The Summer Scholars Program is an intensive hands-on research experience that allows students to collaborate with a faculty mentor in the process of discovery. Students are paid a stipend for approximately 20 hours of research per week and engage with other student researchers in professional development workshops and social gatherings. Enrolled AU students from all disciplines are encouraged to apply.
Summer Scholars Application Process & Timeline
The program has two sessions:
Application period open November 15, 2021 - January 4, 2022
Faculty proposals for Summer 2022 are now closed.
1. Read through available projects for Summer 2022 below
2. Update your CV or resume to put your best foot forward
3. Complete your application. APPLY NOW!
Implementing Reversible Concurrent Programs Dr. Clement Aubert School of Computer and Cyber Sciences
Many of today’s computers’ benefits are enabled by connecting them to networks,where they exchange data (messages, emails, requests, ...) and programs (throughupdates). But allowing distributed computation requires to handle concurrent phe-nomenon: how to make sure that no error arise when multiple clients try to bookthe same ticket, or when conflicting updates are pushed at the same time? By math-ematically abstracting concurrent behaviors, Computer Science made considerableprogress in preventing conflicts or inconsistencies that could arise in such situations.But new techniques and paradigms of computation emerge constantly and require torevisit established results continuously. Reversibility is one of those new paradigms:the possibility of undoing any action performed by a computer makes the promiseof more secure and energy-efficient computers where bugs become easier to find andaddress. The field of reversible computing – that includes quantum computing – willshape an exciting future, and as such is the target of consequent effort andamongNSF’s 2026 Idea Machine.However, no definitive mathematical model of reversibleandconcurrent computationexists, and the existing attempts have not been implemented in computers: we offerto design a novel model surpassing the shortcomings of the first models, and to imple-ment it so that it can become an experimental tools for researcher in our community.
Does NF-κB Deletion in Macrophages Alter CXCL10/CXCR3 Signaling in Cancer? Dr. Jennifer Bradford, Department of Biological Sciences
Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common adult brain cancer, with patients often surviving less than 2 years following diagnosis. Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), unlike other types of breast cancer, lacks hormone signaling, making it more difficult to treat, and is often diagnosed in younger and minority women. Both GBM and TNBC are very aggressive cancers and are characterized by large numbers of aberrantly activated immune cells called macrophages that help make up the surrounding tumor stroma. More specifically, GBM tumors can have a large number of recruited microglia, a special type of macrophage located in the central nervous system. In both cancer types, a large proportion of the tumor can consist of these stromal (tumor associated) macrophages, which correlates with poor patient prognosis.
While studies agree that immune cells called macrophages play critical roles in tumor growth, more information is needed about the precise roles they play in deadly brain cancer and triple negative breast cancer growth and ability to spread beyond the primary tumor site. Our recent data point to the interaction between two major signaling pathways (the NF-κB and CXCL10/CXCR3 signaling axis) that could influence cancer growth, and importantly, its ability to spread to distal sites (metastasis). During the CURS Summer Scholars Summer Program, undergraduates will obtain macrophages that lack NF-κB from our currently used mouse models to see how deletion of NF-κB influences the CXCL10/CXCR3 signaling axis. These isolated macrophages will also be grown with cancer cells to see how their influence potentially changes. Importantly, we will test the influence of knocking these pathways out to see if distal cancer spread (metastasis) is reduced.
Perspectives of Participating in CrossFit from BIPOC and Marginalized Identities Dr. Hannah Bennett, Department of Kinesiology
CrossFit has become a phenomenon of exercise modality in the past decade. It has also been a controversial mode of exercise since it gained popularity in the early 2000s and has seen itself in the light of critics on more than one occasion. The CrossFit philosophy is comprised of what researchers consider embracing individuality, “buying into” the CrossFit culture, and a singular commonality. This project will focus on the last of the three: the singular commonality. Researchers have deemed this term to reflect a willingness to adopt the CrossFit lifestyle in order to improve themselves (Belger, 2012; Dawson, 2017; Herz, 2014; Murphy 2012). One could argue that within this community, by being surrounded by like-minded individuals, a sense of inclusion, belonging, and connectedness to CrossFit is established. However, over recent years, CrossFit has found itself in the spotlight for instances that call into question the inclusive nature it preaches.
This project is meant to explore the sense of belonging BIPOC and marginalized identities have within their CrossFit space. This project extends a previous study that examined a sense of belonging through quantitative measures (Sense of Belonging Instrument, Hagerty & Patusky, 1995). This study explores the emotions behind the numbers, giving life to the narratives of those who remain committed to CrossFit. Furthermore, this project will become a significant hub of data that will allow for further exploration of the acceptance of these gym members within the CrossFit community and how the CrossFit community can expand its support for marginalized communities.
