IMPACT Spring 2015

There were ten IMPACT Awards given for research projects that ran from May 15, 2015 to May 14, 2016.

A Community Response to Mental Health Crisis: Developing a National Model

  • Antonius, Daniel, Department of Psychiatry 
  • Cummings, Michael, Department of Psychiatry 
  • Nochajski, Thomas, Department of Social Work


The societal and financial burden of mental health related problems is a significant public health concern. Those diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, have received disproportional media attention due to community disturbance and violence. Despite the relatively small contribution to overall violence in our society, the consequences and public health implications are enormous, including further demonization of an already stigmatized population, higher likelihood of costly hospitalizations and incarcerations, and prolonged stays in these institutions.  

In order to remedy some of this enormous financial and societal burden, diversion programs are being developed that target people with serious mental illness at the time of crisis. Effective interventions before individuals are sent to hospitals or jails are crucial to reducing the public health burden.

In Erie County, the Crisis Services, Inc. Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training Program was created in 2013. This is a unique university and community agency model that focuses on training police officers in improving their interactions with mentally disturbed individuals and helping divert people from violent interactions, costly hospitalizations or involvement with the criminal justice system.

While other studies have focused on CIT training outcomes, this study focuses on community response to mental health crisis as a population health management model rather than just a training model. Preliminary findings from this program are encouraging. However, a systematic approach to data gathering is necessary to further establish this program and develop it into a population health national model. The CIT model has the potential to transform the community approach to mentally disturbed individuals across the United States.

In the proposed study, we will empirically examine the need, satisfaction with, and efficacy of this program. The findings will serve as preliminary data for federal and foundation grant applications, in which we aim to further demonstrate the value of this program as a national model and to help secure the sustainability of the CIT program in our local community.

Robust Nanoscale-Patterned Membranes for Wastewater Treatment Using Laser Chips-Based Lithography

  • Feng, Liang, Department of Electrical Engineering
  • Lin, Haiqing, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering


Growing concerns over the environmental impact of the hydraulic fracturing of the oil and gas wells have prompted more stringent regulations on wastewater management. Polymeric membrane offers an attractive technology to recover and reuse the wastewater, due to high energy efficiency, small footprint and low cost. However, the membranes are often subjected to surface fouling by the contaminants in the wastewater, severely limiting the wide adoption of the membrane technology. Printing nanoscale patterns with high throughput photolithography is an effective approach to mitigate surface fouling mitigation.

However, the intrinsic inflexibility and requirement of UV light sources lead to the nanomanufacturing process of high production cost and low energy efficiency. The goal of this interdisciplinary program is to develop a flexible high-throughput nanoscale photolithography scheme for membrane surface patterning to achieve excellent antifouling properties for wastewater recovery and reuse. A low-cost and energy efficient single laser chip consisting of millions of individual micro-laser cavities will be designed and utilized to transfer the nanoscale laser mode patterns to the polymeric membranes. The surface nanopatterns can be flexibly controlled by manipulating the cavity resonant modes.

We expect that this transformative approach will revolutionize the nano-lithography techniques for the development of polymeric membranes, enabling an environmentally responsible way for energy production. Our interdisciplinary team of engineers brings in expertise in optoelectronic devices, nanomanufacturing and membrane anti-fouling applications to address the various aspects of the proposed technology, which will be leveraged to attract a large scale funding from DoE, NIH, NSF, ONR, EPA and industries.

The Contribution of the Carotid Body Chemoreceptors and Physical Activity to Heat Stress Compensatory Responses in Heart Failure

  • Johnson, Blair, Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
  • Fallavollita, James, Department of Medicine
  • Hostler, David, Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
  • Pendergast, David, Department of Physiology & Biophysics


The incidence, severity, and duration of heat waves are projected to increase in the coming years. Similarly, the number of patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) is rising. Collectively, these issues pose a public health concern as CHF patients have an increased risk of mortality during heat waves, which is most likely due to impaired responses to heat stress. 

The overarching goal of this application is to collect preliminary data for future grant submissions that will examine compensatory responses to heat stress in CHF and determine if exercise—training adaptations improve these responses.

The carotid body chemoreceptors (CB) are located in the carotid artery and play a central role in CHF pathophysiology by becoming chronically active. However, it is not known if chronic CB activity contributes to impaired compensatory responses to heat stress in CHF. Exercise training improves underlying CHF pathophysiology, which might translate to improved heat tolerance.

Accordingly, we propose to collect preliminary data in CHFpatients regarding the contribution of the CB to heat stress compensatory responses and preliminary data investigating if physical activity is related to CHF health-related physiology and improved heat stress tolerance. 

This project is pertinent to the Health theme of UB 2020 as clinical trials are ongoing to determine if CB removal in CHF is beneficial for humans. Therefore, it is important to understand if the CB modulate responses to “real life” physiological stressors that may have dire consequences and if a non--‐surgical procedure, such as exercise training, improves CHF physiology and heat stress tolerance.

