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University of Maryland Project Receives $2.2M Award to Support Learning for Deafblind Children

February 27, 2019
Contacts: 

Audrey Hill 301-405-3468

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A University of Maryland College of Education project that provides support for deafblind children and their families has received a combined $2.2 million in federal and state support for a five-year period.

The Connections Beyond Sight and Sound: Maryland and D.C. Deaf-Blind Project (CBSS), which is a partnership between UMD and the Maryland State Department of Education, received an award of approximately $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and another  $1.1 million award from the MSDE Division of Early Intervention and Special Education Services. The grants support the project’s work to improve learning and outcomes for children in in Maryland and Washington, D.C. who have combined vision and hearing loss.

Connections Beyond Sight and Sound provides technical assistance, training, and an array of developmental, educational, service and socialization opportunities to some 240 deafblind children, and to those who support, care for and teach them. The program, which is overseen by UMD’s College of Education, works with deafblind individuals ranging in age from birth to age 21, and with their teachers, families and caregivers in schools, homes, and the community.

Approaches developed for children who have only vision loss or only hearing loss are often not effective for deafblind children. In addition, about two-thirds of children who are deafblind also have cognitive and/or physical disabilities and may require more intensive and specialized educational support.

Thus the Connections Beyond Sight and Sound program uses expertise developed within the program to train teachers and families in strategies they can use to help these complex-needs children learn. This includes helping those deafblind children who receive their special education services primarily in general education classrooms, as well as those who receive services in more specialized settings.  

“Deafblind children with severe learning problems are the 1 percent of the 1 percent, in terms of having profound low-incidence disabilities,” said Donna Riccobono, director of CBSS. “We are the bridge to help teachers take standard curriculum and make it meaningful for the students; for instance, we help teachers take a science lesson and demonstrate how to modify it and make it meaningful for students with multiple disabilities.”

There are many causes for dual vision and hearing loss in children, says Riccobono, who pointed out that preemies are being saved earlier than previous generations and sometimes have resulting hearing and vision loss. Other causes of deafblindness include trauma to the placenta, traumatic brain injuries, and hereditary syndromes.

“Children with these kinds of multiple disabilities don’t have the advantage of incidental learning, which is what one learns in passing. Without helping to ensure deafblind children can find meaning in their worlds, they are only living to the tips of their fingers; they don’t know what’s happening beyond that,” Riccobono added.

One essential component of improving learning and quality of life for deafblind children is to help develop the child’s individual communication system.

“Behavior is a communication,” said CBSS Project Coordinator Jennifer Willis. “Parents know what a certain cry or gesture means, so we work with their families and teachers on how we can draw from that information and build up a communication system for the child.” 

Willis and other educators often rely on symbolic objects to convey meaning to deafblind children. For instance, Willis may have a child touch a special spoon to indicate that breakfast is next in their schedule or have them touch a piece of Velcro to indicate they are going on a swing that has a belt.

In addition to training teachers and families and working directly to improve students’ education, CBSS staff also provide support to help families advocate on behalf of their children’s needs, collaborate with other school system personnel to aid the development of policies that improve outcomes for deafblind children, and contribute data to the National Center on Deaf-Blindness.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to continue our long-standing partnership with Connections Beyond Sight and Sound,” said MSDE Division of Early Intervention and Special Education Services Assistant State Superintendent Marcella Franczkowski. “This work provides critical support to improve outcomes for children with deafblindness and their families by building capacity for our local school systems and Infants and Toddlers Programs.”

The overarching goal of these and other efforts by CBSS is to increase the child’s ability to communicate, participate and understand the world around them, helping to address the gap between their achievement levels and that of their typically developing peers.

UMD researchers awarded $5.3M NIH BRAIN Initiative grant

February 26, 2019
Contacts: 

Rebecca Copeland 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Three University of Maryland researchers will receive approximately $5.3 million in new federal support for research that is part of a larger project designed to radically improve our understanding of the connection between brain activity and human behavior

Assistant Professor Behtash Babadi (ECE), Professor Patrick Kanold (Biology), and Professor Wolfgang Losert, faculty whose work falls under UMD’s Brain and Behavior Initiative (BBI), are part of an 11-investigator team that has won one of nine recent BRAIN Initiative U19 center grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health. The U19 center grants are among the largest awards given by NIH and are dedicated to highly ambitious, multi-disciplinary, and multi-university projects.

The Maryland researchers are part of “Readout and control of spatiotemporal neuronal codes for behavior,” a $20M, five-year project led by John Maunsell, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago. Preliminary data for part of the grant were obtained with the support of seed funding to Kanold and Losert from BBI.  

Their multi-institution U19 project team is composed of computational and systems neuroscientists, physicists and engineers. Other institutions with investigators involved in the project include NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, the New York University School of Medicine, the Universidad Nacional de San Martin in Argentina, and the Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia.

