University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

January, 2017

East Hartford firm, UConn collaborating on hydrogen vehicle sensor

Published on Hartford Business Journal / January 11, 2017

Patricia Daddona

East Hartford’s Sustainable Innovations Inc. (SI) and UConn’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering are developing a hydrogen fuel quality sensor to help ensure reliability of hydrogen vehicles.

The sensor they are designing would rapidly assess whether a fuel supply stream is meeting a vehicle’s operating needs. It has been shown in laboratory testing to be highly accurate in its detection of potential contaminants in a vehicle’s hydrogen supply stream, said Trent Molter, SI president and CEO.

Within seconds, the sensor sends a signal to shut off the dispenser if a damaging contaminant is detected. The sensor is also cheap and needs little maintenance, he said.

SI has received a $1 million contract award from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a commercial variation of the sensor.

UConn Health Researchers Work with Startup on Colon Cancer Vaccine

JJessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research

Kepeng Wang, assistant professor of immunology, right, with Kasandra Rodriguez, a research associate at CaroGen Corp.'s technology incubation lab in Farmington on Dec. 12, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Kepeng Wang, assistant professor of immunology, right, works with research associate Kasandra Rodriguez in the lab at CaroGen Corp. in the technology incubator at Farmington. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The University of Connecticut and emerging immunotherapy company CaroGen Corp. have begun a collaboration to develop a vaccine for treatment of patients with colon cancer.

CaroGen’s proprietary technology platform will be applied to a specific target studied by UConn Health researchers Kepeng Wang, assistant professor of immunology, and Anthony T. Vella, professor and Boehringer Ingelheim Chair in Immunology.

Anthony T. Vella, professor and Boehringer Ingelheim chair in immunology, left, speaks with President and CEO, Bijan Almassian and Valerian Nakaar, vice president for research and development, and Kepeng Wang, assistant professor of immunology at CaroGen Corp.'s technology incubation lab in Farmington on Dec. 12, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Anthony T. Vella, professor and Boehringer Ingelheim chair in immunology, left, speaks with President and CEO Bijan Almassian, Valerian Nakaar, vice president for research and development, and Kepeng Wang, assistant professor of immunology, at CaroGen Corp.’s technology incubation lab in Farmington. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

CaroGen Corp.’s platform is a transformative virus-like vesicle (VLV) technology developed at Yale University School of Medicine and exclusively licensed by CaroGen for the development and commercialization of immunotherapies worldwide.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It is expected to cause over 49,000 deaths during 2016, and the risk to individuals increases with age. Wang’s target, Interleukin-17 (IL-17), a pleiotropic pro inflammatory cytokine, can promote cancer-elicited inflammation and prevent cancer cells from immune surveillance.

“While the death rate from colon cancer has been dropping for several decades thanks to screening and improved treatment, our goal is to reach close to a 100 percent survival rate,” said CaroGen’s President and CEO, Bijan Almassian. “By combining our platform with Dr. Wang’s very promising target, we hope that a new powerful immunotherapy will be developed to provide patients with that assurance.”

The company will have the right to exclusively license intellectual property developed by UConn through this collaboration, for human and animal health use.

The company is one of 21 biotech startups now housed at the Technology Incubator Program (TIP) on the UConn Health campus in Farmington, which helps develop new biotechnology concepts into businesses. CaroGen is leveraging the resources of the program to develop a portfolio of immunotherapies, with a lead program in chronic hepatitis B viral infection in collaboration with researchers from Yale University School of Medicine and Albany Medical College.

It is also working on the development of VLV immunotherapies against C. difficile bacterial infection in collaboration with Kamal Khanna, assistant professor of immunology at UConn Health, and a vaccine against the Zika virus with Paulo Verardi, associate professor of pathology at UConn Storrs.

“CaroGen is proving to be both a scientific and entrepreneurial leader in Connecticut,” said Dr. Jeff Seemann, UConn’s vice president for research. “Dr. Almassian has led multiple efforts to apply the CaroGen technology in collaborations with UConn researchers where critical and urgent health care needs exist. We are very excited about this latest endeavor, which we believe will yield significant therapeutic and commercial opportunities through the combined expertise of UConn Health’s Department of Immunology and CaroGen.”

