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Maryland SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors Joins School of Public Health

March 13, 2019
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland is pleased to announce that the Support Advocacy, Freedom, and Empowerment (SAFE) Center for Human Trafficking Survivors will become part of the School of Public Health beginning this month.

The SAFE Center is an initiative of the University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore, through their formal partnership for innovation, University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State. The SAFE Center draws on the wide range of disciplines of both universities to address human trafficking. It provides comprehensive legal, case management, mental health, primary medical and economic empowerment services to U.S. and foreign-born adult and child survivors of sex and labor trafficking. The center also engages in research and advocacy to help prevent trafficking and improve survivor services.

“Human trafficking is a public health issue,” said School of Public Health Dean Boris Lushniak. “To tackle it we must complement the criminal justice and social service response with prevention strategies targeted to specific populations. Our School of Public Health is uniquely positioned to partner with the SAFE Center on efforts to prevent trafficking, identify victims and provide evidence-based treatment and support for survivors.”

Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery in which force, fraud, or coercion are used to compel women, children, and men into commercial sex, forced labor, and domestic servitude. It is an egregious crime that occurs throughout the United States. Baltimore and the District of Columbia rank among the U.S. cities with the highest number of human trafficking victims per capita.

“We are excited to establish a new home at the School of Public Health,” said SAFE Center Founder and Director, Ambassador Susan Esserman. “The School’s emphasis on prevention, health and wellness, and quality of life closely aligns with our mission of helping human trafficking survivors overcome the trauma of their trafficking and rebuild their lives.”  


The SAFE Center’s newly established position within the School of Public Health recognizes the interconnected nature of human trafficking to other forms of violence and systemic inequities. The center’s efforts to fight human trafficking will benefit from the multifaceted, holistic approach that is central to public health. 

School of Public Health faculty and students can engage to assess what health care providers across Maryland know about human trafficking and to train these providers to better identify trafficking survivors and refer them for needed services. 

“We want to engage the medical and healthcare communities in a systemic way because they are part of the front line in identifying human trafficking survivors,” Esserman said. 

The SAFE Center also just launched a pilot research project to determine the nature and prevalence of human trafficking in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, and has taken a leadership role in advocating for the passage of several trafficking-related bills in the Maryland legislature.

Since its founding in 2016, the SAFE Center has:

  • provided services to more than 100 survivors of sex and labor trafficking;

  • launched a 24/7 human trafficking crisis intervention program in Prince George’s County;

  • held leadership roles on the human trafficking task forces of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, as well as on Maryland’s state human trafficking task force; and

  • expanded onsite provision of bilingual immigration and crime victims’ rights legal services, as well as bilingual mental health services.

In addition to its home base with the School of Public Health, the SAFE Center will continue its collaborative work with the Schools of Social Work, Law, Dentistry and Nursing in Baltimore; and the Schools of Public Policy and Business; and Colleges of Education; Arts and Humanities; and Behavioral and Social Sciences in College Park.

UMD Graduate Programs Secure High Rankings by U.S. News and World Report

March 12, 2019
Contacts: 

 

Jennifer Burroughs 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland schools, colleges and programs were recently recognized in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2020 Best Graduate School rankings. The following UMD programs and specialties ranked in the Top 10 in the nation: counseling/personnel services (2, College of Education), homeland/national security (4, School of Public Policy), education psychology (6, College of Education), information systems (9, Robert H. Smith School of Business) and public finance & budgeting (10, School of Public Policy).

This year’s highlights include:

  • Seven programs in the College of Education were ranked among the top 20: counseling/personnel services (2), education psychology (6), special education (12), higher ed administration (13), secondary teacher education (16), elementary education (16), and education administration (19)

  • The School of Public Policy ranked 22 overall with three programs and specialties in the top 20: homeland/national security (4), public finance and budgeting (10) and international global policy (12)

  • The A. James Clark School of Engineering has three programs ranked in the top 20: aerospace engineering (14), electrical engineering (16), and computer engineering (16).

  • The Robert H. Smith School of Business and College of Agriculture & Natural Resources both have one program ranked in the top 20: information systems (9), veterinary medicine (17)

The U.S. News 2020 Best Graduate Schools listing evaluates graduate programs across six major disciplines in business, education, engineering, law, medicine, and nursing, including specialties in each area. The rankings are based on expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research output and student achievement. According to U.S. News, the data for the rankings in all six disciplines came from statistical and reputation surveys sent to tens of  thousands of academics and professionals, conducted in fall 2018 and early 2019.

