Research explores autism prevalence among children

How common is autism spectrum disorder among children? Recent studies show that’s a complex question, and the answer can vary significantly by variables such as geographic location, race and cultural group.

Now, University of Minnesota researchers are working on a large-scale effort to better understand how autism prevalence varies across communities in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (MN-ADDM), led by the U’s Institute on Community Integration, will study up to 3,500 records from across a group of 20,000 8-year-olds across Hennepin and Ramsey counties to track the rate of those with autism as well as those with intellectual disabilities, which researchers suspect may correlate with autism among certain demographics.

The Minnesota project, which started in early 2015, is the latest addition to a national network of ADDM sites established and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor autism prevalence in regions across the country. Continue reading

Industry experts, public invited to tour U research labs

Interested in exploring a few of the University of Minnesota’s world-class research facilities?

Next week, the U’s College of Science and Engineering and Office of University Economic Development will hold an open house of 10 research facilities specializing in materials analysis, molecular analysis and device fabrication. Register now to tour research facilities, speak with subject matter experts, discover ways to connect with collaborators, and learn about access to services and research equipment.

All are welcome to attend, from industry R&D experts to those who just want to learn more about research at the U. After checking in at the Physics and Nanotechnology Building at 115 Union St. SE. on the East Bank Minneapolis campus, visitors are welcome to come and go as they please. Continue reading

Research ethics — a responsibility of the University and individuals alike

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The University of Minnesota is a research university dedicated to the advancement of knowledge. Our research enterprise is premised on the idea that our faculty, staff and students will pursue the truth and allow the data to speak for itself. It also relies on researchers conducting their work in ways that respect the rights and interests of people participating in their studies, as well as the community in which those people live.

As I indicated in a note to researchers this month, faculty, staff and others have made an immense effort to strengthen human research protections across the University. There is a great deal of that work in motion right now, and, as part of those efforts, we are launching a University-wide research ethics campaign, one that includes posters, digital communications, events and other activities to promote and build awareness of the University’s principles, policies and processes that support and require ethical research practices. Continue reading

IRB recognizes departing members’ years of service

East Bank, University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota’s Institutional Review Board recently recognized the contributions of its departing members, whose time, experience, expertise and insight have helped ensure the protection of research participants and uphold the ethical conduct of human research.

The IRB acknowledged its 12 retiring members’ collective 125 years of dedicated service, which these members performed in addition to fulfilling their other professional duties and obligations, both at the U and other organizations. Over the past year, the members’ important contributions were exemplified in their work laying the foundation for a new IRB model that would guide the University in its renewed commitment to protect every research participant, uphold the highest ethical standards and improve the U’s research practices at every step.

Congratulations to the members listed below, who have completed their service to the IRB. An asterisk (*) indicates that the retiring member will temporarily work to support the board’s transition to a new model, helping to ensure its success. Continue reading

Investing in nature pays off

Qutang Gorge, Yangtze River

China’s rapid economic growth has taken a toll on its environment, threatening the work that ecosystems do for free in the form of “ecosystem services” that benefit people. For example, healthy ecosystems store carbon, filter nutrients to provide clean water, prevent erosion, mitigate floods and sandstorms, and provide habitats that preserve biodiversity.

In 2000 China began investing in the restoration of its ecosystems to increase its “natural capital.” By 2009 the country had spent more than $50 billion on the effort. Writing in a recent issue of Science, a panel of researchers—including the U’s Stephen Polasky, Regents Professor of Applied Economics—reports a favorable result. Six of seven ecosystem services improved during the decade 2000-2010, and China’s ecosystem-restoration policies likely contributed significantly to four: carbon sequestration, soil and water retention, and sandstorm mitigation.

Polasky, along with coauthors from the United States and China, says the Chinese experience shows that improving ecosystem services can coexist with economic growth—a lesson that could be applied in other countries, including the United States. Also, its benefits ought to appeal to parties on both sides of the political divide.

Continue reading

Studying the heart, hands-on

Usually, saying a heart is beating out of its chest is just an expression.

For researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Visible Heart Laboratory, however, that phrase has become more literal. One of the lab’s main features is a living, beating pig heart that has been removed from its original body for researchers to better study how it functions. The lab is led by Paul Iaizzo, Ph.D., professor of surgery with the U’s Medical School, and supported by Medtronic Inc. Its research ranges from cellular and tissue studies to those involving whole bodily organs.

Brian Herman, Ph.D., the U’s vice president for research, recently visited the lab to learn more about the work of Iaizzo and his team. Here is a glimpse into the visit:

MN-REACH seeks health care innovators for fourth funding cycle

Various colorful medicine capsules

Researchers who have developed cutting-edge medical technologies or pharmaceuticals can soon apply for funding to help bring those discoveries to market.

