Tag Archives: Joe Tsien

Provost’s Perspective: New Leadership

First of all, let me take a moment to welcome everyone to the campus of Georgia Regents University and the start of the new academic year. Not only am I excited to see our returning students and the energy they bring as they pursue their academic goals, I am deeply honored that so many freshmen and their families have entrusted their university experience to GRU. More and more, we’re becoming a destination of choice for the best and brightest, not just here in the CSRA, but also in Georgia, the nation and even the world.

The start of the fall semester is also a time to reconnect with the faculty and staff who have chosen GRU as the place to put their special skills to use. We know there is great demand for the level of talent we’re recruiting across all our ranks, and I am grateful that so many wonderful colleagues continue to commit their time and expertise to GRU.

Of course, the excitement that came earlier this summer with Dr. Brooks Keel being tapped as the next president of GRU and CEO of GRHealth has been palpable. Dr. Keel has a thorough understanding of biomedical research, a track record of visionary leadership and a history with our legacy institutions that is second to none. As I’ve watched him meet with deans and faculty, students and staff, I’ve been impressed by his warmth and his ability to connect with the people within those positions.

It is indeed an exciting time to be at GRU.

And Dr. Keel is not the only new face who will have an impact on our organization. Indeed, we have recruited several talented individuals to fill other key roles in our university.

Undoubtedly, the person blessed with the best name is Dr. Quincy Byrdsong, our inaugural vice president for academic planning and strategic initiatives. Coming to us from Virginia Commonwealth University, he will be quarterbacking those complex initiatives that require great coordination and interaction with the colleges and different structural units. He will aid us all in ensuring that we have rigor and structure around our academic planning. Though we’ve always been conscious of that need, we feel he is perfectly suited to help colleges, departments, and faculty start framing the academic planning process even earlier, allowing us to consider the “what ifs” surrounding the development of, say, a particular program or major before the time comes to pitch it to those at a higher administration level.

Quincy also will take over some of the operational units that we see as being key to our strategic initiatives. Most visibly, as chief diversity officer, Quincy will also have responsibility for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, an office that is very important to me personally and one that continues to be a national model. While the vice president for academic planning and strategic initiatives is new to GRU, it was developed to fulfill a number of critical functions for the institution, and it actually helped streamline our leadership ranks, since three previous positions – two active and one we were searching for – are being filled by this one role.

Dr. Zach Kelehear, our new dean of the College of Education, has only been on the job since July 1, but already he has started making strong, important connections throughout the community by reaching out to the schools, principals and superintendents in our regional education service area. Not only that, but his interaction with the faculty is already creating valuable and innovative ideas. The University of South Carolina’s loss is definitely our gain. And, if you want to start a conversation and see a gleam in Zach’s eyes, just ask him about another of his passions – beekeeping.

Speaking of the College of Education, former dean Dr. Cindi Chance continues to “fail retirement” and has agreed to return and offer her special leadership abilities to the Confucius Institute as its director. Her intense interest in global education in general and China in particular make her a natural to guide the Confucius Institute to the next stage of its existence at GRU.

I also want to take this opportunity to say a special thank you to Dr. Joe Tsien, for his pivotal work in developing and launching the Confucius Institute as its founding director. With the Institute now on strong footing, Joe, a world-renowned neuroscientist, felt it was a perfect time to focus more fully on his true passion – doing basic research in brain science.

We’re also proud that Joanne Sexton has moved into the role of Cyber Institute director. Not only does she have experience as an information technology expert for the U.S. Navy, but she has a deep understanding of our cyber education initiatives. The new institute is certainly in good hands.

And over in the Hull College of Business, we have the transition of Dean Marc Miller into the newly created role of executive director for economic development and entrepreneurial engagement. Entrepreneurship, economic development and community engagement are increasingly important institutional priorities, and we look forward to significant advances through Marc’s work in his new role. The national search for business dean will begin in the next few weeks, and I very much appreciate Mark Thompson’s service as interim dean until the position is filled.

Research administration is fortunate to have a familiar face in a new role – Dr. Alvin Terry joins SVP for Research Michael Diamond and adds strength to this critical unit as associate vice president for basic sciences. Alvin provides administrative oversight for lab animal services, as well as a number of other critical responsibilities.

And as an example of our continuing emphasis on enhancing student services at all levels, we’re happy to welcome David Barron, who, as associate vice president for enrollment services, will be over recruitment, admissions and financial aid, areas which are absolutely essential to our success.

This list is in no way comprehensive, nor does it adequately describe the intentional eye with which we’re considering our challenges. It’s simply a brief selection from a very long list of great people doing great things at our institution, and I hope to highlight more as the months go on. Please know that everyone’s efforts are valued and everyone’s dedication to our shared goal is admired. The success of Georgia Regents University requires all of us to give our best, and I’m confident our students, our patients and our community will receive no less.

New technique enables accurate, hands-free measure of heart and respiration rates

Tsien1webfront[1]A simple video camera paired with complex algorithms appears to provide an accurate means to remotely monitor heart and respiration rates day or night, researchers report.

The inexpensive method for monitoring the vital signs without touching a patient could have major implications for telemedicine, including enabling rapid detection of a heart attack or stroke occurring at home and helping avoid sudden infant death syndrome, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

It also may enable untethered, more realistic monitoring of laboratory animals in scientific research as well as ecological research on wild or endangered animal populations.

