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University Research

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Targeting Parkinson’s with Microelectrodes
In his fight against Parkinson’s disease, University of Kentucky researcher Greg Gerhardt is listening in on the brain. “My goal is an understanding of the brain systems destroyed in Parkinson’s disease and how they work,” says Gerhardt, who serves as director of the UK Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence and the Center for Microelectrode Technology.

Gerhardt and his colleagues have been hard at work for years perfecting state-of-the-art microelectrode techniques for studies of brain function. The hope is that this technology will lead to new therapies that have the potential for treating Parkinson’s, and perhaps halting or even reversing the progression of the disease.

“The brain communicates largely by chemicals,” Gerhardt explains. “Illnesses such as Parkinson’s are a destruction of this communication. That’s why these sensor techniques we’re working on are so important in understanding how the brain works.”

Gerhardt’s lab uses nanotechnology – the art of manipulating materials on a very small scale in order to build microscopic machinery – to fabricate tiny microelectrodes. Until recently the electrodes have been used in animal studies only. However, Gerhardt is refining a version that will be used in epilepsy surgery and possibly along with deep brain stimulation. He hopes to move forward with this clinical application in the next few months.

“Once we learn through microelectrode technology how neurotransmitters are affected in Parkinson’s disease, we can develop drugs and treatment strategies to try to repair the pathway.”

For more information, visit www.mc.uky.edu/parkinsons.—UK Research Communications

Working Together on the Nanoscale
With $20 million in grant funding and industry partners including Lexmark, Cypress Semiconductor, Quanteon, the Painting Technology Consortium, and Lexel Imaging Systems, UK’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CeNSE) is the nexus for nanotechnology research at UK and for joint U of L and UK nanotechnology projects.

Two dozen UK faculty are involved in CeNSE, including center director Vijay Singh (electrical and computer engineering), who is studying sensors and solar cells for commercial and military applications, and Ushi Graham (Center for Applied Energy Research), who is focusing on carbon nanotube docking stations for fuel catalysts and leading a Toyota/UK project on fuel cells based on nanocatalysis.
Eric Grulke (chemical and materials engineering) is studying nanocomposites for space radiation shielding and recently developed the nanoCLEAR anti-reflective lens system with Optical Dynamics in Louisville, Kentucky. This system is a new method for producing anti-reflective eyeglass lenses.

Zhi Chen and Todd Hastings (electrical and computer engineering) are developing photonic and electrochemical sensors.

Bruce Hinds (chemical and materials engineering) is studying water transport and chemical gatekeeping in carbon nanotubes and has teamed with pharmacy researcher Audra Stinchcomb to use nanotubes to improve topical and transdermal drug delivery.

Bob Yokel (pharmacy), along with several CeNSE researchers, is leading a new multidisciplinary consortium on nano-toxicology with the University of Louisville. And Leonidas Bachas (chemistry) is using nanoscience and molecular biology for environmental remediation and self-organization of nanoparticles.

For more information, visit www.engr.uky.edu/~cense.—UK Research Communications

University of Louisville

U of L Scientists at CII Repair Heart Damage with Engineered Tissue

Research by University of Louisville professors at the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute shows that it may be possible to one day repair a person’s heart after a heart attack by using a “patch” grown from his or her own cells.

Professors Stuart Williams and Jay Hoying have demonstrated that tissue containing small blood vessels can be grown in three dimensions in the laboratory with cells taken from a mouse’s own heart and transplanted to the surface of the heart after an acute heart attack.

Their findings were published Oct. 9 in the journal Tissue Engineering.
In many types of heart attacks, the primary damage to the heart is caused by lack of blood flow — and its accompanying oxygen — to parts of the heart muscle. The affected areas of the heart can die, forming scar tissue that affects the overall function of the heart because it no longer contains a network of small blood vessels that bring energy to that part of the heart muscle.

The Cardiovascular Innovation Institute team, in collaboration with a colleague from Yale University, is investigating whether laboratory-grown heart patches, designed to contain the muscle’s natural network of tiny blood vessels, can be transplanted to repair the heart after a heart attack.

The condition of the tissue, blood vessel networks and overall heart function were evaluated at seven, 14 and 28 days after the mouse-tissue transplants took place.
The scientists found that as early as seven days after the transplant the small blood vessels began to grow together with the host heart’s blood-vessel network. Fourteen and 28 days after transplant, heart function continued to improve and the dead tissue area caused by the heart attack was smaller. The engineered tissue itself grew and integrated with the host heart tissue.

“This study is very promising for future cardiac repair and regeneration in humans,” Williams said. “We continue to investigate the use of heart patches. Previous studies using a cell-based heart patch have now entered Phase I clinical trials in humans. This latest study represents a new generation of heart patch that can be created using a patient’s own cells.”

A partnership between the University of Louisville and Jewish Hospital, CII strives to improve quality of life for heart failure patients by building on the success of both organizations’ previous work with ventricular assist devices and artificial hearts.

CII’s state-of-the-art building opened in January 2007 and includes expanded research facilities, training and administrative space. It is equipped with the latest technology. Funding for the facility includes a $15 million investment from Jewish Hospital; $6.2 million in federal earmarks secured by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; $4.2 million invested by the University of Louisville; a $5 million grant from Kosair Charities; $5.5 million from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development and the Department of Commercialization and Innovation; and $1.5 million from the Gheens Foundation. —U of L Today