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Medical Center urologist Ahmed Ghazi won first place at the Fall Walls Lab Finale in Berlin, Germany. During his three-minute presentation before an international panel of judges, he described an innovative approach to building patient-specific replicas of anatomy, allowing surgeons to practice complex cases prior to the actual surgery.

Surgery simulation garners international attention

Medical Center urologist Ahmed Ghazi has been awarded first place at the Falling Walls Lab Finale in Berlin, Germany. His presentation was selected from among 100 finalists from institutions from across the globe who were given the opportunity to pitch breakthrough ideas in science to a jury of academic and business leaders.

Ghazi was awarded for his presentation titled “Breaking the Wall of Surgical Errors,” which describes the work of the Department of Urology Simulation Innovation Laboratory. The lab uses an innovative approach to building patient-specific replicas of anatomy, allowing surgeons to practice complex cases prior to the actual surgery.

During his presentation in Berlin, Ghazi noted that an estimated 1,000 deaths and 10,000 serious complications occur every year from preventable medical errors.  Half of these errors are due to poor performance during complex surgeries.

“To address the challenge of surgical errors, we used the aviation industry as a source of inspiration,” says Ghazi. “It is one of the few high stakes industries that have reduced errors to less than one percent due to the widespread use of advanced flight simulators that allow pilots to train in a fully immersive environment.”

The surgical simulation program harnesses medical imaging, computer modeling, and 3D printing systems to fabricate lifelike organs that to look and feel like the real thing and even bleed when cut.

While initially created for medical students and trainees and to help experienced surgeons sharpen their skills, the technology is increasingly being employed by surgeons at the Medical Center to rehearse procedures prior to complex cases, such as partial nephrectomies.

Falling Walls Lab is an international forum for the next generation of innovators and creative thinkers. The goal of the conference is to promote exceptional ideas and to connect promising scientists and entrepreneurs.

Participants are selected from local competitions held at institutions across the globe. Ghazi won first place at the University of Rochester Falling Walls Lab competition held in October.

In Berlin, Ghazi was awarded the “Falling Walls Young Innovator of the Year” title, prize money, a yearlong mentorship on scientific publishing by an executive with the journal Nature, and the opportunity to pitch his idea a second time on the grand stage of the Falling Walls Conference. He will also be invited to serve as a judge for next year’s Finale competition.

Read more here.


Study: Attention requires balance in the brain

In developmental disorders such as autism the ability to focus attention is impaired. New research published in the journal Nature Communications shows that nerve cells maintain a state of balance when preparing to interpret what we see and may explain why the healthy brain can block out distractions.

The research, co-authored by Adam Snyder, an assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, marks a departure from the established view of how the brain tackles the task of identifying what is important.

“The visual world contains more information than our brains can handle,” says Snyder. “This research shows that when anticipating stimulus, the brain maintains a pattern consisting of stimulated and unstimulated neurons and that these patterns differ from when the brain is actually processing information.”

The process of paying attention amplifies neural signals in the brain in order to prepare for relevant information, but how the brain achieves this state of readiness remains unknown.

The prevailing view is that something happens to activate neurons so they will amplify the response to stimuli, like turning up the stereo so when the music starts it is already louder,” said Snyder. “Our suspicion is that the brain doesn’t work this way because the problem when you crank up the volume is you also get static noise.”

In the new research, Snyder and his colleagues monitored a large number of neurons simultaneously in the visual cortex – the part of the brain responsible for processing visual stimuli – in animals. They recorded neural activity as the animals performed tasks that required a response to visual cues.

The researchers found that when anticipating stimuli, the neurons in the visual cortex essentially maintained a state of balanceFor every neuron that was stimulated and at the threshold of firing, there were others that were in a resting state.

The mechanisms appear to be consistent across the brain and could explain difficulties associated with the processing of other forms of stimuli, like sound and touch.

Understanding how the brain prepares to receive stimuli – and how dysfunction in this system leads to impairment – could open the door to new electrical stimulation therapies that could help teach the brain how to process information more effectively.


Report shows health impacts of poverty, race, geography

A new report on the influence of poverty, race, and geography on health outcomes is now available at RocHealthData.Org, the health information data portal of the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). The Health Equity Chartbook for 2018 comes from Common Ground Health, the Rochester region’s health planning organization.

The data show that African Americans and residents in the region’s lowest socioeconomic status areas experience higher rates of years of potential life lost across nearly all causes of death. Data in the full report illuminate the largest drivers of disparity, which point to the most significant opportunities for improvement.

At the site, you can also see our region’s socioeconomic status disparities and add map layers in the RocHealthData map room.


Introducing a new faculty member

Brian J. Altman joins the Department of Biomedical Genetics as an assistant professor and the Wilmot Cancer Institute as an associate member.  He completed his postdoctoral training with Chi Van Dang at the University of Pennsylvania and later at the Wistar Institute.  He previously received his PhD from Duke University in 2011.

