Facebook Icon Youtube Icon Twitter Icon Flickr Icon Vimeo Icon RSS Icon Itunes Icon Pinterest Icon

UMD Welcomes Johns Hopkins to DC Innovation Corps

June 11, 2014

Alana Carchedi, University of Maryland, 301-405-0235
Dennis O'Shea, Johns Hopkins University, 443-997-9912 (office), 410-499-7460 (cell)

DC-i-corpsCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland, along with the George Washington University and Virginia Tech, have added the Johns Hopkins University to the National Science Foundation's  Innovation Corps (I-Corps ™) regional collaboration called DC I-Corps.  JHU becomes the newest member university of the National Science Foundation's National Innovation Network.

The NSF has approved a request from the three original universities to officially include Johns Hopkins in the I-Corps program's "node" in the Mid-Atlantic called DC I-Corps, which was formed last year with $3.75 million in NSF funding. It is one of five regional nodes established nationwide by the NSF, and the first to expand its membership. Together, these five nodes currently form the basis of the National Innovation Network, which links together select universities with established entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to train faculty and student researchers from throughout the U.S. to transform ideas into products and get them on the market.

The intensive and highly experiential I-Corps program was developed by entrepreneurs and is taught by entrepreneurs.  The program's evidence-based methodology, drawing on decades of experience in Silicon Valley and featured in a Harvard Business Review cover story, emphasizes conducting hundreds of experiments, or interviews, with as many potential customers as possible; gaining insights about the significant pain points and needs of specific customers; and tracking the results of those experiments on a business model canvas.  I-Corps teams – typically consisting of an academic researcher, a would-be entrepreneur and a mentor – can then create a startup company, obtain a patent, or license its technology to an existing company. The program also aims to foster a culture of entrepreneurship among university researchers and students by fundamentally changing the way they think about their future research and its applications.

"The creation of an I-Corps node here in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area has already done exactly what we envisioned: it leveraged the respective strengths of three top research universities, galvanized them as one, and catalyzed the region," said Dean Chang, UMD's associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship and lead principal investigator for the DC I-Corps regional node. "Adding a partner university like Johns Hopkins that conducts more than twice as much federally-funded research than any other school in the country represents a doubling down on a winning strategy embodied by the National Innovation Network."

"Johns Hopkins is committed to benefiting society by translating our discoveries from the laboratory into devices, systems, processes, therapeutics and other technologies that will improve the human condition," said Ed Schlesinger, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the university's Whiting School of Engineering and a prime mover in the university's decision to join the node. "Our inclusion in the DC I-Corps node enables us to team up with other leading institutions that share the goal of having a positive impact in our community and our nation."

By joining the DC I-Corps node, Johns Hopkins will provide instructors for both the national and regional training programs. It will also join UMD, GW, and VT in recruiting and selecting teams, matching mentors, and hosting regional training in the Mid-Atlantic.

"Between two national cohorts and four regional cohorts, we've trained more than 100 teams since the node was formed in February 2013," said DC I-Corps Director and Lead Instructor Edmund Pendleton. "The regional teams have come not only from numerous universities, but also from technology hotbeds like NIH, NASA, the Navy, and Children's National Medical Center.  With Johns Hopkins aboard, we can increase training volume and broaden outreach, especially to teams focused on commercializing life science discoveries."

The newly expanded I-Corps node aims to offer a regional training program this October at Johns Hopkins and will also participate in the upcoming NIH SBIR I-Corps program announced by the White House.  The node is also co-leading an I-Corps workshop in June at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and an I-Corps for Young Innovators program in July for rising high school seniors.

"Amazing discoveries and great ideas are the stock-in-trade of our faculty and student researchers, but it's a long way from an idea to a product," said Christy Wyskiel, senior advisor to the president for enterprise development at Johns Hopkins. "At Johns Hopkins, we're building an innovation ecosystem, a structure to help our researchers to make that leap.  Being in an I-Corps node is a cornerstone of that structure and a chance for us to collaborate with other outstanding universities working toward the same goal. That collaboration will help us all, and, we hope, generate new economic activity throughout the Mid-Atlantic region."