UConn’s Technology Incubator Program is a key component of BioScience Connecticut, the state’s initiative to position Connecticut to be a leader in bioscience research, boost the economy, and improve residents’ access to world-class medicine.

New Material Promises Benefits to Deep Space Travel

UConn researcher Seok-Woo Lee has developed a new material designed to address some of the challenges to deep space travel by changing shape at very low temperatures.

Exploring beyond our solar system requires traveling enormous distances. The nearest star system to ours – Alpha Centauri – is 4.37 light years away, or 25 trillion miles; and distant star systems will take hundreds or thousands of years to reach, even in the best of circumstances. So scientists who want to send unmanned probes to another star system must create some innovative technologies that can outlive them.

Seok-Woo Lee, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, center, with graduate students Keith Dusoe, left, and John Sypek at the controls of a scanning electron microscope at their lab at the Gant Complex on Oct. 27, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Seok-Woo Lee, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, center, with graduate students Keith Dusoe, left, and John Sypek at the controls of a scanning electron microscope in their lab. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Lee, who recently received an Early Career Faculty grant from NASA, is working on one such technology. In collaboration with researchers at Iowa State University and Ames Laboratory and at Colorado State University, he has developed a shape memory material (called ThCr2Si2-type intermetallic compounds) that can help in deep space travel by changing shape at low temperatures.

Shape memory materials can be deformed into one shape, but return to their original shape when exposed to a specific temperature, usually at high heats. Lee’s material, a solution-grown crystal, works at colder temperatures.

“What we’re creating is a shape memory material that can return to its original shape when exposed to temperatures as low as 50 kelvins, or right around -370 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Lee, a Pratt & Whitney assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “A material returning to its original shape at such a low temperature could have some interesting benefits for space travel, such as acting as an on/off switch.”

Lee and his graduate students, John Sypek and Keith Dusoe, are developing mechanical actuators that will work together with this material in the cold of space. Once a vessel leaves our solar system, the temperature drops below 50 kelvins, which will cause the shape memory material to deform and will activate the actuator, which in turn will power down the vessel. With minimal gravity in deep space, the vessel will continue in a set direction for hundreds of years, slowly making its way to its target while depowered.

If the vessel arrives at a new solar system, even the very distant heat at the edges of a star’s reach will activate the shape memory material, which would return to its original shape.

The shape change would push the actuator, which would power up the vessel’s power source and allow the unmanned vessel to begin recording and transmitting data back to Earth – long after the scientists who launched the vessel have died.

Lee says one of the reasons the low temperature at which the material activates is so important is that it means a vessel can switch on further from a star, where there’s less debris and less chance the vessel will be damaged while powered down.

Another potential use for the shape memory material is to control telescopes in space. Lee says the material can be manipulated accurately enough to control a telescopic aperture. Since telescopes have to focus on stars so far away, the amount of light the lens lets in must be incredibly precise.

“By controlling the temperature around the shape memory material, we can manipulate the lens of a telescope to within a few angstroms,” Lee said. An angstrom is a unit of measurement so small, a human hair is 500,000 angstroms thick.

Lee and his team are working to discover other uses for the new shape memory material.

How to pick realistic New Year’s resolutions

Published on January 8, 2017

Last year, the top three New Year’s resolutions for Americans focused on improving their lifestyle by either enjoying life to the fullest, living healthier, or losing weight.

But when it comes to picking a healthy resolution, a lifestyle medicine expert at UConn Health says be sure you choose a realistic goal that you can reach gradually in order to stick to it and be successful.

“If you pick a realistic resolution then you are more likely to conquer it,” says Bradley Biskup, a physician assistant and founder of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health. “But don’t try to be perfect.”

Starting to live a healthier life is more important than ever if you want to live longer. Even though more than 80 percent of human disease is preventable, a recent government report showed that for the first time life expectancy in the U.S. is down overall since 1993.

When it comes to choosing to start to live healthier and maintain a healthy weight, Biskup advises pursuing three resolutions gradually:

Exercise more: Don’t forget to take the opportunity to move any chance you get. More and more people recognize that high-intensity exercise isn’t the best, especially if you take into account the risk of injury or sudden death, and the challenge of sticking with it.

