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December 4, 1997


Professor wins award for foreign language learning research

Richard Donato, professor of instruction and learning in the School of Education, has been awarded the 1997 Paul Pimsleur Award for Research in Foreign Language Education for his article on how children learn a foreign language.

The results of Donato's research were included in the article, "Monitoring and Assessing a Japanese FLES Program: Ambiance and Achievement," which was chosen by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the Modern Language Journal. The award, a commemorative plaque and $200, was presented at the 31st annual ACTFL Convention in Nashville.

Recipients of the Paul Pimsleur Award are authors of an outstanding published contribution to research in foreign language education. Donato and his co-authors Janis L. Antonek, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and G. Richard Tucker, Carnegie Mellon University, have been involved in an innovative Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program at Falk School, part of Pitt's School of Education. Since 1992, the research team has been looking at students' proficiency gains in Japanese over time, and how the students use Japanese both inside and outside the classroom.


UPMC surgeon performing new procedure for ankle joint replacement

For people with severe arthritis of the ankle joint, an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon at UPMC Health System has been helping to pioneer a new procedure for total ankle joint replacement. Stephen F. Conti, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the School of Medicine and chief of orthopaedic foot and ankle surgery at UPMC, has been working with DePuy Inc., of Warsaw, Ind., maker of the Agility Total Ankle System, the newly designed implant used in the procedure. The surgery, in which the ankle joint is removed and replaced with the Agility Ankle prosthesis, offers hope for people, generally aged 50 or older, who have painful ankle joint arthritis and for whom non-surgical treatment is ineffective, according to Conti. He has successfully performed the operation on 25 patients over the past 18 months.


Researchers link trauma with adolescent alcohol abuse

The majority of adolescents with alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse may have been exposed to traumatic events such as physical violence or sexual abuse, say researchers at the Pittsburgh Adolescent Alcohol Research Center of UPMC Health System's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

According to Duncan Clark, assistant professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, many 14- to 18-year-olds who have alcohol problems suffered from more than one traumatic event. Results of a study he and his colleagues conducted are published in the December Journal of the American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry. The study's findings suggest alcohol and drug prevention programs may be particularly relevant for adolescents who have been physically or sexually abused. In the United States, 5 percent of adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. In the study group of 183 adolescents with alcohol dependence or abuse and 73 community control adolescents, the Pitt researchers found that those who had problems with alcohol were 6-12 times more likely to have a history of physical abuse and 18- 21 times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse. Sexual abuse was more common among girls, while other physical violence was more common among boys.

"We found that many of these adolescents are involved in a vicious cycle," Clark said. "Some painful experiences in a child's life may contribute to alcohol abuse while alcohol use contributes to further traumas." Other researchers who contributed to the study were Lynne Lesnick, University of Pittsburgh, and Andrea M. Hegedus, University of Michigan.


Researchers from Pitt, CMU receive $7 million grant to study autism

Pitt's Autism Research Project and the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University have received a five-year, $7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct research that may help to point out the specific cognitive processes impaired in autism and the underlying abnormalities in the activity and "wiring" of the brain. The grant is part of a $27 million international collaborative network of researchers investigating the neurobiology and genetics of autism. This research network is a joint effort of the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders. "We're using the latest technology to allow us to examine in detail how people with autism think and how their brain is functioning while they are thinking," said Nancy Minshew, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology and director of the Autism Research Project. "These methods will help us to see what the wiring in the brain is like in autism and how it works differently. This research is an important step because so little is known about the complex cognitive abilities impaired in autism, which are unique to humans and essential to successful functioning in society." Researchers are seeking 300 verbal individuals with autism between aged 7-50 who have IQ scores of 80 or above.

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