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March 31, 2005


Researchers win grants

The following University researchers were awarded new, renewed or continuation awards in excess of $250,000, according to Pitt’s Office of Research.

Dean Bacich, assistant professor of urology at the School of Medicine, received $306,928 from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command to study “The Role of Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen in Prostate Cancer Initiation and Progression.”

Bacich’s project will attempt to explain the role of the prostate specific membrane antigen in the initiation and growth of prostate cancer in animals.


David Brienza, an associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was awarded $779,728 from the Pennsylvania Department of Education for “Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Telerehabilitation.”

The grant will help serve people with disabilities by researching and developing methods, systems and technologies that support the remote delivery of rehabilitation and home health care services for individuals who have limited local access to comprehensive medical rehabilitation outpatient and community-based services.


Sheryl Kelsey, professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health, received a $264,888 grant from Vasomedical for a continuation of her project “Registry of Enhanced External Counterpulsation.”

The grant will maintain a multi-center national registry of consecutive patients undergoing enhanced external counter pulsation. The Epidemiology Data Center receives and processes data collection forms, sends schedules to clinical sites for patients due for annual follow-up, edits and analyzes data and generates reports.


Seong-Gi Kim, professor of neurobiology, School of Medicine, was awarded $295,206 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for the continuation his work with “Functional MRI at Columnar Resolution.”


Susan Sesack, associate professor of neuroscience in the School of Arts and Sciences and of psychiatry in the School of Medicine, received a $267,786 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for the continuation of her research in “Afferent Regulation of VTA Dopamine Neuron Populations.”


Shivendra Singh, professor of pharmacology and urology in the School of Medicine and co-program leader of the Biochemoprevention Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, was awarded $279,180 from the National Cancer Institute for work on “Novel GST and Detoxification of Diol Epoxides.”


Roundup highly lethal to amphibians in natural setting

The herbicide Roundup is used widely to eradicate weeds. But in a study published recently, a Pitt researcher found that the chemical might be eradicating much more than that.

Rick Relyea, assistant professor of biology, found that Roundup, the second most commonly applied herbicide in the United States, is “extremely lethal” to amphibians. This field experiment is one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, and the results may provide a key link to the global decline of amphibians.

In a paper titled “The Impact of Insecticides and Herbicides on the Biodiversity and Productivity of Aquatic Communities,” published in the journal Ecological Applications, Relyea examined how a pond’s entire community — 25 species, including crustaceans, insects, snails and tadpoles — responded to the addition of the manufacturers’ recommended doses of two insecticides, Sevin (carbaryl) and malathion, and two herbicides, Roundup (glyphosate) and 2,4-D.

Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were eliminated completely and wood frog tadpoles and toad tadpoles nearly were eliminated. One species of frog, spring peepers, was unaffected.

“The most shocking insight coming out of this was that Roundup, something designed to kill plants, was extremely lethal to amphibians,” said Relyea, who conducted the research at Pitt’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. “We added Roundup, and the next day we looked in the tanks and there were dead tadpoles all over the bottom.”

Relyea initially conducted the experiment to see whether Roundup would have an indirect effect on the frogs by killing their food source, the algae. However, he found that Roundup, although an herbicide, actually increased the amount of algae in the pond because it killed most of the frogs.

“It’s like killing all the cows in a field and seeing that the field has more grass in it — not because you made the grass grow better, but because you killed everything that eats grass,” he said.

Previous research had found that the lethal ingredient in Roundup was not the herbicide itself, glyphosate, but rather the surfactant, or detergent, that allows the herbicide to penetrate the waxy surfaces of plants. In Roundup, that surfactant is a chemical called polyethoxylated tallowamine. Other herbicides have less dangerous surfactants: For example, Relyea’s study found that 2,4-D had no effect on tadpoles.

“We’ve repeated the experiment, so we’re confident that this is, in fact, a repeatable result that we see,” said Relyea. “It’s fair to say that nobody would have guessed Roundup was going to be so lethal to amphibians.”

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