The full U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate School rankings are available here, with UMD’s complete graduate rankings listed here.

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New UMD Microscopy Method Could Improve LASIK Surgery

March 11, 2019
Contacts: 

 

Alyssa Wolice Tomlinson 30i-405-3936

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A team of University of Maryland bioengineering researchers have developed a microscopy technique that could one day be used to improve LASIK and eliminate the “surgery” aspect of the procedure. Their findings were published today in Physical Review Letters.

In the 20 years since the FDA first approved LASIK surgery, more than 10 million Americans have had the procedure done to correct their vision. When performed on both eyes, the entire procedure takes about 20 minutes and can rid patients of the need to wear glasses or contact lenses.

While LASIK has a very high success rate, virtually every procedure involves an element of guesswork. This is because doctors have no way to precisely measure the refractive properties of the eye. Instead, they rely heavily on approximations that correlate with the patient’s vision acuity—how close to 20/20 he or she can see without the aid of glasses or contacts.

In search of a solution, Giuliano Scarcelli, an assistant professor with the University of Maryland’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BIOE), and members of his Optics Biotech Laboratory have developed a microscopy technique that could allow doctors to perform LASIK using precise measurements of how the eye focuses light, instead of approximations.

“This could represent a tremendous first for LASIK and other refractive procedures,” Scarcelli said. “Light is focused by the eye’s cornea because of its shape and what is known as its refractive index. But until now, we could only measure its shape. Thus, today’s refractive procedures rely solely on observed changes to the cornea, and they are not always accurate.”

The cornea—the outermost layer of the eye—functions like a window that controls and focuses light that enters the eye. When light strikes the cornea, it is bent—or refracted. The lens then fine-tunes the light’s path to produce a sharp image onto the retina, which converts the light into electrical impulses that are interpreted by the brain as images. Common vision problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, are caused by the eye’s inability to sharply focus an image onto the retina.

To fix this, LASIK surgeons use lasers to alter the shape of the cornea and change its focal point. But, they do this without any ability to precisely measure how much the path of light is bent when it enters the cornea.

To measure the path light takes, one needs to measure a quantity known as the refractive index; it represents the ratio of the velocity of light in a vacuum to its velocity in a particular material.

By mapping the distribution and variations of the local refractive index within the eye, doctors would know the precise degree of corneal refraction. Equipped with this information, they could better tailor the LASIK procedure such that, rather than improved vision, patients could expect to walk away with perfect vision—or vision that tops 20/20.

Even more, doctors might no longer need to cut into the cornea.

“Non-ablative technologies are already being developed to change the refractive index of the cornea, locally, using a laser,” Scarcelli said. “Providing local refractive index measurements will be critical for their success.”

Knowing this, Scarcelli and his team developed a microscopy technique that can measure the local refractive index using Brillouin spectroscopy—a light-scattering technology that was previously used to sense the mechanical properties of tissue and cells without disrupting or destroying either.

“We experimentally demonstrated that, by using a dual Brillouin scattering technology, we could determine the refractive index directly, while achieving three-dimensional spatial resolution,” Scarcelli said. “This means that we could measure the refractive index of cells and tissue at locations in the body—such as the eyes—that can only be accessed from one side.”

In addition to measuring corneal or lens refraction, the group is working on improving its resolution to analyze mass density behavior in cell biology or even cancer pathogenesis, Scarcelli said.

In addition to Scarcelli, BIOE Ph.D. student Antonio Fiore (first author) and Carlo Bevilacqua, a visiting student fromthe University of Bari Aldo Moro in Bari, Italy, contributed to the paper.

UMD Raises Over $2M On Sixth Annual Giving Day

March 8, 2019
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK Md.-- The University of Maryland community raised over $2 million on its sixth annual Giving Day. Held on March 6, the 24-hour giving challenge raised money to support student scholarships, academic programs, and campus initiatives. The university received 8,649  total gifts from students and parents, faculty and staff, campus organizations, and alumni.

Donors were able to give to a wide variety of funds or programs dedicated towards schools and colleges, athletics, libraries, performing arts, and Greek and student organizations. Donors also had the option to support one of the many University funds, including the Keep Me Maryland Fund and the Veterans Scholarship Fund. 

Athletics led donations with a fundraising total of close to $190,000, followed by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and the Office of Undergraduate Studies with totals of close to $113,000 and $72,000 respectively. The Office of Undergraduate Studies received over 1,000 gifts, the highest number of gifts given to a specific unit. 