“Heart and respiratory rates obviously tell us a lot about how an individual is doing,” said Dr. Joe Tsien, neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. “Normally, caregivers have to put their hands on a patient to assess these rates. However our algorithms enable us to rapidly and accurately translate, for example, normally imperceptible movement of the skin in rhythm with our breathing into an accurate measure of respiration rate.”

Scientists at MCG and China’s BanNa Biomedical Research Institute already are working to see if the approach can also accurately measure blood pressure.

Tsien, who studies memory, said the algorithms were developed to decipher reams of information generated by his brain-decoding project, which is identifying brain activity patterns that occur, for example, when a mouse forms a memory. In that case, the formulas help him understand what the brain is saying; in this case, they help interpret how the body is doing.

To measure heart rate, this approach takes advantage of the fact that the blood vessels expand and contract with each heartbeat: more blood in the vessels means more camera light is absorbed rather than reflected. Breathing causes a slight body movement that produces varying lengths of reflected light off the moving surface. In fact, Tsien notes, the two rates are closely tied and respiration rate can also be calculated based on heart rate, using his algorithms as well as other methods.

Within a few seconds, the algorithms enable light reflections to be sorted by source so that ambient signals from, say, a fluorescent lamp, can be ignored and distinct numbers can be calculated for heart and respiration rates.

“It lets us pull out only the faint but relevant signal that may be buried under ambient distractions,” Tsien said.

False-positive rates were less than 3 percent and false negatives under 1 percent, indicating the device would be reliable even in rapidly changing scenarios such as a heart attack or stroke.

Measurements were taken multiple times on 15 human subjects, including seven males, eight females and one infant, who were a mix of Caucasians, Asians and blacks. To assess accuracy, heart and respiratory rates were concurrently measured using standard approaches such as an electrocardiogram for the heart and airflow captured by a sensor under the nose while subjects were active and stationary. Similar studies were performed on mice, pigs and zebrafish.

To further assess accuracy, scientists also used the approach on still images such as photographs of humans, a Simpson cartoon character and the Mona Lisa painting. Their system correctly identified all as  inanimate objects. They also applied the technique to television footage of celebrities such as Michael Phelps and President Bill Clinton, and were able to detect varying heart and respiration rates in calm, happy and stressful situations.

Although the researchers used a single-channel camera – which produces images from a single light source – their algorithm can work with any video camera as well as other sensors, such as radio frequency waves, Tsien said. However, the researchers note that a previous attempt by others using a multi-channel camera for remote monitoring did not accurately measure parameters at night and generated significantly more false positives.

Tsien is the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cognitive and Systems Neurobiology. GRU Postdoctoral Fellow Fang Zhao is the study’s first author.  GRU has patented the monitoring technique.

Eliminating useless information important to learning, making new memories

Dr. Joe Tsien
Dr. Joe Tsien

AUGUSTA, Ga. – As we age, it just may be the ability to filter and eliminate old information – rather than take in the new stuff – that makes it harder to learn, scientists report.

“When you are young, your brain is able to strengthen certain connections and weaken certain connections to make new memories,” said Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University and Co-Director of the GRU Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute.

It’s that critical weakening that appears hampered in the older brain, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports.

The NMDA receptor in the brain’s hippocampus is like a switch for regulating learning and memory, working through subunits called NR2A and NR2B.  NR2B is expressed in higher percentages in children, enabling neurons to talk a fraction of a second longer; make stronger bonds, called synapses; and optimize learning and memory. This formation of strong bonds is called long-term potentiation. The ratio shifts after puberty, so there is more NR2A and slightly reduced communication time between neurons.

When Tsien and his colleagues genetically modified mice that mimic the adult ratio – more NR2A, less NR2B – they were surprised to find the rodents were still good at making strong connections and short-term memories but had an impaired ability to weaken existing connections, called long-term depression, and to make new long-term memories as a result. It’s called information sculpting and adult ratios of NMDA receptor subunits don’t appear to be very good at it.

“If you only make synapses stronger and never get rid of the noise or less useful information then it’s a problem,” said Tsien, the study’s corresponding author. While each neuron averages 3,000 synapses, the relentless onslaught of information and experiences necessitates some selective whittling. Insufficient sculpting, at least in their mouse, meant a reduced ability to remember things short-term – like the ticket number at a fast-food restaurant – and long-term – like remembering a favorite menu item at that restaurant.  Both are impacted in Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia.

All long-term depression was not lost in the mice, rather just response to the specific electrical stimulation levels that should induce weakening of the synapse. Tsien expected to find the opposite: that long-term potentiation was weak and so was the ability to learn and make new memories. “What is abnormal is the ability to weaken existing connectivity.”

Acknowledging the leap, this impaired ability could also help explain why adults can’t learn a new language without their old accent and why older people tend to be more stuck in their ways, the memory researcher said.

“We know we lose the ability to perfectly speak a foreign language if we learn than language after the onset of sexual maturity. I can learn English but my Chinese accent is very difficult to get rid of. The question is why,” Tsien said.

Tsien and his colleagues already have learned what happens when NR2B is overexpressed. He and East China Normal University researchers announced in 2009 the development of Hobbie-J, a smarter than average rat. A decade earlier, Tsien reported in the journal Nature the development of a smart mouse dubbed Doogie using the same techniques to over-express the NR2B gene in the hippocampus.

Doogie, Hobbie-J and their descendants have maintained superior memory as they age. Now Tsien is interested in following the NR2A over-expressing mouse to see what happens.

Tsien is the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cognitive and Systems Neurobiology. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the GRA.