In fact, for losing weight and decreasing your stress hormone levels, moderate intensity is better.

Also, working out in a group with friends, family, or co-workers makes exercise more enjoyable and, as such, increases your motivation and the odds of maintaining the physical activity.

Biskup recommends getting more exercise during the day, such as taking the stairs when you can, parking your car further away from your destination, or perhaps getting a standing work desk.

Also, keep enhancing your physical activity goal. For example, if you walk 1,000 steps a day, set a goal to gradually increase by 10 percent periodically and keep asking yourself: “Can I move more today?”

Eat healthier: When you make dietary changes, such as decreasing processed sugars, it takes 20-25 days for your taste buds to adapt. This means when you cut sweets from your diet and then go back to eating them, those desserts can taste extra sweet and not as enjoyable.

Biskup recommends eating a mostly plant-based diet and adding a piece of fruit each day, a couple handfuls of nuts, and gradually cutting down on processed foods, such as the cream and sugar in your coffee.

Decreasing each by a quarter each month will help you gradually make changes and keep it palatable.

Also, bringing your lunch to work or on the road can help you stick to your dietary goals: It’s easier to make healthier food choices when you have healthy food around you.

Lower stress: Stress can impact your daily life, your health, and your ability to stick to your healthy resolution, according to Biskup. The body’s physical response to stress leads to a ‘flight or fight’ response, with the release of stress hormones that can linger in your body.

If you don’t exercise, the hormones can remain and build up in your body, leading to fat deposition, especially through your midsection.

Moderate to low-intensity activity/exercise can help metabolize the level of stress hormone in your body, along with deep breathing techniques and meditation.

To be successful with your New Year’s resolutions, Biskup recommends continuously assessing your progress on a weekly basis.

He says it’s common for people making a healthy resolution to think they have to totally and immediately halt their intake of unhealthy food or arrest bad habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol.

But to be successful in curbing or reducing unhealthy habits, he advises gradually working in more good, healthier habits like eating more fruits and vegetables and taking more daily exercise.

“It is human nature to want more of what you ‘can’t have’,” he says. “But in a short period of time, people who start to make healthier lifestyle choices find they feel much better, and then they start to focus on more healthy behaviors and find that it takes less effort to push away the unhealthy food choices and bad habits of the past. It comes down to increasing the good, to decrease the bad.”

And if you should falter on your resolution – don’t worry, he says. A healthy lifestyle takes practice.

Biskup says lifestyle modifications are like climbing a staircase.

“When walking up the stairs, sometimes we take a step back, but we don’t ever throw ourselves down the stairs,” he says.

“If you have a misstep when trying to stick to your resolution to get healthy, don’t worry, just refocus and plan for the next day. Tomorrow is a fresh start, and it’s important to learn what caused the step back so it is less likely to happen again.”

Seven Resolutions for Responding Creatively to Uncertainty in the Classroom

Published in Education Week / January 04, 2017

Ronald A. Beghetto

The arrival of each new year is often met with some level of uncertainty. Given so many impending changes in 2017, it may feel like the coming year is more uncertain than ever. Although uncertainty can raise concerns and even fears, it also presents us with opportunities to make productive changes in our thoughts and actions. In short, uncertainty represents an opportunity for creative expression.

As educators, we can help our students develop their capacity to respond more creatively to uncertainty by making a few slight adjustments in our daily teaching practices. The following “mini-resolutions” are based on my work supporting teachers who are interested in cultivating creativity in their classrooms.

1. Establish creative openings.

Make slight adjustments to your existing lessons that invite students to experience semi-structured uncertainty. This involves creating opportunities for students to share and test out their unique ideas and perspectives while still meeting the academic goals of a particular assignment or activity.

When asking students to solve a math story problem, for instance, ask them to not only solve the problem accurately but to also come up with as many ways as possible to solve it and share different approaches with one another. When reading a story, have students demonstrate their comprehension of what was written and reimagine the story by changing the ending or removing a character.

