Research Notes

Follow-Up – Fall 2018

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here is an update on a past UConn Health Journal stories:


Glycogen Storage Disease

Dr. Annabelle Rodriguez-Oquendo, professor of cell biology at the UConn School of Medicine, was recently issued a diagnostic patent to test for a genetic predisposition for an abnormal inflammatory response that causes several life-threatening disorders, like coronary artery disease and chronic inflammatory disease. Lipid Genomics, the start-up Rodriguez-Oquendo founded in 2010, has exclusively licensed the technology from UConn Health. The company is currently in discussion with potential investors to continue commercialization of this product, as well as other therapeutic innovations for HDL-cholesterol dysfunction.

Winter 2015, “Getting to the Heart of the Matter”

Lab Notes – Summer 2018

Gout Drug Increases Risk of Death in Some

A study of gout patients taking one of two medications used to prevent excess buildup of uric acid has linked the drug febuxostat to an increased risk of death for users with heart disease when compared to the medication allopurinol. In contrast, the study found no difference between the two medications when considering the risk of nonfatal coronary events, including hospitalizations for heart failure, arrhythmias, pulmonary embolism, myocardial infarction, or stroke. The findings of the trial (commonly referred to as the CARES trial), led by UConn School of Medicine’s Dr. William B. White, were released at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Previously, no cardiovascular clinical trial has ever demonstrated an increased risk of cardiovascular death without also showing a heightened risk of other cardiovascular outcomes.


Prostate Medication Ups Dementia Threat

Tamsulosin

Tamsulosin, a medication prescribed to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), may increase the risk of dementia in men ages 65 or older, a recent UConn study published in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety found. The risk of developing dementia increased by as much as 17 percent when compared to similar patients who were not taking any medication to treat BPH. According to Dr. Helen Wu of the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science and UConn Health, tamsulosin may also quicken the decline of those with early memory loss.


New Compound Stimulates Immune Response Against Cancer

A new synthetic compound created by a team of top immunologists, molecular biologists, and chemists has proven to be highly effective in activating human invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT). The compound called AH10-7 also causes the cells to release a specific set of proteins that stimulate anti-tumor immunity. One of the limitations of earlier compounds was their tendency to cause iNKT cells to release a rush of different cytokines with conflicting immune responses. The study, led by UConn chemistry professor Amy Howell, Ph.D., was published in Cell Chemical Biology. The findings could lead to more effective cancer treatments and vaccines.


Type of Dwarfism Linked to Infertility

human egg and sperm

UConn Health cell biologists Laurinda Jaffe and Leia Shuhaibar were studying fertility when they noticed unusually long bones in their mice. Upon further examination, they discovered that a mutated gene for the NPR2 enzyme, which controls how eggs mature in the ovaries, blocks an enzyme called the fibroblast growth factor receptor, resulting in abnormally long bones. In contrast, the fibroblast growth factor receptor is always “on” in individuals diagnosed with achondroplastic dwarfism, causing decreased bone growth and shortened limbs. The study, funded in part by the NIH and published in eLife, may lead to new drug therapies to treat achondroplasia.

Follow-Up – Summer 2018

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:


Glycogen Storage Disease

The world’s first gene therapy clinical trial for Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD) Type Ia is expected to start this year, hosted by the GSD Program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and UConn Health, under the direction of Dr. David Weinstein. The FDA–approved trials will be done in conjunction with biopharmaceutical company Ultragenyx.

Spring 2017, “Free to Be Imperfect”


Advancing Surgical Care for Older Adults

UConn John Dempsey Hospital will be one of seven U.S. hospitals to pilot-test newly developed guidelines for improving the quality of surgical care for older adults for the American College of Surgeons’ Coalition for Quality in Geriatric Surgery (CQGS), the American Geriatric Society, and the John A. Hartford Foundation.

