Sure Signs of Addiction: More Than Just a Feeling

Nicole Schramm-Sapyta.

Whether it’s finishing this season’s fifth box of Girl Scout cookies or binge-watching a Netflix show, it can be easy for the average, healthy person to think they’re developing a problem.

“I can’t believe I just finished another sleeve of Thin Mints, I’m so addicted,” or “Wow, I’m so addicted to Dexter—just finished the seventh season this weekend!” are common phrases overheard in coffee shops and grocery store lines.

However, when addiction researcher Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, PhD, an associate professor of the practice in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, hears these phrases, she knows that these people, more often than not, are not truly addicted. Addiction has a clinical definition: when a person continues to do something despite experiencing major negative consequences. And, she says, this behavior is linked to changes to the brain.

Nicole standing outside.

Schramm-Sapyta’s early laboratory research focused on addiction’s effects on a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, a bundle of nerve cells also known as the brain’s pleasure center. Satisfying experiences—whether in the form of an addictive drug, monetary reward, sexual encounter, or satisfying meal—trigger the release of a type of “feel good” neurotransmitter called dopamine in this pleasure center. But addictive drugs—substances like alcohol, nicotine and opiates—pack an extra-powerful punch, and the brain is flooded and then overwhelmed by large amounts of dopamine. Over time, the brain will counteract this flooding by down-regulating, or removing, the dopamine receptors.

“When someone repeatedly takes an addictive drug, they lose dopamine receptors, and eventually become anhedonic, or unable to feel pleasure,” said Schramm-Sapyta. “The person is no longer able to feel joy from normal life. So, getting a good grade, seeing an old friend, or having a delicious meal doesn’t feel good. And the only way to feel ‘normal’ again is to get high on the drug. When someone progresses to this stage of addiction, they’re not even enjoying the drug anymore. They’re just taking it to feel normal again.”

Other brain regions add to the process. The brain’s “prioritizer,” the prefrontal cortex, decides that getting more of the drug is a top priority, and the amygdala ramps up negative emotions when it doesn’t get it. Along with the nucleus accumbens, these regions work together to change a person’s response to a drug from simply “liking” it to “wanting” it to “needing” it.

The process of moving from enjoyment to needing the drug can take anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on the person’s susceptibility to addiction, according to Schramm-Sapyta. People who already have underlying mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD, are most vulnerable. Women’s brains also tend to become addicted more quickly than men, though more research is needed to better understand this difference.

“We think of addiction as being a biopsychosocial condition,” she said. “When clinicians treat the biological aspect of the condition—usually with medication—they must also remember to look at the psychosocial aspects of a person’s life that led to the addiction in order to truly guide that person towards recovery.”

Addiction in the Lab

Growing up in North Carolina, Schramm-Sapyta began studying chemical engineering as an undergraduate at NC State University but switched her major to biochemistry, following the advice of a family friend, a pharmacologist at Wake Forest University. She did not regret it.

She went on to earn a PhD in pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, and then accepted a postdoctoral associate position in the lab of Danny Winder, PhD, the Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research.

There, she conducted experiments to determine which region of the brain was activated when mice learned how to push a lever and self-administer cocaine. She also began to study addiction and adolescence.

“In the Winder lab, we noticed that it was much easier to observe electrophysiological changes in the nucleus accumbens of adolescent mouse brains than adult mouse brains, which led us to think that might be a mechanism by which adolescents are more vulnerable to addiction than adults,” Schramm-Sapyta said.

After looking deeper, the team came to realize that not all adolescents are more vulnerable to addiction. By studying behavior in mice and rats, the researchers realized that on average, adolescents find drugs of abuse more rewarding and less aversive than adults, but that only some adolescents are more likely to self-administer, or voluntarily take drugs of abuse. The more vulnerable adolescents were more novelty-seeking, less susceptible to the aversive effects of the drugs, and had differences in anxiety levels. For cocaine, less-anxious animals tended to take more, but for alcohol, evidence suggests that more anxious individuals take more.

“Nicole was the first postdoc that I hired in my lab, and I could not have been more fortunate to recruit her,” Winder said. “In those early days of a new lab, having great people around you is key, and Nicole’s enthusiasm, professionalism and intellect all contributed to the foundation of a positive working environment going forward. She did a lot of exciting research in the lab during that time that still influences us today.”

In 2002, Schramm-Sapyta was recruited to Duke University for a postdoctoral research fellowship in the lab of Cynthia Kuhn, PhD, professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, where she continued to study addiction in adolescence.

Another view of Nicole standing outside.

She introduced a concept to the lab known as a “conditioned taste aversion” in which she showed that rats, who normally favor sugar water over regular water, grew to not choose the sugar water over time when it was paired with an injection of an addictive drug.

“They learned to associate the icky feeling brought on by the injection of the drug with the sweet taste,” said Schramm-Sapyta. What’s more, younger rats were less sensitive to the aversive effects of the drug than the older rats. This model has been repeated in a number of animal and human models since then, with all showing that adolescents are less sensitive to the bad feelings of drug or alcohol abuse than adults.

After Schramm-Sapyta left Kuhn’s lab in 2008 to sign on as a faculty member in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) and in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Kuhn continued to use the conditioned test aversion experiment and applied it to current projects studying conditioned nausea.

“She was a terrific addition to the lab,” Kuhn said. “I have been so proud to see her develop these talents, and, in the process, contribute so much to DIBS and to Duke.”

Addiction in Durham

For Schramm-Sapyta, the early lab work fueled a passion to help people in her community suffering from addiction. After moving into a teaching faculty position, she began to look for ways to partner with the Durham community and involve her students in local research projects.

In 2016, she started working with a Duke Bass Connections Brain & Society team to learn more about the opiate epidemic in Durham. In Bass Connections, students and faculty tackle real-world problems as a team through research, creativity, and collaboration with external partners.

To learn more about the local law-enforcement perspective on drug use, Schramm-Sapyta’s Bass Connections team met with members of the Durham Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). CIT members are police officers and other first responders who have received extensive special training to respond to citizens in crisis, often due to underlying behavioral health issues such as addiction or mental illness. More than 950 first responders in Durham have been CIT-trained since 2007.