Do Compression Garments Influence Running Efficiency? Dr. Andrew Craig-Jones, Department of Kiniesiology
Compression clothing is a very large staple of the athletic landscape at this moment. Specifically at running events, there has been a large increase in recent years of compression garments being worn during races. The industry as a whole has surpassed $6 billion worldwide and is as popular now as it has ever been. With all this in mind, there is surprising little research as to the effectiveness or benefit to performance that compression may offer. Without adequate data to reinforce reason for these kind of sales, the popularity of these items still remains a mystery.
One potential hypothesis for why runners gravitate towards using compression clothing is that after a race they "feel better" and have experienced better personal race times. While looking at the biomechanics behind compression clothing, it is apparent that the compressive nature restricts soft tissue movement during activity. One popular paradigm proposed by B. M. Nigg & J. M. Wakeling is that with a reduction is soft tissue movement during gait there is also a reduction in muscle activity. The basis for this paradigm is that if less stress is place on the body as our feet hit the floor, then our muscles do not need to activate as early or as strongly to attenuate these forces. If our muscles are working less, then in theory, our body will need less oxygen to perform that activity and our final outcome may be increased because of it.
In brief, twenty recreational runners over the age of 18 will be recruited for this study. Each subject will show up to the lab for a total of two sessions on different days. Each day the subjects will run for 40 minutes on a treadmill will either wearing compression pants (experimental condition) or loose fitting shorts (control condition). The order of these conditions will be counterbalanced. Subjects will run at a self-selected speed they deem comfortable for a long distance run and running speed will be kept constant between conditions. During running, oxygen consumption, soft-tissue vibration, and ground reaction forces will be collected as dependent variables. All dependent variables will be analyzed in SPSS with a paired-t test, alpha=0.05.
The Psychological and Physiological Outcomes of Virtual Reality Exercise. Dr. Daniel Green, Department of Kinesiology
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, over 30% of adults failed to participate in any leisure-time physical activity, with over 60% not receiving enough physical activity to acquire health benefits. Not surprising, during the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of sedentary adults has increased significantly. Given the countless health benefits of regular physical activity (i.e., decreased stress, anxiety, & depression) and countless health risks of a sedentary lifestyle (i.e., increased risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, & high blood pressure), it follows that efforts should focus on increasing physical activity participation worldwide.
Before exercise can be recommended, it is important to understand the barriers to physical activity. Throughout the past 20 years, the two most common barriers to physical activity participation are 1). lack of time and 2). lack of enjoyment. Significant efforts have been made to address the barrier of time, but few efforts have addressed enjoyment. High-intensity interval exercise (HIIE) has gained popularity in recent years, as individuals are able to achieve a full body workout in significantly less time. However, the overall enjoyment of HIIE is mixed; with some individuals reporting moderate to high enjoyment while others report very low enjoyment. Additionally, many HIIE programs require individuals to regularly attend exercise classes, personal training sessions, or go to a gym (all requiring travel time).
Additionally, given the COVID-19 outbreak, many individuals are hesitant to go to a gym setting. This has lead to an increase in the number of home exercise programs released. While many of these programs are well known (i.e., Peleton & Bowflex), there is a new category of exercise programs that may be the answer to our second largest barrier (i.e., enjoyment). Advances in technology have delivered some of the first virtual reality experiences that appear real. The main purpose of the present project is to design and implement an acute virtual reality exercise bout, aimed at maximizing physiological, psychological, and enjoyment outcomes. This study will utilize the Oculus Quest virtual reality system and have participants complete exercise bouts on the program Supernatural.
Improving Teachers’ Understanding of Decimal Numbers through Textbook Analysis Dr. Jia He, Department of Mathematics
Decimals are difficult topics to learn but are crucial for students to be engaged in daily life activities and many other areas such as economics and statistics. Students’ understanding of decimals and their operations may affect students’ performance in later grades and their capacity to succeed in their future careers. However, numerous research has reported students struggling in learning decimals, even including the top-performing countries on international comparisons of mathematical achievement.
Decimal operations, especially decimal division and multiplication, create new difficulties for students’ learning. Even though decimal operations closely resemble whole number operations, the placement of the decimal point causes new problems for students’ learning because different types of operations require different ways to place the decimal point.
Research has found a strong positive relationship between teachers’ knowledge of the decimal operation and their knowledge of effectively teaching these topics to students. However, studies have reported that US teachers’ (both practicing and preservice) understanding of decimals is no better than their students; most teachers were unable to justify the steps of the standard algorithms for multiplication and division of decimals. To help children learn decimal operations, teachers should master these topics first.
