SPROUT Awards Information Sessions to be held Jan. 24 and Feb. 1

SPROUT logoThe SPROUT Awards are back! If you are interested in the SPROUT program, which offers funding for bench research, the Office of Technology Licensing is hosting Information Sessions for you to learn more on how to apply. Get your questions answered by the program’s administrators. There will be two separate sessions for your convenience: January 24th, 3-4 PM at Carl J. Shapiro Science Center Library and February 1st, 3-4 PM in Volen 201. Light refreshments will be served.

New this year, SPROUT winners may also be eligible for up to an additional $3,000 of I-Corps funding from the National Science Foundation. This extra funding is specifically earmarked for teams to conduct early customer discovery and validation of their technology. Those that go through the Brandeis I-Corps program then become eligible to apply to the National I-Corps program which provides grants up to $50,000.

In the past, successful SPROUT applications have come from all departments in the sciences including Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, and Chemistry. Past candidates have proposed projects ranging from early-stage research and development to patent-ready projects. Many undergraduates, graduates, staff and faculty have all pitched various projects from a New Strategy to Treat Chronic Infections (Hedstrom Lab) to Development of a New Crystal Screening Chip (Fraden Lab) to a panel of outside judges in the hopes of receiving funding.  Read more about SPROUT and learn about past projects.

Brandeis Alum, Tepring Piquado, Running for California State Assembly

Tepring Piquado CampaignThe career track for Brandeis alumni can lead them in interesting directions. Brandeis Alumna Tepring Piquado is running to represent California’s 54th Assembly District. The seat’s former occupant, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, resigned in December. She is one of the candidates vying for the open seat in a special election, to be held April 3rd. Among the candidates are experienced political directors and activists. Dr. Piquado, a political newcomer, is the only neuroscientist.

While at Brandeis, Tepring was a part of Arthur Wingfield’s Memory and Cognition Lab, defending in 2010. Her research at Brandeis focused on the effects of aging and its impact upon the cognitive abilities of the elderly. While at Brandeis, Tepring was active in the Brandeis chapter of SACNAS. She currently serves as co-chair for the SACNAS Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

She now is a Research and Policy Scientist at the RAND Corporation. In speaking with us, Tepring said, “I love my job as a policy researcher at RAND Corporation where I provide policymakers with the best available information to help make decisions; but I’m ready to stand up and take part in state government.  My experience and expertise, coupled with my ability to think critically and act compassionately, make me the best person to address issues affecting our community.”

While speaking at the March for Science LA on April 22, 2017, Tepring said “Evidence matters! Research and analysis are only the means, not the End. Science gives us a process to find the best available data to help us get closer to the truth. The sooner we understand the facts; the sooner politicians can discuss policy solutions.”

You can join #TeamTepring or visit www.voteTepring.com to subscribe to her newsletter.

Ben Rogers Receives Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research

Ben Rogers

photo: Mike Lovett

Assistant Professor of Physics, Ben Rogers, was chosen to receive the Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research. This award, which is designed to launch the careers of newly independent biomedical researchers, is one of six given this year by the Smith Family Foundation. It will provide the Rogers Lab with $300,000 over three years to initiate a new direction in RNA structure and interactions.

RNA molecules are vital regulators of cell biology and their three-dimensional structures are essential to how they work. Thus having the ability to intentionally interfere with the structure of RNAs could hold immense potential for the study of their function, as well as the development of molecular medicine and other biotechnological applications. One way to do this is to bind short sequences of synthetic nucleic acids, called oligonucleotides, to specific sites on the RNA molecule. But designing oligonucleotides that bind rapidly and with high affinity to a RNA target remains a challenge. The Rogers Lab will use a combination of in vitro experiments and statistical mechanics to understand and design synthetic oligonucleotides that bind to RNA molecules in a prescriptive fashion. This work will complement existing research within the Rogers Lab, which explores the use of RNA’s chemical cousin, DNA, as a tool to study and build new kinds of materials.

Ben joined the Martin A. Fisher School of Physics at Brandeis University as an Assistant Professor in January 2016. Before coming to Brandeis, Ben was a postdoctoral fellow in the Manoharan Lab within the Department of Physics at Harvard University, where he studied assembly and optical properties of colloidal suspensions. He received his Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012. At Penn, Ben used optical tweezers to study single-molecule binding. His research program combines expertise in biomolecular engineering, applied optics, and condensed matter physics to study interactions and self-organization at the molecular and mesoscales.

Breaking the barriers to manufacture thermoplastic microfluidics!

themoplastic microfluidics figure

Thermoplastics, such as Cyclin Olefin Copolymer, are used in commercial applications of microfluidics because they are biocompatible, have good material properties such as optical clarity, low fluorescence, high toughness and are cheap to mass produce. However, there are challenges for academic labs to make thermoplastic microfluidics devices. Fabricating molds for thermoplastics is expensive and other process steps, such as sealing the chip and interfacing the chip to the lab are difficult. In a recent publication, the Fraden lab described an inexpensive method for rapid prototyping of thermoplastic microfluidics suitable for academic labs for applications such as x-ray diffraction of protein crystals produced on the same chip in which they were crystallized, or for labs seeking to manufacture a thermoplastic prototype of a microfluidic device in order to demonstrate the potential for mass production. This process will facilitate the transfer of University developed microfluidics to commercialization.