When Schramm-Sapyta and her students first met with the CIT officers, a one-hour meeting stretched to more than two hours of open, honest discussion. The students asked hard questions and the officers responded with experience, policy information and honesty. The Bass Connections students were very impressed, and sought to spread the word through their project, “Stemming the Opiate Epidemic Through Education and Outreach.” They organized two CIT presentations on campus and three Mental Health First Aid training sessions, the latter completed by more than 100 members of the Duke community.

Schramm-Sapyta and students were encouraged to return and brainstorm with CIT members about ways Duke could support the program. They learned the CIT had lots of data on 9-1-1 calls but no one to analyze it and make it useful to CIT. Schramm-Sapyta connected with Paul Bendich, associate professor of math and Data+ leader at Duke, and that launched the first Data+/CIT project, “Mental Health Interventions by Durham Police.”

Data+, run by the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke, is a 10-week summer research experience for undergraduates interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to complex challenges.

The Data+ team’s first project was to analyze 9-1-1 calls between 2011 and 2016 to determine if there were any patterns related to CIT-tagged calls—and they found them. Behavioral health-related calls typically peak on Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and noon, (“Hump Day is real,” said Schramm-Sapyta), but are sparse on Sunday mornings between 4 and 8 a.m.—information CIT could then use to deploy resources.

Students also looked at the number of CIT calls in different areas of the city. Schramm-Sapyta said, “We found that the poorest areas of our city are the greatest users of CIT services.” That’s good news in that it suggests citizens are familiar with CIT and its services, and the services are going where they are most needed, she pointed out. “It also suggests the need for greater mental health services in these areas, so that crises can be averted.”

In 2017, a second Data+ project looked at whether CIT was helping reduce recidivism, i.e., how often convicted criminals are returning to jail after they have been released. Those identified as having a behavioral health issue are much more likely to return to jail, Schramm-Sapyta noted. This time, data were provided by the Durham County Sheriff’s Office and the Durham County Detention Facility.

“Before CIT existed, recidivism was on the rise in Durham,” Schramm-Sapyta said. “As CIT was first established, and the program began to grow, recidivism leveled off.” In the most recent five years, as CIT and Durham have grown rapidly, and other mental health services at the jail and in the community have increased, recidivism has dropped sharply, she noted.

“This is a fantastic example of the potential for really deep, enduring partnerships between Duke and local institutions and law enforcement in the city and county of Durham,” said Ed Balleisen, PhD, Duke’s Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, who oversees both DIBS and Bass Connections. “These projects ask significant research questions that can inform decision-making and deploy the creativity of Duke’s faculty and students in partnership with local institutions to carry out that research,” he said. “They present their findings with an eye toward allowing decision-makers to see their world more clearly and have a better sense of what’s working and what isn’t.”

Laylon Williams, the Durham CIT Coordinator for First Responders, said working with Schramm-Sapyta and her students has been a boon for his team.

“Our CIT Leadership Team met her and we all absolutely fell in love with her and the kind of person she is,” said Williams. “Nicole has been actively attending our CIT Leadership Meetings every month and she has helped the CIT Team to analyze our data through the Data+ project and other City and County analysis. She was awarded with our Volunteer of the Year Award in 2018 because she helped us to see the effectiveness of our program through the data analysis. We are so thankful for her and all that she does for our Durham CIT Team and our Durham Community.”

CIT honorees.In 2020, Schramm-Sapyta expanded the project by adding another data set: health records of more than 17,000 people who have migrated through the Durham County Jail and were also seen at Duke Health between 2014-2018. The jail shared names with Duke Health’s Analytic Center of Excellence, which then matched the names to health records but removed identifying information such as names and addresses to keep the data set confidential.

This summer, a new cohort of students in the Data+ program will help Schramm-Sapyta crunch the data to determine connections between mental health diagnoses and returns to jail.

“We want to know if there is anything that Duke, the county, or the jail can do differently to help these people,” she said. “The idea is to see what’s working, what can be improved.”

By Lindsay Key; originally posted on the Duke School of Medicine’s Magnify Magazine. Kathy Neal, DIBS, and Sarah Dwyer, Bass Connections, contributed to this story.

All photography by Joshua Chorman. Chorman is a Video Producer/Director at the Duke School of Medicine, and manages the @dukemdprogram Instagram/Facebook page. 

Lindsay Key is the science writer for the Duke University School of Medicine, and editor of the online storytelling magazine Magnify.

Ten Groups of Faculty Receive Intellectual Community Planning Grants for 2020

Campus in winter.

The Provost’s Office has awarded Intellectual Community Planning Grants to ten groups for the 2020 calendar year.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. To foster collaboration around new and emerging areas of interest, Intellectual Community Planning Grants (ICPG) ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 are available to groups of faculty. Recipients can use the funds to support the exploration of new collaborations, covering the cost of meeting venues, food, external speakers or other meeting costs, and research to identify potential collaborators at Duke and elsewhere.

The 2020 grants include faculty from all of Duke’s schools as well as the University of North Carolina, NC State University, and NC Central University.

Bridging Social Determinants of Health with Clinical Extensions of Care for Vulnerable Populations

Bridging team members.

This group will establish a partnership between Duke’s Clinical Translational Science Institute and the Social Science Research Institute in order to develop a portfolio of scholarly activity that tackles the interplay of social determinants of health, clinical health outcomes, and the advancement of health equity. Members will develop a compilation of resources to facilitate interdisciplinary and collaborative research and take advantage of short-term synergies that allow for additional coauthored publications. They will also develop research proposals to design and test one or more interventions.

Developing a Neuroethics and Theological Studies Network

Developing Neuroethics team members.

What can theological studies contribute to neuroethics, and vice versa? How can the engagement of theological studies with neuroethics best be facilitated? How can further interdisciplinary collaboration at Duke shape such dialogue? This group seeks to foster and expand the work of an emerging international cohort of scholars working at the intersection of theological studies and neuroethics.

Duke SciReg Center: Science in Regulation, Law, and Public Policy

Duke SciReg ICPG members.

