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Home | Tag Archives: utep research

Tag Archives: utep research

UTEP awarded $1.3M; Funds will help research how neural circuits regulate specific cognitive functions

The University of Texas at El Paso was awarded $1.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to shed light on how the combined function of neural circuits impacts specific behaviors in humans.

Leading the research in UTEP’s Department of Biological Sciences is Manuel Miranda-Arango, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences.

Miranda’s laboratory in UTEP’s Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC) investigates localization and function of nerve cells containing glycine transporters and the efficacy of communication among them and with other nerve cells in the nervous system.

“I can’t think of a more deserving faculty member for this research award and I am very excited for the studies he has planned to improve, assess and address some fundamentally important questions regarding central brain function,” said Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science. “The result of his work will undoubtedly translate into improved human health care.”

Miranda said the study will seek to identify and characterize glycinergic neurons in the basal ganglia, a brain area that participates in initiation of voluntary movements and cognitive functions such as emotion, vision and some forms of memory.

“To address this question, we will use several genetic, physiological and biochemical approaches combined with traditional histochemical analysis to demonstrate the presence of glycinergic neurons in areas of the basal ganglia,” Miranda said.

The project will investigate the nerve cells of the mammalian nervous system that utilize the gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine as inhibitory chemicals to modulate nerve cell activity and consequently many functions of the human body.

Although the location and function of neurons containing the chemical GABA is relatively well-studied, the properties of neurons using the chemical glycine as a message remains poorly defined in the central nervous system.

“The results should provide evidence of the precise location of novel inhibitory glycinergic neurons and their connections to other brain areas,” Miranda said.

“This work will contribute to a better understanding of the basic basal ganglia architecture and how the combined function of different neural circuits regulate specific behavior.”

UTEP Research reveals new target for Tuberculosis drug development

Biology students and faculty members from The University of Texas at El Paso have discovered a new target for tuberculosis drug development.

Their study recently was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, a publication of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).

Jianjun Sun, Ph.D., associate professor in UTEP’s Department of Biological Sciences, led the research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the bacterial pathogen that causes tuberculosis diseases, or TB.

TB is one of the leading infectious diseases in the world. Development of novel therapeutics against TB is urgently needed. Sun’s lab has been investigating the mechanisms of Mtb pathogenesis for more than 10 years at UTEP with a specific focus on EsxA, which is a virulence factor essential for Mtb virulence and a preferred target for developing novel anti-TB drugs and vaccines.

During infection, Mtb is “eaten up” by human immune cells. Normally, the bacteria are killed within the immune cells, but Mtb releases virulence factors, such as EsxA, to disarm the host’s immune defense.

The study discovered that the Nα-acetylation of EsxA can drastically affect the course of the infection.

“This research was technically challenging, but the students were able to overcome the challenges and accomplished the goals,” Sun said. “All the hard work from the students and collaborators has finally come together to contribute a beautiful story in the prestigious Journal of Biological Chemistry from ASBMB.”

The study had many collaborators including Javier Aguilera, a doctoral student in Sun’s lab who is supported by the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program.

Other contributors include Salvador Vazquez-Reyes, a doctoral student in Sun’s lab, and Qi Zhang, Ph.D., a previous postdoctoral fellow in Sun’s lab.

“Knowing this work has a great impact in the TB research feels great,” Aguilera said. “Although it resulted in so many late nights of hard work and headaches for so many people, the end result was very well worth it!”

The study benefited from a collaboration with Lin Li, Ph.D., assistant professor of computational biophysics and bioinformatics in UTEP’s Department of Physics. Chitra B. Karki, a doctoral student in Li’s lab, provided help with molecular dynamic simulations to model the effects of Nα-acetylation on EsxA function.

Igor Estevao and Brian I. Grajeda, from the Proteomics Analysis Core Facility of UTEP’s Border Biomedical Research Center, helped to identify the Nα-acetylation by using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry.

Hugues Ouellet, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences, and his doctoral student Chenoa D. Arico assisted with mycobacterial biology and protein binding measurements.

Sun’s lab is supported by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. To read to the full article, click here.

Photo courtesy UTEP

UTEP Professor to assist study as part of quest against Chagas Disease

A professor from The University of Texas at El Paso will lend his expertise and record of significant advancements against Chagas disease to an $84,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded to the Research Development Foundation (Fundep) of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Brazil.

