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February 20, 2013

In Brief

Twitter may predict the influence of lifestyle on health

tweet cloud over cityscape
Using tweets collected in New York City over a period of a month, re­searchers looked at factors like proximity to a pollution source, how often a person takes the subway or goes to the gym or a particular restaurant, and their online social status. Looking at 70 factors in total, researchers analyzed the influence on the users’ health.

Rochester researchers showed last year how Twitter can be used to predict how likely it is for a Twitter user to become sick. They have now used the social media site to model how other factors—social status, exposure to pollution, interper­sonal interaction, and others— influence health.

Using tweets collected in New York City over a period of a month, researchers looked at factors like proximity to a pol­lution source, how often people took the subway or went to the gym or a particular restaurant, and their online social status. They looked at 70 factors in to­tal, analyzing whether they had a positive, negative, or neutral impact on the users’ health.

Some of their results are perhaps not surprising; for example, pollution sources seem to have a negative effect on health. However, this is the first time this impact has been extracted from the online behavior of a large online population.

The technology that Adam Sadilek, postdoctoral re­searcher, and his colleague Henry Kautz, chair of the Uni­versity’s Department of Com­puter Science, have developed has led to a web application called GermTracker. The application color codes users (from red to green) accord­ing to their health by mining information from their tweets for 10 cities worldwide. Using the GPS data encoded in the tweets, the app can then place people on a map, which allows anyone using the application to see their distribution.

Read more at www.rochester.edu/news.

Cells forged from skin show promise for MS

A Medical Center study ap­pearing in the journal Cell Stem Cell shows that human brain cells created by repro­gramming skin cells have the potential to be highly effective in treating myelin disorders, a family of diseases that includes multiple sclerosis and rare childhood disorders called pediatric leukodystrophies.

The study is the first success­ful attempt to employ human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) to produce a popula­tion of cells that are critical to neural signaling in the brain. In this instance, the research­ers utilized cells crafted from human skin and transplanted them into animal models of myelin disease.

“This study strongly sup­ports the utility of hiPSCs as a feasible and effective source of cells to treat myelin disorders,” says Steven Goldman, the Ed­ward A. and Alma Vollertsen Rykenboer Chair in Neuro­physiology, professor of neurol­ogy, and lead author of the study. “In fact, it appears that cells derived from this source are at least as effective as those created using embryonic or tissue-specific stem cells.”

The discovery opens the door to potential new treat­ments for a range of neuro­logical diseases characterized by the loss of a specific cell population in the central ner­vous system called myelin. The most common myelin disorder is multiple sclerosis, a condi­tion in which the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys myelin. The loss of myelin is also the hallmark of a family of serious and often fa­tal diseases known as pediatric leukodystrophies.

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news.

Using electronic medical records to advance research

While testing a drug that could someday slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, Medi­cal Center researchers are also helping create an electronic data network to enhance New York’s growing biotechnology sector.

The Medical Center is one of several sites around the world participating in the first large-scale human trial of an experimental drug intended to help people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The medication has shown sig­nificant promise in early stage clinical studies.

Finding the right subjects to enroll in the next phases of study, however, will likely be a challenge.

“We have to define and categorize people, their condi­tions, their medicines, and their treatments in incredible detail,” says Anton Porsteins­son, the William B. and Sheila Konar Professor and professor of psychiatry, who is leading the study in Rochester.

The Medical Center is part of a statewide collaboration working to improve the subject selection process—and the integrity of research—by using electronic medical records for research purposes. The Partnership to Advance Clinical Electronic Research is sponsored by the Healthcare Association of New York State and includes pharmaceutical companies, clinical research organizations, patient advo­cates, technology firms, hospi­tals, physicians, and patients. The partnership has identified barriers and solutions to using electronic medical records for the creation of a robust data network. In addition, the initiative has built a network­ing platform for physicians to communicate with each other.

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news.


Making headlines

A sampling of some recent news stories featuring members of the University community

“Although gender differences on average are not under dispute, the idea of consistently and inflexibly gender-typed individuals is,” say Harry Reis, professor of psychology at Rochester, and Bobbi Carothers, senior data analyst for the Center for Public Health System Science at Washington University in St. Louis, in the Huffington Post. According to their study, men and women don’t have such distinct psychological characteristics as some previously thought. (Read more about the study on page 1.)


“Talking about the Beatles or Elvis or Springsteen should be no different than talking about Beethoven or Bach,” says John Covach, Mercer Brugler Distinguished Teaching Professor of music, chair of the College Department of Music, and professor of music theory at the Eastman School. He talked to the Chronicle of Higher Education about the University’s new Institute for Popular Music.


“Tech culture in some ways is a magnification and distortion of what we call the Great American Culture, the idea of the indi­vidual success story,” says Eric Caine, the John Romano Profes­sor of Psychiatry and chair of the Department of Psychiatry, in a San Francisco Chronicle article about high-profile suicides in the technology industry.


“Pre-announcements can build up hype, but if the ad isn’t seen as dynamic, innovative, or exciting, I don’t think the sneak peeks work,” George Cook, executive professor of marketing at the Simon School, said in a New York Times article about previews of Super Bowl commercials.


Using tweets collected in New York City over a period of a month, re­searchers looked at factors like proximity to a pollution source, how often a person takes the subway or goes to the gym or a particular restaurant, and their online social status. Looking at 70 factors in total, researchers analyzed the influence on the users’ health.

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