Yeshiva University News » 2009 » February » 26

Feb 26, 2009 — Yeshiva University received an Eddy Award from “Pensions & Investments,” an international newspaper that focuses on money management, at the newspaper’s 17th annual Defined Contribution Conference in Miami Beach, Fla., on February 9. The Eddy Awards recognize the highest caliber investment education programs of defined contribution plan sponsors — corporate, union and not-for-profit — and service providers.

Yeshiva University received a first-place award in the category “Ongoing Education: Not-for-Profit” for its campaign to educate staff, faculty and administration about changes in its retirement plan, as provided by Prudential Retirement.

The award stated that Yeshiva’s campaign “was totally branded, featuring its own employees and the same colors as the school itself. The information was solid and complete. And, kudos for warning people about the negatives of taking loans.”

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Dr. Ana Maria Cuervo, front, heads up a team at Einstein studying autophagy, a process that may hold the key to aging. Other members of the team are, back row, from left, Dr. Fernando Macian-Juan, Dr. Laura Santambrogio and Dr. Mark Czaja.

Feb 26, 2009 — Four faculty members at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University were awarded a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study autophagy, a fundamental cell process that may hold the key to aging.

Autophagy (which literally means “self-eating”) refers to several surveillance systems that all cells rely on to find, digest and recycle molecules within them that have become damaged. This cellular recycling both “cleans up” the cell and provides it with energy, since digested products can be used as fuel. Many studies have documented that autophagy becomes less efficient with age, allowing protein and other cellular components to gradually accumulate inside cells and, almost certainly, interfere with normal cell function.

The Einstein consortium is led by Ana Maria Cuervo, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of developmental and molecular biology, of anatomy and structural biology, and of medicine at Einstein and one of the world’s leading experts on autophagy. With the help of the NIH grant, Dr. Cuervo and her colleagues will test their hypothesis that impaired autophagy may explain the decline in organ function, weakened immunity and other functional losses associated with aging. More specifically, the researchers will:

• look at the role of two different types of autophagy in liver and brain function as well as immunity, under normal and stressful conditions
• analyze how these two types of autophagy change as the liver, brain and immune system age
• determine how changes in autophagy that occur with age contribute to the aging of the entire organism, to the gradual deterioration of cognitive function, to the failure with age of two essential immune functions (antigen processing and presentation, and T helper cell activation and tolerance) and to abnormalities in lipid metabolism.

“These studies will involve the cooperation of all four of us on the Einstein faculty who have jointly received this NIH grant,” says Dr. Cuervo. The other three members of the Einstein consortium are Laura Santambrogio, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology; Fernando Macian-Juan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology; and Mark J. Czaja, M.D., professor of medicine.

“We’re hopeful that this research project will lead to fundamental insights that will help us understand, treat or even prevent the metabolic alterations and decline in cognitive and immune function that affect us as we age,” says Dr. Cuervo. “Strategies that can keep our cells’ autophagic pathways operating efficiently as we get older could help us to enjoy healthier lives well into old age.”

The Einstein researchers have set up a website that describes their research effort in more detail.

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Study co-author Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., is a professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein.

Feb 26, 2009 — Women who have more years of fertility (the time from first menstruation to menopause) have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than women with fewer years, according to a large new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

“These findings, involving nearly 74,000 women, suggest that longer exposure to the body’s own, or endogenous, hormones, including estrogen, may help protect the brain cells that are affected by Parkinson’s disease,” says lead author Rachel Saunders-Pullman, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., assistant professor of neurology at Einstein and attending physician in neurology at Beth Israel Medical Center, an affiliate of Einstein’s in Manhattan.

An abstract of the study was released by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). Further study details will be presented at AAN’s 61st annual meeting in Seattle, April 25 – May 2.

After Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease. About 1.5 million Americans currently have Parkinson’s, characterized by symptoms that can include tremor (shaking), slowness of movement, rigidity (stiffness) and difficulty with balance. The condition typically develops after the age of 60, although 15 percent of those diagnosed are under 50. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, although medications or surgery can ease symptoms of the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is almost twice as common in men as in women, and researchers have long hypothesized that sex hormones might play a role in the disease.

In the current study, researchers analyzed the records of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study and focused on those women who developed Parkinson’s disease. The study involved about 73,973 women who underwent natural menopause.

The study found that women who had a fertile lifespan of more than 39 years had about a 25 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s compared with women who had a fertile lifespan shorter than 33 years.

In addition, the data showed that women who had four or more pregnancies were about 20 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than were women who had three or fewer pregnancies. “One explanation for this finding is that the post-partum period, which is typically one with lower levels of estrogen, subtracts from a woman’s total fertile lifespan,” says co-author Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and population health and the principal investigator of the WHI study at Einstein.

“Overall, our findings might lead one to assume that hormone therapy would make sense as a neuroprotective agent,” says Dr. Saunders-Pullman. “However, we also found that women who were taking hormone therapy did not have a lower risk for Parkinson’s. Thus, our data does not support a role for treatment with exogenous hormones, that is, hormones that originate outside the body, to prevent Parkinson’s.”

In fact, hormone therapy can have harmful neurological effects. “Earlier studies in the Women’s Health Initiative demonstrated that hormone therapy increases one’s risk for both stroke and dementia,” says Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller. “Clearly, we need to conduct more research into estrogen’s effects on the brain.”

The study was supported by the Thomas Hartman Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the National Institutes of Health.

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Feb 26, 2009 — Dr. Jacob Wisse has been appointed director of the Yeshiva University Museum, as announced by Yeshiva University Provost Morton Lowengrub, PhD. Dr. Wisse, a tenured Associate Professor, has been head of the art history program at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University since 2005. His appointment follows the retirement of Sylvia A. Herskowitz, who served as director for 33 years.

“Jacob Wisse brings the dedication of a scholar, the sensibility of a curator and the experience of a leader to his new role as director of the Yeshiva University Museum. We are delighted that he has accepted this position and look forward to working with him in his new capacity,” said Dr. Lowengrub.

“These are challenging times for cultural institutions,” said Dr. Wisse, “but I am confident that Yeshiva University Museum will continue to flourish, and that through intelligent, creative exhibitions and programming our audience will grow. I look forward to developing and presenting a range of ambitious historical and contemporary exhibitions and educational programs, and to directing the staff in the exploration and interpretation of Jewish art, history, and culture.”

Dr. Wisse, 43, earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University. He has a background in museum education and curatorial work. Through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he earned a Curatorial Studies Certificate and was twice awarded the Museum’s Theodore Rousseau Curatorial Fellowship. This past summer, he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend as part of the NEH’s We the People Project to research “New York City Firehouses: The Legacy of Renaissance Ideals in a Modern Urban Context.”

In his teaching, research and curatorial work, Wisse stresses primary and contextual study of art. He will continue to teach and guide the art history program at Stern College, where he was named Lillian F. and William L. Silber Professor of the Year in 2005-2006, his first year at the school. At Stern, he has introduced courses that use exhibitions and museum collections to complement the classroom experience, including a summer program in Florence on the art and culture of the Renaissance.

A Montreal native, where he received an extensive Jewish education, Wisse earned his B.A. from McGill University before going on to graduate school, where he specialized in northern European art of the late Medieval and Renaissance eras. His book, City Painters in the Burgundian Netherlands, will be published by Brepols Press in 2009.

Dr. Wisse is a member of the College Art Association, the American Association of Museums, and the Historians of Netherlandish Art, for which he serves as field editor for 14th and 15th century books. He lives with his wife and daughter in Manhattan.

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