Along with the lead principal investigator Chang, the co-principal investigators for the DC I-Corps regional node are Jim Chung, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship, the George Washington University, and Jack Lesko, associate dean for research & graduate studies, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech.

UMD, GW, and VT have all woven elements of the I-Corps methodology into courses for both undergraduate and graduate students.  Together, UMD, GW, VT and JHU have sent 18 teams to the national I-Corps program and many more to the regional DC I-Corps program. The three Johns Hopkins teams originated in three different schools within the university: the Whiting School of Engineering, the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the conservatory of music at the Peabody Institute.

Researchers Develop Affordable Battery Alternative

June 5, 2014

Faye Levine 301-405-0379

New process designed to make Na-ion batteries an effective alternative to Li-ion

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – As the demand for rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries has grown, the battery industry has found itself facing a problem of supply-and-demand. Lithium is not an abundant element, and most lithium deposits are found in only a handful of countries. Both problems make its long-term availability and cost uncertain. In a paper published in the June 4 issue of Nature Communications, University of Maryland professors Chunsheng Wang and John Cumings explain how a modified version of a Li-ion battery anode could allow manufacturers to replace the lithium with a more common element.

    TEM images of (a) pristine graphite and (b) expanded graphite. The scale bar is in 10 nm.
  TEM images of (a) pristine graphite and (b) expanded graphite. The scale bar is in 10 nm.

Sodium (Na), an earth-abundant and inexpensive element, shares many properties with lithium, but so far has not been able to replace it. The best strategies for creating Li-ion batteries often can't be adapted for use in Na-ion batteries, rendering them a laboratory curiosity and keeping them out of the market.

The main problem is the atom's size. Sodium ions are larger than lithium ions, which limits the kinds of materials that can be used in a Na-ion battery anode, the component into which the positively charged ions flow. Graphite (a form of pure carbon) is among the most superior options, and is also the most common in Li-ion batteries. When creating graphite anodes, lithium ions are easily electrochemically intercalated (embedded) into its layered structure, but for sodium ions it's a tight squeeze, and the result is a battery with sluggish performance and low capacity.

The solution, Wang and Cumings have discovered, is to increase the space between the individual layers of carbon that make up the graphite. Their team starts with graphite oxide, a common industrial material formed by exposing graphite to an aggressively corrosive solution that stuffs oxygen between its layers. The oxygen atoms bond with each carbon layer, pushing and holding them apart. However, the resulting material is inevitably "overstuffed," leaving no room for sodium ions to get in. To make the material suitable for use in Na-ion batteries, some of the oxygen must be removed.

The solution to this second problem was developed by the paper's first author, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) graduate student Yang Wen. Wen heats the expanded, oxidized graphite to high temperatures and floods it with argon gas, causing it to decompose. In this process, oxygen bonded to carbon breaks away in the form of either carbon monoxide (CO) or carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, which is caught up and removed by the argon gas flow. Wen's key discovery is the precise combination of temperature and duration for the reaction. Her technique ensures that enough oxygen atoms have been removed to let the sodium ions in, but enough are left behind to prevent the expanded graphite from collapsing. The process may be likened to jacking up every floor of a multi-storey building to accommodate taller tenants, and then removing excess scaffolding until only the required support beams remain.

After testing the material both in experimental batteries and in a transmission electron microscope for realtime observations, the team found that Na-ion battery anodes manufactured with the expanded graphite had good energy density and retained 73 percent capacity after 2000 charge/discharge cycles.

"Expanded graphite is already commercially available," explains Wang, an associate professor of ChBE, "but industry uses a different method to make it. If they follow Yang's procedure, they can use it to make expanded graphite suitable for sodium-ion batteries." However, he adds, "they won't be as powerful as lithium-ion batteries. You'll need more of them to get the same amount of power, but the cost is so much lower it will make up for it."

Cumings, an associate professor from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, agrees. "Sodium-ion batteries are also heavier, so for now they're not suitable for most vehicles and airplanes. But for something like building or grid-level power storage–where they're just going to sit there–the fact that you get more kilowatt hours per dollar becomes a strong selling point."

