Hub http://hub.jhu.edu/science-technology Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network http://hub.jhu.edu/assets/img/hub-logo-rss.png Hub http://hub.jhu.edu http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/05/06/language-reading-writing Wed, 06 May 2015 09:51:00 -0400 Researchers explore how the brain separates our abilities to talk, write <p>Out loud, someone says, "The man is catching a fish." The same person then takes pen to paper and writes, "The men is catches a fish."</p> <p>Although the human ability to write evolved from our ability to speak, writing and talking are now such independent systems in the brain that someone who can't write a grammatically correct sentence may be able say it aloud flawlessly, found a team led by Johns Hopkins University cognitive scientist <a href="http://cogsci.jhu.edu/people/rapp.html">Brenda Rapp</a>.</p> <p>In <a href="http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/04/28/0956797615573520.abstract">a paper published this week in the journal <em>Psychological Science</em></a>, Rapp's team found that it's possible to damage the speaking part of the brain but leave the writing part unaffected, and vice versa, even when dealing with morphemes, the tiniest meaningful components of the language system including suffixes like "er," "ing," and "ed."</p> <p>"Actually seeing people say one thing and—at the same time—write another is startling and surprising. We don't expect that we would produce different words in speech and writing," said Rapp, a professor in the <a href="http://www.cog.jhu.edu/">Department of Cognitive Science</a> in the <a href="http://krieger.jhu.edu/">Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</a>. "It's as though there were two quasi independent language systems in the brain."</p> <p>The team wanted to understand how the brain organizes knowledge of written language—reading and spelling—since there is a genetic blueprint for spoken language but not written. More specifically, they wanted to know if written language was dependent on spoken language in literate adults. If it was, then one would expect to see similar errors in speech and writing. If it wasn't, one might see that people don't necessarily write what they say.</p> <p>The team, which included cognitive scientists Simon Fischer-Baum of Rice University and Michele Miozzo of Columbia University, studied five stroke victims with aphasia, a language disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate. Four of them had difficulties writing sentences with the proper suffixes, but had few problems speaking the same sentences. The last individual had the opposite problem—trouble with speaking but unaffected writing.</p> <p>The researchers showed the individuals pictures and asked them to describe the action. One person would say, "the boy is walking," but write, "the boy is walked." Another would say, "Dave is eating an apple" and then write, "Dave is eats an apple."</p> <p>The findings reveal that writing and speaking are supported by different parts of the brain—and not just in terms of motor control in the hand and mouth, but in the high-level aspects of word construction.</p> <p>"We found that the brain is not just a 'dumb' machine that knows about letters and their order, but that it is 'smart' and sophisticated and knows about word parts and how they fit together," Rapp said. "When you damage the brain, you might damage certain morphemes but not others in writing but not speaking, or vice versa."</p> <p>This understanding of how the adult brain differentiates word parts could help educators as they teach children to read and write, Rapp said. It could lead to better therapies for those suffering aphasia.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/05/01/messenger-mission-end-mercury Fri, 01 May 2015 12:02:00 -0400 Messenger mission comes to an end as spacecraft slams into Mercury's surface <p>Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory confirmed Thursday afternoon that <a href="http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2015/150430.asp">NASA's Messenger spacecraft had crashed into the surface of Mercury</a>, as predicted, at 3:26 p.m. The team was able to confirm the end of operations just a few minutes later, at 3:40 p.m., when no signal was detected by the Deep Space Network station in Goldstone, California, at the time the spacecraft would have emerged from behind the planet had it not impacted the surface.</p> <p>"Today we bid a fond farewell to one of the most resilient and accomplished spacecraft ever to have explored our neighboring planets," said Sean Solomon, Messenger's principal investigator and director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.</p> <p>"Our craft set a record for planetary flybys, spent more than four years in orbit about the planet closest to the sun, and survived both punishing heat and extreme doses of radiation. Among its other achievements, Messenger determined Mercury's surface composition, revealed its geological history, discovered that its internal magnetic field is offset from the planet's center, taught us about Mercury's unusual internal structure, followed the chemical inventory of its exosphere with season and time of day, discovered novel aspects of its extraordinarily active magnetosphere, and verified that its polar deposits are dominantly water ice. A resourceful and committed team of engineers, mission operators, scientists, and managers can be extremely proud that the Messenger mission has surpassed all expectations and delivered a stunningly long list of discoveries that have changed our views not only of one of Earth's sibling planets but of the entire inner solar system."</p> <p><a href="http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/">Messenger</a> was launched on August 3, 2004, and it began orbiting Mercury on March 18, 2011. The spacecraft completed its primary science objectives by March 2012. Because Messenger's initial discoveries raised important new questions and the payload remained healthy, the mission was extended twice, allowing the spacecraft to make observations from extraordinarily low altitudes and capture images and information about the planet in unprecedented detail.</p> <p>Last month, during a final short extension of the mission referred to as XM2, the team embarked on a hover campaign that allowed the spacecraft at its closest approach to operate within a narrow band of altitudes, five to 35 kilometers above the planet's surface. On April 28, the team successfully executed the last of seven orbit-correction maneuvers, which kept Messenger aloft for the additional month, sufficiently long enough for the spacecraft's instruments to collect critical information that could shed light on Mercury's crustal magnetic anomalies and ice-filled polar craters, among other features.</p> <p>With no way to increase its altitude, Messenger was finally unable to resist the perturbations to its orbit by the sun's gravitational pull, and it slammed into Mercury's surface at around 8,750 miles per hour, creating a new crater up to 52 feet wide. Before impact, Messenger's mission design team predicted that the spacecraft would pass several miles over the lava-filled Shakespeare impact basin before striking an unnamed ridge near 54.5°N latitude and 210.1°E longitude.</p> <p>"Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating Messenger as more than a successful mission," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The Messenger mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission—analyzing the exciting data already in the archives, and unraveling the mysteries of Mercury."</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/30/researchers-nas-elections Thu, 30 Apr 2015 14:51:00 -0400 Two Johns Hopkins researchers elected to National Academy of Sciences <p>Two Johns Hopkins University professors, <a href="http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/profiles/results/directory/profile/3205347/">Aravinda Chakravarti</a> and <a href="http://cis.jhu.edu/people/faculty/geman/">Donald Geman</a>, are among 84 new members <a href="http://www.nasonline.org/news-and-multimedia/news/april-28-2015-NAS-Election.html">elected to the National Academy of Sciences</a>, an honorary society that advises the government on scientific matters.</p> <p>Chakravarti is being recognized for his contributions to the field of genomics; Geman, for his achievements in statistics, image analysis, and machine learning. They will be inducted at the academy's annual meeting next spring.</p> <p>Chakravarti is a professor of medicine, pediatrics, molecular biology and genetics, and biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's <a href="https://igm.jhmi.edu/">Institute for Genetic Medicine</a> and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research team is deepening our understanding of human genetics so that therapeutic approaches can be better individualized to patients. His team uses experimental and computational analysis of genetic information to understand the basis of complex human diseases, both rare and common, such as Hirschsprung's disease, autism, hypertension, and sudden cardiac death. These disorders run in families, and they arise through a combination of genetic factors, environmental/lifestyle factors, and chance. They all involve variations in many genes and are therefore much more difficult to study than diseases caused by single-gene mutations.