Bringing together Duke faculty and students from STEM disciplines, law, and policy, this group will seek to facilitate the provision of timely comments from Duke experts to state and federal agencies on pending regulations that implicate scientific and technical issues. Following a series of conversations and planning events, members hope to establish a center at Duke that would create a unique model for interdisciplinary education in science, law, and policy through actual participation in the regulatory process.

Entity Resolution with Applications to Public Policy and Business

Entity Resolutions ICPG members.

This collaboration will enable the formation of a multidisciplinary lab of social scientists, public policy analysts, business scholars, mathematicians and statisticians who seek to understand the practical issues related to entity resolution (ER)—the processes of removing duplicates from large databases and engaging in accurate record linkage across databases. There will be regular meetings of the member research groups to explore applications of ER tasks in public policy and business; one Ph.D. student will work on a project to implement members’ developed tools into software for public distribution and a working paper.

Housing and Health: A Multisector Community-driven Approach to Achieving Health Equity

Housing ICPG members.

Combining a community engagement process with interdisciplinary expertise, these faculty hope to address social, economic, and environmental influencers of health, with the eventual goal of transforming Durham into a healthier place for its most vulnerable residents. Members will participate in an interactive, facilitated pre-planning meeting and four design-thinking workshops with community partners, followed by a post-workshop debrief and a meeting to determine next steps and future directions.

Human Rights Futures

Human Rights ICPG members.

This community of human rights scholars plans will discuss a new temporal framing for human rights: one that remains aware of past grievances and the need for reparations, but that places such awareness in the service of a sustainable and desirable future. Involving graduate and undergraduate students, the group will explore a number of ideas for how this multiyear project might come to life. Following several working lunches, the group plans to launch a “speculative fiction book club,” host a guest speaker, and convene a day-long workshop.

  • Lead: James Chappel, History, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Kathi Weeks, Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Robin Kirk, Cultural Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Adam Rosenblatt, International Comparative Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Marion Quirici, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jen Ansley, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Emily Stewart, Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute

Light-based Methods in Neuroscience and Biology

Light-based ICPG members.

This group aims to cross-pollinate ideas among neuroscientists, engineers, and data scientists. Each meeting focus on related questions requiring interdisciplinary engagement (e.g., How can we use light-based methods, such as scanless holography, adaptive optics, computational optics approaches, and genetically encoded activity sensors and actuators such as bacterial opsins, to investigate neural function?) Members will share information about resources for addressing these questions and communicate across Duke to strengthen imaging infrastructure.

North Carolina Saltwater Intrusion and Sea Level Rise

NC Saltwater ICPG members.

Predicting the impacts of sea level rise and the accompanying saltwater intrusion on freshwater coastal wetlands is a complex challenge. While the formation of “ghost forests”—the rapid death of trees due to salt stress—is gaining attention, our understanding remains fragmented. This group will convene a one-day workshop to develop an overarching research framework, with the goals of then pooling resources, sharing data, and submitting joint grant proposals.

Opioid Detection Technologies and Their Application to Addressing Various Aspects of the Opioid Crisis

Opioid ICPG members.

How can novel detection technologies be brought to bear on the opioid crisis? Members of this group will explore that question by undertaking two parallel activity streams: monthly collaboration meetings to share information; and acquisition of initial compound signatures on two fundamental detection technologies (X-ray diffraction and mass spectrometry). These faculty will pursue increased cross-disciplinary understanding of the opioid crisis and its detection needs; a baseline signature library of relevant compounds to support future analysis and design; and one or more joint proposals on topics related to detection and the opioid crisis.

Transformative Learning: A Shared Intellectual Interest across the University

Transformative Learning ICPG members.

This group’s primary goal is to identify transformative learning moments among Duke students. Members will meet monthly to develop a shared knowledge of transformative learning practices and assessment. They will host a dinner with Dr. Stacey Johnson of Vanderbilt University, a renowned expert in transformative learning in language education, convene two campus-wide discussions, and invite a nationally recognized speaker to give a public talk. The group will create a shared toolkit of assessment tools for transformative learning and develop conference proposals and a publication to showcase this work.

  • Co-lead: Cori Crane, Germanic Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Deb Reisinger, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Co-lead: Joan Clifford, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, Thompson Writing Program, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Alessandra Dinin, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Jennifer Hill, Office of Assessment, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • David Malone, Program in Education, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Liliana Paredes, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Melissa Simmermeyer, Romance Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Read about the 2019 recipients of Intellectual Community Planning Grants and view the 2018 summary report.

See all initiatives in the Together Duke academic strategic plan, including the current RFP for Collaboratories for Research on Immigration or on Science, Technology & Ethics (deadline: January 24, 2020; to learn more, attend an information session on Thursday, January 9, from 3:00 to 4:00 in the Karl E. Zener Auditorium, 130 Sociology-Psychology).

Duke Incubation Fund Awards Support Seven Promising Innovations

Congratulations to the 2019-20 Duke Incubation Fund Awardees.

The winners of the Fall 2019 Duke Incubation Fund awards have been announced, representing promising innovation happening across the University. Seven projects will receive funds totaling $129,000.

The Incubation Fund, run by Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E), supports early-stage ideas from Duke’s innovation ecosystem with the potential to go to market. Whereas many resources exist at Duke to support research and commercialization, the Incubation Fund is among the only opportunities for innovations still in the ideation stage. The Fund is made possible by a gift from I&E advisory board member Jeffrey Citron and his wife, Suzanne.

One goal of the Fund is to foster innovation in all corners of Duke. While previous awards have supported faculty, staff, and students representing schools and departments ranging from the Nicholas School, to the School of Nursing, all the way to the Dance Program, this year’s awardees represent the Department of Pathology, the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, the Department of Radiology, the Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Incubation Fund Awardees for 2019-2020

Soman Abraham | Pathology Faculty

Mast cells are responsible for a wide range of inflammatory disorders, from mild skin rash to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. This team is exploring a novel mast cell inhibitor molecule to treat non-clonal mast cell activation syndrome (nc-MCAS), for which there are currently no FDA-approved treatments. In addition to potentially preventing nc-MCAS-related anaphylaxis and symptoms, this molecule could lead to the development of therapeutics to treat other mast cell-mediated diseases.

