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October 29, 2014

In Research

‘Cloaking’ Device Uses Ordinary Lenses to Hide Objects Across Range of Angles

man looking through lens which makes his eye disappear

Inspired perhaps by Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, scientists have recently developed several ways— some simple and some involving new technologies—to hide objects from view. The latest effort, developed at the University, not only overcomes some of the limitations of previous devices, but it uses inexpensive, readily available materials in a novel configuration.

“There’ve been many high tech approaches to cloaking and the basic idea behind these is to take light and have it pass around something as if it isn’t there, often using high-tech or exotic materials,” says John Howell, professor of physics. Forgoing the specialized components, Howell and graduate student Joseph Choi developed a combination of four standard lenses that keeps the object hidden as the viewer moves up to several degrees away from the optimal viewing position.

“This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum,” said Choi, a PhD student at the Institute of Optics.

While their device isn’t quite like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, Howell has some thoughts about potential applications, including using cloaking to effectively let a surgeon “look through his hands to what he is actually operating on,” he says.

Funding to Support Understanding of Schizophrenia

More than $6 million in funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is supporting new research that could fundamentally alter the way we comprehend and, perhaps ultimately, treat schizophrenia.

The research being led by Steve Goldman and Maiken Nedergaard, co-directors of the University’s Center for Translational Neyromedicine, will explore the role that support cells found in the brain, called glia, play in the disease.

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder and it is estimated that one percent of Americans suffer from this condition. The cause of the disease is not fully understood.

The new research is possible because of findings published by Goldman and Nedergaard last year that showed that glial cells play an important role in the complex signaling activity that is unique to the human brain. In these experiments the researchers showed that when human glial cells were implanted into the brains of newborn mice the human cells influenced communication within the animals’ brains, allowing the mice to learn more rapidly.

While glial cells had long been overlooked by the scientific community, there is a growing appreciation that these cells—which include astrocytes, the brain’s principal support cell, and oligodendrocytes, the source of myelin, its insulating substance—also play critical roles in processing information in the brain. Astrocytes in particular are far more abundant, larger, and diverse in the human brain compared to other species.

Goldman and Nedergaard have shown that human astrocytes play a significant role in integrating and coordinating the more complex signaling activity found in human brains and regulating our higher cognitive functions. The new NIMH grants examine the specific contributions of both astrocytes and oligodendrocytes to the development of schizophrenia.

Grant Will Support Deafness Research

The Rochester Prevention Research Center (RPRC): National Center for Deaf Health Research (NCDHR) received a $4.35 million award earlier this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue promoting good health among Deaf American Sign Language users and people with acquired hearing loss.

The RPRC at the University is the only research center in the world that works with deaf sign language users and people with acquired hearing loss to prevent disease using community-based participatory research. Historically, says RPRC director Steven Barnett, people in these groups have been excluded or overlooked, resulting in populations that are underserved, understudied, and undereducated in terms of health practices and health knowledge.

“We are grateful to have the financial support to continue our mission to eliminate health disparities with communities of deaf sign language users and people with acquired hearing loss,” says Barnett, also a professor of family medicine. The latest grant will fund an adaption and second clinical trial of the Deaf Weight Wise (DWW) program, an in-person healthy lifestyle intervention developed by deaf and hearing researchers and community members. The initial DWW clinical trial, which ended in summer 2014, studied a DWW healthy-lifestyle intervention with deaf people ages 40 to 70. The American Heart Association recognized RPRC’s work on DWW with its Award for Excellence in Research Addressing Cardiovascular Health Equity.

Over the next five years, researchers will adapt DWW for use in younger adults, ages 21 to 40, and conduct a second clinical. Based on feedback from the Rochester deaf community and national advisors, the study collaborators decided that for this second study to adapt DWW for use with the younger group by also incorporating a videophone component with one-on-one counseling.

