News, Science & Research

Science & Research Roundup, April 5

By
University News Editor
Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Study sheds light on ALS development, potential treatment options

An international team of researchers, including Thomas Serre, associate professor of CLPS, Justin Fallon, professor of medical science, Amanda Duffy GS, PhD candidate in the neuroscience department, and Youssef Barhomi, research assistant for the Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences department, studied and conducted tests on mice that were genetically modified to carry TDP-43, a protein that causes a hereditary form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in humans, according to a University press release published last month.

Through their examinations of the ALS  developing in the mice, the scientists discovered that “behavioral, cognitive and structural dysfunctions …  were evident long before the neuronal degeneration that occurs late” in the disease. Researchers also found that unlike other degenerative diseases that result in early losses of excitatory neurons, the early development of ALS yielded a loss of inhibitory neurons, according to the release.

In addition to functioning as the basis of future research into ALS and providing opportunities to possibly create therapies treating ALS in its early stages, the study underscores progress in the creation of animal models that mimic ALS symptoms in research.

Additionally, the Automated Continuous Behavioral Monitoring system, an artificial intelligence technology developed at Brown, played a critical role in allowing researchers to study the mice closely and accurately for extensive periods of time.

Study links visual cues to vowel perception

A study conducted by researchers at the University and at McGill University found that when people perceive speech, they rely heavily on visual cues, closely watching the movement and form of the lips, according to a University press release.

To reach this conclusion, researchers tested individuals’ “directional asymmetry” when visually perceiving vowels. Directionally asymmetry allows people to better distinguish “between two versions of the ‘oo’ sound,” according to the release.

During the study, researchers had volunteers listen to a “bilingual Canadian woman” make “oo”  sounds in English and French, so they could determine what visual information and cues were pertinent to directional asymmetry. Directional asymmetry can be seen in Canadians who speak French and English because in French, the “oo” is more pronounced than in English.

Researchers led by U. professor discover new antibiotics to combat superbugs

Last month, a team of researchers led by Eleftherios Mylonakis, a professor of infectious diseases at the Alpert Medical School, discovered a new class of antibiotics that could potentially combat superbugs, bacteria that have developed a resistance to conventional antibiotics, according to a University press release.

Specifically, researchers identified two synthetic retinoids that exhibited an ability to kill MRSA, a “staph bacteria that is resistant to several antibiotics.” These retinoids impair bacterial membranes and destroy MRSA “persister” cells “that are drug-resistant dormant cells,” according to the release. Additionally, the team created new ways to screen over 80,000 synthetic compounds to find potential antibiotics that are not toxic to humans.

To carry out the study Mylonakis worked with specialists from Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Massachusetts General Hospital, Emory University and Northwestern University.