International and comparative studies have reported that US mathematics teacher preparation programs do not produce teachers with an internationally competitive level of mathematics knowledge. This project aims to improve US mathematics teachers’ quality by improving preservice teachers’ (undergraduate researchers who are enrolled in the Teacher Education program at AU) understanding of an important mathematical topic – decimals, through analysis of textbooks. Preservice teachers will analyze the strategies used by different textbooks (4 to 5 textbooks) to present decimals and their operations. Curriculum analysis has been an important area of mathematics education research. Most teachers use textbooks as a reference for content selection for their teaching. Thus, the ways in which textbooks present a mathematical topic have a significant impact on the opportunities students have to learn about this topic.
Examining Media Frames and Biases in Coverage of Transgendered Athletes Dr. Ashley Hopkins, Department of Kinesiology
For this year’s Summer Scholars Program, I am proposing a two-part study considering how transgendered athletes are spoken about in the media and the effect these frames have on members of the trans community. If accepted, researchers will perform a qualitative content analysis of media frames surrounding coverage of transgender athletes, followed by a series of in-depth interviews with transgender athletes themselves, during which we will discuss the implications of these frames and the need for unbiased representation in the media.
PART 1: Using Ad Fontes Media Inc.’s Media Bias Chart, through which analysts rate media sources by both political bias and news value/reliability, researchers will dissect at least 250 articles released over the past three years to identify key frames and common language/terminology. In an effort to gather a complete collection of frames employed across all types of media sources, we will choose from sites of varying political leanings and reliability. Coding for political leaning and reliability should help researchers determine whether certain outlets tend to present more objective or unbiased frames than others and whether these frames remain universal across coverage. In doing so, we hope to begin to identify ways in which sports media shapes trans narratives.
PART 2: Upon identifying common frames present in today’s media coverage, researchers will conduct a line of in-depth interviews with transgendered athletes to discuss the impact of these mass-mediated narratives on their day-to-day lives. How do the narratives present in the media differ from their own narratives? Do they feel represented and why might representation matter? What may the media do to better represent marginalized or underrepresented communities? These are just a few of the questions that we hope to address throughout the course of our interviews, which we believe will add perspective and context to the frames discussed in part one.
Researchers’ hope that this project will contribute to the expanse of knowledge surrounding media frames and the great influence they have on audience perception. We hope to show that unbiased, accurate and inclusive narratives that better represent the trans community benefit both the minority and the majority, as audiences rely on accurate, unbiased, and informed representations to be self-governing. We hope to spotlight the ways in which media outlets can rework common frames surrounding transgendered athletes to result in a more accurate and inclusive narrative.
Sex Differences in Mitochondrial Function in the Kidney Dr. Daria Ilatovskaya, Department of Physiology
When people develop chronic kidney disease (CKD), their kidneys become damaged and over time may not clean the blood as well as healthy kidneys. If kidneys do not work well, toxic waste and extra fluid accumulate in the body and may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and early death. More than 1 in 7, that is 15% of US adults or 37 million people, are estimated to have CKD. Kidney diseases are closely linked with mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Furthermore, it is established that sex plays an important role in the onset, development, and severity of renal diseases. Despite information accumulated regarding the role of mitochondria in renal disease states, little is known about the bioenergetics of renal mitochondria in normal physiology, and no studies looked at sex differences pre-disease onset. We hypothesized in our project that there are sex-related differences in renal mitochondrial bioenergetics in young, healthy subjects. To test this hypothesis, we will utilize renal tissue and live mitochondria isolated from healthy rats, and test different parameters of mitochondrial physiology. We believe that sex-related discrepancies in renal mitochondrial function prior to the onset of disease could be contributing to protection generally observed in females pre-menopause, and will have important clinical significance in the development of sex-specific treatments for kidney disease.
Predictors of Falls in Older Males and Females with Concussion Dr. Deborah Jehu, Interdisciplinaray Health Sciences
Approximately 502,908 older adults ≥65 years sustain a concussion every year in the United States, and 80.1% of these injuries are a result of a fall.1 There are sex differences in concussion prevalence, such that 64.7% of older females sustain a concussion compared to 35.3% of males.1 Older females also report more symptoms (i.e., headache, dizziness, nausea, fogginess),2 have a longer recovery,3 and require greater healthcare use than older males.4 However, the reason for these sex differences is not well understood.4 Furthermore, between 24-84% of those who sustain a concussion have non-resolving issues of poor cognition, and impaired eye, head, and trunk movement 3 months after injury,5-8 which place them at a greater risk for falls. Given that falls are a significant public health issue,9 more research must be done to improve the health and quality of life in this population. Importantly, falls can be prevented through targeted screening and treatment protocols;10 yet, no studies have examined the predictors of falls among older adults with concussion, or whether they differ by biological sex.
The purpose of this prospective cohort study is to 1) determine the falls-risk factors that predict future falls over 12 months and 2) determine whether the predictors of falls differ by biological sex among older adults with concussion.
