IMPACT Winter 2015

There were six IMPACT Awards given for research projects that run from Feb. 16, 2016 to Feb. 15, 2017.

Impact Awards Given

Developing a Board Game To Promote Young Children's Delay of Gratification

  • Anzman-Frasca, Stephanie, Department of Pediatrics;
  • Pape, Dave, Department of Media Study


Delay of gratification, or the extent to which one can resist the temptation of an immediate reward and wait for a later reward, is a key component of early child development. Preschoolers’ performance on the delay of gratification task, which involves resisting an attractive item, traditionally a marshmallow, for a set amount of time to obtain two marshmallows, predicts many positive outcomes from academic achievement to maintaining a healthy weight. Developing innovative ways to promote delay of gratification can equip children with an essential skill for success in modern environments.

The goal of the proposed project is to develop and test a board game designed to improve delay of gratification. Faculty with expertise in game design, child development, education, psychology, and obesity will develop and play-test prototypes of the game with 4-to-5-year-old children, refine prototypes on an iterative basis, and then test effects of the game using an experimental design. It is hypothesized that children who played the game during four weekly sessions will wait longer during the delay of gratification task, versus a control group.

Project objectives are to develop an understandable, appealing, developmentally-appropriate game that improves young children’s delay of gratification. Results will provide critical preliminary data for a federal grant proposal aiming to test longer-term effects of the game on delay of gratification and whether these effects extend to other aspects of health and well-being. This low-cost intervention has the potential for widespread payoff, including the potential to address disparities in children’s achievement and health.

Modeling AIDS-Associated Opportunistic Infections in Humanized Mice

  • Jacobs, Amy, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
  • Berenson, Charles, Department of Medicine
  • Davidson, Bruce, Department of Anesthesiology


The human immune cell called the macrophage is responsible for engulfing and destroying microbes that can lead to infection in humans. HIV infection causes an immunodeficiency that leads to bacterial and fungal opportunistic infections. The fungal pathogen C. neoformans is especially deadly causing ~625,000 deaths per year. This fungus, which infects macrophages somehow travels from the initial site of infection in the lung to the brain causing fatal meningitis only in immunocompromised people. The mechanism by which this happens is not known.

Our hypothesis is that HIV infected macrophages will take up more fungal cells and these will act as a Trojan Horse shuttling the fungus to the brain. This hypothesis is based upon two findings. 1) Our preliminary data using cell culture prove that with HIV infection, the macrophages take up increasing amounts of fungal cells and this increase is reversed by antiretroviral drugs. 2) Researchers have observed in the newly developed humanized mouse model that there is an influx of macrophages to the brain as HIV levels rise. We propose herein to be the first to model the AIDS-associated opportunistic infection, cryptococcosis, in the humanized mouse model to study the mechanism of fungal cell dissemination to the brain and to utilize this model to develop and test potential combination therapies in our future work that will have impact in global health.

Methylglyoxal Could Mediate the Relationship Beteween Infections and Diabetes: A method development and feasibility

  • LaMonte, Michael, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health
  • Browne, Richard W., Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Science
  • Genco, Robert, Department of Oral Biology
  • Sharma, Ashu, Department of Oral Biology
  • Sun, Yijun, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
  • Zhao, Jiwei, Department of Biostatistics


Methylglyoxal (MGO) is a highly reactive glycating agent involved with formation of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) shown to be associated with etiologies of diabetes and atherosclerosis. Evidence from in vitro and in vivo experiments shows MGO is secreted by a known and highly virulent periodontal infectious agent, Tannerella forsythensis (“Tannerella”).

We recently demonstrated that the relative abundance of Tannerella, measured using next generation sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, is considerably higher in patients with periodontal disease and diagnosed diabetes as compared to healthy controls. Likewise, we’ve shown that Tannerella was one of the most prevalent periodontal pathogens identified in human atherosclerotic plaques harvested during carotid endarctectomy.

These observations make plausible the hypothesis that Tannerella infection could influence diabetes and atherosclerosis as a pro-glycation factor via its secretion of MGO using periodontal disease as a model. To our knowledge, this hypothesis has not systematically been evaluated.

Expanding on our previous work, the objective of this proposed study is (a) to validate bioanalytical methods for the measurement of MGO adducts to specific human serum proteins and (b) to characterize the potential functional link with diabetes that Tannerella, and potentially other yet to be identified periodontal bacteria, have in secreting MGO using community dynamics (“shotgun”) analysis of the microbial DNA. Delineating the disease-related oral microbiome dynamics at both organism and functional levels would identify molecular events that drive disease progression which could provide a wealth of insights into disease development and lay a critical foundation for developing improved diagnostics, prognostics and therapeutics.

