Researchers unravel a link between a genetic mutation and autistic behaviors — and then find a way to undo it

Scientists at the University at Buffalo have identified the mechanisms behind a genetic mutation that produces certain autistic behaviors in mice, as well as therapeutic strategies to restore normal behaviors.

The research describes the cellular and molecular basis behind some autistic behaviors; it also suggests potential biomarkers and pharmaceutical targets.

Published May 28 in Cell Reports, the research was led by Zhen Yan, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The paper focuses on the loss of a gene called Shank3, an important risk factor for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The researchers trace how this risk factor disrupts communication between neurons, leading to social deficits in mice. And, in their most important finding, they are able to reverse these neuronal disruptions, restoring normal behavior in mice.

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UB invests in Communities of Excellence to address societal problems

The University at Buffalo is investing $25 million in an initiative that will harness the strengths of UB faculty from disciplines across the university to confront grand challenges facing humankind.

The university announced today the establishment of three new Communities of Excellence — an innovative and integrated approach to addressing critical societal challenges through impactful interdisciplinary research, education and engagement.

Through Communities of Excellence, teams of faculty will work together to find solutions, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding. Faculty leaders within communities plan to create new educational opportunities that cut across multiple academic disciplines in order to address the focus area of each community.

The three Communities of Excellence, chosen from nearly 100 initial concept proposals submitted by faculty teams, are:

  • Global Health Equity. This community will work to address the challenge of global health inequity by bringing together faculty and students from the health sciences and disciplines that are focused on the social, economic, political and environmental conditions that lead to inequities. This community will tackle problems ranging from a lack of access to sanitation for women and girls in poor countries to high rates of non-communicable diseases due to complex sets of factors, including tobacco use and the environment.
  • Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART). This community will build upon UB’s reputation as a leader in advanced manufacturing and design by developing the next generation of manufacturing technologies, processes and education that enable sustainable, cost-effective production of high-quality, customizable products. SMART will leverage university and regional strength in manufacturing and partner with regional companies to educate future manufacturing leaders and shape national policy.
  • The Genome, the Environment and the Microbiome (GEM). This community will work to advance understanding of areas that will enable development of personalized medicine and empower individuals to have greater control over and understanding of their health, the human genome and the human microbiome — the trillions of microorganisms living in and on the human body. Through collaboration among the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, GEM will enhance UB’s reputation in genomics to make UB a national model for promoting and increasing genomic literacy.

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UB student team to participate in NASA challenge

A team of talented UB students has been invited to take part in real-life NASA research and development.

Under a new NASA microgravity activity called Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams (Micro-g NExT), UB and 18 other undergraduate student teams from around the country were selected to design and build technology to address and rectify authentic, current space-exploration problems.

The teams will travel to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston this summer, where they will test their devices in the simulated microgravity environment of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), the same 6.2-million-gallon indoor pool used to train astronauts for spacewalking.

“In addition to being an educational experience for our students, their design will have real implications for human space exploration,” says Manoranjan Majji, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and faculty adviser for the UB team. “NASA will need a device that effectively captures asteroid samples and our prototype will contribute ideas for the final version.”

The UB team is building a “Quad Claw” device that could enable an astronaut to obtain float samples from an asteroid. It was one of five possible challenges put forward by the Micro-g-NexT program that were identified by NASA engineers as being necessary in future space exploration missions.

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June in Buffalo: Marking 40 years, and still at the forefront of new music

June in Buffalo, the region’s signature event for new music, will mark its 40th anniversary this year by bringing some of the greatest minds in contemporary classical music composition and performance to Western New York.

The event, part conference and part festival, was founded in 1975 by composer and University at Buffalo faculty member Morton Feldman. In an era of intense cultural creativity, it helped solidify Buffalo’s standing as one of the nation’s most celebrated centers for contemporary music.

This year’s line-up includes 16 concerts and recitals that are open to the public from May 29 to June 7.

Performances will range from intimate solo recitals by world-famous violinist Irvine Arditti on UB’s North Campus and influential composer, conductor and flutist Harvey Sollberger at Pausa Art House in Buffalo, to a performance by the New York New Music Ensemble of “New York Notes,” a work by MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Wuorinen, one of several internationally recognized composers who will attend.

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UB’s Educational Opportunity Center honors its ‘greatest legacy’ at annual graduation

A community leader who moved “beyond the falsehood” after being placed incorrectly in special education classes and an Eritrean refugee who exemplifies the storybook “American Dream” will be honored at the University at Buffalo’s Educational Opportunity Center’s graduation ceremony on May 20.

Some 200 students will receive graduation certificates at the ceremony to be held at 7 p.m. in Slee Hall on UB’s North Campus.

Zola Lowery Crowell, a graduate of the UBEOC Class of 1975 whose commitment to community service spans four decades, will receive the Arthur O. Eve Education and Community Service Award in honor of the former New York State Assembly deputy speaker. The UBEOC dedicated and named its new facility at 555 Ellicott St. after Eve last July.

Tedros Teklzghi, who graduated in 1994 from the UBEOC’s English as a Second Language Program and again in 1995 from its College Preparation Program, will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Both former students will be in the UBEOC’s commencement spotlight because the school’s true contribution lies in its graduates who have given back to the community and rewritten the story of their own lives, according to Julius Gregg Adams, executive director of the UBEOC. Adams called both graduates perfect examples of what the EOC is all about.

