Post-stroke patients reach terra firma with Wyss Institute’s exosuit technology

July 26th, 2017in 2017, News Releases

Post-stroke patients reach terra firma with Wyss Institute’s exosuit technology

A soft wearable robotic suit promotes normal walking in stroke patients, opening new approaches to gait re-training and rehabilitation 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2017
CONTACT: Stephanie Rotondo, rotondos@bu.edu, +1 617-353-7476

By Benjamin Boettner

(BOSTON) — Upright walking on two legs is a defining trait in humans, enabling them to move very efficiently throughout their environment. This can all change in the blink of an eye when a stroke occurs. In about 80% of patients post-stroke, it is typical that one limb loses its ability to function normally — a clinical phenomenon called hemiparesis. And even patients who recover walking mobility during rehabilitation retain abnormalities in their gait that hinder them from participating in many activities, pose risks of falls, and, because they impose a more sedentary lifestyle, can lead to secondary health problems.

To help stroke patients regain their walking abilities, various robotics groups from industry and academia are developing powered wearable devices — so-called exoskeletons — that can restore gait functions or assist with rehabilitation. Historically, these systems restricted patients to a treadmill in a clinical setting, but in recent years portable systems have been developed that enable walking overground. Working towards the long-term goal of developing soft wearable robots that can be worn as clothing, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Boston University’s (BU) College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College have developed a lightweight, soft, wearable ankle-assisting exosuit that could help reinforce normal gait in people with hemiparesis after stroke.

In previous studies performed in healthy people, the team demonstrated that their exosuit technology can deliver assistive forces during walking and jogging and that they produce marked reductions in energy costs.  Now, in a new study published in Science Translational Medicine, a research team led by Conor Walsh collaborating with BU faculty members Terry Ellis, Lou Awad, and Ken Holt have demonstrated that exosuits also can be used to improve walking after stroke — a critical step in de-risking exosuit technology towards real-world clinical use.

“This foundational study shows that soft wearable robots can have significant positive impact on gait functions in patients post-stroke, and it is the result of a translational-focused multidisciplinary team of engineers, designers, biomechanists, physical therapists and most importantly patients who volunteered for this study and gave valuable feedback that guided our research,” said Wyss Core Faculty member Walsh who is also the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS and the Founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab.

Patients recovering from a stroke develop compensatory walking strategies to deal with their inability to clear the ground with their affected limb and to “push off” at the ankle during forward movement. Typically, they have to lift their hips (hip hiking) or move their foot in an outward circle forward (circumduction) rather than in a straight line during walking. Usually, rigid plastic braces worn around the ankle are prescribed to help with walking, but they do not help overcome these abnormal gait patterns and about 85% of people who suffered a stroke retain elements of their gait abnormalities.

“Current approaches to rehabilitation fall short and do not restore the mobility that is required for normal life,” said Ellis, Ph.D., P.T., N.C.S., Director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation at BU’s College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College and Assistant Professor at BU. In the new study, the team asked whether the exosuit’s beneficial impact on gait mechanics and energy expenditure during walking they observed in healthy people would also be observed in patients post-stroke who were recruited and enrolled in the study with the help of the Wyss Institute’s Clinical Research Team.

Exosuits are anchored to the affected limb of a hemiparetic stroke patient via functional apparel, and they provide gait-restoring forces to the ankle joint by transferring mechanical power via a cable-based transmission from battery-powered actuators that are integrated into a hip belt or an off-board cart located next to a treadmill. “Indeed, in treadmill experiments we found that a powered exosuit improved the walking performance of 7 post-stroke patients, helping them to clear the ground and push off at the ankle, thus generating more forward propulsion,” said Jaehyun Bae, a co-first author on the study and graduate student at SEAS. Interestingly the team also observed a reduced functional asymmetry between the paretic and non-paretic limbs of participants and found that the exosuit’s assistance enabled them to walk more efficiently.

Because walking mechanics and dynamics differ between controlled walking on a treadmill and walking overground in the home or communal environment, the team went on to assess exosuit-provided benefits in an overground walking experiment. “It was extremely encouraging to see that an untethered exosuit also had the ability to facilitate more normal walking behavior during overground walking. This is a key step toward developing exosuits as rehabilitation devices for patients to use outside of the clinic and in their normal lives,” said Lou Awad, P.T., D.P.T., Ph.D., the study’s other co-first author, who at the time of the study was a postdoctoral fellow with Walsh and since has become an Associate Faculty member at the Wyss Institute and Assistant Professor at BU’s College of Health and Rehabilitation: Sargent College.

In ongoing and future research the team is looking to further personalize exosuit assistance to specific gait abnormalities, investigate assistance at other joints such as the hip and knee, and assess longer-term therapeutic effects of their technology. In addition to this research, Wyss Institute staff member Kathleen O’Donnell leads the Wyss Institute’s efforts to translate the technology to the clinic with industrial partner ReWalk Robotics.

“In an ideal future, patients post-stroke would be wearing flexible adjusting exosuits from the get-go to prevent them from developing inefficient gait behaviors in the first place,” said Ellis.

The study was also authored by Kenneth Holt, Ph.D., P.T., Associate Professor at BU’s College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College, former and current members on Walsh’s team Stefano De Rossi, Ph.D., Lizeth Sloot, Ph.D., Pawel Kudzia, and Stephen Allen, as well as Katy Hendron, P.T., D.P.T., N.C.S., who worked in Ellis’ group at BU.

“This study provides a glimpse of a new future where much of patient care will be carried out at home with the help of human-friendly robots, which look nothing like the robots we see in television and movies.  This exosuit looks more like sports clothing than R2D2, yet it is equally programmable and carries out tasks on command; however, the exosuit is lightweight, flexible, virtually invisible to others, and individualizes itself for each patient. We hope that it will soon enter clinical use where it undoubtedly could transform the lives of stroke patients for the better,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who also is the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS.

The study was supported by a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Warrior Web Program, grants from the National Science Foundation, the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, a Rolex Award for Enterprise, a Harvard University Star Family Challenge, as well as Wyss Institute and SEAS funding.

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The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University (http://wyss.harvard.edu) uses Nature’s design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing that are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and formation of new startups. The Wyss Institute creates transformative technological breakthroughs by engaging in high risk research, and crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers, working as an alliance that includes Harvard’s Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences and Design, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston University, Tufts University, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, University of Zurich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (http://seas.harvard.edu) serves as the connector and integrator of Harvard’s teaching and research efforts in engineering, applied sciences, and technology. Through collaboration with researchers from all parts of Harvard, other universities, and corporate and foundational partners, we bring discovery and innovation directly to bear on improving human life and society.

Boston University College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College (https://www.bu.edu/sargent/ )is an institution of higher education which fosters critical and innovative thinking to best serve the health care needs of society through academics, research, and clinical practice. As reported by U.S. News and World Report, its graduate programs in Speech-Language Pathology and Physical Therapy rank in the top 6% of programs while Occupational Therapy is #1 in the nation. The College has more than 25 on-campus research facilities and clinical centers and offers degree programs in occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech, language and hearing sciences, health science, athletic training, human physiology, behavior and health, and nutrition. For more information, visit bu.edu/sargent.

Founded in 1839, Boston University (http://www.bu.edu) is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 17 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission. In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

CARB-X announces funding for global scientists racing to discover new antibiotics to treat superbugs

July 25th, 2017in News Releases

Scientists developing promising new antibiotics in India, Ireland, France, Switzerland, the US and UK are to share up to US$17.6m to speed treatments for the world’s deadliest superbugs.