The grant, which is known as an R01, is awarded though the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Igor Almeida, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, will lead the project at UTEP, working in collaboration with UFMG’s Walderez Dutra, Ph.D., the grant’s principal investigator.

The project’s aim is to understand the molecular mechanism by which T cells cause intense inflammation in patients with chronic Chagas disease.

Specifically, researchers hope to identify and analyze the antigens responsible for the activation of T cells that are major sources of cytokines causing strong inflammation in the heart or gastrointestinal tract of patients with chronic Chagas disease. Knowledge acquired from this effort will potentially enhance treatments.

I am very glad for this award and collaboration with Professor Dutra in Brazil,” Almeida said. “I am very hopeful that this project will provide new insights into parasite-host interactions leading to inflammation, a pathological hallmark of Chagas disease, and establish the molecular basis for new therapeutic interventions.”

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors known as kissing bugs, or by blood transfusion, organ transplantation, tainted foods and juices, or congenitally.

The disease has been endemic in Latin America, already affecting 6 million to 8 million people, but it is rapidly spreading throughout the United States, Europe and other nonendemic regions as a result of globalization. Yet, there is no clinical vaccine, although there have been several experimental efforts throughout the years.

Almeida and his team are concurrently initiating an NIH-funded Phase 2 clinical trial in Bolivia to develop new chemotherapies and biomarkers for early assessment of therapeutic outcomes in Chagas disease.

Author:  Darlene Barajas – UTEP Communications

UTEP Analysis of San Jose Police Department Stop Data Focuses on Racial Disparities

A recent study by the Center for Law and Human Behavior (CLHB) at The University of Texas at El Paso is helping to address and reduce racial disparities in traffic and pedestrian stops by the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) in San Jose, California.

UTEP conducted a comprehensive analysis of 83,381 reports of limited detention actions, or traffic and pedestrian stops, by the SJPD from September 2013 through March 2016.

While race did influence how often people were stopped and questioned by police, the data analysis revealed fewer racial disparities than expected for a community as diverse as San Jose.

“This was an issue of community concern in the city of San Jose, which prompted the police department to reach out to the Center for Law and Human Behavior at UTEP to analyze their data,” said Michael R. Smith, the center’s executive director and the study’s lead researcher. “We did not uncover large or widespread disparities or anything to suggest that there’s a widespread cultural problem in the San Jose Police Department.”

Smith, a nationally recognized expert on racial profiling, has previously participated in traffic stop data analysis in Los Angeles, California; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and with state highway patrol agencies in Washington and Arizona. He also contributed to a traffic stop and use of force analysis done by the United States Department of Justice in San Francisco.

For the San Jose study, Smith collaborated with Jeff Rojek, Ph.D., the CLHB’s associate director; Robert Tillyer, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Public Policy at The University of Texas at San Antonio; and Caleb Lloyd, a former UTEP psychology assistant professor, to examine the correlation between individuals’ race/ethnicity and traffic/pedestrian stop outcomes.

As part of the report, researchers recommended policies, practices and training to reduce any potential police bias, such as identifying and quickly addressing racially disparate stop patterns by individual officers. The report noted that racial disparities in stops often are driven by the practice of a relatively small number of officers in the department.

Researchers also suggested that the department adopt evidence-based training to improve police-citizen interactions and reduce the influence of discriminatory factors, such as race and ethnicity, in traffic and pedestrian stops.

“We’ve already made a deep commitment to the high standards for 21st century policing and to fostering a departmental culture where crime reduction and community trust go hand in hand,” said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia in a press release issued by the SJPD. “This study is one of many initiatives our police department has undertaken to earn that trust and achieve better community safety. The first step in any effort to improve is self-assessment, and this report provides a critical benchmark of existing stop practices that will help us make more progress.”

Starting in February 2016, researchers began reviewing and auditing all of the department’s stop data. They also conducted focus groups and officer ride alongs.

According to vehicle stop findings, black citizens were nine times more likely and Hispanic citizens were 3.4 times more likely to experience a field interview following a vehicle stop as compared to white citizens. But black citizens were less likely to be issued a traffic citation compared to white citizens.

The study also found that Hispanic citizens were 2.4 times more likely than white citizens to be handcuffed during a pedestrian stop, but less likely than white citizens to have a police report written about it.

Chief Garcia and the UTEP research team presented the study’s findings and recommendations to the San Jose City Council on Feb. 28, 2017.

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