Skip Navigation


Jinho Choi                                               Phillip Wolff
Mathematics and Computer Science     School of Medicine - Psychology
Autonomous Question Answering System Using Social Networks

To an extent, existing question answering systems already provide answers to what-, how-, and why-questions: simply typing these words along with the content of the question usually leads to a list of potential answers. However, the answers found though such searches usually offer only relatively common answers. We propose a question answering system that will accomplish something much more interesting. Specifically, the main research objective of this project will be to develop a system able to forge new knowledge in response to questions. This will be accomplished by codifying recent advances in linguistic on the representation of verbs, prepositions, and adjectives. The proposed research will also take advantage of recent advances in computer science that allow for big-data analysis of billions of documents. The proposed activities will result in a question answer system of direct use to members of the Emory community, as well as, a system that could be used as a recruitment of students and faculty. It will also provide an opportunity for students in computer science to acquire skills in linguistics and psychology, and students in linguistics and psychology, to acquire skills in computer science. The labs of the PIs are already equipped with the kinds of computer workstations that will make the proposed research possible.

Andrew Escayg                                          John Alexander
Mathematics and Computer Science        Human Genetics
Combining clinical and basic research to accelerate epilepsy gene discovery.

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder that has a major negative impact on quality of life and imposes a tremendous burden on both patients and the healthcare system. Two important classes of epilepsy are the idiopathic genetic epilepsies (IGEs) and the epileptic encephalopathies (EEs). The IGEs encompass several syndromes characterized by age-related (often childhood onset) recurrent seizures.The EEs are a group of catastrophic childhood epilepsies characterized by treatment-resistant seizures, behavioral and neurocognitive deficits, and a poor prognosis. Until recently, the genes responsible for these types of epilepsies were largely unknown; however, emerging data from recent studies indicate that genetic factors are likely to account for a substantial percentage of cases. One of the services offered by the Emory Genetics Laboratory (EGL) is sequence analysis of 109 genes from clinically referred patients with epilepsy. Approximately 12 epilepsy patients (mainly EE cases) are referred to the EGL each month, thus providing a large number of patient samples and a wealth of sequence data that can be used for gene/mutation identification and subsequent experiments to determine how these mutations cause epilepsy. In collaboration with the EGL, we will combine these available clinical samples and sequence data (John Alexander, Director EGL) with research expertise on epilepsy genetics and functional analyses (Andrew Escayg's lab) to fully utilize this powerful and unique resource in order to create a cost-effective pipeline to accelerate epilepsy gene discovery.

Anna Grimshaw
Emory College - Anthropology
At Low Tide

The proposed project is the making of a film about clam-digging in eastern Maine. Although clam digging is one of the most important livelihoods in communities along the Maine coast, it tens to be ignored in favor of the more lucrative, glamorous and technologically sophisticated lobster-fishing industry. In contrast with the lobster fisherman, the clam diger is often stereotyped as something of a ruffian, uneducated and poor, whose livelihood depends solely on brawn not brain. Using the simplist of tools, a rake, the town's diggers set out each day at low tide in small boats to dig for clams ion the wide, mud flats that stretch far into the bay. it is back-breaking, solitary work. But it has a rare and peculiar beauty--one difficult to describe in words, except to say that it emanates from the ebb and flow of the tide, the vast, changing sky, the sounds and textures of deep, viscous mud, and the movement and tempo of digging itself. At Low Tide will integrate a developed ethnographic sensibility with a keen attentiveness to the aesthetic possibilities of image, sound and movement. In this way, the film will explore and express the hitherto unacknowledged sensory richness and poetic nature of manual work.Cynthia Giver
School of Medicine -
Hematology and Medical Oncology

Daniel Kalman                                       Cynthia Giver
Pathology & Lab Medicine                    Hemotology and Med. Oncology
Microbiota Factors that Regulate Host Sensitivity to Deleterious Immune Responses

The intestinal microbiota can regulate susceptibility to pathogen infection, environmentalstress and deleterious immune responses. Using C. elegans, Drosophila, and mammalianmodels, we have identified small molecules related to indole (e.g. indole-3-carboxaldehyde(ICA)), which are secreted by commensal microbiota and which alter susceptibility ofintestinal epithelia to damage caused by diverse stressors. Using C. elegans genetics, wehave determined that ICA signals via particular host factors and that this signaling cascade isconserved in mammals. Here we seek to expand our mechanistic understanding of ICA, anddetermine how ICA mediates protection in a murine model of Graft vs. Host Disease (GvHD),in which transplanted allogeneic T cells attack the host, causing lethal colitis and sepsis. Because the predominant protective effect of ICA is on intestinal barrier integrity, we will alsotest the hypothesis that the approach we have developed will suppress GvHD yet still allowtransplanted T cells to retain activity against, for example, leukemic cells (so called Graft vs.Leukemia; GvL), which is important in clinical application of allogeneic transplants. The long-term goal is to provide mechanistic information that small molecules derived from themicrobiota that can be used to treat diseases caused by deleterious immune responses.

Lynne Nygaard                                         Krishnankutty (KRish) Sathian
Emory College-Psychology                      School of Medicine - Neurology
Neural Bases of Cross-Modal Mappings

This study is designed to investigate the neural systems involved in the integrtion and association of different sensory experiences. Humans combine and make use of information acorss sensory systems to arrive at multisensory representations of events in the world. Although many associations appear to be based in our experience (e.g., particular sights adn sounds co-occur frequently), it is unclear how other cross-sensory associations arise. We are interested in the cognitive and neural mechanisms of mappings between auditory dimensions such as pitch adn sound quality and visual dimensions such as size and shape of objects. Previous research suggets that humans consistently association pitch and size (e.g., high pitch = small visual object) and certain speech sounds and shape (e.g., 'maluma" = rounded visual shape). Our goal is to investigate the extent to which these auditory-visual mappings are based in common neural systems and to what extent the mappings might also rely on distinct networks.