Altman has always been interested in how cancer alters key processes such as metabolism for its own benefit.  His current work focuses on how cancer interacts with the body’s natural 24-hour cycles, known as circadian rhythm.  Circadian rhythms orient our bodies to the day / night cycle and promote good health by synchronizing metabolism and gene expression with our bodies’ activity and rest.  Previous studies have suggested that a functional circadian clock can suppress cancer formation.  Working with Dang, Altman and a graduate student, Annie Hsieh, found that the MYC oncogene, commonly mutated in over half of human cancers, can disrupt the molecular machines inside cells that control circadian rhythm, impairing the ability of the cells to undergo oscillations.

His research at Rochester will focus on understanding how cancers, especially those driven by MYC, may benefit from disruption of circadian rhythm, especially with regards to changes in cellular and organismal metabolism.  Altman’s lab also plans to study how MYC may regulate circadian rhythm and tumor growth in a mouse model of the kind of lung cancer that afflicts current and former smokers.

Altman arrives at Rochester with a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and was formerly funded as a postdoctoral fellow by a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service F32 Award, also from the NCI.  He has also been awarded conference travel scholarships in recognition of his work by the American Association for Cancer Research, Society for Research on Biological Rhythms, and Keystone Symposia.  His research has previously been published in Cell Metabolism, Nature Communications, Oncogene, and Molecular Biology of the Cell. 


Applications for Humanities Center internal fellowship due December 10

The Humanities Center anticipates awarding one internal fellowship in either fall 2019 or spring 2020 to a tenured associate professor in the humanities or humanistic social sciences who will use the time at the Center to complete a second book.

Projects must address the theme of “communities,” broadly understood.

Applicants should follow the guidelines here. Applications are due by December 10, 2018.


Travel awards support SMD students, residents, trainees

Two travel reimbursement awards of up to $1,000 will be given this funding cycle (one for clinical research and one for basic sciences research) to support a School of Medicine & Dentistry medical student, graduate student, postdoctoral trainee, clinical resident, and/or clinical fellow to attend important national or international meetings at which they will present their research and make professional connections.

Eligible applications for the current cycle are for travel between September 1, 2018 and February 28, 2019. Submission deadline: Friday, December 14, 2018, 6 p.m. For questions, email Amy Blatt or call 585-275-4912.

View the full RFA.


PhD dissertation defense

Yiming Zhao, materials science, “AlGaN Metal-Semiconductor-Metal UV Photodetectors.” 10 a.m. November 19, 2018. LLE Seminar Room 2101. Advisor: William Donaldson.


A break for the holiday

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, Research Connections will resume on November 30.


Mark your calendar

Today: Center for Integrated Research Computing (CIRC) symposium.  Sergio Montero from the Department of Political Science will present a model of learning that illustrates relationships between income and democracy. Arun Venkataraman from the Department of Physics will discuss feature parameter optimization of diffusion imaging. 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wegmans 1400. Lunch will be served.

Nov. 19: Regional seminar on U.S. Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) with Gayle Vaday, CDMRP program manager for breast cancer research, and Angel Davey, CDMRP program manager for health sciences.  11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Class of ’62 Auditorium. Keynote session, panel discussion, grant writing workshop/panel discussion for early career investigators, and poster networking session. Boxed lunches will be provided free of charge. For more information, contact Laurie Chiumento at laurie_chiumento@urmc.rochester.edu or 585-273-5995.

Nov. 30: Annual CFAR World AIDS Day Scientific Symposium. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Keynote addresses by Marguerita Lightfoot, professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, and Douglas Nixon, professor of immunology in medicine at Weil Cornell Medical College. Class of ’62 Auditorium. Poster session 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Flaum Atrium. Contact Laura Enders for more information about World AIDS Day events and poster registration.

Dec. 5:  Phelps Colloquium series: Ajay Kuriyan, assistant professor of ophthalmology, “The Bionic Eye, Computer Vision, and Drug Discovery: The Gamut of Retina Research.” Kara Bren, professor of chemistry, “Making Fuel and Fertilizer from Sun, Air, and Water.” 4 p.m. Feldman Ballroom Douglass Commons. Register here. Questions? Contact Adele Coelho or call 273-2571.

Dec. 10: Deadline to apply for Humanities Center internal fellowship for fall 2019 or spring 2020, for a tenured associate professor in the humanities or humanistic social sciences who will use the time at the Center to complete a second book. Projects must address the theme of “communities,” broadly understood. Applicants should follow the guidelines here.

Dec. 14: 6 p.m. Deadline to apply for travel reimbursement awards of up to $1,000  (one for clinical research and one for basic sciences research) to support a School of Medicine & Dentistry medical student, graduate student, postdoctoral trainee, clinical resident, and/or clinical fellow to attend national or international meetings at which they will present their research and make professional connections. For questions, email Amy Blatt or call 585-275-4912. View the full RFA.



Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections on the Newsletters website.



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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.