</p> <p>Chakravarti has been at Johns Hopkins since 2000. He received his Ph.D. in human genetics in 1979 from the University of Texas, Houston, and was on faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and Case Western Reserve University prior to coming to Johns Hopkins. He was the inaugural director and Henry J. Knott Professor of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins from 2000–2007. He has been instrumental in designing and contributing to the Human Genome Project, the International HapMap Project, and the 1000 Genomes Project. He is also a member of the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine, an Honorary Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.</p> <p>Geman is a professor of applied mathematics and statistics at the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering, which he joined in 2001. He also holds faculty appointments within the university's <a href="http://www.icm.jhu.edu/">Institute for Computational Medicine</a> and <a href="http://www.cis.jhu.edu/">Center for Imaging Science</a>. Before joining the Johns Hopkins faculty, he held the position of Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Massachusetts. He earned a B.A. in English literature from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Northwestern University.</p> <p>Geman develops computational methods for solving multidimensional, complex problems in machine learning. His research group is trying to teach computers how to interpret images the way humans do in terms of identifying common objects, human activities, and interactions—a major goal of artificial intelligence. The group is also developing computer programs that analyze large amounts of biological and clinical data to discover new biomarkers for diagnosing cancer and new formulas for predicting a patient's prognosis and response to treatment.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/30/business-plan-competition Thu, 30 Apr 2015 14:00:00 -0400 32 startups make their pitch at Johns Hopkins Business Plan Competition <p>A drug that aims to slow Alzheimer's. A new vaccine for HPV. An app that could do away with billing awkwardness at restaurants. A vision to build a hydroponic farm in Baltimore.</p> <p>Those are just a few of the 32 startup ideas that have made it to the home stretch of the 16th annual <a href="http://bpc.jhu.edu/">Johns Hopkins Business Plan Competition</a>, which concludes Friday at the university's Homewood campus. Teams will make their final presentations beginning at 1 p.m., and winners will be announced at an evening awards ceremony. More than $80,000 in seed funding is up for grabs.</p> <p><a href="http://engineering.jhu.edu/cle/faculty/lawrence-aronhime/">Professor Lawrence Aronhime</a> of JHU's <a href="http://engineering.jhu.edu/cle/">Center for Leadership Education</a>, who helped launch the competition, says he's seen the ideas mature from class projects for "tanning salons and pizza trucks" to "high-tech ventures that students take very seriously."</p> <p>Each year, he says, at least a couple of them take off to become successful businesses. A few of examples are Boss Medical (now <a href="http://avitusortho.com/about.htm">Avitus Orthopaedics</a>), which aims to develop better, more affordable orthopaedic technologies; and <a href="http://hub.jhu.edu/2013/10/30/jama-cocoa-opening">Jama Cocoa</a>, a Maryland truffle shop that aspires to be "the Starbucks of chocolate."</p> <p>What hasn't changed with the competition, Aronhime says, is its core principles: "Students learning how to stand in front of strangers and communicate their ideas."</p> <p>Those strangers this year will include 52 judges with various types of investment experience.</p> <p>The competition began in February, and 64 semifinalists were ultimately shaved down to 32 teams competing in four categories: General Business, Social Enterprise, and Medical Technology & Life Sciences (grad and undergrad categories). A <a href="http://bpc.jhu.edu/">full list of finalists</a> is available online; they include:</p> <p>In the Social Enterprise category, there's <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DanaCita.aspiration.fund">Dana Cita</a>, a micro-lending firm that helps fund higher education for youths in Indonesia; and <a href="http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/20/bright-energy-africa">Bright Energy Africa</a>, a venture to create smokeless fuel briquettes in Tanzania.</p> <p><a href="http://urbanpastoralcollective.squarespace.com">Urban Pastoral</a> is doing work here in Baltimore, designing and operating a commercial-scale rooftop hydroponic farm. The <a href="http://www.fullsociety.org/">Full Society</a> app is designed to make paper checks obsolete at restaurants, allowing users to instantly pay, split, and tip on their phones. And <a href="http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/03/16/shape-u-personal-training">ShapeU</a> offers an online tool for forming small workout groups and pairing up with personal trainers.</p> <p>The General Business category includes <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgwDRHcVeo0">RENT-FERENCE</a>, a service to help Chinese students from abroad navigate their rental options in the U.S; and an idea for "The Clean Air Pillow," designed to cut down the spread of illnesses on planes.</p> <p>In the Medical Tech/Life Sciences category for graduate students, there's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bu25XxoCUFM">TremTex</a>, an electrical stimulation device that fits on the head to control symptoms of Parkinson's. <a href="http://www.cogentistherapeutics.com/">Cogentis Therapies</a> wants to develop and commercialize a peptide drug to slow down the progression of Alzheimer's and other brain disorders, while <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEKkLm8TFDk">MicroPAD Solutions</a> wants to combat viral diseases in Africa with a device that screens for multiple diseases at once. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aENWCjmMs6U">Revai</a> has created a system for keeping organs healthier during transport from donor to recipient, and <a href="https://vimeo.com/119727336">PathoVax</a> is a vaccine addressing a much wider range of HPV subtypes than the current options on the market.</p> <p>Undergrad teams in the same category include <a href="http://www.bme.jhu.edu/news-events/news-highlights.php?id=492">SpiroSense, which just won a national health technology competition</a> for its diagnostic system for obstructive lung disease, and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNQF4GR9qmU">Oxylizer</a>, which is targeting healthcare facilities in India with a device that measures oxygen concentrations from external sources (i.e. in ambulances or surgery rooms).</p> <p>Though the event was initially for Hopkins students only, the medical/science category expanded last year to includes applicants from across the country. The goal, Aronhime says, is for it to become "a big-name, national competition." This year the social enterprise category also opened up to other regional applicants, though only Hopkins-affiliated teams ended up applying.</p> <p>The 32 finalist teams will make their cases from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in different spaces in Hodson Hall. The presentations are open to the public, while the awards dinner afterward (featuring keynote speaker <a href="http://bpc.jhu.edu/keynote-speaker/">Kevin Callahan, a Hopkins '99 alum who founded MapMyFITNESS</a> is a closed event.</p> <p>The competition is hosted by the <a href="http://engineering.jhu.edu/cle/">Center for Leadership Education</a> of JHU's Whiting School of Engineering.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/30/bat-agility-flight-sensors Thu, 30 Apr 2015 12:05:00 -0400 Keen sense of touch allows bats to fly with breathtaking precision <p>Bats fly with breathtaking precision because their wings are equipped with highly sensitive touch sensors, cells that respond to even slight changes in airflow, researchers have demonstrated for the first time.</p> <p>Scientists from Johns Hopkins University, as well as Columbia University and the University of Maryland, determined how the sense of touch plays a key role in powered flight. In <a href="http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/abstract/S2211-1247(15)00376-9">a paper published today in the journal <em>Cell Reports</em></a>, they show how sensory receptors in bat wings send information about airflow to neurons in the brain, enabling the bat to make split-second flight control adjustments.</p> <p>"Until now no one had investigated the sensors on the bat's wing, which allow it to serve as more than a propeller, a flipper, an airplane wing or any simple airfoil," said Johns Hopkins neuroscientist <a href="http://pbs.jhu.edu/research/moss/directory/Cindy">Cynthia F. Moss</a>, one of the senior authors and a professor in the <a href="http://pbs.jhu.edu/">Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences</a>. "These findings can inform more broadly how organisms use touch to guide movement."</p> <p>Moss and the team studied the big brown bat, a common species found throughout North America. Bats are the only mammals capable of true powered flight, able to reach speeds of 7 to 20 miles per hour, and with the sort of aerial maneuverability humans only wish they could engineer.</p> <p>The team found that the evolutionary process that allowed bats to form wings resulted in unusual tactile circuitry that not only enhances control during flight, but also allows bats to use their wings to climb, cradle their young, and capture insects.</p> <p>First they discovered an array of sensory receptors in bat wings—a significant number of which are clustered at the base of tiny hairs that cover the appendages. Such placement of these touch cells, both lanceolate endings and Merkel cells, allows the bat, while flying, to sense changes in airflow as the air ruffles the hairs.