A year since launching, the international partnership CARB-X today announces its second round of antibiotic research and development funding – alongside a call for greater global support.

The seven projects supported include:

  • Five potential new class antibiotics for Gram-negative bacteria
  • Potential new treatment for drug-resistant gonorrhea
  • New molecule targeting a superbug causing serious infections in cystic fibrosis patients
  • Phase 1 clinical trial of a new oral broad-spectrum antibiotic

Drug-resistant infections currently cause around 700,000 deaths worldwide annually – if antibiotic resistance continues at its current rate that could rise significantly within a generation.

Kevin Outterson, Executive Director of CARB-X and Professor of Law at Boston University said: “Drug-resistant infections are complex and developing new antibiotics challenging, timely and costly. But restoring the R&D pipeline is vital to address the seriously increasing threat of superbugs which have become resistant to existing drugs. This is a global problem and CARB-X is a critical part of the global solution. We are looking to support the best potential new treatments and diagnostics across the world. We are especially pleased that today’s awards mean we are now supporting scientists in six countries. The projects offer exciting potential. But we need greater global support from governments, industry and civil society to get the new treatments the world urgently needs.”

CARB-X – which stands for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator – is a partnership between UK charity Wellcome Trust and the US Department of Health and Human Services Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

CARB-X was launched in July 2016 to address the gap in antibiotic research and development and innovations to improve diagnosis and treatment of drug-resistant infections. The G20 has called for global antibiotic R&D efforts like CARB-X to refill the pipeline with safe and effective drugs.

Antibiotic discovery is challenging due to the complexity of bacteria which are easily able to genetically modify and become resistant to medicines, but also because of declining investment by larger companies.

The most recently approved new class of antibiotics was discovered in the early 1980s. However, CARB-X funding is focused on the most resistant, Gram-negative, bacteria, and the last new class of antibiotics approved for treatment against these was discovered in 1962.

Responsible use of existing antibiotics and equitable access, particularly in low-income countries where need is greatest, is also vital to address the global health problem. Both are a condition of CARB-X funding.

Tim Jinks, Head of Drug-Resistant Infections at Wellcome said: “Antibiotics are fundamental to modern medicine but overuse and inappropriate use have led to dangerous bacteria developing deadly resistance. Wellcome is committed to helping ensure we get the urgently needed new treatments. Drug discovery must also go hand-in-hand with concerted action to ensure antibiotics of last resort are reserved for patients where first-line treatments will not work. And we must ensure these treatments can be made available in all countries for those who need them.”

Today’s funding announcement is for one company in France, one in India, one in Switzerland, two in the US, one in the UK and one in Ireland.

Many of the CARB-X projects are at an early stage and it will still take some time before it is known whether they can become safe, effective treatments for patients. CARB-X is also supporting a Phase 1 clinical trial of a new oral and intravenous broad-spectrum antibiotic. Ensuring appropriate use of this type of antibiotic is critical – and used appropriately it can save lives.

BARDA’s Director Rick Bright, Ph.D., said: “The support announced today will help speed development of new antibacterial products to treat patients with serious, life-threatening infections to enhance domestic health security and global preparedness. We are committed to revitalizing the antibacterial pipeline through a combination of incentives; today’s announcement is another example of our commitment to promote and accelerate medical countermeasure innovation through novel public-private partnerships like CARB-X.”

“These awards build upon the scientific opportunities created by prior NIAID investments in drug development programs to assist with antibiotic development, and are consistent with our strategies for new approaches to address antibiotic resistance,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

This latest funding is part of an overall commitment of up to US$455m by the US government and Wellcome over a five year period and follows the announcement in March 2017 of the first 11 projects to receive funding – eight in the US and three in the UK.

The projects were selected from among 368 applications from around the world. CARB-X expects to make further funding announcements later this year. Product developers can visit CARB-X.org for additional information on funding opportunities.

Contact:

CARB-X: Jennifer Robinson  +1-514-914-8974 jcrobinson119@icloud.com

Notes to Editors:

 

  • CARB-X was created in response to the US government’s 2015 National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB) and the UK government’s call in 2016 for a concerted global effort to tackle antibiotic resistance. A non-profit partnership, it is headquartered at Boston University. CARB-X was launched by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID/NIH). Initial funders are BARDA and Wellcome Trust. NIAID provides preclinical services support. Other partners include the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI), and RTI International. CARB-X projects are selected through a global competitive process. Applications are vetted by the CARB-X Advisory Board, comprised of leading antibiotic experts. To be considered, projects must target one of the antibiotic resistant bacteria on the Serious or Urgent Threat List prepared by the CDC or on the Priority Pathogens list published by the WHO. BARDA funding is provided to CARB-X under Cooperative Agreement 5 IDSEP160030-02-00.
  • Further information on funded projects announced July 2017:

Achaogen Inc.: Progressing a new class of antibiotics into Phase 1 trials – LpxC inhibitors to treat Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Initial investment of up to $3.2m with potential option payments up to $8.2

Achaogen is developing a new class of antibiotics that inhibit LpxC, an essential enzyme unique to Gram-negative bacteria. Achaogen’s lead LpxC inhibitor has the potential to treat infections due to multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the drug-resistant bacteria on the World Health Organization’s top priority list, and positively impact the excess morbidity and mortality in affected patients. Funding under CARB-X will support Achaogen in advancing their lead LpxC inhibitor through initial Phase 1 clinical trials, with the potential to bring a new class of antibiotic with activity focused on Gram-negative infections to patients for the first time in decades. Achaogen (NASDAQ:AKAO) is a South San Francisco-based late-stage biopharmaceutical company passionately committed to the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative antibacterial treatments for multi-drug-resistant Gram-negative infections. For information: http://www.achaogen.com/. Media contact: Denise Powell at dpowell@achaogen.com

Antabio SAS: Developing a novel virulence-inhibitor that can boost the effect of antibiotics in the treatment of Cystic fibrosis.

Initial investment of up to $2.8m with potential option payments up to $6.1m

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition leading to long-term infections and progressive lung damage. The most frequent infection in adult patients is caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA), which grows as biofilm clusters that are resistant to immune clearance and conventional antibiotics. CARB-X funding will help support Antabio’s Pseudomonas Elastase Inhibitors (PEI) project. The PEI project seeks to develop inhibitors of the PA LasB elastase virulence factor, thereby targeting the bacterium’s ability to evade the immune system and cause disease, and when given alongside antibiotics, helping to clear PA infections. Antabio is a private biopharmaceutical company developing novel resistance-inhibitors that can be combined with antibiotics to treat drug-resistant infections caused by the most critical Gram-negative pathogens. Antabio is headquartered in Labège, France. For information: www.antabio.com. Media contact: press@antabio.com

Bugworks Research India Pvt Ltd: Developing a new class of antibiotics to inhibit bacterial DNA topoisomerases

Initial investment of up to $2.6m with potential option payments up to $3.6m

In partnership with CARB-X, Bugworks is developing a novel first in class broad-spectrum antibiotic to kill multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacteria that have been identified by the World Health Organization as critical and high priority infection threats. Our lead compound, a Gyrase-topoisomerase inhibitor, is being developed as an intravenous and oral treatment for multi-drug resistant infections, with a low risk of developing resistance because it inhibits two essential targets in the replication machinery and has been designed to by-pass efflux resistance mechanism of the bacteria. In pre-clinical testing, Bugworks’ novel broad-spectrum antibiotics have demonstrated efficacy against deadly Gram-negative superbugs. Bugworks is based in Delaware, US, and operates its R&D facilities in Bangalore, India. For information: http://bugworksresearch.com/ Media contact: Anand AnandKumar at anand@bugworksresearch.com