Isoporous Ultrafiltration Membrances by Self-Assembly of Block Copolymers for Water Purification

  • Rzayev, Javid, Department of Chemistry
  • Lin, Haiqing, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering


Polymeric ultrafiltration (UF) membrane is an attractive technology to recover and reuse the wastewater, due to high energy efficiency, small footprint and low cost. However, the membrane performance suffers from a trade-off between high permeability and high selectivity (due to the broad pore size distributions) and surface fouling by the contaminants in the wastewater. Block copolymer self-assembly is an effective route to design isoporous membranes with high porosity and narrow pore size distributions offering much sharper molecular weight cutoffs or higher selectivity than commercial phase inversion membranes. However, the conventional block copolymer self-assembly suffers from pore size and pore orientation limitations, prohibiting the population of this approach for water purification.

The main objective of this project is to develop a new strategy for the fabrication of robust, chemically tunable ultrafiltration membranes based on ultrahigh molecular weight block copolymers. A low cost chemical transformation method will be used to reliably generate membranes with unprecedented 50-200 nm pore sizes and a network-like continuous pore structure. The inherent hydrophilic membrane coating that requires no additional surface modification steps is expected to improve membrane anti-fouling properties. The proposed strategy will result in UF membranes with a unique combination of expanded pore size range, improved permeability, selectivity, and anti-fouling properties that will unlock the potential of block copolymer based approaches. Our interdisciplinary team brings in expertise in polymer synthesis, self-assembly, and membrane preparation and applications to demonstrate the technology feasibility, which will be leveraged to attract a large scale funding from DoE, NSF, ONR, EPA or industries.

Development of a Multisensory System for Continuous Monitoring of Blood Glucose Level

  • Xia, Jun, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Mastrandrea, Lucy, Department of Pediatrics
  • Singh, Tarunraj, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Abstract: Over the last two decades, the diagnosis of diabetes has increased worldwide at an unprecedented pace and has become a serious health concern. It is a major cause of mortality in the age group of 20–79 years, and diabetes complications may lead to neuropathy, retinopathy, and nephropathy. Because diabetes cannot be cured, frequent monitoring of glucose in order to guide therapy and optimize glucose control is the only way to avoid diabetic complications. Currently, all of the commercially successfully blood glucose meters are invasive. Most patients, particularly those treated with insulin, are advised to check their blood sugars 4-6x daily. This is burdensome and creates issues with adherence to diabetes care plans. In this project, we aim to develop a prototype noninvasive glucose meter (NGM) based on the fusion of near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), photoacoustic spectroscopy (PAS) and high frequency ultrasound (HFU).

Our project is built upon recent advances in the field that (1) the combination of multiple noninvasive sensing techniques would significantly improve the measurement accuracy, (2) NIRS, PAS, and HFU have all been demonstrated individually for promising glucose monitoring, and (3) PAS links optical and acoustic tissue properties through the photoacoustic effort, allowing for a more comprehensive data fusion approach for all three modalities. In this project, we will combine our expertise in biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, and clinical diabetes research to develop the proposed device and to acquire sufficient preclinical data for future clinical trials.

Developing the Methodology To Measure Food Reward in Young Infants

  • Epstein, Leonard H., Department of Pediatrics
  • Anzman-Frasca, Stephanie, Department of Pediatrics
  • Kong, Kai Ling, Department of Pediatrics
  • Titus Albert , Department of Biomedical Engineering


Obesity is a widespread public health concern. Obese children are at increased risk of becoming obese adults, with the risk beginning in infancy. Food reward is a major risk factor for obesity, with evidence that obese children, adolescents, and adults find food more reinforcing than their lean counterparts, and with recent findings from our team suggesting that these relationships already exist at 9-18 months of age.1-10 It is unknown whether the origins of excess motivation to eat are present even earlier as currently, there are no technologies to measure food reward in younger infants.

Young infants cannot make purposeful, coordinated, motoric responses that can be used to quantify food reward. However, young infants innately engage in nutritive sucking for survival purposes. This innate ability offers the opportunity to measure food reward in young infants by quantifying their sucking and integrating the measurement of sucking with delivery of milk based on their pattern of sucking.

The purpose of the proposal is to develop the technology to measure food reinforcement in 3-6 month-old infants, test the reliability and validity of the measure, and test whether excess infant weight is associated with a greater motivation to eat, as indicated by infants’ willingness to continue sucking even when they are required to suck more in order to obtain milk. Measuring food reward in early infancy will open up new areas of investigation for researchers interested in the origins and prevention of obesity.