The University of Minnesota’s MN-REACH program, part of the National Institutes of Health’s Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs, is now entering its fourth funding cycle to help commercialize new med-tech and pharma inventions. MN-REACH aims to improve health care by fostering the development of breakthrough lab innovations — such as therapeutics, preventatives, diagnostics, devices and software tools — into products that create health, economic and societal benefits.

Researchers can submit pre-proposals from Thursday, July 14 through Friday, Aug. 12. Funding is available in the range of $10,000 to $150,000 per project. See the list of projects selected for MN-REACH funding during Cycle 1 and Cycle 2. Awardees of Cycle 3 grants will be announced later this month. Continue reading

Automated system helps truck drivers find safe, legal parking

Trucks_InquiryBlog

Along busy highways, finding a safe and legal place to park a semi truck can be a challenge. When rest stop spaces fill up, truck drivers may park on the shoulders of highway ramps or nearby roads, creating safety concerns. Others may continue driving and become fatigued or violate federal regulations that limit commercial driving hours.

Through a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the American Transportation Research Institute, University of Minnesota researchers have developed a system to help drivers find safe and legal parking more easily. The Minnesota Truck Parking Availability System, developed by a team at the Center for Transportation Studies, automatically counts the open truck parking spaces at rest stops and informs drivers of availability in real-time.

The system feeds images taken by networks of digital cameras into image processing software developed by the researchers to function in all kinds of weather and lighting conditions. Following early demonstrations, 60 percent of drivers said the system helped them find parking during their trips. Continue reading

Streamlining regulations to help innovative research flourish

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By Pamela Webb, associate vice president for research

At universities across the nation, excessive regulatory demands are posing a large challenge for researchers. That concern, which has long been expressed by both faculty and staff at the University of Minnesota, is validated by a September 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that found “continuing expansion of the federal regulatory system and its ever-growing requirements are diminishing the effectiveness of the nation’s research investment by directing investigators’ time away from research.”

The national Faculty Workload Survey by the Federal Demonstration Partnership found that faculty spend about 42 percent of their time on administrative activities associated with research, including proposal preparation, award oversight and reporting, and a wide variety of compliance-related responsibilities. While I would be hard-pressed to suggest an ideal timeshare for faculty to spend on such activities — it would certainly depend on the type of research and its risk to the safety of participants and researchers — 42 percent is clearly too high. Researchers I speak with believe spending a third to half of their time on compliance is a real barrier to innovative research. Continue reading

Fail-safe for faulty cell division found

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When a cell divides by the process of mitosis, its chromosomes perform a well-choreographed ballet.

First, each makes a copy of itself. The copies, held together as pairs, line up in a ring around the middle of a football-shaped structure called the mitotic spindle. The chromosomes are then pulled apart, with the members of each pair migrating to opposite poles of the spindle. This creates two sets of chromosomes, one in each of the two daughter cells.

But if any chromosomes “lag”—that is, fail to line up and segregate properly—the daughter cells end up with too many or too few chromosomes. This condition, called aneuploidy, is a common feature in cancer development.

Continue reading

Time-saving tools for partnering with industry

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As federal funding for research becomes less certain, University of Minnesota faculty and staff are increasingly forming partnerships with business and industry to move their research forward. In exchange, partnering companies benefit from researchers’ world-class expertise, along with the U’s cutting-edge research infrastructure.

The University offers a set of time-saving research agreements to help faculty and staff in starting new partnerships with industry. These agreements include considerations such as how to manage the data gathered through research, how to publish the results and how to handle any resulting intellectual property.

Researchers are encouraged to use the resources below to speed up the contract process and leave more time for actual research. Continue reading

U research infrastructure gets $2.4 million boost

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The University of Minnesota’s Office of the Vice President for Research has announced the recipients of its 2016 Research Infrastructure Investment Program, which helps maintain the robust, state-of-the art equipment key to propelling research and innovation.

The awards, which totaled over $1.2 million from OVPR and were matched one-to-one by funds from supporting colleges, centers and external partners, are a one-time investment in university research infrastructure designed to ensure that crucial research facilities and support services on all campuses are viable and up-to-date for cutting-edge research. The program supports transdisciplinary research and encourages collaboration across the U’s colleges and campuses.

Eleven proposals were chosen for funding, which range from expanding the presence and research capacity of the Driven to Discover building at the Minnesota State Fair to acquiring a machine that tests the quality of asphalt mixtures and determines how well they hold up against wear and tear. The selected proposals impact researchers in at least nine colleges and eight centers and institutes across the University system. Continue reading