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March 17, 2011

Research Notes

Mesothelioma funding awarded

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) recently was awarded $350,000 over three years from the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation to enhance the comprehensive mesothelioma program at UPCI and the UPMC Cancer Centers.

David Bartlett, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at the UPMC Cancer Centers, stated, “We are incredibly thankful for the generous gift from the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation to expand our program, which will positively impact the lives of so many people diagnosed with mesothelioma and their families.”

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the lining of the internal organs. It most commonly affects the lungs and abdomen. Mesothelioma is diagnosed in more than 2,000 people each year, most of whom have had exposure to asbestos.

Treatment can include surgery to remove the lining of the infected organs, radiation and chemotherapy. Because mesothelioma can be difficult to control, researchers are working to find new treatments and refine the current treatment options.

The Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation was established in 2010 through a pledge from Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC, a national law firm that has represented thousands of victims of mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease. The foundation’s mission is to fund research, build awareness and advocate for those with mesothelioma.

PSC helps map brain’s wiring

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) scientists Art Wetzel and Greg Hood, in collaboration with a team from Harvard, co-authored a paper on brain anatomy featured as the cover story in the March 10 issue of Nature, the international weekly journal of science.

The Harvard-PSC team exploited improvements in computer speed and storage capacity available at PSC that made it possible to transmit and process more than 3 million high-resolution images from a pinpoint-sized region of a mouse brain. Starting with these very thin slice (40 nanometers) images — obtained at Harvard via electron microscopy — Wetzel and Hood stitched together a large-scale single-section mosaic. From these sections, they then reconstructed a 3-D volume, making it possible for the Harvard team to trace interconnections among selected neurons, in effect mapping a wiring diagram of a portion of the mouse visual cortex.

By tracing interconnections within this volume, the Harvard researchers produced new insights into how the brain functions, finding that neurons tasked with suppressing brain activity seem to be randomly wired, putting the lid on local groups of neurons all at once rather than picking and choosing. Such findings are important because many neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, are the result of neural inhibition gone awry.

The team now is working to scale up this platform to generate larger datasets to further unravel the mysteries of how the brain works.


The University Times Research Notes column reports on funding awarded to Pitt researchers as well as findings arising from University research.

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