Mattia Bonsignori | Duke Human Vaccine Institute Faculty

Using an antibody type from a Zika-infected pregnant woman who bore a healthy infant—an antibody type that doesn’t cross the placenta or cross-react with the Dengue virus like other antibodies capable of neutralizing the Zika virus—this team seeks to generate critical data needed for preclinical studies that would pave the way for clinical vaccine trials.

Charles Kim | Interventional Radiology Faculty and Division Chief

Ultrasound probes were designed for diagnostic use and are thus limited when it comes to their use in needle guidance; this project seeks to develop a dedicated interventional ultrasound probe that utilizes a novel approach to image acquisition and processing, thereby optimizing needle guidance.

Maciej Mazurowski | Radiology Faculty

Using software based on an algorithm developed and tested by Duke scientists and clinicians, this team will work to create a clinical-use software prototype to evaluate knee radiographs in order to grade the severity of knee osteoarthritis. 

Samira Musah | Biomedical Engineering Faculty

Through the design and engineering of a novel microfluidic device that mimics the tissue structure and filtration system of a human kidney, Fixoria Biomimetics seeks to develop a vascularized 3D in vitro kidney model that can be used to discover novel therapeutics for human kidney disease.

Jesus del Carmen Valdiviezo Mora | Chemistry Graduate Student

Evolutionary Microfluidics looks to use AI algorithms to design, manufacture, and patent microfluidic devices that act as efficient analyzers and microreactors of biological samples, eventually commercializing these devices within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to reduce the time needed for research and development.

Zohair Zia | Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Student

Neptune Access makes modifications to an IV port so it can be used to obtain blood samples, reducing the need for numerous blood draws through repeated venipuncture, especially for those patients who may require multiple attempts for each successful blood sample.

Tapping into Resources and Guidance

Many of these projects have already benefited from the support of innovation- and entrepreneurship-related resources across Duke. Zohair Zia’s work on an adapted IV port won the Duke Institute for Health Innovation’s annual Innovation Jam supporting pragmatic health innovations with the potential for immediate application or possible commercialization. Soman Abraham’s new venture focused on mast cell inhibitor therapy is receiving coaching and business strategy support from a mentor-in-residence and an MBA student through the New Ventures Program run by the Office of Licensing & Ventures.

These resources, as well as the early-stage support provided by the Incubation Fund, can prove decisive in whether progress continues on a project. Charles Kim, who received an award for an interventional ultrasound probe, said, “This will provide funding for the materials and expertise needed for the crucial step of formal prototype development, without which further progress would not be possible.”

Tracking Success

Now that the Fund, which was established in 2017, is entering its fourth funding cycle, “We’re starting to be able to track the success of previous awardees, which is exciting,” says Dr. Sharlini Sankaran, Director of Translational Programs at Duke I&E.

Duke spin-out inSomaBio has gone on to receive funding from the Duke Angel Network, whereas others are in various stages of obtaining follow-on funding from investor groups or local and federal entrepreneurial funding programs.

Michael Kliën, an Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance, received an Incubation Fund award last year for his work on the Hydrean, a unique physical meditation device that encourages embodiment and teaches a systematic practice of mindfulness. The Hydrean was featured at this year’s Invented at Duke celebration—and undergraduate students in the I&E Certificate, intrigued by Kliën’s product, decided to do a business development project for their capstone class focused on getting the Hydrean adopted into mainstream media.

“The Incubation Fund fills a critical funding need for early-stage projects that need a lift to get off the ground, whether that be prototype building, early-stage market research, or obtaining critical equipment and supplies,” said Sankaran. “In keeping with Duke I&E’s mission of being a catalyst and an enabler for innovation at Duke, we’re happy to provide support to these promising projects so they can ultimately benefit society at large.”

Originally posted on the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship website

Duke Researchers Receive NIH Funding to Combat Opioid Crisis


Research teams from Duke received more than $24 million in federal grants to address challenges related to pain and the opioid crisis, with more than $19 million awarded to investigators from the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), the world’s largest academic research organization.

The grants are part of the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (NIH HEAL Initiative). The federal research initiative, launched in early 2018 by NIH Director Francis S. Collins, aims to apply scientific solutions to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder and overdose, and achieve long-term recovery for opioid addiction.

The Duke research awards are part of the NIH’s funding allocation that includes 375 grants across 41 states. Additional awards of more than $12 million are anticipated over the next 5 years, which would bring Duke’s total grant amount to more than $36 million.

“Duke researchers continue to be at the forefront of tackling some of the biggest issues that impact health and wellness in our world today,” said Mary E. Klotman, M.D., dean of the Duke University School of Medicine. “This support from the NIH will allow our faculty to explore new ways of managing chronic pain and overcoming addiction — efforts that could improve the lives of millions of people.”

Duke awards provide support for:

  • A clinical center to conduct Phase 2 trials of non-addictive pain interventions. The clinical center, called the Duke Pain Early-Phase Clinical Research Center, will be led by Alexander T. Limkakeng Jr., M.D., vice chief of research for the Duke Division of Emergency Medicine, and Francis Keefe, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The grant is for $1 million over 5 years.
  • A research project to identify new central analgesic circuits that could be harnessed to treat chronic pain. This effort is aimed at helping address chronic pain, a health problem that affects one-third of people in the U.S. Funded at $3.2 million over 5 years, the research is led by principal investigator Fan Wang, Ph.D., the Morris N. Broad Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology.
  • A research program to improve the efficacy of using an implantable medical device that stimulates the spinal cord to treat chronic neuropathic pain. Currently, fewer than two-thirds of people who receive this therapy experience at least a 50 percent reduction in pain, creating a need for new patterns of spinal cord stimulation that provide better pain suppression. The project is led by Warren Grill, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. It is funded at $1.1 million over 3 years.

Grill is a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Faculty Steering Committee. Wang is a former member of the DIBS Faculty Governance Committee. Limkakeng was involved in a Bass Connections in Brain & Society project team led by DIBS on stemming the opioid epidemic.