Comprehensive Weight Control Program: Physical Activity Dr. Molly Kindred, Department of Kinesiology
In the United States, 40% of adults aged 20-39 are classified as obese (Center for Disease Control, 2020). Over the past decade, obesity levels have risen from 35.7% in 2010 to 42.4% in 2019 among adults over the age of 20 (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2018). Individuals who are classified as obese based on body mass index (BMI), are at increased risk for morbidity from hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and some cancers (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013). Furthermore, the psychosocial health of obese individuals plays a key role in their overall well-being. With the high prevalence of overweight/obese adults, it is critical to explore potential lifestyle changes (including physical activity and nutrition) to improve the health of these individuals.
The Center for Disease Control highlights physical activity as a key lifestyle change for individuals who are overweight or obese (healthy eating habits have also been identified). Supporting lifestyle changes that incorporate physical activity into their daily routine is a critical step to aid and support the cardiovascular health of overweight and obese individuals. Therefore, identifying a program which can be delivered remotely and is feasible to complete within the constraints of daily living (home and work commitments) among overweight/obese adults is warranted. This comprehensive weight loss study consists of multiple parts including pharmacology, nutrition, and physical activity. For the purpose of this proposal, this study will focus on the physical activity component. The physical activity component of this study aims to increase time spent in moderate-intensity physical activity using Fitbit technology.
This study is innovative as it delivers a comprehensive weight loss plan to participants remotely (besides meeting with the physician and gathering initial equipment). Developing interventions using smartphone technology has been recognized as a feasible next step for physical activity specifically for overweight, obese young adults (Kim, 2020). The purpose of this study is to measure change (pre/post) in time spent in moderate-intensity physical activity over a year-long intervention. We also plan to explore changes in mood, depression, quality of life, etc.
Characterization of Synthetic Signaling Receptors in Drosophila Dr. Paul Langridge, Department of Biological Sciences
The proposed work will contribute to our overall goal to develop a Drosophila based toolkit for designing man made or ‘synthetic’ intercellular signaling systems that have the potential to control cell and tissue behaviors and may one day be used in biotherapeutics. T-cell transfer, gene replacement technology, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine promise to provide customizable cells, tissues and organ substitutes. For instance, T-cells can be taken outside the body, activated by a synthetic custom-made signal, and then transferred back into the patient to more effectively fight infection or cancerous cells. Important for such goals is the ability to provide a customizable signal from outside the cell to activate genes or genetic programs within. Excitingly, a major step towards this has been achieved using synthetic ligands/receptors predicated on a native means of cell communication involving a class of intercellular signaling receptor called Notch. However, using a synthetic Notch or “Syn-Notch” system in an animal requires overcoming a common obstacle in synthetic biology – the transition from simple unicellular cell culture systems to much more complex, multicellular environments. It is this impasse that we propose to tackle through the development of a Drosophila system for the rapid development of synthetic intercellular signaling technology that is transferable to mammalian systems and likely to find future applications in regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and other areas of biotherapeutics. Our specific research goal is to identify and characterize a series of Syn-Notch receptors with distinct properties. To do this the student will participate in an in vivo genetic screen to define the characteristics of newly identified Syn-Notch receptors, thus expanding and diversifying the repertoire of Syn-Notch signaling systems.
Introduction to Community Based Participatory Research Dr. Christy Ledford, Department of Family Medicine & Ms. Ivy Tillman, Institutional Review Board
In a time of emerging science and changing answers, information boluses created information overload, a barrier to understanding, as the information environment became more and more complex. Instead, we need to focus on building trusting relationships with experts that will create the scaffolding for future information processing. Engaging community members as co-researchers throughout the research process can educate community members about the research process through active participation, while building sustaining relationships between the community and researchers. The Co-Researcher Activation NEtwork (CRANE) will directly address emerging research questions about COVID-19 vaccination and develop community-driven research focused on underserved populations in Augusta, Georgia.
PROPOSED SOLUTION. Situated within HamesNet, a practice-based research network (PBRN) headquartered at Augusta University, CRANE will build institutional and community capacity for engagement by bringing together community members, local clinical entities serving underserved communities (such as federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and AU Health System), and professional researchers. We will build community capacity for COVID-19 PCOR/CER through convening and training Community Co-Researcher Circles. This solution is designed in direct response to our formative research, which demonstrated the need to focus on building trusting relationships with experts that will create the scaffolding for future information processing.
The proposed solution focuses on engaging community members as “co‐researchers”. This term emphasizes the act of carrying out research with/by community members who are not professional researchers, instead of to/about/for them. When engaged as co‐researchers, community members play an active role and enact control throughout the course of the research, while maintaining a collaborative and interdependent relationship with the professional research team. Engaging community members as co‐researchers recognizes their unique experiences and creates reciprocal relationships between the professional research team and community members. The co-researcher role empowers community members past token participation to shared power throughout the research process. This approach can increase the quality and relevance of the research,31 create acceptable and appropriate research designs, and result in more credible and relevant outcomes.