Debiopharm International SA: Developing a new class of antibiotics to treat drug-resistant gonorrhea

Initial investment of up to $2.6m with potential option payments up to $1.4m

Debiopharm International SA, a Swiss-headquartered global biopharmaceutical company, has developed a novel class of antibiotics which inhibit bacterial fatty acid biosynthesis, an essential pathway in major pathogens including Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the causative bacterium in the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea.  N. gonorrhoeae’s resistance to antibiotics is a major global medical problem having acquired resistance to practically all classes of antibiotics (CDC). Debiopharm, in collaboration with CARB-X, will utilize their state-of-the-art Fabiotics drug discovery platform to develop novel therapeutics to combat drug-resistant gonorrhea. For information: www.debiopharm.com. Media contact: Christelle Tur at christelle.tur@debiopharm.com.

EligoChem Ltd.: Antimicrobial peptides have the potential to be potent antibiotics to treat drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria

Initial investment of up to $1.5m with potential option payments up to $3.3m

EligoChem Limited is progressing a project, powered by CARB-X, to select and develop antimicrobial peptides as Gram-negative antibiotics. The CARB-X funded project focuses on candidate selection from of a series of helical antimicrobial peptides with potent Gram-negative antibiotic action and low frequency of resistance potential.  These peptides have significantly reduced toxicity potential compared to other known antimicrobial peptides. EligoChem is based in Discovery Park, Kent, UK, and focused on the design of amphiphilic compounds that possess good absorption and low attrition risks, particularly suited to antibiotic research. For more information:  www.eligochem.com. Media contact: Andy McElroy at andy@eligochem.com.

Iterum Therapeutics: Oral and intravenous formulations of sulopenem under investigation in Phase 1 clinical trials for the treatment of serious drug-resistant infections

Investment of up to $1.5m

Sulopenem, which is being supported by CARB-X funding, is an antibiotic under study for the treatment of infections caused by multi-drug resistant bacteria in hospital and community settings. These include the most urgent drug-resistant antimicrobial threats defined by the US Centers for Disease Control. Sulopenem is highly effective against the pathogens most commonly associated with uncomplicated urinary tract infections, complicated urinary tract infections and complicated intra-abdominal infections, including potent in-vitro activity against Enterobacteriaceae mutants of E. coli and K. pneumonia. If approved, sulopenem will be available as a tablet and an intravenous formulation. Future clinical studies will focus on urinary tract and complicated intra-abdominal infections. With careful stewardship from medical professionals and appropriate use by patients, sulopenem could be effective in the treatment of infections in patients in the community and could be useful in the early discharge of patients from hospital. Iterum Therapeutics is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. For more information: www.iterumtx.com. Media contact: Stephen Lederer at stephen.lederer@ymail.com.

VenatoRx Pharmaceuticals:  Working to discover a new class of antibiotic that beats resistance caused by beta-lactamase enzymes

Initial investment of up to $3.4m with potential option payments up to $6m

VenatoRx Pharmaceuticals is aiming to develop a new antibiotic class that circumvents the most prevalent form of antibiotic resistance.  Since the discovery of penicillin, dozens of drugs, collectively known as beta-lactams, have been introduced that kill bacteria by targeting their cell wall.  Unfortunately, bacteria have developed hundreds of beta-lactamase enzymes that prevent these drugs from working. VenatoRx has found a new drug class that kills bacteria by hitting the same cell wall target, but is impervious to beta-lactamase enzymes. VenatoRx is a private pharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel anti-infective agents. It is headquartered in Malvern, PA, USA. For more information: http://www.venatorx.com. Media contact: IR@venatorx.com 

About CARB-X

CARB-X is the world’s largest public-private partnership devoted to early stage antibacterial R&D. Funded by BARDA and Wellcome Trust, with in-kind support from NIAID, we will spend up to $455 million from 2017-2021 to support innovative products from ‘hit-to-lead’ stage through to Phase 1 clinical trials. CARB-X focuses on high priority drug-resistant bacteria, especially Gram-negatives. CARB-X is a charitable global public-private partnership led by Boston University. Other partners include the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, MassBio, the California Life Sciences Institute and RTI International. For more information, please visit www.carb-x.org and follow us on Twitter @CARB_X.

About Wellcome Trust

Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate. The Wellcome Trust is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 210183. Its sole trustee is The Wellcome Trust Limited, a company registered in England and Wales, no. 2711000 (whose registered office is at 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK)

About Boston University

A leading research university with over 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 130 countries, nearly 10,000 faculty and staff, 17 schools and colleges, and 250 fields of study.  Boston University is consistently ranked among the world’s best research universities and is a member of the American Association of Universities.  For further information, see www.bu.edu or contact Ann Comer-Woods anncomer@bu.edu

About HHS, ASPR and NIH

HHS is the principal federal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.

ASPR leads HHS’s efforts to prepare the nation to respond to and recover from adverse health effects of emergencies, supporting communities’ ability to withstand adversity, strengthening health and response systems, and enhancing national health security. Within ASPR, BARDA provides a comprehensive integrated portfolio approach to the advanced research and development, innovation, acquisition, and manufacturing of vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, diagnostic tools, and non-pharmaceutical products for public health emergency threats. These threats include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threat agents, pandemic influenza, and emerging infectious diseases.

NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. NIAID conducts and supports research — at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide — to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID website: https://www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine. The Broad Institute seeks to describe all the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods, and data openly to the entire scientific community. Founded by MIT, Harvard, Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff, and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to http://www.broadinstitute.org. In support of CARB-X, the Broad Institute created the Collaborative Hub for Early Antibiotic Discovery (CHEAD), which serves an interdisciplinary center that partners with academic investigators engaged in antibiotic development and/or resistance research to accelerate their early-stage, small molecule therapeutics toward Investigational New Drug (IND) application. For further information about CHEAD, go to https://www.broadinstitute.org/infectious-disease-and-microbiome/carb-x-collaborative-hub-early-antibiotic-discovery. 

About MassBio

MassBio is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1985 that represents and provides services and support for the world’s leading life sciences supercluster.

MassBio is committed to advancing Massachusetts’ leadership in the life sciences to grow the industry, add value to the healthcare system and improve patient lives.

Representing 1000+ biotechnology companies, academic institutions, disease foundations and other organizations involved in life sciences and healthcare, MassBio leverages its unparalleled network of innovative companies and industry thought leaders to advance policy and promote education, while providing member programs, events, industry information, and services.

About the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI)

The California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) supports the foundations of innovation that have made California home to the world’s most prominent life sciences ecosystem. With a focus on the San Francisco Bay Area, CLSI’s mission is to maintain California’s leadership in life sciences innovation through support of entrepreneurship, education and career development. CLSI is a member of the CARB-X consortium, serving as an accelerator. CLSI is an affiliate of the California Life Sciences Association (CLSA), which represents California’s leading life sciences organization. The California Life Sciences Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3), and was established in 1990 as the BayBio Institute. Learn more at http://califesciencesinstitute.org.