Fall 2017, “Pinpointing Risk Factors to Prevent Postoperative Delirium”


Detecting Hearing Loss

Findings presented at the 53rd American Neurotology Society annual spring meeting reveal the first potential biomarker for noise-induced hearing loss. A collaborative study by UConn Health and Sensorion showed changing levels of prestin, an outer hair cell protein, in the blood correlated with the severity of hearing loss.

Fall 2016, “Detecting Hearing Loss, Vertigo Via Blood Tests”


Breast Health

UConn Health assistant professor and breast surgeon Dr. Christina Stevenson has begun providing breast health education in hair salons, funded by the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative. The program aims to reach women in Hartford County who may be at risk for late- stage diagnosis of breast cancer due to health care access barriers.

Fall 2016, “On the Ground for Breast Cancer Awareness”


Skin Cancer Screening

Up to 60 percent of UConn Health patients with a suspicious skin lesion or mole can now avoid invasive biopsies thanks to confocal microscopy technology, according to dermatologist Dr. Jane Grant-Kels. The technology uses a painless laser light to see skin cells on a cellular level and help doctors identify skin cancers, including melanoma.

Summer 2016, “Finding Skin Cancer in a Flash”


Cooling Cap Therapy

Marisa Dolce, a Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center breast cancer patient, reported keeping 70 percent of her hair as the first UConn Health patient to use optional scalp-cooling technology while undergoing chemotherapy. UConn Health is the only Connecticut institution outside Fairfield County to offer the FDA-approved DigniCap.

Fall 2017, “Cooling Off Chemotherapy’s Side Effects”

Lab Notes – Spring 2018

Early Dependency Leads to Lower Achievement

cannabis

A new study has found that young adults who are dependent on marijuana and alcohol are less likely to achieve adult life goals. UConn Health scientists from the psychiatry department analyzed data from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) and found that these substance-dependent young adults go on to have lower levels of education, decreased rates of full-time employment, less marriage potential, and less social economic potential. The study, presented at the American Public Health Association 2017 Annual Meeting & Expo, also found that marijuana and alcohol dependency may have a more severe effect on young men, affecting them in all areas of measure versus women, who were less likely to obtain a college degree and had lower economic potential, but were equally likely to get married or obtain full-time employment.


Biodegradable Sensor Monitors Pressure, Disappears

hand holding tiny biodegradable sensor

A patent is pending for a biodegradable pressure sensor developed by UConn engineers that could help doctors monitor chronic lung disease, swelling of the brain, and other medical conditions, before dissolving harmlessly in a patient’s body. The small, flexible sensor is made of medically safe materials already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in surgical sutures, bone grafts, and medical implants. It is designed to replace existing implantable pressure sensors that have potentially toxic components and require an additional invasive procedure to remove, extending patients’ recovery time and increasing the risk of infection. The research was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant and funds from UConn’s Academic Plan and is featured online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


DNA Becomes Harder to Access as We Age

A comparison between the immune cells of seniors ages 65 and over and those of adults between the ages of 22 and 40 has revealed that DNA changes with age, impacting how the immune system renews itself. In the sample from the aging population, chromosomes appeared more tightly coiled, making it difficult for cells to access the DNA that might be critical in defending our bodies against diseases, including flu and some cancers. In contrast, the regions of chromosome coding for genes associated with cell death and inflammation appeared to be more open in the elderly than in the young. The study, conducted by a team from UConn Health and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, appeared in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

DNA strand


Portable Microscope a Game Changer in the Field

portable microscope

UConn optical engineers have developed a portable holographic microscope that enables medical professionals to identify diseased cells and other biological specimens in the field in just minutes. The detailed holograms generated by the microscope can be used by medical workers attempting to identify malaria patients in remote areas of Africa and Asia, where the disease is endemic. It also can be used in hospitals and other clinical settings for rapid analysis of cell morphology and cell physiology associated with cancer, hepatitis, HIV, sickle cell disease, heart disease, and other illnesses. The device was recently featured in a paper published by Applied Optics.