Learning How Extracellular Matrix Functions in Face and Neck Development Dr. Ellen LeMosy, Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy
Thousands of children are born each year with disorders of the pharyngeal arches that make up skeletal, vascular, immune, and endocrine tissues of the lower face and neck. Micrognathia (small jaw), T-cell immunodeficiency, and even heart defects may result when neural crest cells fail to migrate in sufficient numbers into the pharyngeal arches. Understanding how neural crest cells interact with other cell types is critical for mitigating environmental and genetic factors that disrupt face and neck development.
We have shown that a signaling-related ECM protein, Tinagl1, is required for pharyngeal skeleton development in zebrafish. Fewer neural crest cells are present in the arches when Tinagl1 levels are reduced, suggesting Tinagl1 could act in neural crest cell migration, proliferation, or survival (Cleft Palate Craniofac J 54:381-90, 2017). My undergraduate team has helped to develop methods to knock out tinagl1 gene function, and to analyze in publicly available datasets what cell types are expressing tinagl1 and other ECM genes during pharyngeal arch development. In 2022, we will build on this work to address the following objectives:
1) Test whether cranial neural crest cells (CNCCs) proliferate and migrate normally
into pharyngeal arches when tinagl1 function is removed by CRISPR mutagenesis.
We will document CNCC numbers and movements in normal and mutant embryos, using fluorescently-marked cells and/or antibody staining 12-36 hours after fertilization. Image capture and analysis will be performed by team members in the MCG Cell Imaging Core; if COVID prevents students from doing microscopy.
2) Identify ECM proteins expressed by CNCCs and nearby cells during pharyngeal development, using single-cell RNA-seq datasets. In addition to continuing work on Tinagl1, 2022 SSP students will create “of interest” criteria for other ECM proteins, e.g., expressed in same cells as Tinagl1 or mutated in a human congenital craniofacial syndrome, and identify candidates in the datasets.
Healthcare Research Dr. Neil MacKinnon, Office of the Provost
Students will have an opportunity to work on one of several healthcare related projects involving health care policy and service delivery. The first project is a state-wide survey of community pharmacists in Georgia to investigate the resilience and workplace conditions of pharmacy workers during COVID-19. The second project is a secondary analysis of survey data from an international healthcare survey conducted by a leading philanthropy. The third project is an international rural health survey to help address quality, equity, and affordability in rural healthcare settings in collaboration with the CONVERGE Symposium.
Role of Adhesive Forces in Collective Cell Migration During Tumor Invasion Dr. Abdul Malmi Kakkada, Department of Chemistry and Physics
Physics of living systems is a subfield of physics seeking to understand biological cell behaviors from a physical science perspective. Forces experienced by cells from neighboring cells and the mechanical environment of cells determine behaviors such as growth, division, and movement. This project will focus on collective cell behaviors that arise when two or more cells maintain physical contact and act together. When a group of cells maintain physical contact and move together, they undergo collective cell migration. Even though the biochemical factors (genetics, proteins etc) that support collective cell migration are comparatively well studied, how physical forces contribute to collective cell migration is not well known. Collective cell migration occurs during important physiological processes such as tumor invasion, cancer metastasis, organ formation during embryo development, and wound healing. Hence, a physics-based understanding of collective cell migration could pave the way towards the development of novel ways of treating diseases such as cancer and birth defects.
The current project will use physics-based computational models to examine important mechanical cues that impact collective cell migration – adhesive forces experienced by a cell due to neighboring cells and the traction forces that cells exert on the substrate (the surface on which cells are located e.g: glass, gel, or the extracellular matrix etc). Based on the laws of physics, we know that cell-to-cell and cell-substrate contact-based physical forces will determine cell movement. Experimental data from multiple cancer types, e.g: breast and lung cancers, indicate that collectively migrating tumor cells show higher invasive capacity and resistance to treatments as compared to single cell migration. Collective cell migration is also crucial during organ formation in developing embryos with faulty collective cell migration resulting in lethal birth defects. It is becoming increasingly clear that similar to intrinsic and extrinsic biochemical factors, forces experienced by cells have broad effects on cell function.
Contribution of Calcium Signaling in the Kidney to the Maintenance of Water Balance Dr. Mykola Mamenko, Department of Physiology
Maintenance of water balance is paramount for our survival and well-being. Vasopressin, also called antidiuretic hormone (ADH) plays a central role in regulation of fluid balance. Upon dehydration, ADH facilitates water reuptake from in the kidneys: urine becomes more concentrated and free water is recycled back in the circulation. Reduced responsiveness of the kidney to ADH leads to excretion of large amounts of dilute urine (up to 14 liters per day). This disorder is known as nephrogenic diabetes insipidus (NDI).
