Volume II, Issue 10: July 2010


Preventing strokes in rats comes down to a whisker

Illustration of rat with scans
UCI researchers found that stroking a single whisker activated a rat's cerebral cortex — seen lighting up in magenta and blue — and prompted obstructed blood to take other routes to the brain.

Talk about surviving by a whisker. The most common type of stroke can be completely prevented in rats by stimulating a single whisker, according to a new UCI study. While it's too soon to tell if the findings will translate to humans, researchers say it's possible, and stubble is not required. We have sensitive body parts wired to the same area of the brain as rodents' fine-tuned whiskers. In people, "stimulating the fingers, lips or face in general could all have a similar effect," says UCI doctoral student Melissa Davis, study co-author.

Whisker finding »

Is Gulf oil spill also fouling the air?

Plane flying over Gulf
A fixed-wing aircraft releases dispersant over the oil spill off Louisiana's Gulf Coast. Dispersant is a possible source of airborne chemicals detected in the area.

Record levels of potentially harmful chemicals have been detected by UCI researchers in the air above the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While the findings are preliminary, they illustrate a critical need for further testing. "There are lots of hydrocarbons rising from all this muck," says Donald Blake, chemistry department chair. "What we don't know is whether this air came from somewhere else or is bubbling up from below."  He and Nobel laureate chemist F. Sherwood Rowland are poring over data collected during recent plane flights and boat trips through the spill area. Air samples from about 400 canisters are being scrutinized. The concentrations of certain chemicals exceed any they've found before.

Air over gulf »

Synthetic antibodies create a buzz

Bee with injection needle: illustrtion
The polymer nanoparticles were prepared by "molecular imprinting," a technique similar to plaster casting.

UCI researchers have developed the first "plastic antibodies" to function effectively in living animals. Chemistry professor Kenneth Shea and project scientist Yu Hoshino used the tiny polymeric particles — just 1/50,000th the width of a human hair — to stop the spread of bee venom through the bloodstream of mice. The plastic antibodies could be designed to combat deadlier toxins and pathogens.

Plastic antibodies »

Understanding the Alzheimer's-Parkinson's link

Frank LaFerla
UCI researchers led by neuroscientist Frank LaFerla are studying disease-causing proteins in a particularly aggressive form of Alzheimer's called the Lewy body variant.

On their own, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease cause the slow regression of mental and physical abilities. But when the proteins behind these neurodegenerative disorders join forces, a dramatic decline in cognition often results, researchers with UCI's Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders have found. A group headed by Frank LaFerla, Chancellor's Professor of neurobiology & behavior and UCI MIND director, is exploring how these disease-inducing proteins interact and influence mental processes. Their work offers hope for people with the Lewy body variant of Alzheimer's, in which Parkinson's symptoms are also present.

Alzheimer's-Parkinson's link »

Do stocks rise with our moods?

Illustration: Fabio Milani and graph
Fabio Milani found that irrational optimism or pessimism accounted for more than 50 percent of business cycle fluctuations since the 1970s.

Public attitude may be as important as public policy when it comes to the economy, according to UCI's Fabio Milani. A new economic model developed by the assistant professor of economics takes into account his finding that irrational optimism or pessimism is linked to a majority of booms and busts since the early 1970s. "This quantitatively confirms what many have suspected: Psychology is important to the economy and can sometimes lead to self-fulfilling prophecies," he says.

Mind over market »