Five additional awards were granted to members of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. Read the full article on the Duke Health website.

Four Groups of Duke Faculty Receive Collaboratory Grants for Research on Issues Affecting North Carolina and Global Communities

Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar.
Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar

Four groups led by Duke University faculty have been awarded Collaboratory grants for research into pressing local and global challenges.

“From investigations in our own backyard into evaluating water safety and lessening the impact of evictions on child development, to research aimed at increasing solar energy efficiency and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases on a global scale, these proposals speak to our dedication to improving the human condition,” said Provost Sally Kornbluth. “Supporting faculty research is an essential way to advance the fundamental learning and discovery at which we excel, and those investments provide ripple effects that benefit teaching and service.”

The grant period is one year with a possibility of renewal.

Drinking Water Contamination in North Carolina: Water Use, Human Health, and Going Beyond GenX

  • Principal Investigators: Heather M. Stapleton, Nicholas School of the Environment; Lee Ferguson, Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment

Changes in water availability, increases in pollution, and policy regulations are resulting in substantial challenges for water protection, and consumers bear the social and economic burden when drinking water sources are contaminated. One of the most relevant threats to public drinking water in the U.S. is a class of chemicals called poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). These chemicals made local headlines in 2017 when news stations reported contamination of drinking water wells with “GenX” in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

In 2018, the state legislature appropriated several million dollars for testing all surface waters across the state. Despite the broad documentation of PFAS contamination, no funding was included to evaluate health impacts on affected communities or to identify sources.

This collaboratory will build a water model to help identify potential point source(s) of PFAS contamination, and underlying variables influencing the water levels, in the Piedmont region. In addition, the researchers will examine the relationship between water levels and biological PFAS levels, and conduct geospatial analyses to determine if poorer health outcomes at birth are associated with areas of higher PFAS contamination. The group will also investigate effects of PFAS on birth outcomes using an animal model, and integrate environmental and human health knowledge into management and policy recommendations regarding water use policies.

Minimizing the Influence of Air Pollution on Solar Energy Production

Particulate matter, including air pollution and dust, has dramatic impacts on both climate and human health. It also reduces solar energy production by about 15% on a global average and as much as 40% in some regions. This current loss in efficiency is estimated to account for the loss of power output valued in the tens of billions of dollars annually, dramatically affecting cost effectiveness and renewable energy access. The problem is not well understood and few studies are available that quantify the impacts, although it will become increasingly important with solar power production expected to increase globally by nearly four-fold over the next 20 years.

This collaboratory will assess the regional impacts of air pollution on solar energy production, determine cost-effective strategies to minimize the influence of particulate matter on solar energy production, and develop and test novel surfaces and coatings that hold great promise in minimizing the influence of deposited particulate matter on solar energy production.

Evaluating and Mitigating the Impact of Evictions and Other Housing Insecurity Issues over Health and Child Development in North Carolina

  • Additional Team Members: Jillian Hurst, School of Medicine; Sarah Dickerson, postdoctoral associate, Sanford School of Public Policy; graduate and professional students

In the U.S., 10-15% of households experience housing insecurity. For families with young children, this number is much higher. Lack of secure housing is associated with a host of health consequences including psychological distress and exacerbating chronic conditions. For children, housing instability is associated with increased problem behaviors, respiratory conditions, infectious diseases, and decreased access to healthcare. In Durham, 16% of children aged 0-8 live in a household where housing costs exceed 50% of the household income—leaving few resources for other needs such as food, clothing, and transportation.

This collaboratory brings together a multidisciplinary team to study how housing insecurity affects children’s health and education and what policy solutions may be implemented to mitigate the associated harms. To inform evidence-based policies and help communities promote population-level health, this study will assess patterns of population movement in Durham County and the relationship of these patterns with housing insecurity, examine the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on the education of children across North Carolina and in Durham County specifically, and investigate the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on children’s healthcare utilization and health status in Durham County.

Identifying Infectious Disease Transmission Pathways for Improved Population Health and Pandemic Preparedness

  • Principal Investigators: Charles L. Nunn, Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Randall Kramer, Nicholas School of the Environment; James Moody, Sociology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Linfa Wang, Duke-NUS Medical School
  • Additional Team Members: Alma Solis, Ph.D. student in Evolutionary Anthropology; other graduate students

The title of a recent high-profile Commentary in Nature proclaimed, “Pandemics: Spend on surveillance, not prediction.” If resources and time were unlimited, scientists would exhaustively sample wild animals, domesticated animals, and humans, and they would fully investigate the ecological contexts in which transmission occurs; all of these foci are crucial for predicting disease emergence. Given the reality of limited resources, new approaches are needed to deepen understanding of disease transmission pathways from animals to humans.

This collaboratory will use new surveillance tools and apply analytical frameworks from network epidemiology to disentangle the drivers of disease transmission at the human-animal ecological interface. The group’s research takes place in rural Madagascar. Members will collect and analyze blood samples and expand socioeconomic data collection; this research will provide crucial pilot data to increase the competitiveness of external grant submissions, while also providing opportunities for students involved in the research to publish early findings and present those findings at conferences. In addition to collecting data in the field and shipping samples to Singapore for analysis, funding will enable us to develop new analytical pipelines for network epidemiological analyses, including with graduate students on Duke’s campus.

About the Collaboratory Grants

Part of the Together Duke academic strategic plan, Collaboratory grants provide support for groups of faculty seeking to provide solutions to targeted problems in three areas:

  • Energy and water resources
  • Race, religion, and citizenship
  • Population health.

Over time, these thematic areas will likely evolve. Project funding ranges from $20,000 to $200,000 annually. The offices of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs oversee this seed grant program.

The first round of Collaboratory grants was announced in April 2018. The six groups and principal investigators were Decisions, Risks, and Governance of Geoengineering (Mark Borsuk, Jonathan Wiener, Billy Pizer, Drew Shindell); Innovations in Infrastructure (Megan Mullin, Amy Pickle); The Duke Polarization Lab (Christopher Bail); Understanding the Transforming U.S. South (Kerry L. Haynie, John Aldrich, Linda Burton, Adriane Lentz-Smith, Mark Anthony Neal, Donald Taylor); The Duke University Precision Health and Wellness Initiative (Geoff Ginsburg, Susanne Haga); and A Road Map for Affordable Healthcare in the 21st Century (Nimmi Ramanujam).