NDI is most common in its acquired (not present at birth) forms and lithium toxicity is a recognized cause of acquired NDI. Lithium has been widely used in modern psychiatric practice to treat bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, and can be effectively deployed to combat depression, alcoholism and cluster headaches. Potential beneficial effects of lithium therapy during chronic neurodegenerative disorders and acute brain injury provide even stronger rationale to use the drug in clinic. However, up to 40% of lithium-treated patients develop NDI. This translates into at least 300,000 patients suffering from lithium-induced NDI only in the United States. With the wide-spread adoption of electric vehicles our exposure to lithium is expected to grow exponentially in the years to come. Exact molecular determinants accounting for lithium toxicity in renal cells remain obscure. It is therefore critical to address this gap in knowledge and delineate the mechanisms of lithium toxicity in renal cells.
We and others have previously demonstrated that ADH relies on prolonged intracellular Ca2+ mobilization to exert its action in renal cells. We have recently found that ADH-induced intracellular Ca2+ signal is markedly reduced in lithium-treated mice that develop NDI. We hypothesize that alterations in Ca2+ signaling or downstream pathways in renal cells critically contributes to the development of the NDI pathology. This project will assess how manipulations with intracellular calcium levels in renal cells affect ADH-regulated water transport in a healthy kidney and during the development of NDI. We will use renal cell cultures and rodents to test our hypothesis at the cellular and systemic levels. The obtained data could reveal previously unrecognized targets to effectively combat the development of NDI and/or lithium toxicity in the kidney.
Examination of Variables Impacting Opioid Effects in Mice Dr. Laurence Miller, Department of Psychological Sciences
For decades, preclinical laboratory research on pain including researchaimed at the development of new analgesic drugs, relied on proceduresthat focus on pain-related stimulation of behavior. In these procedures, aresearch subject such as a rat or mouse is treated with a noxious stimulussuch as an injection of dilute lactic acid and assessment of the presenceor absence of pain is based on behavioral changes. In this example, thelactic acid elicits a stretching response that occurs at a low rate underbaseline (i.e. “normal”) conditions. For instance, in animals that have notbeen treated with lactic acid, the stretching response is often totally ab-sent during a 30 minute observation period. On the other hand, micetreated with lactic acid display a significant number of stretches (i.e. over40; see Alexander et al. 2019). Pain-related depression of behavioroccurs when a pain state decreases one or more behaviors from baselinelevels. Most people have experienced this consequence of pain to somedegree. For instance, an ankle sprain might reduce the frequency of run-ning by someone that runs for fitness (i.e. the pain depresses the behav-ior of running). Although ankle sprains are generally relatively transientin duration, and don’t require a physician’s treatment, longer term andhigher magnitude pain conditions also produce pain-related depressionof behavior. Thus, pain-related depression of behavior is both a diagnos-tic criteria and treatment target in pain medicine. Over the past decade or so, preclinical researchers have increasingly be-gun to incorporate assays of pain-related depression of behavior intotheir research programs. Because this approach to studying pain is rela-tively new, more studies of established analgesics in these proceduresare needed to fully understand their potential use to bridge gaps in un-derstanding of pain neurobiology, and in the development of novel anal-gesics.
Mathematical Modeling of Post-exposure Prophylaxis AgainstSARS-COV-2 Dr. Eric Numfor, Department of Mathematics
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, and COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). This virus emerged in December 2019 and is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 298,915,721 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 5,469,303 mortalities globally as of January 9, 2022. SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted through person-to-person contact, airborne route, and environmental contamination. Person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the main route of transmission of the virus Symptoms of COVID-19 that are commonly reported include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, diarrhea, congestion, or runny nose.
Vaccination remains a highly effective way to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three major COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen, against SARS-CoV-2. Despite the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, a number of individuals who have been exposed to an individual infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who are at high risk of exposure to an individual infected with SARS-CoV-2 because of the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in other individuals in the same institutional setting (such as nursing homes, prisons or healthcare) are either not fully vaccinated or are fully vaccinated but have immune systems that cannot produce enough antibodies to fight against the virus, due to immunocompromising conditions or as a result of immunosuppressive medications. When infected, some of these individuals are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19. For such individuals, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is an important approach in reducing the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. PEP is a well-established strategy for the prevention of infectious diseases in which recently exposed individuals take a short course of medication in an attempt to reduce the risk of becoming infected.
The objective of this proposal is to formulate and analyze a novel mathematical model for Post-exposure prophylaxis against COVID-19 in nursing homes, prisons, and healthcare settings, and to investigate the impact of a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID- 19, and as post-exposure prophylaxis against COVID-19 in adults and pediatric adults. We will characterize key transmission-related epidemiological parameters among exposed contacts, and will obtain data on the cumulative and daily cases of COVID-19 and will obtain parameters by fitting the data to our mathematical model.