</p> <p>When the team stimulated these hairs with brief air puffs, neurons in the bat's primary somatosensory cortex responded with precisely timed but sparse bursts of activity, suggesting this circuitry helped guide bats during fast, dynamic flight.</p> <p>The team also found the innervation of bat wings to be unlike that of other mammalian forelimbs—a clue into how wings grew in bats during evolution. The researchers were surprised to discover that neurons in the wing skin connected not only to the higher parts of the spinal cord where forelimbs typically connect, but also to lower parts of the spinal cord that would normally only innervate an animal's trunk.</p> <p>These findings lay the groundwork for understanding how bats use sensory information to fly with precision in the dark and catch prey midair. The information, researchers say, could eventually help people design air vehicles that better negotiate obstacles by sensing and adjusting to air turbulence.</p> <p>The research team included Ellen A. Lumpkin, the other senior author and an associate professor of somatosensory biology at Columbia University, her student and lead author Kara L. Marshall, who with Laura DeSouza, another of Lumpkin's students, focused on the neuroanatomical part of the study; as well as Susanne J. Sterbing-D'Angelo of Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. Mohit Chadha of the University of Maryland contributed the neurophysiological aspects of the work.</p> <p>Funding for the research was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to Sterbing-D'Angelo and Moss, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Columbia Skin Disease Research Center to Lumpkin.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/29/identifying-bacterial-infection-germs Wed, 29 Apr 2015 11:03:00 -0400 Tiny lab devices could attack huge problem of drug-resistant infections <p>A Johns Hopkins engineer, supported by a major NIH grant, is leading a multi-institution team that wants to keep bacterial infections from dodging the dwindling arsenal of drugs that destroy the deadly microbes.</p> <p>The group's goal is to build palm-size devices that can quickly figure out which germ is causing a hospital-linked infection and then identify the right drug and dosage needed to kill the bacteria.</p> <p>Current testing methods can take up to three days to get these answers. But when a hospital patient is too ill to wait that long, physicians often make educated guesses and prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics. These may help the patient, but the medicine can also allow some bacteria to adapt and survive, leading to the growth of antibiotic-resistant microbes.</p> <p>If present trends continue, public health experts fear that more and more life-threatening infections will soon be able to shrug off the shrinking number of drugs that can be used to kill them.</p> <p>"To keep this from happening, we need to be faster and more precise in the way we diagnose and treat people with bacterial infections," said <a href="http://me.jhu.edu/faculty/tza-huei-jeff-wang/">Tza-Huei (Jeff) Wang</a>, a Johns Hopkins professor of mechanical engineering who is leading the team that will build the new microfluidic testing devices. "Instead of waiting three days to figure out what the infection is and what's the best drug to treat it, we believe our technology will deliver both answers within just three hours. ... That should lead to more effective treatment and a lower risk of promoting antibiotic resistance."</p> <p>Wang's project was one of nine antimicrobial resistance diagnostic projects selected for funding recently by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The team will receive $1.26 million for the first year of a five-year effort that is expected to ultimately receive nearly $6 million in NIAID support.</p> <p>NIAID officials said the new grants were aligned with a key goal of President Barack Obama's recent <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/27/fact-sheet-obama-administration-releases-national-action-plan-combat-ant">National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria</a>.</p> <p>The funding program was launched to help researchers develop new tools to detect hospital-associated pathogens. For more than 80 years, antibiotics have helped patients ward off infections, but existing drugs are becoming less effective and few new ones are being developed. Because of this, each year in the United States more than 2 million people develop antibiotic-resistant infections, and at least 23,000 die as a result, federal health officials say.</p> <p>"If this trend continues," Wang said, "we are at risk of going back almost a century to a time before the first antibiotics were introduced."</p> <p>His team will try to keep this from happening. The group will focus on fighting the bacteria linked to urinary tract infections, but Wang said the same technology should be useful in identifying and treating other infections as well, including sexually transmitted diseases.</p> <p>The project will draw on Wang's expertise in working with microfluidic "lab on a chip" devices. These platforms feature extremely tiny channels through which liquids and microscopic organisms can be manipulated and studied. One module will be designed to break down single cells of infectious bacteria and enclose their genetic material within tiny droplets of liquid. The team members will then attach fluorescent probes to the genetic material to enable quick identification of the infection.</p> <p>The second module will be designed to test bacterial cells within similar droplets to determine which medicine will most effectively kill the microbes. It will also work to pinpoint the precise drug dosage needed to inflict a fatal blow. These two modules, Wang said, could be connected and still fit in the palm of a hand, set up to identify the pathogen and find out how to destroy it within three hours.</p> <p>One of his partners in the project will be co-principal investigator <a href="https://med.stanford.edu/profiles/joseph-liao">Joseph C. Liao</a>, a Stanford University urologist who will help validate that the technology works on bacteria associated with urinary tract infections. In addition, researchers from the University of Arizona will assist in developing the second microfluidic system to identify the proper antibiotic and dosage. Partners from GE Global Research will provide advice how to design the devices for eventual commercial production and widespread use.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/20/bright-energy-africa Mon, 20 Apr 2015 15:15:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins undergrads win funding for bright new venture in Tanzania <p>In Tanzania for an internship last summer, Miguel Dias found himself spending a lot of time in smoke-filled rooms. Residents would often cook indoors using charcoal, and the smoke would saturate the small spaces. Not accustomed to it, "in just five minutes, I'd already feel faintish," said Dias, a Johns Hopkins University sophomore studying biomedical engineering.</p> <p>Around the same time, Violet Ayoub, his internship director, told him about a relatively new innovation happening in Kenya—smokeless fuel briquettes made from agricultural waste. Several developing countries were experimenting with the briquettes as a cheaper, healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative to charcoal.</p> <p>Using his engineering knowledge, Dias took his own approach to the technology, designing a new briquette-burning kiln model from an oil barrel. Ayoub let him set it up in extra space behind the headquarters of her NGO, Visions For Youth. With that, the two of them recognized a new venture in the making.</p> <p>That venture, called <a href="http://brightenergyafrica.weebly.com/">Bright Energy Africa</a>, now has recognition on a larger scale—and startup money to begin producing the briquettes. Last month, Dias and the team he recruited back at Hopkins—fellow Whiting School of Engineering sophomores Samantha "Yu" Wang and Yadel Okorie—<a href="http://me.jhu.edu/2015/03/17/team-of-undergraduate-engineering-students-win-social-venture-competition-at-clinton-global-initiative-university-conference/#.VTBxlpTF8rM">were among the winners of the 2015 Social Venture Challenge</a> at the Clinton Global Initiative University.</p> <p>The competition received nearly 200 applications, and two dozen teams earned awards. The Hopkins team got $5,000 in seed funding, the highest amount awarded, along with ongoing networking and mentorship opportunities with industry leaders.</p> <p>The big picture for Bright Energy Africa is ambitious: an enterprise that could create hundreds of jobs in Tanzania, with micro-franchises of the briquette centers set up in rural communities. Ultimately, Bright Energy Africa could be "100 percent owner-controlled in Tanzania," Dias says.</p> <p>The briquettes could help preserve the environment, reducing the deforestation required for creating charcoal and wood fuel and making use of discarded farm products that are currently just burned. The smokeless briquettes could also improve health, reducing carbon monoxide and other harmful byproducts of the current cooking methods. "It'd be a very big impact on their lives," Dias says.</p> <p>When he returned to Baltimore at the end of last summer, Dias turned his focus to the business plan. Okorie, a mechanical engineering major, helped on the financial side, and Wang, an electrical engineering major, worked on marketing. From Tanzania, Ayoub contributed through email and Skype sessions.