Health Research Program – Opportunity Archive

Stephen Abini-Agbomson
Stephen Abini-Agbomson ’17 (CLAS) conducted research on bacterial spores in Dr. Peter Setlow’s laboratory in summer 2016.

Summer 2020 Research Opportunities
Summer 2019 Research Opportunities
Summer 2018 Research Opportunities
Summer 2017 Research Opportunities
Academic Year 2017-18 Research Opportunities
Spring 2017 Research Opportunities


Opportunity Archive

The Health Research Program was first launched in Spring 2017. Cohorts of students were selected to start in the program in Spring 2017, Summer 2017, Academic Year 2017-18 (Fall 2017), Summer 2018, Summer 2019, and Summer 2020. The opportunities that were offered in each of these past phases of the program are listed here for reference, but none of these are active opportunities. For information about the next phase of the Health Research Program – Summer 2021 – please visit the main HRP webpage for students.


Summer 2020 Research Opportunities

Summer 2020 applications are closed. For reference purposes, the names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they sponsored appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Corey Acker
Department of Cell Biology
The student will support testing of new voltage-sensitive dyes using cell culture assays. Custom fluorescence microscopy equipment is used along with patch clamp electrophysiology to control and monitor the voltage inside cells, including human stem cell derived heart cells, by recording voltage changes optically as well as electrically. MATLAB is used for all aspects, from hardware control to data analysis. SU20-1
Dr. Byoung-Il Bae 

Department of Neuroscience

The student will study the neurodevelopmental basis of autism spectrum disorder. She/he will characterize rare variants of the neurodevelopmental gene ASPM, which have been implicated in autism. She/he will generate the mutant constructs by site directed mutagenesis, and evaluate their effects on the protein levels of ASPM, the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway, and neural progenitor cell proliferation. Successful completion of this project will elucidate how young patients with autism have larger than normal head circumferences (“macrocephaly”), and how abnormal neurodevelopment alters neural circuits for social behaviors. SU20-2
Dr. Jean-Denis Beaudoin
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences
The trainee will have the opportunity to use CRISPR technologies to generate zebrafish loss of function mutant of RNA helicases. This project includes bioinformatics search of RNA helicase candidates, design of CRISPR strategies, injection of CRISPRs in zebrafish embryos, genotyping fish to find mutant alleles and look for developmental and molecular defects in loss of function mutants. Depending on the trainee’s interest, there is also a possibility of using cell lines to study translation regulation using transfection and massive parallel reporter assays (measuring the regulatory activity of thousands of sequences in a single experiment using high throughput sequencing). SU20-3
Dr. Michael Blinov
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Mathematical modeling of biological processes is important to gain understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms and predict dynamics and outcomes of experiments and medical interventions. Mathematical models describe interactions among components of biological systems. Models are implemented and simulated in the Virtual Cell (http://vcell.org) software using GUI. We will develop a set of small models (ModelBricks, http://modelbricks.org) that serve as building blocks for larger models. SU20-4
Dr. Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan
Department of Psychiatry
The Adaptation and Resilience in Childhood Study is an NIMH-funded study investigating the effects of domestic violence on young children, ages 4-6 years. The summer intern will have the opportunity to assist with study activities which include developmental testing, computerized activities that assess children’s processing of facial stimuli, puppet interviews, and in-depth interviews with mothers about family life and the child’s development, postraumatic stress, and well-being. Psychophysiological data are acquired during visits, including heart rate, skin conductance and event-related potentials. The summer intern will be an integral part of the study team and will have ample opportunity to get hands on research experience. SU20-5
Dr. Caroline Dealy
Departments of Reconstructive Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Orthopedic Surgery and Cell Biology
The overall goal of this project is to develop a clinically-relevant approach to improve articular cartilage repair. In animal studies, we have identified a growth factor that stimulates cartilage repair potential by tissue-resident progenitor cells present in articular cartilage. This summer project will take the first translational step towards our goal by evaluating the effects of the pro-regenerative growth factor on progenitor cells in human articular cartilage. The project will identify the optimal dose and duration of growth factor treatment that maximally stimulates progenitor cell repair potential. Techniques will include tissue culture, histology, PCR, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy and digital imaging. SU20-6
Dr. Jennifer Garza
Department of Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
We are seeking students interested in a summer research opportunity to join the UConn Study on Aging, Musculoskeletal Health, and Retirement (UConn-SAM) team. For their summer projects, students will measure work and out-of-work activity patterns of UConn-SAM participants with and without eldercare responsibilities. The opportunity includes field work, recruitment and interaction with study participants, and analysis of work and out-of-work activity data. Students will test the hypothesis that individuals with eldercare responsibilities will have different work and out-of-work activity patterns compared to those without eldercare responsibilities. SU20-7
Dr. Damion Grasso 
Department of Psychiatry
Student effort would involve interacting with human research participants and participating in data collection/management on two primary projects conducted at our Family Adversity and Resilience Research Program in West Hartford. The first is a follow-up component of an NICHD funded study examining the intergenerational transmission of trauma and stress in mothers and their infants. Research activities involve a 3-hour visit in which mother and infant participate in a laboratory stress paradigm and physiological data are collected to measures infant stress reactivity. The second is an NIMH funded study examining biological and behavioral indicators of stress reactivity to explain the relationship between early violence exposure and mental health problems in 4- to 6-year-old children. Research activities involve a 4-hour visit with parent and child specific assessments and mother-child tasks. SU20-8
Dr. Carolyn Greene
Department of Psychiatry
I am seeking an undergraduate student intern to assist with the Parent and Child Emotions Study (PACES) a research study investigating emotion regulation among parents and children who have experienced trauma. The intern will assist with parent and child visits to our laboratory, where families will be completing questionnaires and engaging in dyadic tasks during which we will collect physiological and observational data. The intern will also assist with recruitment activities in the community, screening and scheduling subjects, administrative tasks, and data entry and analysis, and have the opportunity to utilize data from a prior study to develop a poster or paper on emotion regulation and children’s functioning. The intern will receive training in relevant tasks and be expected to attend research team meetings. SU20-9
Dr. Kshitiz
Department of Biomedical Engineering
We have established a fascinating connection between pregnancy and cancer metastasis, fundamentally changing our view of how and why cancer becomes malignant (see our paper in Nature Evolution: https://rdcu.be/bZk0D).
This discovery has opened up a new and important field to investigate cancer metastasis, how it starts, why it starts, and suggest methods to control cancer invasion. We are listing a series of very interesting projects for HRP students, and I am sure you will like at least one of them, and will get to work on a variety of techniques. These include:
1. Understanding the mechanics of how cancer invades into the surrounding tissue: involves microscopy, image analysis, traction force measurements etc.
2. Understanding the metabolism of cancer invasion: microscopy, metabolomics, lots of cool assays, bioinformatics, data analysis.
3. The evolutionary basis different levels of malignancy in mammals: dealing with farm animal tissues, histology, bioinformatics.
4. Looking at how fibrosis occurs in different tissues: nanoengineering, microscopy, image analysis, force generation analysis, and basic biochemistry.Students in our group have a high probability to be part of  publications if they contribute.
SU20-10
Dr. Liisa Kuhn 
Department of Biomedical Engineering
This project will involve using 3D scans of mastectomy patients and 3D printing to create a personalized breast prosthesis that can be worn externally to restore symmetry and aesthetics to breast cancer patients. The project requires learning how to use the scanning software skanect and the program meshmixer and solidworks or autocad and a 3D printer. The challenge will be to optimize the print parameters and design of the part to make the part print in a half a day or less while offering structural support and comfort to the patient. SU20-11
Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar

Orthopedic Surgery

The student will be involved in the design, development, and fabrication of polymeric micro-nano structures for tissue regeneration and drug delivery. These structures will be characterized for their physicochemical and biological properties using in vitro and in vivo test models. Specifically, the student will work on conducting drug release and accessing the in vitro cell response to the released drug. The student will be introduced to protocols to conduct experiments, data acquisition, analysis, oral presentations and report writing. SU20-12
Dr. Changchun Liu
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Nucleic acid-based molecular detection plays a critical role in rapid diagnostics and prompt treatment of infectious diseases. In this summer project, we will design, fabricate and test microfluidic diagnostic device and portable detection system for point of care diagnostics. The device and system will be fabricated by 3D printing technology. Please find more detail on our current research through the website: https://smds.engr.uconn.edu/. SU20-13
Dr. Leslie Loew
Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The lab is using computational methods to understand cell function. The project will involve learning how to use a cell modeling software tool that was developed in my lab called SpringSaLaD (https://vcell.org/ssalad). You will use it to understand the molecular and cellular principles controlling the assembly of molecular machines composed of many individual molecules containing multiple binding sites. If you are interested in computer programming, there will also be the opportunity to work on improving SpringSaLaD. SU20-14
Dr. Kazuya Machida

Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences

The goal for the summer is to develop a new single cell protein binding assay using advanced flow cytometry technologies. The student will a) construct a panel of labeled protein domain probes, b) validate the probes in biochemical and imaging analyses, c) and optimize the assay conditions using human lymphocytes. Together, these experiences enhance the student’s abilities for future careers. SU20-15
Dr. Kevin Manning
Department of Psychiatry
This is a clinical research opportunity for students interested in geriatric psychiatry or clinical neuroscience. We (a collaborative group of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists) have an ongoing clinical trial aimed at understanding whether cognitive fitness (computerized brain games) improves both depression symptoms and cognitive functioning in a sample of older adults with treatment resistant major depression. The student will learn about the day to day operations of clinical neuroscience research by learning to administer behavioral tests and measures / entering in data to a database / and observing MRI assessments and psychiatric interviews. SU20-16
Dr. David Martinelli
Department of Neuroscience
Two different projects are underway in the lab, and the student could potentially choose either. The first regards the biochemistry of synaptic adhesion proteins, and is described well on the lab website https://health.uconn.edu/synapse/ . The second project is not described on the lab website, but involves the same set of proteins/genes, which happen to also be expressed in oligodendrocytes, the cells that make brain myelin. The project centers on understanding how myelin gets made, with the long term goal of developing a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. SU20-17
Dr. Bruce Mayer 
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences
We have developed computational models that describe B cell receptor signaling, which is dysregulated in human leukemias such as Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). We have also found patterns of protein phosphorylation (which we term “SH2 profiles”) in CLL patient samples that correlate with clinical outcomes such as disease progression. The goal of the proposed project is testing and validation of the computational model. This will involve both computational work, and biochemical studies using cell lines and patient tumor samples. SU20-18
Dr. Pedro Mendes 
Center for Quantitative Medicine, Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
A critical aspect in developing computational systems biology models is to estimate values for the parameters of a model based on experimental data. Our systems biology software COPASI (http://copasi.org) is one of the leading packages for parameter estimation, which is widely used in the literature (around 100 papers per year use it). However COPASI executes parameter estimation using optimization algorithms that run in serial mode and tcan be very slow. We aim to address this problem by implementing optimization algorithms, known as “island evolutionary algorithms”, that can run in parallel making use of high-performance computing resources. This project will implement such an algorithm, to be written as a script in the R programming language and which will control COPASI through an existing API (https://github.com/jpahle/CoRC). This research project includes coding, debugging and benchmarking the algorithm using established test case problems. Finally we will apply it in an ongoing research project on genetic regulation by micro-RNAs. SU20-19
Dr. Masoud Nickaeen
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
We will develop algorithms to numerically solve partial differential equations in domains with moving boundaries. We will implement these algorithms in computer programs and run simulations to evaluate their accuracy and validity. We will benchmark the utility of the new algorithms in the study of cellular processes that lead to or rely on the motion and deformation of the cells, their organelles or subcellular structures. SU20-20
Dr. Stefan Pinter 
Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences
Project DescriptionOur lab studies genetic syndromes that change the expression levels of many genes residing on a single chromosome, for example Down syndrome (DS, trisomy 21) and Turner syndrome (TS, monosomy X). We have established human stem cell (iPSC) lines of these aneuploidies, along with isogenic euploid control lines, to model cellular phenotypes associated with these conditions. To correct the dosage of genes on chromosome X or 21, we use epigenetic (XIST RNA) and RNA-targeting CRISPR tools to study their developmental impact, and map cellular phenotypes back to specific mis-expressed genes. For example, we would like to learn how trisomic genes on chromosome 21 contribute to oxidative stress in DS neurons and astrocytes, and have built a reporter iPSC line to identify which genes would have to be targeted to restore a typical redox balance SU20-21
Dr. Tannin Schmidt
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Lubricin is multi functional protein, with both lubricating and anti inflammatory properties, that is present throughout the human body. In particular, lubricin is present in synovial fluid as well as tears, and is critical for both knee joint and ocular surface health. Recombinant human lubricin has been shown to be effective in treating osteoarthritis in preclinical models, and also improving signs and symptoms of dry eye disease in humans. This project will examine the regulation of lubricin biosynthesis by various relevant cell types, as well as further explore lubricin’s recently discovered anti-inflammatory properties. SU20-22
Dr. Henry Smilowitz

Department of Cell Biology

Project DescriptionOur laboratory in collaboration with a small biotech company, Nanoprobes, Inc. pioneered the use of heavy atom nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy (RT) of tumors, with a focus on primary and metastatic brain tumors (Hainfeld et al., 2004). Our initial work used gold nanoparticles (Hainfeld et al. 2010, 2013). Our more recent work has been with well tolerated novel iodine nanoparticles (INPs) (Hainfeld et al., 2018, 2019). Current work in the lab is focused on 1. Improving INP-enhanced RT efficacy by tumor targeting of the INPs, 2. Studying the mechanism of INP-enhanced RT by A. Microlocalization of INPs in brain tumors, B. Quantification of double strand DNA breaks (DSBs) in tumor and non-tumor cells in the brain after RT. C. Combination of INP enhanced RT with chemotherapy, immunotherapy. Our lab also has a continuing interest in tumor dormancy and projects along those lines. For specific projects please come to talk with Dr. Smilowitz. For specific references to our published papers, please refer to our Cell Biology web site. SU20-23
Dr. Ali Tamayol

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Chronic wounds are major healthcare challenges that affect a noticeable number of people by exerting a severe financial burden and being the leading cause of limb amputation. Although challenging, healing rate can be enhanced by administration of therapies at the right time. The project in Laboratory for Innovative Microtechnologies & Biomechanics (LIMB) is focused on development of smart bandages for active monitoring of the wound environment using integrated biosensors followed by on‐demand drug delivery employing active and passive methods. The project is interdisciplinary combining biology, biomaterials, biochemistry, bioelectronics and biomechanics. SU20-24
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Department of Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. SU20-25
Dr. Paola Vera-Licona
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student involved in this project will apply computational systems biology and bioinformatics tools to quantitatively study Acute Myeloid Leukemia maturation state interconversion in a clinically relevant in vivo model of differentiation therapy.

Bioinformatics tools will include the use of the software package geneXplain (http://genexplain.com/) and some R packages to visualize and analyze RNA-seq data. In addition, the student will learn to use some Cytoscape apps (http://www.cytoscape.org/).

SU20-26
Dr. Yi Wu
Center for Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
The student has an opportunity to participating in several projects related to mechanobiology. These projects overall hinge upon a newly developed, genetically-encoded biosensor from the lab for detecting mechanical forces in living cells. The exact project for the student can focus on calibrating force sensing modules in vitro, engineering force sensors for a specific protein, or measuring forces in live cell microscopy. SU20-27
Dr. Ping Yan
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
There is a summer research opportunity for a chemistry student to synthesize new voltage sensitive dyes (VSDs). While mainly working on organic syntheses, the student will also measure the absorption and fluorescence spectra, test the sensitivities in artificial membranes, and possibly image action potential in real cells using newly synthesized VSDs (in collaboration with Dr. Loew). SU20-28
Dr. Riqiang Yan
Department of Neuroscience
Chemokines and cytokines play a role in a variety of degenerative diseases. This project will explore the role of a particular chemokine CXCL14 on Alzheimer’s disease. Participants will be using imaging and biochemical techniques to localize and quantify CXCL14 in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease patient tissue. The effect of CXCL14 on cell migration into the brain will also be explored using culturing and live imaging techniques. SU20-29
Dr. Ji Yu
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling (Department of Cell Biology)
Misregulation of protein phosphorylation is linked to important human diseases, particularly cancer. The goal of the project is to develop a microscopy method to analyze the phosphoproteome in a spatially resolved manner. We achieve this by combining the naturally existing phosphor-sensitive library of SH2 domains with a protease based multiplexing imaging scheme. Furthermore, the project also aims to establish and validate an imaging analysis pipeline that allows rigorous yet intuitive interpretation and visualization of the high-dimensional imaging data. SU20-30

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Summer 2019 Research Opportunities

