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March 8, 2007


Pediatric affective disorder research funded

Neal Ryan, professor of psychiatry, has been awarded $1.6 million in a continuing grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Mental Health for a project that focuses on neurobehavioral changes in the pediatric affective disorders (PAD) anxiety and depression.

The project studies patterns of mood, cognition, behavior, sleep/activity patterns, social activities, media use and daily stressors in home environments in a new sample of PAD and control subjects before and during acute treatment; examines the multi-year course of a large longitudinal sample of children and adolescents with PAD and controls as they enter young adulthood; uses event related functional MRI to examine reward-expectancy, experience of reward, experience of loss and decision-making under varying reward contingencies to investigate the neurobehavioral systems involved in reward-anticipation, loss and behavioral choice in PAD and control children; and studies mood, cognition, and behavior in the home in a sample of bipolar adolescents.

The project seeks to discover more about the neurobehavioral systems involved in positive and negative affect and approach/withdrawal behaviors; serotonergic systems; the importance of studying complex behavior in a natural setting, and the importance of understanding the longitudinal course of these interrelated disorders.


Study looks at marketing summer sessions

A case study on marketing summer sessions at small colleges by Brian A. Vander Schee, assistant professor of business management at Pitt-Bradford, recently was published in the College and University Journal.

Vander Schee’s case study was conducted at a rural private college of about 950 students where administrators sought both to increase summer session enrollment and market summer school as a way of completing undergraduate studies in three years rather than four.

The college reviewed a list of required courses to determine which classes might best be offered in summer sessions. Next, sophomore- and junior-level core courses in popular majors were reviewed. The college created a schedule consisting of two four-week sessions to enable students to enroll in two courses each session and earn a total of 12 credits over the summer.

The chief academic officer met with faculty to assess interest in teaching summer courses for $600 per credit hour — a 50 percent increase from the previous year — and guaranteed professors that their course(s) would be offered regardless of enrollment.

The spring and summer schedules were released simultaneously and the summer schedule was posted online on a two-year rotation.

Vander Schee found the changes to the planning and implementation of summer sessions resulted in a 51 percent increase in full-time equivalent enrollment over the average of the previous three years.

While faculty pay was increased, net expenses decreased because fewer courses were offered. Because enrollment in the fall and spring semesters remained flat over the same period, the increase in summer enrollment was not a mere by-product of an overall increase in student enrollment, Vander Schee found.

Based on the study and other research, Vander Schee advises small colleges seeking to increase summer enrollment to gain administrative support and to offer short sessions (including evening courses to accommodate working students and possibly some online courses) with an eye toward scheduling courses that fulfill requirements for the greatest number of students and sequential courses offered in the appropriate summer session.

He also suggests increasing faculty pay without regard to rank and offering reduced tuition in the summer.

Vander Schee noted that summer schedules should be posted years in advance and that allowing students to register for summer sessions during spring semester registration can aid in a college’s planning.

He suggests marketing the summer program to prospective students as well as to current enrollees and to promote summer sessions wisely — perhaps when students attending colleges elsewhere are likely to be home.


BARI II study funding continued

Sheryl Kelsey, professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health, is continuing in the seventh year of an $8.77 million National Institutes of Health/National Heart Lung and Blood Institute study. The Bypass Angioplasty Revascularization Investigation II study will evaluate treatments for type 2 diabetics with coronary artery disease and stable angina or ischemia. It has been found that revascularization has been less beneficial for this group than for non-diabetics.

BARI II will compare revascularization, combined with aggressive medical anti-ischemia treatment, to aggressive medical anti-ischemia treatment alone.

BARI II also will compare two glycemic control strategies, insulin sensitization vs. insulin provision.


Reading instruction project funded

Lindsay Matsumura, assistant professor in the School of Education, has been awarded $2.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education for “Content-Focused Coaching (CFC) for High Quality Reading Instruction.”

This project will implement and study a structured coaching program that is designed to improve reading comprehension instruction in the upper elementary grades in 30 schools. The researchers will investigate the impact of the content-focused coaching model, which entails a long-term engagement of teachers in a learning community focused on a specific instructional program, with the opportunity to design, enact and critique lessons with the guidance of a more expert practitioner. When implemented well, coaching creates an apprenticeship environment for learning the knowledge, skills and beliefs of the expert reading teacher.

Teacher-level outcomes (instructional quality) as well as student achievement will be compared to assess the impact of CFC on each.


Osteoarthritis Initiative gets continuing grant

C. Kent Kwoh, professor of medicine in the Department of Epidemiology, has been awarded $1.7 million in a continuing seven-year grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases for Pitt’s Osteoarthritis Initiative.

The overall objective of the Osteoarthritis Initiative is to establish a resource for the identification of biological and behavioral risk factors for osteoarthritis as well as the important early changes that are indicative of clinical disease. Because of the long incubation period of osteoarthritis, intermediate markers of progression are needed to test new therapies. A data and specimen repository will provide a public archive for evaluation and validation of osteoarthritis biomarkers.