In science, have students learn from a demonstration of an experiment and modify the design and predict any changes. Teaching about a historical event? Have students reimagine it and discuss how such changes might have altered the course of history.

2. Put students’ academic learning to creative use.

Help students recognize how content knowledge is necessary for responding creatively to uncertainty and can be put to use in new and meaningful ways.

This can involve everything from using subject-matter knowledge to address hypothetical and even fantastical situations (How might students use their knowledge of area and perimeter to design a strategy for containing a zombie outbreak?) to addressing actual problems or situations facing young people and their communities (In what ways could they design a rooftop garden to benefit a local food shelter?).

3. Provide honest, supportive feedback.

Remind students to anchor their unique ideas and perspectives to the task at hand (How might this connect to the story we just read?); encourage them to put their own unique twist on an idea or product (Can you come up with your own way of solving this?); and help them to decide whether creative thought and action is necessary or worth the risk for a specific task (Is this the right time or place to take creative action?).

4. Provide examples of domain-specific creative responses.

Help young people recognize what it takes to move from creative ideas to creative accomplishments. You can do this by including biographies of historical figures who have responded creatively to ill-defined problems in various subject areas. You can also invite local professionals to visit your classroom and share examples of the kinds of subject-matter knowledge they have used to develop creative solutions to complex problems in their line of work.

Doing so will help illustrate that creative responses to uncertainty do not come from a generic “creativity skill” that only certain people possess, but rather require (among other things) deep knowledge, social supports, hard work, sensible risk-taking, the ability to overcome setbacks, and an unshakeable sense of possibility thinking.

5. Provide opportunities for students to productively struggle with uncertainty.

In some cases, we over-structure students’ experiences and thereby remove opportunities for them to creatively respond to uncertainty. In other cases, we under-structure students’ experiences and generate unnecessary frustration, lack of clarity, and confusion.

How might you strike a better balance in the experiences you provide for your students? Are there some aspects of your lessons that might be over-structured (you provide all the examples of applying something learned rather than letting students come up with some of their own) or under-structured (your guidelines for how to participate in an activity are unclear)?

6. Provide opportunities for students to address uncertainty in their lives, schools, and communities.

This involves the following steps:

  • Identify and address complex problems facing students, their peers, and their community. (“The kind of bullying we are facing in our school is very subtle and often goes unnoticed by teachers and adults.”)
  • Recognize when new thinking or action is—and is not—needed. (“Our current approach to addressing bullying is working for some cases, but not others.”)
  • Engage in possibility thinking to generate creative solutions. (“What’s going on here that we may not be seeing? What are some different ways of viewing this situation?”)
  • Test out the viability of seemingly promising ideas and make adjustments. (“What adjustments can we make to address the cases where it doesn’t work?”)

7. Start with yourself.

Most importantly, if we want students to approach the uncertainty they face with a spirit of possibility thinking and take the risks necessary to respond creatively, then we need to lead the way by doing so ourselves.

Providing young people with opportunities to learn how to productively respond to uncertainty is not something that requires making radical changes to our existing teaching practices. It also does not require trying to magically add more time to an already overflowing plate of curricular responsibilities. Rather, it requires using our time a bit differently, making some slight adjustments in how we approach our teaching, and viewing uncertainty as a creative opportunity.

Laser Scans Reveal Hidden Secrets Of Connecticut’s Industrial Past

Published on WNPR / December 30, 2016

Patrick Skahill

Earlier this fall, WNPR reported on charcoal mounds, hidden relics of the state’s industrial past from back when iron was king and trees burned into charcoal to fuel furnaces. Now, scientists are using modern mapping technology to learn more about charcoal’s legacy in Connecticut.

When I went looking for century-plus-old charcoal mounds earlier this year — they weren’t necessarily easy to find. The man-made circles, about 30 feet in diameter, can be buried under trees and duff, making them hard to spot with your eyes.

Because of that, William Ouimet, a professor in the Department of Geography at UConn, is using something called lidar. It’s basically a laser slapped onto the belly of an airplane, which scans the ground and gives you a really precise image of the surface. You see old glacial geology, “but you also see all the amazing ways in which humans have modified and impacted the land’s surface,” Ouimet said.

