Director’s Channel – April 2021

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

It’s been just over a year now since our world went virtual. Zoom meetings, online teaching, COVID-19 testing have all become routine. Now that people are starting to be vaccinated, I’m hopeful that by fall we can resume in-person instruction, that labs can operate at full capacity, and that conferences can be held in person. Although, it’s been great to hear talks from people all around the world, we have missed out on the casual interactions, the serendipitous discussions that lead to different ways of thinking. In fact, all of the major breaks in my career have come from interactions at conferences.

Last year, we canceled the annual UMass Interdisciplinary Neurosciences conference because of the campus shutdown. We decided not to hold a virtual conference this year because personal interactions are the heart of such a local meeting. I’m confident that we will resume the tradition in the spring of 2022 when it is safe to meet in person again.

In the meantime, we continue our great lineup of virtual neuroscience speakers in April including a Distinguished Lecture by Lynn Nadel. His book, co-authored with Nobel laureate John O’Keefe, “The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map” has framed neuroscience research on learning and memory over the last half century. Although, it would have been nice to meet Dr. Nadel in person, I am still excited to hear his perspective on the progress made in this field.


Neuroscience Research Center Construction Approved

Artist conception of the Alfred E. Newman Neuroscience Research Center

Construction of the Alfred E. Neuman Neuroscience Research Center has been approved. This building employs Open Ergonomic Systems in Science (ANOESIS). The importance of neuroscience on the UMass campus has been recognized by its central location in the current campus pond. After extended negotiation with the wetlands protection agency, it was determined that this 10 story research building would have a more positive effect on the environment than a drainage ditch with fountains. The new building will be funded completely by sales of signature goose down vests made from the displaced Canada geese. The A.E. Neuman NRC will be hiring 7 new faculty forming a research cluster to study the neural basis of gullibility.

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UMass Neurosciences Publications – March 2021

ChangHui Pak

This month’s featured researcher is ChangHui Pak, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Her lab investigates how cell adhesion and cell signaling guides synaptic connectivity in the developing human brain with the ultimate goal of understanding how synaptic dysfunction arising from genetic mutations in synaptic molecules contributes to neuropsychiatric disorders. She has two publications appearing in PubMed this month, one is a review of Neurexin gene variation and the other is a primary research paper in collaboration with Yubing Sun from Mechanical and Industrial Engineering that reports about the development of a new device that creates a local chemical microenvironment for engineering organotypic structures in vitro. This work arose from an IONs seed grant.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared on line in March. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Mélise Edwards awarded Ford Foundation Fellowship

Mélise Edwards

Mélise Edwards, 2nd year student in the Lacreuse lab (co-advised by Courtney Babbitt), received a prestigious Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, which will support 3 years of her PhD research. This competitive fellowship, funded through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, supports individuals “who can demonstrate superior academic achievement, are committed to a career in teaching and research at the college or university level, show promise of future achievement as scholars and teachers, and are well prepared to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students”.

Her research will compare gene expression in specific brain regions in marmosets treated with an aromatase inhibitor (Letrozole) compared to marmosets treated with a placebo. Aromatase inhibitors are commonly administered to women with estrogen-responsive breast cancers because they suppress estrogen synthesis. Unfortunately, they are also associated with cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances and mood disorders and little is known about the underlying mechanisms.

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Director’s Channel – March 2021

Paul Katz
IONs Director, Paul Katz

Despite our continued vigilance to slow the spread of the corona virus, there is a lot going on in the neurosciences at UMass. There are many exciting seminars and virtual events happening in March including a Distinguished Lecture by Catherine Dulac. If you missed last month’s Distinguished Lecture by Larry Abbott, you can watch the recording. This month, there are also neuroscience talks in the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) seminar series and the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) seminar series. This points to the truly interdisciplinary nature of the neurosciences at UMass. The featured researcher is Deepak Ganesan, who is a professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences. His work on sleep monitoring intersects with other neuroscientists on campus. I am excited by the diversity of topics that we see in the neurosciences at UMass as well as the diversity of speakers.


UMass Neurosciences Publications – February 2021

Deepak Ganesan

This month’s featured researcher is Deepak Ganesan. He is a Professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences. This month, he was the senior author on a paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research entitled, “Effect of Sleep and Biobehavioral Patterns on Multidimensional Cognitive Performance: Longitudinal, In-the-Wild Study“. Deepak’s group is building wearable sensors for monitoring health. His work involves low-power sensing and communication, networked systems, and machine learning. His recent work includes the design of ultra-low passive radios for wearables, novel wearable technologies such as low-power eye trackers to monitor health signals, and robust detection of important health targets such as drug use, smoking, and over-eating

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared on line in February. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Larry Abbott – Vector computations in the fly brain

On February 10, Professor Larry Abbott of Columbia University to kicked off the spring 2021 Neuroscience Distinguished Lecture Series with a fantastic talk on his collaborative work with Gaby Maimon and Cheng Lyu, on the directional vector computations performed in the Drosophila brain. This research led to a detailed understanding of basic mechanisms needed for goal-directed navigation and path integration. If you missed the talk, you can view it here.

Vector navigation in a fly brain

Director’s Channel – February 2021

IONs Director, Paul Katz

Neuroscience is continuing to grow at UMass. We welcome a number of new faculty members who are starting their labs. One of them, Jennifer Rauch, will be presenting her work at a Neuroscience & Behavior Seminar on February 17th. Computational Neuroscientist, Larry Abbott from Columbia University will present a Neuroscience Distinguished Lecture on February 10th. Dr. Abbott has given some of the most eloquent explanations of computations that I have ever seen. He has the ability to take difficult subjects and convey their essence.

Over the last few months, I have been working with engineering and computer science faculty to submit an NSF graduate training grant in Biological Neurotechnology. We are building a training program that will enable our students to work in teams across disciplines and make the next advances in the neurosciences. The future of research on the brain is dependent upon technological advances in recording technology and machine learning, both of which are strengths at UMass. I am looking forward to seeing new collaborations emerge on this campus to tackle the most challenging research questions.


UMass Neurosciences Publications – January 2021

This month’s featured researcher is Madalina Fiterau Brostean. Ina, as she is called, is an Assistant Professor in the College of Information and Computer Science. Among the projects that her lab works on is Project 4Thought, which uses deep learning algorithms to identify subjects who will get Alzheimer’s at least 2 years ahead of the standard diagnosis. She was a contributing author on a recent paper that examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the academic community.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared on line in January. They are just a fraction of the research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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New Neuroscience Faculty

The Neurosciences at UMass continues to expand with the addition of several new faculty members in a number of departments and colleges.

Megan Huber, Chase Cornelison, Jennifer Rauch, Douglas Martini, Siyuan Rao

In the last year, UMass hired four new Assistant Professors who all approach neuroscience from different directions.

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