Head Start receives grant

Laurie Mulvey of the Office of Child Development has been awarded a $1.04 million grant from the Administration for Children and Families for Pitt’s Early Head Start project. The project provides services to 140 families with 167 infants and toddlers. The model is primarily home-based with 30 children within Allegheny County receiving center-based services. The primary communities are the city of Clairton, McKees Rocks and Stowe Townships and Pittsburgh’s Hill District.


Navy grant to fund text analysis project

Janyce Wiebe, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, has been awarded a three-year, $798,000 grant from the Department of the Navy for her project, “Information Extraction of Events and Beliefs From Text.”

The project aims to develop accurate and robust techniques for extracting, summarizing and tracking information about events and beliefs from free text. It focuses on three areas of research: identifying facts and relations associated with relevant events; beliefs that are held by an entity, and tracking event and belief progressions over time.

The work will support knowledge discovery of patterns of activity, cooperation and beliefs among different entities and in different geographic regions.


Sloan grant supports industry studies research

Frank Giarratani, professor of economics and director of the Center for Industry Studies, has been awarded $750,000 from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support the development of industry studies as a multi-disciplinary field of research. In this project, a three-year goal of establishing a professional association dedicated to promoting industry studies was introduced and the basic elements of the institutional infrastructure required to support this organization put in place. By expanding activity within established programs and services, industry studies scholars will formalize and institutionalize industry studies as a multi-disciplinary research field.


CDC award to fund aerosol attack research

William Hogan, assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Biomedical Informatics, has been awarded $579,000 from the Centers for Disease Control for his project “Improving Detection of Outbreaks Due to Aerosol Attacks.” The project emphasizes the importance of developing outbreak detection algorithms to detect aerosol attacks. The research aims to determine how well analysis of syndromic data in conjunction with weather data and models of atmospheric dispersion may improve detection of outbreaks due to aerosol releases of biological agents.


SIS doctoral fellowships funded

Toni Carbo, professor in the School of Information Sciences, has been awarded $510,000 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the spectrum doctoral fellowship program. The program aims to reinforce and expand efforts to recruit ethnic and racial minorities to the library and information science (LIS) professorate and executive-level library management. The program will increase the number of racial and ethnic minorities entering and ultimately graduating from LIS doctoral programs to become LIS educators and administrators by awarding 10 fellowship packages including full tuition, a yearly stipend and career development activities.


Vitamin D deficiency affects pregnant women

Pitt researchers have found that even regular use of prenatal multivitamin supplements is not adequate to prevent vitamin D insufficiency, which is widespread among pregnant women particularly in northern latitudes.

Their report appears in the current issue of the Journal of Nutrition, the publication of the American Society for Nutrition.

“In our study, more than 80 percent of African-American women and nearly half of white women tested at delivery had levels of vitamin D that were too low, even though more than 90 percent of them used prenatal vitamins during pregnancy,” said Lisa Bodnar, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Graduate School of Public Health and lead author of the study. “The numbers also were striking for their newborns — 92.4 percent of African-American babies and 66.1 percent of white infants were found to have insufficient vitamin D at birth.”

A vitamin closely associated with bone health, vitamin D deficiency early in life is associated with rickets — a disorder characterized by soft bones and thought to have been eradicated in the United States more than 50 years ago — as well as increased risk for type 1 diabetes, asthma and schizophrenia.

“A newborn’s vitamin D stores are completely reliant on vitamin D from the mother,” said Bodnar, who also is an assistant investigator at the Magee-Womens Research Institute. “Not surprisingly, poor maternal vitamin D status during pregnancy is a major risk factor for infant rickets, which again is becoming a major health problem.”

Bodnar and her colleagues evaluated data that were collected on 200 black women and 200 white women who were randomly selected from more than 2,200 women enrolled in the MWRI’s pregnancy exposures and preeclampsia prevention study between 1997 and 2001. Samples of maternal blood were collected prior to 22 weeks of pregnancy and again just before delivery. Samples of newborn umbilical cord blood also were tested for their vitamin D status.

Finding such a proliferation of vitamin D insufficiency in spite of prenatal multivitamin use is troubling, she noted, suggesting that higher dosages, differing vitamin formulations or a moderate increase in sunlight exposure might be necessary to boost vitamin D stores to healthier levels.

“In both groups, vitamin D concentrations were highest in summer and lowest in winter and spring,” said senior author James M. Roberts, MWRI director and professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the School of Medicine. “But differences were smaller between seasons for African-American mothers and babies, whose vitamin D deficiency remained more constant.”

Vitamin D deficiency is more than three times as common in winter than in summer for all women of childbearing age in the United States. Since vitamin D is made by the body in reaction to sunlight exposure, it has long been known that vitamin D deficiency is more common among darker-skinned individuals, particularly in more northern latitudes.

“Our study shows that current vitamin D dietary intake recommendations are not enough to meet the demands of pregnancy,” Bodnar said. “Improving vitamin D status has tremendous capacity to benefit public health.”

In addition to Bodnar and Roberts, study authors include Hyagriv N. Simhan, Robert W. Powers, Michael P. Frank and Emily Cooperstein, all of MWRI.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.


Small firms may add e-business bit by bit

Three Pitt-Bradford professors presented a paper at a business forum last month that addressed assisting small businesses with e-commerce.

