Published April 4, 2019
Three scholars’ research projects were highlighted at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s 2019 Annual Forum, which was held March 20 at the CTSI Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Margarita Dubocovich, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, at University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; Director of the Workforce Development, and Program Lead, KL2 Mentored Career Development, introduced the three scholars. Dubocovich said that the CTSI has been instrumental in the development of programs designed to train researchers so as to advance their careers in the clinical and translational science field.
Maximiliano Rapanelli, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Jacobs School; KL2 Scholar, described his work on the genetic links to autism spectrum disorder. Rapanelli’s faculty mentor is Zhen Yan, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Physiology and Biophysics.
Autism is a genetic disorder that occurs in one in 59 children, more often in boys than in girls. Its estimated annual cost in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is between $11.5 billion and $60.9 billion.
According to Rapanelli, previous research linked autism to mutations in certain genes. Using transgenic mice, with similar genetic aberrations found in autistic patients, that recapitulate autism-like behaviors similar to those in autistic humans, Rapanelli discovered specific treatments that showed promise in lessening the symptoms of the disorder, such as social deficits and stereotypical behaviors. This preliminary clinical research may have translational ramifications in human patients.
Bonnie Vest, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Jacobs School; BTC Scholar, spoke about her research into how health-related factors (particularly substance use, co-occurring mental health problems and social environmental factors) impact academic success among college students who are active military or veterans. Her mentor is Gregory Homish, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions.
She is using semi-structured interviews and a two-wave survey to gather information about her study participants. So far, participants describe facing a range of challenges related to their military service and some mention of substance use as a way to moderate symptoms. Despite the availability of resources and services, many are not using them, leading Vest to surmise that the answer might not be more services, but more connection.
Jessie Polanco, PhD student and CTSI Graduate Scholar, spoke about his research into the role of Muscarinic Type 3 Acetylcholine Receptor (M3R) and myelin repair. In diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, the myelin sheaths around neurons are damaged or destroyed, ultimately leading to neurodegeneration. Polanco and colleagues under faculty mentor Fraser Sim, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Jacobs School, showed that modulation of M3R expression could promote and accelerate human myelin repair in-vivo. This research represents a vital cornerstone, as anti-muscarinic drugs move into clinical trials for the treatment of demyelinating diseases.