New Compound Helps Activate Cancer-Fighting T Cells

By Colin Poitras, UConn Communications

An illustration showing interactions between components of the AH10-7 compound (yellow), an immune system antigen-presenting cell (gray), and an invariant natural killer T cell (green and blue) that spark activation of iNKT cells in ‘humanized’ mice. (Image courtesy of José Gascón/UConn)
Researchers Amy Howell and José Gascón of the chemistry department discuss a molecular simulation on a laptop monitor in the academic wing of the Chemistry Building. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are powerful weapons our body’s immune systems count on to fight infection and combat diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Finding ways to spark these potent cells into action could lead to more effective cancer treatments and vaccines.

While several chemical compounds have shown promise stimulating iNKT cells in mice, their ability to activate human iNKT cells has been limited.

Now, an international team of top immunologists, molecular biologists, and chemists led by University of Connecticut chemistry professor Amy Howell reports in Cell Chemical Biology the creation of a new compound that appears to have the properties researchers have been looking for.

The compound – a modified version of an earlier synthesized ligand – is highly effective in activating human iNKT cells. It is also selective – encouraging iNKT cells to release a specific set of proteins known as Th1 cytokines, which stimulate anti-tumor immunity.

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New Method Unearths Climate Data from Ancient Soils

Hren By Elaina Hancock, UConn Communications

In Scientific Reports today, UConn researchers report a novel approach to reconstructing ancient climates using analyses of organic compounds in sediments and soils.

This method was developed by former UConn postdoctoral scientist Yvette Eley (now in the Department of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, U.K.) and assistant professor Michael Hren in the UConn Center for Integrative Geosciences. Their new approach makes use of organic compounds found in the waxy, lipid-rich cuticle of plants. These waxy surfaces are critical to plant survival, as they minimize water loss and provide protection from factors such as UV radiation.

The distribution of organic compounds in leaf waxes records information about their growing environment. For instance, when confronted with stressful conditions such as shortage of water, plants can respond by changing the distribution of organic compounds in their leaf wax to combat water loss and improve their chances of survival. Various environmental parameters can therefore result in plants with different distributions of lipids, and these profiles can reveal a lot about the climate those plants were growing in. Continue reading

He Group Paper on Cover of Advanced Materials

A new paper entitled “Fluorochromic Hydrogels: Dynamic Coordination of Eu-Iminodiacetate to Control Fluorochromic Response of Polymer Hydrogels to Multistimuli” from He group is published in Advanced Materials as a cover story. Prof. Jie He and co-workers demonstrate the use of dynamic coordination of europium with iminodiacetates to construct hydrogel networks. This hydrogel presents controllable luminescence along with the sol-gel transition through the reversible formation and dissociation of metal-ligand complexes upon five different stimuli. Read more>>>

2018 CT Middle School Science Bowl

2018 Science Bowl Volunteers

On Saturday, February 24, 2018, the Connecticut Regional Middle School Science Bowl event welcomed approximately 200 students and coaches—and their family members—to UConn for a day of learning and friendly competition. The Middle School Science Bowl is a fast-paced, question-and-answer-style event that emphasizes the importance of STEM education. This year, 32 teams from 24 different middle schools throughout Connecticut participated in the Science Bowl competition where they answered questions in the fields of Life Science, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science, Energy, and Mathematics. It is through the Science Bowl that students are able to engage in a challenging academic competition with peers that share a similar passion for science.

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Epitope Resolved Detection of Peanut Specific IgE Antibodies by SPR Imaging

Min Shen, Amit A. Joshi, Raghu Vannam, Chandra K. Dixit, Robert G. Hamilton, Challa V. Kumar, James F. Rusling, Mark W. Peczuh*

Accurate characterization of antibodies (IgEs) in individuals exposed to allergens such as peanuts can provide insight into the clinical manifestation of an allergic reaction and also reveal how its fundamental immunobiology works. Measurement of IgEs to specific allergen epitopes in serum has been a major challenge. UConn Chemistry grad student Min Shen was the lead author on a recent paper in ChemBioChem reporting a new method that first captures IgEs from serum by using anti-IgE decorated magnetic nanoparticles, then measures IgEs binding to specific epitopes from allergen proteins using arrayed SPR imaging. The new technique was used to catalog anti-peanut IgEs in a set of patient samples and showed excellent correlation with clinical diagnostics. The cover art was prepared by Ella Maru studios.

Lambda Vision’s Quest to Cure Blindness Set to Launch Into Orbit

Human beings have been aboard the International Space Station continuously now for over 17 years. Crews spend months orbiting the Earth, privy to some of the most breathtaking views in the universe. But what exactly are they working on while hurtling through space? A few months from now the answer to that question will be provided by LambdaVision, a Farmington company and product of UConn Chemistry that has developed a retinal implant to restore vision to those afflicted with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Read more>>>

Professor Kumar Wins Provost Award

Professor Challa Kumar’s proposal to The Provost’s General Education Course Enhancement Grant Competition entitled “Science Writing: Portable, adoptable and comprehensive writing course for various science departments” has been selected for funding. The proposal offered an explicit fit to the competition objectives and had multiple innovative elements, including flipped classroom exercises in which videos were combined with assignments, and assessment that involved an oral presentation, a poster, and a multimedia e-book. The course also included a substantial research component. Professor Kumar was awarded $7416 for the 2018 Fiscal Year.