Don Lewicki, associate professor of business management; Diana Maguire, associate director of the entrepreneurship program, and Rick Nelson, associate professor of business management, presented the paper, “An Incremental E-Commerce Model and Planning Guide for the Small Firm,” in January at the U.S. Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship’s Small Business Institute conference.

Their work emphasizes an iterative approach to e-business, offering a model that advances the idea that a firm may adopt e-business incrementally.

“It provides a logical series of steps as a firm moves toward full e-business functionality,” Maguire said. “Beyond offering this model as a guide through the various phases of the process, the paper suggests crucial issues that overlay the typical small firm’s consideration of e-business.”

Among the issues addressed are the critical importance of a firm’s assessment of its customers and a genuine understanding of its competitive position; the often exaggerated view of the costs, risks and the degree of expertise required for initial steps into e-business, and the need for an informed approach when a firm evaluates proposals by external providers of IT and management consulting.


Protein receptor’s role in lung cancer studied

Edwina Lerner Kinchington, a research instructor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, has received a $100,000, two-year grant from The Joan Scarangello Foundation to Conquer Lung Cancer. Kinchington will evaluate the role of gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) in lung tumor growth.

The grant also will support Kinchington’s work to test the therapeutic potential of chemotherapy that inhibits both the GRPR pathway and the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) pathway. GRPR is located on the X-chromosome, which allows women to express two copies of this gene compared to men, who only express one copy. This may indicate why the relative risk of lung cancer between men and women and the response to therapy appear to differ.

Through the grant, Kinchington hopes to understand more about the different expression of genes between men and women and to determine if using a combined therapy for GRPR and EGFR is an effective treatment for lung cancer.


Researchers to study disease factors in post menopausal women

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health recently awarded 12 new contracts worth a total of nearly $18.7 million for studies that will investigate the impact of genetic and biological markers on common diseases affecting post-menopausal women.

Two of the awards were made to Graduate School of Public Health investigators as part of the Women’s Health Initiative, a major 15-year research program designed to address cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis — the most frequent causes of death, disability and poor quality of life in post-menopausal women.

Jane Cauley, a professor in GSPH’s Department of Epidemiology, received a two-year contract to examine risk markers for fracture in groups of minority and white women. This study will be the first comprehensive investigation of biochemical factors leading to fracture in minority women. The results promise to explain differences in fracture rates and to help target prevention strategies.

Lewis Kuller, a University Professor of Public Health in GSPH’s Department of Epidemiology, received a two-year contract to determine how differences in estrogen metabolism by women who receive either estrogen or estrogen plus progestin influence their risk of hip fracture and breast cancer.

The research team will measure levels of two estrogen metabolites and evaluate their role as biomarkers of breast cancer and hip fracture. They also will study whether estrogen metabolism differs when estrogen is opposed by a progestin and if a hormone therapy recipient’s metabolism of estrogen relates to the risk of hip fracture.


School to train pharmacists in medication therapy management

The prevalence of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease has made complex medication regimens a fact of life for an increasing number of people. Because pharmacists play a critical role in the delivery of care to these patients, the School of Pharmacy developed the Pittsburgh Model of medication therapy management, a prototype for a comprehensive program that encourages collaboration between physicians and pharmacists to optimize patient care.

A pilot study of the Pittsburgh Model yielded promising results, including improved health outcomes and fewer drug-related issues in patients.

To expand the scope of this endeavor and create a statewide standard of care, the DSF Charitable Foundation, the charitable-giving organization of the David Scaife family, has awarded $250,000 to the School of Pharmacy in support of “The Pennsylvania Project: Preparing Pharmacists for Patient-Centered Care.” By training pharmacists in Pittsburgh and faculty members from the Commonwealth’s five other pharmacy schools, the Pennsylvania Project strives to reach an even greater number of patients with comprehensive medication therapy management services, in addition to engaging more physicians as partners in such efforts.

In addition to the direct training being supported by this grant, resources and materials will be developed for use in future education on the Pittsburgh Model.


Nutrition info can overcome comfort food indulgence

Lab studies conducted by former Katz Graduate School of Business PhD student Nitika Garg (now an assistant professor of marketing in the University of Mississippi’s School of Business Administration); Jeff Inman, the Albert Wesley Frey Professor of Marketing at Katz; and Brian Wansink of Cornell University show that people eat larger amounts of unhealthy foods (such as buttered popcorn and candy) when they are in a sad state (while watching a sad movie or reading a tragic news story) than when they are in a happy state. Presenting the snacks’ nutritional information eliminated this tendency.

In an article published in the January issue of the Journal of Marketing, Garg, Inman and Wansink discussed the implications of their study for responsible marketers, health professionals and health-conscious consumers.

According to Inman, “Our research supports the stereotype of sad people turning to food to try to make themselves feel better. What I find particularly interesting is that when we gave people a reason to think about the food by sensitizing them to the nutritional content, they controlled themselves and did not turn to food. Also, when we offered them raisins, a healthy food, it was the happy people who ate more. So the mood-food effect depends on the type of food (healthy/tasty-but-unhealthy) and the mood (happy/sad).”


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