Top China expert joins ASU academic leadership


November 1, 2011

Starting January 2012, Denis Fred Simon will be joining the senior leadership team at Arizona State University as vice provost for China Initiatives and Strategy. He also will hold the rank of Foundation Professor in the Department of Political Science and Global Studies.

"Dr. Simon will be working across the ASU academic leadership to expand as well as deepen the university's ongoing engagement with China's top universities, research institutes, think tanks, and key government agencies," said Elizabeth Capaldi, provost of ASU.  Download Full Image

Simon is recognized as one of the world's leading experts on science, technology and innovation in China. He joins ASU with a distinguished career in academia and business. In addition to holding traditional faculty appointments at MIT, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts U, and Penn State University, he has held senior administrative positions as dean of the Lally School of Management and Technology, provost of the Levin Graduate Institute of International Relations and Commerce under SUNY, and most recently vice provost for International Affairs at the University of Oregon.  

In addition, he has spent more than seven years in management consulting, serving as director of the China Strategy Group and general manager of Andersen Consulting's China practice in Beijing, as well as president of Monitor Group China. In both roles, Simon's clients have included many of the world's leading multinational firms with significant manufacturing and R&D operations in China.

The author of numerous books and articles on contemporary Chinese science and technology affairs, Simon has served as an adviser to the UN, World Bank, OECD, the former Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Foundation regarding S&T developments in the People's Republic of China. Currently, he serves as a member of the American Experts Group as part of the U.S.-China Innovation Dialogue under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and China's Ministry of Science and Technology. He also is a member of the Board of Directors for the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation.

When asked about his reasons for joining ASU at this point in his career, Simon stated, "While ASU already is engaged with China, I believe that ASU is well-positioned to develop a more extensive, multi-faceted strategic partnership with China that will generate new, exciting educational and research opportunities for both students and faculty."

Having first visited Taiwan in 1976 and the China mainland in 1981, Simon's achievements and contributions to the enhancement of Sino-US relations have been well recognized by the PRC government at both the national and local levels. In 2006, Simon received the China National Friendship Award from Premier Wen Jiabao; this is the highest award given by the Chinese government to a foreign expert. He also was made an honorary citizen of the city of Dalian in NE China, where he also serves as "science and technology adviser" to the mayor of Dalian municipality.

Denis Simon holds a master's degree in Asian studies (1975) and a doctorate in political science (1980) from University of California-Berkeley. He received his bachelor's degree in Asian studies/political science from SUNY New Paltz in 1974.

According to President Michael Crow, "with the arrival of Denis Simon, the ASU not only gains a world class scholar on contemporary Chinese technology and business affairs, but we also have someone who can serve as a effective catalyst in working with our deans and program heads to forge a more coherent, cohesive strategy for working with various key Chinese agencies. Our hope is that Dr. Simon's knowledge of China' education and research landscape, along with the personal network he has built over the last three decades, will better allow us at ASU to leverage our array of relevant campus resources and intellectual assets to provide more mutually beneficial outcomes to both nations."

Britt Lewis

Interim Communications Director, ASU Library

Hormone in birth control shot linked to memory loss


November 1, 2011

The birth control shot offers a convenient alternative to women who don’t want to remember to take a daily pill. Ironically, recent research from ASU’s Bimonte-Nelson Memory and Aging Laboratory has shown the shot may not be helping memory. In fact, it may be harming it.

The study is currently in press in the journal Psychopharmacology. It connects medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), the hormone active in the birth control shot Depo Provera and many widely used menopausal hormone therapies, to impaired memory in rodents. Braden and Bimonte-Nelson in the lab. Download Full Image

The study was led by psychology doctoral student Blair Braden and Heather Bimonte-Nelson, associate professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the Bimonte-Nelson Memory and Aging Lab. The work was done in collaboration with Laszlo Prokai from the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center and Alain Simard from Barrow Neurological Institute.

The Bimonte-Nelson lab first linked MPA to memory loss in rats while studying it as a component of hormone therapy for menopause. This earlier study showed that MPA impaired memory in menopausal-aged rats, and was published in November 2010 in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. The current study specifically looks at the drug in relation to the birth control shot.