About RTI International

RTI International is an independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition. Clients rely on us to answer questions that demand an objective and multidisciplinary approach—one that integrates expertise across the social and laboratory sciences, engineering, and international development. We believe in the promise of science, and we are inspired every day to deliver on that promise for the good of people, communities, and businesses around the world. For more information, visit www.rti.org.

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Neurological issues may drive common voice disorders

June 7th, 2017in News Releases, Sargent College

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 7, 2017
CONTACT: 
Stephanie Rotondo, Sargent College at 617-353-7476 or rotondos@bu.edu

Neurological issues may drive common voice disorders

Abnormal voice patterns thought to be created by emotional stress may instead be due to breakdowns in speech motor control.

Hyperfunctional voice disorders (HVDs) are hard to describe but easy to hear. People with the condition produce a grab-bag of forms of unusual voice behaviors that make them more difficult to follow. Nodules on the vocal cords may trigger the condition, but it may linger after the nodules are removed by surgery. Voice exercises or other treatments sometimes work and sometimes do not.

And although HVDs are the most common class of voice disorders, afflicting about 3% of the U.S. population, their causes are not well understood. Doctors typically attribute the condition to emotional stress that affects the performance of muscles involved in speech.

A study by researchers at Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College, however, suggests that a neurological problem affecting those muscles also can be to blame.

“We show the first evidence that some HVDs may be due to a motor control disorder, in which patients improperly process what they hear,” says Cara Stepp, an assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at Sargent College. “This is a very small study, but it’s important because no one previously showed a neurological cause for this condition.”

“Calling this condition ‘hyperfunctional’ suggests that it is something that you should just be able to stop doing, but that’s clearly not true,” says Stepp, the lead author on a paper about the research in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

In some cases, she notes, people can regain their normal voices after rigorous massages or other treatments, but these successes are often followed by a relapse of the condition.

Stepp and her colleagues hypothesized that some HVD patients might have neurological difficulties in integrating audio cues into their voice control, a breakdown that occurs in many other types of communication disorders.

The team tested their theory with experiments on two groups of nine people—one group with HVD and one group without. Participants were outfitted with headsets and microphones, and told to repeat a series of “ahs”, maintaining their pitch and volume as well as possible, while listening to their own voices in the headsets. The researchers very slowly raised the pitch of the participant’s voice until it was higher by one semitone (the interval between two adjoining piano keys), and then returned it to the original pitch.

As they heard their voices rise in pitch, people with normal vocal control lowered the pitch of their speech to try to compensate. “When we move the pitch up, your brain realizes that it’s higher than your target, so next time you produce your pitch a tiny bit lower,” says Stepp who runs the Sensorimotor Rehabilitation Engineering Lab.

Five of the people with HVD, however, instead raised the pitch of their speech, “which was extremely strange,” she says. And when they heard their voices on the headsets return to the original pitch, these five participants did not go back to the baseline.

“This finding suggests that they have a problem with properly utilizing auditory feedback to control their voice,” Stepp says.

The results correspond closely with some clinical observations, she adds. “It’s quite common for someone with HVD to say that the condition started when they had a cold, and then it just never went away. That’s an interesting match with our findings—when the perturbation we create is done, they ramp up their pitch even further and create a voice that’s even worse.”

Through recent funding from the National Institutes of Health, her lab is collaborating with the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation to recruit participants for a larger five-year HVD project. The researchers will examine a larger group of participants in greater detail, adding other forms of audio-feedback tests.

“We then can make individual computational models of the vocal motor control system for each participant, which will get us much closer to understanding the mechanisms,” she says.

This work will exploit a model of speech motor control called DIVA (Directions Into Velocities of Articulators) developed by Frank Guenther, a BU professor of speech, language and hearing sciences.

DIVA can help to highlight activity in specific areas of the brain, potentially allowing researchers to design brain imaging experiments that highlight the precise neurological pathways that go astray with HVDs, Stepp says.

Her group also will compare motor-control behaviors of HVD patients both before and after successful voice therapy. These analyses may demonstrate either that people who are successful at voice therapy learn to compensate for their abnormal motor-control responses, or that the rehabilitation actually fixes the neurological glitches, she says.

“By cataloguing exactly what happens during voice therapy, we hope to tease out the relationship between who resolves these responses and what kinds of therapies did they get, which is how this research could directly lead to better rehabilitation,” Stepp says. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’ll know a lot more in five years.”

Other co-authors on the paper, all from Boston University, included Rosemary Lester-Smith, Defne Abur, Ayoub Daliri, J. Pieter Noordzij and Ashling Lupiani.

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Deployment Stress Impacts Well-Being through Different Mental Health Issues for Female and Male Veterans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, June 1, 2017
CONTACT: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, ginad@bu.edu

Deployment Stress Impacts Well-Being through Different Mental Health Issues for Female and Male Veterans

(Boston)— Experiencing stress-related mental health issues following deployment exposures increases risk of reduced well-being in other life domains in the years following military service for veterans. Gender plays an important role in these associations.

The findings, which appear in Clinical Psychological Science, have implications for better understanding the challenges female and male veterans face upon returning from service and may lead to ways care can be optimized with consideration of the role gender may play.

According to the researchers, previous studies have shown a relationship between the development of mental health issues, particularly PTSD, and decreased functioning and satisfaction with family and work for veterans. However, gender often has been overlooked as a variable, and the role of particular deployment stressors have not been extensively examined. “Our study illustrates the complex interplay between specific military exposures, mental health, and subsequent post deployment well-being between the genders,” explained lead author Brian Smith, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and research psychologist in the Women’s Health Sciences Division, National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System.

In this study, which was completed at the VA Boston Healthcare System, 522 male and female Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans completed two surveys. The first was completed within two years of separation from military service, and included questions about veterans’ military experiences as well as their current mental health. The second survey was completed approximately three and a half years later and included questions about functioning and satisfaction in the domains of work, romantic relationships and parenting.

The researchers concluded that each of the deployment stressors examined—warfare exposure, military sexual harassment and family stressors—had implications for veterans’ subsequent functioning and satisfaction in the areas of work and family. In addition, these exposures were often indirectly linked to functioning and satisfaction via mental health. Interestingly, the links differed between men and women. While PTSD symptoms played an important role for both genders, depression played a role as well, especially for female veterans. For example, PTSD linked all three deployment exposures and subsequent functioning and satisfaction in romantic relationships for men, while both PTSD and depression played significant roles for women.  However, it is important to note that there were some similarities in risk as well. In the context of parenting, PTSD linked deployment exposures with reduced functioning for male and female veterans alike, and depression was the most important link in predicting lower satisfaction.

In addition, there was evidence for direct effects of military exposures on work and family quality of life. Again, some differences between males and females were found. For example, family stressors during deployment were directly associated with increased risk for parental impairment for female veterans, whereas for men the effect was only indirect through PTSD. These findings support the position that men and women may experience different military exposures and react in different ways. “This understanding of risk for reduced well-being, including the role of gender differences, may provide further important insight as to how to best cater post-military services to veterans’ unique needs following military service,“ added Smith. “From a clinical perspective, these findings suggest that services aimed at addressing returning veterans’ reintegration into work and family life might pay particular attention to male and female veterans’ experiences while deployed, as well as their current mental health.”

Funding for this study was provided by two Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research and Development Service grants: “Validation of Modified DRRI Scales in a National Sample of OEF/OIF Veterans” (DHI 09-086), Dawne Vogt, Principal Investigator, and “Work and Family Functioning in Women Veterans: Implications for VA Service Use” (IIR 12-345), Dawne Vogt and Brian Smith, Principal Investigators.