</p> <p>For the next several months, the goal is to use the $5,000 in seed funds—which Dias says goes a long way in Tanzania—to get the pilot production plant up and running in Arusha. The team is also working on other fundraising angles and entering other competitions.</p> <p>The Social Venture Challenge, hosted by <a href="http://www.resolutionproject.org/">the Resolution Project</a>, is an international business plan competition for undergraduates that is designed to inspire solutions to pressing social issues. The Hopkins team received its award last month at the annual Clinton Global Initiative University conference, held at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/20/chien-iupap-magnetism-award Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:08:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins professor wins IUPAP Magnetism Award and Néel Medal <p><a href="http://physics-astronomy.jhu.edu/directory/chia-ling-chen/">Chia-Ling Chien</a>, a condensed matter physicist at Johns Hopkins University, has received the prestigious 2015 IUPAP Magnetism Award and Néel Medal from the Commission on Magnetism within the <a href="http://iupap.org/about-us/">International Union of Pure and Applied Physics</a>.</p> <p>"I am delighted to receive the award, which should be shared with my students and post-docs over the years," Chien said.</p> <p>Chien, professor and director of the Nanostructured Materials Lab in the university's Department of Physics and Astronomy, was cited for pioneering discoveries in magnetic materials and nanostructures. The IUPAP Magnetism Award and Néel Medal are awarded every three years to a scientist who has made extraordinary contributions to the field of magnetism. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the IUPAP Commission on Magnetism.</p> <p>Daniel Reich, chair of Johns Hopkins' <a href="http://physics-astronomy.jhu.edu/">Department of Physics and Astronomy</a>, praised Chien for his unique perspectives on magnetism's challenges.</p> <p>"Professor Chien has made a host of very important contributions to the field of magnetism over the past three decades," Reich said. "He consistently has come up with new ways of approaching difficult problems, and has repeatedly carried out experiments that cut to the heart of the big scientific questions in our field."</p> <p>Chien's prolific impact on the field of magnetism can be seen in his more than 400 published journal articles and over 18,000 citations with an H-index of 66. He has researched nearly every branch of magnetism, from new exotic magnetic materials to giant magnetoresistance to superconductivity.</p> <p>The IUPAP Commission on Magnetism was established in 1957 to promote the exchange of information and views among the members of the international scientific community in the field of magnetism. The IUPAP Magnetism Award has been made every three years since 1991. Chien joins a distinguished group of prior recipients of the IUPAP Magnetism Award that includes spintronic materials pioneer Stuart Parkin, UC Berkeley Chancellor Emeritus Robert Birgeneau, and Nobel Laureates Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg. Chien will receive his award at the 2015 International Conference on Magnetism in Barcelona this summer.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/15/hartwell-award-klein-dolen Wed, 15 Apr 2015 08:30:00 -0400 Two Johns Hopkins scientists win Hartwell biomedical research awards <p>Gul Dolen, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Eili Y. Klein, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, are among 12 recipients of The Hartwell Foundation's 2014 Individual Biomedical Research Award, the foundation announced on April 1.</p> <p>Each award will provide research support for three years at $100,000 per year. Johns Hopkins was one of only two institutions with multiple winners, and the awards also qualified the institution to receive Hartwell funding for two postdoctoral fellowships that Johns Hopkins will designate. The fellowships will provide support for two years to qualified individuals who already hold a doctorate, enabling them to pursue further specialized training in biomedical research as part of their professional career development.</p> <p>"It's exciting that a foundation focused on helping children through cutting-edge biomedical research chose my proposal to support," Klein says.</p> <p>With his Hartwell award, he aims to predict how influenza viruses will evolve from one season to the next, which would enable more effective flu vaccines to be developed.</p> <p>"The flu affects scores of children and families every year and can cause terrible illness and even death," he notes. "My hope is to reduce the burden of influenza, particularly for children.</p> <p>Dolen will take a novel approach to studying autism, a disorder of brain development characterized by dysfunctional social behaviors and communication. She will seek to identify the brain cells responsible for imagining the world from another person's point of view—an ability crucial to healthy social interaction. She plans to then develop a highly targeted therapy to stimulate those brain cells to alleviate the symptoms of autism.</p> <p>"Funding from The Hartwell Foundation is critical to this project, since this approach is both novel and risky, but it nevertheless has the potential to help many children and their families," Dolen says.</p> <p>Each year, <a href="http://www.thehartwellfoundation.org/">The Hartwell Foundation</a> selects a limited number of research institutions to nominate candidates for its Individual Biomedical Research Award. Johns Hopkins has been selected as one of the foundation's Top Ten Centers of Biomedical Research in the United States every year since the program began in 2006, and a total of eight researchers from Johns Hopkins have been named Hartwell Investigators.</p> <p>Dolen earned an MD from Brown University and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studied the autism spectrum disorder Fragile X syndrome. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University before joining the Johns Hopkins faculty last year. Her awards and honors include the 2014 Society for Social Neuroscience Early Career Award, the 2008 Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award, the 2008 Sigma Xi Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award, the 2007 Rising Star Award from the Conquer Fragile X Foundation and the 2006 Angus MacDonald Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.</p> <p>Klein earned a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University and an M.A. in international health policy from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2012. His work has been recognized with the 2012 Emergency Department Research Day Faculty Award for Best Research Presentation, Princeton University's May Fellowship and Harold W. Dodds Fellowship, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies' C. Grove Haines Prize.</p> <p>The primary mission of The Hartwell Foundation is to grant awards to individuals for innovative biomedical applied research that will potentially benefit children in the United States. Funds are provided for early-stage research projects that might not yet qualify for funding from traditional sources.</p> <p>Johns Hopkins recognizes the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award competition as a component of <a href="https://rising.jhu.edu/">Rising to the Challenge: The Campaign for Johns Hopkins</a>, an effort to raise $4.5 billion to support students, faculty, advances in research and clinical care, and interdisciplinary solutions to some of humanity's most important problems. The campaign, supporting both The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine, was publicly launched in May 2013 and is targeted for completion in 2017. Including the Hartwell awards, $3 billion has been committed so far.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/13/hopkins-first-undergraduate-research-day Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:30:00 -0400 Student research on display at JHU's first Undergraduate Research Day <p>Undergraduate students of all disciplines—engineering, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences—will convene for the first time this week to showcase their innovative research at Johns Hopkins' first Undergraduate Research Day. More than 150 students from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering will gather this Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 pm. at the Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center to share their many explorations and discoveries.</p> <p>"Research is the hallmark of a Johns Hopkins education, and the university offers myriad funding opportunities for students to engage in research, either on their own or with a faculty member," says Linda Gorman, teaching professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and lead planner for URD. "What's missing, though, is one collaborative event where students have a chance to present their impressive work to the university community."</p> <p>The Undergraduate Research Day, which is free and open to the public, is being held in conjunction with the Spring Open House and Overnight Program, which gives prospective students the chance to witness one of the university's most impressive and distinctive features: the breadth of research opportunities and projects available to undergraduates at Hopkins.</p> <p>"This type of broad research event illustrates the university's commitment to the undergraduate experience," Gorman says. "It also gives students a public forum in which to present their research, and it fosters intellectual community among faculty and staff."