“We are extremely proud of the success of this year’s Giving Day,” said Brian Logue, Executive  Director of Annual Giving at UMD, “It’s amazing to see the entire campus community come together to support our institution and show Maryland pride.”

Throughout the day there were several opportunities for donors to have their donations matched. When donors gave to the Clark Challenge for the Maryland Promise, a need-based scholarship program for undergraduate students from underserved populations in the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia, gifts were matched dollar for dollar by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and the University of Maryland. Similarly, the Clarvit Family helped match gifts from students, recent graduates, and first time alumni donors as well as donations made towards emergency scholarship funds. 

In addition to matching opportunities and leaderboard challenges, this year the Testudo Selfie Challenge encouraged the UMD community to take a selfie with Testudo to help raise money for the fund of their choice. By posting a selfie on Facebook or Twitter with a printable version of Testudo and using the hashtag #UMDGivingDay, participants entered the fund they support for one of ten prizes. Winners of these prizes included the Robert H. Smith School of Business, Hillel, Gamer Symphony Orchestra Support Fund, UMD Student Crisis Fund, Clark School's Alumni Network Scholarship Fund, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Fund, the Friends of the Center for Young Children Endowment, Student Entertainment Events (SEE) Scholarship Fund, and Libraries.

Since its launch in 2013, UMD Giving Day has raised more than $6.5 million from the UMD community.

 

UMD Team Again Reaches “Final Four” in HUD Affordable Housing Competition

March 5, 2019
Contacts: 

Maria Day-Marshall 301-405-6795, Lee Tune 301-405-4679

 

Winning UMD team presents at 2018 HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

Last years championship UMD team presents at 2018 HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – An team of graduate students from the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation has earned a slot in the four final of the sixth annual HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition, beating out over 70 teams from some of the most prestigious architectural graduate programs in the United States.  UMD teams finished first last year and second in 2016, their only two previous entries in the competition

According to HUD, “the need for quality, affordable housing has never been greater,” and its affordable housing competition is intended to “advance the design and production of livable and sustainable housing for low- and moderate-income people through research and innovation.” On April 17, UMD will defend its 2018 competition title, going head-to-head against teams from the University of California-Berkley, Yale University and Virginia Polytechnic and State University at HUD’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

“We are delighted to have made the final four in the three times that we have participated in this very prestigious competition,” said Maria Day-Marshall, director of UMD’s Real Estate  Development Program. “I believe our success is reflected in the interdisciplinary nature of the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the quality of work of our students.”

Team Maryland is comprised of graduate students Kyle Huck (dual master’s degree program in architecture and real estate development), Casey Huntington (dual master’s degree program in architecture and real estate development), Lauren Stamm (master’s degree program in community planning); Andrew Mazer (master’s degree program in architecture); and Nyasha Mandima (master’s degree program in real estate development). The team’s advisors are Day-Marshall and Rob McClennan, senior project manager, Bonstra | Haresign Architects, AIA, and UMD adjunct professor.

The HUD competition challenges interdisciplinary, graduate-level teams to address social, economic and environmental issues surrounding a real-world housing problem in the United States by developing innovative and original solutions through development, design and finance. The competition is guided by the philosophy that ideas and innovations from the next generation of professionals are essential in tackling affordable and sustainable housing.

This year, teams are designing a development on a new 2.58-acre site adjacent to the famous River Walk near downtown San Antonio. The San Antonio Housing Authority would like to add to its public housing communities by building approximately 100 new mixed-income workforce dwellings along with commercial mixed-used space and amenities. Teams were asked to maximize diversity in their designs—diversity of uses, diversity of incomes and diversity of unit sizes. The first round of the competition required schematics and a preliminary pro forma.

"Our team is thrilled to be able to continue to participate as finalists,” Team Maryland leader Huck said. “We have invested significant time and effort into crafting a unique proposal to respond to the site’s specific needs. It has been a great opportunity for us to work in an interdisciplinary environment and we look forward to continuing to improve our design.” 

The teams will refine their projects and produce more detail in the weeks leading up to the competition, aided by a site visit in early March. The first place team is awarded $20,000. To learn more about HUD’s IAH competition and criteria, visit their website.

Advisory Committee to Review Progress on Implementation of UMD Athletic Reforms

March 4, 2019
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland will convene on March 6, 2019 an advisory committee to review the implementation to-date of the athletic reforms recommended in two external assessments in fall 2018: the Walters report on the procedures and protocols on student-athletes’ health and safety, and the Independent Commission’s report on the culture of the football program.