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Boston University’s 144th Commencement Address: Bonnie Hammer

May 21st, 2017in 2017, News Releases

Chair of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group, Bonnie Hammer 

(CGS’69, COM’71, SED’75)

Boston University Commencement Address

Nickerson Field

May 21, 2017

Thank you, President Brown, Members of the Board of Trustees, Faculty and staff, friends and family, and most of all, the 6,532 members of this most distinguished Class of 2017:

Congratulations!

I’m so honored to share this day with you, especially because I didn’t make it to my own graduation. Actually, I almost didn’t make it to Boston University at all. I was originally planning on going to NYU, a quick subway ride from Queens, where I grew up.

But my wise older brother said to me, “If you go to school in New York, mom will be at your dorm three times a week.” All of a sudden, a four-hour drive to Boston became a very attractive proposition.

Of course, once I had escaped my parents, I realized NOT only how much I loved them, but how much I owed them for my success. So before we go any further, let’s hear it for your parents, your loved ones, and everyone who helped you get here today!

I certainly learned a lot during my time at BU. It was a great school back then, and even greater now. Thanks for making my degree look even better every year, I am an incredibly proud alumna.

After grad school, I lucked into my first job in television and it’s been a fun journey ever since. Over the years, television has changed a lot, and those changes only seem to be accelerating.

But there’s one thing that will always remain constant. Whatever the genre: scripted, unscripted, even news and sports. Television, at its core, is a platform for telling stories.

And for thousands of years, stories have entertained and inspired us. They’ve shocked and charmed us. They’ve brought us unforgettable characters, from Odysseus
to Kim Kardashian. For the record, I had nothing to do with Odysseus, Kim…I’ll plead the Fifth.

You may not know it now, If you studied communications or engineering, law or medicine, business or classics: you’re a storyteller, too.

When you leave here today, you’ll begin writing the most powerful, most meaningful, story of your life. It’s the story of YOU.

Now, as you can imagine, I’ve heard a whole lot of story pitches in my career. Some good, some not so good. And what I’ve learned is that the most compelling stories have five elements in common:

1. The best stories have a strong lead character who undergoes some sort of transformation. That, my friends, is you.

2. They have a cast of supporting characters who help them achieve more than they can do alone. You’ll meet them, if you haven’t already.

3. They have conflict and adversity that the lead character must overcome. That’s coming, for sure.

4.They are also grounded in an interesting, exciting, time and place. Trust me, that’s now.

5.And finally, they help us understand something that was hidden or undiscovered before.

With these elements in mind, let’s talk about the story of you. And of course, like any good television executive, I have some notes that might help you along the way.

Want to hear them? You’re a captive audience… So here we go.

The best stories start by establishing character. Not just likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, but attitude. Because attitude sets the tone for so much else, something I learned on my first job.

I was working just down the street at the local PBS station, WGBH. I was a production assistant on a kids’ TV show called “Infinity Factory.” As a PA, everyone outranks you- everyone. You’re often assigned to a cast member, to help them with whatever they need. Whether it’s running lines, making copies, or picking up coffee. I was assigned to one of the most popular members of the show’s cast, the sheep dog. You know, when people complain that their job is crap? My job was literally crap.

Because instead of coffee, that’s what I had to pick up. But here’s the thing, I would do it all over again. That job taught me how important it is to understand the needs of your coworkers- canine or otherwise. Life dishes out plenty of crap, figuratively and sometimes literally. It’s how you handle the crap that counts.

Now all characters need development, and the lead in your story does, too. And nobody’s going to help you more than some key supporting characters. After all, where would Batman be without Robin, Kirk without Spock, Serena without Venus, Ben without Jerry, or for that matter, the other Ben without Matt?

Who are the supporting characters who will be central to your story? The catalysts for your best conversations and your biggest transformations. You’ve already identified a few of them: your parents, your professors, your friends; the warm, caring, wise people we typically think of as mentors. For me, it was my father.

But there’s another type, equally important, someone I call the challenging mentor. This is the person you think is your antagonist, who ends up being your greatest ally. The person who pushes, criticizes and challenges you, to meet a standard of excellence you might not otherwise achieve. For Harry Potter, think Professor Snape, for Tom Brady, think Bill Belichick.

I met my first challenging mentor right here at BU. His name was Harris Smith, and he was a brilliant ex-Army sergeant who taught photography. And when I say “taught,” I mean he commanded the darkroom like boot camp.

He would hold up a photograph and say, “Bonnie, this is pure junk!” He literally kicked me out of class and would not let me return until I had put in the effort to take a great shot. It wasn’t fun, but I knew he was right, and that I could do much better.

Throughout my career, I’ve had other mentors who initially terrified me but who ended up nurturing me. The most memorable was, and still is, Barry Diller. A media giant, and my boss at USA and SYFY many years ago.

One Friday night I got an email from him. Subject line: “Your decisions.” Those two words sent shivers down my spine. Barry had some questions about one of our SYFY shows, called “Crossing Over,” which featured a psychic.

The Question: If the psychic was real, why was he on the science fiction channel? And if he wasn’t real, why the hell were we in business with him at all?

That’s right, if you think you’re done with philosophy just because you’re wearing a cap and gown- think again.

Barry’s interrogation lasted the entire weekend. He wanted to understand not just what I had decided, but how. My facts, my logic, my entire thought process. He forced me to think outside my comfort zone, and create a water-tight argument that I had to own.

By 11 p.m. Sunday, I had reached the conclusion: you can’t prove that psychics are real, so a show with a psychic exists somewhere between fact and fiction, perfect for the SYFY channel.

Barry’s final note simply said, “Okay, your arguments win.” To this day, those are some of the best four words I’ve ever heard. I mean, they are right up there with, “Here’s a big promotion,” “Will you marry me,” and “Free drinks at the Dugout!” Okay, that’s five words.

My point is these supporting characters are vital. When they push you, you might stumble, you may even fall down but once you get up, and you will, you’ll end up standing even taller.

Now, even fairy tales don’t go straight from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after.” There’s going to be, there’s gotta be, conflict. And in most conflicts your voice is the most powerful tool you have.

The thing is before you use your voice you have to learn how and when to use it. And that starts not by speaking with arrogance but listening with humility.

Who is your audience? What do they want? What are they trying to tell you? And how can you get them to “yes”?

I once worked on a show where I knew my voice would never be the loudest in the room. I also knew it would be a couple octaves higher than everyone else’s, because the room was full of pro-wrestlers and World Wrestling executives.

I had been put in charge of WWE, even though I knew nothing about wrestling. You can imagine how skeptical everyone was- including me.

This meeting was a recipe for hot tempers and high anxiety. My first task was to convince a room full of strangers to work with me and trust me. Strangers who had necks wider than my waist.

So my approach- I sat quietly and listened. I didn’t cower in the corner, and I didn’t claim to have all the answers. What I did was figure out what they needed and what I had to offer. These guys knew wrestling and their audience. I knew how to develop characters and build stories. I knew how to make good TV.

And that very first conversation, which was honest and authentic on both sides, became the basis for a wonderful 20-year work relationship and deep friendship- not to mention some very entertaining wrestling.

So find your voice. Know when to use it. And, just as important, when NOT to use it.