</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/02/bubb-merck-undergraduate-research-award Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:42:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins junior wins prestigious undergraduate research award <p>Quenton Bubb, a Johns Hopkins University biophysics major, has won a prestigious <a href="http://umsi.uncf.org/sif">UNCF/Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Award</a>, given annually to 15 college juniors.</p> <p>Sponsored by the United Negro College Fund and Merck & Co., the scholarships aim to increase the numbers of minority students pursuing careers in science and engineering. The award helps with tuition and room and board, and recipients are also paired with mentors in their field.</p> <p>Bubb, who is from Brooklyn, New York, plans to pursue medical and doctoral degrees in molecular biophysics and hopes to investigate the biophysics of protein misfolding to advance the clinical treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.</p> <p>"While proud that my hard work at Johns Hopkins has paid off, I'm also quite humbled by the fact that I am a fellow in a collective of intelligent, high-achieving, and driven African-American scientists," he said. "Given that African-Americans are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, I'm incredibly motivated by this opportunity to become a role model for individuals of similar background. I feel as though I hit a huge milestone in my career, and I'm very excited for what the future holds."</p> <p>At Johns Hopkins, Bubb has worked with <a href="http://biophysics.jhu.edu/faculty-pages/fleming_k.html">Karen Fleming</a>, a professor of biophysics, to research the thermodynamic and kinetic details of Outer Membrane Protein (OMP) biogenesis in gram-negative bacteria. He is also collaborating with graduate student Ashlee Plummer to investigate the role of a periplasmic chaperone, FkpA, in OMP biogenesis.</p> <p>Fleming called Bubb "an insightful researcher and scholar."</p> <p>"It has been a genuine pleasure to interact with him in the laboratory and in the classroom," she said. "I think his potential is enormous, and I look forward to hearing great things about him in the future."</p> <p>In 2013 Bubb was awarded an National Institutes of Health-sponsored fellowship to take part in the Biophysical Society Summer Course, where he participated in biomedical research at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.</p> <p>The UNCF/Merck awards are given annually to 15 college juniors majoring in science or engineering. The partnership also awards 12 graduate dissertation fellowships and 10 postdoctoral research fellowships.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/02/surprise-babies-learning Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:00:00 -0400 Element of surprise helps babies learn best, Johns Hopkins researchers say <p>Infants have innate knowledge about the world, and when their expectations are defied, they learn best, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found.</p> <p>In a paper that will be published Friday in the journal <em>Science</em>, cognitive psychologists <a href="http://aimeestahl.weebly.com/">Aimee E. Stahl</a> and <a href="http://pbs.jhu.edu/research/feigenson/facultyinfo/">Lisa Feigenson</a> demonstrate for the first time that babies learn new things by leveraging the core information with which they are born. When something surprises a baby, like an object not behaving the way she expects it to, she not only focuses on that object but ultimately learns more about it than from a similar yet predictable object.</p> <p>"For young learners, the world is an incredibly complex place filled with dynamic stimuli. How do learners know what to focus on and learn more about, and what to ignore? Our research suggests that infants use what they already know about the world to form predictions. When these predictions are shown to be wrong, infants use this as a special opportunity for learning," says Feigenson, a professor of psychological and brain sciences in the university's <a href="http://krieger.jhu.edu/">Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</a>. "When babies are surprised, they learn much better, as though they are taking the occasion to try to figure something out about their world."</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2015/04/02/396812961/why-babies-love-and-learn-from-magic-tricks">Why babies love (and learn from) magic tricks</a> (<em>NPR</em>)</p> <p>The study involved four experiments with pre-verbal 11-month-old babies, designed to determine whether babies learned more effectively about objects that defied their expectations. If they did, researchers wondered if babies would also seek out more information about surprising objects and if this exploration meant babies were trying to find explanations for the objects' strange behavior.</p> <p>First the researchers showed the babies both surprising and predictable situations regarding an object. For instance, one group of infants saw a ball roll down a ramp and appear to be stopped by a wall in its path. Another group saw the ball roll down the ramp and appear to pass—as if by magic—right through the wall.</p> <p>When the researchers gave the babies new information about the surprising ball, the babies learned significantly better. In fact, the infants showed no evidence of learning about the predictable ball. Furthermore, the researchers found that the babies chose to explore the ball that had defied their expectations, even more than toys that were brand new but had not done anything surprising.</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/04/02/new-study-reveals-the-shockingly-complex-thought-processes-of-infants/">Your baby is doing little physics experiments all the time, according to new study</a> (<em>The Washington Post</em>)</p> <p>The researchers found that the babies didn't just learn more about surprising objects—they wanted to understand them. For instance, when the babies saw the surprising event in which the ball appeared to pass through the wall, they tested the ball's solidity by banging it on the table. But when babies saw a different surprising event, in which the ball appeared to hover in midair, they tested the ball's gravity by dropping it onto the floor. These results suggest that babies were testing specific hypotheses about the objects' surprising behavior.</p> <p>"The infants' behaviors are not merely reflexive responses to the novelty of surprising outcomes but instead reflect deeper attempts to learn about aspects of the world that failed to accord with expectations," said Stahl, the paper's lead author and a doctoral student in the <a href="http://pbs.jhu.edu/">Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences</a>.</p> <p>"Infants are not only equipped with core knowledge about fundamental aspects of the world, but from early in their lives, they harness this knowledge to empower new learning."</p> <p>The study was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/01/ramesh-mechanics-award Wed, 01 Apr 2015 13:55:00 -0400 JHU's K.T. Ramesh receives top honor from experimental mechanics society <p>The Society for Experimental Mechanics has awarded its top honor to Johns Hopkins Professor K.T. Ramesh, who will receive his W.M. Murray medal and present an associated lecture at the society's annual conference in June. Ramesh, a professor of science and engineering in the university's <a href="https://engineering.jhu.edu/">Whiting School of Engineering</a>, was recognized for "his major impact on our understanding of nanomaterials and dynamic failure processes," according to the mechanics society.</p> <p>Ramesh has served as the founding director of the <a href="http://hemi.jhu.edu/">Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute</a> (HEMI) since 2012. He first joined the university's Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1988, acting as department chair from 1999 to 2002.</p> <p>Ramesh's <a href="http://sem.org/PDF/15s/15s_WilliamMurray-KTRamesh.pdf">June 9 lecture</a>, "Dynamic Across the Scales: Rocks, Shocks and Asteroids," will delve into his research on major impact and fragmentation events. The professor's focus areas include high strain rate behavior and dynamic failure of materials, nanostructured materials, injury biomechanics, and planetary scale impact problems.</p> <p><a href="http://sem.org/">The Society for Experimental Mechanics</a>, an international professional engineering association, will host its annual conference this year in Costa Mesa, California, from June 8-11. Ramesh is the third professor from JHU's <a href="http://me.jhu.edu/">Department of Mechanical Engineering</a> to earn the society's W.M. Murray Medal and give the associated William M. Murray Lecture, joining James Bell (1989) and Bill Sharpe (2002).</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/04/01/mercury-levels-dolphins-singapore Wed, 01 Apr 2015 08:58:00 -0400 Dolphin study could yield insight into how mercury influences health <p>Johns Hopkins environmental scientists are collaborating with researchers from <a href="http://www.rwsentosa.com/DolphinIsland">Dolphin Island</a> at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore to learn more about how and where mercury accumulates in the bodies of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.</p> <p>The partnership was formed because aquariums and zoological institutions are uniquely qualified to conduct research involving aquatic animals in their care in order to help protect and conserve wild populations of similar animals—in this case, dolphins. It is very difficult to obtain critical data on populations in nature due to difficulties in gathering details on diet, overall health, and related issues.