“This multi-university multi-disciplinary project is quite unique, timely, and exciting: not only does it lie in the intersection of several converging technologies in high-dimensional neural recording and modulation, but it is also grounded in close and intimate collaboration of several teams of experimentalists and theorists,” said Babadi.

Their project aims to revolutionize our understanding of brain function by providing a unifying account of how brain activity and behavior are mutually informing. Currently, research tends to examine the complex interaction of brain activity and behavior as separate problems, but the U19 team examines how these two elements operate simultaneously: how the external world shapes the patterns of brain activity, how brain activity results in the manifestation of behavior, how the elicited behavior in turn reshapes the brain, and so on. In other words, the project provides a clearer picture of the brain in real time.

In the past, neuroscience has mapped what happens in the brain based on particular sensory inputs (neural code) and has studied how the different parts of the brain “read” the information contained in the neural activity in order to form behaviors like decision-making (readout).

The U19 team’s research considers these two fields in tandem. They offer a unified explanation for the dynamic dialogue between neural code and readout—namely, how the brain simultaneously performs coding and readout in order to translate sensory input into behavior and to adapt its internal activity to the behavioral context. brain “read” the information contained in the neural activity in order to form behaviors like decision-making (readout).

To address this, the U19 team integrates various theoretical and experimental approaches, particularly single-cell resolution imaging, to further control and guide behavior by manipulating brain activity, with a focus on the three senses of vision, audition, and olfaction.

UMD’s Losert is leading the “Data Science Core,” which aims at streamlining and centralizing the data collection, analysis, and experimental design seamlessly across the various scientific projects. Kanold heads the science project titled, “Determining which Neurons Contribute to a Particular Behaviorally Distinguishable Percept,” with the goal of establishing causal links between neural activity and behavior. Babadi is in charge of neural modeling, statistical data analysis, and model-based experimental design for the three science projects. He is also contributing data science tools to the Data Science Core.

The collaborative nature of this project is crucial to investigating the complex relationship between the brain and behavior, the researchers said,  as it requires a tight integration of state-of-the-art optical imaging and stimulation, cellular electrophysiology, theoretical modeling, and large-scale data analysis. The U19 team’s unifying framework, which accounts for the simultaneous operation of neural code and readout, will allow the broader neuroscience community to resolve ongoing debates regarding neural coding that have been previously stymied by considering only half of the problem.

 

UMD-Led Research Finds New, Targeted Treatment Approach for an Aggressive Breast Cancer

February 25, 2019
Contacts: 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – New findings by a multi-institution research team led by the University of Maryland Fischell Department of Bioengineering outline a targeted therapeutic strategy

to treat triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) – a potential first for this less common, but particularly aggressive form of breast cancer.

Most breast cancers are fueled by the hormone estrogen, the hormone progesterone, or an excess of a protein called HER2 that in normal amounts actually helps control cell growth. There are specific breast cancer treatments that work by targeting each of these three factors.

However, about 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers are not fueled by any of these three factors and are thus designated as triple-negative breast cancer. There currently are no targeted therapies for triple-negative breast cancer. However, this new UMD-led research proposes a treatment strategy for this type of cancer that is centered on nanotechnology-based precision-targeting of a gene known as POLR2A.

A paper by the  group—which in addition to the University of Maryland includes researchers from Ohio State University, Indiana University and the University of Science and Technology of China—is published today in Nature Nanotechnology.

Triple-negative breast cancer  (TNBC) does not respond to modern hormonal therapies nor to medicines that target HER2 protein receptors. Thus, most TNBC patients are limited to chemotherapy as their only systemic treatment option.

“Due to the lack of a targeted therapy option, TNBC patients often face a poorer prognosis compared with patients of other types of breast cancer,” said BIOE Professor Xiaoming (Shawn) He, corresponding author of the paper. “While we have seen dramatic advancements in breast cancer treatment in recent decades, TNBC patients are typically treated with conventional chemotherapy that is often associated with adverse side effects, drug resistance, and even cancer relapse or recurrence. Therefore, it is of urgent need to develop targeted treatments for TNBC.”

All cancers originate as the result of changes that have occurred within the genes of a cell or group of cells. In the case of triple-negative breast cancer, a gene known as TP53 is most frequently deleted or mutated.

But, TP53 is critical. It provides instructions for making a protein called p53 that helps prevent the development of tumors by stopping cells with mutated or damaged DNA from growing and dividing uncontrollably. Although many researchers have considered techniques to restore p53 activity, no such therapy has been translated into the clinic, owing to the complexity of p53 signaling.

Recognizing this, Professor He and his research team have instead focused efforts on POLR2A –  a gene that is essential for cells to survive, and is a genetic neighbor of TP53. The group chose this route because alterations in genes tend to be large regional events in the body. Most cancers that lead to the loss of a particular tumor suppressor gene (likeTP53), also lead to the partial loss of nearby genes such as POLR2A.

