Ferraro named to editorial board for Journal of Aging Science

Richard Ferraro, Professor of Psychology, has accepted an invitation to serve on the editorial board of the Journal of Aging Science. The journal is a scholarly open access publication which publishes aging associated articles in the form of research articles, review articles, case reports, and short communications. It focuses on physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, studies related to aging specific genes and proteins, and medical applications with aging associated issues.

Ferraro named to editorial board for Journal of Aging Science

National Institutes of Health funds Catherine Brissette's Lyme disease research

Lyme disease, caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), is the cause of more than 90 percent of all arthropod-borne diseases affecting humans in the United States. Arthropods are a group of animals that includes lobsters, crabs, ticks, spiders, mites, insects, centipedes, and millipedes. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that 300,000 people each year are affected by Lyme disease. Total direct medical costs of Lyme disease and post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) in the United States are estimated at $1.3 billion per year.

"Controlled trials of long-term antibiotic treatment for post-treatment Lyme disease symptoms have failed to show benefits," said Catherine Brissette, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "If active infection is not responsible, what causes the persistent, lingering symptoms in patients treated with long-term antibiotics? Our data suggest Bb is a 'hit and run' pathogen, and the presence of live bacteria is not required to drive persistent inflammation."

Inflammation is the human body’s immunological defense against invasion by foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. It is marked by redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function of a body part. The National Institutes of Health has awarded Brissette over $380,000 to pursue a unique approach to fend off the effects of Lyme disease. Her work will look at how exposure to Bb leads the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in cells to code for chronic inflammation, which is a hallmark of numerous neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases.

DNA contains the instructions used by cells to produce proteins, the building blocks of the human body that compose muscle, bone, skin, hair, and every other body part or tissue. The DNA code is communicated to the protein-building mechanisms in cells by RNA (ribonucleic acid). Brissette and her research team will look at a special type of RNA called microRNA that, instead of communicating DNA code to build proteins, act to silence the process. Previous work by Brissette has shown that certain microRNA increase in cells after exposure to Bb.

"This will be the first study to compare global changes in the microRNA landscape following exposure to Bb," Brissette said. "In addition to understanding how these microRNAs drive inflammation and disease, our study may uncover novel microRNA biomarkers. MicroRNAs induced in certain disease states can be detected in blood and can have diagnostic and prognostic utility." The NIH’s grant to Brissette came through the UND SMHS’s Epigenetics COBRE, (pronounced "KOH-bree"), an acronym for the NIH’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program.

The study of how environmental factors—everything from blood glucose levels to stress—may affect DNA is known as epigenetics (a combination of the prefix epi, derived from Greek for "above," and the word genetics). Scientists who study epigenetics look at how genes are expressed (how genes are turned on or off) without affecting the DNA sequence directly. "I am grateful to the UND Epigenetics group, particularly my co-investigator Archana Dhasarathy, PhD, and the COBRE Principal Investigator Roxanne Vaughan, PhD," said Brissette. "Through my interactions with this dynamic group, I was able to take my research in Lyme disease into a new and exciting area by blending neuroscience, infectious disease and epigenetics. Having strengths in all three of these research areas at UND really allows individual investigators to think outside the box and apply knowledge from other disciplines to their own."

Other researchers working with Brissette in her study are Timothy Casselli, PhD, a UND postdoctoral researcher, and Derick Thompson, a UND graduate student. "We hope these studies lead to a broader understanding of how patients remain symptomatic even after antibiotic treatment," she said. "Once we understand the mechanisms, we can then develop strategies to treat patients suffering from long-term complications. Our studies should also uncover novel biomarkers that we can use to diagnose patients as well as predict disease course and severity. Having this information will allow for faster diagnosis and earlier intervention."

Doctoral examination is July 18 for Robert Gaultney, Microbiology and Immunology

The doctoral examination for Robert Gaultney, a candidate for the Ph.D. degree with a major in Microbiology and Immunology, is set for 10 a.m. July 18 in room 1370, School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The dissertation title is: Characterization of Two Surface Proteins From the Lyme Spirochete and Their Roles During Mammalian Infection. Catherine Brissette (Microbiology and Immunology) is the committee chair. The public is invited to attend. Wayne Swisher, Dean, School of Graduate Studies.