Rapid prototyping of cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) microfluidic devices. S. Ali Aghvami, Achini Opathalage, Z.K. Zhang, Markus Ludwig, Michael Heymann, Michael Norton, Niya Wilkins, Seth Fraden. Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical. Volume 247, August 2017, Pages 940-949.

 

Cross-Cultural Differences in Brain Activity of Specific and General Recognition

Results from paper

Results revealed regions in the left fusiform (left circle) and left hippocampus (right circle) emerged when comparing activity for correct same versus correct similar responses across cultures.

A recent publication from Paige, Ksander, Johndro, & Gutchess (Cortex, 2017) of the Aging, Culture, and Cognition Lab at Brandeis University has shed light on how culture affects brain activation when encoding information into memory. Prior work has suggested that culture influences how people perceive the world, including how much perceptual detail (e.g., size, shape, color, etc.) is remembered. It may not be surprising that culture shapes customs or even social interactions, but evidence also suggests that it shapes cognition. Because encoding details into memory necessitates the engagement of additional cognitive resources, comparing across cultures on the specificity of memory offers a glimpse into which processes and types of information are considered important across cultural groups.

Participants who originated from America or East Asia studied photos of everyday items in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and 48 hours later completed a surprise recognition test. The test consisted of same (i.e., previously seen in the scanner), similar (i.e., same name, different features; for example, a coffee mug that is a different shape or color than what the participant saw at encoding), or new photos (i.e., items not previously seen in the scanner) and participants were instructed to respond “same,” “similar,” or “new.”

Unlike other studies, culture did not disproportionately influence behavioral memory performance for specific information. However, East Asians showed greater activation in the left fusiform and left hippocampus relative to Americans for specific (items correctly recognized as same) versus general memory (items correctly recognized as similar). Additional follow-up analyses confirmed this cultural pattern was not driven by differential familiarity with the items across cultures. One possible explanation for this finding is cultural differences in prioritization of high (e.g., fine details, local information) versus low spatial information (e.g., coarser, global information). In the present study, increased activation in the left medial temporal regions for East Asians may be reflective of additional processes needed to encode specific details into memory, reflecting the greater demands of local, high spatial frequency processing. Current work in the lab is addressing this possibility.

Past work has failed to consider how cross-cultural differences can occur at both the behavioral and neural level. The present findings remedy that, suggesting that culture should be considered an individual difference that influences memory specificity and its underlying neural processes.

Paige, L. E., Ksander, J. C., Johndro, H. A., & Gutchess, A. H. (2017). Cross-cultural differences in the neural correlates of specific and general recognition. Cortex91, 250-261.

 

The Amygdala, Fraud and Older Adults

Figure from Zebrowitz-Gutchess paper

Figure 1. Peak amygdala activation as a function of face trustworthiness for older adult participants. Error bars represent standard errors. COPE is the contrast of parameter estimates [high or medium, or low trustworthy faces minus baseline fixation] from which peak values were extracted at the subject-level using FSL featquery. * p < .05.

There is a widespread belief that older adults are more vulnerable to consumer fraud than younger adults. Behavioral evidence supporting this belief is mixed, although there is a reliable tendency for older adults to view faces as more trustworthy than do younger adults.  One study provided supporting neural evidence by demonstrating that older adults failed to show greater amygdala activation to low than high trustworthy faces, in contrast to considerable evidence that younger adults do show this effect. This result is consistent with the argument for greater vulnerability to fraud in older adults, since the amygdala responds to threatening stimuli. More generally, however, the amygdala responds to biologically salient stimuli, and many previous studies of younger adults have shown that this includes not only threatening, low trustworthy faces, but also high trustworthy faces. The Zebrowitz Face Perception Lab therefore included medium trustworthy faces in order to detect separate effects of high trustworthiness and low trustworthiness on amygdala activation in older adults, something that the one previous study of older adults did not do. Consistent with that study we found that older adults did not show stronger amygdala activation to low than high trustworthy faces.  However, they did show stronger amygdala activation to high than to medium trustworthy faces, with a similar trend for low vs medium, although that difference was not strong enough to be confident that it would replicate (See Figure 1).

The fact that older adults did not show greater amygdala activation to low than medium or high trustworthy faces is consistent with the suggestion that older adults may be more vulnerable to fraud. However, an important question is whether vigilant responding to untrustworthy-looking faces could actually protect one from fraud.  Arguing against this possibility is the finding that although younger adults have consistently shown greater amygdala activation to people who look untrustworthy, they do not show greater activation to those who actually cheat.  On the other hand, some evidence indicates that facial appearance does provide valid cues to threat. Face shape not only influenced younger adults’ trust of potential exploiters, but it also proved to be a valid indicator of economic exploitation.  Furthermore, this face shape cue influenced both younger and older adults’ accurate impressions of aggressiveness. To shed further light on neural mechanisms for any age differences in vulnerability to fraud that may exist requires investigating: 1) the sensitivity of neural responses to actual differences in trustworthiness in the domain of economic exploitation, and 2) whether any age differences in those neural responses are related to differential vulnerability to economic exploitation.

Zebrowitz, L.A., Ward, N., Boshyan, J., Gutchess, A., & Hadjikhani, N. (2017).  Older adults’ neural activation in the reward circuit is sensitive to face trustworthiness.  Cognitve, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience.

 

 

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)