Janet Prvu Bettger on Interdisciplinary Collaboration

I have found leading Bass Connections to be professionally transformational for me as an educator”

Veronica Sotelo Munoz, Jackie Xu, Sahil Sandhu, and Janet Prvu Bettger at Duke’s Global Health Showcase.
Veronica Sotelo Munoz, Jackie Xu, Sahil Sandhu, and Janet Prvu Bettger at Duke’s Global Health Showcase

Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery Janet Prvu Bettger is interested in what comes after a life-altering injury or illness, when a patient leaves the hospital and must learn to live with disability. She launched the Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation (GANDHI for short) to support innovative approaches that will help vulnerable people around the globe to gain functional independence and reintegrate into their communities after a devastating setback.

Bettger.This interdisciplinary project grew out of a 2015 Intellectual Community Planning Grant, when Bettger and her colleagues realized they “didn’t have the expertise in medicine and nursing alone to ask all of the right questions,” she said. They engaged additional faculty with different perspectives and brought students on board through a multiyear Bass Connections project in 2016.

Recently she reflected on some of the impacts of her involvement in collaborative inquiry at Duke.

A Series of Grants

We designed GANDHI in year 1 to compare strategies and policies in different countries that support patients’ transitioning home from the hospital and promote recovery from injury and illness. Faculty advisors who met in an April 2016 meeting supported by the Intellectual Community Planning Grant identified the need to study adult and pediatric systems of care separately. This led to a graduate student proposal (D-SIGN) to lead research focused on pediatric care.

GANDHI logo.

Faculty advisors also identified related research at Duke. This led to a proposal that was funded by the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation to support a global showcase of health systems strengthening research.

GANDHI leadership quickly learned that there was very little work in low-income countries. The PIs for GANDHI year 1 [Catherine Staton and Bettger] applied to NIH for a grant to build capacity for transitional care in Tanzania to support recovery after traumatic injury. We were funded with a two-year R21.

We designed GANDHI in year 2 to focus on stroke systems of care in the Asia-Pacific region. Our students’ interest in the potential of digital health technology led to a proposal to the Provost’s office for funding to create a China-based mHealth@Duke conference.

Bettger (third from right) with students and colleagues at the mHealth@Duke conference in China.
Bettger (third from right) with students and colleagues at the mHealth@Duke conference in China

The event quickly grew to be bigger than expected with a three-campus collaboration (Duke in the U.S., China, and Singapore). Duke Kunshan University secured funding from the City of Kunshan and a nonprofit partner AccessHealth to launch an academic, industry, and public partnership for digital health.

group photo from the conference.
Group photo from the the mHealth@Duke conference in China

Expanding Networks

We planned year 1 to give the students exposure to care in different countries. Every week in the fall semester we had a different country partner join our group meeting by video conference to describe hospital-to-home care transitions in their country. We had nine active non-U.S. collaborators who subsequently supported a group manuscript, key informant interviews, and several opportunities for students.

Student opportunities from the GANDHI network included a Bass Connections follow-on project for that summer (Uganda), an independent study in the subsequent year (China), a global health master’s thesis and summer field work (Argentina), and project planning for year 2.

I personally have continued to collaborate with many of these global partners. I am now on the steering committee for clinical trials in China, Argentina, Brazil (and Peru), have funded research with partners in China, Singapore, and Tanzania, and co-led symposia at international conferences with collaborators in the Netherlands, Argentina, and China.

year 1 funding diagram.

We planned year 2 to expose students to stroke care in the U.S. and China. Partnerships for year 2 are depicted below. These supported the symposium, clinical observations, three research studies, and several opportunities for students. Other student outcomes from the year 2 GANDHI network included two DukeEngage awards, two travel scholarships for conference presentations (Sanford policy and undergraduate research), and summer research funding.

Meetings at Duke Kunshan led to subsequent Bass Connections proposals (GANDHI 3.0 and mHealth in Nepal) with new partnerships.

year 2 funding diagram.

A Transformational Experience

I have found leading Bass Connections to be professionally transformational for me as an educator.

First, working with students across schools and programs brought new meaning to interdisciplinary research. Second, I learned the importance of establishing “baseline” with all content and skills, and leveraging unique talents, experiences, and knowledge.

Finally, I am forever committed to engaging undergraduate students in clinical and population health research and having these and other early career trainees understand their value in team-based science.

See the Together Duke academic strategic plan, and learn more about Bass Connections and Intellectual Community Planning Grants.

Faculty to Pursue Collaborations through 2019 Intellectual Community Planning Grants

ICPG 2019.

A key goal of Together Duke is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. To foster collaboration around new and emerging areas of interest, Intellectual Community Planning Grants (ICPG) are available to groups of faculty.

These grants cover the cost of food, meeting venues, external speakers or other meeting costs, and exploratory research into potential collaborators at Duke and elsewhere. The offices of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Executive Vice Provost oversee this seed grant program.

For the 2019 calendar year, eight groups received Intellectual Community Planning Grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

Big Data and Social Interactions

Big Data and Social Interactions faculty members.

This group will facilitate interactions among faculty who want to learn how technological advancements and big data can improve our understanding of the ways in which social norms and interactions affect individuals’ and firms’ behavior. The primary goal is to produce sustained interactions and research papers capable of being published in leading scholarly journals. A kick-off event will include a visiting speaker. Subsequent meetings will invite faculty to provide overviews of recent research and discuss new ideas; review colleagues’ early-stage research ideas; and share early work with a guest speaker who is a pioneer in the field.

  • Lead: Jillian Grennan, Fuqua School of Business
  • Chris Bail, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Ines Black, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Ofer Eldar, Law School, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Sarah Gaither, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Sharique Hasan, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Rachel Kranton, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • David Robinson, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Building Duke’s Community of Theoretical Chemists via a Summer Undergraduate Research Program

Building Duke’s Community of Theoretical Chemists via a Summer Undergraduate Research Program faculty members.

