Brain cancer breakthrough

Recurrent brain cancer can be helped by a new combination of drug therapies, according to researchers including David Schiff, co-director of the UVA Neuro-Oncology Center, working with a randomized phase II trial conducted at the University and seven other leading brain tumor centers. The researchers found that the monoclonal antibody bevacizumab, both alone and with the chemotherapy drug irinotecan, offered remarkable results for a disease that previously had unsatisfactory options. Thirty-six percent of patients with relapsed glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer, treated with bevacizumab alone and 51 percent treated with bevacizumab in combination with chemotherapy, had no tumor growth for six months as verified with independent radiologist review.

Processing rape evidence faster

UVA forensics researcher Jessica Voorhees Norris (Grad ’08) has developed a time-efficient method for processing rape evidence that could eliminate huge crime-lab backlogs. Despite an overwhelming demand for DNA analysis of sexual assault evidence, laboratories today are unable to handle the caseload in a timely manner because of limitations in current technology. Norris’ method reduces DNA analysis time from 24 hours to 30 to 45 minutes. Her new process also improves the sperm cell recovery rate by streamlining the number of steps that lab technicians must perform to get their results and eliminating the need to incubate samples overnight. Norris presented her findings recently at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Science.

A mechanical manta ray

A team of researchers is working to create an autonomous undersea vehicle that mimics the graceful motions of a manta ray. Hilary Bart-Smith, a UVA. mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, received a $6.5 million grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research to lay the groundwork for such a vehicle, to be used for undersea exploration and scientific research. She and her team of researchers at Princeton and West Chester universities chose the manta ray as a model because of its aerodynamic qualities and efficiency as a swimmer. They are now investigating the design of a mechanical wing that would imitate its maneuvering capabilities, including quick turns and rapid acceleration and deceleration. “Mother Nature has designed over millions of years highly efficient structures for a diverse array of creatures, such as the manta ray,” says Bart-Smith. “As engineers, we can learn a great deal from the design of these organisms and very possibly improve upon them.”

Plants need a mom, too

Research by a UVA biologist shows that cues from their maternal plant help plant offspring adapt to their environment. Laura Galloway, an associate professor of biology, looked at American bellflower, which grows in both shade and sun. Seeds raised in the same light conditions as their maternal plant grew almost three and a half times better than those raised in different light. The study was published in the Nov. 16 issue of Science. “Historically, maternal effects have been viewed as a complicating factor—an inconvenience,” says Galloway. “But we have found that they can dramatically influence the performance of an individual [plant].”