Follow-Up – Spring 2018

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:


Longevity Indicators

A new large-scale international study published in the journal Aging has expanded the number of genetic markers known to be associated with exceptional longevity from 8 to 25. Researchers at UConn, the University of Exeter, University of Wisconsin, and University of Iowa studied 389,166 volunteers who took part in U.K. Biobank, identifying genes that could one day be targeted to help prolong human life.

Fall 2016, Lab Notes, “Parents Living Longer Is Good News for Offspring, Study Says”


Health Disparities Institute

Wizdom Powell, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, is the new director of the Health Disparities Institute at UConn Health. Powell’s focus in the eradication of health inequities is improving men’s mental health awareness, resources, and services. As chair of the American Psychological Association’s Working Group on Health Disparities in Boys and Men, Powell testified Jan. 30 to the Congressional Briefing on Men’s Mental Health in Washington, D.C., and proposed policy solutions to create a more supportive social climate for men suffering from depression.

WIzdom Powell

Summer 2016, “Fighting for Equity”

Lab Notes – Fall 2017

E-Cigarettes Not a Safe Alternative

Using a new low-cost, 3-D-printed testing device, UConn researchers found that e-cigarettes loaded with a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage. The researchers also found that vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes caused as much potentially cancer-causing DNA damage as filtered cigarettes, possibly due to the many chemical additives present in e-cigarette vapors. Several factors impact the amount of DNA damage e-cigarettes cause, says Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher in UConn’s chemistry department and the study’s lead author. “I never expected the DNA damage from e-cigarettes to be equal to tobacco cigarettes,” says Kadimisetty. “I ran the controls again. I even diluted the samples. But the trend was still there — something in the e-cigarettes was definitely causing damage to the DNA.” The findings appear in the journal ACS Sensors.

electronic cigarette


New Device Tests Heart Health

finger pricked with a spot of blood (for blood sugar test)

UConn researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering have developed a device that can test blood viscosity during a routine office visit. The heart must work harder to pump sticky — high viscosity — blood, and studies have shown thicker blood can indicate cardiac event and stroke risk. UConn associate professor of mechanical engineering George Lykotrafitis and doctoral candidate Kostyantyn Partola have filed a provisional patent on the small electronic device, which requires just a finger prick of blood, gives precise readings in minutes, and costs under $1,000. Currently, physicians must send large blood samples to off-site labs for analysis in a rheometer. “With this information, doctors can suggest simple lifestyle changes on the spot to prevent their patients from having a stroke or heart attack,” says Partola.


The Lack of Black Men in Medicine

Male african-american doctor

Medical school matriculation rates for black males have failed to surpass those from 35 years ago, according to a recent UConn Health analysis of data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. African-American men make up just 2.8 percent of the applicants to medical school. Out of all African-American applicants, only 38 percent are men, and black males who are unsuccessful in their first application are less likely to reapply than their white counterparts, the researchers write in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. “The absence of Black males in medical school represents an American crisis that threatens efforts to effectively address health disparities and excellence in clinical care,” wrote authors Dr. Cato T. Laurencin and Marsha Murray.


Lifting Spirits Doesn’t Require Many Reps

25KG weight

More physical activity is not necessarily better when it comes to improving your mood, especially if you spend most of your day sitting, UConn and Hartford Hospital researchers found in a recent study. The work, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that people who led sedentary lives and engaged in light or moderate activity showed the greatest improvement in overall sense of well-being. Further, the study found no positive or negative association between high-intensity physical activity and subjective well-being, contradicting a widely reported recent study that found high-intensity workouts significantly lowered some people’s sense of well-being.