“When you look at the lidar, you immediately see roads, you see houses, you see old quarries, bridges,” he said. And, relics of old charcoal mounds — revealed by the lidar as discrete rings or platforms dotting land now obscured to our eyes by regrown forest.

“I would say that in Litchfield County alone, we’ve found about 18,000 of them. As we branch out further to the east and to the south — we’re also seeing a significant amount,” Ouimet said. “We’re up to about 26,000 mapped and located in the state.”

Scans are also extending into parts of New York, where the historic Salisbury Iron District created a great demand for locally-cultivated charcoal.

And considering one to two acres of forest needed to be cleared just make one charcoal mound, Ouimet said that’s a lot of land use.

“The story that we often tell about New England is that, yes, the forests were cleared. And it was dominantly cleared for pasture and agriculture related to dairy farming,” Ouimet said. “So, it’s almost like a rediscovery of a way in which we were using the land and really understanding just how widespread and how significant it was.”

As lidar imaging broadens our view of history, Ouimet said these findings will also bolster our understanding of the environment. Giving scientists clues to modern-day patterns of land use and soil impacts.

‘Heart-In-A-Dish’ Sheds Light on Genetics of Heart Disease

Published on ScienceBlog / January 03, 2017

When a patient shows symptoms of cancer, a biopsy is taken. Scientists study the tissue, examining it under a microscope to determine exactly what’s going on.

But the same can’t be done for heart disease, the leading cause of death among Americans. Not until now.

Dr. J. Travis Hinson, a physician-scientist who joined the faculties of UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX) in 2016, is using a novel system he pioneered to study heart tissue.

Hinson engineers heart-like structures with cells containing specific genetic mutations in order to study the genetics of cardiomyopathies, diseases of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure and, ultimately, death.

“We basically try to rebuild a little piece of a patient’s heart in a dish,” says Hinson, who developed the technique during a postdoctoral fellowship at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

He combines cardiac muscle cells with support cells, such as fibroblasts, and other key factors, including extracellular matrix proteins. Although these tiny, three-dimensional structures do not pump blood, they do contract rhythmically, and their beating strength can be studied.

Making a Difference
Hinson is applauded for his ability to move seamlessly between research, clinical practice, and teaching – the three prongs of an academic medical center’s mission. He’s able to do so, perhaps, because his own career began at the intersection of multiple scientific specialties.

As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Hinson interned at DuPont in New Jersey to explore his interests in chemistry and engineering. But he soon realized that his passion for science needed a real-word focus. “I wanted to do science that made a difference in people’s health,” he says.

The same summer, he volunteered in the emergency department of a local hospital. Impressed by a cardiologist’s calm and collected manner in a crisis, and gaining interest in the heart, Hinson changed his career trajectory from engineering to medical school.

Hinson joined the laboratory of Dr. Robert J. Levy, a pediatric cardiologist and researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, working to harness gene therapy techniques to make artificial heart valves and other cardiovascular devices more durable. Through this early foray into biomedical research, Hinson deepened his interest in biomedical science and gained an appreciation of the work of a physician-scientist.

While doing research in Dr. Christine Seidman’s lab as part of his MD at Harvard Medical School, he chose to lead a project on Björnstad syndrome, a rare, inherited syndrome characterized by hearing loss and twisted, brittle hair. At the time, little was known about the molecular causes of the disorder, although the genetic culprits were thought to reside within a large swath of chromosome 2. Using genetic mapping techniques and DNA sequencing, Hinson homed in on the precise mutations.

In addition to casting light on disease biology, he glimpsed the power of genomic information. “I was fascinated by the potential for understanding new genes that cause human diseases,” Hinson says, “and how important that was to society.”

Matters of the Heart
Throughout his medical training, Hinson noticed there were some significant stumbling blocks to gathering a deep knowledge of heart disease, particularly cardiomyopathies.

Cardiac muscle has essentially two paths toward dysfunction and ultimate failure. It can either dilate – become abnormally large and distended – or it can thicken. Both routes severely impair how well the heart performs as a pump. These conditions, known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), can stem from pre-existing disorders of the heart, such as a previous heart attack or long-standing hypertension, or from DNA mutations.