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UB and Roswell Park receive $1.8M grant to launch stem cell research

University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute researchers have been awarded a $1.85 million grant to create an interdisciplinary stem cell research training program.

The program, called Stem Cells in Regenerative Medicine (SCiRM), will bring together 18 faculty members in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Roswell Park’s Graduate Division.

“Successful translation of stem cell breakthroughs into cell therapies requires interdisciplinary approaches that draw from a wide range of fields,” said Stelios Andreadis, professor and chair of UB’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and the grant’s principal investigator.

He added: “We plan to meet this challenge by developing an innovative graduate training program to educate the future leaders in this field.”

The grant was awarded by New York State Stem Cell Science, the state’s publicly funded agency tasked with making advancements in stem cell biology. It will support eight graduate students per year for five years.

SCiRM is expected to complement the Western New York Stem Cell Culture and Analysis Center (WNYSTEM), which is funded by New York State Stem Cell Science and the UB medical school.

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Anthropology freshman wins summer Fulbright to UK

A UB anthropology student just finishing her freshman year will take her passion for the “connections through time” to Durham University in Great Britain, one of three 2015 UB Fulbright Scholars poised for world travel and instant academic honor as they complete their semesters.

Anna Porter, who recently turned 19, will travel to England as part of the Fulbright Summer Institute, widely considered one of the most selective and prestigious summer scholarship programs in the world. Porter will spend four weeks on a major archaeological project, studying on site at the northern edges of the Roman Empire in Britain and exploring the culture and heritage of the United Kingdom.

For Porter, whose whirlwind freshman year has ended with acceptance at two of the three major summer fellowships she applied for — she’s also going to New Mexico as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates — it’s another step on an intellectual journey powered by a concept she calls “connectivity.”

Porter, whose hometown is the Syracuse suburb of Manlius, is another example of a UB student who competes and excels competing against the top students at any university, says Elizabeth Colucci, coordinator of fellowships and scholarships for UB.

“Anna participated in UB’s fellowship and scholarship development program called ‘Spark.’” says Colucci, whose program has enjoyed a particularly successful year finding UB students national and international fellowships.

“During this program, she learned about an exciting opportunity for freshmen and sophomores to travel to the United Kingdom with the prestigious UK Summer Fulbright Institutes. She had a chance to hear from UB’s first UK Summer Fulbright winner, Dylan Burns. So Anna is UB’s second student to win this prestigious award and I anticipate that more freshmen and sophomores at UB will become Summer Fulbrighters.”

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Two majors, one minor, no problem

Even the best early science fiction writing occasionally avoided the problem of language, never addressing how inhabitants of different worlds effortlessly communicated with each other. The assumption was that everyone spoke English, at least until the late 1940s when one writer introduced a translation device that made alien languages instantly understandable to earthly ears.

Mention the idea of that universal translator to University at Buffalo senior Natasha Sanford and, though not a science fiction fan, she immediately starts solving the problem of real-time, speech-based translation.

“Google Translate does this today in text-based form, but there would have to be some artificial intelligence at work if such a device wasn’t already programmed with the two languages in question,” she says. “There would be a lot to figure out. We’re talking about an incredibly complicated system.”

Although it’s complicated, Sanford might have the skill set to actually develop such a tool. She will graduate with the UB Honors College on May 15 with Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics and computer science, plus a minor in linguistics.

She is one of 55 UB students who will graduate with two or more majors, plus a minor, this spring. Just 356 of UB’s 3,311 seniors will graduate with two or more majors.

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Canty named SUNY Distinguished Professor

UB physician-scientist John M. Canty Jr. has been named a SUNY Distinguished Professor, the highest faculty rank in the SUNY system.

He was one of 18 SUNY faculty members appointed a Distinguished Professor, Distinguished Teaching Professor or Distinguished Service Professor by the SUNY Board of Trustees at its meeting earlier this month.

The rank of Distinguished Professor is an order above full professorship and has three co-equal designations: Distinguished Professor, Distinguished Service Professor and Distinguished Teaching Professor.

The Distinguished Professorship recognizes and honors individuals who have achieved national or international prominence in their fields.

Canty, the Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and UB’s chief of cardiovascular medicine, has focused his career on translational cardiovascular research and noninvasive cardiology. His research has impacted millions of patients with severe ischemic cardiomyopathy.

A faculty member of the UB Department of Medicine since 1983, he also is a practicing cardiologist at the VA Western New York Healthcare System and at Gates Vascular Institute, and sees patients at UBMD, the physician practice plan of the UB medical school. He has been recognized by Best Doctors in America since 1998.

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Economics student receives competitive Boren scholarship

Casey Rothberg, only the second University at Buffalo student ever to win the competitive David L. Boren Scholarship, fits the scholarship program’s profile on paper well. Her application is the picture of a practical-minded, sensible student who hopes to work for the U.S. government one day, traveling to China for 10 months to learn the language so she can help the U.S. and China collaborate in Middle Eastern affairs.

In person, that image of Rothberg seems incomplete. She’s a natural communicator, a great listener, a dancer, engaging and with wide interests ranging from her saxophone to “adventure.” When listing what she loves, she writes “FOOD” in capital letters.

And there’s a playful touch to her lifelong drive to learn Mandarin that will take her to Capital Normal University in Beijing. She wrote down the Mandarin name she chose for herself the first week of class: 吴凯西. The phonetic pronunciation is “woo kai she,” part of which sounds like Casey, her first name.

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