Advancing Knowledge: Research

Amy Anderson, left, professor of pharmaceutical science and Dennis Wright, professor of pharmaceutical science on Jan. 8, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Amy Anderson, left, professor of pharmaceutical science and Dennis Wright, professor of pharmaceutical science on Jan. 8, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

As the year 2014 winds down, UConn Today takes a look at some highlights of the past 12 months in a series of posts. Here, a glimpse into research discoveries by UConn faculty.

From the verdant landscape beneath power lines that crisscross New England to an excavation site in Armenia. From a ship’s grave in the waters of the southern Caribbean to the bustling shrimp habitat off the coast of North Carolina. From charter school funding to educational achievement gaps; farmers’ markets to church pews; and genomics labs to neonatal intensive care units, UConn faculty have pushed the boundaries of knowledge through their research this year.

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Farmers markets provide an abundance of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
An African American congregation at worship. (iStock/UConn Photo)
(istock photo)
Assistant professor of genetics and developmental biology Stormy Chamberlain works on stem cells at the University of Connecticut`s (UConn) Stem Cell Institute at UConn Health. (File photo)

They have studied, questioned, tested and advanced understanding of important questions about the environment, history, economics, education, bioscience, genetics, health and human behavior, and more. Among their discoveries:

Pharmaceutical science professors Dennis Wright and Amy Anderson conduct research on strategies to combat drug-resistant bacteria. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Pharmaceutical science professors Dennis Wright and Amy Anderson conduct research on strategies to combat drug-resistant bacteria. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

A pair of pharmaceutical science professors broke new ground in the war against diseases resistant to all known antibiotics – so-called “superbugs.” In UConn’s Technology Incubation Program, scientists discovered a novel approach to treating multiple sclerosis with embryonic stem cells.

This self-assembling protein nanoparticle (SAPN) relies on rigid protein structures called “coiled coils” (blue and green in the image) to create a stable framework upon which scientists can attach malaria parasite antigens. Early tests show that injecting the nanoparticles into the body as a vaccine initiates a strong immune system response that destroys a malarial parasite when it enters the body and before it has time to spread. (Image courtesy of Peter Burkhard.)

In other labs, researchers found a new way to identify protein mutations on cancer cells, a method now being used to develop personalized vaccines to treat patients with ovarian cancer. And a nanoparticle designed by a UConn professor became a key component of a potent new malaria vaccine that’s now being tested.

An infant breathes with the help of a respirator in an isolette in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (Shutterstock/UConn Photo)

At UConn Health, a two-month-old patient’s rare genetic mutation prompted researchers to sift through recordings of breathing patterns in an effort to identify early warning systems that could save other infants. Other advances pertained to more widespread health issues, including obesity and ACL, a common athletic injury.

Researchers identified how religious bias affects applicants’ hiring chances and how weight bias impacts the care that obese patients receive from their doctors.

By studying the behavior of people, one professor discovered that the online world produced achievement gaps in teen reading skills. But for a professor in digital media, a virtual world proved a successful behavioral intervention tool for risky alcohol, drug, and sexual behavior. By studying the behavior of Monk Parakeets, a faculty member discovered a way to stop the invasive birds from causing costly damage to power lines.

Students in lower income school districts have a significantly harder time analyzing and understanding information on the Internet than their peers, according to a new University of Connecticut study. (istock/UConn photo)
A screen shot from a video game developed by John Christensen, assistant professor of communication, to reduce HIV risk behavior.
A Monk Parakeet perched in a tree in West Haven, Conn. (Kevin Burgio '10 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

Products of UConn research also rolled off 3-D printers, ranging from artificial kidneys that may someday keep people alive, to replacement mouthparts that brought antique musical instruments back to life.

Sina Shahbazmohamadi ’13 Ph.D. has developed a new method for using micro-computed tomography in UConn’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering to examine antique wind instruments and then create new parts using 3-D printing technology. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
UConn researchers have developed a new method for using micro-computed tomography to examine antique wind instruments and then create new parts using 3-D printing technology. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)