Although cancer cells can survive a partial loss of POLR2A, they become weakened and vulnerable to POLR2A inhibition. Knowing this, He and his research team hypothesized that targeted inhibition of POLR2A could potentially kill TNBC cells while sparing normal cells.

To explore this option, the team looked to RNA interference (RNAi) with small interfering RNA (siRNA), a biological process by which RNA molecules inhibit gene expression or translation. This process can be used to precisely target virtually any genes – including those that may contribute to cancer growth.

The challenge, however, is that siRNA is extremely unstable in blood and in endosomes and lysosomes, the digestive system of cells. To overcome these obstacles, the research group designed “nano-bomb” particles that they could use to protect POLR2A siRNA in blood circulation and carry the siRNA into the targeted tumor for cells to “eat.” The particles then generate CO2 gas to break open endosomes and lysosomes to ensure timely release of siRNA to inhibit POLR2A.

The group believes that their findings offer hope that one day a nanotechnology-based precision-targeting strategy could be used to fight TNBC and many other types of cancer.

In addition to his BIOE appointment, He is a faculty member of the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices, as well as the University of Maryland’s Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Along with He, the following contributed to the Nature Nanotechnology paper: co-first authors Jiangsheng Xu (BIOE; The Ohio State University/OSU), Yunhua Liu (Indiana University), and Yujing Li (Indiana University); co-authors Hai Wang (BIOE; OSU), Samantha Stewart (BIOE), Kevin Van der Jeught (Indiana University), Pranay Agarwal (OSU), Yuntian Zhang (BIOE; University of Science and Technology of China/USTC), Sheng Liu (Indiana University), Gang Zhao (USTC), and Jun Wan (Indiana University); and co-corresponding author Xiongbin Lu (Indiana University).

 

Dean of UMD's Clark School of Engineering Elected to National Academy of Engineering

February 8, 2019
Contacts: 
 

Melissa Andreychek 301-405-0292

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Darryll J. Pines, dean and Nariman Farvardin Professor of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, has been elected to the 2019 Class of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.

The NAE cited Pines for “inspirational leadership and contributions to engineering education excellence in the United States.” He joins 21 other Clark School-affiliated faculty who have been inducted into NAE, including UMD Regents Professor C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr., former UMD president and current NAE president. Pines is the second Clark School dean to be elected to NAE. Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and former Dean George Dieter was elected “for contributions to engineering education and materials design and processing” in 1993.

“To be recognized among engineers who I’ve long considered role models is a deeply humbling honor,” said Pines, who has led the engineering school for a decade. “I would not be here without the support of my family, colleagues, and leadership team.”

As dean of the engineering school with over 6,000 students, Pines led the development and implementation of a strategy to improve teaching in fundamental undergraduate courses and raise student retention, achieve success in national and international student competitions, place new emphasis on service learning and grand societal challenges, promote STEM education among high school students, increase the impact of research programs, and expand philanthropic contributions to the school.

Most notably, Pines was instrumental in securing a $219.5 million investment—among the largest gifts ever to a public university—from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation. Building Together: An Investment for Maryland is funding need-based scholarships campus-wide, as well graduate fellowships, faculty positions, infrastructure, and other initiatives.

Pines’s belief in the value of an inclusive and diverse community has underpinned his work. He served as director of the Alfred P. Sloan Doctoral Scholars Program and the National Graduate Education for Minorities Fellowship Program. The percentage of women and underrepresented minorities in the UMD engineering undergraduate student body has grown to 25 and 16 percent, respectively, during his time as dean. According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, the Clark School ranks among the top 10 in conferring the most B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees to African-American students.

"This honor adds another well-deserved milestone to Darryll's achievements as an engineer and educator," said University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. "His leadership has infused our engineering program with even greater levels of excellence and innovation. We are delighted by this wonderful news."

Pines is currently leading an initiative to pilot a first-of-its-kind, nationwide, pre-college course on engineering principles and design. The pilot program, Engineering For US All (E4USA), will test the effectiveness of a standardized educational curriculum across multiple states. The course, made possible through a $4 million NSF grant, is intended to eventually provide the equivalent of placement credit for an introductory college course.

Among his many awards are UMD’s 2018 President’s Medal, the State of Maryland House of Delegates Speaker's Medallion in 2015, and various teaching awards, including two Department of Aerospace Broken Propeller awards and the Clark School’s E.Robert Kent Teaching Award for junior faculty.

Pines’s research focuses on structural dynamics, including structural health monitoring and prognosis, smart sensors, and adaptive, morphing, and biologically inspired structures, as well as the guidance, navigation, and control of uninhabited aerospace vehicles at all length scales.

