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Grad student will present new cancer findings at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Author: Grant Johnson

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Biological sciences graduate student Joshua Mason has been selected to attend the 2017 National Graduate Student Symposium (NGSS) at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Selection in the NGSS is extraordinarily competitive as application is by invitation only. Over 1,500 students were invited to apply for the 2017 symposium of which only 42 students were selected to participate. Mason and the other selected participants will receive an all expenses paid trip to St. Jude this Spring where they will give a talk, present a poster, and meet with St. Jude scientists.

Mason’s research was conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Zachary Schafer, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Coleman Foundation Collegiate Chair of Cancer Biology, and member of the Harper Cancer Research Institute. Read More

Research reveals a triple-drug regimen that could eliminate elephantiasis

Author: Gene Stowe

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A collaborative modeling study among three research groups, including Edwin Michael’s laboratory in the Department of Biological Sciences, reveals that a triple-drug regimen could accelerate the elimination of lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease also known as elephantiasis. The study, which shows that the regimen requires far fewer applications than current two-drug combinations, is also significant because it provides a unified scientific consensus on the subject for policymakers who sometimes face a confusing array of separate claims. Read More

Interdisciplinary Collaboration Leads to Revised Model of Brain Activity

Author: Tammi Freehling

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Assistant Professor Robert Rosenbaum, in the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS), coauthored a paper that was recently published in the journal Nature Neuroscience titled “The spatial structure of correlated neuronal variability.” In the paper, a culmination of research in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, the scientists propose an extension of “balanced network theory” to explain relationships between the seemingly random activity of neurons in the brain.

In the future, this model could help scientists understand brain activity associated with learning or disease. According to Rosenbaum, “This project started as a collaboration between three mathematical biologists. Using computer simulations and the mathematical theory of stochastic processes, we made a surprising prediction about the relationship between neurons’ activity patterns in the brain. Two experimental biologists then joined the collaboration to test our prediction in real neural data. We were excited when we found the predicted relationship in the data.

Rosenbaum and his collaborators received funding for this research from National Science Foundation. Additional support was provided by the National Eye Institute, Research to Prevent Blindness, the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh, and the Simons Foundation.

Rosenbaum’s collaborators and coauthors on the paper include Matthew Smith, assistant professor of ophthalmology the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute (UPBI); Adam Kohn from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Jonathan Rubin, professor of mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh; and Brent Doiron, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of UPBI.

The paper can be viewed on the Nature Neuroscience website.

Originally published by Tammi Freehling at science.nd.edu on December 23, 2016. Read More

Prof. Brian Baker’s lab receives $4 million NIH grant for precision immunotherapy research

Author: Tammi Freehling

Immunologists are changing how we look at cancer by studying how our immune system plays a role in treating cancer.

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Brian Baker, Ph.D., and his lab in the Harper Cancer Research Institute and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry were recently awarded a $4 million, 5-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how they can best engineer a patient’s own T cells in their immune system to target the patient’s specific cancer.

Over the last decades, immunologists have been gaining greater understanding of the relationship between cancer and the immune system—more specifically, how the immune system defends against cancer. For example, immunologists know that patients with weakened immune systems (recipients of organ transplants, HIV patients, etc.) have greater occurrences of cancer. The question “How does cancer escape the immune system, take hold, and progress?” has been studied for many years and has led to new approaches, including successful new drug therapies like the immunotherapy treatment former President Jimmy Carter received that has rendered his metastatic melanoma in remission. Understanding the relationship between the immune system and cancer has led to these new drug therapies, which “take the brakes off” the immune system to allow a more complete and effective anti-cancer immune response.

The next frontier of immunotherapy involves custom engineering immune treatments for each patient. According to Baker, “An important class of cells in the immune system are cytotoxic T cells—killer T cells—because they attack and kill viruses, pathogens, and even tumors. What we are working toward is engineering those T cells to target a specific cancer with great efficiency and potency.” Read More