UMD, Big Ten Network Video Shoot June 3-5

June 3, 2014

Katie Lawson 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland is partnering with the Big Ten Network to capture aerial views of campus using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The filming will occur June 3-5 at various locations, and the footage will be seen in BTN programming.

UMD's Urban Studies and Planning Program Recognized

May 30, 2014

Maggie Haslam, maggiehaslam6@gmail.com

University of MarylandCOLLEGE PARK, Md. - A recently-released report for Planetizen, a top website on U.S. planning issues, ranked the University of Maryland's Urban Studies and Planning Program (URSP) in the top 10 of all U.S. graduate planning programs, in terms of cited faculty publications per capita. The same study puts Maryland in the top five planning programs for annual cited publications per capita.

The study, conducted by Professor Tom Sanchez of Virginia Tech's Urban Affairs and Planning Program, examined citations of publications by planning faculty from programs across the country, including publications such as books, chapters and journal articles. According to Sanchez, faculty citations are a direct reflection of a faculty's scholarly work and a measurable way to gauge academic productivity, reputation and impact.

Faculty at UMD's Urban Studies and Planning Program study multiple facets of the urban fabric. The program houses planning experts in economic development, transportation planning, housing policy, land use planning, social planning and planning technology. The program also benefits from its partnership with the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, a driving force in planning research; four research associates at the Center are also active members of the URSP faculty.

"This is a wonderful achievement for our planning faculty and a reflection of the important work they undertake at the University," said David Cronrath, dean of the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. "It is terrific to see them being recognized on a national stage."

Full rankings for the study can be found here.

UMD Receives $1.2 Million HHMI Grant for Science Education

May 29, 2014

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland is one of 37 research universities in the nation to receive a share of $60 million for undergraduate science education from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). UMD's five-year, $1.2 million grant marks the sixth time since 1992 the university has received the highly competitive award.

UMD students participate in the university’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute science education program. Photo credit: Jennifer GermanUMD will use the grant to establish a new living-learning program for students in the biological and chemical sciences, create opportunities for students to engage in research during their first semesters, and support mentoring programs for students.

"HHMI's continued investment in our science education initiatives for over 20 years has been a catalyst for progressive and lasting change in undergraduate science education and outreach at this university," said Mary Ann Rankin, UMD's provost and senior vice president.

The new HHMI grant will help UMD meet the rising demand from both faculty and students for high-quality, innovative, cross-disciplinary experiences in education and research.

The new living-learning program will include a common residence hall with integrated academic support, community-building activities such as field trips to local research laboratories, co-enrollment in introductory science courses and early access to research opportunities. This new program will join five others in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS), including the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students and Integrated Life Sciences programs.

UMD students participate in the university’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute science education program. Photo credit: Katerina ThompsonA new campus initiative, the First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE), provides research and entrepreneurial opportunities to large numbers of newly enrolled students across all disciplines. The HHMI grant will expand this program to include BioFIRE, a three-course program that will engage small groups of students in biological and chemical sciences research. Following participation in the BioFIRE program, students may continue as BioFIRE program peer mentors or pursue independent research projects with faculty members.

"Our existing programs provide a solid foundation on which to build these new initiatives, which focus on supporting and retaining students who may be at risk of abandoning careers in the biological and chemical sciences," said Katerina Thompson, CMNS director of undergraduate research and internship programs.

With previous HHMI grants, UMD has created a science education pipeline that begins with its Jump Start summer outreach program for high school students, continues with the catalyst seminar that facilitates early entry into faculty-mentored research, and culminates in an undergraduate research fellowship program that prepares students for leadership roles in medicine and bioscience research. HHMI students at UMD have co-authored more than 200 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

"Our HHMI programs have led to improvements in our curriculum and deeper student engagement in research," said CMNS Dean Jayanth Banavar. "These programs greatly impact the success of students while they're in college and afterward as they become the scientific leaders of the world."

UMD Establishes Orbital Debris Research Center

May 21, 2014

Jennifer Rooks 301-405-1458

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—The University of Maryland has announced the establishment of the Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) to address critical issues in orbiting space debris and serve as a hub for academic, industry and government research collaboration.

