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Upstate, Binghamton combine strengths for research on hydrocephalus

Upstate Medical University is partnering with Binghamton University to collaborate on research to develop solutions to today’s most pressing medical problems, such as hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid on the brain that can affect brain function.

A memorandum of understanding signed in 2022 by officials from both schools allows the institutions to jointly pursue sponsored funding opportunities and develop solutions in research areas that include neuroscience, brain imaging, digital pathology, cancer research and bone-tissue engineering.

Under a pilot research grant program that is part of the agreement, three collaborative research projects have received seed grants of $25,000 to fund preliminary research in pursuit of external funding. The two institutions have already submitted joint research proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and are exploring proposals to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Upstate’s medical faculty are collaborating with Binghamton faculty from the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science, each bringing their expertise to the table to solve problems.

Current projects are “pH-Based Flow Meter for CSF Shunts” and “Raman spectroscopy and imaging characterization of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from patients with hydrocephalus for diagnosis and prognosis,” both led at Upstate by Neurosurgery Professor Satish Krishnamurthy, MD. Binghamton counterparts are Peter Huang and Paul Chiarot from Watson and Lijun Yin, Department of Computer Science on the first one and Frank Fake Lu on the second.

The third project, “Automated Pain Assessment and Validation Through Integration of 3D Facial Behavior Signs and Biomarkers,” is being conducted by Upstate’s Vandana Sharma, MD, FASA, program director of the Pain Medicine Fellowship of Anesthesiology and director of Acute Pain and Pain Medicine Service of Anesthesiology. Working with her from Binghamton are P. Sebastian Thomas and Lijun Yin.

Upstate Vice President for Research David Amberg, PhD, said that the progress that has already been made through the partnership has been remarkable.

“There are tremendous opportunities for complimentary synergies between our research enterprises,” he said. “Specifically, Binghamton’s Watson School of Engineering is very strong in engineering and specifically biomedical engineering, Upstate is not strong in this area but we are very strong in translational biomedical research and human subjects research. Publications and grant proposals are already being prepared and the commitment to collegial collaboration is truly impressive.”

Krishnamurthy is the lead investigator for Upstate on two of the three current projects. Hydrocephalus is a condition where excess water accumulates in the brain and results in cognitive and physical handicaps. The primary problem is understanding why the fluid accumulates, Krishnamurthy said. Treatment involves the insertion of shunts, and tubes that divert the fluid from the brain so it can get absorbed. But nearly 40 percent of shunts malfunction within a year.

One collaborative project involves assessing proteins inside the cerebrospinal fluid using Raman spectroscopy to detect amounts of these proteins, which may play a role in the buildup of excess fluid. The fluid samples are collected at Upstate and analyzed at Binghamton with the Raman spectroscopy, a study that could not otherwise be done since Upstate does not have that equipment nor the expertise.

A second project involves figuring out how to test whether a shunt is working properly. Two of Binghamton’s researchers are helping Krishnamurthy build a miniature insert to test flow using various chemicals. His projects also involve expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence from Binghamton to determine if a child’s head is growing properly. Simply measuring it at well-child checkups, he said, doesn’t give the full picture.

Krishnamurthy said he brings the expertise in hydrocephaly to the table but having the Binghamton experts brings a whole new dimension to what he can achieve.

“I don’t have the expertise they have, and they don’t understand the clinical problems we have,” he said. “We present the problem and different ways for it to be adapted to clinical situations and they bring their expertise. Together we try to solve problems for the patient to deliver better care to them.”

Krishnamurthy said the proximity of the two schools helps a lot and he credits the willingness and interest of the Binghamton researchers.

“You can’t walk into somebody’s lab and say 'sort this out for me,'” he said. “There needs to be interest on top of the expertise in the problem I am presenting. Everybody has to be more than willing to play a part in the team. I think the scientists at Binghamton University have been extremely great both in terms and talent and interest. This is a big blessing to the patients in our community to see better solutions.”

Upstate and Binghamton are currently reviewing applications for next year’s cycle of projects and the goal is to fund four to six new projects in the coming year.

Caption: Neurosurgery Professor Satish Krishnamurthy, MD, is teaming up with Binghamton University researchers to address treatments for hydrocephalus.