He has published more than 250 technical papers and obtained six patents—U.S. and worldwide—in the areas of smart structures, structural health monitoring, micro air vehicles, navigation, guidance, and control of aerospace systems. Pines has served on numerous technical boards and committees, including the American Association of Engineering Education, the American Helicopter Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, and is currently serving as the chair of National Science Foundation’s Engineering Directorate Advisory Committee.

During a leave of absence from UMD from 2003–2006, Pines served as program manager for the Tactical Technology Office and Defense Sciences Office of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). While at DARPA, Pines initiated five new programs primarily related to the development of aerospace technologies, for which he received a Distinguished Service Medal. One program, named the X-ray Navigation (XNAV), involved the use of x-ray pulsars as navigation beacons to enable spacecraft to determine their position without the use of ground assets. Another program, termed the Nano Air Vehicles (NAV) program, served to inspire the current drone revolution and helped to develop enabling technology to achieve autonomous drones weighing less than 50 grams. He also held positions at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Chevron Corporation, and Space Tethers, Inc. At LLNL, Pines worked on the Clementine spacecraft program, which discovered water near the south pole of the moon. A replica of the spacecraft now sits in the National Air and Space Museum.

Pines is a fellow of the Institute of Physics, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and has received a NSF CAREER Award. Pines received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NAE membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature" and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education."

Individuals in the newly elected class will be formally inducted during a ceremony at the NAE's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on October 6, 2019.

 

For the complete list of new academy members, visit the NAE press release.

Scientists Develop First Fabric to Automatically Cool or Insulate Depending on Conditions

February 7, 2019
Contacts: 

Kimbra Cutlip 301-405-9463

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Despite decades of innovation in fabrics with high-tech thermal properties that keep marathon runners cool or alpine hikers warm, there has never been a material that changes its insulating properties in response to the environment. Until now. 

University of Maryland researchers have created a fabric that can automatically regulate the amount of heat that passes through it depending on conditions.  For example, when conditions are warm and moist, such as those of a sweating body on a summer day, the fabric allows infrared radiation (radiant heat) to pass through. When conditions become cooler and drier, the fabric reduces the heat that escapes.  Infrared radiation is a primary way the body releases heat and is the focus of this new technology.

A paper on their work was just published in in the journal Science.

“This is the first technology that allows us to dynamically gate [regulate] infrared radiation,” said YuHuang Wang, a UMD professor of chemistry and biochemistry and one of the paper’s corresponding authors.

The researchers created the fabric from specially engineered yarn coated with a conductive metal that allows. Under hot, humid conditions, the strands of yarn compact and activate the coating, which changes the way the fabric interacts with infrared radiation to allows more heat . They refer to the action as “gating” of infrared radiation, which acts as a tunable blind to transmit or block heat.

The base yarn for this new textile is created with fibers made of two different synthetic materials—one absorbs water and the other repels it. The strands are coated with carbon nanotubes, a special class of lightweight, carbon-based, conductive metal. Because materials in the fibers both resist and absorb water, the fibers warp when exposed to humidity such as that surrounding a sweating body. That distortion brings the strands of yarn closer together, which does two things. First, it opens the pores in the fabric. This has a small cooling effect because it allows heat to escape. Second, and most importantly, it modifies the electromagnetic coupling between the carbon nanotubes in the coating.

“You can think of this coupling effect like the bending of a radio antenna to change the wavelength or frequency it resonates with,” Wang said. “It’s a very simplified way to think of it, but imagine bringing two antennae close together to regulate the kind of electromagnetic wave they pick up. When the fibers are brought closer together, the radiation they interact with changes. In clothing, that means the fabric interacts with the heat radiating from the human body.”

Depending on the tuning, the fabric either blocks infrared radiation or allows it to pass through. The reaction is almost instant, so before people realize they’re getting hot, the garment could already be cooling them down. On the flip side, as a body cools down, the dynamic gating mechanism works in reverse to trap in heat.

“The human body is a perfect radiator. It gives off heat quickly,” said Min Ouyang, a professor of physics at UMD and the paper’s other corresponding author. “For all of history, the only way to regulate the radiator has been to take clothes off or put clothes on. But this fabric is a true bidirectional regulator.”

According to the Science paper, this is first textile shown to be able to regulate heat exchange with the environment.

“This pioneering work provides an exciting new switchable characteristic for comfort-adjusting clothing,” said Ray Baughman, a professor of chemistry at the University of Texas who was not involved in the study. “Textiles were known that increase porosity in response to sweat or increasing temperature, as well as textiles that transmit the infrared radiation associated with body temperatures. However, no one before had found a way to switch both the porosity and infrared transparency of a textile so as to provide increased comfort in response to environmental conditions.”