Your attitude, your supporting cast, how you handle conflict. Those are all choices your character makes. But there are two pieces of your story that you don’t get to choose: time and place.

Forty-six years ago, when I was sitting where you are, or when I was supposed to be sitting where you are, everything felt uncertain and unsettled.

We were fighting a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam. Student protesters at Kent State had been fired upon—and four killed—by the Ohio National Guard. Civil rights issues were front and center. Many of us looked for guidance from BU’s own Howard Zinn, a beloved professor and prominent anti-war and civil rights activist.

Meanwhile, our technology and culture were changing rapidly, the modern environmental movement was taking off. Women were rebelling against the patriarchy. And people on all sides of every issue were taking to the streets.

We felt like we couldn’t trust our leaders, or authority in general. The future, and our roles in it, were open questions.

Sound familiar?
But when the stakes are highest, that’s when the world needs you most. That’s when

your story goes from being about a character, to being about character.
Today, everywhere you look, people are retreating into bubbles. And those bubbles are

hardening into shells. We’re not willing to see, much less embrace, difference.

Now, in my family difference is a given. I’m a Russian Jew from Queens. My husband’s a WASP from Cleveland, My stepdaughter, Ki Mae, is half Malaysian. Her grandparents are Indian and Chinese and my son Jesse’s identity was informed by all of the above.

Around our dinner table, difference is celebrated. But outside our home, that’s not always the case.

I remember the first time I faced anti-Semitism while studying in Kansas for a semester. I remember when Ki Mae’s elementary school classmate told her that her skin was too dark. I remember being asked if my own stepdaughter was my son’s nanny.

But moments like these are the reason it’s so important that we listen to other people’s stories, and share our own.

Many years ago at USA Network, we launched a campaign called “Erase the Hate.”

It started as a series of documentaries highlighting stories of people from all walks of life and became an award-winning initiative dedicated to acceptance and tolerance.

Sadly, that mission is even more relevant today.

In this moment of polarization, it’s more important than ever that we pay attention to each other’s stories.

And that starts with you.

I encourage you to take the time to figure out where other people are coming from- literally and figuratively. Learn about your own blind spots, acknowledge your fear, listen to podcasts that make you angry, read about things that make you uncomfortable.

Talk with- not at- people with different points of view.

When you step outside your bubble you’ll develop more empathy for people with whom you disagree. You’ll develop a stronger sense of self, and become a better advocate for what you believe.

If I’ve learned anything in the years since I graduated it’s that the most improbable stories are the ones that capture your imagination. Because they allow you to see things differently and they teach you something about your own character.

That’s the reason we started telling stories in the first place: they help us understand things we didn’t before.

Today, your story begins anew.

You have everything you need to make it a great one: The talent, the education, the character and the voice.

Now all you have to do is write it, tell it and live it, fully. Thank you, and Congratulations, Class of 2017!

Boston University’s 144th Commencement Baccalaureate Address: Mario J. Molina

May 21st, 2017in 2017, News Releases

Mario J. Molina

Nobel Prize Recipient, 1995

Baccalaureate Address, Boston University

Boston, Massachusetts

May 21, 2017

It’s a privilege and an honor for me to celebrate with you, and to congratulate all of you for the Baccalaureate degree you have earned at Boston University.

Let me start with some words of advice for all of you, who are receiving a degree today: the advice is to find out what sorts of activities, what sort of work do you enjoy most; it is a matter of trial and error.  The idea is that you can choose to continue pursuing those types of activities you like most, perhaps in your graduate studies, or perhaps in your future work.  The point is, if you enjoy what you are doing, then it is likely that you will become very good at it.  And my advice is, if you enjoy what you are doing, do it with passion, and you will like it even more.  Perhaps you enjoy science, say doing experiments, or perhaps you enjoy working with computers, for example, doing theoretical calculations, or perhaps you enjoy working as an economist, or as a social sciences expert, or even as a politician.  In my case, since I was a kid I enjoyed science; I enjoyed doing experiments, which often required a lot of patience and perseverance, but the rewards were enormous: finding out that I was able to contribute to the advancement of fundamental science, finding out how nature works, and then applying this knowledge for the benefit of society, became extremely satisfactory.

Now, I realize, of course, that not all of you have decided to become scientists.  Nevertheless, I believe that science has now become part of universal culture.  What I mean is not that everybody should be familiar with all sorts of science laws, but rather, that everybody should be aware of the enormous importance of science in modern society, particularly in these times when the importance of science is being questioned by various powerful groups.

Let me explain. Human civilization has progressed enormously in recent times, and it is mainly as a consequence of advances in science and its applications.   Life expectancy has more than doubled in the past 50 years; airplane travelling across the globe is currently not only feasible, but extremely safe; structures such as high-rise buildings no longer fall down merely as a consequence of large earthquakes; modern science has made it possible for a large fraction of the population to communicate with digital, hand-held phones; and so on. This age of deep transformation and revolutionary scientific discoveries was developed mostly over the past century, with extraordinary results over the last few decades: the quality of life has improved substantially for a large section of society, although it is important to recognize that a significant portion of the global population remains in poverty.

Science advances through basic research activities that rely on evidence-based observations and inquiry.  Scientific knowledge is created by reproducing experimental results and by testing hypotheses, which lead to a deeper understanding of how the world works. There are findings that we refer to as fundamental science, such as the Laws of Newton, the existence of electromagnetic waves, the existence of molecules, and the theory of relativity; it took some time after the discovery of these components of science to become well established, but they are now unquestionable.  An important aspect of the advancement of science is based, though, on skepticism: new theories must be tested, experimental results duplicated, etc., before they are accepted as part of modern science.

One complication connected with the development of science is the nature of the so-called “complex systems”, which leads to uncertainties.   One example is the human body: there are many spectacular scientific advances in biology and medicine related to human health, but there remain uncertainties associated with the results.  An example is the effect of medications used to cure diseases; they might work for a majority, but there is no absolute certainty that they will function effectively for all humans, because of the differences among them resulting from the complexity of the human body.

For these reasons, it is important to acknowledge that there are uncertainties associated with predictions involving complex systems; however, this fact by no means implies that society should ignore the projections of well-established science unless there is absolute certainty in such projections.  What should be done in such cases is to base societal actions on the risk involved, which depends on the science and on its uncertainties, as well as on the resources available to society to implement such actions, and on social and political issues.

It is crucial to highlight this last point.  Science itself does not tell society what to do, or how to progress; it can, however, predict with some confidence the consequences of different societal actions.  Science is neither good or bad; its impacts depend on the nature of the policies implemented by society, which in turn depend on economic and social considerations, on the availability of resources, etc., but most importantly, the policies also depend on ethical considerations, including societal values.  Fortunately, the international scientific community shares important values such as aiming for the improvement of the quality of life for the entire population of our planet.   In fact, for civilization to progress it is crucial for societal policies to be based on accepted ethical values, as well as to be consistent with accepted science, rather than to be based on irrational believes that disagree with science itself and that favor only a selected portion of the population.

Let me illustrate these ideas with a couple of additional examples.  In the human health realm, one example is the use of vaccines: despite some errors committed in the early days of their use by society, vaccines have saved millions of lives, and thus today it is unethical to prevent vaccination just because of irrational believes developed by certain groups.  Another example has to do with tumors: often a physician cannot tell for sure if a certain tumor is cancerous, but even if the probability that it is so is not very large, the most sensible recommendation is to remove the tumor with surgery, or to destroy it with radiation.