    Image credit: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office
  Computer-generated image shows objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. 95% of the objects shown are orbital debris-not functional satellites. Image credit: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

"CODER is the first academically led center established to address the full range of issues surrounding the orbital debris problem," said founding faculty member and Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Raymond Sedwick. "Most existing organizations focus on just one aspect of the problem—tracking, modeling, remediation, mitigation, policy, etc.—but CODER will serve as a research collective to provide expertise in all of these areas."

Orbital debris is a global issue. The increasing volume of orbiting space debris could significantly hinder future economy and national security as the world's reliance on satellites for communications, research and defense grows. Orbiting debris can travel faster than three times the speed of a bullet and poses a threat to space-based communications, weather forecasting, commerce, scientific exploration, Earth observation and future space activities.

The past 50 years of space exploration and use have created an orbiting junkyard of debris. Over 22,000 pieces of space 'junk'—10 centimeters or larger—are currently being tracked in Earth's orbit. However, there is a much larger junkyard of smaller debris, with pieces numbering in the hundreds of thousands to millions that are beyond the scope of current tracking capabilities and are just as capable of causing significant damage.

Sedwick sees CODER as a nexus for bringing together resources and ideas from across government, industry and academic communities to advance research aimed at addressing the orbital debris issue.

There are several existing government, industry and academic organizations in the U.S. that already support critical functions for the orbital debris enterprise, but they are limited by their authority, capacity and budgets. 

"The goal of the center is to raise awareness and financial support, help to coordinate, conduct and establish collaborative research and ultimately to provide new funding streams to accelerate these efforts," said Sedwick, who is also director of UMD's Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory. "The University of Maryland is well-positioned to take the lead in creating a multi-disciplinary, multi-organizational, collaborative research center that will pursue orbital debris solutions through research in new technologies, policies and economic solutions."

CODER will include a core interdisciplinary team at UMD to conduct and coordinate orbital debris research activities in science and technology as well as policy and economics. The center will spearhead research in each area of orbital debris, including modeling, tracking, mitigation and remediation, assist in developing international policies regarding orbital debris, and serve as a clearinghouse for orbital debris knowledge and findings.

The space community has worked hard to mitigate excessive proliferation of debris by establishing voluntary rules for spacecraft manufacturers and operators that help minimize the creation of new debris. However, there is no system or program in place to remove or clean up near-Earth orbit and there is no program addressing the long-term environmental control of space.

So far, debris has been a nuisance and has created minimal damage—the threat has been "acceptable"—because the cost of cleaning it up is so much greater than the satellite damage, thus far. But, in the not-too-distant future, the cost of continuous damage to satellites may approach, and exceed, the cost of cleaning up space. While any cleanup program will take years to implement and possibly decades to carry out, the future and efficacy of orbital operations lies in tackling this critical issue.

The Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) will address all issues related to orbital debris. These include technology and systems, space policy, economics, legal, and sociological issues. A long-term goal is the development of policies, laws and space systems that will lead to the efficient remediation and control of space environmental pollutants. The center seeks domestic and international collaboration and inclusiveness and envisions multiple sources of government and industry support. CODER will be an international clearinghouse for research and educational programs that address orbital debris issues and it will be a focal point for idea interchange through conferences, meetings and outreach.

For more information visit www.coder.umd.edu.

Sikorsky and United Technologies Pledge $1M to UMD

May 21, 2014

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., along with its parent company, United Technologies Corp., have pledged one million dollars to endow a fund to create the Igor Sikorsky Distinguished Professorship in Rotorcraft at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering. Sikorsky Aircraft is a world leader in helicopter design, manufacture and service, headquartered in Connecticut, and is a subsidiary of United Technologies.

Photo by Al Santos, University of MarylandThe Igor Sikorsky Distinguished Professorship in Rotorcraft will be part of UMD's Department of Aerospace Engineering and is intended to support enhanced research specialization in areas related to rotorcraft, such as autonomous flight operations, flight control and system identification, aeromechanics, composite structures and computer aided manufacturing.