More work is needed before the fabric can be commercialized, but according to the researchers, materials used for the base fiber are readily available and the carbon coating can be easily added during standard dying process.

“I think it’s very exciting to be able to apply this gating phenomenon to the development of a textile that has the ability to improve the functionality of clothing and other fabrics,” Ouyang said.

The paper, “Dynamic gating of infrared radiation in a textile,” Xu A. Zhang, Shangjie Yu, Beibei Xu, Min Li, Zhiwei Peng, Yongxin Wang, Shunliu Deng, Xiaojian Wu, Zupeng Wu, Min Ouyang, YuHuang Wang, is published in the February 8, 2019 edition of the journal Science.

This work was supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), U.S. Department of Energy, as part of its “Delivering Efficient Local Thermal Amenities (DELTA)” program (Award No. DE-AR0000527). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of this organization.

 

University of Maryland Named a Best Value College in the Nation

February 6, 2019
Contacts: 

 

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland has been named a Best Value College in a new listing released by The Princeton Review. In its ninth year of inclusion, the university is mentioned among other top schools in the country in the 2019 edition of The Best Value Colleges: 200 Schools with Exceptional ROI for Your Tuition Investment.

The colleges and universities included on this list were evaluated overall on three factors: academic reputation, cost to attend and career prospects for graduates. UMD’s high academic rating, career center programming and full suite of merit-based scholarships and demonstrated-need financial aid packages all contribute to the return on investment rating of 89 out of 100. In addition, UMD is highlighted for the diversity of its of student body and proximity to tier-one research and internship opportunities in the nation's Capital.

The comprehensive ranking, formerly known as Colleges that Pay You Back, compiles data from administrative, student and alumni surveys of 650 schools. The Princeton Review assessed over 40 data points in these surveys, including student debt, alumni support, faculty accessibility, acceptance rate and more to assist college prospects and parents.

The full list of Best Value Colleges by the Princeton Review is here: go.umd.edu/U6f  

Revising the History of Big, Climate-Altering Volcanic Eruptions

February 5, 2019
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – For all their destructive power, most volcanic eruptions are local events. Lava flows tend to reach only a few miles at most, while airborne ash and soot travel a little further. But occasionally, larger eruptions can launch particles into the stratosphere, more than 6 miles above Earth’s surface. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines—the world’s largest eruption in the past 100 years—is a prime example of a stratospheric eruption.

When volcanic particles reach the stratosphere they stay aloft for a long time, reflecting sunlight and temporarily cooling the planet. By understanding the history of these big eruptions, researchers can begin to place short cooling episodes and other discrete climate events into the context of large-scale climate patterns.

Researchers working at the University of Maryland, the Université Grenoble Alpes in France, the Ecole Normale Supérieure in France and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have devised a new, more accurate system for identifying large stratospheric eruptions recorded in the layers of Antarctic ice cores.

Using their method, the researchers have made some important revisions to the known history of big eruptions—correcting the record on several misidentified events while discovering a few as-yet unknown stratospheric eruptions. The researchers described their approach, which identifies volcanically-sourced sulfate molecules with a specific chemical signature, in a paper published January 28, 2019, in the journal Nature Communications.

“I find it very exciting that we are able to use chemical signals to build a highly accurate record of large, climate-relevant, stratospheric eruptions,” said James Farquhar, a professor of geology at UMD and a co-author of the research paper. “This historical record will be highly useful for climate scientists seeking to understand the role of large eruptions in climate oscillations. But there is also the basic marvel of reading a chemical fingerprint that is left behind in ice.”

Eventually, volcanic particles do fall from the stratosphere, settling on the ground below. When they land on snow, the particles are soon covered by more snow that gets compacted into ice. This preserves a record of the eruption that survives until the ice melts. Researchers can drill and retrieve ice cores in places like Antarctica and Greenland, revealing eruption records that can stretch back several thousand years.

Because particles from large stratospheric eruptions can spread across the globe before falling to the ground, previous methods to identified stratospheric eruptions by looking for sulfate particle layers in ice from both hemispheres—usually from Antarctica and Greenland. If the same layers of sulfate showed up in both cores, deposited at the same time in Earth’s history, researchers would conclude that the particles came from the same large, stratospheric eruption.

“But for eruptions that are intense enough to inject material into the stratosphere, there is a telltale signature in the sulfur isotope ratios of sulfate preserved in ancient ice layers,” explained Farquhar, who also has an appointment at UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center. “By instead focusing on this distinct sulfur isotope signature, our new method yielded some surprising and useful results. We found that prior reconstructions missed some stratospheric events and falsely identified others.”

Lead author of the study Elsa Gautier, of the Université Grenoble Alpes, did a significant portion of the analyses at UMD while on a Fulbright Fellowship to work with Farquhar in 2013. Following Gautier’s lead, the researchers developed their method using ice cores collected at a remote site in Antarctica called Dome C. One of the highest points on the Antarctic ice sheet, Dome C is home to ice layers that stretch back nearly 50,000 years.