Chaired by former University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the committee will advise UMD President Wallace Loh and the USM Chancellor and Board of Regents on the Athletic Department’s implementation progress.

Joining Kirwan will be Rear Admiral Michael Bernacchi; Mary Sue Coleman, President of the Association of American Universities; Vernon Davis, Washington Redskins player; Nick Hadley, UMD Faculty Athletic Representative and Professor of Physics; and Amy Perko, Chief Executive Officer of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

“Maryland Athletics is committed to implementing as rapidly and as carefully as possible the reform recommendations by Dr. Walters and the football Commission,” said President Wallace D. Loh “There has been substantial progress in implementation, and the work is still ongoing. The paramount imperative is the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, and this advisory committee will help monitor and provide feedback on the implementation of recommendations.”

“I appreciate the University’s commitment to updating the community on its progress in implementing the recommendations for the health and safety of its student-athletes,” said Kirwan. “I look forward to working with this distinguished committee of leaders from across the public, academic and athletic fields to review the implementation plan and actions to date.”

Information about the public meeting on March 6 can be found here.

 

ABOUT THE CHAIR: 

William E. Kirwan led the University of Maryland, College Park campus three times, first as acting chancellor in 1982, then as acting president in 1988, and as president from 1989 to 1998, before serving as the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland from 2002-15. He also served as president of the Ohio State University from 1998 to 2002. Currently, he serves as chair of the state’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

During his tenure as president, Kirwan played a pivotal role in all the university's major initiatives, including an increased emphasis on undergraduate education; selective enhancement of academic programs; recruitment and retention of distinguished faculty; achievement of diversity goals for underrepresented minorities; and completion of the university's first capital campaign.

Elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Kirwan is the recipient of, among other awards, the Carnegie Corporation’s Academic Excellence Prize and TIAA’s Theodore M. Hesburgh Leadership Excellence award. 

 

ABOUT THE COMMITTEE MEMBERS: 

Rear Admiral Michael D. Bernacchi is the current Commander, Naval Service Training Command. He has served as executive assistant to the vice chief of naval operations; executive assistant to the chief of naval personnel; chief of staff for Submarine Group 2; Deputy Nuclear Community Program manager; special assistant to naval reactors for Officer Matters; and cruise missile planner for theater operations at United States Strategic Command throughout his career.

Bernacchi has served in numerous operational tours and is entitled to wear the Legion of Merit (six awards), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and various personal, unit and service awards. He was recognized by the Naval League of the United States in 2007 with the John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership.

 

Mary Sue Coleman is the president of the Association of American Universities, which is composed of 62 research universities across the country that transform lives through education, research and innovation

Coleman, a national leader in higher education, has been named one of the nation’s “10 best college presidents” by Time Magazine after serving as the president of the University of Michigan from 2002-2014 and the University of Iowa from 1995-2002. The American Council on Education honored Coleman with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

 

Vernon Davis is a Maryland football legend who played for the Terrapins from 2003-06, earning All-American honors in 2005 and accumulated more than 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns in his Maryland career as a tight end.

Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Davis has gone on to have thus far a 14-year NFL career, resulting in two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring in 2015.

Off the field, Davis has created the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts, which Davis created to promote art education and art appreciation among youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

 

Dr. Nicholas Hadley is an experimental high energy physicist. He is currently a member of the CMS experiment at CERN, where he searches for new physics at the world’s highest energy accelerator. He was one of the co-leaders of the Dzero experiment’s top group at the time of the top quark discovery. He has been a member of the Program Advisory Committees at Brookhaven, Cornell, and Fermilab, and is now a member the Canada ATLAS review committee. He served as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the Physics Department of the University of Maryland from 2007 to 2010. He is in his third year as the University of Maryland's faculty athletics representative. In this role, he represents the University of Maryland and its faculty in the institution's relationships with the NCAA and Big Ten Conference.

 

Amy P. Perko is the current Chief Executive Officer of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an independent group with a legacy of promoting reforms that support and strengthen the educational mission of college sports.

During Perko’s tenure, the NCAA has adopted a number of the Knight Commission recommendations. Perko has served in various leadership positions in collegiate sports for over 25 years, working at the NCAA and at the University of Kansas as the Associate Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator, where she served on several Big 12 Conference and NCAA committees. In 2012, she received the NCAA’s prestigious Silver Anniversary Award, which is given to six former college athletes on the occasion of their 25th anniversary from college participation in recognition of their civic and professional contributions. 

 

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.

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