Modeling the spread of multi-strains infectious diseases: Case study Covid-19 Dr. Olusegun Michael Otunuga, Department of Mathematics
The COVID-19 virus is now classified as one of the deadliest pandemics in the world, causing more than 276 million confirmed cases and 5 million deaths around the world as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus evolves as changes in its genetic code occur during replication of the genome. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and the US government SARS-COV-2 Interagency Group have confirmed the emergence of at least twelve new variants of the virus. Their respective lineages are classified as variant being monitored (VBM) and designated as Variant of Concerned (VOC) in the United States and may lead to more severe cases of the virus. For these reasons, the need to understand how the variants of the virus are transmitted is of utmost importance.
In this work, we present a mathematical model describing the transmission of the COVID-19 disease with multiple strains and explore the effects of vaccination and treatments on such disease. The effects of external fluctuations caused by factors like the rates at which testing of such disease is done, vaccination rates, variability in the number of contacts between infected and susceptible individuals, mask use per capital, social behavior, public health intervention, and so on, are also investigated. The probability distribution of the number of infections at a given point in time is also obtained. To further understand the spread of the disease, taking into consideration vital dynamics, we study a powerful quantitative concept that can be used to characterize its contagiousness and transmissibility. The reproduction number, defined as the expected number of secondary cases produced by a typical infectious individual in a completely susceptible population is calculated and a disease eradication threshold derived from the number. A disease can be eliminated from a population if enough individuals are immune due to either vaccination or recovery from prior exposure to disease. The herd immunity threshold, which is the minimum proportion of the population that must be vaccinated in order to stop the spreading of the disease in the population is calculated and analyzed for each variant. The analysis is demonstrated using the daily United States COVID-19 infection, recovered, and death cases collected from the World Health Organization and The United States Centers for Disease Control and Preventions.
Examining Transportation and Social Exclusion Among Individuals Experiencing Homelessness Dr. Erin Roark, Department of Social Sciences
Transportation disadvantage, or difficulty accessing and maintaining adequate and reliable transportation, impacts a significant number of individuals worldwide (Currie et al., 2009; 2010). Persons living below the poverty line and racial and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to transportation disadvantage (Henry et al., 2016; Shay et al., 2016). Research indicates that transportation disadvantage can negatively impact access to employment, educational opportunities, healthcare, housing, and social services (Nostikasari, 2015). Among individuals experiencing homelessness, transportation is an often-cited barrier to health management, permanent supportive housing, social services, and access to social activities and civic engagement (Hui & Habib, 2017). Despite this knowledge, individuals experiencing homelessness are often overlooked in the extant transportation literature (Bassett et al., 2013). Within the homelessness literature, research tends to focus on the pathways into homelessness and housing options, largely ignoring transportation as a critical factor in both of those arenas (Bassett et al., 2013).
For this study, the faculty mentor conducted interviews with 31 individuals with lived experiences of homelessness. The original focus of the study was to understand the role of transportation, or lack thereof, and its role in individual trajectories into homelessness. With more than fifty hours of transcribed interviews, participants revealed narratives specific to social inclusion and exclusion due to transportation disadvantage. The SSP project will be a secondary data analysis of the faculty's data, focusing on this new line of inquiry. Qualitative analysis and writing of results will reduce in a submission of a collaborative manuscript and abstract for conference review. Students will have the opportunity to serve as co-authors and collaborators as well as mentees throughout the SSP duration and hopefully beyond.
Molecular Events during Advancing Age and Alzheimer’s in Mice Dr. Dan Rudic, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology
Our research interest is in diseases of aging in the blood vessels and the brain. We have found that the molecular mechanism that controls circadian rhythms (the Bmal1 gene) can influence blood vessel disease. Many patients with Alzhheimer's do have changes in their circadian rhythm patterns in waking and sleeping and mood, sometimes for a better circadian rhythm (going to bed early and waking early) and sometimes worse (worsening mood/irritability at night time). Because the blood vessels feed the brain regions important in mood and memory (the hippocampus), we are exploring if there is a connection then between blood vessel disease, circadian rhythm, and Alzheimer's disease. We use mice for these experiments: healthy, genetically normal/unchanged (wild-type/WT) mice for controls and aged mice (2 years old), and mice genetically mutated with Alzhemer's disease genes. We have isolated samples from the WT, aged, and Alzheimers mice. We have isolated arteries that feed the brain and the hippocampus. Students will be analyzing the arteries and hippocampus by western blot for the clock protein Bmal1 and other factors that control blood vessel health (endothelial nitric oxide synthase/eNOS).
