Discovery: Improving Social Deficits in Autism, SMU Prof Named ‘Budding Genius’ & Watershed Mapping

Researchers all across North Texas are making discoveries and advances in their work. Here are some of their stories.



Whats new, next, and reimagined in Dallas-Fort Worth ResearchIs it feasible to treat autistic children through neuromodulation?

Researchers from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center are looking into it after a new study showed that social impairments are correctable via brain stimulation.

The research is the first evidence that a specific area of the cerebellum, a region close to the brain stem that long has been thought only to have roles in coordinating movement, is important for autistic behaviors, according to UT Southwestern.

It also creates a more accessible target for brain stimulation that many autism-affiliated neural circuits buried far deeper within the folds of the brain, UTSW said.

“This is potentially quite a powerful thing.”
Dr. Peter Tsai

“This is potentially quite a powerful thing,” said Dr. Peter Tsai, who directed the research, in the release. “From a therapeutic standpoint, this part of the cerebellum is an enticing  target. And, although neuromodulation would not cur the underlying genetic cause of a person’s autism, improving social deficits in children with autism could make a huge impact on their quality of life.”

According to the International Neuromodulation Society, neuromodulation alters nerve activity through targeted delivery of stimulus via electrical stimulation or chemical agents to specific neurological sites in the body. Find out more about the research here.

Members of Nick Fang’s team are front row, from left: Dongfeng Li, Kevin Wienhold, Jiaqi Zhang, and Han Jiang. Back row, from left: Trevor Stull, Nick Fang, and Shang Gao. [Photo courtesy of UT Arlington]


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $150,000 contract to a University of Texas at Arlington professor for helping the Corps improve its watershed mapping capabilities to enhance flood warning and relief.

Under the contract, Nick Fang, a UTA assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Department, will help the Corps produce highly accurate hydrologic and hydraulic models that will help the Fort Worth District Water Resources Branch better deal with changing climate and land use, according to UTA.

The contract is renewable annually for the next five years. During the initial phase, Fang’s team will perform five tasks, according to the university:

  • Review existing models and ongoing studies
  • Improve efficiency of the hydrologic engineering center’s process and software
  • Develop measurable watershed characteristics
  • Reform a loss-rate study to find how much absorbed into the soil and determine what should be used as an average figure since the loss rate varies
  • Develop a regional regression equation for the Trinity and Guadalupe River basins

There’s more about the project here.


Danila Serra. [Photo: SMU]

A SMU economics professor has been honored as the inaugural recipient of the $50,000 Vernon L. Smith Ascending Scholar Prize from International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics.

Danila Serra has extensive experience in studying bribery behavior, and shown what influence might reduce bribery — guilt and shame.

“Dr. Serra’s accomplishments have marked her as an ascending scholar, teacher, mentor, and colleague of exceptional promise,” said a statement from the foundation, which described the prize as a “budding genius” award.

You can find out more about Serra and her research here.


Discovery: Stressed Mitochondria, Personalized Breast Cancer Care & Aircraft Construction With Alloys

Discovery: Innovative Thinking Study, Cancer Survivors & Clinical Trials, Quake Sensors

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