Engineering Literacy the Elementary School: Learning the engineering design process to read, write, think, talk and act like an engineer

  • McVee, Mary, Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction
  • Lewis, Kemper, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • English, Ken, NYSCEDII
  • Moore-Russo, Deborah, Department of Mathematics Education
  • Shanahan, Lynn, Department of Literacy Education


The National Research Council (2010) states that students in grades K-12 have limited engineering experience. In reviewing attitudes toward science, Osborne, Simon & Collins (2003) note that for nearly four decades scholars have expressed concern about students’ interest ‘swing from science’, finding that as students increase in age, their interest in science also wanes. Ultimately, a child’s aspirations to pursue science or engineering careers may be fixed before the age of 10 and most often before reaching 14 (Osborne, Simon, & Tytler,2009).

This project proposes a learning environment design that engages children in the exploration of authentic activities related to STEM careers, and studies the engineering design process and disciplinary literacies required for engineering in a third-grade setting. Through design-based research, also known as “formative experiment” (Reinking & Bradley, 2008), we will examine the disciplinary literacy skills and strategies third graders use as they engage in problem solving within the engineering design process.

The findings will inform the development of a model that explores engineering as a disciplinary literacy at the elementary level to:

  1. introduce children to the engineering design process,
  2. inform children about engineering careers,
  3. introduce children to language specific ways of talking, reading, writing, thinking and acting like engineers, and
  4. bridge teachers’ understandings of literacy skills and strategies with disciplinary literacy for engineering.

Our short-term goal is to establish viable pilot data that can be used to bolster external grants applications.

The Neonatal Microbiome Study: A pilot study in Meru County, Kenya

  • Millen, Amy, Department of Epidemiology and Environment
  • Ram, Pavani, Department of Epidemiology and Environment
  • Hageman, Blair Rachel, Department of Biostatistics
  • Kam, Kelly, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health
  • Buck, Michael, Department of Biochemistry
  • Sun, Yijun, Department of Microbiology and Immunology


BackgroundStunting affects over 170 million children <5 years old, primarily in low-income settings, and is associated with poor health and lower cognitive abilities. Diarrhea and acute malnutrition, common conditions in low-income settings, are risk factors for stunting and thought to be influenced by the gut microbiome. We hypothesize that establishment of the gut microbiome during the neonatal period (first 28 days) critically influences a child’s later susceptibility to stunting, and is influenced by the interaction of nutrition and environmental hygiene exposures. Research on the development of the neonatal gut microbiome in low-income settings, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, is sparse. 

Objective: To conduct a two-phase pilot study in the rural, low-income setting of Meru County, Kenya to determine if collection and transport of biologic samples for study of the microbiome is feasible, valid, and cost-effective.

Proposed Methods: In Phase I, we will assess the acceptability and feasibility of sampling maternal and neonatal stool and breast milk during the neonatal period. In Phase II, we will examine the validity of samples collected and stored under gold standard conditions compared to methods feasible in a rural, low-income setting (tropical climate), with the goal of establishing a standard collection protocol. 

Future Goals: Our interdisciplinary team includes experts in epidemiology, nutrition, global health, child survival, biochemistry, microbiology, bioinformatics, and biostatistics, and includes partners at UB and CDC-Kenya. This project will provide pilot data and build international, interdisciplinary relationships that will lay the foundation for collaboration on future research projects in child health and survival.

Marianne Moore Archive (MMA): Notebooks project

  • Miller, Cristanne, Department of English
  • Nwogu, Ifeoma, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
  • Srirangaraju, Setlur Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors (CUBS)
  • Maynard, James, Library Special Collections


The Marianne Moore Archive: Notebooks project proposes to make notebooks by Marianne Moore readily accessible to scholarly, classroom and non-academic readers for the first time. In doing so, it will revolutionize criticism on this illustrious poet and develop new data reading and management tools for the digital display and manipulation of handwritten materials.

The work on this project will be directed by Cristanne Miller (English), Setlur Srirangaraj (Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors) and Ifeoma Nwogu (Computer Science), in collaboration with James Maynard (Associate Curator of Library Special Collections) and with an advisory board consisting of Moore scholars from across the U.S. The relevant UB 2020 themes are Humanity and Innovation.

Moore wrote innovative verse and criticism, significant to the development of globally influential modernist poetics. Moreover, her verse and essays focus on the crucial issues facing “modern” culture, from scientific developments, war, racism and xenophobia to literature, film, dance, opera and the arts from China to the U.S. Online access to numerous collections of historical handwritten documents is now available but the interfaces available for studying and interacting with such collections are still fairly limited.

The MMA also will be innovative in exploring ways to provide researchers in the humanities with intelligent tools to interact with handwritten historical documents online in a manner that has not been hitherto possible. We anticipate that the development of these automation tools will also have a great impact on the time it takes to bring such archives online.

Iron (II)/(III) Complexes Linked to Liposomes or Nanotubes for Magnetic Resonance Imaging

  • Morrow, Janet, Department of Chemistry
  • Rzayev, Javid, Department of Chemistry
  • Lovell, Jonathan Franklin, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Schweser, Ferdinand, Department of Neurology
  • Poulsen, David, Department of Neurosurgery
  • Spernyak, Joseph, Department of Biophysics


In this proposal, we introduce iron based nanoparticles towards the development of paramagnetic liposomes and nanotubes for pre-clinical and clinical applications. These nanoparticles will be studied as T2-susceptibility MRI contrast agents for applications in tumor characterization and in brain perfusion imaging.

