Science & Research Roundup: March 12, 2014

Professor honored for research on biology of autism

Eric Morrow, assistant professor of biology, psychiatry and human behavior, has received the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s A.E. Bennett Research Award for his work on the biological processes behind autism, according to a University press release.

Morrow’s work examines the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying autism. By elucidating these mechanisms, he aims to lay the groundwork for more accurate genetic diagnostic tools and treatments, according to his biography on the Directory of Research and Researchers at Brown website.

“I believe this is the first time that the award was given to someone who works on developmental disorders. This should bring further attention to this area, which is underrepresented,” Morrow said in the release.

The award honors young investigators in the field of biological psychiatry and comes with a $2,000 prize, according to the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s website. Morrow will travel to New York in May to formally accept the award at the society’s annual meeting.

“The award, which was unexpected, puts me in the company of previous winners: senior colleagues whom I admire for their accomplishments in this challenging field,” Morrow said in the release.


New stickers may reduce energy use in labs

Traffic light colors now serve a new purpose — conserving energy in University research laboratories. The student group Brown is Green is collaborating with biomedical research laboratories to place stickers on machines that should be turned off to save electricity, according to a University press release.

The system employs the typical stoplight color code. Green indicates machines that researchers should “go” ahead and turn off to save power while yellow indicates that they should find a lab manager before shutting the machine down. Red stickers denote machines that should not be turned off.

The system addresses a common problem in labs: Students and new researchers often don’t know which machines need to run continuously and which should be turned off to conserve energy, said Meggie Patton, energy and environmental programs outreach coordinator, in the release.

Some professors have observed that the initiative seems to have a positive impact. Alexander Jaworski, assistant professor of neuroscience, said in the release that he placed the green sticker on a microscope in his lab that students frequently forget to power off.

“It’s not like it’s going to cost me thousands of dollars in replacing bulbs, but turning it off is an energy saver and it does increase the lifetime of the bulb,” he said in the release. “I put the sticker on and it hasn’t been left on since then.”

The sticker system will continue to be tested in selected University laboratories and may be implemented across campus if the tests yield positive results.


Prof. wins grant to study adolescent drug

Marina Tolou-Shams, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, received a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to examine risk behaviors of adolescents who have been convicted in family court, according to a Lifespan press release. Tolou-Shams seeks to determine the roots of these risky behaviors.

“Our findings will have the potential to shape the way we work with court-involved youth, in not just the public health field, but also in the psychology and psychiatry fields,” Tolou-Shams said in the release. “There may be better ways to help this population avoid developing risk-behaviors or breaking the law again.”

Her work will track 400 adolescents and examine their development of drug behaviors, HIV/STD risk behaviors or psychiatric problems in the time shortly after arrest. She will study adolescents who have been convicted by the Rhode Island family court within the last two years but are not currently behind bars.

Despite a recent national trend toward treatment, rather than punishment, for youths with behavioral or psychiatric defects, “only a handful of studies have examined these behaviors among non-detained juvenile offenders,” Tolou-Shams said in the release, adding that these youths account for 80 percent of all adolescents entangled with the law.

Her study aims to find a correlation between these adolescents’ behaviors and home or other risk factors that contribute to their development in the two years following conviction.

  • By Sarah Perelman
  • Posted in science, Science & Research, Science & Research Roundup
  • Tagged Alexander Jaworski, Bennett Research Award, Rhode Island, study
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