Glial cells: guardians of brain activity

Gilal cells

After a stroke, blood flow through capillaries is hard to restore, even when the blood clot is removed. In Alzheimer’s disease, blood flow to some brain areas is compromised. In diabetic retinopathy, diabetes patients’ retinas deteriorate. The problem may be a compromised blood supply that can’t meet the demands of neurons.

In all these conditions, neurons are starved for the oxygen and glucose they need to function properly. Normally, when neurons in the brain or retina are working and need extra nourishment, some type of signal prompts nearby blood vessels to dilate and let more blood through. Pinpointing the nature and origin of such signals is critical to finding treatments for conditions in which it is lost or weakened.

But the signals don’t necessarily pass directly from neurons to blood vessels. University of Minnesota researchers have shown that in the retina, cells called glia—Latin for “glue”—respond to neuronal activity by signaling capillaries within the retina to dilate, increasing capillary blood flow by up to 26 percent. Their report is a cover story for the Journal of Neuroscience.

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New poultry testing lab expands capabilities

Minnesota Poultry Testing Lab

In Minnesota, poultry is big business. A high-tech renovation to the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory, unveiled at a grand opening last week in Willmar, expands the state’s ability to test for diseases and safeguard this $5 billion industry.

The MPTL is a cooperative venture of the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The laboratory helps protect poultry and human health by providing rapid detection of poultry diseases and certifying poultry for shipments. 300,000 avian testing procedures are conducted each year, and the renovation will allow the MPTL to conduct new molecular tests, including Avian Influenza, Newcastle Disease and Avian Metapneumovirus.

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U named Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s research

Driven to discover - Patrick O'Leary

University of Minnesota researchers have received a major grant that will amplify efforts to develop new treatments for complex and debilitating brain disorders.

Today, the University was named a Morris K. Udall Center for Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research by the National Institutes of Health. The designation provides $9.07 million over the next five years to establish a Udall Center at the University and fund multidisciplinary research that aims to reveal the fundamental causes of Parkinson’s and improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients with the disease. With its new designation, the U of M joins nine other centers at research institutions across the country.

Jerrold Vitek, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the University’s Department of Neurology, will lead the Udall Center. His team will collaborate with world-class researchers from across the globe, bringing together some of the brightest minds in Parkinson’s research.

MnDRIVE

The Minnesota Legislature’s ongoing investment in MnDRIVE research helped set the stage for the Udall Center. Over the past two years, MnDRIVE Brain Conditions researchers have explored new and improved therapies for Parkinson’s and other brain-based movement disorders using cutting-edge deep brain stimulation techniques. These research efforts will expand and continue through the Udall Center. In addition to Vitek, a MnDRIVE steering committee member, scholars and post-doctoral fellows from the program will also join the newly established Udall Center.

See the press release for more about the U of M Udall Center and its three main research projects.

Watch this video of University leaders discussing the impact of the Udall Center designation.

Minnesotans drive research forward at D2D building

DrivertoDiscover_InquiryBlog

There aren’t many places where you can ride a Ferris wheel, feed a farm animal, catch a rock concert, and then mosey up the road to contribute to world-class research. The Minnesota State Fair, however, is one such place.

Now in its third year at the State Fair, the University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover (D2D) building connects the nearly 2 million annual fairgoers with opportunities to learn about and participate in research from across a wide range of University departments and colleges. Visitors to the D2D building can learn about and volunteer for one or more of research projects conducted on the spot, that change every day, ranging from how people regulate their own eating habits to how multitasking affects their ability to safely drive a car. Fairgoers can also sign up to be involved in studies requiring specialized laboratory facilities, which are conducted on the U’s campus after the Fair.

This year, 32 studies were held in the D2D building, and more than 13,000 fairgoers volunteered to participate in a research project.

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Lab tests structural strength against earthquakes, other natural forces

Building destroyed by earthquake

In late August, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake devastated Central Italy, killing hundreds and injuring hundreds more. The quake also demolished many structures, destroying homes and buildings of historic and cultural importance.

When it comes to earthquakes and other natural disasters, designing structures to be resilient against environmental forces can help limit the resulting damage. Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Multi-Axial Subassemblage Testing (MAST) Lab can test how structures and building components hold up against the strain of enormous natural forces, from simulated earthquakes to tornadoes to soil pressure. The lab, originally supported for 15 years by grants through the National Science Foundation, is part of the College of Science and Engineering’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering.

Mounted at the top of the MAST Lab’s testing area is a steel crosshead that precisely twists, compresses and stretches large structures through six components of movement or forces. The equipment, driven by specialized software, allows researchers to simulate the many forms of stress that building materials and components might experience not only from natural forces, but from the weight of the structure itself. The lab can test structural components nearly 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and exert up to 1.3 million pounds of vertical force — enough to lift an Airbus A380 jet airliner, plus its passengers and cargo, off the ground.