Summer 2019 applications are closed. For reference purposes, the names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they sponsored appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Paola Bargagna-Mohan
Neuroscience
The cornea is the transparent tissue in the front of the eye, and its main function is to refract light. Injury/insult and diseases compromise corneal clarity, cause fibrosis and scarring, and ultimately blindness (4th leading cause of worldwide blindness).
The corneal myofibroblasts are a differentiated mesenchymal cells known to cause fibrosis, and they are well studied. Now, we have discovered another type of corneal cells that actively contribute to corneal fibrosis: the corneal Schwann cells. This is the first time these cells are studied/explored in mouse corneas. The student researcher will contribute to characterizing these cells during wound healing and/or pathological fibrosis.
SU19-1
Dr. Margaret Briggs-Gowan
Psychiatry
We are studying the effects of domestic violence on threat-reactivity and symptoms in young children, ages 4-6 years at our lab in West Hartford. Mothers and children are being evaluated in our laboratory with interviews, developmental testing, observation of mother-child interactions, computerized “games” and puppet interviews. We are also collecting psycho-physiologic measures, such as heart rate reactivity, skin conductance, and event-related brain potentials. Internship activities will include helping with study recruitment (e.g., distributing flyers to childcare centers), assisting with study visits, data preparation, and conducting a literature review on a related topic of their choosing. SU19-2
Dr. Jennifer Cavallari
Community Medicine and Healthcare
We are seeking a student to join the WorkTime research team studying the relationship between work hours and schedules and worker and family health. You will learn many aspects of field data collection among human participants, including consenting, survey administration, and data management and analysis, as we survey workers at their workplaces. You will also gain knowledge in Public Health, community-based-participatory research, and occupational health and skills in survey research methods, and data management and analysis. SU19-3
Dr. Bojun Chen
Neuroscience
This project is to identify genes that play important roles in controlling the reproductive lifespan in the nematode C. elegans. We have a C. elegans strain with a doubled reproductive lifespan. Using this strain, we plan to perform a genetic screen to isolate mutants that restore the normal reproductive lifespan. SU19-4
Dr. Alix Deymier
Biomedical Engineering
The study focuses on the effects of acidosis on the structure and mechanics of bones. Over the course of the spring semester, a number of mice will be given a diet that puts them into an acidodic state, meaning that their body pH will drop. After a few weeks of acidosis, the mice will be sacrificed. Students will learned how to collect and characterize the bones of these mice. This includes learning to dissect mice, perform mechanical tests, use Raman microscopy, analyze CT data, and perform histology. SU19-5
Dr. Mallika Ghosh
Center for Vascular Biology
Tunneling Nanotubes (TNTs) are specialized actin or microtubule-based membrane encased cell protrusions that hovering above the substratum, connecting two distant cells via one continuous structure for efficient cell-cell communication, transport of signaling molecules and cell organelles. Recent studies have reported TNT formation in a wide array of cells including neuronal, endothelial, as well as stem cells and immune cells. CD13, an adhesion molecule mediating cell-cell and cell-ECM adhesion, has been shown to regulate internalization of receptors to control downstream signaling. Studies from our laboratory have implicated a critical role for CD13 in regulating actin cytoskeletal organization and receptor recycling as well. Given CD13’s function in endocytosis and actin cytoskeletal organization, we chose to explore CD13’s role in the formation and function of TNTs. SU19-6
Dr. Carolyn Greene
Psychiatry
I am seeking an undergraduate student intern to assist with a research study investigating emotion regulation among parents and children who have experienced trauma. The intern will assist with parent and child visits to our laboratory, where families will be completing questionnaires and engaging in dyadic tasks during which we will collect physiological and observational data. The intern will also assist with recruitment activities and data entry, and have the opportunity to utilize data from a prior study to develop a poster or paper on emotion regulation and children’s functioning. SU19-7
Dr. Arthur Gunzl
Genetics & Genome Sciences