Researchers Receive $4M for Study of Sepsis

A diverse team of immunologists, engineers, and critical care clinicians at the Medical Center has received $4 million from the National Institutes of Health to study sepsis, an over-the-top immune response to an infection that leads to organ failure and death in about one third of patients. Beyond administering antibiotics, fluids, and other supportive measures, physicians have no specific treatment to stop the syndrome, which is the most expensive condition treated in U.S. hospitals, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In sepsis, an army of immune cells storms the body, intending to kill the virus or bacteria causing the infection. But, the rush of immune cells is so strong that it breaks through the walls of blood vessels, creating leaks in vessels that supply blood to the lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines, and heart. These organs eventually fail because they don’t get the resources they need.

The Rochester team, led by Minsoo Kim, professor of microbiology and immunology at the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s David H. Smith Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology, will examine the complex chain of events that allows immune cells to penetrate vessel walls. Kim, who has studied sepsis for the past 10 years, says that understanding this process may allow scientists to control, delay, or even prevent the vascular leakage that is a major contributor to death in patients with sepsis.

Study to Explore Yoga and Cancer-Related Insomnia

Armed with a $3.1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, the Wilmot Cancer Institute is launching the first study to test whether a unique yoga therapy can treat insomnia among cancer survivors just as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, the current gold-standard treatment.

The focus of the clinical research is YOCAS©®, a type of yoga therapy developed at the Medical Center to be used for cancer-related side effects. It integrates gentle hatha yoga and restorative yoga postures with strong meditation and relaxation techniques. The flow of each session was designed to assist the body in maintaining a normal 24- hour circadian rhythm cycle and healthy sleep patterns.

Led by Karen Mustian, associate professor of surgery, cancer, and radiation oncology and a scientist in Wilmot’s Cancer Control and Survivorship program, investigators will directly compare YOCAS©® to cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). In addition, they will analyze the influence of YOCAS©® on heart, lung, and muscle function, blood biomarkers of inflammation, and circadian rhythms.

“We will also be examining whether YOCAS©® can positively influence a survivor’s level of fatigue, and potentially disrupt their depression, worry, and anxiety and promote relaxation,” Mustian says.

Rochester to Compete for Photonics Manufacturing Institute

The Department of Defense is launching the competition to award more than $100 million in federal investment, matched by $100 million or more in private investment, to a winning consortia to build a new Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI) focused on integrated photonics. This Institute will focus on developing an end-to-end photonics “ecosystem” in the U.S., including domestic foundry access, integrated design tools, automated packaging, assembly and test, and workforce development.

Members of the New York congressional delegation, led by Slaughter and state senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have been lobbying for a photonics innovation hub headquartered in the Rochester area.

As a recipient of three out of President Obama’s four signature advanced manufacturing programs, the Rochester region will help lead a national consortium to compete for this $200 million institute.

Rob Clark, senior vice president for research and dean of the Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, lent his support to the effort.

“As home to one of the oldest and largest hubs for photonics manufacturing in the country, this region is uniquely positioned to lead a winning consortium that will advance technologies important to national security and make manufacturers more globally competitive,” Clark says. “From our Institute of Optics to our Laboratory for Laser Energetics, the University is a world leader in advancing the optics and photonics industry and fueling a highly skilled workforce in these fields. With this announcement, our photonics industry is poised for innovation and growth.”

Implantable Diagnostic Technology Advances

The University of Rochester has received a second patent for an implantable biosensor that can provide physicians with real time information on their patients’ health. The technology is licensed to Fairport-based Raland Therapeutics.

The technology was created at the University of Rochester Medical Center by Spencer Rosero, M.D., a heart rhythm specialist, and consists of a “living chip” that can detect subtle biological changes in the body that could provide physicians with advance warning of health problems.

The device – which Raland Therapeutics is developing under the name CytoComm Living Biosensor System – contains live cells that are engineered to detect specific biochemicals found in the body. The cells “respond” when they come into contact with these chemicals and glow when exposed to a light source. This fluorescence is detected by the device’s photonics sensors which in turn give off a wireless signal that is picked up by an external sensor.

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