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Why prostate cancer treatment falls short

ManWithDoctor_InquiryBlog

A common treatment for prostate cancer targets only one type of cancer cell, leaving patients vulnerable to a second type that continues to multiply, according to work at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC).

“The problem is that some of the cancer cells are dependent on androgens–testosterone and other male hormones–and some cancer cells require estrogens,” says research leader Akhouri Sinha, a professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, the Masonic Cancer Center, and the VAMC. “[A common treatment] is to drastically reduce the supply of androgens, but that leaves the estrogen-dependent cancer cells to grow and thrive.

“It’s like trying to shut off a river by damming only the main channel, while letting water in the side channels continue to flow.”

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Two U startups named among “Best University Startups 2016”

Sun shining over city street

Two University of Minnesota startups received national recognition today for their potential to create jobs, advance technology and meet societal challenges in industry and the environment.

Innotronics and Minnepura, both launched by the U’s Venture Center, were named among the 35 “Best University Startups 2016” by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2), an association of university startup officers. The startups were chosen from a group of 200 submitted companies launched by universities across the U.S.

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New startups take on societal challenges in health, environment

MplsSkyline_InquiryFeature

When it comes to finding solutions to some of the largest challenges facing society today, research and innovation are some of the best tools available.

The University of Minnesota’s 10-year strategic plan, Driving Tomorrow, lays out the role that cutting-edge University research will play in addressing the grand challenges that face Minnesota, the U.S. and the world. The plan highlights how innovative research conducted by interdisciplinary teams can lead to new solutions that help society succeed in finding ways to feed the world sustainably, foster just and equitable communities and more.

The focus on the five Grand Challenges is growing throughout the University’s research endeavors, and its startup enterprise is no exception. Fiscal year 2016 saw another record number of startups launched, and several of these companies are working to implement promising new discoveries that connect to these priorities.

Below, Inquiry highlights two new startups that are further developing U research to create solutions in the Grand Challenges areas of advancing health through tailored solutions and assuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems.

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Students gain STEM experience as interns in MnDRIVE labs

Lab_InquiryBlog

The Multisensory Perception Lab, part of the Center for Applied and Translational Sensory Science, can study audio-visual perception in a variety of simulated environments.

This summer, five undergraduate students gained valuable laboratory experience while contributing to MnDRIVE-related research at the University of Minnesota.

Two MnDRIVE research areas — Brain Conditions and Environment — partnered with the North Star STEM Alliance to offer the internship opportunity. North Star STEM, part of a network of similar programs funded by the National Science Foundation, provides academic support, undergraduate research and professional development to underrepresented minorities in Minnesota working toward bachelor’s degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields.

While this is the first year MnDRIVE Brain Conditions has partnered with North Star STEM on internship opportunities, MnDRIVE Environment had two summer interns in 2015. North Star STEM director Anne Hornickel said interns who have participated to date have benefited greatly from working with faculty and graduate students on research both in the lab and in the field.

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Venture Center launches record 17 startups in FY16

The University of Minnesota announced today that it launched a record 17 startup companies over the past year based on discoveries and inventions by its researchers.

Launching new companies is one of the primary ways the University turns cutting-edge research discoveries into commercial products that fuel the economy and contribute to the public good. The 17 startups include 14 in Minnesota, with 13 of them in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and one in Duluth.

The FY16 record follows a milestone accomplishment in early June, when the University’s Venture Center announced it had launched its 100th startup since its founding 10 years ago, with 82 percent of those companies still active. A part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, the Venture Center matches intellectual property resulting from university research with experienced CEOs to provide a platform for that research to reach the public.

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Leader in research administration receives field’s top honor

A longtime leader in research administration at the University of Minnesota has been recognized with her profession’s top honor.

Pamela Webb, associate vice president for research, received this year’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research Administration from the National Council of University Research Administrators. The award recognizes Webb’s significant contributions to the field of research administration, as well as the time, knowledge and service she has provided to NCURA itself.

Pamela Webb

Pamela Webb

Webb has been involved in research administration for 32 years, with responsibilities including pre-award and post-award non-financial sponsored project services, research compliance oversight, negotiation of facilities and administrative (F&A) rates, effort reporting, and export controls. She has also worked with technology transfer, conflict of interest, animal subject tracking systems, and human subject policy and procedure. Continue reading

Fall 2016 Grant-in-Aid competition

The University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship Program promotes the research, scholarly and artistic activities of faculty and supports academic excellence throughout the University. Administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Grant-in-Aid program provides seed funding for a wide range of projects in five funding categories.

Timeline to apply:

Aug. 22, 2016        Start accepting applications
Sept. 19, 2016       Deadline for applications to be routed to approvers
Sept. 22, 2016       Deadline for approvers to submit final applications to OVPR

Visit Grant-in-Aid to learn more about the funding categories, eligibility requirements, how to apply and see samples of some exemplary proposals.

Questions? Contact the Research Advancement office: facgrant@umn.edu or 612-625-2356.