Back for 2011: Research and the AP Top 25

Saturday was a milestone for football fans with the release of the Associated Press preseason poll, which ranks the top 25 teams in college football. (And, for our money, a much better barometer than the sometimes-dubious USA Today/Coaches poll.)

Led by No. 1 Oklahoma, the release of the AP poll means that football is very nearly here. We’ll take this time to apologize to those of you who aren’t football fans; for the rest of you, it’s been a long six months, hasn’t it?

As much as we could prattle on about the overrating of No. 8 Texas A&M or the underrating of South Carolina (No. 12), we’ll leave that to the professionals. Instead, our angle will be what we know best: research. As we did last season, we’ll run through the top 25 and note research achievements at each school; where possible, we’ll focus on biomedical research, though we realize that several of these schools have strengths in other areas. We’ll also include links to any of our members that are affiliated with that school.

1. Oklahoma: Meteorology has long been a staple at OU; its campus hosts the National Weather Center and the Storm Prediction Center. Along with Penn State, it has one of the best meteorology programs in the country. So it’s of no surprise that OU has been at the center of weather research; with financial assistance from the National Science Foundation, the school recently purchased a mobile, rapid-scan, high-resolution radar system. The radar can render full images of rapidly developing storms, like tornadoes, in 30 seconds; this technology can help researchers get a better handle on how tornadoes form – long a mystery in the world of weather.
(Research!America members at OU: University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center)

2. Alabama. Yuping Bao, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, has found that changing the chemical groups that coat iron oxide nanoparticles can make them more water soluble. The implication of that research (published earlier this month in Nature magazine) is profound in the world of medical devices. A more soluble coating could have a significant impact on efficacy.

3. Oregon. Hui Zong, PhD, and his team of researchers have found the earliest starting point yet for malignant glioma, a deadly brain cancer. Using a mouse genetics system co-founded by UO and Stanford University (more on them in a bit), Zong identified oligodendrocyte precursor cells as the first cells to display “significant overexpansion and aberrant growth.” Using this technique – Mosaic Analysis and Double Markers – could help researchers to pinpoint origins for other types of cancers.

4. Louisiana State. It’s not a health disparity that one would normally think of, but Matthew Lee, PhD, a professor of sociology, and Emily Berthelot, a PhD candidate, analyzed data from 3,100 counties in the U.S. and found that the rate of death by malnutrition among older adults is significantly higher in the presence of certain factors. Those factors include isolation (living alone or being widowed), low education level, high poverty level and limited access to telephones. Lee and Berthelot estimate that 2,000 to 3,000 older adults die from malnutrition each year.

5. Boise State. Jet lag can leave anyone exhausted, and the air quality inside aircraft cabins does little to help how good you feel after a long flight. A research team at Boise State is taking steps to rectify that: The team, led by Sin Ming Loo, PhD, has developed a wireless, portable and configurable sensor that monitors and records environmental information inside aircraft. The sensor also records noise levels, so it’ll be sure to note your discomfort with the loudmouth two rows in front of you.

6. Florida State. Scott J. Steppan, PhD, an associate professor of biology, discovered seven new species of mice living in the Philippines. What’s notable about the “new” mice is that they lived in separate areas and each was a distinct species; however, they were all closely related and in the same genus. The discovery of the mice helps show how quickly evolution can happen, and Steppan says the discovery helps researchers understand the origin of biodiversity more generally.

7. Stanford. In recent months, Stanford researchers have made significant inroads against cancer. Amato Giaccia, PhD, professor and director of radiation oncology, is looking into a new therapy that starves cancer cells of glucose – their primary energy source. The development of such a therapy could provide an alternative for chemotherapy. There are other ways to accomplish the same thing, as assistant professor of bioengineering Jennifer Cochran, PhD, discovered. Her idea is to prevent cancer cells from forming capillaries, thus preventing blood flow and nutrients to the cancer cells. And one study is further along: Gordon Li, MD, is a co-investigator on a Phase 1 trial to test a vaccine for a rare type of brain tumor in children.
(Research!America members: Stanford University School of Medicine)

8. Texas A&M. A research team led by Gregory Bix, MD, PhD, found that a small portion of a cell’s connective tissue – called Perlecan domain V – can help promote protection and rehabilitation of cells after a stroke. In multiple models, the team discovered that if administered less than 24 hours after an ischemic stroke, Perlecan domain V helps prevent nerve cells from dying and restore motor function that was lost because of the stroke.
(Research!America members: Texas A&M Health Science Center)

9. Oklahoma State. During a recent demonstration at Boone Pickens Stadium – the Cowboys’ football field – researchers showed off a mobile security vehicle called OverSite to the Oklahoma Army National Guard and the FBI. OverSite, developed by Oklahoma State University-University Multispectral Laboratories, combines multiple sensor technologies and communications infrastructure into one machine that promotes better public safety.