Our research is on gene expression factors and mechanisms in the lethal human parasite and unicellular eukaryote Trypanosoma brucei (we work with a strain that is not infectious for humans). We investigate transcription and RNA splicing of pre-mRNA, processes that deviate substantially between trypanosomes and the human system. Current projects that are open for participation focus on a cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) complex that is essential for protein coding gene expression and parasite viability as well as on the basal function of only two introns the parasite has retained for hundreds of million years of evolutionary time. Participation in either project will comprise learning of cell culture techniques, molecular cloning and a variety of biochemical, genetic and imaging techniques. While the focus will be on wet lab experience, there may be an opportunity for the application of next generation sequencing. On the theory side, there will be opportunities to understand the intricacy of the host-pathogen interaction. SU19-8
Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student project is part of a larger program to develop a collection of algorithms for mathematical modeling and data analysis in biomedicine. The collection of algorithms is intended to be “crowd sourced,” in the sense that algorithm developers from around the world can upload their own algorithms and link them with already posted algorithms into workflow pipelines. For this purpose, we are developing two tools that facilitate the packaging of algorithms and their computational environment into Docker containers, and connect them together through a drag-and-drop tool.The role of the student in the project is to contribute to the further development of these two tools. SU19-9
Dr. James Li
Genetics and Genomics
We study how the brain develops and how abnormal development contributes to brain disorders. We are currently using a number of approaches, including single-cell RNA sequencing, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and experiments in stem cells or animal models (mouse and chick), to study the generation of various cell types in the cerebellum. SU19-10
Dr. Changchun Liu 
Biomedical Engineering
Rapid and sensitive molecular diagnosis of diseases, including pathogens and cancer biomarkers, at the point-of-care is critical for prompt and appropriate therapeutic intervention. In this summer project, we will focus on developing microfluidic chip and biosensor for point of care molecular detection. The device will be fabricated by either 3D printing technology or wax printing technology. SU19-11
Dr. Kevin Manning 
Psychiatry
We are seeking students to assist in ongoing treatment studies of major depression in older adults. We have two ongoing studies: 1) a naturalistic study (where patients are taking standard antidepressants and are followed over time) and 2) a study that uses cognitive remediation (brain games) to improve cognitive functioning and change underlying neural activity (measured with fMRI) in patients. Interested students would help administer tasks and score/enter data into research databases. There are opportunities to use collected data for scientific conference presentations and papers (e.g., the naturalistic study has been ongoing for 5 years and has a sample of 140 older adults with major depression). SU19-12
Dr. David Martinelli
Neuroscience
Two different projects are underway in the lab, and the student could potentially choose either. The first regards the biochemistry of synaptic adhesion proteins, and is described well on the lab website https://health.uconn.edu/synapse/ . The second project is not described on the lab website, but involves the same set of proteins/genes, which happen to also be expressed in oligodendrocytes, the cells that make brain myelin. The project centers on understanding how myelin gets made, with the long term goal of developing a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. SU19-13
Dr. Royce Mohan
Neuroscience
The Mohan lab is interested in the study of retinal pathology using mouse models of experimental and genetically-induced neurodegenerative diseases. The student will be taught techniques such as, isolation of mouse eyes from sacrificed mice, cryosectioning of eyes, tissue staining using antibodies, and image acquisition by epifluorescence microscopy and western blot analysis. In certain cases, students may also advance to using live mice, where they will be taught mouse handling, perform injections to deliver anesthesia and drugs and terminal euthanasia. Some students do continue on the project in fall semester and may learn retinal injury. SU19-14
Dr. Lakshmi Nair
Orthopedic Surgery
The goal of the project is to develop bioactive polymeric biomaterials to decrease tissue inflammation and enhance healing. The work involves incorporating bioactive molecules to existing hydrogels, physico-chemical characterization of the hydrogels and in vitro cell culture studies to under the broader biological activity of the hydrogels. SU19-15
Dr. Douglas Oliver
Neuroscience
We are developing an electrophysiological test to demonstrate the presence or absence of tinnitus in animals and human subjects. During summer and fall 2019, a number of different projects are possible. 1) Use an active avoidance task and the inhibition of acoustic startle to test whether mice have tinnitus that is induced by exposure to a loud sound. Animals will be trained and tested before and after exposure to loud sound. 2) Use multichannel electrophysiological recordings from neurons in the midbrain auditory system of mice to study the changes in sound-evoked activity. 3) Develop the electrophysiological test for tinnitus using scalp recordings of sound-evoked responses in mice and eventually in human subjects. SU19-16
Dr. Carla Rash
Medicine
We have multiple NIH-funded R01s of clinical trials for addictions. All of these projects involve behavioral interventions, and most involve a specific intervention called contingency management. The specific project the student would be assigned would depend on the patch between their individual preferences and study needs at the time. Opportunities may include data entry, assisting with study auditing procedures, as well as direct contact with participants, conducting research interviews, and screening participants. SU19-17
Dr. Archana Sanjay
Orthopaedic Surgery
The overall objective of the project aims to identify and characterize novel regenerative adult stem/progenitor cells in the periosteum. Periosteum is a connective tissue that covers long bones as well as bones of the cranium, maxilla, and mandible, and it is required for efficient skeletal repair. Compromised, non-healing fractures pose a significant public health problem; understanding the molecular drivers of periosteum-mediated regeneration will help to develop new therapies to reduce the incidence of delayed union and nonunion in fracture healing of both long bones and the craniofacial region. Our laboratory has a longstanding interest in the periosteal response to fracture, as the periosteum is a critical reservoir for skeletal progenitors following injury7,8. We explored the possible presence of Lgr family members in the periosteal layer. Preliminary data show that Lgr6 is expressed in periosteal cells that proliferate at a bone fracture site, while there is undetectable expression of Lgr6 in periosteum of uninjured bones. SU19-18
Dr. Tannin Schmidt
Biomedical Engineering
Biomechanical characterization of cartilage tissue in synovial joints & the role lubricin/PRG4 plays in joint homestasis. Lubricin is a lubricating molecule originally discovered in the knee joint that is necessary for joint health. Intra-articular injections of recombinant human lubricin, which is also being developed to treat dry eye disease, have been shown to be effective preventing/delaying osteoarthritis disease progression. This project will cartilage integrity in synovial joints, via mechanical indentation, and the role lubricin plays in synovial joint integrity using various models. Biochemical analysis will also be employed to examine tissue composition of lubricin. SU19-19
Dr. Henry Smilowitz
Cell Biology
Our lab is studying heavy atom nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy of tumors with an emphasis on brain tumor therapy. We also study the synergy of the combination of heavy atom nanoparticle radiation enhancement with other therapies such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. We also study radiation therapy induced tumor dormancy. The student will take part in a project related to these lab interests. Topics of interest will include the relationship between the distribution of the nanoparticles and the efficacy of radiation enhancement, radiation enhancement and the efficacy of chemo- and immunotherapies, the effect of radiation dose and tumor dormancy. SU19-20
Dr. Rajkumar Verma
Neuroscience
Project 1: In this project we will investigate a novel drug target “Purinergic receptor P2X4” for therapeutic exploitation in stroke. The overall goal of this project is to determine if modulation of P2X4R signaling in myeloid cells is a viable therapy for stroke, working towards our long-term goal of developing and identifying target-based therapies for stroke.
Project 2: Vascular dementia (VaD) is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Although it is the most rapidly increasing disorder in the aging population, VaD remains under diagnosed, studied and treated. At the molecular level, VaD is characterized by key neuronal and dendro-synaptic changes resulting in dysfunction and cognitive deficits. Therefore, greater understanding of the pathophysiology at the molecular level is needed to identify novel vascular substrates of dementia. Our goal here is to identify key proteins involved in modification of brain pathology during progression of VaD.
SU19-21
Dr. Penghua Wang
Immunology
To study the innate immune system, detection of viruses and initiation of innate antiviral immune responses, pathogenesis of viral arthritis. 2. To understand the mechanisms of immune evasion and modulation of cellular functions by flaviviral/alphaviral proteins. 3. To elucidate the impact of intestinal microbiome dynamics during early life on cell intrinsic antiviral immunity in intestinal epithelium. SU19-22
Dr. Yanlin Wang
Medicine
The summer research project is to examine the molecular signaling pathway that regulates fibroblast activation and monocyte-to-fibroblast transition. The student will utilize molecular, pharmacological and genetic approaches such as cell culture, Western blot, histology, gene knockout. SU19-23
Dr. Zhao-Wen Wang 
Neuroscience
We recently discovered that C. elegans AIPR-1, a homolog of human aryl hydrocarbon receptor-interacting protein, is a strong regulator of neurotransmitter release, and functions through stabilizing the calcium releasing channel ryanodine receptor in the endoplasmic reticulum membrane (Chen et al., Nat Commun 2017). We would like to identify proteins that are important to AIPR-1 function in vivo using a forward genetic approach. Specifically, the student will screen for mutant worms that suppress a behavioral phenotype caused by AIPR-1 deficiency. SU19-24
Dr. Zhao-Wen Wang 
Neuroscience
We need to add a dark-field tracking feature to an existing Matlab-based bright-field worm-tracking system so that a moving worm with selected neurons labeled by a red or green fluorescent protein may be tracked. In addition, we need to figure out approaches to quantify fluorescent signal intensity over time. SU19-25
Dr. Yi Wu
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
We are seeking a motivated undergraduate intern to join our research team and to help unravel the remaining mysteries in regulated secretion. The available projects involve using cutting-edge imaging technologies to observe individual secretory granules and their associated proteins in several model systems include neurons, pituitary cells and pancreatic beta cells. The student are expected to learn how to interrogate different cellular and signaling dynamics involved in secretion and hopefully gain new insights into the regulatory mechanisms. In addition to these biological projects, we are also welcome students who are interested in developing imaging tools in optogenetics and synthetic biology. SU19-26
Dr. Ming Xu
Center on Aging
My lab is trying to find novel interventions to slow down the aging process, and alleviate a number of diseases as a group. My recent work has shown several drugs can extend lifespan and maintain physical function in aged mice. The project here is to find new drugs for delaying aging using primary human cells and mice. Student(s) will gain extensive experience on cell culture, mouse studies, and overall aging research. SU19-27
Dr. Ping Yan
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
There is a research opportunity on developing new voltage sensitive dyes, which are used for imaging membrane potentials. The student will have broad hands-on experience on the synthesis of organic compounds, and test the newly developed voltage sensitive dyes using spectroscopic and microscopic methods, on model cell membrane, and even on real cells (in collaboration with Dr. Loew). SU19-28
Dr. Ji Yu
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Two projects are available for summer students:
1. To design, synthesize and evaluate new fluorescent molecular probes that specifically label phosphotyrosines in cells. Perform various imaging assays using the fluorescent probes on model systems, and compare their relative performance.
2. To perform computational analyses of super-resolution imaging data using novel software developed in the lab. Evaluate the performance of the algorithm.
SU19-29
Dr. Kristyn Zajac
Calhoun Cardiology Center, Medicine
I conduct research studies on behavioral interventions for promoting health outcomes, particularly related to addictive behaviors. I currently have three ongoing clinical trials testing: 1) a family-based therapy for Internet gaming disorder (aka Video Game Addiction); 2) a counseling intervention for young adults with substance use disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder and 3) a reinforcement intervention to promote HIV testing among at-risk women. Students will have the opportunity to be involved in one or more of these projects based on their interests. Student involvement can include: data entry and database management, assisting with ongoing trainings for our community partners (for the HIV study), assisting with advertising and recruitment of participants, participation in research team meetings, and use of existing databases to develop and answer research questions in the field of addictions. Direct contact with research participants may be available based on interest and student skill level. SU19-30
Dr. Yanjiao Zhou
Medicine
My lab is a computational biology lab. We are interested in understanding how the gut microbiome modulates local gut immunity and neuro-inflammation in multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting central nervous system. The technique we use includes both anaerobic culture, molecular biology, and multi-OMICS technology. The students will have the opportunity to learn big data analysis and wet bench techniques, depending on their interests. SU19-31

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Summer 2018 Research Opportunities