Thanks to advances in genomics over the last two decades, more than 40 genes have been identified that underlie cardiomyopathy. But unlike diseases such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, where it is fairly common for affected individuals from different families to carry the exact same genetic typo, it is exceedingly rare for unrelated patients with cardiomyopathy to share the same mutation. With such a complex genetic architecture, figuring out how the different genes and gene mutations contribute to heart disease has been an enormous challenge.

Because of this formidable hurdle, drug discovery for the cardiomyopathies has languished. “There really has not been a paradigm-shifting drug developed for heart failure in the last 20 years,” says Hinson. Moreover, the few treatments that do exist are primarily aimed at controlling patients’ symptoms, not slowing or halting their disease.

Hinson aims to improve this picture. With his “heart-in-a-dish” technique, he and his team are now unraveling the effects of genetic mutations on cardiac biology.

The system harnesses multiple recent advances in both stem cell and genome editing technologies. With these capabilities, Hinson and his colleagues can isolate skin or blood cells directly from cardiomyopathy patients and coax them to form heart muscle cells, making it possible to study the biological effects of patients’ own mutations. Moreover, he can correct those mutations, or create additional ones, to further probe how genetic differences influence heart biology.

Part of the allure of Hinson’s approach is that it can be readily applied to studying other forms of heart disease. It can also be leveraged for drug discovery, providing a platform to screen and test compounds with therapeutic potential in a wide range of cardiovascular diseases.

In addition to his research lab based at JAX Genomic Medicine, Hinson continues to practice cardiology at UConn Health. He helps run a specialized clinic focused on genetic forms of heart disease, as well as arrhythmias, connective tissue disorders, and other conditions.

“We have an exciting opportunity to provide clinical services in cardiac genetics in the corridor between New York and Boston,” he says. That means state-of-the-art genetic testing, including gene panels and genome sequencing, as well as genetic counseling for both patients and family members to help inform disease diagnosis and guide treatment. Although there are only a handful of treatments now available, Hinson believes this clinic will be uniquely poised to take advantage of a new generation of personalized treatments that are precisely tailored to patients’ specific gene mutations.

“Travis really is a quintessential physician-scientist,” says Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of UConn School of Medicine and director of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health.

“He has a remarkable ability to link basic science with important clinical problems, and his work holds a great deal of promise for developing new treatments for patients with cardiomyopathy. I wish there were two or three Travis Hinsons.”

New research suggests maternity leave is more important for mothers than it is for their kids

Published on Quartz

How long should women take off from work after having a baby? It’s a charged question. Scandinavians think women should have a lot of time; Americans seem to think women need little or no time at all. At the heart of the question is the effect on children: Does it help or hurt them to have a parent at home?

But attempts to study it scientifically have produced maddeningly complex results.

One study found that children from better-off families faced cognitive and behavioral setbacks when their mothers returned to full-time work within nine months of childbirth. But in another, children of poorer women (pdf) made both academic and behavioral gains, on average, when their mothers returned in that timeframe. Other research has come up with mixed findings (pdf).

Since some of those studies were done, however, the world has changed. More women work, and are making more money. Child care has improved, as the importance of early childhood development has been recognized. And fathers are getting more involved in it.

So a pair of researchers delved into more recent data—children born in 2000 and afterward—to ask the same question: do children suffer, academically and emotionally, when women go back to work quickly?

The answer, almost always, was no.

Caitlin McPherran Lombardi of the University of Connecticut and Rebekah Levine of Boston College published two studies on Dec. 19—one, in the journal Child Development, about children in the UK and Australia, and one, in Developmental Psychology, about American kids. The studies followed children and families from birth until they entered primary school. What they found: “There wasn’t any negative link between returning to work early and children’s development, both in terms of academic and behavioral skills,” Lombardi says.

To be sure, there were some caveats. In some cases, children of poorer mothers in the US fared better when the mothers went back to work early. This could mean that the mothers’ extra income helped offset other downsides. In other instances, children from better-off families suffered slightly when their mothers went back to work earlier. Both these results appear to support prior research findings.