</p> <p>The researchers are analyzing blood samples and health records from 10 dolphins that have been under the care of Dolphin Island for more than five years. Since their arrival at <a href="http://www.rwsentosa.com/">Resorts World Sentosa</a>, the dolphins—which are at the top of the aquatic food chain—have been fed a diet of fish and squid prepared by the marine mammal team and procured through responsible sourcing.</p> <p>Because the marine mammals' blood has been sampled regularly in the years since their relocation, the researchers can analyze the samples and look for any change in mercury levels.</p> <p>"The main thing we're trying to determine is how the diet in the controlled environment may influence the health of dolphins, with respect to mercury consumption," said <a href="http://engineering.jhu.edu/dogee/faculty/bouwer-ed/">Edward Bouwer</a>, principal investigator on the project. Bouwer is chair of the <a href="http://engineering.jhu.edu/dogee/">Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering</a> in Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering.</p> <p>The project is important because health experts are worried about human and animal consumption of mercury, particularly in a form called methylmercury. Ingestion of this substance, which accumulates in seafood or other food sources over a prolonged period, can harm the human brain and other parts of the nervous system, particularly in young children. Dolphins, sharks, and other apex predators that consume too much methylmercury may suffer similar damage.</p> <p>The mercury found in marine animals often originates from coal-fired power plants. These plants emit mercury into the atmosphere and it later deposits into surface waters and oceans, where bacteria turn it into methylmercury. Methylmercury ingested by smaller marine organisms makes its way up through the sea's food chain, resulting in bioaccumulation throughout the ecosystem, most noticeably in aquatic apex predators. This study aims to shed light on the impact of mercury on the oceans, which humans rely on for food.</p> <p>Bouwer and his co-principal investigator, marine biologist Erik Rifkin, studied this health threat three years ago by assessing mercury levels in dolphins in human care that were fed a controlled diet at the <a href="http://www.aqua.org/">National Aquarium in Baltimore</a>. Their team found that the aquarium's Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, whose fish diet originated in low-mercury waters, tested lower in mercury exposure than their wild counterparts who lived in southeast ocean waters of the United States, where mercury pollution was more prevalent.</p> <p>Their new conservation initiative is in collaboration with Singapore's Resorts World Sentosa, an integrated destination resort encompassing world-class attractions. Dolphin Island is home to Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, where guests can interact with the marine mammals up-close and learn about them. Scientists at the resort possess blood samples drawn over a five-year period, enabling the research team to compare mercury levels over time and determine how this contaminant is distributed in these marine animals in nature and at Dolphin Island.</p> <p>The resort's staff seeks to promote the conservation and protection of marine ecosystems and species. Its animal care team also engages in applied science research concerning marine species, and it shares its results through conferences and symposia.</p> <p>"Marine education, conservation and research have been key pillars at Dolphin Island, and we are glad to collaborate with Johns Hopkins University in furthering our knowledge of marine mammals," said Alfonso Lopez, chief veterinarian at Resorts World Sentosa. "We maintain a strict preventative care regime for our marine mammals, and blood samples are drawn on a regular basis for health checks, ensuring the animals' well-being."</p> <p>A key goal of the Johns Hopkins-Resorts World Sentosa joint dolphin study is to share the results in peer-reviewed scholarly publications. Team members are also discussing plans to extend the study to the resort's other key marine attraction—<a href="http://www.rwsentosa.com/SEAA">Southeast Asia Aquarium</a>—focusing on mercury levels in sharks, manta rays, and other aquatic apex predators.</p> <p>"This is a unique opportunity for us to work with an institution that has demonstrated a willingness to conduct independent, applied research designed for the future protection of marine ecosystems by obtaining data from animals in their care," said co-principal investigator Rifkin. "Resorts World Sentosa has the resources, personnel, and displays to advocate for the conservation and preservation of aquatic animals in nature and in human care. We are very excited about this partnership."</p> <p>A formal abstract describing this project has been accepted for presentation in June 2015 at the 12th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, which will be held in Jeju, Korea. A mutual goal of Resorts World Sentosa and Johns Hopkins is to establish affiliations with world-renowned research and conservation organizations in support of ongoing and future research concerning local marine animals and ecosystems in Southeast Asia.</p> <p>Bouwer and Rifkin are co-directors of the Johns Hopkins-based <a href="http://engineering.jhu.edu/ctfr/">Center for Contaminant Transport, Fate, and Remediation</a>, which has been deeply involved in the study of the risks and impacts associated with mercury exposure in aquatic ecosystems. On the Singapore project, they are also collaborating with Yongseok Hong, a former Johns Hopkins postdoctoral fellow who is now a professor affiliated with Daegu University in Korea.</p> <p>Resorts World Sentosa is providing more than $150,000 in funding support for the initial 16-month project.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/03/31/ratnanather-white-house-mentoring-honor Tue, 31 Mar 2015 11:02:00 -0400 White House recognizes JHU biomedical engineering researcher for mentoring efforts <p><a href="http://www.bme.jhu.edu/people/primary.php?id=336">J. Tilak Ratnanather</a>, an expert in brain mapping and a champion of people with hearing loss, is a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.</p> <p>Ratnanather, an associate research professor in Johns Hopkins University's <a href="http://www.bme.jhu.edu/">Department of Biomedical Engineering</a>, is one of 14 scientists around the country to be honored with the prize. The recipients will receive their prizes at a ceremony at the White House later this year.</p> <p>"It is an honor for me to receive this award," said Ratnanather, who also is a core faculty member of the university's Institute for Computational Medicine and its Center for Imaging Science. "Just as my mentors at University College London, University of Oxford, City University London and Johns Hopkins University took a chance on me, I am paying it forward for the next generation of deaf and hard of hearing students who have chosen to thrive in the demanding, challenging and exacting environment of regular college."</p> <p>The award, announced last week, is given by the White House to individuals and organizations in recognition of the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students who are studying science, engineering, and math, particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields.</p> <p>Ratnanather, who was born deaf but learned to communicate by reading lips and using hearing aids, has devoted his career to recruiting deaf and hard of hearing individuals into the science, math, technology, and engineering fields, and mentoring them once they are there. His motivation stems from a belief that if he can coax these individuals into STEM fields, they will contribute a unique perspective, particularly in the auditory related sciences and medicine.</p> <p>Ratnanather's research interests include shape analysis of brain structures associated with schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and depression. His work also focuses on deafness and computational problems linked to cochlear and cardiac physiology. Rathnanather himself received a cochlear implant at Johns Hopkins Listening Center in 2012, and he knows firsthand the trials of learning to use it.</p> <p>"My students are benefitting from my experiences as a deaf person and thus do not have any additional worries associated with their hearing loss," Ratnanather said. "They have rewarded me and others by graduating with honors, getting PhDs, doing postdoctoral work and becoming professors and completing medical school."</p> <p>In announcing the awards, President Barack Obama credited Ratnanather and the other recipients with helping to cultivate America's future scientists, engineers and mathematicians.</p> <p>"They open new worlds to their students, and give them the encouragement they need to learn, discover and innovate," Obama said in a prepared statement. "That's transforming those students' futures, and our nation's future too."</p> <p>In addition to being honored at the White House, the recipients each receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. A <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/27/president-obama-honors-outstanding-science-mathematics-and-engineering-m">complete list of winners can be found at www.whitehouse.gov</a>.