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Columbia Health Sciences has received two gifts, totaling $11 million, to support neural stem cell research programs.

Civil engineer and real estate developer Bernard Spitzer will give Columbia $8 million so researchers can characterize the development, function, and survival of stem cell-generated dopamine neurons, with the aim of someday providing better Parkinson's disease treatments.

The Jean I. and Charles H. Brunie Foundation donated $3 million to support a stem cell research program to generate nerve cells for the treatment of neurological disorders, with an emphasis on stroke.

Research has shown that adult and embryonic stem cells can renew themselves and become specialized cells. Investigators hope "matured" adult and embryonic stem cells could be used to repair or replace cells or tissues damaged or destroyed by many devastating diseases and disabilities. Although stem cell therapy has yet to prove itself in humans, many animal models look promising. But scientists still need to produce adequate numbers of the right cells and to understand how replacement cells could survive.

The Spitzer gift will allow researchers at Columbia to develop mouse embryonic and adult stem cell lines that produce dopamine neurons, the loss of which predominantly causes Parkinson's disease. Eventually, what researchers learn from the animal models will be translated to humans.

The Brunie funds will support an accomplished stem cell biologist whose research employs human embryonic and adult stem cells to develop effective treatments for restoring brain function following injury, including stroke. Human embryonic stem cells will be obtained from approved National Institutes of Health existing lines.

"These gifts will allow us to expand our research efforts at Columbia and turn that promise into viable therapies and treatment options," says Dr. Gerald Fischbach, executive vice president and dean.

Dr. Fischbach is forming a Neural Stem Cell Scientific Advisory Committee, which will be chaired by Dr. Thomas Jessell, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at P&S, to oversee the research.

—Annie Bayne

Parents, pediatricians, and psychologists have debated for years about whether spanking benefits children. To try to understand the effects corporal punishment has on children, Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate research scientist at the Mailman School of Public Health and at Columbia's National Center for Children, analyzed 62 years of data on the subject.

She found corporal punishment was associated with only one short-term positive outcome and with 10 long-term negative outcomes.

When parents used corporal punishment, she found children were more likely to comply immediately, a good result. But the more parents spank, the more likely children will become defiant, aggressive, anti-social, have mental health problems or difficulties relating to parents, and be at risk of suffering physical abuse and of abusing others as adults.

To do the research, Dr. Gershoff compiled 88 corporal punishment studies and conducted a meta-analysis of the results. She took an average of the studies’ effect sizes while accounting for the number of children in each study. She looked for associations between the use of corporal punishment and 11 child behaviors and experiences.

In light of her findings, Dr. Gershoff recommends parents avoid corporal punishment in favor of other disciplinary techniques, such as teaching children right from wrong, setting clear limits, and modeling and rewarding appropriate behavior.

A key limitation of the study, Dr. Gershoff acknowledges, is that the findings do not explain whether corporal punishment causes the outcomes. "The majority of the studies were based on correlational data, rather than experimental and longitudinal data," Dr. Gershoff says. Other factors, such as family environment, could be contributing.

The research and commentaries are in the American Psychological Association's July Psychological Bulletin. The work was funded in part by a predoctoral continuing fellowship from the University of Texas at Austin and a National Institute of Mental Health-sponsored postdoctoral fellowship though the Program for Prevention Research at Arizona State University.

—Evelyn Hei

Telaxis Communications Corp. of South Deerfield, Mass., has donated a wireless fiber optic connection to Columbia University Health Sciences Division in a pilot project designed to improve electronic communication at two campus buildings.

Health Sciences is the first medical site to employ the company's product, called FiberLeap, a radio-based technology that will initially triple telecommunication speed and ultimately increase the speed 20-fold at the buildings. The Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion and the Hammer Health Sciences Center, the two buildings that will undergo the upgrade, now transmit data at 45 megabits per second, a slower rate than other places on campus.

Columbia decided to accept the technology because it is waiting for New York City permits to install fiber optic cables under the streets separating the two buildings from the rest of the computer network. Ultimately, Columbia plans to use the FiberLeap wireless connection as a backup to the fiber optic cables when they are placed underground.

"In 1996, we proposed fiber to connect the Russ Berrie Pavilion to our main campus," says Dr. Edward Shortliffe, chairman of medical informatics and deputy vice president for information technology, Health Sciences Division. "Cost, time, and the process of gaining rights and permits to dig up two major streets in northern Manhattan presented major roadblocks. We will still put that link in, but now the FiberLeap product enables us to provide high-speed connectivity (155 megabits/sec) to campus buildings that have yet to be connected to the campus fiber network."

The new high-speed connection will enable Columbia researchers, students, and physicians to have access to bandwidth intense information, such as huge genetic databases, X-rays, patient information, and video images. It will serve the Columbia Genome Center, the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, the Institute of Cancer Genetics, all housed in the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, and the laboratories and library located in the Hammer Health Sciences building. The rest of the Columbia University Heath Sciences campus will now have faster access to the data and computer hardware in these two facilities.

"By the end of summer, we expect to upgrade to the next version of this product, which will carry data rates up to Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 megabits/sec)," says Valerie Punnett, director of core resources at Columbia. "This will blend in seamlessly with our Gigabit Ethernet core distribution network design. We've found the FiberLeap technology simple to install and maintain, with a small footprint and low power requirement."

—Robin Eisner