Let me know say a few words about climate change.  There is an unusual consensus among climate scientists, not only that climate is changing, but that there is more than a 95% probability that most of the recent change has been caused by human activities, mainly the use of fossil fuels.  There is no other reasonable explanation.   Now, the earth’s climate is a complex system, and because of that we talk about probabilities, and thus, projections of changes that might take place in the future for a given emissions scenario are uncertain.  Nevertheless, with the help of science, we can estimate, for example, the probability that the average temperature of the planet will increase to a certain extent in a certain time period.  And a very worrisome projection is that there is a roughly a one in five probability that a business as usual scenario, that is, if society ignores climate change, the average surface temperature of the planet might increase five or more degrees Celsius towards the end of the Century, with potentially catastrophic consequences for civilization – parts of the planet would become uninhabitable, the capacity for global food production would be enormously affected, massive migrations would occur, and so on.  But, thanks to modern technology, it turns out that such a business as usual scenario can be prevented at practically no cost and without reducing the number of jobs available to society, so that there is really no excuse whatsoever to accept the enormous risk to future generations associated with a business as usual scenario, something that is only supported by irrational believes.

In summary, scientific research improves our understanding of natural processes, which leads to remarkable benefits for society.  On the other hand, ethical considerations are crucial: science has to work together with government and business for the continued improvement of the quality of life of the human population, now and in the future.

But let me finish by giving you my perspective about some other very important changes that have occurred recently, connected with your future work, changes also caused by advances in scientific knowledge.  It is a fact that much of the routine work people were accustomed to carry out in the past, is now carried out automatically, for example, by robots.  This change is also a consequence of developments in science and technology, but in this case, it has to do with enormous advancements in solid state physics, as well as advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, that is, advances in digital globalization.  The other side of the coin is that these developments have led to a significant loss of old-fashion jobs, particularly in the developed countries. And here is the bottom line: the notion that what you learned in college is sufficient for your future work was an acceptable point of view in the past, but it is no longer valid.  The big change, as you are all probably aware off, is that you have to continue learning throughout your career.  This means that perhaps the most important skill you should have acquired in college is how to learn, how to become motivated to keep learning, that is, how to become a lifelong learner.

And once again, congratulations for receiving your Baccalaureate degree.  I wish all of you the best of luck in your future career.  Thank you.

Statistical physics may speed up finding solutions for computational problems

May 12th, 2017in News Releases

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE UNTIL: May 12, 2017, 5 a.m. EST
CONTACT: Margaret Waterman, at 617-358-4266 or mhw@bu.edu

Statistical physics may speed up finding solutions for computational problems
Novel physics-inspired model takes on difficult computational challenges from a new perspective

(BOSTON) – The field of statistical mechanics was initially developed to study the behavior of macroscopic numbers of atoms or molecules in gasses and liquids, and evolved to describe the properties of complex states of matter that display magnetism, superconductivity and other types of exotic behavior. Techniques inspired by statistical mechanics have also been applied to understand traffic patterns, the behavior of networks of neurons and stock market fluctuations. Researchers at Boston University (BU) and the University of Central Florida have now discovered a new way of applying statistical mechanics to certain classes of highly complex problems in computer science.

The novel approach suggests how one could create more efficient algorithms that run on traditional computers or on a new generation of hybrid classical/quantum computational hardware, says Andrei Ruckenstein, BU professor of physics and co-author on a paper introducing a new statistical mechanics representation of reversible classical computation published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Statistical mechanics studies complex systems made up of a very large number of constituents,” Ruckenstein explains. “For example, atoms that organize themselves into materials with properties, such as magnetism or superconductivity, that could not be understood in terms of the individual constituents alone.”

“Some difficult problems in classical computation have already been addressed with great success by mapping them onto a certain class of statistical mechanics models, for which the result of the computation is encoded in the lowest energy state of the system,” he says.

However, previous models of this class display transitions between different thermodynamic phases with substantively different physical properties (for example, the transition from liquid to gas). In these previous models relevant to computation the phase transition takes the system into a so-called glassy phase characterized by many competing low-energy states.

“As a result of this large number of low-energy options, finding the absolute lowest state corresponding to the solution of the computational problem is an extremely slow process,” says Claudio Chamon, a BU professor of physics and co-author on the paper. “This prevents the system from reaching its lowest energy state even for problems that could be solved efficiently by other methods.”

The research team overcame this barrier with an elegant “vertex model” of computation employing a two-dimensional lattice with reversible logic gates at the vertices of the lattice. “This model exhibits no bulk thermodynamic phase transition, so one of the obstructions for reaching a solution present in previous models is eliminated,” says Chamon. “It’s a new way of thinking about the problem.”

The vertex model may help solve complex problems in machine learning, circuit optimization and other major computational challenges. Additionally, the researchers are exploring whether the model can be applied to the factoring of semi-primes, numbers that are the product of two prime numbers. (The difficulty of performing this operation with very large semi-primes underlies modern cryptography and has offered a key rationale for the creation of large-scale quantum computers.)

Moreover, the model can be generalized to add another path to solutions of complex classical computational problems by taking advantage of quantum mechanical parallelism – the fact that, according to quantum mechanics, a system can be in many classical states at the same time.

“Our paper also presents a natural framework for programming special-purpose computational devices, such as D-Wave Systems machines, that use quantum mechanics to speed up the time to solution of classical computational problems,” says Ruckenstein. “This kind of model could be implemented into many architectures of these hybrid classical/quantum computing machines, which could help us find the ground state of the system by using quantum mechanics as an accelerator.”

In addition to its findings about computational modeling, the paper hypothesizes the existence of a novel family of glasses which do not display a thermodynamic glass transition but exhibit extremely long times scales for finding the system’s lowest energy state.

Zhi-Cheng Yang, a graduate student in physics at BU, and Eduardo Mucciolo, professor of physics at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, are co-authors on the paper. The universities have applied for a patent on aspects of the quantum vertex model.

“Our work shows that the boundary between physics and computer science is a two-way street,” Ruckenstein comments. “We physicists want to use our approaches to solve computer science problems, but we also want to bring back into physics ideas from computer science that would be very hard to articulate on the basis of physics thinking alone.”

“Interdisciplinary work like this rests on involving collaborators with strong and deep backgrounds in the various disciplines, and on figuring out how one can learn each other’s language in order to communicate effectively at these boundaries,” he adds.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission. In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities, a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

BU Associate Professor Conducts Largest Clinical Trial Aimed at Aiding Children with Depression

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 9, 2017
CONTACT: Jeremy Schwab at 617-358-1056 or jschwab@bu.edu

BU Associate Professor Conducts Largest Clinical Trial Aimed at Aiding Children with Depression

Family-Based Therapy May Increase Recovery

(Boston) – A recent study by BU Associate Professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Martha Tompson, analyzed Family Focused Treatment for Children with Depression (FFT-CD) in the largest clinical trial ever to examine a non-medication treatment for children with depressive disorders. FFT-CD focuses on integrating not only the child, but also the entire family into the treatment plan in an effort to help families develop skills to enhance coping and emotional regulation, foster positive parent-child interactions, and cultivate techniques to help promote positive reinforcement and communication within the family.

The study, a collaborative effort between Tompson’s lab at BU and her colleague Joan R. Asarnow at UCLA, compared immediate post-treatment effects of FFT-CD against the effects of individual supportive psychotherapy (IP) in children aged 7 to 14 with depressive disorders. In order to gauge the effectiveness of FFT-CD, the 134 youths involved in the study were randomly assigned to receive 15 sessions of either IP or FFT-CD over a four-month period.