Sikorsky's donation is aimed at expanding UMD's rotorcraft education and curriculum, research programs and intellectual capital to be a continuous source for the best rotorcraft engineers in the world. The endowment is part of an ongoing effort between Sikorsky and the Clark School to enhance UMD's robust rotorcraft program, and provides for continued support for developing not only cutting-edge technology for future helicopters, but also the next generation of innovative rotorcraft engineers.

"We are very grateful to Sikorsky and UTC for this generous investment in the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center and our aerospace engineering program," said Clark School of Engineering Dean and Farvardin Professor of Aerospace Engineering, Dr. Darryll Pines. "Our partnership with Sikorsky has been a tremendously successful one, advancing innovation in rotorcraft education, research and technology development through our shared commitment to excellence."

Sikorsky is a committed Corporate Partner of UMD's Clark School of Engineering. Since 2011, the company has donated nearly $400,000 to support programs for Clark School students, such as scholarships, fellowships and the Sikorsky Aircraft Colloquium Series in Aerospace Engineering. To date, 42 Sikorsky awards have been made to UMD students.

"Sikorsky has seen a direct benefit from many of the best and brightest alumni of the University of Maryland who now are exceptional engineers and senior leaders at our company. As Sikorsky continues its leading role in redefining the future of vertical flight, what better way to extend the legacy of our founder than by supporting this professorship so that future innovators may join the broader mission of rotorcraft engineering," said Mark Miller, Sikorsky vice president of research & engineering.

The Clark School is home to one of the world's leading programs in helicopter engineering. In 2013, Clark School students continued to set U.S. and world records for flight duration of a human-powered helicopter and have won the American Helicopter Society's graduate student design competition for the 12th time in 15 years.

A new senior faculty member will be hired to fill the Igor Sikorsky Distinguished Professorship in Rotorcraft.

Beyond Red vs Blue: Study of States Finds 'Tight' vs 'Loose'

May 20, 2014

Laura Ours 301-405-5722

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Most people in the United States probably would agree that priorities and values can vary greatly from region to region and even state to state. Although these differences have largely been characterized along political lines, little has been understood about why this cultural regionalism exists and exactly how it impacts national dialogues and policy decisions.

Why for example, is illicit substance use greater in states like Hawaii and New Hampshire relative to Mississippi and Ohio, but incidents of discrimination much higher in the latter than the former? Why do states like Colorado and Connecticut score low on trait conscientiousness—a characteristic associated with greater self-constraint and conformity—and high on trait openness—a characteristic associated with greater tolerance and non-traditional values—relative to states like Alabama and Kansas, which exhibit the opposite pattern? Why do some states such as Oregon and Vermont exhibit high levels of creativity, whereas other states, such as Kentucky and North Dakota, do not?

For the first time, a group of University of Maryland researchers has discovered a parsimonious explanation—one both simpler and deeper than politics. States differ systematically on whether they are "tight"—have strong norms and little tolerance for deviance—or are "loose"—have weak norms and high tolerance for deviance.

Loose states are found primarily in the North East, the West Coast, and include some Mountain states, while tight states are primarily in the South and parts of the Midwest. This distinction "goes far beyond the typical red state versus blue state dichotomy. Our unique study shows there is a quantifiable principle that can account for a large swath of state differences in ecological and human-made conditions, personality characteristics, and various state outcomes," said UMD Professor of Psychology Michele J. Gelfand, who, along with graduate student Jesse R. Harrington, wrote the study that will appear in a new issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors not only document whether states are tight or loose (see figure below), but also provide an explanation: state tightness-looseness is highly associated with how much ecological and historical threat they have faced. Tight states tend to have higher rates of natural disasters, greater environmental vulnerabilities, fewer resources, and greater incidence of disease. States without these threats can "afford" more deviant behavior, the authors conclude.

The authors not only document whether states are tight or loose, but also provide an explanation: state tightness-looseness is highly associated with how much ecological and historical threat they have faced. Tight states tend to have higher rates of natural disasters, greater environmental vulnerabilities, fewer resources, and greater incidence of disease. States without these threats can "afford" more deviant behavior, the authors conclude.