Please Note: Guests for this event may use the pay-as-you-go option in the Parking Ramp (corner of 2nd Ave N and Columbia Road), or a Parking Meter.  Parking in any other parking lot on campus requires a parking pass which can be purchased online or directly through UND Parking Services, Twamley Hall, Room 204, (M, W-F 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM and Tues. 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM).

Atrayee Bhattacharya wins Denison Award

Atrayee Bhattacharya, a second-year graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, won a Denison Award for best graduate student talk at the 108th Annual Meeting of the North Dakota Academy of Science at North Dakota State University in Fargo. Bhattacharya shared first place with co-winner Nilushni Sivapragasam from North Dakota State University. The title of Bhattacharya’s talk was "The Role of CCCTC Binding Factor (CTCF) in Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition (EMT)." Bhattacharya (shown at right) works in the laboratory of Assistant Professor Archana Dhasarathy, PhD.

Dhasarathy’s lab works on a process called epithelial to mesenchymal transition or EMT. This simply reflects a change in how cells look. They change their shape from an epithelial state, which means they are well-attached and mostly stationary. During early development, and potentially during cancer metastasis, these cells change their shape to a mesenchymal form, which means they become more elongated, lose their cell-to-cell contacts, and start moving and migrating. This is really important for proper development of the embryo, but it can be disastrous in cancer, resulting in metastasis to other parts of the body.

The goal of Dhasarathy’s lab is to try and understand how this happens. They focus on a protein called SNAIL, which is often referred to as a master regulator of the EMT process. Understanding how the SNAIL gene is suddenly turned on is critical to understanding EMT and hence cancer metastasis. Atrayee Bhattacharya used bioinformatics analyses, with the help of Junguk Hur to analyze the DNA sequence of the SNAIL gene. They were able to make the prediction that a protein called CTCF, which stands for CCCTC binding factor, might be present at the SNAIL gene. Bhattacharya then performed some experiments to show that, indeed, CTCF protein was found to bind to the DNA of SNAIL, and this happened during EMT. Dhasarathy and her colleagues are now working to understand how this happens.

Building Better Brains Symposium set for April 11, 12

The Building Better Brains Symposium will be held at the UND Gorecki Alumni Center April 11 and 12. Building Better Brains is a jointly sponsored symposium by the Neuroscience and the Epigenomics Centers for Biomedical Research Excellence (CoBRE, pronounced "KOH-bree") at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The CoBRE program was established by the National Institutes of Health to support thematic, multidisciplinary centers that augment and strengthen institutional biomedical research capacity.

The purpose of the event is to bring nationally recognized experts in the biomedical sciences to UND to share their work and to highlight the outstanding research taking place in North Dakota. The symposium will focus on the exciting and relatively new field of neuroepigenetics. Epigenetic mechanisms are heritable changes to cells that are induced by external or environmental conditions and provide a mechanistic framework that helps us better understand the dynamic interactions between genes and experience.

Eric Nestler. The keynote speaker will be Eric Nestler, Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and is the president-elect of the Society for Neuroscience. The symposium will host other renowned researchers in the field of neuroepigenomics, including Detlev Boison, Peng Jin, Jungsu Kim, Susan Masino, and Avtar Roopra. "Dr. Nestler’s impact on this field is manifested by his publication record, with over 500 articles in top scientific journals, including Neuron, Nature, and Science," said Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor Roxanne A. Vaughan, Department of Biomedical Sciences, and principal investigator of the Epigenomics of Development and Disease COBRE at SMHS. "He has held a large number of long-lasting R01 and Program Project awards, and has received numerous national and international awards for his research. We are honored that he will speak at our symposium."

Nestler received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Yale, where he studied with Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard on phosphoproteins in the nervous system; he completed his residency in psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. Nestler’s laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms of drug addiction and depression, and he was one of the first researchers in the field to study how transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms are related to the long-lasting neuronal changes that occur in these diseases. A major focus of his work is on drug- and stress-induced changes in gene expression and chromatin structure within the brain’s reward circuitry.

Zooming in on Zika: Milavetz says prevention is currently best deterrent

The Zika virus is on a global roll that has health authorities concerned about its spread and its impacts. Barry Milavetz. The United Nations World Health Organization has declared Zika a global emergency. The bug discovered in 1947 in a Ugandan forest now is causing major health concerns because it appears to trigger birth defects in pregnant women, especially microcephaly. The biggest problem with this bug delivered by the same mosquito species that carry Dengue is that people infected with it rarely show symptoms, and if they do, they’re mild so it is easily spread, notes UND virus expert Barry Milavetz.