Another caveat was that in some cases in the US—but not in the UK and Australia—children were more likely to misbehave in kindergarten if their mothers had taken less leave. Kids whose mothers returned to work part-time between 9 and 24 months after childbirth had higher rates of conduct problems in kindergarten (as reported by teachers) than children whose mothers had stayed out of the work force for at least 24 months. Lombardi hypothesizes that the reason this pattern only shows up in the US may be that part-time work in the US can be more stressful, as it tends to be lower paid and without benefits, while part-time work in the UK and Australia is more often of higher quality.

But taking these variations into account, Lombardi and Levine’s broad conclusion for the various cohorts of children was that the length of maternal leave really didn’t matter much.

What makes this especially surprising is that the three countries they tested have very different attitudes to parental leave. The US has no federal paid maternity leave policy, and allows for only 12 weeks of unpaid leave—and even for that, the bar for eligibility is quite high. In the UK, the study says, women’s jobs are protected for 39 weeks after childbirth, with the first six weeks of maternity leave at full pay. In Australia, mothers can claim up to 18 weeks’ leave, paid at the national minimum wage.

All in all, this suggests that parental-leave policy makes more of a difference to women’s ability to keep their careers than it does to their kids’ development. US mothers go back to work soon after childbirth, most of them full-time, but a lot subsequently drop out. Women in the UK and Australia come back slowly, and part-time, but then are more likely to stay in the workforce. Women’s labor-force participation in the US has been falling behind that of other OECD countries, and research has shown that differences in parental-leave policies are partly responsible (pdf).

All this suggests that making it easier for women to not sacrifice careers for children is good for their families in the long run. “There’s not a lot of association between early employment and children’s development and so policies that encourage moms to be able to stay in the workforce, and in their careers during the period of childbirth and having young children, those would support the longer-term ability of mothers to provide income and other human capital may benefit themselves and their families,” said Lombardi. Yet another reason why the US needs to reconsider its shameful backwardness on parental leave.

Eyeing Early Detection of Precursor to Blindness

Published on MDT Magazine / January 01, 2017

Chris DeFrancesco

UConn scientists are working with a biomarker to enable earlier detection of a condition that leads to age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. Royce Mohan (seated) and Paola Bargagna-Mohan are part of a team of UConn researchers developing an imaging technique that will signal problems in blood vessels near the eye that could lead to loss of vision. (Credit: Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

UConn scientists are working with a biomarker to enable earlier detection of a condition that leads to age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. Royce Mohan (seated) and Paola Bargagna-Mohan are part of a team of UConn researchers developing an imaging technique that will signal problems in blood vessels near the eye that could lead to loss of vision. (Credit: Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S., and UConn scientists are working toward a way to enable earlier detection of a condition that leads to it.

Led by Royce Mohan, associate professor of neuroscience at UConn Health, a team of researchers is developing a fluorescent small molecule imaging reagent to help identify preclinical stages of ocular fibrosis, or the growth of blood vessels from the back of the eye into the retina.

The researchers, including Paola Bargagna-Mohan, assistant professor of neuroscience, and Dennis Wright, professor of medicinal chemistry in the UConn School of Pharmacy, believe this biomarker probe could have major treatment implications, as this fibrosis is associated with an aggressive form of age-related macular degeneration – known as wet AMD – that causes rapid vision loss.

“There are drugs that are effective in slowing the growth of the blood vessels in AMD,” says Mohan, “but many patients are diagnosed and identified as candidates for these drugs too late to make a difference.” Through early detection, the researchers hope to help avoid secondary complications associated with ocular fibrosis.

The idea behind their innovative fluorescent small molecule imaging reagent is that it binds to specific intermediate filament proteins. These filament proteins, called vimentin and glial fibrillary acidic protein, are biomarkers of wet AMD, which means they are indicators of cells acting as first responders to stress signals in compromised areas of the retina. The increased presence of vimentin also signals problems with the inner lining of blood vessels.

“Being able to detect the changes in these biomarker proteins can be profoundly important, as one gets a view of early wet AMD from the perspective of both blood vessel growth and glial cell responses that has never before been captured,” Mohan says.

The fluorescence of the imaging reagent makes detection easy, and also localizes to where these events are occurring in the retina.