An emerging community of theoretical chemists at Duke is spread across schools and departments. This group has begun to organize a Summer Undergraduate Research Program in Theoretical Chemistry, which will help strengthen the pool of graduate student applicants from North America. The Intellectual Community Planning Grant will enable the participation of more faculty (those who could not fully fund a student on their own) and support team-building excursions. All faculty will present multiple seminars and mentor the summer undergraduate researchers.

  • Lead: David Beratan, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Hashim Al-Hashimi, School of Medicine
  • Volker Blum, Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Patrick Charbonneau, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Stephen Craig, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Bruce Randall Donald, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology
  • Jianfeng Lu, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Michael Rubinstein, Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Warren S. Warren, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine
  • Weitao Yang, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke University Energy Initiative

Exploring STEAM (Science, Arts, and Humanities) at Duke

Exploring STEAM at Duke members.

A working group of Duke faculty, staff, administrators, and students will explore overlapping and complementary interests in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, and humanities (broadly referred to as STEAM), and promote more robust interdisciplinary research, coursework, and public engagement in this space, both within and beyond Duke. The group will organize a half-day forum to catalog and describe innovative STEAM activities occurring at Duke and spark new collaborations among faculty, students, staff, and administrators.

  • Lead: Misha Angrist, Social Science Research Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Co-lead: Jory Weintraub, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Project manager: Ariana Eily, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Nicolette Cagle, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Aria Chernik, Social Science Research Institute, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Claudia Gunsch, Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Energy Initiative
  • Jules Odendahl-James, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Nimmi Ramanujam, Pratt School of Engineering, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Nina Sherwood, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Kearsley Stewart, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Victoria Szabo, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Health as an Ecosystem: Expanding Our Imaginations of Health

Health as an Ecosystem faculty members.

In ecology, an ecosystem is a community of living organisms and their interactions with the abiotic environment. Dynamic and complex, they may flourish in settings of balance, diversity, and responsive resilience, or they may flounder in contexts of deficit and disruption. This group will apply the ecosystem concept to health and explore new perspectives on health systems, population health, well-being, and disease. During monthly meetings, members will consider a range of questions and engage in activities whose focus will encompass capstone projects, seminars, and future grant proposals.

  • Lead: John Moses, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Co-lead: Jennifer Lawson, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Charles Nunn, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Richard Di Giulio, Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering
  • Alice Ammerman, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • Eliana Perrin, School of Medicine
  • Eric Richardson, Pratt School of Engineering
  • Jan Holton, Divinity School
  • Brett McCarty, Divinity School
  • Bill Walker, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Peter English, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gopal Sreenivasan, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Norman Wirzba, Divinity School, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Jon Fjeld, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Ray Barfield, School of Medicine, Divinity School, School of Nursing, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Warren Kinghorn, School of Medicine, Divinity School, Duke Initiative for Science & Society

Launching a Triangle-Wide Seminar in the Economics of Education

Launching a Triangle-Wide Seminar in the Economics of Education faculty members.

Currently, there is no regular forum for economists from the Triangle to discuss new empirical work on the economics of education. This group will change that by organizing a one-day workshop. Hosted by the Center for Child and Family Policy, the event will include invited presenters, discussants, and a keynote speaker. It will also serve as a means to explore the possibility of launching a year-long seminar series in 2019-2020 on the economics of education.

Marine Medicine: Multidisciplinary Research at the Nexus of the Environment and Human Health

Marine Medicine faculty members.

Marine medicine is focused on research that cuts across disciplines, including cross-species comparative analyses of cancer protective mechanisms, understanding the risk of disease from exposure to environmental toxins, and discovery of new drugs from marine compounds. This working group will convene monthly and invite guest speakers to provide critical feedback on papers and proposals. Members will also host an annual symposium with a keynote speaker and a networking event to establish collaborations between faculty across the School of Medicine and the Nicholas School of the Environment, and create a long-term strategy for sustained interactions.

Parasite-Host Evolution Network Optimization (PHENO) Working Group

Parasite-Host Evolution Network Optimization (PHENO) Working Group faculty members.

Better methods are needed to identify new pathogens or known animal pathogens with the potential to infect humans and cause disease. Given that pathogens transmit through chains of contact, network-based approaches that represent these epidemiological pathways offer great promise. Through regular meetings, this group of faculty and postdocs will investigate the application of network approaches to a wide range of disease systems and aim to develop new and fundable research projects.

  • Lead: James Moody, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Social Science Research Institute
  • Charles Nunn, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Craig Rawlings, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gregory Gray, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Chris Woods, School of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Meira Epplein, School of Medicine
  • James Herrera, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Dana Pasquale, Duke Network Analysis Center

Social Studies of Science Working Group

Social Studies of Science Working Group faculty members.

The social study of science, often referred to as science and technology studies, is an interdisciplinary field whose scholars explore topics ranging from the ethical implications of data hacking and the politics of nuclear power to questions of personhood emerging from neuroscience. This group will bring together faculty who are interested in the rapid scale-up of research in the biomedical sciences, data and computational sciences, and environmental sciences as well as the increasing overlap of science and technology studies, medical humanities, and environmental humanities. Members aim to build a network of Duke and Triangle faculty and foster linked research endeavors.

  • Lead: Harris Solomon, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Nicole Barnes, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Nima Bassiri, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Paul Bendich, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke
  • Mark Olson, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
  • Cate Reilly, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gabriel Rosenberg, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Priscilla Wald, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
  • Ara Wilson, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Duke Initiative for Science & Society

Seven Projects Receive 2018 Germinator Research Awards

Photo: SeedlingbyNik@Unsplash

Interdisciplinary projects involve new approaches to neuroscience topics

Seven projects involving nearly two dozen Duke clinical and basic-science faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students have received the inaugural Germinator Research Awards from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS), the Institute’s Faculty Governance Committee Chair, Geraldine Dawson, announced today.

