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 Research Connections :: University of Rochester

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This image, from the lab of Alayna Loiselle, shows scar tissue formation at the site of a tendon tear.  Cells that produce the protein S100a4, thought to be a driving force in scar tissue formation, are shown in green.

Grant funds study of protein's role in creating scar tissue in tendons

Tendons, which connect muscle to bone, are commonly injured and often require surgical repair. More than 300,000 tendon repair procedures are performed each year in the United States alone.

However, tendons heal with excessive scar tissue, which decreases strength and range of motion and leads to poor outcomes, including decreased quality of life, chronic pain, and disability.

These complications become more severe in Type II Diabetes patients, who are up to five times more likely to experience a tendon tear or rupture than non-diabetics.

“Our understanding of the mechanisms that govern increased fibrotic healing in diabetic tendon remains limited,” says Alayna Loiselle, an assistant professor of orthopaedics, “and this gap in knowledge has resulted in few therapeutic targets to improve clinical outcomes.”

She has received a 5-year, $1.694 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to study the protein S100a4 as a key driver of scar-mediated tendon healing.

“Our data suggest that S100a4 promotes scar formation by binding to the extracellular receptor RAGE (Receptor for Advanced Glycation Endproducts) and activating a pro-inflammatory signaling cascade,” Loiselle explains.  “Interestingly, RAGE expression is increased in most diabetic tissues, and we have observed increases in both S100a4 and RAGE in tendon repairs from diabetic mice.”

Loiselle hypothesizes that the increase in S100a4-RAGE signaling in diabetic tendons is what causes the increased scar formation.  The study will define the cells that produce S100a4 after tendon injury, increase understanding of how S100a4-RAGE signaling alters the inflammatory cell environment, and also determine if small molecule inhibitors of S100a4 and RAGE can effectively modulate scar formation — leading to better healing outcomes in both diabetic and non-diabetics.

The most likely long-term potential of this project is to demonstrate the feasibility of repurposing current FDA-approved inhibitors of S100a4 to modulate scar formation and improve tendon healing in both diabetic and non-diabetic patients, Loiselle says. In addition, “by understanding the cell and molecular components of S100a4-RAGE signaling, we may identify previously unknown therapeutic candidates,” Loiselle says.

Knowles, Poletti are Furth Fund award recipients

Kathryn Knowles, assistant professor of chemistry, and Martina Poletti, assistant professor of neuroscience, are this year’s recipients of University Furth Fund awards. 

The Furth Fund, established through the generosity of Valerie and Frank Furth, provides early career scientists with $10,000 in research funds. The funds are used to promote the research activities of the faculty member, which may include the purchase of new equipment or support for graduate students or postdocs. 

Research in the Knowles group focuses on studying the fundamental optical, electronic, and chemical properties of transition metal oxide nanocrystals and thin films. The inexpensive and nontoxic composition of these materials, their ability to absorb sunlight, and their stability to electrochemical degradation make them ideal candidates for applications in solar energy conversion and energy storage technologies.

“Prof. Knowles is leveraging her expertise in colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals to build a creative, interdisciplinary research program centered in materials chemistry,” says Todd Krauss, professor and chair of chemistry.  Knowles “is a superb junior faculty member who is on track to become a prominent researcher in materials chemistry, and who has already made a significant positive impact on our department.”  Learn more about the Knowles Lab here.

Poletti studies the “finely orchestrated interplay between sensory processing, the control of motor behavior, and the allocation of attentional resources” in enabling visual perception, with a particular interest in fine spatial vision processes in the foveola.  This is a small high-acuity region of the retina that humans use to inspect objects of interest.  Foveal vision is fundamental for normal functioning,  yet surprisingly little is known about its mechanisms.

Poletti “strongly exemplifies the highest professional qualities of a junior, tenure track faculty member: productive, innovative researcher with an early and strong publication track record in highly competitive and visible journals; and, highly-competitive grant funding,” says John Foxe, director of the Ernest J. Del Montie Institute for Neuroscience and chair of neuroscience.  “Her background and research on human visual perception, attention, and oculomotor control enrich the Department of Neuroscience and complement well the research programs of fellow faculty members.”