Summer 2018 applications are closed. For reference purposes, the names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they sponsored appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Corey Acker
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The student will assist with designing, assembling, and testing new microscopy methods. Modifications of an existing 2-photon microscope are planned as well as an epifluorescence microscope for studying cell signaling. SU18-1
Dr. Alix Deymier
Biomedical Engineering
The body is extremely sensitive to changes in pH and small disregulations can lead to pathologies like acidosis that cause tissue damage and osteoporosis. In the lab, you will be examining the structure and mechanics of bones that come from mice with acidosis. You will learn to perform dissections, do chemical and structural analysis and do mechanical testing. The goal is to determine how acidosis affects the skeleton and how we can minimize those effects. SU18-2
Dr. Naveed Hussain
Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology
Necrotizing enterocolitis is a devastating condition that affects premature infants. We are studying the epidemiology and risk factors associated with this condition using databases of NICU patients collected over the past 25 years at UConn Health and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Our aim is to develop prediction algorithms to find early warning signs (Neonatal Early Warning Signs-NEWS) that can be used clinically in identifying cases of NEC early enough to prevent their devastating consequences. SU18-3
Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja
Immunology
The objective of the project will be to identify virulence factors of Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) that interact with the innate immune system. Specifically the project will include utilizing mutants of EHEC that lack virulence factors to infect macrophages and determine if the deficiency of these bacterial factors affect innate immune responses such as inflammasome activation. Inflammasome activation will be assessed by measuring cell death and cytokine responses following infection with the EHEC mutants. SU18-4
Dr. Insoo Kim
Medicine
In this project the student will participate in development of a wearable sensor for personal health monitoring – blood pressure, heart rate variability, and sleep monitoring. The nature of this project will require the student to develop engineering expertise in biomedical instrumentation, flexible sensor development, and digital signal processing. The student will be asked to participate in flexible sensor and system development, electronic circuit board building, and lab experiments with the sensor. SU18-5
Dr. Min Jung Kim
Calhoun Cardiology Center
In this project, the student will participate in developing an iOS app for tracking patient reported outcomes such as health related habits, heart failure symptoms, and quality of life in a patients with a diagnosis of heart failure. The nature of this project requires 1) to understand the importance of daily monitoring of biomarkers, activity levels, symptoms, and medication response for the patient struggling to manage chronic heart failure, 2) to implement the mobile application to support heart failure management strategies, and 3) to evaluate patient reported outcomes with mobile app. The student will be asked to develop the iOS app using X-Code software, and to analyze the collected data using statistical methodology. SU18-6
Dr. Liisa Kuhn
Biomedical Engineering
In this project the student will learn how to test biomaterials that might be used one day as a new bone graft. The biomaterials, also known as scaffolds, are placed in pieces of living bone that have been dissected from old mice and cultured in an incubator to allow the early steps of bone repair to occur in controlled conditions. The student will learn how to embed the biomaterials after they have been cultured and learn how to cut thin sections of them to look at the cell types under the microscope that migrate into the scaffolds with time. The goal of the summer research is to see how various compounds adsorbed on the biomaterial affect early inflammation processes and find the best ones that can help bones heal faster. SU18-7
Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar
Orthopaedic Surgery & Biomedical Engineering
Cell to cell communication plays a key role in the function and development of neural tissue. Neuronal cells communicate largely through electrical potentials. This summer’s research will focus on cell culture of neuronal and non-neuronal cells to study the underlying connection between electrical stimulation and neural phenotype development by mesenchymal stem cells. SU18-8
Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The Center for Quantitative Medicine at UConn Health is developing a software platform for computational algorithms related to medicine and healthcare. The platform is based on the relatively new technology of Docker software containers, which can be used to share environment-independent computational, mathematical, and statistical tools. The site algorun.org contains more information. Qualified undergraduate students will participate in the further development of this platform, learn novel software engineering techniques, become proficient in Docker applications, and participate in providing software solutions to problems in the health field. SU18-9
Dr. James Li
Genetics and Genome Sciences
We study how the brain develops and how abnormal development contributes to brain disorders. We are currently using a number of approaches, including single-cell RNA sequencing, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and experiments in stem cells or animal models (mouse and chick), to study the generation of various brain cells. SU18-10
Dr. Leslie Loew
R. D. Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The project would revolve around a unique software tool, developed here, called SpringSaLaD. It allows realistic modeling and simulation of complex multimolecular interactions in cells using structure-based molecular shapes and data on the rates of biochemical reactions. Depending on the student’s interests and skill set, the project would either involve using the software to build a model of a cell signaling pathway, or software engineering to enhance the features of SpringSaLaD. SU18-11
Dr. Nilanjana Maulik
Surgery
To study the role of exosomes in microsignaling mechanism through microRNA and messenger RNAs between various organs and cell types in Cardiovascular diseases and in Critical limb ischemia. Exosomes are small vesicles that are released by almost every cell type and play a crucial role both in the pathogenesis and therapeutic events depending on the status of the cells. They are important mediators of intercellular communication.
The project involves open heart surgery and hind limb ischemia in rodents and high tech isolation procedure of exosomes from plasma. This project also provides the opportunity to learn how to examine the specimen under electron microscopy, confocal microscopy, in vitro and in vivo imaging, imaging of exosomes, isolation of total RNA, miRNA from exosomes, analysis of miRNA and mRNA pool from exosomes, and use of genetic animals to study heart failure and critical limb ischemia–Phase I study.
SU18-12
Dr. Ion Moraru
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
This project combines experimental and computational approaches to determine the changes that occur when cells lose DNA mismatch repair function and how it relates to carcinogenesis. Single-cell RNASeq profiling data of stem cell-derived organoids have been used to ab initio the cell subpopulations that develop in the organoids. Dynamic models and simulations of intracellular signaling pathways will be created to characterize the behavior of wild-type and mutant samples. Additionally, new single-cell RNASeq data is expected to be available from adult-derived organoids for identifying subpopulations and comparison to stem cell-derived organoids. SU18-13
Dr. Syam Nukavarapu
Orthopaedic Surgery
The project we have deals with the characterization of amorphous silica fiber scaffolds and their ability to deliver growth factors. Under this project, the student will learn biomineralization, growth factor loading and controlled release concepts and put them to work to determine the scaffolds’ ability to support controlled factor release. The student will carryout the experiments first with a model protein followed by bone morphogenetic protein-2. These studies will help establish scaffold release kinetics and determine the conditions for a sustained and long-term factor release. SU18-14
Dr. Douglas Oliver
Neuroscience
We will develop an electrophysiological test to demonstrate the presence or absence of tinnitus in animals and human subjects. Over the summer, this will involve electrophysiological recordings from neurons deep in the brains of mice who are exposed to sound. We will study the changes in sound-evoked activity before, during, and after drug-induced tinnitus. SU18-15
Dr. Rishikesh Pandey
Pediatrics
To study red blood cells’ biophysical and biochemical properties using our home-built multi-modal and multi-wavelength system (MMS) featuring Raman micro-spectroscopy, quantitative phase imaging (QPI) and auto-fluorescence imaging. We intend to develop our next generation MMS system equipped with incubator set-up to enable live-cell imaging. The other project centers on label-free and real-time classification of normal lymphocytic B-cells from B-ALL infected cell using our MMS system by studying pathophysiology of live cells by exploiting morphological and molecular information. The ultimate goal is to translate this technology to point of care setting for theranostic applications. SU18-16
Dr. Blanka Rogina
Genetics and Genome Sciences
Indy (I’m not dead yet) encodes the fly homologue of a mammalian SLC13A5 plasma membrane citrate transporter. Reduction in the Indy gene activity in flies and worms extends their longevity. Decreased INDY expression has beneficial effects on energy balance in worms, flies, mice, and rats. The emerging role of the midgut in healthy aging led us to investigate how INDY reduction in fly intestine influences intestinal stem cell (ISC) homeostasis. The goal of our research is to determine the mechanism underlying beneficial effects of reduced INDY levels on ISC homeostasis and gut integrity. SU18-17
Dr. Stephen Schensul
Community Medicine and Health Care
Over the last two decades there has been an expanding global epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) that has emerged in rural, arid, agricultural lowland regions in multiple countries, including Asia, the Middle East and Central America. Our National Institutes of Health-funded project focuses on identifying factors associated with delaying progression of the disease in Sri Lanka, one of the countries hardest hit by the CKDu epidemic. The project is a collaboration between the University of Connecticut in the US and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and involves biogeochemists, social scientists and nephrologists from both institutions working collaboratively to identify the environmental, behavioral and health care factors that are associated with the rate of progression from moderate to more advanced CKDu. SU18-18
Dr. Tannin Schmidt
Biomedical Engineering
Lubricin is a lubricating molecule recently discovered on the eye and in tears that is important for ocular surface health. Recombinant human lubricin has been shown to be clinically effective in improving signs and symptoms of dry eye disease, and is also able to adsorb to commercial contact lenses and reduce friction. This project will examine the biochemical and biomechanical regulation of lubricin biosynthesis by ocular surface cells, and subsequent interaction with contact lenses and contact lens biomaterials. Recently discovered anti-inflammatory properties of lubricin will also be examined within the context of ocular surface cells and tissues. SU18-19
Dr. Henry Smilowitz
Cell Biology
Our lab is studying heavy atom nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy of tumors with an emphasis on brain tumor therapy. We also study the synergy of the combination of heavy atom nanoparticle radiation enhancement with other therapies such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. We also study radiation therapy induced tumor dormancy. The student will take part in a project related to these lab interests. Topics of interest will include the relationship between the distribution of the nanoparticles and the efficacy of radiation enhancement, radiation enhancement and the efficacy of chemo- and immunotherapies, the effect of radiation dose and tumor dormancy. SU18-20
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. SU18-21
Dr. Paola Vera-Licona
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student involved in this project will apply computational systems biology and bioinformatics approaches to analyze gene expression RNA-seq data from breast cancer to propose and prioritize combinations of therapeutic targets, that will then be provided to our collaborators for experimental validation.
Bioinformatics tools will include the use of the software package geneXplain (http://genexplain.com/) and some R packages to visualize and analyze RNA-seq data. In addition, the student will learn to use some Cytoscape apps (http://www.cytoscape.org/) and customize them to our needs.
SU18-22
Dr. Kurutihalli Vishwanatha
Neuroscience
My lab is interested in molecular mechanisms involved in secretory and endocytic pathways of endocrine cells. One of the project investigates novel roles of PAM, an amidating enzyme of the secretory pathway in exosome secretion. This project is aimed at characterizing the secretion of exosomes by atrial cardiomyocytes derived from WT and conditional PAM knock out mice. SU18-23
Dr. Zhao-Wen Wang
Neuroscience
An automated worm tracking system (Track-A-Worm) developed in the Wang lab allows quantitative analyses of locomotion behavior of C. elegans, which is very useful to interrogating gene functions. The software component of Track-A-Worm was developed to run with the Matlab in Windows environment. However, it cannot quantify worm locomotion parameters accurately in new versions of Matlab. We need to make the software fully compatible with new Matlab and hope to eventually make Track-A-Worm a standalone system. SU18-24
Dr. Liping Xiao
Medicine and Psychiatry
This summer project is designed to conduct additional experiments for publication of a manuscript entitled “Microbiota and sickle cell bone disease in mice.” Under the supervision of the PI, the student will design primers for quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR), perform qPCR analysis for gene expression, genotyping, histology sectioning and staining, and draft a manuscript. The student could be listed as first author or co-author of the manuscript contingent on satisfactory progress. SU18-25
Dr. Ping Yan
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The student will have broad hands-on experience on the synthesis of organic compounds, and test the newly developed voltage sensitive dyes using spectroscopic and microscopic methods, on model cell membrane, and even on real cells (in collaboration with Dr. Loew). SU18-26

