SPUR 2022 Projects: Health

Communication Sciences & Disorders | College of Health
Neuroscience Program


Skyler Jennings, Associate Professor

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The objective of this research is to understand the temporal processing of the human auditory nerve and brainstem, which forms the neural foundation upon which hearing is mediated and declines in older adults with normal hearing and hearing loss. Despite the use of hearing devices (hearing aids, cochlear implants), adults with hearing loss struggle to communicate in noisy backgrounds. A similar difficulty is often reported by older adults with normal hearing. This communication difficulty contrasts with the ease at which younger adults with normal hearing communicate in similarly noisy environments. Currently, our understanding of temporal processing comes primarily from studies of animal hearing. We expect that improved understanding of human temporal processing will lead to the creation of neural-based diagnostic tests of impaired hearing, and the development of signal processing algorithms in hearing devices that successfully address real-world listening difficulties.

Our approach is innovative because we will provide a multi-angled, data-driven perspective on temporal processing by simultaneously recording cochlear and brainstem potentials, and simulating auditory nerve potentials with a computational auditory model. Further, we will evaluate the effects of auditory reflexes and other feedback systems on auditory temporal processing by measuring the time course of cochlear and brainstem potentials in response to background noise. This innovation is significant because real-time adjustments in temporal processing are expected to facilitate listening in noisy backgrounds and such adjustments may be limited in older adults with normal hearing and hearing loss.

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Health, Kinesiology, & Recreation | College of Health


Bradley King, Assistant ProfessorUploaded image

Developmental research is often grounded in the notion that young adults are the model of optimal functioning and children are thus conceptualized as developing systems progressing towards this ideal state. Although this framework has its merits, it can also be considered incomplete, as there are instances in which children outperform young adults, and in the learning of novel motor skills in particular. A central premise of this research is that systematic investigations into the behavioral and neural processes underlying these childhood advantages offer a unique opportunity to increase our understanding of the developing brain.

This research adopts the acquisition of novel movement sequences as a model to investigate the behavioral and neural underpinnings of developmental advantages in motor learning behaviors. Specifically, we combine unique manipulations of motor learning paradigms with brain imaging approaches (i.e., functional magnetic resonance imaging) to answer the question: What is unique about the developing brain that allows children to outperform adults in these specific instances?

In addition to addressing a fundamental research question of high importance, this research will serve as a foundation for future examinations into the neural underpinnings of motor learning-related developmental disorders (e.g., dyspraxia).

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nutrition & integrative physiology | college of health


Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham, Associate Professor

The research in Velayutham laboratory is focused on identifying the molecular mechanisms by which blueberry/strawberry-derived microbial metabolites improve endothelial dysfunction during metabolic syndrome (MetS). Human studies support the vascular beneficial effects of berry anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are extensively metabolized by the gut microbiota in humans, suggesting their vascular benefits might be mediated by their microbial metabolites. Velayutham lab showed that: blueberry/strawberry supplementation improves vascular inflammation and dysfunction, and increases the beneficial gut bacteria in diabetic mice; key blueberry metabolites attenuate palmitate-induced endothelial inflammation and vascular dysfunction (Mol Nutr Food Res 2018, Int J Cardiol 2018 & 2019, J Nutr Biochem 2019). Current research in Velayutham lab is focused on (1) determining the mechanisms by which anthocyanins-derived metabolites improve endothelial dysfunction in MetS, (2) determining the role of gut microbiota in mediating the vascular effects of blueberry/strawberry, and (3) determining the impact of circulating metabolites on endothelial dysfunction and identifying the most active metabolite(s). Physiologically relevant models and state of the art techniques will be used to evaluate the mechanistic roles of microbial metabolites of blueberries/strawberries at the cellular level, tissue level and organism level. This study will provide strong scientific rationale for recommending dietary intake of berries to improve vascular health in the US population and worldwide.

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