Follow-Up – Fall 2017

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:


UConn Center on Aging

The UConn Center on Aging is one of 14 planned study sites for the TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin) clinical trial led by Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Dr. Nir Barzilai and colleagues from Wake Forest School of Medicine. The researchers hope to test the ability of diabetes drug metformin to slow development of aging-related conditions such as cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular diseases.

the Flu

Spring 2017, “Aches, Age, and Influenza”


Childhood Anxiety Research

Anxiety in children may need to be treated as a chronic condition that requires regular follow-up, reported UConn Health psychologist Golda Ginsburg at this year’s Anxiety and Depression Association of America conference. The results are from a study that followed 488 children and adolescents with anxiety who were randomly assigned to get cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an antidepressant, CBT and an antidepressant, or a placebo. Remission rates five years after treatment were the same, no matter the treatment.

Russian nesting dolls illustrating the pattern of anxiety

Winter 2015, “Breaking the Cycle: How Anxious Parents Can Protect Their Kids from Becoming Anxious Adults

Lab Notes – Summer 2017

Melanoma’s Signature

illustration of a melanoma cell

Dangerous melanomas likely to metastasize have a distinctive molecular signature, UConn Health researchers reported in the February issue of Laboratory Investigation. Melanomas are traditionally rated on their thickness; very thin cancers can be surgically excised and require no further treatment, while thick ones are deemed invasive and require additional therapies. But melanomas of intermediate thickness are harder to judge. The researchers measured micro-RNAs produced by melanoma cells and compared them with the micro-RNAs in healthy skin. Micro-RNAs regulate protein expression in cells. The team found that melanomas with the worst outcomes produced lots of micro-RNA21 compared to melanomas of similar thickness with better outcomes. In the future this molecular signature could help dermatologists decide how aggressively to treat borderline melanomas.


Chili Pepper and Marijuana Calm the Gut

The medical benefits of marijuana are much debated, but what about those of chili peppers? It turns out that when eaten, both interact with the same receptor in our stomachs, according to UConn Health research published in the April 24 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists found feeding mice chili peppers meant less gut inflammation and cured those with Type 1 diabetes. Why? The chemical capsaicin in the peppers bonds to a receptor found in cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract, causing the cells to make anandamide — a compound chemically akin to the cannabinoids in marijuana. The research could lead to new therapies for diabetes and colitis and opens up intriguing questions about the relationship between the immune system, the gut, and the brain.

illustration of chili peppers and marijuana in the gut


Isolating Their Target

brain scan

Brain cells of individuals with Angelman syndrome fail to mature, disrupting the ability of the cells to form proper synaptic connections and causing a cascade of other developmental deficits that result in the rare neurogenetic disorder, according to UConn Health research. Neuroscientist Eric Levine’s team used stem cells derived from Angelman patients to identify the disorder’s underlying neuronal defects, an important step in the ongoing search for potential treatments and a possible cure. Previously, scientists had relied primarily on mouse models that mimic the disorder. The findings were published in the April 24 issue of Nature Communications. While Levine’s team investigates the physiology behind the disorder, UConn developmental geneticist Stormy Chamberlain’s team researches the genetic mechanisms that cause Angelman.


The Cornea’s Blindness Defense

eye

The formation of tumors in the eye can cause blindness. But for some reason our corneas have a natural ability to prevent that from happening. Led by Royce Mohan, UConn Health neuroscientists believe they have found the reason, findings that will be detailed in September’s Journal of Neuroscience Research. They link the tumor resistance to a pair of catalytic enzymes called extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2. When ERK1/2 are overactivated in a specific type of cell, the “anti-cancer privilege of the cornea’s supportive tissue can be overcome,” says Mohan. That happens in the rare disease neurofibromatosis-1. “These findings may inform research toward developing better strategies for the prevention of corneal neurofibromas,” says Dr. George McKie, cornea program director at the National Eye Institute, which funded the study.

Follow-Up – Summer 2017

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:


Ovarian Cancer Vaccine

UConn Health is recruiting patients for the world’s first personalized genomics-driven ovarian cancer vaccine clinical trial. The FDA-approved trial will test the experimental vaccine Oncoimmune, which was invented by Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Dr. Pramod Srivastava. The vaccine aims to boost the immune response of patients with ovarian cancer to prevent relapse. To learn more, call Quratulain Ali at 860.679.7648.