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Summer 2017 Research Opportunities

Summer 2017 applications are closed. For reference purposes, the names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they sponsored appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Andrew Arnold & Dr. Jessica Costa
Center for Molecular Medicine
We are currently pursuing a number of approaches, including the use of transgenic mouse models and cell lines, to learn more about the precise mechanisms of human tumorigenesis. In addition, we are continuing a major initiative seeking additional genes that contribute to human neoplasia. SU17-1
Dr. Michael Blinov
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Our Center is developing software for modeling and simulation of biological models. We maintain Virtual Cell (http://vcell.org) – a general web-based framework (written in Java), and interested in providing interfacing with other tools. The student is expected to modify code of SloppyCell (Python/C, http://sloppycell.sourceforge.net/) to provide seamless integration of I/O structure with VCell. Students proficient in Perl can do the same for BioNetFit (http://bionetfit.nau.edu), while C++ developers can work with NFSim (http://nfsim.org). SU17-2
Dr. Caroline Dealy
Reconstructive Sciences/Orthopedic Surgery/Regenerative Medicine/Cell Biology
The long term goal of the project is to understand and identify growth factor signals that control stem cell responses that mediate limb regeneration. The overarching health care need is to one day develop biological replacements for human limbs lost due to accident or military conflict. Dr Dealy is a developmental biologist/molecular biologist (and UConn alumnus) and her laboratory is using growth factors and stem cells to approach the problem of limb regeneration incompetence in mammals, using a mouse model of digit loss. SU17-3
Dr. Mallika Ghosh
Center for Vascular Biology
CD13 is a multifunctional cell surface peptidase that is expressed on a variety of cells where we have shown that it modulates receptor-mediated endocytosis and ligand internalization to control downstream signaling pathways. We will explore how CD13 regulates receptor endocytosis and recycling of two major receptors S1P1 receptor and beta1 Integrin receptor which are involved in fundamental cellular function. We will track the receptor by immunostaining followed by fluorescence microscopy. The two main projects are as follows:
1. CD13 mediated regulation of endocytosis and recycling of G-protein coupled receptor, S1P1 receptor induced by its ligand S1P/FTY-P to regulate cytoskeletal remodeling in vitro and in vivo.
2. Regulation of beta1 Integrin recycling, cell migration and focal adhesion turnover by CD13 in cancer epithelial cells.
SU17-4
Dr. Arthur Gunzl
Genetics and Genome Sciences
We work on trypanosomes which cause neglected tropical diseases (our strain is not pathogenic to humans). We are interested in how gene expression in these single cell eukaryotes is different from human cells. We have identified a number of proteins that seem to be parasite-specific gene expression factors. Project options will be to silence a gene of such a factor and analyze its effect on trypanosome viability and gene expression, or to express the factor with a tag in the parasite and determine whether it functions in a protein complex. SU17-5
Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja
Immunology
The project will focus on identifying enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) virulence factors that modify innate immune responses. It will involve screening mutants of EHEC deficient in virulence factors for their ability to induce toll like receptor (TLR)- and inflammasome-mediated responses. Once a mutant is identified, the project will focus on determining the mechanism of immune modulation. SU17-6
SUMMER ONLY
Dr. Insoo Kim
Medicine
In this project the student will participate in development of a wearable sensor for blood pressure monitoring. The nature of this project will require the student to learn several engineering expertise such as biomedical instrumentation, 3D printing work for human phantom development, digital signal processing. The student will be asked to do a human phantom development using a 3D printer, electronic circuit board building, and lab experiments with the sensor. SU17-7
Dr. Min Jung Kim
Calhoun Cardiology Center
Cardiovascular Disease IOS App Development
We want to develop an IOS app based on the HealthKit, ResearchKit, and CareKit frameworks that Apple provides. The app is focused on the patients with cardiovascular disease. The use of our app enables patients to better understand the value of health monitoring and to facilitate communicating with the doctor.
SU17-8
SUMMER ONLY
Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The Center for Quantitative Medicine at UConn Health is developing a software platform for computational algorithms related to medicine and healthcare. The platform is based on the relatively new technology of Docker software containers, which can be used to share environment-independent computational, mathematical, and statistical tools. The site algorun.org contains more information. Qualified undergraduate students will participate in the further development of this platform, learn novel software engineering techniques, become proficient in Docker applications, and participate in providing software solutions to problems in the health field. SU17-9
Dr. Leslie Loew
R. D. Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
We are developing modules, called Model Bricks, that will quantitatively specify fundamental molecular mechanisms controlling cell physiology. These will be combined to develop complex models of cell behavior. SU17-10
Dr. Xin-Ming Ma
Neuroscience
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. The mechanisms underlying schizophrenia are poorly understood. Current understanding of schizophrenia has been generated from neuroimaging analysis, genetic studies, postmortem tissue analysis, and animal models, which all have their limitations. Patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) provide an excellent platform for exploring disease mechanisms in a way animal models cannot. Our lab is using iPSC-derived neurons from schizophrenic patients and healthy controls to study the mechanisms underlying schizophrenia. The specific aim is to compare the dendritic spines and synapses in iPSC-derived neurons between schizophrenic patients and healthy controls. SU17-11
Dr. David Martinelli
Neuroscience
The undergraduate research project will involve the study of the C1q-like family of proteins, which are secreted from neurons of the brain and contribute to the formation and maintenance of synapses. A variety of techniques will be taught, ranging from biochemistry to in vitro cell culture to rodent behavior assays. There are multiple possibilities for which neuronal circuit to focus on, including the auditory system with disease relevance for sound-induced hearing loss, and prefrontal cortex circuitry, with disease relevance for addiction and ADHD. In addition to gaining experience in laboratory techniques, the student will learn the critical thinking skills required of a modern laboratory scientist. SU17-12
Dr. Nilanjana Maulik
Surgery
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) remain among the deadliest diseases in the world, standing next to cancer and stroke. Among the major CVDs, acute myocardial infarction (AMI) is a key life threatening disorder that occurs due to permanent damage of the left ventricular cardiac tissue. The major coronary arteries that supply blood to the functional left ventricle get blocked due to thrombotic plaque occlusion. Therefore, the long-term objective of my laboratory is to design strategies to prevent heart failure with modified stem cells, growth factors, scaffolds, and exosomal nano vesicles to induce therapeutic angiogenesis and arteriogenesis to increase blood flow, prevent ischemic injury, and preserve ventricular function. SU17-13
Dr. Pedro Mendes
Center for Quantitative Medicine
Selection of software architecture for creating multi-scale models of iron biochemistry. In our research group we have available models of iron biochemistry at different levels of representation: a) whole body and b) specific cell types. We now wish to combine these into a multi-scale model that includes both scales. There are already existing software applications that can do this in principle and we are interested in testing how these applications work. SU17-14
SUMMER ONLY
Dr. Ion Moraru
Cell Biology and Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
This project combines experimental and computational approaches to determine the changes that occur when cell lose DNA mismatch repair function and how it relates to carcinogenesis. Single-cell RNASeq profiling data of stem cell-derived organoids will be analyzed to identify ab initio all the cell subpopulations that develop. Dynamic models and simulations of intracellular signaling pathways will be created to characterize the behavior of wild-type and mutant samples. SU17-15
Dr. Julie Robison
Center on Aging
The student will be trained to conduct telephone and in-person interviews of participants in the CT Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration (MFP) who have transitioned from nursing homes or other institutions to community settings. The student will also be trained to conduct interviews with unpaid family caregivers of the MFP participants. Tasks include tracking of difficult to find research participants, data collection and entry, data cleaning and analysis, and general collaboration with research team members, community organizations, and research participants to facilitate all aspects of the research effort. SU17-16
Dr. Blanka Rogina
Genetics and Genome Sciences
Indy (I’m not dead yet) encodes the fly homologue of a mammalian SLC13A5 plasma membrane citrate transporter. Decreased INDY expression in flies and its homologue in worms extend longevity. Reduced Indy gene activity has beneficial effects on energy balance in mice, worms, and flies. The goal of the research is to study the mechanism underlying beneficial effects of reduced INDY levels on intestinal stem cell (ISC) homeostasis. SU17-17
Professor James Schaff
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Our Center is developing and maintaining a distributed multi-user modeling and simulation environment for cell biology (http://vcell.org). We are interested in developing a new capability focused on model assisted analysis of microscopy experiments. This project involves developing spatial models in VCell to mathematically model specific microscopy experiments to improve the quantitative analysis of experimental data and gain new insight into the underlying biology. The specific biological system involves translation experiments of optogenetic ligands with photoactivatable membrane receptors. This project will focus on developing methodology to couple spatial modeling and image analysis and will involve some light software development. SU17-18
Dr. Stephen Schensul
Community Medicine and Health Care
This NIH-funded project (2016-2018) focuses on Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu), not generated by diabetes or hypertension, that is characteristic of standard CKD. CKDu is prevalent in many parts of the world and is endemic among farmers (30-60 years of age) in rural areas of Sri Lanka. CKDu is progressive, with limited treatment options, and leads to End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant, both a limited resource in low and middle income countries. The project is concerned with identifying the environmental, behavioral, medical and genetic factors that may contribute to slowing the progression of CKDu. SU17-19
Dr. Henry Smilowitz
Cell Biology
Our lab collaborates with a small biotech company to study heavy atom nanoparticles as both blood pool contrast agents and as enhancers of radiation therapy for tumor therapy. Our lab also studies the combination of radiation therapy and immunotherapy for tumor therapy with and emphasis on brain tumor therapy. We are currently studying a novel heavy atom nanoparticle for its translation potential to patients for applications related to the above utilities. Any student interested in these types of studies should get in touch with Dr. Smilowitz to discuss specific, timely projects. SU17-20
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. SU17-21
Dr. Kurutihalli Vishwanatha
Neuroscience
The project is aimed at understanding the role of the proton pump (V-ATPase) in the development and maintenance of secretory pathways in neurons and neuroendocrine cells. The proton pump is responsible for the luminal acidification of the vesicles and also other organelles of the secretory and endocytic pathways like Golgi, endosomes and lysosomes. The activity of the proton pump is spatially and temporally regulated to support the biochemical actions of the enzymes of these pathways. The project will include investigating the macromolecular interactions of V-ATPase with other regulatory accessory proteins of the secretory and endocytic pathways of neuroendocrine cells. SU17-22
Dr. George Wu
Medicine
We have recently discovered a method by which functional mitochondria can be internalized by a specific cell type through receptor-mediated endocytosis, and replace damaged or absent mitochondria. Our previous studies were dependent on co-localization of complexed mitochondria and a targeted endosomolytic agent into the same endosomes in order to achieve endosomal escape of targeted mitochondria. We wondered whether covalent linkage of an endosomolytic agent directly to the targeting conjugate could increase the efficiency of mitochondrial internalization and escape.