The awards grew out of DIBS Town Hall discussions, part of the strategic-planning process completed in February 2018. “We heard from the DIBS community the need to augment our larger grant program, the Incubator Research Awards, with support for small, targeted funding requests open to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as well as faculty.” Dawson said. The Germinator Research Awards program was the result.

“These funded projects offer exciting new ways to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to important questions,” she added. Germinator projects receive up to a maximum of $25,000 and may go to single investigators. They must catalyze new research or collaboration and/or enhance chances of obtaining external funding.

2018 Germinator Award Recipients

Toward a Computational Psychiatry of Transdiagnostic Deficits in Cognitive Control
  • Christina Bejjani and Tobias Egner, Psychology & Neuroscience (P&N), Center for Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN); John Pearson, Biostatistics & Bioinformatics and CCN; Terrie E. Moffitt, P&N, Psychiatry & Behavioral  Sciences, Center for Genomic & Computational Biology (CGCB); Social Behaviour & Development, King’s College, London; Avshalom Caspi, P&N, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, CGCB; Social Behaviour & Development, King’s College, London; and R. Alison Adcock, P&N, CCN, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

This research project brings together the fields of psychiatry, developmental psychology, machine learning, biostatistics, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience with a goal of improving diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. The team will use computational psychiatry, a relatively new field described by the National Institute of Mental Health as “analytical approaches for the prediction of risk and treatment response and the understanding of the pathophysiology underlying mental disorders.” This could provide alternative methods of diagnosis, currently based primarily on external observed behaviors and self-reporting.

Effect of Connectivity-based rTMS and State-Dependency on Amygdala Activation
  • Lysianne Beynel, Nathan Kimbrel, Greg Appelbaum, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Simon Davis, Neurology

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is can be highly debilitating, with low response rates to pharmacological treatment. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which uses magnetic fields to affect the brain, has demonstrated only modest efficacy. The shallow penetration of rTMS is insufficient to directly affect deep brain structures such as the amygdala, the brain area affected in PTSD. This team seeks to improve the therapeutic efficacy of rTMS for PTSD by reaching the amygdala indirectly, through its connections to other brain regions. Successful completion of this project could lead to significant long-term contributions to both clinical applications and mechanistic understanding of brain/behavior relationships. The project will involve Duke School of Medicine and the Durham VA Health Care System.

Eulemur as a Primate Model for Oxytocin System Evolution and Function
  • Nicholas Grebe and Christine Drea, Evolutionary Anthropology

Among closely related group-living primates of the genus Eulemur (lemurs, native to Madagascar), some male and female lemurs form monogamous pair bonds; others mate with multiple partners. This unique behavior may be related to the mammalian neuropeptide oxytocin, which facilitates formation and maintenance of social bonding. Being able to assess the comparative neuroendocrinology of pair-bonding in Eulemur will offer significant insights on how this neuropeptide works. This non-invasive research is a collaboration involving Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology and the Research Division of the Duke Lemur Center. It represents a new program of lemur brain science with potential implications for human behavior.

Testing a Neurocognitive Model of Emotional Distancing Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Kevin LaBar, P&N, CCN; Simon Davis, Neurology; Andrada Neacsiu, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; John Powers, P&N

Emotion regulation is a core component of therapeutic approaches to alleviate distress associated with psychiatric disorders. Distancing is an emotion regulation strategy that relies on self-projection, or the ability to shift perspective from the here and now to a simulated time, place, or person. The team has developed a new model of the neurocognitive processes that contribute to distancing as a successful emotion regulation strategy. We aim to test this model using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in healthy adults.

A Flexible Neural Framework for Decision-Making Across Human Development:  Testing the Influence of Information and Arousal
  • Rosa Li, Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science, DIBS

Prevailing neural models of decision-making across human development propose that risk-taking peaks in adolescence due to a unique adolescent imbalance between cognitive control via the prefrontal cortex and reward-processing via limbic regions. Though such dual-systems models seem to fit neural data, they have not generated behavioral predictions borne out in the laboratory. One theory is that they fail to account for differences between laboratory and daily decisions related to relative levels of information available and arousal, or attentiveness. Dr. Li, a postdoctoral fellow, hypothesizes a more flexible neural model would yield better information to help understand adolescent neural circuitry and decision-making.

Virally Mediated Transduction of Light-Sensitive Ion Channels in Brainstem Motoneurons of Macaques
  • Marc A. Sommer and Martin O. Bohlen, Biomedical Engineering

This project will apply optogenetics, a biological technique to control neurons by using light, to non-human primates, with a goal of understanding more completely how nerve cells drive muscle activity. That could lead scientists to the ability to manipulate neuromuscular circuitry in non-human primates, an outcome that holds potential benefit to humans with neuromuscular diseases such as multiple sclerosis. The project also has a substantial education component for graduate students and medical students studying “Brain and Behavior” at Duke.

Restore Tactile Sensation and Proprioception in Lower Limb Amputees Using Epidural Spinal Cord Stimulation
  • Amol Yadav, postdoctoral associate, Muhammad Abd-El-Barr, and Nandan Lad, Neurosurgery; Tim Sell, Orthopedic Surgery; Paul Howell, Durham VA Health Care System, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services

Amputation of a lower limb hinders movement significantly. Modern prosthetic leg technology helps, but cannot duplicate the ability of the human leg to relay vital sensory information to the brain about the body’s surroundings, nor can it address the often-intense “phantom pain,” which is pain felt in missing limbs, likely generated by the brain and spinal cord. A team of neurosurgeons, physical therapists, and rehabilitation medicine experts will work with amputees using spinal-cord stimulation to generate missing sensory information. The goals are to improve rehabilitation and control phantom pain. The project will involve the Duke School of Medicine and the Durham VA Health Care System.

Duke Schools and Programs Represented by 2018 Germinator Award Recipients

Pratt School of Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
School of Medicine
  • Biostatistics & Bioinformatics
  • Neurology
  • Neurosurgery
  • Orthopedic Surgery
  • Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
  • Biology (Center for Genomic & Computational Biology; Duke Lemur Center)
  • Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Psychology & Neuroscience
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Center for Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science
Durham VA Health Care System
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services

Learn more about DIBS research awards.