An iPad displaying 'How much will Robert pay? You'r answer is probably incorrect.' artfully

Spring 2016, “Individualized”


Dr. Cato T. Laurencin

A team led by Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, who in 2016 received a number of prestigious honors including a National Medal of Technology and Innovation, has found a way to regenerate rotator cuff tendons after they’re torn using stem cells and a “nano-mesh” material. Laurencin’s team has also joined the New Hampshire–based Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute to speed the development of human limb growth.

Dr. Cato Laurencin

Spring 2016, “Honors Pour In for Leading UConn Surgeon-Scientist”


Health Disparities Institute

A recent survey conducted by UConn’s Health Disparities Institute found that patients across the state have poor health insurance literacy. The results of a poll of 516 adult Connecticut residents enrolled in a qualified health plan through Access Health CT showed that the surveyed population struggled to understand how to use their benefits as well as understand basic health insurance terminology, including “premium,” “deductible,” and “co-pay.”

illustration of fingerprints overlayed on top of a woman's ovaries

Summer 2016, “Fighting for Equity”


Lab Notes – Spring 2017

For MRSA, Resistance is Futile

UConn medicinal chemists have designed experimental antibiotics that kill Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a common and often deadly bacteria that causes skin, lung, and heart infections. The new antibiotics disable the bacteria’s vitamin B9 enzyme. Without vitamin B9, the bacteria can’t make essential amino acids and they die. Not only do the new antibiotics kill regular MRSA, they also kill types of the bacteria with unusual antibiotic-resistance genes that had never been seen before in the U.S. And that’s no accident: the chemists designed the antibiotics to latch on to the enzyme so cleverly that if it changed enough to elude them, it would no longer be able to do its job with vitamin B9. This could make the new antibiotics resistant to, well, resistance. The research was published in the Dec. 22, 2016 issue of Cell Chemical Biology.

MRSA colonies are shown on a blood agar plate.


State’s Leading Institutions Launch International Effort to Advance Metabolic Research

overweight 3D model running with target on metabolic area

UConn, Yale University, and The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) have partnered with the Weizmann Institute of Science, a prestigious counterpart in Israel, to fill a research void in metabolic diseases that affect billions of people worldwide. The goal of the newly formed Metabolic Research Alliance is to unite the expertise of the institutions on research projects that swiftly move investigations into clinical application and commercialization. The Alliance will employ a novel approach to coordinating existing and new expertise in the areas of immunology, cell biology, microbiota, and the rapidly evolving field of genomics. While investigations will initially focus on obesity and diabetes, the research projects will eventually pursue solutions to additional metabolic diseases.


Innovative Imaging Could Save Sight

Connecticut Innovations has awarded $500,000 to a team of UConn researchers to speed the process to commercialization of the biomarker probe they’re developing to detect a precursor to blindness. The team — led by Royce Mohan, associate professor of neuroscience at UConn Health, and including assistant professor of neuroscience Paola Bargagna-Mohan and UConn School of Pharmacy medicinal chemistry professor Dennis Wright — is developing a fluorescent small molecule imaging reagent to help identify preclinical stages of ocular fibrosis, which is associated with an aggressive form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that causes rapid vision loss. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. The method would both enable earlier intervention and allow physicians to monitor the progress and effectiveness of interventions before it’s too late.


DOACs Safer Than Warfarin, Study Shows

Patients who suffered blunt traumatic intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) associated with direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) had significantly lower mortality rates and lower rates of operative intervention compared with a similar group taking warfarin, a study published in the November issue of Trauma and Acute Surgery by researchers from UConn, Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, and Trinity College shows. Although DOACs have been an increasingly popular alternative to warfarin for anticoagulation, physicians have worried their use might lead to an increase in patient mortality from uncontrollable bleeding, according to the study. The study, based on data on 162 patients in the St. Francis Trauma Quality Improvement Program database, aimed to help close a gap in research on DOAC safety.

bloodclot in vein