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October 26, 2006


Cannabinoid database in development

Xiang-Qun Xie, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, was awarded $627,198 by the National Institutes of Health to develop an electronic public repository containing structured information on cannabinoids. The database will allow scientists to search for and retrieve information on cannabinoids more readily, promoting information exchange and data-sharing among researchers studying the subject.


Aging study funded

Anne Newman of the Graduate School of Public Health has been awarded a $1.35 million grant from the National Institute on Aging for a study of disability-free aging.

An earlier study found that subclinical cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a predictor for impaired physical and cognitive function, but, the researchers say, the disease alone does not explain fully the effect of age on decline in function because some study participants maintain their function in spite of subclinical CVD.

The new research will focus on participants from the CVD study who now have reached age 80 or above to determine the likelihood of maintaining function in old age and to identify the patterns that distinguish those who are likely to do well.


Science ed partnership to continue

Chemistry professor Joseph Grabowski has been awarded a $656,000 National Science Foundation grant for the continuation of a project to improve science education in urban schools. The grant will help fund partnerships between Pitt students and grade 3-8 teachers in the Pittsburgh public schools to increase teachers’ science content knowledge on the concept of energy.

The project will include discussion of the nature of scientific inquiry, examples of strategies to engage elementary and middle school students in argumentation and explanation related to empirical phenomena, and an analysis of the instruction provided by the team members.


Study seeks treatments for obesity

David Kelley of the Department of Medicine has received a $4.1 million, four-year Pennsylvania Department of Health grant to establish a new Center of Excellence in Research on Obesity that will focus on developing evidence-based treatment guidelines for those with severe obesity.

Kelley plans to study the impact of severe obesity on quality of life and in response to treatment. His research also will test non-invasive methods to measure energy expenditure, will search for biomarkers of impaired fat oxidation and will examine the role of obesity-induced inflammation as a cause for leptin resistance.

His project seeks to translate key research findings into community-based intervention programs in partnership with existing wellness programs.


Grant to aid researchers’ communication

Michael Becich of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has received $2.5 million in continued funding for the cancer biomedical informatics grid from the National Cancer Institute.

This project involves the deployment of an integrating biomedical informatics infrastructure, to speed cancer research communities’ access to key bioinformatics platforms. The platform will allow research groups to tap into emerging cancer research data while supporting their individual investigations.


Army to fund DDI study

John Lazo of Pitt’s Drug Discovery Institute has received nearly $1.8 million in funding from the Department of the Army to study the development of treatments for diseases or toxins that could be used as weapons. The grant will fund the study of protein phosphatases as a molecular target for the prevention or treatment of human pathogens. In addition, the grant will increase DDI’s capacity to identify quickly potential drugs for rare or neglected diseases, especially those diseases of interest to the members of the armed forces.


New pump aims to help pediatric cardiac patients

Harvey Borovetz of the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine has been awarded $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health for a continuation of a project to develop a ventricular assist device for infants with congenital or acquired heart diseases.

A consortium that includes Pitt, Children’s Hospital, MedQuest and Magnetic Moments LLC is developing the device for use in children from birth to age 2. The device is based on a miniature centrifugal flow pump featuring magnetic levitation to ensure minimal blood trauma and risk of thrombosis.


Elementary math education study continues

Lauren Resnick of Pitt’s Learning Research and Development Center has received a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant for the continuation of a project to study the conditions necessary for successful scaling-up of curriculum adoption in elementary school mathematics. The joint effort is being conducted with RAND.

Researchers are exploring how human and social capital within a school interact to affect curricular implementation, how characteristics of the curriculum moderate the relationship between human and social capital and implementation, how district strategies influence the human and social capital in schools via the structure and organization of professional development opportunities and curriculum roll-out strategies, and how the breadth, depth and endurance of implementation of a research-based curriculum ultimately influence student achievement.


Dopamine release mechanisms probed

The neurotransmitter dopamine continues to be released for nearly an hour after neurons are stimulated, suggesting the existence of secondary mechanisms that allow for sustained availability of dopamine in different regions of the brain, including areas critical for memory consolidation, drug-induced plasticity and maintaining active networks during working memory, according to a Pitt study presented recently at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Neurons in the brain increase their firing rate when stimulated, boosting the release of dopamine, which enters extracellular space in the brain until it can be transported or metabolized.

Pitt researchers have discovered that extracellular dopamine levels in rats remain above the baseline long after neurons had been stimulated.

Bita Moghaddam, the professor of neuroscience and psychiatry who led the study, and his colleagues are conducting experiments to identify the exact mechanism causing this “post-stimulus activated release.”

Determining those mechanisms and how they maintain dopamine levels could have important implications for understanding and treating disorders caused by an imbalance of dopamine function, such as schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease and addiction.

Moghaddam said that, in addition to its clinical benefits, post-stimulus activated release may explain how brief events that activate neurons for short periods of time can influence brain function long after the events.

For example, it can be used to explain how smelling freshly baked cookies could evoke childhood memories of spending time with a beloved grandparent, leading a person to reminisce long after the smell is gone and take the unplanned or impulsive action of baking or buying cookies.

The National Institute of Mental Health provided funding.


Spinal cord injury grant renewed

Pitt has received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) renewing funding for its University of Pittsburgh Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury (UPMC-SCI), which researches innovative assistive technologies that improve mobility and independence for people with spinal cord injuries.

UPMC-SCI director Michael Boninger said, “This continued funding will allow us to expand our efforts in several areas and evaluate patient data and outcomes more extensively, both here at Pitt as well as in multiple model centers throughout the country.” Boninger also is professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the School of Medicine.

The UPMC-SCI will continue to focus primarily on developing assistive technologies and ensuring that people with spinal cord injuries can access them. Boninger and his colleagues also plan to explore interventions designed to prevent upper limb pain and injury in new wheelchair users.

NIDRR is a division of the U.S. Department of Education’s Department of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services dedicated to maximizing the research, social integration, employment and independence of persons with disabilities.


GSPH awarded flu intervention study grant

The Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) has been awarded a two-year, $2.75 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions against outbreaks of influenza in schools and homes.

The Pittsburgh Influenza Prevention Project will work to develop a school-based early warning system to identify early flu cases and outbreaks and will study the effectiveness of simple anti-flu measures in keeping the disease from spreading in homes with school-aged children.

“This grant will allow us to work with Pittsburgh-area schools to better understand the spread of influenza and to reduce the number and severity of influenza outbreaks in schools and homes,” said Donald S. Burke, dean of GSPH and principal investigator on the project.

“These important lessons will be shared with schools and public health leaders nationally and internationally.”

Partnering with GSPH are the Pittsburgh Public Schools, UPMC, the School of Medicine, the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

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