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Summary of research achievements on campus

HITTING THE MARK. Biomarkers that identify the presence of disease can assist in early detection and the discovery of drug targets for therapy. Computer science and engineering Assistant Professor Jean Gao is the principal investigator in a project funded by a National Science Foundation grant to identify and profile these biochemical measuring devices. She is teaming with two researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, pathology Assistant Professor Kevin Rosenblatt and obstetrics/gynecology Associate Professor John Schorge, to identify serum proteins closely associated with disease biomarkers. Protein/peptide abnormalities are expressed differently between diseased and healthy individuals, Dr. Gao explains. The project will construct a profiling analysis toolset that can provide early biomarker detection and identification for clinical proteomics (the study of the complete set of proteins produced by a species) health care.

EARTHQUAKES IN MIDDLE AMERICA? Most Americans associate U.S. earthquakes with the West Coast. But a recent study by earth and environmental sciences Professor John Holbrook sheds light on the New Madrid seismic zone, a fault that touches a string of cities from Memphis to Quebec. During three months in 1811 and 1812, the region experienced four earthquakes with magnitudes estimated at more than 7.0 on the Richter scale. Dr. Holbrook’s research, highlighted in Science magazine this past summer, found that the New Madrid fault system appears to come on and shut off over millennial scales. This implies that long histories of earthquakes lasting a thousand or so years in the seismic zone could end abruptly and remain inactive for thousands of years. “It also means, however, that other faults in the mid-continent that have been quiet for historical times have the potential to suddenly enter an active phase,” Holbrook said.

SIBLING INFLUENCE. Psychology Professor William Ickes was quoted in the July 10 Time magazine cover story about how siblings shape their ability to relate to opposite-sex strangers. The magazine contacted Dr. Ickes because of his study that paired male and female college students who had grown up with an opposite-sex sibling. He found that men with older sisters and women with older brothers had an advantage in their initial interactions with an opposite-sex stranger. “The guys who had older sisters had more involving interactions and were liked significantly more by their new female acquaintances,” he says in the article. “Women with older brothers were more likely to strike up a conversation with the male stranger and to smile at him more than he smiled at her.” Ickes is internationally recognized for his social interaction research.

THE SMOKE HASN’T CLEARED. A study by communication Assistant Professor Lara Zwarun finds that signage and other promotions featuring cigarette brand names remain prevalent in televised sports. She analyzed more than 83 hours of programming this decade. Her findings, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health, also discovered that rates of certain alcohol ads were about equal to five years ago but markedly increased from 10 years ago. Moreover, she said, the types of alcohol ads are “strategically chosen to increase the likelihood of audience exposure.”

BETTER WITH AGE. Population aging is one of the most significant demographic trends of the 21st century. As people continue to live longer, improving the biocompatibility of implantable medical devices becomes increasingly important. Bioengineering Associate Professor Liping Tang and chemistry Professor Richard Timmons have received a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop devices that cause less harm to body tissue. Their goal is to better understand the mechanisms involved in biomaterial-mediated tissue responses and how material surface properties affect the way tissue responds to implants. An additional benefit of their research will be improvements in drug delivery. Drug-extracting particles can be developed with physical and chemical properties that are favorable for increased biocompatibility, eliminating rejection and making a drug more effective for a longer period.

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