"This suggests that tightness is at least in part a reaction to ecological and historical factors; strong social norms develop to coordinate individuals and protect against threatening environments. Importantly, these same relationships were previously found between nations," said Gelfand, who in 2011 led an international research team that was the first to investigate how "tightness" and "looseness" applied to global cultures, examining responses from 7,000 people across 33 nations. The team developed a measure for these 33 countries, which was published in Science.

Tightness-looseness also relates to average state "personality." Individuals in tighter states tend to exhibit higher "conscientiousness"—a trait associated with greater impulse control, conformity to social norms and self-constraint. Looseness is associated with higher "openness"—a trait associated with greater tolerance and curiosity, non-traditional values and beliefs, and preference for originality.

"There are pros and cons related to each side of the tightness-looseness continuum. Tight states tend to be more socially stable, orderly and exhibit more personal self-control—yet tightness is also linked to higher incarceration rates, greater discrimination, lower creativity, and lower happiness," Harrington said. "Loose states tend to be more creative, have greater equality and tolerance, and be happier. But they also exhibit higher drug and alcohol abuse and greater social instability."

As with the previous international study, Gelfand said she and Harrington hope that their new research on tightness and looseness across the 50 states will ultimately inform national conversations and policy decisions on critical topics.

"A better understanding of the cultural variation across the 50 states is critical to improving communication, cooperation, and progress when it comes to making decisions that affect our nation," Gelfand said. "The challenges we face as a nation require cooperation if we want real change. This research might help us understand why we differ and to help us to develop common ground."

The full study is available at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/05/15/1317937111.full.pdf+html.

Racing the Clock to Help Young Patients with Old Hearts

May 19, 2014

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267

UMD study of premature aging may help explain effects of normal aging

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Children with progeria, a rare disorder that causes premature aging, die in their teens of ailments that are common in octogenarians: heart failure and stroke. Kan Cao, a University of Maryland assistant professor of cell biology and molecular genetics, urgently wants to help find a cure. Cao and her colleagues have taken a big step in that direction, showing that a toxic protein destroys muscle cells inside the patients' arteries. The researchers suspect the damaged arteries are more prone to failure.

The researchers conducted their experiments on smooth muscle cells that they genetically engineered. "This gives us a very good model for testing drugs to treat progeria," said Cao, senior author of a research article published in the May 19, 2014 online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "And it may help us understand how cardiovascular disease develops in people aging normally."

    Seen through a microscope in Asst. Prof. Kan Cao's laboratory, these color-enhanced skin cells from progeria patients have been induced to become smooth muscle cells, some with abnormalities such as double nuclei.
  Seen through a microscope in Asst. Prof. Kan Cao's laboratory, these color-enhanced skin cells from progeria patients have been induced to become smooth muscle cells, some with abnormalities such as double nuclei. Image by Haoyue Zhang.

Progeria is extremely rare—about 100 patients worldwide have been diagnosed—and always fatal at an early age. Patients typically die around age 13. The disorder is difficult to study because patients are so few, and their rapid decline mostly affects internal organs. That makes the effects hard to track without invasive testing, from which researchers want to spare these young patients.

Until now, researchers didn't know what mechanism was causing the patients' deaths. They knew a genetic mutation makes patients' cells produce progerin, a toxic form of a protein that, in healthy people, forms the skeletal structure of cell nuclei. In previous studies Cao and others found that progerin builds up in cells of elderly people, suggesting that it is also linked to normal aging. But progerin's effects on smooth muscle cells were unknown before this study.

Studies in mice with a genetically engineered form of progeria found the animals lost most of the smooth muscle cells in their large arteries. This muscle type, involved in involuntary movement, is in the lining of many internal organs, including blood vessels.

Cao's team couldn't obtain human smooth muscle cells from progeria patients for their study because the process would be too invasive, so they used induced pluripotent stem cells—adult cells reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells and develop into a variety of cell types.