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/03/31/cancer-mri-cellular-slime Tue, 31 Mar 2015 08:17:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins researchers use MRI to detect telltale 'cellular slime' on cancer cells <p>An MRI that detects cellular slime could someday <a href="http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/mri_based_on_a_sugar_molecule_can_tell_cancerous_from_noncancerous_cells">replace invasive biopsies to confirm that patients have cancer</a>.</p> <p>The experimental technique uses magnetic resonance imaging to spot telltale sugar molecules shed by the outer membranes of cancerous cells.</p> <p>So far tested only in test tubes and mice, the technique is described in a report <a href="http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150327/ncomms7719/full/ncomms7719.html">published online last week by the journal <em>Nature Communications</em></a>.</p> <p>"We think this is the first time scientists have found a use in imaging cellular slime," says senior author <a href="http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/profiles/results/directory/profile/3650684/jeff-bulte">Jeff Bulte</a>, professor of radiology at the <a href="http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/som/">Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine</a>.</p> <p>"As cells become cancerous," he says, "some proteins on their outer membranes shed sugar molecules and become less slimy, perhaps because they're crowded closer together. If we tune the MRI to detect sugars attached to a particular protein, we can see the difference between normal and cancerous cells."</p> <p>Other researchers have used MRI to detect cancer but needed injectable dyes to image proteins on the outside of cells that lost their sugar. Bulte's research team compared MRI readings from proteins known as mucins, with and without sugars attached, to see how the signal changed. They then looked for those signals in four types of lab-grown cancer cells; they detected markedly lower levels of mucin-attached sugars in cancer than in normal cells.</p> <p>Xiaolei Song, lead author of the study and a researcher in Bulte's laboratory, explains that this is the first time a property integral to cancer cells, rather than an injected dye, has been used to detect those cells.</p> <p>"The advantage of detecting a molecule already inside the body is that we can potentially image the entire tumor," she says. "This often isn't possible with injected dyes because they only reach part of the tumor. Plus, the dyes are expensive."</p> <p>Much more testing is needed to show that the technique has value in human cancer diagnosis, Bulte says. The next step will be to see if it can distinguish more types of cancerous tumors from benign masses in live mice.</p> <p>If continued testing is successful, Bulte and Song suggest the technique could be used to detect cancer early, monitor response to chemotherapy and guide biopsies to ensure sampling of the most malignant part of a tumor. It could, they say, eventually make unnecessary at least some biopsies, in which doctors delve into the body to remove parts of suspected tumors for examination.</p> <p>The research was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Cancer Institute, the Maryland Stem Cell Research Foundation, and the Pearl and Yueh-Heng Yang Foundation.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/03/25/autism-genetic-cause Wed, 25 Mar 2015 14:00:00 -0400 New genetic variant that causes autism identified by Johns Hopkins-led team <p>Using a novel approach that focuses on rare families severely affected by autism, a Johns Hopkins-led team of researchers has <a href="http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/new_autism_causing_genetic_variant_identified">identified a new genetic cause of the disorder</a>.</p> <p>The rare genetic variant offers important insights into the root causes of autism, the researchers say. And, they suggest, their unconventional method can be used to identify other genetic causes of autism and other complex genetic conditions.</p> <p>A report on the study was published today in the journal <em>Nature</em>.</p> <p>In recent years, falling costs for genetic testing, together with powerful new means of storing and analyzing massive amounts of data, have ushered in the era of the genome-wide association and sequencing studies. These studies typically compare genetic sequencing data from thousands of people with and without a given disease to map the locations of genetic variants that contribute to the disease. While genome-wide association studies have linked many genes to particular diseases, their results have so far failed to lead to predictive genetic tests for common conditions, such as Alzheimer's, autism, or schizophrenia.</p> <p>"In genetics, we all believe that you have to sequence endlessly before you can find anything," says <a href="https://aravindachakravartilab.org/pro/Home.html">Aravinda Chakravarti</a>, a professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's <a href="http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/geneticmedicine/">McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine</a>. "I think whom you sequence is as important—if not more so—than how many people are sequenced."</p> <p>With that idea, Chakravarti and his collaborators identified families in which more than one female has autism spectrum disorder, a condition first described at Johns Hopkins in 1943. For reasons that are not understood, girls are far less likely than boys to have autism. When girls do have the condition, however, their symptoms tend to be severe. Chakravarti reasoned that females with autism, particularly those with a close female relative who is also affected, must carry very potent genetic variants for the disease, and he wanted to find out what those were.</p> <p>The research team compared the gene sequences of autistic members of 13 such families to the gene sequences of people from a public database. They found four potential culprit genes and focused on one, called CTNND2, because it fell in a region of the genome known to be associated with another intellectual disability. When they studied the gene's effects in zebrafish, mice, and cadaveric human brains, the research group found that the protein it makes affects how many other genes are regulated. The CTNND2 protein was found at far higher levels in fetal brains than in adult brains or other tissues, Chakravarti says, so it likely plays a key role in brain development.</p> <p>While autism-causing variants in CTNND2 are very rare, Chakravarti says, the finding provides a window into the general biology of autism.</p> <p>"To devise new therapies, we need to have a good understanding of how the disease comes about in the first place," he says. "Genetics is a crucial way of doing that."</p> <p>Chakravarti's research group is now working to find the functions of the other three genes identified as possibly associated with autism. They plan to use the same principle to look for disease genes in future studies of 100 similar autism-affected families, as well as other illnesses.</p> <p>"We've shown that even for genetically complicated diseases, families that have an extreme presentation are very informative in identifying culprit genes and their functions—or, as geneticists are taught, 'treasure your exceptions.'" Chakravarti says.</p> <p>Other authors on the paper are Tychele N. Turner, Kamal Sharma, Maria X. Sosa, Dallas R. Auer, Stephan J. Sanders, Daniel Moreno-De-Luca, Vasyl Pihur, Christa Lese Martin, Matthew W. State, and Richard Huganir of The Johns Hopkins University; Edwin C. Oh, Yangfan P. Liu, and Nicholas Katsanis of Duke University; Ryan L. Collins, Harrison Brand, and Michael E. Talkowski of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School; Teri Plona, Kristen Pike, and Daniel R. Soppet of Leidos Biomedical Research; Michael W. Smith of the National Human Genome Research Institute; SauWai Cheung of Baylor College of Medicine; and Edwin Cook of the University of Illinois at Chicago.</p> <p>This work was funded by grants from the Simons Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and an Autism Speaks Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/03/19/mercury-orbit-messenger-spacecraft Thu, 19 Mar 2015 15:26:00 -0400 With mission's end in sight, Messenger marks four years in Mercury orbit <p>On the evening of March 17, 2011, the Messenger spacecraft—built and operated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland—made history when it became the first to orbit Mercury. Over the past four years, Messenger's instruments have fully mapped the surface of our solar system's innermost planet and yielded discoveries that have changed views on how the inner planets formed and evolved.</p> <p>"Messenger truly is an extraordinary mission," said Peter Bedini, a senior management advisor and former project manager for the mission. "When it began its primary mission four years ago, the spacecraft had already traveled almost five billion miles and completed six planetary encounters. During its pre-orbital Mercury flybys alone, Messenger collected as much data as Mariner 10—the only other spacecraft ever to visit the innermost planet—and began addressing questions about Mercury that had remained unanswered for more than 30 years."</p> <p>After more than 10 years in flight, Messenger and its scientific instruments remain remarkably healthy, but the spacecraft's propulsion system is running on fumes. The force of solar gravity continues to perturb the spacecraft orbit in a manner that drives the probe downward toward the planet's surface with each approach, and the tanks of propellant, which needed to boost the spacecraft to higher altitudes, are running dry.