exciting story: How does this compound inhibit aGPCR signaling, for example? Stoveken is using the lab's biochemical expertise to elucidate this mechanism of inhibition and to test other compounds with similar structures to identify the best possible compound for drug development.

Once the best compound has been validated in the test tube, it will be tested in mouse models of aGPCR-directed cancers to ascertain its utility as a therapeutic drug.

$10 million grant will fund study of OCD

Together with leading mental health experts at four other U.S. institutions, University researchers will pinpoint specific abnormalities within brain circuits that are associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and use this information to guide new treatment options for the three million-plus Americans who live with the disorder.

A five-year, $10 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) establishes a new Silvio O. Conte Center for Basic and Translational Mental Health Research at the University.

A research team led by Suzanne N. Haber, Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, will map brain networks, identifying hubs that bring together information from several brain regions that are involved in transmitting data about the internal and external environments. These hubs, which are key to making decisions about what actions to take, are thought to be disorganized in OCD. With her collaborators, Haber hopes to develop new treatment targets aimed at specific brain regions that are altered in the disease.

"What's really exciting about this work is that what we learn can be applied to a wide range of psychiatric disorders, since some parts of this circuitry are also involved in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction," she said. Read more here.

University partners with MC10 to advance patient-centered research

Massachusetts company MC10, Inc., a pioneer in biometric-sensor-enabled analytics, has announced a collaboration with the University. The initiative unites MC10's technological capabilities in physiological sensing and pattern recognition algorithms with the University's clinical expertise and commitment to big data analytics to drive solutions for pressing health care challenges.

MC10 is uniquely positioned to support the University in its research efforts with its BioStamp platform, which consists of MC10's biometric sensing devices, a companion software application, and an end-to-end cloud storage and computing platform. BioStamp will be put to the test in a variety of clinical settings by a diverse group of Rochester researchers, which will further drive MC10's collection of big data and development of disease-specific algorithms for use in predictive health analytics. Read more . . .

High Tech Rochester offers workshop on SBIR/STTR grant opportunities

University researchers interested in commercializing their technology are encouraged to attend a June 11 workshop on federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) Program awards.

The workshop will be held at High Tech Rochester's Lennox Tech Enterprise Center, 150 Lucius Gordon Drive, and will include:

1. An overview of SBIR and STTR programs
2. How entrepreneurs, small businesses and academic researchers can tap into the more than $2 billion set aside for these programs each year
3. How to search for grant opportunities that fit your area of interest
4. The process for connecting to government contracting possibilities

Registration deadline is June 10. Click here to learn more.

ChIP-seq workshop to be held June 12

The Cluster for Epigenetics and Genome Stability, part of the University Committee for Interdisciplinary Studies, will hold a workshop devoted to chromatin immunoprecipitation/DNA sequencing (ChIP-seq) on Friday, June 12.

ENCODE Project Contributor Ross Hardison, the T. Ming Chu Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and bioinformaticians Cheryl Keller and Shaun Mahoney, all from Penn State University, will give a series of talks and computer-based workshops aimed at providing participants with a better understanding of experimental and analytical issues with ChIP-seq.

Space is limited; contact Michael Bulger to register or for more information.

Researchers in the news

As Brighton High School athletes touched their toes, and did knee bends and push ups, a computer program designed by University doctors created an anatomical profile of each, capturing 3D snapshots every thousandth of a second, measuring each joint motion. Similar profiles will be amassed for roughly 500 Rochester-area student-athletes as part of a UR Medicine project. The goal is to use the massive database to identify commonalities and predictors in form or performance for a host of injuries, from knee and ankle sprains to ACL tears, then spot those risks in future screenings. "It's just so much data that we were never able to get before," said Gregg Nicandri, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics and one of the physicians on the UR Medicine Sports Medicine team. Read more here.

The Washington Post recently published an artricle by Erin Kelly, a fourth-year resident in the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics program, about her research showing that summer reading programs work best when students get to choose the books they read. Read more here.

Corey Hoffman, a predoctoral student and winner of URMC's "America's Got Regulatory Science Talent" competition, recently presented his idea to advance personalized medicine at the FDA's 2015 Office of Regulatory Science and Innovation Science Symposium. Hoffman's proposal calls for all of the genomic data from trials utilizing genome sequencing to be accessible in the same database . This would allow researchers and scientists to easily expand on previous work, identifying and using these genetic markers to speed drug development and aid in drug safety by targeting specific populations likely to respond to a given treatment. Read more here.

PhD dissertation defenses

Jonathan Cherry, Pathology, "Neuroinflammation and the Glial Response Contribute to Both Beneficial and Pathological Outcomes in Multiple Disease Models." 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 9, 2015, K-307 (3-6408). Advisor: Kerry O'Banion.

Thanh Van Tran, Statistics, "Threshold Boolean Network Inference and Experimental Design." 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, June 9, 2015, Saunders Research Building 1402. Advisor: Anthony Almudevar.

Adrianne Chesser, Neuroscience, "Selectively Enhancing the Clearance of Pathological Tau Through the Use of Phytochemical Compounds." 1 p.m., Wednesday, June 10, 2015, K-207 (2-6408). Advisor: Gail Johnson.

Allison Light, Pathology, "The Role of Matrix Metalloproteinases in LH-induced Ovarian Steroidogenesis." 1 p.m., Thursday, June 11, 2015, K-307 (3-6408). Advisor: Stephen Hammes.

Kristina Modjeski, Pharmacology, "A Role for Glutamate Receptor Interacting Protein 1 in Platelets and T Cells." 10 a.m., Friday, June 12, 2015, K-207 (2-6408). Advisor: Craig Morrell.

Click here for a listing of PhD dissertation defenses reported to Research Connections since April 2014.

Mark your calendar

Today: 2015 Symposium on Immune Modeling in the Big Data Era.

June 10: 7th Annual Study Coordinators Organization for Research and Education (SCORE) Half-Day Seminar, focusing on promoting and improving the clinical research experience for those who actively coordinate health research. 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Helen Wood Hall Auditorium, 1W304. Contact

June 11: Workshop on federal SBIR/STTR awards. High Tech Rochester's Lennox Tech Enterprise Center, 150 Lucius Gordon Drive. Register by June 10. Click here to learn more.

June 12: ChiP-seq workshop on chromatin immunoprecipitation/DNA sequencing. Contact Michael Bulger to register or for more information.

June 15: 1st Annual Rochester Global Health Symposium, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saunders Research Building Atrium. Convenes researchers, students, and practitioners from all sectors of global health to exchange ideas about how to conduct, share, and translate innovative health promotion in low-resource settings. Click here for agenda and registration.

June 17: "Patent Infringement: COX Fighting," presented by Kerry O'Banion, interim chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, and University President Emeritus Thomas Jackson. Part of the CTSI workshop series, "Good Advice: Case Studies in Clinical Research, Regulation, and the Law." Noon to 1 p.m. Helen Wood Hall Auditorium.

Aug. 3: Deadline for AS&E PumpPrimerII awards, which are designed to help innovative, high-risk projects develop proof of concept and/or pilot data in order to secure extramural funding. Arts and Sciences faculty can learn more from Debra Haring; Engineering faculty should contact Cynthia Gary.

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.