Another problem: "It’s apparently sexually transmitted," as discovered with the first U.S. case, a person in Texas who got it through sexual contact without traveling outside the country, said Milavetz, a faculty member in the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences and UND associate vice president for research development and compliance. But while the Zika virus has spread over most of Latin America and the Caribbean and now some southern U.S. states have reported infections Milavetz observes that North Dakotans have little cause for concern yet.

Tough to treat. Zika which means "overgrown" in the Uganda’s Luganda language is named after the forest where it was discovered. British and American scientists described the discovery in a journal article in 1952. Since then it’s received little attention, outmaneuvered by others in its family such as Dengue and West Nile and its more distant cousins in the hepatitis family. Viruses including Zika are problematic because they’re tough to treat. "Viruses by their nature have to take over the cell that they invade," said Milavetz, who’s been focusing much of his ongoing research on a simian virus. "So they tend to use cellular machinery for almost all of their life cycle," Milavetz said.

"When they use cellular machinery, it’s much more difficult to design a therapy or treatment a drug, an antibody, for example to interrupt that life cycle. That’s when you look through the scientific literature–there are almost no drugs to treat viral infections." A notable exception is HIV/AIDS, for which multiple treatments now exist, based on a new strategy to combat the things that cause AIDS the retroviruses. "Unfortunately a lot of viruses, don’t bring in their own genetic information, so they’re a challenge to fight," Milavetz said. "The virus I work with, for example, Simian virus 40, uses almost all cellular proteins, not proteins coded by their own DNA. When you have this cellular machinery, if you inhibit the infected cell that is try to cure the problem–you’re also inhibiting the regular, or un-infected cell in other words, the virus-fighting drug could kill you."

Good news ? So how do we fight viruses ?

"The most effective way to fight viruses is to prevent the infection," Milavetz said. There are, indeed, a couple of anti-viral vaccines there’s treatment, for example, for the human papilloma virus, or HPV. But don’t expect anything right away to counteract Zika. There is good news: in the human microbiome the environment within the body there are supposedly more bacterial cells and viruses in and on us than we have actual body cells, Milavetz notes. "So bacteria and viruses are common, infection is very common, but disease is actually very rare," Milavetz said.

He’s cautious regarding Zika, "because few of us have immunity to Zika, so potentially it could be spread rapidly. So right now, in this part of the world, health authorities urge caution for pregnant women who may wish to travel to infected parts of the world. Meanwhile federal funding agencies, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases part of the National Institutes of Health are keen to see both preventive and treatment options developed for Zika and are posting funding announcement to encourage researchers to probe for solutions to this global health challenge.

Joanne Durkin and Kathy Freeman named September U-Shine recipients

Staff Senate is pleased to announce that the September U-Shine Award recipients are Joanne Durkin and Kathy Freeman, Student Account Assistant and Lead Student Account Rep, Student Account Services. Joanne and Kathy were nominated by Matt Lukach. Kathy Freeman, Tyler Clauson, and Joanne Durkin. The U-Shine Award is presented monthly to a staff member who went out of his or her way to make UND a better place. All U-Shine Award winners receive an additional $50 on their next check and a certificate.

Here is what was said about them: "A student came in to the office and spoke with Joanne. He told her that he lost his wallet with all of his money and ID so has not been able to get an ID Card. His biggest concern is that he has not been able to access the dining centers. He arrived in ND from Pennsylvania in a U-Haul truck and checked in with the housing office and unloaded. Somewhere between returning the truck on Monday, Aug. 17, and walking to his apartment he lost his wallet. He had checked with all of the possible locations along the way and has since double checked with each but it was not been turned in. Kathy called the Dean of Students Office then had the student talk to Vicki. She referred him to the University Police Department. As they were discussing his situation he informed Kathy that he had not eaten in two days. She offered him her banana and a bag of almonds along with a protein bar while she checked with others in the office regarding whether they had encountered situations like this in the past. Joanne gave him $20 out of her own pocket for food over the weekend. Kathy told him to stop back should he need anything else! The student was very grateful for the assistance of our office."