Short term objectives to be completed during the year are to synthesize iron containing liposomes and nanotubes and to characterize their magnetic and MRI contrast properties both in vitro and in vivo. Liposomes will contain iron complexes which are encapsulated in the interior and also incorporated into the bilayer (Scheme 1). Nanotubes will be lined with iron complexes on the inner wall of the tube. These paramagnetic nanotubes are expected to have a large bulk magnetic susceptibility for T2–weighted imaging and quantitative susceptibility imaging.

Strategies to enhance stem cell homing to sites of damage following myocardial infarction

  • Neelamegham, Sriram, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Canty, John, Department of Medicine


The blockage of arteries that feed oxygenated blood to the heart results in myocardial infarction (MI) or heart attacks. This condition is associated with cardiac muscle injury, loss of heart function and compromised patient quality of life. The last 10 years have seen clinical trials that attempt to reverse this condition by promoting the repair of damaged heart tissue by delivering stem cells. These studies are starting to provide data supporting the benefits of this approach.

One of the major challenges in the field involves the development of an efficient methodology to home stem cells or other cellular therapeutics proximal to the infarcted region that contains the compromised tissue. Following parallels in the field of inflammation research, we hypothesize that “Enabling stem cells to mimic leukocyte cell adhesion properties will enhance their uptake to sites of cardiac therapy that are also typically inflamed”.

To this end, two specific aims are proposed: 

  • Aim 1. To determine if engineering stem cell adhesion properties enhances homing in an ischemia-reperfusion swine model. This aim will collect proof-of-principle data that will support future pre-clinical investigations on long term recovery of cardiac function. 
  • Aim 2. To study the mechanism and kinetics of stem cell transmigration, and engineer approaches to enhance this step. While preliminary ex vivo studies have optimized stem cell capture methods onto the inflamed vascular endothelial cells, this aim will determine methods to enhance the next step that relates to cell diapedesis.

This project relates to UB2020 themes: Humanity, Innovation and Health.

Identification of E4A as a target for treating memory Impairment

  • Xu, Ying, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Bhattacharjee, Arin, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology


Type 4 phosphodiesterase (PDE4), one of the 11 enzyme families, is critical in the control of cAMP concentrations and important in mediating memory. Inhibition of PDE4 increases cAMP leads to reversal of memory deficits induced pharmacologically. The role of specific PDE4 subtypes in memory remains unclear. Since PDE4A is highly expressed in memory-related brain regions but barely expressed in emesis-associated brain regions, we hypothesize that PDE4A is the target for drugs that enhance memory but do not cause emesis. 

The primary objective of this proposal is to identify the role of PDE4A and its splice variants in the mediation of memory. We will first identify the role of PDE4A in the mediation of memory using mice deficient in PDE4A treated with or without MK-801, an NMDA receptor antagonist that impairs memory in rodents; long-term potentiation and memory will be measured by electrophysiological recording and the water-maze test. 

We will then determine whether PDE4A5/10 knockdown enhances memory and/or reverses memory deficits induced by MK-801. We will further examine the role of PDE4A in emesis. This will be accomplished by examining α2 adrenergic receptor-mediated anesthesia, a surrogate measure of emesis, in mice deficient and silencing of PDE4A and its splice variants in the area postrema, a brain structure involved in emetic responses.

The results will provide the foundation for development of drugs that retain memory-enhancing activity but avoid emesis. The outcomes of this project could have major impact on research of PDE4A, a potential target for treatment of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Stereolithography 3D printing of human organ on a chip

Zhao, Ruogang, Department of Biomedical Engineering

Zhou, Chi, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering


Organ-on-a-chip is a newly emerged technology that seeks to recapitulate the structure and physiological function of native human organs using miniaturized in vitro 3D culture chips, and has been envisioned as a promising platform for drug screening and disease modeling.

However, due to the technical challenges encountered in 3D bio-fabrication, such as the difficulties to realistically mimic the organ geometry, vasculature and multilayer tissue structure, existing organ-on-chip models still cannot fully recapitulate the physiological function of native organs. 3D printing technology has recently emerged as a power tool in many fields of manufacturing including biomanufacturing, and 3D bio-printing has been successfully employed to model the large size geometry of several human organs.

Therefore, there is a high potential for the 3D bioprinting technology to be used on organ-on-chips. The merging of these two novel technologies will likely lead to an innovative approach that can substantially improve the physiological relevancy and drug screening utility of the organ-on-chip models. Inspired by this idea, collaboration on3D bio-printing of organ-on-chip has been formed between Biomedical Engineering and Industrial and Systems Engineering and significant progress has been made in the development of a 3D bio-printing system and a polymeric bio-scaffold for visible light based stereolithography (SLA).

Here, we propose to use SLA 3D bio-printing to create a liver-on-chip device for drug toxicity screening. We plan to improve the existing 3D bio-printer and use it to fabricate a model liver lobule. Functional testing on printed liver lobule, such as the enzyme secretion, will be performed.