Investigating Sexually-Dimorphic Expression of Plasticity-associated Genes After Emotional Trauma Dr. Almira Vazjardanova, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Some psychiatric and trauma-associated disorders have sexually-dimorphic features, such as incidence rate and/or presentation. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one such condition where females suffer at twice the rate of men. The underlying biological substrates responsible for this sexual dimorphism are not well understood.
We have hypothesized that the heightened vulnerability of women to PTSD may stem from differences in processing trauma and creating long-lasting memories of the traumatic event. We will test this hypothesis by examining expression of plasticity-associated immediate-early genes (i.e. Arc and Homer 1a) in male and female rats after they experience emotional trauma (contextual fear conditioning) which we have shown leads to a PTSD-like phenotype. Our previous work, which is part of a larger body of investigations, has demonstrated that Arc and Homer 1a are expressed in brain regions necessary for memory (hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex) as a result of learning and are necessary for lasting memory. We expect that female, compared to male, rats will have more hippocampal neurons expressing Arc and Homer 1a while at the same time fewer Arc/Homer 1a+ neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (which suppresses overactivation of brain regions responsible for the expression of fear- amygdala and periaqueductal grey). Such finding will begin to reveal neurological substrates and cellular processes that are associated with increased vulnerability to pathological conditions, such as PTSD.
Pilot Phase II of Psychological Wellbeing, Social Wellbeing, and Racism Dr. Melanie Wilcox, Department of Psychological Sciences
The effects of racism on people and communities of color are well-documented, with the American Psychological Association (APA, 2020) recently naming racism a pandemic and the American Medical Association (2020) citing racism as a public health crisis. Both organizations emphasized the necessity of systemic and structural change, with the APA subsequently releasing a series of resolutions in 2021 outlining psychology’s role in dismantling racism and White supremacy (APA 2021a, 2021b, 2021c). White individuals, communities, and systems serve as the gatekeepers of such change, and it is predominantly White individuals who perpetrate implicit and explicit racism (see Delgado & Stefancic, 2017; DiAngelo, 2018; Liu, 2017; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). As such, lack of support for antiracism initiatives among White people is a substantial barrier to antiracism work. Notably, attitudes and behaviors that result both in and from racism cause relational and structural harm to White individuals and communities as well, what Malat and colleagues (2018) call the “paradox of Whites’ poor health” (p. 148) on numerous indicators (such as suicide and “deaths of despair”) despite their structural advantages. To date, and understandably, research on racism has focused overwhelmingly on its impacts on people of color. We argue that better understanding the relationship between Whiteness, mental health, and racism for White people serves two critical purposes: The development of pathways to improving health outcomes for White individuals and communities, and the prevention and amelioration of racism for people of color by addressing its individual-level source. This is Phase II of an ongoing pilot study (Phase II soon to be submitted for IRB review), which is an online survey study of White individuals designed to preliminarily identify factors (e.g., atttides; social well-being; substance abuse; trauma history) based on Malat and colleagues’ (2018) theoretical model which may help elucidate the link between psychological and social wellbeing and racism for White people.
Learning-Enabled Control and Navigation of Autonomous Vehicle Systems Dr. Weiming Xiang, School of Computer and Cyber Sciences
Medical robotic systems, autonomous vehicles, and a wide range of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) have recently benefited from the rapid development of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques. In the near future, there will be intense interactions between the domains of ML/AI and dynamical control systems at various stages of modeling, sensing, and control. Devices that sense and control the physical world are expected to be the largest data generators over the next decade. Learning-enabled technologies enable us to deal with complex tasks, particularly in unstructured environments.
In this project, our goal is to synthesize a range of machine learning techniques, i.e., neural networks, reinforcement learning, and cyber-physical systems, i.e., autonomous vehicles such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) to perform complex control and navigation tasks in unstructured environments. We will develop a real-world experimental platform for learning-enabled indoor operations of Tello Drones (UAV) and iRobot (UGV), including both software development and hardware development.
Learning-enabled methods can improve the design, control, and maintenance of cyber-physical systems significantly. Our research will advance the state-of-the-art in the intersection of machine learning, cyber-physical systems, robotics, and other fields. In addition, the learning-enabled autonomous vehicle experimental platform is critical to our long-term research and education objectives. With a versatile and efficient experimental platform, we will be able to implement our theoretical research results and develop prototypes.
Computational Methods for the Classification of Lung Nodules Dr. He Yang, Department of Mathematics
In this project, we compare various computational methods for the detection and classification of the cancerous lung nodules in medical images. Such computational methods play an important role in assisting the doctors to make easy decisions with improved accuracy and efficiency. With the recent rapid development in the field of machine learning, many machine learning methods can be applied for the classification of lung nodules. We will use the publicly available dataset which consists of diagnostic and lung cancer screening CT images with the labeled lesions to test the performance of various computational methods in machine learning. We aim to identify the methods with appropriate setup of parameters that can lead to the best performance.