Scholars call for more research into gun violence

Kathryn Mariner, an assistant professor of anthropology, started planning The Social Life of Guns: Research Symposium more than a year ago, well before the Parkland school shooting and the March for Our Lives demonstrations around the country on March 24.

“The symposium was timely because of those events, but it also would have been timely right after the Fort Hood Shooting in 2009 and any number of gun-related tragedies that have occurred over the years,” says Mariner.

Early in 2017, planning for the symposium started around the question of whether University security officers, employed by the Department of Public Safety, should carry firearms. “Little research has been done on the issue, and a few of the faculty here thought steps should be taken to collect the data that would help people make informed decisions,” says Mariner. “But topics were soon added to the agenda, which quickly broadened the mission of the symposium. As it turns out, there’s a dearth of research data on gun violence, in general.

More than a dozen speakers—from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and other major institutions around the country—addressed the two-day symposium, held at Rush Rhees Library. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, hopes the gathering leads to more work done in the area of firearms and mental illness. In his presentation, Swanson called the idea that the mentally ill are dangerous “a barnacle” that’s encrusted in the public mind, despite a lack of evidence supporting that belief.

“More than 40 million Americans would meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder, but the overwhelming majority of them are not violent toward others,” says Swanson.

Instead of taking guns away from those diagnosed with a mental disorder, Swanson supports an evidence-based policy that allows authorities to temporarily remove firearms when there’s good information that a person poses a risk to him or herself or to others. Swanson’s research shows the approach is working in at least one state, Connecticut, but he’d like to see research done to evaluate the success of temporary removal policies in other jurisdictions.

Caroline Light, a senior lecturer in Harvard’s women, gender, and sexuality program, addressed the symposium about what she calls the myth of the “good woman with a gun.” Light says the concept has roots in 18th-century captivity novels, which featured white, Christian women held against their will by indigenous men depicted as savages. Portrayed as unshakable in their beliefs, the women, according to Light, served as stand-ins for white, Christian America.

The NRA characterizes white masculinity as the necessary protector of the white family,” she says. “We need to be better at calling out such gender and racialized images of aggression.”

Ziming Xuan, an associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University, addressed the implications of easy firearm access for youth suicides. He noted that about 40 percent of suicides among young Americans involve guns.

“If youth have access to guns, the risk of fatalities increases substantially,” he says. “That’s why it’s important to restrict gun access at a young age.”

Xuan joined the call for more research, saying there isn’t very much data to support many of the actions being taken, including those involving risk profiles and restraining policies.

Mariner notes that research on gun violence is already being carried out at higher education institutions around the country.  Her hope now is that, as a result of symposia like The Social Life of Guns, studies will be more collaborative and interdisciplinary—and that there will be more of them.

Distinguished Visiting Humanist to lecture here April 20

W. J. T. Mitchell, this year’s Distinguished Visiting Humanist, will be on campus April 19-22 to lecture and participate in reading groups and a panel discussion.

Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, studies the interplay of vision and language in art, literature, and media. He investigates broad theories of representation and often tackles specific issues in cultural politics and political culture.

His schedule:

  • Reading Group: “Space, Place, Landscape,” led by Stewart Weaver and Tatyana Bakhmetyeva. 2-4 p.m., April 19, Humanities Center Conference Room D. To participate, contact Martin Collier at
  • Crazy Talk: Madness and Montage in Film, Screening and Panel with Rachel Haidu, Jeffrey Tucker, Members of the OnFilm Group, and Mitchell, 5:30-7:30 p.m., April 19, 1400 Wegmans Hall. Free and open to the public.
  • Panel Discussion: The state of the Humanities and Critical Inquiry led by Morris Eaves, with Joan Rubin, Robert Doran, Paul Duro, and Mitchell. 10-11:30 a.m., April 20,  Humanities Center Conference Room D.
  • Lecture: “American Psychosis: Trump and the Nightmare of History,” by Mitchell, 4 p.m. April 20, Hoyt Auditorium. Free and open to the public.
  • Reading Group: “Madness,” with Medical Humanities and Bioethics. Leader: Laurence Guttmacher. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., April 21, Humanities Center lounge. To participate, contact Martin Collier at
  • Meet the Artist: Javier Téllez will discuss his recent commission for MAG, and the connections between cinema and mental health with Mitchell. 2 p.m., April 22. Memorial Art Gallery. Free with museum admission. Free for University faculty, students and staff with valid ID.