Gautier and her colleague Joel Savarino, also at Université Grenoble Alpes, collected ice cores at Dome C that contain records stretching back roughly 2600 years, covering a large portion of recorded human history.

The researchers used their method to confirm that many events had indeed been properly identified by the older method of matching up corresponding sulfate layers in ice cores from both hemispheres. But some events, formerly thought to be big stratospheric eruptions, did not have the telltale sulfur isotope signature in their sulfate layers. Instead, the researchers concluded, these layers must have been deposited by two or more smaller volcanoes that erupted at about the same time at high latitudes in both hemispheres. 

The researchers also found some big stratospheric events that do contain the isotope signature, but were somehow constrained to the Southern Hemisphere.

“This is a strength of our approach, because these events would have a climate impact but are missed by other methods,” Farquhar said. “We have made a significant improvement to the reconstruction of large stratospheric eruptions that occurred over the past 2600 years. This is critically important for understanding the role of volcanic eruptions on climate and possibly for understanding certain events in human history, such as widespread famines. It can also help to inform future climate models that will take large volcanic events into account.”

The research paper, “2600 years of stratospheric volcanism through sulfate isotopes,” Elsa Gautier, Joel Savarino, J. Hoek, J. Erbland, N. Caillon, S. Hattori, N. Yoshida, E. Albalat, F. Albarede and James Farquhar, was published in the journal Nature Communications on January 28, 2019.

This work was supported by the Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Award No. NT09-431976-VOLSOL), Labex OSUG@2020 (Award No. ANR10LABX56), the Institute Polaire Paul-Emile Victor (Award No. SUNITEDC No. 1011), and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Award Nos. 25887025, 16H05884 and 17H06105). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

UMD-Led Study Reveals Upsides & Downsides to the “Loosening” of America

January 31, 2019
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The United States is considerably “looser” today—more tolerant, open-minded and expressive—than it was 200 years ago, but that trend has resulted in certain societal tradeoffs, finds new joint research from the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In a study published January 28 in Nature Human Behavior, led by Distinguished UMD Professor Michele Gelfand and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Joshua Jackson, researchers tracked changes in American culture from 1800-2000 by monitoring language in published text.

Using a computer science algorithm to map words appearing in the Google News dataset, the research team established lists of words related to rule following (e.g. restrain, prevent, comply) and rule aversion (e.g. allow, freedom, choose). They then tracked how frequently people used these words through an analysis of Google Books—a repository of more than 200 billion books published between 1800 and the present.

Researchers discovered that books contained more rule-aversion words and fewer rule-following words over this time period, suggesting American culture as a whole was loosening the strength of social norms.

“We were excited to see that the linguistic trends we identified in books mirrored other measures we collected on societal shifts,” said Gelfand. “For instance, the number of laws passed by Congress, Supreme Court cases heard, and religiously affiliated individuals dropped significantly between 1800 and 2000, while profanity in television and film increased.”

Researchers then explored the consequences and potential trade-offs, as past research by Gelfand has shown that tight, rule-abiding nations and states tend to have fewer self-control failures—such as drug abuse and alcoholism—but also fewer markers of creativity and openness, like patents, trademarks and artists. Researchers collected data on four yearly measures of societal creativity: feature films produced, patent applications, trademark applications and proportion of unconventional baby names. They also collected data on four yearly measures of societal order: crime rate, number of children in school, adolescent pregnancies and household debt.

Their results showed that years in which people used high levels of rule-aversive language had the highest rates of patent and trademark application, unconventional names and feature film production, but also the highest rates of high-school dropouts, adolescent pregnancies and household debt.

“Our findings demonstrate how changes in culture over time can have far-reaching implications for how people spend their money, generate new ideas and even name their children,” said Jackson. “That’s why it’s important to consider changes in single societies over time to understand how culture shapes behavior and psychology.”

Gelfand has spent two decades researching the tightness and looseness of cultures and recently wrote the book, “Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire our World.” However, this marks the first time she has been able to examine how a single culture changes over time.

“It’s important to understand why differences in tightness and looseness arise and its consequences for groups, but we also need to be aware of how it is changing,” Gelfand said. “While the US has loosened over the last 200 years, we weren’t able to look at more recent trends. It may be changing now in the other direction given societal disruptions and the political climate.”

In addition to monitoring future cultural shifts in the United States, the research team hopes to employ methods used in this study to look at changes in other countries.

Along with Gelfand and Jackson, the research team included Sohan De, a graduate student in the Department of Computer Science at UMD, and UMD alumna Amber Fox (PSYC, ’16) from Uniformed Services University. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Humboldt Foundation.   