In a first for a progeria study, the researchers induced skin cells from progeria patients and normal adults to develop into smooth muscle cells, and then compared cell reproduction and decay in healthy cells with the same processes in cells containing the progeria mutation. Both sets of smooth muscle cells began multiplying, but after two weeks the progeria cells leveled off; as many cells were dying as were reproducing. The researchers discovered that the progeria cells accumulated toxic progerin and had abnormally low levels of PARP-1, a protein that is important in repairing cell damage.

Cells constantly repair damage to their DNA, Cao explained, and they have several ways to get the job done. When one strand in the DNA double helix breaks, cells usually use the unbroken strand as a template to make a perfect copy. PARP-1 is supposed to sense the break and start this repair process. In the study's normal smooth muscle cells, that's what happened.

But sometimes a cell simply splices two broken DNA strands together end to end. If the right two strands reconnect, the cells resume normal reproduction, splitting to form two new daughter cells in the process called mitosis. But if the repair isn't right, those cells can't successfully split.

In the current study, the smooth muscle cells created from progeria patient skin cells, with high levels of progerin and low levels of PARP-1, did not use the more accurate repair method. Instead, they spliced together segments of DNA that happened to be nearby—and usually got the sequence wrong.

After the faulty repairs, these cells could not split their contents evenly during mitosis. Some cells kept trying to divide and eventually died trying, in a phenomenon called "mitotic catastrophe." Others failed to divide and ended up as one cell with two nuclei.

Researchers think that after losing so much smooth muscle tissues, the arteries are easily damaged by mechanical stresses such as blood pressure, making them vulnerable to a variety of failures that manifest as forms of coronary artery disease. They'll test that in the next phase of their research, and will try to determine why progeria cells do not use the best pathway for repairing DNA damage. They also plan to use the smooth muscle cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells to test new treatments for progeria.

Cao, who has developed friendships with some progeria patients, took her entire research team, which includes three UMD undergraduate students, to a 2013 Progeria Research Foundation workshop where they met progeria patients.

"The students began thinking, 'My research is so important for the families.' It's a lot of motivation for them," Cao said, "and a lot of pressure for all of us to work quickly."

Terp Makes Dell's List of Youth Innovation Advisors

May 16, 2014

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

Individual studies major Erik Martin leads entrepreneurship efforts outside the classroom

Erik MartinCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – Recognition from one of the world's largest computer technology corporations has allowed University of Maryland sophomore individual studies major Erik Martin to add one more headline to his list of esteemed accomplishments.

Martin was recently named to Dell's 12 under 22 list of Youth Innovation Advisors (YIA), where he will work to inform Dell of challenges students and young entrepreneurs face on a daily basis and will develop solutions to address these roadblocks and improve creativity among young people. As part of the YIA, Martin will represent, inspire and mentor students to engage in their respective learning communities to make a positive impact on society.

Key priorities for the YIA include the development of next-generation skills, student entrepreneurship, access to technology, connectivity in schools and other areas that affect the preparation of students for the future.

"While the ed-tech space is very exciting, sometimes efforts to push technology into education only serve to digitize broken parts of education, but don't fundamentally change anything," Martin said. "Being a part of Dell's Youth Innovation Advisory board means I can help steer that ship to create real change."

Martin's passion for education and society reform is not just a hobby. The Terp has turned his appetite for change into a major at UMD where he is studying global civics and new media.

In addition to his work at the university, Martin is also a design consultant for FHI 360, where he helps create games that have a positive social impact on developing nations. He is also an education activist drafting a Student Bill of Rights and works closely with the for-students-by-students nonprofit organization, Student Voice.

"I think change has to be much more holistic than just ramping up STEM or 'teacher accountability' with testing," Martin said. "Education should foster resilient, passionate doers and thinkers—that's the change I work towards."


October 1
Honoring the legacy of BSU alumnus 1st Lt. Richard W. Collins III, the new BSU-UMD Social Justice Alliance will... Read
October 19
Findings of a UMD-led research team indicate that some long-accepted thinking about the basic neuroscience of anxiety... Read
October 16
Report Based on the Lived Experiences of Black, Latino and Underserved Families Recommends Solutions for School Systems... Read
October 13
UMD, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the International Fire Safety Consortium (IFSC) partner to advance fire safety... Read