Bimonte-Nelson said she and Braden began asking questions about the effects of the drug because Braden was concerned about friends taking MPA as a contraceptive.

“Does it have the same memory-impairing effects if someone takes it as birth control, when they are a younger age?” asks Braden.

“This is an important question, because what we are going to have in our future are women who are menopausal that also have a history of taking MPA as birth control when they were younger,” adds Bimonte-Nelson.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration originally approved Depo Provera for use in October 1992. It requires an injection every 12 weeks. Less than one percent of women get pregnant when using the birth control shot, according to Planned Parenthood. Its effectiveness and the infrequency of doses can make the shot an attractive alternative for women seeking to avoid pregnancy. While other studies have examined Depo Provera’s effects on bone density, Bimonte-Nelson’s lab is the first to explore its effects on cognition. The researchers note that other forms of hormonal contraception, such as the pill, do not use MPA.

The study lasted approximately a year, using three groups of rats, plus a control group that did not receive the hormone. The first group only received MPA as young adults, to model birth control. The second only received it post-menopausal to model hormone therapy. The third group received it at both young adulthood and maturity, to model women who used it for birth control and as a post-menopausal hormone therapy.

“What we found was pretty shocking – animals that had been given the drug at any point in their life were memory impaired at middle age compared to animals that never had the drug. We also confirmed that in the subjects that only received the drug when young, the hormone was no longer circulating during memory testing when older, showing it had cleared from the system yet still had effects on the brain,” says Braden.

To test their memory, rats were placed in various water-based mazes to seek out hidden platforms in the water.

“They can swim, but they don’t particularly like to, so they are motivated to find the platform,” says Braden.

The researchers also measured a marker of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter system in the hippocampus of the rats’ brains to determine MPA’s physiological effects.

“GABA is important for a lot of things, and we know it is important for memory,” says Braden. “What GABA does is slow the brain down. It’s inhibitory. So if there is too much of it, it can make it more difficult to produce memories. But then if there’s too little of it and there’s too much excitation, same thing—it makes you not be able to produce memories correctly.”

Animal models are the first step in determining a drug’s effect, but they can’t definitively prove a link in humans. That’s why the researchers are beginning to proceed to the next step, human evaluations.

The birth control research contributes to the lab’s aim of better understanding how hormones affect memory. Bimonte-Nelson is particularly interested in how this happens as we age.

“You really cannot understand aging without understanding menopause or reproductive senescence, because hormones change as aging ensues. As well, you cannot talk about aging and cognition and gain insight into those dynamic and interrelated changes without acknowledging that both hormones and aging have such a profound effect on the brain and its function,” she says.

Bimonte-Nelson’s passion for and interest in memory and hormones began in graduate school and continued into her post-doctoral fellowship, where she studied the cognitive effects of aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

While she is the primary investigator in the birth control study, Bimonte-Nelson stresses that students working in the lab are the driving force in the research.

“Without the students in my lab, we would have limited levels of productivity and output,” says Bimonte-Nelson. “It is students like Blair that have this strong intellect and innate curiosity for nature in general that drives good science. They are the ones that can really end up pushing things forward. They are our future generation of scientists and it is a pleasure to mentor them.”

Their work is leading to results that could have profound implications for women of all ages.

“This paper is showing that even after a hormone is no longer on board, months and months later, after the reproductive cycle has gone through many phases, there are still changes occurring that are clearly impacting the brain and its function,” says Bimonte-Nelson.

This research was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging, the state of Arizona, Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center. The birth control study was published online ahead of print here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/53357212117581w6/

Full citation: Braden BB, Garcia AN, Mennenga SE, Prokai L, Villa SR, Acosta JI, Lefort N, Simard AR, Bimonte-Nelson HA (2011) Cognitive-impairing effects of medroxyprogesterone acetate in the rat: independent and interactive effects across time. Psychopharmacology. 2011 May 12. [Epub ahead of print: DOI: 10.1007/s00213-011-2322-4]

Written by Pete Zrioka, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

Director, Knowledge Enterprise Development

480-965-7260