Updates From the University System of Maryland

January 30, 2019
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4621 

The following information was released by the University System of Maryland: 

 

UMCP President Wallace Loh to Continue through June 2020

Regent Gary Attman to Chair Presidential Search Committee

 

The University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents and Chancellor Robert Caret today announced that Dr. Wallace Loh will continue, by mutual agreement, to lead Maryland’s flagship campus through June 2020.  The board and the chancellor also announced plans to launch the process to select Dr. Loh’s successor, naming current regent and UMCP alumnus Gary Attman to chair the presidential search committee.

“Selecting the leader of any USM institution is among the Board of Regents’ most important responsibilities,” said USM Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden.  “The search for the next leader of Maryland’s flagship, the University of Maryland, College Park, will be critically important to the future of that institution and the entire state.  We must take the time necessary to identify and select a bold and talented leader who can continue the upward trajectory of one of the nation’s great public research universities.”

“Over the last three months, we have been speaking with Dr. Loh and listening to members of the campus community, and to leaders and stakeholders across the state about the upcoming leadership transition,” Chancellor Caret said.  “These discussions have informed our thinking about the path forward that will best ensure an orderly transition, continued strong leadership of the university without interruption, and a successful search process.”

Loh announced last fall that he plans to retire at the end of the current academic year.  Gooden and Caret cited several specific factors that played a role in postponing Loh’s retirement.  

First, the process to select a new president will likely take up to a year to complete, raising the likelihood that an interim president would need to be appointed if Loh retired this year  

Second, the university is well underway with several major initiatives in which a permanent president’s leadership will be paramount. Loh will continue to lead strategic initiatives in education, research, and innovation. Some of these initiatives are on the College Park campus and some are in partnership with the University of Maryland Baltimore, the Universities at Shady Grove, the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, and universities abroad. These include:

  • Continuing the implementation of athletics reforms recommended by the two independent investigations related to football; 
  • Ramping up the Administrative Modernization Program to achieve significant cost savings and greater efficiency across the campus through updated infrastructure and business systems; 
  • Continuing the development of the quantum computing initiative;
  • With UMCP as the managing campus, assuming leadership of USM’s third regional higher education center in Southern Maryland and building the Universities at Shady Grove to better serve the growing needs of the state and region;
  • Continuing the revitalization of the “Greater College Park” area, with a number of new development residential, retail, municipal and innovative corporate projects, currently under negotiation, expected come to fruition by 2020.
  • Continuing the record-breaking progress of the university’s $1.5 billion capital campaign, Fearless Ideas.

“The University of Maryland, College Park has flourished under Dr. Loh’s leadership for more than eight years, rising in national rankings, growing enrollment and diversity, and expanding its research enterprise,” Gooden said.  “He is currently leading several initiatives critical to the university’s future, including implementing reforms to the athletics program, hiring key leaders, and continuing the capital campaign.”  

“To ensure these efforts continue to progress for the benefit of current and future students and faculty, the board and Dr. Loh have agreed that it is in the university’s best interests for him to continue leading the University of Maryland, College Park while the search for the new president proceeds,” Gooden said.

“For eight years, I have been honored to serve the state’s flagship institution as the accomplishments of our faculty, staff, students and alumni have propelled Maryland to new heights,” said Loh. “The board discussed with me having a smooth transition of leadership, and we mutually agreed upon a retirement date of June 2020. With all of Maryland’s supporters, I look forward to what we will accomplish together.”

Regents Launch National Presidential Search

President and CEO of FutureCare Health and Management Corporation, which he co-founded in 1985, Regent Gary Attman holds a J.D. degree (with honors) from the University of Maryland School of Law, where he published in and served as editor of the Maryland Law Review. He also earned a B.S. degree in Accounting (magna cum laude) from the University of Maryland, College Park. 

He is a member of the Maryland Bar, a certified public accountant, and is a licensed real estate broker. Attman also serves on the boards of the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Associated Jewish Charities.  

In the coming months, USM will retain an executive search firm and name other members of the search committee, which will include representatives from the UMCP faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The committee will host a series of forums to receive input from the UMCP community.  The committee's work will conclude with its recommendation of finalists for consideration by the chancellor and the Board of Regents. The board will make the final selection. It is expected that the search process will take up to a year to complete.

 

 

Machine Learning Finds Multiple Factors Underlie Cancer Immunotherapy Success

January 30, 2019
Contacts: 

Kimbra Cutlip 301-405-9463

 

COLLEGE PARK, Md – A University of Maryland-led research team is using a branch of artificial intelligence known as machine learning to better target immunotherapy treatment to those who will benefit.

Immunotherapies, which use a person’s own immune system to fight cancer, have produced revolutionary results in recent years, including curing people with previously inoperable, advanced disease. Such stellar successes have propelled some of these drugs to become the standard of care for treating many forms of cancer. And yet, most of them only work for a minority of patients. In some cases, fewer than 20 in 100 patients will benefit.

