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November 21, 2002


Grants awarded to researchers

The U.S. Department of Education has granted $363,226 to Ariel Burgos of Pitt's Challenge for Excellence Programs to fund the Student Support Services Program, which provides academic support and counseling to students with academic need.

The chemistry department's Dennis Curran has received $267,008 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for research aimed at advancing the young field of fluorous chemistry.

David Kolko of the medical school's psychiatry department has been awarded a $448,613 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for a project examining how the setting in which treatment of child conduct problems is delivered influences treatment outcome, service satisfaction/use and cost-effectiveness.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has granted $5.9 million to the medicine department's C. Kent Kwoh for the University of Pittsburgh Clinical Center for the Osteoarthritis Initiative.

Roberta Ness of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command for the research project, "Novel Risk Factors and Potential Early Detection Markers for Ovarian Cancer."

The medicine department's David Whitcomb has been granted $642,118 by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for a national study to determine the regional prevalence of major pancreatic diseases, to determine the underlying genetic variations and immune markers associated with pancreatitis, and to develop a major biological and phenotypic resource for future investigations.


Pitt professors to coordinate genetics research

projects in India Two Pitt researchers have received grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to initiate collaborations among scientists in India and the United States in the area of human genetics.

Daniel Weeks, professor of human genetics and associate professor of biostatistics in Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health, and Vishwajit Nimgaonkar, professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine, were awarded separate grants from the Fogarty International Center (FIC) of the NIH. Weeks and Nimgaonkar lead two of the six research projects newly funded by the FIC to support international collaborations in human genetic sciences.

Weeks and colleagues, in collaboration with The Chatterjee Group-Indian Statistical Institute Centre for Population Genomics in Calcutta, India, will focus their research-training project on genetic epidemiology and ethical conduct of human genetics research in India, with emphasis on statistical and computational genomics and molecular genomics. They will train researchers in India to develop large-scale genetic epidemiological studies in that country.

Nimgaonkar and his team will collaborate with scientists at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, New Delhi, to conduct research training in psychiatric genetic epidemiology and ethics. In addition to conventional didactic and practical training in the United States, the program will involve supervised field training in New Delhi. The long-term goal of the program is to better understand severe psychiatric disorders. The data resulting from this project will facilitate future genetic counseling and gene mapping efforts.


Animal studies verify hormone replacement therapy can improve learning

For estrogen to enhance learning and memory, nerve cells in the brain called cholinergic neurons are essential to the process, suggest animal studies performed by researchers from Pitt's School of Pharmacy and reported in the November issue of Hormones and Behavior, the official journal of the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology.

"Estrogen replacement in postmenopausal women has important effects on mood and cognition. This research was focused on trying to understand what estrogen does in the brain to reduce the effects on brain aging and cognitive decline," said Robert Gibbs, a Pitt associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences.

In the study, rats had their ovaries removed and some of the animals had specific cholinergic neurons destroyed. A few weeks after surgery, most of the animals were put on estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), while some were not. Four weeks after ERT, the animals were placed several times in a maze to test their memory and performance. Rats that had their ovaries removed with subsequent ERT outperformed rats on various tasks without ERT. The ability of estrogen to enhance performance was lost in animals that had specific cholinergic neurons removed.

"This tells us that the cholinergic neurons are necessary for estrogen to enhance performance in this model," Gibbs explained.

"We have shown, as in previous studies, that acute and short-term estrogen replacement can significantly enhance the functional status of cholinergic neurons. These results give us hope that estrogen may help to significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer's-related dementia in postmenopausal women, possibly by affecting these cholinergic neurons," added Gibbs.

While there have been some studies on the effects of hormone replacement therapy in cognitive decline in postmenopausal women, many experts say further studies need to be done. Sarah L. Berga, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and psychiatry at Pitt's School of Medicine, who was not officially part of this study, notes that this evidence adds to the growing body of cellular and epidemiological data suggesting that estrogen use after menopause guards against the development of dementia.

"The study also suggests why starting estrogen after dementia has developed is ineffective. For estrogen to work, the neurons must be alive and working," Berga said.

Gibbs concluded: "I would hesitate to say that these results extend to humans, but the findings are encouraging because they help pinpoint a specific biological effect that may underlie beneficial effects on cognitive performance."


UPB prof presents research on androgyny

'BioDun Ogundayo, an assistant professor of French and comparative literature at Pitt's Bradford campus, presented his research on the concept of androgyny last month.

Ogundayo presented "The Power of Two: Androgyny in African Cosmologies" at the International Conference on Religion, Literature and the Arts at the University of Sydney.

Ogundayo presented a comparative analysis of androgyny, explaining how the concept is viewed differently in African and Western societies.

In two African cosmologies — Dogon and Yoruba — androgyny is an integral part of their spirituality, which they express through rituals, worship and daily living, Ogundayo said. Examples of androgyny in African cosmologies include the concept of male wife and female husband, and the female head — or witch — of a coven of wizards. In language, androgyny is reflected in Yoruba nouns and pronouns, which tend to be of fluid and indeterminate gender.

In postmodern Western civilizations, androgyny seems to have lost its central role in mainstream religious expression, Ogundayo said. Some theologies consider androgyny as a resurgence of paganism — a sort of neo-paganism — and therefore a threat to Christianity and other religious orthodoxy. Also, androgyny seems to have been reduced to a literary and artistic concept; for example, in popular culture the concept often implies alternative life styles and sexuality, Ogundayo said.

Also, feminism and gay and lesbian studies are philosophical expressions of androgyny as a concept, since they advocate inclusion of the non-masculine in our understanding of humanity, Ogundayo said.

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