Read more here.

The Distinguished Visiting Humanist program of the Humanities Center brings eminent scholars and public intellectuals to the University for three or four days to engage in such activities as public lectures, course participation, workshops/demonstrations, and individual and group discussions.

PhD dissertation defenses

Alon Bergman, Economics, “Essays on Public Economics.” 9 a.m., April 16, 2018. Harkness 113. Advisors: Gregorio Caetano and Ronni Pavan.

Congcong Wang, Materials Science, “Materials Stability of Organometal Halides for Solar Cell Applications.” 10 a.m., April 18, 2018. Bausch and Lomb 372. Advisor: Yongli Gao.

Jomy Varghese, Biomedical Engineering, “Salivary Gland Radiation Protection.” 9 a.m., April 19, 2018. K207 (Medical Center 2-6408). Advisor: Danielle Benoit.

Ian Sulam, Political Science, “Precedent, Policy, and Indeterminacy: Applications of Natural Language Processing to the Study of Judicial Behavior.” 3:30 p.m. April 19, 2018. Lattimore 210. Advisor: Lynda Powell.

Matthew Johnson, Biology, “Uncovering the Role off Jabba/Lipid Droplets During Early Drosophila Development: Elucidating the Mechanism of H2Av Buffering and Beyond.” 10:30 a.m., April 20, 2018. Hutchison Hall 473. Advisor: Michael Welte.

Mark your calendar

April 16: Deadline to apply for Community-Based Participatory Research Pipeline-to-Pilot grant of up to $15,000 from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. For academic and community partners currently completing the CTSI’s Introduction to Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) program, or who have demonstrated experience in CBPR. For more details, see the RFA. Contact Indrani Singh with questions.

April 18: SBIR/STTR Symposium – Succeeding at SBIR/STTR Grants.  Hosted by NextCorp. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 260 East Main Street, Suite 6000.  Indepth session on writing successful proposals, understanding key agencies and seed funding for Phase 0 –  customer discovery & proposal development.  For details and to register go to

April 20-21: UpStat 2018: Better Living Through Statistics conference. A friendly and empowering annual gathering of statisticians, applied mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, and data scientists from upstate New York and its neighboring regions. We are interested in contributions to statistical methodology as well as to statistical practice, consulting, and education. Read more.

April 28: All In: When Theory Meets Practice in Education Reform. Symposium sponsored by the Warner School Center for Urban Education Success (CUES). 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., East High School. Free and open to the public. Read more here.

April 30: Deadline to submit pre-proposals for University Technology Development Fund awards. Submit to More information can be found at

April 30: “Zionism: Conflicting Dreams.” Public lecture by Israeli author Amos Oz, the inaugural Farash Fellow for the Advancement of Jewish Humanities and Culture. 5 p.m., Hawkins Carlson Room at Rush Rhees Library. The lecture will be followed by a reception in the Humanities Center. Presented by the Farash Foundation, the Humanities Center, and the Center for Jewish Studies. For more information, contact Jennie Gilardoni.

May 15: Respiratory Pathogens Research Center Scientific Symposium. Featured speakers, lectures by RPRC investigators, poster session. Lunch and refreshments provided. 7:45 a.m. to 6:30 pm., Saunders Research Building. Registration is free, but pre-registration is required by April 27 at

May 17: “Ever Better Teams: A CTSI Team Science Summit.” Interactive symposium featuring keynote presentation by Gaetano “Guy” Lotrecchiano, an associate professor of clinical research and leadership at The George Washington University, and breakout sessions for networking and dialogue on the future of team science at URMC. 1 to 5 p.m. Hosted by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Contact Oksana Babiy with questions.

June 2: “An ‘Un-Meeting’: Addressing the Opioid Crisis through Translational Science.” 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saunders Research Building Atrium. Hosted by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Center for Leading Innovation and Collaboration. There is no cost to attend. Register here by Wednesday, May 23.

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.