10. Nebraska. Nebraska’s new Life Sciences Initiatives provides seed funding through competitive grants for researchers at the university. The program recently announced its inaugural list of funded projects; those projects include a systems biology approach to stress response, new methods to improve drought tolerance in plants and gene therapy for those with neurodegenerative disorders caused by pesticide exposure.
(Research!America members: University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry)

11. Wisconsin. Researchers at Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health studied the unintended negative consequences of a 2005 smoke-free ordinance in Madison. Fortunately, they found few. Prior to the ordinance taking affect, some were concerned that the ordinance would cause for more violence, public disturbances and student house parties. The study marked the first time that researchers studied the effect of a smoke-free ordinance on public disturbances.
(Research!America members: University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health)

12. South Carolina. If you’re struggling to lose weight, researchers at South Carolina may have the answer. A wristwatch-type device displayed real-time info about calorie loss during exercise – thus telling overweight study participants how many calories they could take in during meals. A group with access to the armband and group sessions lost the most weight – nearly 15 pounds on average.

13. Virginia Tech. The whole idea for this blog post centers around football, so it makes sense to include a football-related item. Stefan Duma, PhD, a researcher at Virginia Tech, categorized the efficacy of current football helmets at preventing concussions – a first-of-its-kind study. The study rated current models on a star system, with five stars being the most effective at preventing concussions. The study used funding from private sources, not from helmet manufacturers.

14. Texas Christian University. Tristan Tayag, PhD, a professor in TCU’s Department of Engineering, has developed a medical device that could revolutionize treatment for diabetes patients who can’t control the disease through regular interventions. His device helps introduce insulin-producing Islets of Langerhans cells into diabetic patients, but doesn’t need donations from deceased donors and eliminates the chance that the patient’s body will reject the new cells.

15. Arkansas. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences announced a new therapy to attack cancer cells in patients that have the most aggressive form of multiple myeloma. The treatment uses natural killer cells – donated from a close relative – which are immune cells capable of seeking out and destroying cancer cells.
(Research!America members: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences)

16. Notre Dame. Researchers from four different departments at Notre Dame studied non-identifiable information from cell phones to determine frequency of contact between one person and his or her social circle. Their work has found that the dissolution of ties is just as important as the formation of ties; moreover, their research led them to predict future behaviors.
(Research!America members: The University of Notre Dame)

17. Michigan State. Ivermectin is a drug that transformed how humans treat parasitic infections. But until now, no one was quite sure how it worked. Charles Mackenzie, PhD, a professor in MSU’s Department of Pathobiology & Diagnostic Investigation, made the discovery: He found that the drug blocks worms from excreting a particular protein, which prevents the hosts’ immune systems from eliminating the parasite. With the block in place, the immune system destroys the invaders.

18. Ohio State. Is it really all downhill after winning a Nobel Prize? Maybe not, but researchers at Ohio State found that Nobel laureates’ work is less accepted and noticed after winning the Nobel. That’s not an ironclad finding, however; the researchers also noticed that the “path to idea acceptance” was considerably different for physicists than it was for chemists or those in medicine.
(Research!America members: Ohio State’s College of Dentistry, College of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Public Health)

19. Georgia. A team at Georgia, led by Boris Striepen, PhD, has discovered why some drugs work against diseases like malaria and others don’t. One key finding: a plasma membrane that prevents some components of disease from being affected by drugs.

20. Mississippi State. Higher gas prices mean fewer accidents – one of the few positive byproducts of paying more at the pump. Researchers, led by Guangqing Chi, PhD, analyzed factors leading to auto accidents between April 2004 and December 2008, tracking those numbers with gas prices. Chi and the other researchers noted an overall decline in drunk driving accidents, as well as lower short-term accident rates for younger drives and lower intermediate-term accident rates for older drivers and men.

21. Missouri. Carol Ward, PhD, and a team of researchers found that arches in human feet date back far longer than had previously been believed. Ward and her team studied the pre-homo sapiens skeleton of Lucy and found arches existed in her feet as well. Arches are a key component of human movement.

22. Florida. If you’ve ever dealt with the headache of termites in your house, researchers at Florida feel your pain. A study produced by Thomas Chouvenc, PhD, found that methods for eliminating termite colonies have been successful in the lab but less so in the real world. Insect behavior – such as grooming, identifying pathogens and removing carcasses – makes termites difficult to control.

23. Auburn. The Miracle on the Hudson – when pilot Chesley Sullenberger ditched an Airbus A320 into the Hudson River in New York, saving all onboard – still resonates with the public. Researchers at Auburn hope to put bird strikes, the issue that ultimately doomed US Airways 1549, out of mind for travelers. They’re developing a retention pond that treats common airport pollutants (like fuel, oil and deicing fluid) while also reducing the things that attract birds to airports in the first place.

24. West Virginia. Two researchers at West Virginia are figuring out how to bring an electron beam into the kitchen. And yes, there’s a good reason for it: A microwave with an e-beam could be a huge step forward in food safety technology. The researchers, Jacek Jaczynski, PhD, and Kristen Matak, PhD, have already found that e-beams are effective against E. coli and staphylococcus. The challenge now is to shrink the technology so that it’s ready for home use.
(Research!America members: WVU School of Dentistry)

25. Southern California. Stem cells and cancerous cells may share the same origin, according to Jiang F. Zhong, PhD, and other researchers at USC. By suppressing the expression of a certain gene, Zhong and a research team turned skin cells into brain cells. But it’s not always a linear outcome; Zhong likened it to a person who loses their job: they can turn into a criminal or they can find another job and remain an upstanding citizen. Cells, likewise, can turn cancerous – but not always.
(Research!America members: Keck School of Medicine, School of Dentistry)

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