The proposed project would include chemical linkage of a targetable carrier protein to a bacterial peptide, and preparation of an affinity chromatography system to purify the ternary conjugates. Using mitochondria from mouse cells as donors, and human hepatoma cells as recipients, uptake assays will be performed to test the new conjugates by confocal microscopy using fluorescent anti-mouse mitochondrial aby, and qPCR using primers specific for mouse mitochondrial DNA relative to human, LDHA chromosomal gene levels.

SU17-23
Dr. Liping Xiao
Medicine and Psychiatry
This summer project is designed to conduct additional experiments for publication of a manuscript entitled “FOXO3 regulates bone formation of BMSC in vitro from sickle cell disease mice.” Under the supervision of the PI, the student will design primers for quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR), perform qPCR analysis for gene expression, and draft the manuscript. The student could be listed as first author or co-author of the manuscript contingent on satisfactory progress. SU17-24

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Academic Year 2017-18 Research Opportunities

Academic Year 2017-18 applications are closed. For reference purposes, the names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they sponsored appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Andrew Arnold & Dr. Jessica Costa
Center for Molecular Medicine
We are currently pursuing a number of approaches, including the use of transgenic mouse models and cell lines, to learn more about the precise mechanisms of human tumorigenesis. In addition, we are continuing a major initiative seeking additional genes that contribute to human neoplasia. AY1718-1
Dr. Mayu Inaba
Cell Biology
Drosophila genetic crosses.
Perform basic immuno-histochemical experiments (preparation of melanogaster tissues for imaging and confocal microscope imaging).
Live imaging of stem cell division, behavior of cellular organelle and cell-cell communications.
Molecular cloning and mutagenesis in E coli and preparation of vectors for transgenesis in D. melanogaster.
AY1718-5
Dr. Carol Pilbeam
Medicine and Orthopaedics; Director of MD/PhD Program
Our lab has found a new pro-inflammatory factor, serum amyloid A (SAA), that can regulate bone turnover. SAA is only produced when prostaglandins (PGs) are also expressed. We generated an SAA knockout mouse and found that SAA is responsible for a significant amount of bone loss with aging in mice. Our projects are focused on determining the mechanisms by which SAA causes bone loss, how SAA is regulated by PGS, and the general role of SAA in inflammatory responses by bone marrow macrophages. AY1718-2
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
Neuroscience
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. AY1718-3
Dr. Paola Vera-Licona
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student involved in this project will apply computational systems biology and bioinformatics approaches to analyze gene expression RNA-seq data from Neuroblastoma cell lines to propose and prioritize combinations of therapeutic targets, that will then be provided to our collaborators for experimental validation.
Bioinformatics tools will include the use of the software package geneXplain (http://genexplain.com/) and some R packages to visualize and analyze RNA-seq data. In addition, the student will learn to use some Cytoscape apps (http://www.cytoscape.org/) and customize them to our needs.
AY1718-6
2/28 DEADLINE
Dr. Beiyan Zhou
Immunology
We are accepting highly motivated undergraduate students to join the lab to enrich their research experience in the area of immunology/hematopoiesis/ obesity/stem cells. Our research projects incorporate epigenetic and genomic approaches to understand the crosswalks between immune compartment and host tissue cells under chronic stress conditions, such as obesity. AY1718-4

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Spring 2017 Research Opportunities

Spring 2017 applications are now closed. For reference purposes, the names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they sponsored for Spring 2017 appear in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Andrew Arnold & Dr. Jessica Costa
Center for Molecular Medicine
We are currently pursuing a number of approaches, including the use of transgenic mouse models and cell lines, to learn more about the precise mechanisms of human tumorigenesis. In addition, we are continuing a major initiative seeking additional genes that contribute to human neoplasia. HRP15
Dr. Ernesto Canalis
Orthopaedics and Medicine
Notch receptors are determinant of cell fate and function. Our laboratory has studied the function of Notch for the past 15 years. We have developed mouse models of human diseases associated with Notch mutation, specifically mice engineered to carry mutations associated with Hajdu Cheney and Lateral Meningocele Syndromes. We suspect that these mouse mutants have developmental defects of the skeleton. The project entails the characterization of the skeleton during embryonic development using histological and molecular approaches. HRP1
Dr. Audrey Chapman
Community Medicine
Stem cell research is considered one of the most promising fields of medicine. I am engaged in a research project identifying the challenges of translating pluripotent stem cell research into therapies. The initial work on the project is to track the role of the four state funding programs that have provided much of the basic stem cell research funding in order to evaluate their priorities and the types of grants they have made. I am also evaluating the first-in-human stage one clinical trials with prospective pluripotent stem cell based therapies and whether they have conformed with the guidelines developed by the International Society for Stem Cell Research. HRP6
Dr. Arvind Chhabra
Medicine
I am working in the area of human cancer immunology & immunotherapy, and human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC). Among the approaches we are working on are the generation and functional characterization of human tumor antigen specific T cells from natural CD8+ cytolytic T cell (CTL) precursors; the creation of customized CD4+ and CD8+ anti-tumor T cells by engineering human peripheral blood derived T cells with a human melanoma-associated antigen specific transgenic T cell receptor (TCR); and the generation of donor-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) lines for generating donor specific T cell and antigen presenting cells (APC). I welcome undergraduate researchers to join me in either of the two projects listed below:

  • (1) Characterization of the biology of anti-tumor T cells.
  • (2) Understanding the development of innate and adaptive immune mechanisms in the human immune system utilizing donor-specific iPSC lines as a model.
HRP13
Dr. Anne Delany
Center for Molecular Medicine
We use in vitro and in vivo models understand how specific microRNAs (miRNAs, small non-coding RNAs) control the biology of osteoclasts (bone resorbing cells) and osteoblasts (bone forming cells). Projects available for the Spring include understanding how over expression or knockdown of a specific miRNA can alter the differentiation and function of osteoblasts or osteoclasts. Studies will be performed in vitro, using cell lines transduced with lentivirus. In addition, the function of specific miRNAs in vivo will be examined using transgenic mouse models, in which skeletal phenotyping will be performed. Techniques to be used include cell culture, Western blot analysis, qRT-PCR, and histology. HRP10
Dr. Golda Ginsburg
Psychiatry
Students will be part of a vibrant clinical research lab that conducts studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and Department of Education aimed at testing different psychotherapies for youth with anxiety and depression. Students will develop basic research skills including but not limited to collecting and entering data and assisting with assessments with participants. They’ll have the opportunity to become familiar with research protocols and procedures of several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and the administration of validated psychometric assessments with youth and parents. HRP7
Dr. Damion Grasso
Psychiatry
The student will be involved in a pilot study funded by the Connecticut Institute of Clinical and Translational Science (CICATS) designed to examine emotional and biological stress reactivity in young children (4-6 years of age) with a history of domestic violence (DV) exposure. Mother-child dyads will be recruited from areawide DV shelters. Data collected with include diagnostic and observational assessments, computer tasks designed to measure attention bias to threat, and physiological measurements (i.e., heart rate reactivity/variability, skin conductance) to threat-related images. A primary aim will be to examine relationships between indicators of stress reactivity and emerging symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in these young children. HRP9
Dr. Rosa Guzzo
Neuroscience
Research in the Guzzo lab is focused on understanding the role of epigenetic modifiers in the development and maintenance of cartilage. To address this question, we employ gain and loss of function studies in human pluripotent stem cells as well as animal models. Research projects in the lab will focus on evaluating the joint phenotype in developing and postnatal mice lacking the expression of a chromatin modifier in cartilage. These studies will employ histological and immunohistochemical staining of joint cartilage tissue from genetically altered mice. Additional mechanistic studies, involving quantitative gene expression analyses and molecular assays, will be used to determine whether small molecules can promote the differentiation of embryonic progenitors and human stem cells to the chondrogenic lineage. HRP16
Dr. Christopher Heinen
Center for Molecular Medicine
Our laboratory uses human intestinal organoids as a model to study the effects of cancer causing mutations on intestinal stem cells. In the current project, the undergraduate student would work in partnership with members of the lab to create, maintain and characterize these organoids that have been genetically engineered using CRISPR/Cas9 to carry different mutations in the DNA mismatch repair (MMR) genes. This project will involve learning advanced cell culture techniques, molecular biology techniques such as RT-PCR and cell biology techniques such as immunofluorescence microscopy. HRP3
Dr. Liisa Kuhn
Reconstructive Sciences/Biomedical Engineering
In this project the student will learn how to prepare combinations of biomaterials and biologically active molecules that can be injected into a cartilaginous growth plate to improve healing after injury. This type of work builds on chemistry and biomaterials courses the student may have had. In this project we will also inject materials into mice and then image them by X-ray to understand changes to the bones and cartilage. HRP18
Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar
Orthopaedic Surgery
Students will be involved in one of two projects:
Project 1. Design, fabrication and characterization of polymeric micro-nanostructures for tissue engineering applications. Micro-nanostructures fabrication will utilize 3D printing and advanced electrospinning techniques to design scaffolds for the repair and regeneration of neural and tendon tissues. Scaffolds will be optimized for physicochemical properties in terms of mechanical strength, degradation, and pore and surface properties.
Project 2. Polymeric nano-particles for therapeutic and diagnostic applications. We have synthesized and characterized novel fluorescent polymers for this application. Students working on this project will work on per-formulation studies focused on improving the solubility of poorly soluble drugs to improve their bioavailability. Students will learn fabrication, characterization of nano-particles for physico-chemical properties, and drug release behavior.
HRP17
Dr. Kevin Manning
Psychiatry/Center on Aging
Neuropsychology of Older Drivers: Looking for interested undergraduates to assist in a research study on cognitive and automobile driving assessment in older adults. The aim of this work is to: 1) understand the earliest driving changes in older adults who will eventually develop cognitive decline and 2) determine whether driving simulation can be a useful tool in the driving assessment of older drivers. The student will learn how to administer, score, and interpret detailed geriatric cognitive assessments in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Trainees will develop proficiency in data-analysis using SPSS and Excel and become familiar with driving (using driving simulation and on-road tests) and other functional assessments of everyday activities. Education on the conceptual and day-to-day logistical aspects of running a research study in an academic medical setting will be provided. The student will interact with the primary investigator and a larger team of physicians through the Center on Aging and Department of Psychiatry. HRP2
Dr. Nilanjana Maulik
Surgery
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) remain among the deadliest diseases in the world, standing next to cancer and stroke. Among the major CVDs, acute myocardial infarction (AMI) is a key life threatening disorder that occurs due to permanent damage of the left ventricular cardiac tissue. The major coronary arteries that supply blood to the functional left ventricle get blocked due to thrombotic plaque occlusion. Therefore, the long-term objective of my laboratory is to design strategies to prevent heart failure with modified stem cells, growth factors, scaffolds, and exosomal nano vesicles to induce therapeutic angiogenesis and arteriogenesis to increase blood flow, prevent ischemic injury, and preserve ventricular function. HRP4
Dr. Lakshmi Nair
Orthopaedic Surgery
Over the years, our studies have led to the development of injectable hydrogels from proteins and polysaccharides. The proposed studies will evaluate various processing parameters to modulate the physical and biological properties of the injectable hydrogels for regenerative applications. These include chemical modification of the existing injectable hydrogels and or modulating the physical and mechanical properties using various processing conditions. HRP14
Dr. Douglas Oliver
Neuroscience
We will use genetically modified mouse strains to investigate the neurons and circuitry of the inferior colliculus, a major nucleus in the auditory system. We are particularly interested in a mouse where MEK1 is overexpressed resulting in a much larger than normal inferior colliculus. The work includes genotyping mice (PCR), electrophysiological testing of hearing and sound processing (evoked potential or single cell recordings), as well as the morphological assessment of the neuronal network (microscopy and immunohistochemistry). We expect the student to assist in these experiments and animal husbandry. Depending on skill set and research interests, the student will be involved predominately in either histology or electrophysiology experiments. HRP8
Dr. Blanka Rogina
Genetics & Genome Sciences
The Drosophila I’m Not Dead Yet (INDY) gene encodes a plasma membrane citrate transporter. We have reported that reduction in the Indy gene activity in flies modulates metabolism and extends longevity in a way that has been compared to caloric restriction. Our Indy flies live longer and are protected from the negative effects of high calorie diet. We also reported that INDY reduction in fly intestine preserves intestinal stem cell (ISC) homeostasis. We are currently investigating effect of different calorie content of food on ISC proliferation and how Indy reduction affects this response. HRP12
Dr. Daniel Rosenberg
Center for Molecular Medicine
Variety of ongoing projects related to GI cancers; epigenetic studies of the DNA methylome, microbiome studies, chemoprevention studies, mouse models of cancer, bioactive lipid signaling, bioinformatics and RNA seq studies. HRP11
Dr. Rajkumar Verma
Neuroscience
A primary focus of my lab is to understand post-stroke depression (PSD), which is the most common neuropsychiatric consequence of stroke. PSD can impair functional recovery, which can, in turn, reduce the quality of life, especially among the aged population. However, PSD remains understudied compared to other stroke complications such as a motor, cognitive, or language impairments. Elderly patients fare poorly on stroke outcomes compared to their younger counterparts, a phenotype we have recapitulated in our animal models of stroke. Furthermore, female subjects are significantly more likely to develop PSD and to suffer from a more severe form of PSD compared to age-matched males, which is mirrored in rodent models. Compared to young cohorts, aging mice exhibit exaggerated inflammatory and cytokine responses following middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO), the most common rodent model of stroke. Increased inflammation activates the peripheral innate immune system, which in turn triggers multiple downstream effects including exacerbated depressive-like behaviors. Age-specific treatment with available antidepressants in clinical PSD populations is highly limited. Moreover, unfavorable outcome such increased hemorrhagic transformation and high mortality in middle-aged adults with the used of fluoxetine, the most common used antidepressant, for PSD treatment further highlights the need to explore relevant, efficacious and safe therapeutic options for PSD in a validated aged animal models to understand their specific mechanism and safety profiles before moving forward with clinical trials. In this project, we will test post-stroke aged mice in several models of depressive phenotypes, PSD development, and motor deficits during prolonged recovery. We test a new FDA-approved drug for the treatment of depression in aged rodents with features of PSD. This study will shed new insights into the treatment of PSD and determine whether this new drug can improve survival, enhance behavioral recovery in aged mice with PSD or not. HRP5

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