While at the conclusion of the four-month period both groups were satisfied with their interventions and showed reductions in depressive symptom scores, the FFT-CD group had higher rates of recovery. The results showed a higher rate of clinical depression response for the children in the FFT-CD group (77.7%) than the children in the IP group (59.9%), and families in the FFT-CD group felt as though they had greater knowledge and skills for managing depression compared with those families in the IP group.

This recent study is of great importance to the psychological community, as few studies have examined the psychosocial treatment for depression in children in this manner.  “Overall, our findings emphasize the value of psychological interventions in the treatment of depressive disorders in childhood,” Tompson and colleagues concluded.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.  As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience, creating an extensive global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

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Glassfrogs Show Surprising Diversity of Parental Strategies

March 31st, 2017in News Releases

Nocturnal fieldwork helps to shed light on how parental sex roles evolve

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 31, 2017

CONTACT:
Kira Jastive
617-358-1240 or kjastive@bu.edu

(BOSTON) – Laid on leaves hanging over streams in tropical rainforests, glassfrog eggs are tasty snacks for snakes, insects and other predators until they hatch and drop into the streams to begin life as tadpoles. Until recently, biologists thought the eggs of most species were on their own during this vulnerable stage, without any help from mom or dad. In just a few species, fathers were known to care for their developing embryos, and biologists thought this paternal devotion had evolved from ancestors entirely lacking parental care.

Walking along a stream in Panama very late one night, however, Jesse Delia spotted a glassfrog mother sitting on her clutch of eggs.

Delia, a PhD student in the lab of Karen Warkentin, Boston University professor of biology, went on to observe nighttime parental behavior among no fewer than 40 species of glassfrogs, working with research partner Laura Bravo Valencia, a graduate student at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

The two scientists found that in many species glassfrog mothers brood their eggs during the night the eggs are fertilized, and that this care improves the survival of the eggs, while in almost a third of species glassfrog fathers stay on guard for much longer periods.

Published in Journal of Evolutionary Biology, with Delia as corresponding author, the research found parental care in every glassfrog species that was sampled.

Additionally, in an analysis of glassfrog evolutionary history that takes advantage of the new field data, the investigators discovered that male parental care probably evolved from female care and that “parental care gets elaborate when males take over,” Warkentin says.

Wet work

These discoveries were based on “a tour de force of extreme fieldwork,” as Warkentin describes it. Delia and Bravo Valencia pursued their project over six rainy seasons at 22 sites along streams in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama and Peru. The project also included field monitoring of parental behavior throughout the duration of embryonic development for 13 species – a total of 18 months walking up and down streams every night.

Some of these streams were in warm lowland forests and others up in the Andes mountains. “In Colombia, we would take buses (La Chiva) into the mountains and try to find somebody who would put us up, somewhere close to a forest, a couple hours’ hike into the stream,” Delia recalls. “Streams in the Andes are really steep, with impassable waterfalls every so often, and in many sites they are cascades of freezing cold water.”

In addition to observing the 40 species of frogs through the night, Delia and Bravo Valencia performed experiments on two species of frogs in Panama. The biologists began by removing glassfrog mothers immediately after the eggs were fertilized, before the mothers could sit on the eggs. Plucking out the frogs in this brief time period often required the researchers to jog up and down the stream, “so we were soaking wet all night,” Delia says.

Monitoring the eggs daily until they hatched, which could take almost 20 days, the researchers found that the eggs given maternal care survived significantly better than those that did not receive care.

The key to this survival was that the frogs were soaking up water from damp spots on leaves and delivering it to the eggs. The jelly surrounding the eggs then would swell up with water and grow about four times thicker. Offering these swollen egg packages to katydids, crickets that prey on frog eggs, the biologists saw some frustrated predators. “Each embryo is surrounded by this protective layer of jelly, so when the katydid bites, it’s getting mouthfuls of jelly, and it generally gives up,” says Warkentin.

Bravo Valencia and Delia also tested what it would take to get glassfrog mothers to abandon their posts in the first few crucial hours. “They would gently poke and pinch and then physically push her off the eggs, and it would take all that to get most moms to leave,” Warkentin says. “The moms are extremely dedicated to their task in that time period.”

How care evolves

“These are relatively well-studied, charismatic frogs, yet we were fundamentally wrong about the reproductive behavior of most glassfrog species,” Warkentin notes. “There is still a lot to be learned from basic fieldwork. And that primary information has the potential to change how we think about larger processes, like sex role evolution.”

“In glassfrogs, maternal care helps embryos survive, but they seem to do the bare minimum,” she says. “It seems that fathers not only took over the job, when mothers were already doing it, but they also greatly elaborated the amount of care. Even after eggs have started hatching, fathers keep caring.”

“In many animals, mothers are on duty when offspring need intensive care, whereas fathers care when it’s easy or help out when more is needed. This common pattern has influenced how we think about parental sex-roles,” Delia says. “Glassfrogs do the complete opposite – moms do the minimum (at least time-wise) while fathers go to extremes. Of course, glassfrogs are but one small branch on the tree of life. But the way we had underestimated the diversity of parental behavior stresses the importance of getting out to the field and watching animals behave.”

“Because Jesse and Laura were spending all night on the streams, they saw things that nobody had seen before,” Warkentin adds.

Lead funding for the work came from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Fulbright Scholar Program and the National Science Foundation.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission. In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities, a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

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Egg brooding by a female Cochranella granulosa, Rio Frijoles Panama. Although maternal care is brief, our experiments found that it provides lasting benefits to embryo survival in this species. Photo by Jesse Delia
Egg brooding by a female Cochranella granulosa, Rio Frijoles Panama. Although maternal care is brief, our experiments found that it provides lasting benefits to embryo survival in this species. Photo by Jesse Delia

Diabetes Drug Shows Promise for Safely Treating, Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, March 8, 2017
CONTACT: Gina DiGravio, 617-638-8480, ginad@bu.edu

Diabetes Drug Shows Promise for Safely Treating, Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease

 First Time Tested in Humans 

(Boston)– As the number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) rapidly increases, new treatments as well as blood tests that are simple and can be easily performed in a doctor’s office to diagnose are urgently needed.

A new study has found treatment with the diabetes drug amylin (or pramlintide) safely improves learning and memory function in AD patients and reduces the AD pathology in their brains. The findings, which appear in the Journal Translational Research and Clinical Interventions, also may lead to the development of a blood test for AD.

Currently, lumbar punctures to detect biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid and positron emission tomography imaging scans are used to diagnose AD. Unfortunately many patients are fearful of these procedures and the high cost is prohibitive.

“A single injection of pramlintide into our patients was well tolerated and reduced the amyloid burden as well as lowered the concentrations of amyloid-β peptides, a major component of AD in the brain,” explained corresponding author Wendy Qiu, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine.

“Our study suggests a potential role for the creation of a blood test that relies on pramlintide, which could cross the blood-brain barrier and help to translocate the biomarkers related to AD pathology including amyloid-β peptides and neuroinflammation, from the brain into the bloodstream where they can be detected,” added Qiu.

Funding for this study was provided by grants from the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (IIRG-13-284238), NIA (R21 AG045757A1), and Ignition Award (to W.Q.Q), and from Boston

University Alzheimer’s Disease Center pilot grant (to H.Z.).

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