Metabolic fingerprints tech talk

Dr. Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz produced “metabolic fingerprints” to identify cervical cancer. 

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

Five Times the Speed of Sound. Engineers at the University of Arizona are nearing completion on two high-speed wind tunnels to research flying at “hypersonic speeds” of Mach 5 or, roughly 3,800 mph. The new, $1 million wind tunnel is housed in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering building, and is planned to help both researchers and aerospace companies like Raytheon. The wind tunnels will be used to “test aerodynamic effects on objects such as aircraft, typically using much smaller scale models, and sometimes individual components.” As the US military continually moves toward hypersonic missiles and vehicles, studying the effects of hypersonic speeds becomes increasingly crucial.

Metabolic Signatures. A new report from the University of Arizona College of Medicine aids in distinguishing precancerous cervical conditions from cancer by identifying cervicovaginal metabolic signatures, or “fingerprints.” The report, published in EBioMedicine, is the first report on “metabolomes” in HPV-associated precancerous cervical conditions. The report shows the “predictive value” of metabolic fingerprinting by identifying three compounds that distinguish cervical cancer patients from healthy women. A metabolome is the collection of chemicals in a cell, and the levels of metabolites change in response to disease. By identifying 475 metabolites in cervicovaginal samples that changed across progression of disease, Dr. Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz was able to produce unique metabolic fingerprints. The fingerprints work as benchmarks on the timeline of a disease, showing how far progressed HPV-associated cervical cancer is. 

SARSEF CEO Announces Retirement. Dr. Kathleen Bethel, the first CEO of the Southern Arizona Research Science and Engineering Foundation, announced her retirement on Saturday, May 4. An administrator at the UA College of Engineering, Bethel served on the SARSEF board for 16 years. Bethel indicated her health as one of the reasons for her departure, and will retire at the end of June. She said one of the most important lessons SARSEF students, and any scientist, should learn, is to not fight change. As a result, SARSEF is now seeking a new CEO. 

A decade of brain and spine care. This month, Carondelet Neurological Institute celebrates its 10th anniversary, and as such, they released a collection of data detailing their decade of service. Over the past 10 years, Carondelet Neurological Institute treated more than 7,000 stroke patients, including 4,000 Ischemic stroke patients, 2,300 TIA patients, and nearly 400 hemorrhagic stroke patients. This celebration also occurs during Stroke Awareness Month. 

Pesticides and ADHD. Using a five-year, $910,000 career development grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, UA researchers are studying the link between exposure to prenatal pesticides and childhood Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Melissa Furlong, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow and epidemiologist who received the grant, and hopes to bridge gaps in the field of environmental epidemiology. To identify women who were exposed to pesticides while pregnant, Furlong will use data from the “Arizona Pesticides Use Registry.” Furlong aims to identify 4,000 children with ADHD and 16,000 “controls” without ADHD born between 1992 and 2012. The next step is to develop at “model to track the spread of pesticides and estimate exposure to pesticide drift.”

Detecting Dementia. A collaborative study between UA and University of Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences Centre may hold the key to detecting dementia before brain cells are lost for good. The study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, examined patients with a rare neurodegenerative brain disorder called “primary progressive aphasia.” The research team compared the brain scans of patients with primary progressive aphasia to healthy brains while both groups performed language tasks. According to the study, “functional defects were related to worse performance in the tasks, as individuals with PPA lose their ability to speak or understand language while other aspects of cognition are typically preserved.” Identifying these differences in brain functions with scans could be used as an early-detection method, even if the effects of this form of dementia aren’t initially obvious on the outside. Using “magnetoencephalography” for brain scanning let the researchers know if the decreased brain function came from the areas that are already atrophied or areas in earlier stages of decline.