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December 03, 2014

In Research

Concussions derail batting performance for MLB players

baseball players

A new analysis of Major League Baseball statistics shows that concussed players may not be fully recovered when they’re cleared to return to the batting lineup.

A Medical Center study looked at players who suffered a concussion between 2007 and 2013. Researchers found that during their first two weeks back, the concussed players’ batting performances were significantly worse than another group of players who were rusty because of being away for paternity or bereavement leave during the same period.

Lead author Erin Wasserman, an epidemiology doctoral student specializing in concussion research in the Department of Public Health Sciences, presented the data at the 142nd annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

Brain injuries are most often associated with contact sports, but they are prevalent in baseball, too. During the latest World Series, head injuries affected two San Francisco players, one of whom was not able to play due to his concussion. At the high school and college levels, baseball concussions are rising at a rate of about 14 percent a year, researchers say.

 “Although players who sustain a concussion may be symptom free and cleared by MLB protocol to return to play, the residual effects of concussion on the complex motor skills required for batting may still be a problem,” says principal investigator Jeffrey Bazarian, associate professor of emergency medicine and a national expert in sports head injuries.

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=4210.

New tools in fight against virus that attacks brain

Researchers have developed new insight into a rare but deadly brain infection, called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). The disease—which is caused by the JC virus—is most frequently found in people with suppressed immune systems and, until now, scientists have had no effective way to study it or test new treatments.

“The JC virus is an example of an infection that specifically targets glia, the brain’s support cells,” says neurologist Steve Goldman, the Dean Zutes Chair in Biology of the Aging Brain, Distinguished Professor in Neurosciences, codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine and senior author of the paper. “Because this virus only infects human glia and not brain cells in other species, it has eluded our efforts to better understand this disease. To get around this problem, we have developed a new mouse model that allows us to study human glia in live animals.”
Using the new animal model, Goldman and his team were able to track the impact of the virus infection as it unfolded in real time. The findings enabled researchers to focus on potential new ways to identify the early symptoms of the disease as well as to develop new therapies.

The virus is so common that it is estimated that 70 to 90 percent of all Americans have been exposed to it and may carry it in a dormant form. For the vast majority of these people, the virus will never become infective or trigger any disease. However, in some individuals with compromised immune systems—either because of a disease or from taking immunosuppressive drugs—the virus can become active and eventually make its way into the brain.

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=4209.

Sustainability, astrobiology combine to illuminate future of Earth’s technological civilization

Human-caused climate change, ocean acidification, and species extinctions may eventually threaten the collapse of civilization, according to some scientists, while other people argue that for political or economic reasons we should allow industrial development to continue without restrictions.

In a new paper, two astrophysicists argue that these questions may soon be resolvable scientifically, thanks to new data about the earth and about other planets in our galaxy and by combining the earth-based science of sustainability with the space-oriented field of astrobiology.

“We have no idea how long a technological civilization like our own can last,” says Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at Rochester. “Is it 200 years, 500 years, or 50,000 years?  Answering this question is at the root of all our concerns about the sustainability of human society.”

“Are we the first and only technologically intensive civilization in the entire history of the universe?” asks Frank. “If not, shouldn’t we stand to learn something from the past successes and failures of these other species?”

In their paper, which appeared in the journal Anthropocene, Frank and coauthor Woodruff Sullivan call for creation of a new research program to answer questions about humanity’s future in the broadest astronomical context. The authors explain: “The point is to see that our current situation may, in some sense, be natural or at least a natural and generic consequence of certain evolutionary pathways.”

Read more at www.rochester.edu/newscenter/sustainability-astrobiology-illuminate-future-of-life-in-the-universe-and-civilization-on-earth-77832/.

Researchers to develop detailed map of human lungs

Researchers at the Medical Center have launched a five-year effort to develop a comprehensive map that measures lung development from birth through childhood.

The project, called the Human Lung Molecular Atlas Program, or LungMAP, includes researchers from several other institutions and is supported by more than $20 million from the National Institutes of Health, $6.1 million of which was awarded to the Medical Center.

With a detailed map of human lung development, health care providers will be able to more readily identify children who may be at risk for lung problems.

Researchers will collect lung tissue through a multistate organ donor network. Researchers will analyze the samples through computerized tomography (CT) scans, reconstruct the lung samples in 3-D for analysis, and process the tissue for further analysis down to the individual cell and gene level.

Medical Center researchers will then dig deeper into the function and development of infection-fighting white blood cells in the lungs, while colleagues at collaborating universities will analyze other aspects of the tissue.

Data generated from the LungMAP will be accessible to the public at www.lungMAP.net, allowing doctors and researchers all over the world to view the findings.

Read more at www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=4197.

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