“Current treatments stop the growth of the blood vessels only while they’re still growing, not after blood vessels become mature,” Mohan says. “If we had the diagnostic means to monitor the earliest stage of wet AMD leading to fibrosis, patients might benefit from therapies.”

In addition to enabling earlier intervention, a reliable method of early detection also would allow doctors to monitor the progress of that intervention and determine its effectiveness before getting to a point of no return. Patients can develop resistance to the treatment, but in most cases, by the time that is realized, they are out of options to save their sight.

“It’s important to be able measure subtle changes,” Mohan says.

Connecticut Innovations recently awarded a $500,000 grant from its Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund to Mohan and his collaborators. The grant is intended to speed the process to commercialization so that the biomarker probe can help patients sooner.

“The work that Dr. Mohan and his colleagues are conducting is a prime example of innovative research from UConn’s labs leading to potential solutions for an urgent, unmet medical need and future economic growth in the state,” says UConn Vice President for Research Jeff Seemann, whose office helped facilitate the grant application.

Leading Life Sciences Entrepreneur and Business Leader to Head Technology Incubator, New Venture Development Efforts at UConn

The University of Connecticut today announced that leading life sciences entrepreneur and investment banker, Dr. Mostafa Analoui, will head UConn’s newly launched effort to increase development of new ventures, including UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP), effective immediately.

Mostafa Analoui

Dr. Mostafa Analoui to head UConn’s Technology Incubation Program and new venture development. (UConn Photo/Peter Morenus)

“We are thrilled that a seasoned entrepreneur and business leader like Dr. Analoui is at the helm of UConn’s growing venture development efforts, including the Technology Incubation Program,” said Dr. Jeff Seemann, Vice President for Research at UConn/UConn Health. “UConn’s research and innovation pipeline is a critically important part of economic development in the state. It helps drive Connecticut’s innovation economy by commercializing life-saving technologies, supporting new companies, and creating high-wage jobs.”

In addition to his work with TIP, Dr. Analoui will continue to serve as Executive Director of Venture Development at UConn. He assumed this newly created position in October 2016 and plays a vital role in advancing the University’s efforts to successfully commercialize more of the promising technologies coming out of UConn’s labs. He is also Professor in Residence in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UConn Health.

Dr. Analoui is a respected thought leader for innovation and entrepreneurship. He has extensive experience identifying disruptive technologies, recruiting entrepreneurs to lead startups, and raising early stage and follow-on funding to grow these companies.

Prior to joining UConn, Dr. Analoui served as head of healthcare and life sciences at Livingston Securities, a New York City-based investment bank. He also previously worked at Pfizer Global Research for seven years as global and site head. Dr. Analoui earned a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Purdue University.

“As a result of his wealth of knowledge and experience, Dr. Analoui understands the challenges of translating research findings into viable commercial opportunities,” said Andrew Zehner, Associate Vice President for Technology Commercialization at UConn/UConn Health. “Dr. Analoui brings a wide range of investment experience and scientific credibility. His ability to execute partnerships that create value for the University and regional stakeholders will strengthen UConn’s existing efforts to catalyze and support promising ventures.”

There are currently 35 companies located at the program’s two major locations in Storrs and at UConn Health in Farmington. TIP companies are commercializing technologies in a variety of fields, such as healthcare software, medical devices, small molecule therapies, vaccine development, diagnostics using the human microbiome, bio-agriculture, and water purification, to name a few.

TIP supports UConn startups as well as innovative external technology ventures. These outside startups conduct R&D activities in Connecticut and benefit from UConn’s research infrastructure, specialized equipment, customized business support services and talent pool.

More than 85 startup companies have been supported through TIP since it was established in 2003. These companies have raised more than $50 million in grant funding, $80 million in debt and equity, and more than $45 million in revenue.

In addition to venture development and incubator space, UConn provides faculty at all campuses with critical technology transfer services, such as securing patent protection for their inventions, licensing their technologies, making industry connections, and business and legal support. Many companies have been formed around UConn technology, but the University also facilitates research collaborations between industry, including new entrepreneurial ventures with internationally recognized faculty experts.

For more information about the UConn Technology Incubation Program or UConn technologies, call 860-679-3992.