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Sept. 14, 2012
CONTACT: K. E. Schwab

SRU's Smith receives $49,658 NSF Grant

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Timothy Smith, Slippery Rock University professor of physical therapy, has been awarded $49,658 by the National Science Foundation to continue his research on "Collaborative Research: A Histological and CT Study of Midfacial Growth Trajectories in Subadult Primates."

His award runs through July 31, 2016.

Smith is working with Valerie DeLeon, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University and an expert in DT scanning methods in crania facial growth, as well as researchers at Stony Brook University, the University of Kentucky - Lexington, and New York Chiropractic College.

"The research work I am involved in, while done on primate cadavers, will aid in helping understand the skeletal development of humans," Smith said. He noted that humans are most closely related to primates, so his work could aid in determining how facial features are formed and the influence the development of the eyes, "snout," and teeth play in facial development.

Smith received his doctorate in physical anthropology and his master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh. His dissertation research studied growth and development of the human vomeronasal organ in fetuses with and without cleft lip and palate. He earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from Carnegie-Mellon University.

He said the latest funding is in addition to smaller, seed-funding grants from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and SRU's College of Health, Environment and Science. "That funding allowed us to launch a pilot project that involved some of the work we are now continuing," Smiths said.

"Primates are distinguished from most other mammals by a trend toward midfacial reduction, most notably seen in the reduced 'snout' of monkeys, apes and humans," Smith said. "My study uses a novel developmental approach to test whether midfacial reduction of the skull in primates is a byproduct of growth of neighboring structures, such as the eyes and teeth."

His work involves utilizing high-resolution micro-scans [similar to human computerized tomography, or CT scans] of primate sculls, then using slides of tissues to follow the growth. "There is a really big hole in our understanding of such development issues as tooth eruption in humans, and we think by studying the primates, we will gain a lot of information," he said.

"For example, the research examines such questions as, 'Does selection for a precocious visual nervous system fundamentally affect midfacial patterns of growth? Do proportionately large deciduous maxillary teeth and their successors have transient or lasting effects on development of paranasal spaces of the maxilla?'"

To answer the questions, Smith said, cadaveric samples from more than 70 specimens, including 20 species of primates, are being studied. The study will also examine different postnatal ages.

"We think the laws that govern develop are the same for all species, and monkeys make better models to study," Smith said.

The work is mapping regions of bone deposit and resorption in three dimensions to create unique three-dimensional 'growth maps' of primate skulls in relation to functional units of the head, including eyes, nasal airways and teeth, he said.

The three-dimensional skull form and growth maps will then be compared among primates that differ in the extent to which the eyes are convergent [forward-facing], as well as indirect influences on neural and dental development, such as gestation length and diet, will also be used as variables.

"The broader implications of the study include a web-based atlas and digital archive of histological and CT images from the specimens. The atlas will be developed as a resource for anatomists, who will benefit from animal models for aspects of human development, and primatologists, who will benefit from the resource on development of primates," Smith said.

Animations, which highlight the importance of growth mechanisms for evolutionary adaptation, will be created and made available to K-12 students and their teachers as online educational tools, Smith said.

Smith's current teaching focuses on gross anatomy, embryology and histology. He said his other teaching interests include fetal development and congenital disorders and comparative anatomy.

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