Clearly improving the use of immunotherapy and reducing costs from unsuccessful, and thus unnecessary, treatments lies in more accurately predicting which patients will benefit.

Mark (Max) Leiserson, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, and colleagues from Microsoft Research and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center believe the way to better predictions lies in a new computer modeling approach, one that analyzes data on multiple facets of patients and their cancer simultaneously. In a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, Leiserson and his colleagues used data from a clinical trial of bladder cancer patients to demonstrate that their approach could identify a suite of features that accurately predicted a key immune system response to treatment while reducing over treatment by half.

“If your goal is to treat everyone in that particular dataset who will respond, the type of multifactorial modeling we show in this paper will let you do that while treating many fewer people who won't respond," said Leiserson, the paper’s lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at UMD. Leiserson began conducting this study while he was a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, New England and continues to consult for the company.

  

A pair of cytoxic T cells (in red), part of the body's immune system, attack an oral cancer cell.
Photo courtesy of NCI/Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine 

“What’s also exciting about this study,” he said, “is that we were not just looking at patient outcome, but at a specific marker of immune response, which gave us a much better picture of what’s going on.”

In contrast, Leiserson and colleagues showed that their multifactorial computer model predictions of which patients would benefit could include as few as 38 percent of those who did not benefit while still capturing 100 percent of the patients who did. The key, they found, was to include three distinct types of data, something not currently standard in cancer studies or treatments.

Although immunotherapy researchers are beginning to collect more information about cancer patients and their responses to therapy, the focus is still largely on finding a few key markers that stand out as important predictors of success. The solution, however, may be far more complex. There may not be just a handful of important features or markers for all patients, and those that exist are likely to function in some complicated combination.

“People are realizing that predicting response is more and more appropriate and needed, and to be able to do this, the traditional kind of single biomarker approach isn’t always enough,” Leiserson said.

To generate their computer model, Leiserson and his team analyzed data from a clinical trial with a uniquely rich data set that captured information about tumor cells, immune cells, and patient information such as demographics and medical history. Like many studies, the trial was aimed at finding key features associated with a specific response to the drug. Recognizing the potential in such a multi-modal data set, the researchers saw an opportunity to apply machine learning to the problem.The research paper “A multifactorial model of T cell expansion and durable clinical benefit in response to a PD-L1 inhibitor,” Mark D. M. Leiserson, Vasilis Syrgkanis, Amy Gilson, Miroslav Dudik, Sharon Gillett, Jennifer Chayes, Christian Borgs, Dean F. Bajorin, Jonathan E. Rosenberg, Samuel Funt, Alexandra Snyder, Lester Mackey was published in They fed 36 different features into their model and allowed the computer to identify patterns that could predict increases in potential tumor-fighting immune cells in a patient’s blood after treatment. (In the study patients, expansion of T cells in the blood post-therapy was associated with progression-free survival.)

The resulting algorithm identified 20 features that, when analyzed together, explained 79 percent of the variation in patient immune responses. According to Leiserson, this means that the unusually comprehensive set of features gathered for these patients is sufficient to predict the patient immune response with high accuracy.

Even more importantly, they found that if they eliminated any one of the three categories of data from the model (tumor data, immune cell data or patient clinical data) the immune response was no longer predictable—their model could only predict at most 23 percent of the variation. Leiserson stresses that it’s not necessarily the 20 characteristics that are important, but rather the reliance on a multifactorial approach.

“These features we identified may not be the only features that can be used to predict how a patient will respond,” he said. “There may be others that you could replace these with, but it’s about the method and the inclusion of all three categories of features.”

Leiserson sees this work as a natural parallel to current efforts in precision oncology, which aims to tailor treatments to the genetics and molecular profiles of individual patients’ tumors.

“We are trying to predict what’s going to happen for a single patient by looking at their molecular profile and clinical history,” he said. “It’s about building an understanding of the molecular landscape of the tumor, which provides additional information beyond which tissue it’s in or what the tumor looks like under the microscope.”

The model the scientists developed isn’t ready to be used as a diagnostic tool because it only incorporated data from 21 patients, which is far too few to be predictive for the general population. Leiserson said they are hoping to add patients to the model as more data comes in. He hopes the study’s success will encourage hospitals and other researchers to invest the time and effort into gathering more information than they traditionally have.

“One of the goals of this work was to ask the question, ‘Should hospitals prioritize gathering this type of data?’” Leiserson said. “And now we can say that this multifactorial approach lets us better predict the response to these immunotherapies. I hope that it motivates the effort and expenditure of continuing to collect this data.”

Both the data used for the study and the algorithm Leiserson and his team developed are open source and available on Github at https://github.com/lrgr/multifactorial-immune-response.

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