Todd Preus                                                 David Gutman
Yerkes National Primate Research Ctr      School of Medicine
Neural Bases of Cross-Modal Mappings

Dogs are trained by the U.S. military for a variety of important tasks, but many dogs fail out of the training program, representing a loss of time and money.  Furthermore, many dogs that are deployed to compat acquire a syndrome that resembles post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), necessitating removal from duty and sometimes euthaniasia.  Thus, the military has an interest in finding ways to predict likelihood of training succes and susceptibility vs. resilience to combat stress.  Moreover, these dogs represent an opportunity to study a "real-world animal model" of PTSD which results from the actual environmental stressors that trigger PTSD in human veterans.  To these ends, we have formed a collaboration with personnel at the Lackland Air Force Base, where all military working dogs are trained. We have secured the necessary approvals and are receiving necropsy brains from military working dogs that were euthanized for reasons unrelated to our study.  The proposed research would use a unique resource at Emory, a specialized, powerful MRI scanner, to obtain extremely high-resolution images of military working dog brains.  We will compare the structure and organization of the brains of animals that do vs. do not pass the training program, and that do vs. do not show PTSD-like symptoms after combat exposure. We will compare these results to data from humans who do vs. do not develop PTSD after trauma, via a collaboration with an Emory researcher who is a world leader in human PTSD research.  The proposed research will allow us to refine our methods and collect priliminary data in preperation for proposals to the Department of Defense and NIMH in 2016. The research team has been notified of the success of their recent basic science proposal to NSF, which will produce the first detailed atlas of canine brain anatomy and identify neural systems linked to fear and agression in canids. There are multiple possible points of intersection between the proposed research and this upcoming NSF project, which could support further research projects and funding applications.

Dietrich Stout                                            Xiaoping Hu
Anthropology                                             Biomedical Engineering
The Language of Technology: Neural Substrates of Tool-making and Language

Language and technology are defining human characteristics, but how are they related to one another? We propose to explore the behavioral, anatomical, and evolutionary connections between these fundamental human capacities through a novel integration of archaeology and neuroscience. We ask URC to fund a low-cost add-on to an existing, externally funded study that is training research subjects to make Paleolithic stone tools. This would allow us to collect behavioral and neuroanatomical data from an untrained "control" sample and thus to investigate: 1) plastic neuroanatomical responses specific to tool-making training, and 2) the structural basis of individual variation in linguistic and technological performance. Both phenotypic plasticity and individual variation contribute to evolutionary adaptation, and studying them will allow us to test influential hypotheses of language/ tool-making co-evolution. The structural basis of individual differences in such naturalistic behaviors has been understudied for both methodological and theoretical reasons and represents a promising point of interdisciplinary synergy between the experimental and mechanistic strengths of neuroscience, anthropological interest and insights into complex, real-world behaviors, and the evolutionary perspective and time-depth provided by Paleolithic archaeology. We aim to develop and test methods, including novel behavioral measures derived from archaeology (tool-making skill), linguistics (syntactic complexity), and experimental psychology (artificial grammar learning), and to identify trends for further investigation in a larger, externally-funded follow up study. 

Ymir Vigfussion                                          Gari Clifford
Mathematics and Computer Science         Biomedical Informatics
Detecting Outbreaks with Cell Phone Data

Disease outbreaks, such as Influenza A(H1N1) in 2009, can affect millions of people. Manyof those people regularly use digital technology such as cell phones for communication.These devices create “who-called-whom” records that are collected by the providers forbilling purposes, and which can give a unique window into human behavior, for instance bydetecting anomalous deviations from people’s regular routines.This proposal builds on interdisciplinary collaboration between experts in computer science,human health and epidemiology to answer the following question: “Can anonymous mobilecall records be leveraged to help detect potential epidemics in real-time and follow theirtrends?”Our long-term vision is to develop SMART (Surveillance through Mobile Anomalies inReal-Time): an early-warning system through automatic behavioral sensing that could havesignificant impact on disease surveillance around the world, in particular in the developingworld, by helping predict the spread of epidemics and optimize outbreak control strategies.

Amy Webb Girard                                       Dana Boyd Carr
RSPH: Global Health                                   RSPH: Environmental Health
Antioxidants and aflatoxins – competing influencers of child growth

Chronic malnutrition, indicated as low height for age (stunting), affects over one-third of Kenyanchildren and substantially undermines their health, development and future economic potential.Nutrition interventions have had limited impact on stunting and research increasingly points toenvironmental contaminants as potentially important contributors. Research indicates thatenvironmental contaminants and soil- and water- borne pathogens damage the intestinal lining.As a result, pathogens cross more easily from the intestine into the bloodstream andabsorption of nutrients is diminished. Mycotoxins, released by fungus, are prevalent in commonfoods in developing countries such as maize, rice and groundnuts. These fungal toxins passthrough breast milk and may also damage the intestinal lining. Mycotoxins  also contribute tomastitis, reduced milk volume and reduced milk fat in dairy cows but research in humans islacking. We hypothesize that mycotoxins increase mastitis among women and impair childgrowth and health. We also hypothesize that breast milk concentrations of immune-supportingvitamin A and the antioxidant, beta carotene will minimize the effects of mycotoxin on infantgrowth and health. Using data and breast milk samples collected at 4 and 9 months postpartumfrom a recently completed intervention study in Western Kenya, we will develop laboratorymethods to quantify three mycotoxins in breastmilk, breast milk mastitis and breast milkconcentrations of vitamin A and beta carotene. Findings will be used to develop additionalfunding proposals to support analysis of all available breastmilk samples from the study andassess associations with infant growth.