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the team conducted the first of five final orbit-correction maneuvers designed to keep Messenger in orbit up to four weeks longer, possibly as late as April 30. But sometime within the next few months, Messenger will inevitably crash into Mercury's surface.</p> <p>"The success of Messenger is a direct result of the talent and dedication of the team that designed and built it more than a decade ago, and of those who have operated it and directed the science data collection since launch in 2004," said Helene Winters, Messenger's current project manager. "The results of this Discovery-class mission have rewritten the book on Mercury and filled an important gap in our understanding of our Solar System."</p> <p>The mission has also contributed to NASA's technology base, said David Grant, who served as the mission's project manager for five years, overseeing the development, integration, testing, and launch of the spacecraft and subsequent mission operations, including the Earth flyby and two Venus flybys.</p> <p>Grant offers two examples:</p> <ul> <li><p>Messenger is the first mission to utilize "solar sailing," that is, to correct the trajectory of the spacecraft with the Sun's radiation, saving propellant and extending mission operations.</p></li> <li><p>The project is also the first to use SciBox, an automated science planning and commanding tool, for all data acquisition. Given spacecraft operational constraints and instrument operational constraints and objectives, the tool provides the science planner with an optimized set of opportunities to take observations and produces an integrated command sequence for the payload.</p></li> </ul> <p>Messenger—short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging—is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the sun. The spacecraft was launched on August 3, 2004.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/03/16/dreamit-health-baltimore Mon, 16 Mar 2015 14:45:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins-based startup Baton among participants in DreamIT Health Baltimore accelerator <p>For the second consecutive year, Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine are co-sponsors of DreamIt Health Baltimore, a four-month boot camp for entrepreneurs that prepares health information technology startups to present their innovative ideas to the world. is a four-month intensive boot camp for entrepreneurs,</p> <p>The program, designed to accelerate new product development for health IT startup companies, provides six new startups with access to top-tier legal and accounting services, along with opportunities to meet and pitch their ideas to angel investors and venture capitalists. Each startup also receives seed capital of up to $50,000.</p> <p>Among the companies selected is <a href="http://www.batonhandoff.com">Baton</a>, a Baltimore startup co-founded by Harry Goldberg, an assistant dean at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Stephen Milner, chief of burn surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Zack Goldberg, a former investment banker. Baton will develop a mobile application that ensures the seamless transition of patient care between hospital teams to avoid preventable medical errors.</p> <p>The capstone event of the program, DreamIt Demo Day, will be held in Baltimore on May 13. The one-day event affords each team the opportunity to share its progress and plans for the future with an audience of investors, industry leaders, and potential customers.</p> <p>"Our partnership with DreamIt is a demonstration of our commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Johns Hopkins and in Baltimore," said Christy Wyskiel, senior advisor to the president for enterprise development at Johns Hopkins University. "We are excited to continue building on Hopkins' tradition of innovation by helping entrepreneurs build promising health care technology startups from start to finish."</p> <p>The six startups were chosen from among more than 100 applications submitted from around the globe. This current group of startups is made up of entrepreneurs from around the world who seek to confront health care challenges by developing technologies that resolve a specific issue not yet addressed in the marketplace. Concepts in this year's group include patient-physician communication, simplified access to registered dieticians, mechanical devices for autotransfusion, and others.</p> <p>"This year's applications were some of the best we've ever seen," said Jason Hardebeck, managing director of DreamIt Health Baltimore. "I am excited to see new technologies unfold that will shape health IT."</p> <p>In addition to Baton, the remaining DreamIt Health Baltimore 2015 startups are:</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://ecisivehealth.com">Decisive Health Systems</a> (San Francisco, California) helps physician practices increase revenue, improve outcomes and enhance patient satisfaction with software that supports shared decision making. </li> <li><a href="http://www.insightmedi.com">InsightMedi</a> (Spain) is a photo-sharing network for health care professionals designed to enhance education and enable curbside consultations on a large scale. </li> <li><a href="http://realdietitian.com">REAL Dietitian</a> (Chicago, Illinois) offers a next-generation telehealth platform focused initially on increased access to medical nutrition therapy for patients with chronic diseases across the U.S. </li> <li><a href="https://www.redoxengine.com/#/">Redox</a> (Madison, Wisconsin) enables software developers to rapidly integrate with installed legacy health IT systems through a modern application programming interface. </li> <li><a href="http://www.sisuglobalhealth.com">Sisu Global Health</a> (Grand Rapids, Michigan) develops medical devices for the most challenging environments and markets. Its first product enables autotransfusion of hemorrhaging patients in the field with military and developing world applications. </li> </ul> <p>Other partners involved with DreamIt Health Baltimore include the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the Abell Foundation; the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore; BioHealth Innovation; and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.</p> http://hub.jhu.edu/2015/03/16/shape-u-personal-training Mon, 16 Mar 2015 14:00:00 -0400 Online tool developed by Johns Hopkins undergrads could reshape gym experience <p>When Seal-bin Han, a self-proclaimed wimpy kid, hoped to bulk up in college, he hunkered down at Johns Hopkins University's O'Connor Recreation Center and went to work.</p> <p>But a hectic schedule, intimidating gym rats, and fleeting urges sometimes got in the way.</p> <p>He plans to squash these excuses, and countless others, with his latest enterprise, an affordable personal training platform that gives users their social fix while they get fit. That's the idea behind <a href="https://www.shapeu.co/">ShapeU</a>, an online tool that uses a matching mechanism (think online dating) to form small workout groups and pair them with a personal trainer.</p> <p>ShapeU launched at Hopkins last spring in partnership with the O'Connor Recreation Center, promising to motivate students who need an extra push to avoid breaking fitness resolutions. Six small groups tested the service, working with personal trainers who tailored each session to match the groups' fitness goals—from getting ripped, to simply slimming down. Weekly progress reports detailed weight lost, BMI, and blood pressure.</p> <p>"I decided to give it a try because doing anything with friends makes it more fun," said Thomas Keady, a JHU freshman and ShapeU participant.</p> <p>"If you have an appointment, you're paying for it and your personal trainer and friends are waiting for you, then that's more motivation to go than if you were going to walk to the rec center by yourself."</p> <p>And it's affordable, even on a student budget. Splitting the cost of the trainer lowers the price to between $6 and $8 per student for a weekly session. They get personal training advice for the price of a burrito, says Han. What could be better?</p> <p>For Han and his six-person team, preserving health and well-being is the No. 1 goal. Specifically, they want to combat cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S., Han says.</p> <p>"Almost all cases are entirely preventable because healthy eating and exercise are very strong deterrents from getting it," says Han, who along with fellow undergraduates Richard Shi, Christine Situ​, Jordan Matelsky, Oneeb Malik, and Charlie McGeorge make up the ShapeU team. The group also works closely with Steven Moyo, an internal medicine resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital.</p> <p>This fusion of affordable personal training and social exercise <a href="http://technical.ly/baltimore/2015/01/14/shapeu-johns-hopkins-undergrads-gym-experience/">secured the group a spot in Accelerate Baltimore's 13-week startup program</a>. They received $25,000 in funding and the support to make the expansion possible.</p> <p>The next step, the team says, is to expand ShapeU's reach in the Baltimore area.</p> <p>"We're realizing that this isn't a student problem, it's a problem everywhere," Han says. "If we want to help people live healthier lives, we need to partner with the gyms that run Baltimore."</p> <p>Soon Merritt Athletic Club, Planet Fitness, and Brick Bodies will debut an advanced version of the ShapeU tool for a trial period. A more complex matching mechanism, smart scheduling app, and a pricing system that takes a cue from Uber are among the updates, Han says.</p> <p>"If Bill Gates can find the time to exercise, then so can anyone in the world. Period," says Han, who at 19 years old already has three companies to his name.</p>