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News » Archives » February 2017

Rare Disease Day 2017 and Rare Disease Research within the Warren Center

Author: Warren Family Center

Rare Disease Day takes place annually on the last day of February. Its goal is to raise awareness amongst the general public and policy-makers. Global Genes maintains the RARE List™ of 7,000 rare diseases defined in the United States where a prevalence of less than 200,000 cases is the primary criteria. With about 25M Americans affected by a rare disease and the potential to increase our understanding of more common afflictions, rare disease research is a key to better health for all of us.


Rare disease research towards therapeutic discovery has rich history at the University of Notre Dame and was the impetus for the creation of the Warren Family Center for Drug Discovery & Development.

Niemann-Pick Type C disease is a rare lysosomal storage that affects young children and is typically fatal. A team of researchers led by Professors Olaf Wiest and Paul Helquist for Notre Dame’s Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, and Fred Maxfield at Cornell Weill Medical College, uncovered evidence that histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) have the ability to improve cholesterol trafficking Read More

Notre Dame biologist Cody Smith wins prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship

Author: Chontel Syfox

Cody J. Smith, the Elizabeth and Michael Gallagher Assistant Professor of Neural Development and Regeneration, has been selected as a 2017 recipient of the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship.

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Every year the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation selects 126 promising early-career scholars from the fields of science, engineering, technology, mathematics, and economics, as recipients of the Sloan Research Fellowship. Recipients are awarded a two-year research grant in recognition of their distinguished performance and unique potential to make substantial contributions to their fields, and society.

Smith explains that his lab studies “how the cells in the nervous system organize in the very early stages of nervous system development.” A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Smith earned a Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology, with a specific focus on neuronal cells. Subsequently, he went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia, where he redirected the focus of his work to glial cells. “Neurons have been studied for years, but these other cell populations called glial cells outnumber the neuronal cells and we know very little about them,” he explained. Glial cells have been a relatively neglected area of research due in part to the fact that they were once perceived as mere supporting cells for neurons, which functionally drive all behaviors. More recently, however, research has shown that glial cells are involved in early development, learning, and memory. Read More

New Research Addresses Complexity of Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Control

Author: Sarah Craig

The University of Notre Dame’s Edwin Michael, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences and member of the Eck Institute for Global Health, is on the cutting edge of an initiative to address the sociology of disease transmission and control, by factoring in the impacts that complex transmission dynamics and social determinants play in the effective management of infectious diseases. His research was recently published in Infectious Disease of Poverty, an open access, peer-reviewed journal publishing topic areas and methods that address essential public health questions relating to infectious diseases of poverty.

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Rare Disease Day Celebration highlights neglected diseases

Author: Deanna Csomo McCool

RarediseasegroupKasturi Haldar, Director of the Boler-Parseghian Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases, (left) discusses one of the posters, about Neurofibromatosis 1, with biological science graduate student Stefan Freed and Brooke Gonzalez, a Notre Dame senior.

Research has been performed on only about 300 of the 7,000 known diseases, according to Kasturi Haldar, director of Notre Dame’s Boler-Parseghian Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases. A two-day Rare Disease Day Celebration hosted by the Center on Feb. 3 and 4 spotlighted some of these rare diseases, bringing together researchers and patients.

The Center builds partnerships among patients, health care providers, researchers, drug companies and others to support the discovery of new diagnostics and treatments for these diseases. Read More

Shirey named second Notre Dame student to present at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Author: Grant Johnson

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Biochemistry graduate student Carolyn Shirey 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, including Biological Sciences grad student Josh Mason, were selected to participate. Shirey 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.

Shirey’s research was conducted in the laboratory of Robert Stahelin, Adjunct Associate Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Notre Dame, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend, and Interim Senior Associate Director at Harper Cancer Research Institute. Read More

NDnano Symposium: Nanotechnology in the Treatment of Neurodegenerative Disorders

Author: Heidi Deethardt

NDnano is hosting a one-day symposium on Thursday, ​March 30 entitled "Nanotechnology in the Treatment of Neurodegenerative Disorders." The keynote will be given by Kevin Tracey, M.D., President & CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Students are welcome and encouraged to attend the technical session and/or present their own related research in the afternoon poster session.

2017 NDnano Symposium

“Interdisciplinary research is vital to the field of nanomedicine,” said Dr. David Balkin, managing director of NDnano. “By bringing together a multi-disciplinary team of ORAU-affiliated researchers, this inaugural symposium will help seed ideas for future research collaborations as well as fuel existing engagements that revolve around the use of nanotechnology in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. We look forward to expanding the network of students and researchers, representing an amazing breadth of disciplines, who are focused on contributing to this exciting field.” Read More

International Collaboration Provides Notre Dame Students with Unparalleled Opportunity

Author: Tammi Freehling and Cliff Djajapranata

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For decades, professor Paul Helquist has partnered with colleagues in Sweden to send undergraduate and graduate chemistry students to each others’ laboratories—around 50 in total—to perform research at Notre Dame, the University of Stockholm, Gothenburg University, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm as well as the Astra Zeneca pharmaceutical lab near Gothenburg. Students from Notre Dame obtain valuable experience working in an international lab in a country which has a long-standing, strong program in science and engineering, particularly chemistry.

For past participants, the program can encourage students to pursue new research interests. “One way to gain knowledge about a new field is to read about it; however, being part of this program allowed me to actively conduct research with world-leading experts in a field that I likely would not have ventured into at Notre Dame,” said Michael Grigalunas, a 2014 participant and Ph.D. candidate whose research today involves creating treatments for Niemann-Pick type C disease. Read More

Alex Perkins named Early Career Fellow by the Ecological Society of America

Author: Grant Johnson

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The University of Notre Dame’s Alex Perkins, Eck Family Assistant Professor, and member of the Department of Biological Sciences, the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics, the Eck Institute for Global Health, and the Environmental Change Initiative, was named a 2017 Early Career Fellow by the Ecological Society of America (ESA).

Perkins’ research uses mathematical, computational, and statistical approaches to better understand infectious diseases. His lab specializes in dengue, malaria, chikungunya, Zika, and other diseases caused by mosquito-borne pathogens. More information on his work can be found here.


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Biocomputing: Imitating the Real Thing to Improve Life

Author: Nina Welding


Pinar Zorlutuna and a team of University researchers have created a new type of diode, one that is made entirely of cardiac muscle cells and fibroblasts. Their recently published paper titled “Muscle-Cell-Based ‘Living Diodes’” discusses how using muscle cells as the diode components is ideal for cell-based information processing.

An assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Zorlutuna and the Notre Dame team have created a new type of diode, one that is made entirely of cardiac muscle cells and fibroblasts. Their paper titled “Muscle-Cell-Based ‘Living Diodes,’” which was published in the January 11 issue of Advanced BioSystems and subsequently featured on the Wiley online journal Advanced Science News, discusses how using muscle cells as the diode components is ideal for cell-based information processing.
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Zika: Where are We Now?

Author: Jessica Sieff

Aedes Aegypti Mosquito

It’s been one year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a public health emergency.

The virus, transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has since been declared to be a long-term problem rather than an emergency, but Zika continues to concern health professionals. At the Eck Institute for Global Health at the University of Notre Dame – a global leader in the study of Aedes aegypti – the vector-borne illness is one researchers hope to better understand.

Professors in Notre Dame’s Department of Biological Sciences and members of the Eck Institute reflect on the outbreak, the challenges presented by the virus and the work yet to be done to help health professionals and key decision makers protect their citizens. Read More