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From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2017

In a groundbreaking new study led by University of Minnesota biomedical engineers, artificial blood vessels bioengineered in the lab and implanted in young lambs are capable of growth within the recipient. If confirmed in humans, these new vessel grafts could prevent the need for repeated surgeries in some children with congenital heart defects.

Designing a vessel that will grow with its host is one of the greatest challenges of vessel bioengineering. For this study, led by University of Minnesota Department of Biomedical Engineering Professor Robert Tranquillo, researchers generated vessel-like tubes in the lab from a postnatal donor’s skin cells and then removed the cells to minimize the chance of rejection. This approach allowed the vessels to be stored and implanted when needed without the need for customized cell growth of the recipient. Once the tube was implanted in a lab it was repopulated by the lamb’s own cells, allowing it to grow.

Playing a key role in the development of the bioengineered vessel was a pumping bioreactor that provided the tube with nutrients and “exercise” to strengthen and stiffen it. Developed by Zeeshan Syedain (Ph.D. ’09), a senior research associate in Tranquillo’s lab, the bioreactor helped make the vessel stronger than a native artery so it wouldn’t burst in a patient..

The study was published in the September issue of Nature Communications.

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The University of Minnesota has been named a Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research, joining eight other centers around the nation. The distinction comes with a $9.07 million grant from the National Institutes of Health over the next five years.

A team of University researchers and physicians, led by Jerrold Vitek (Ph.D. ’84, M.D. ’84), professor and chair of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Neurology, will focus on three main research projects:

• Project 1 will study the underlying changes in brain circuitry that affect patients with Parkinson’s disease. • Project 2 will develop new stimulation approaches in a region of the brain called the pallidum that is important for controlling voluntary movement. • Project 3 will also explore the effects of novel stimulation approaches on brain circuitry that mediates movement problems associated with Parkinson’s disease.

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Moms and dads alike find greater well-being in activities with their children than without, but moms find parenting more tiring, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University. Associate professor of policy analysis and management Kelly Musick of Cornell University, along with University of Minnesota associate professor of psychology Ann Meier, and researcher Sarah Flood (Ph.D. ’09) with the Minnesota Population Center, studied data gathered from more than 12,000 parents reported in the 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Survey. They found that mothers reported more stress and greater fatigue related to parenting than fathers did. The difference appears to be due to the fact that mothers do more of the work of parenting while fathers experience more of the fun.

Mothers are more likely than fathers to be called on by kids around the clock, Meier explains, while fathers’ sleep and downtime are less likely than mothers’ to be interrupted by children. Additionally, Meier says, the study found that when mothers are with their kids, they are more often by themselves. In contrast, when fathers are with their kids, they are more likely to have other adults around, offering some backup.

The findings were published in the October issue of the American Sociological Review.

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University of Minnesota researchers have found that monkeys living in captivity lose much of their natural gut bacteria and wind up with bacteria resembling that of humans, suggesting that switching to a low-fiber Western diet may have the power to deplete most normal primate gut microbes in favor of a less diverse set of bacteria.

Using DNA sequencing, University computer science and engineering professors Dan Knights and Tim Johnson, along with Jonathan Clayton (Ph.D. ’15) of the School of Veterinary Medicine, found that monkeys at several zoos on three different continents not only lose most of their native gut bacteria, but also consistently acquire the same new and less diverse set of the bacteria that dominate humans’ guts. The condition of gut bacteria—called the microbiome—has been linked to medical conditions in humans ranging from obesity to autism.

“We think this study underscores the link between fiber-rich diets and gut microbiome diversity,” Knights says.

The study was published in the September 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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