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Medicine and Life Sciences

UToledo Medical Students Create Program to Assist Healthcare Community During Pandemic

For Sara Shafqat, peace of mind is everything.

The second-year resident in internal medicine at ProMedica Toledo Hospital has been treating coronavirus patients since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year. For Shafqat and many in the health professions, this has meant longer hours and the fear of bringing the virus home; her husband also works tirelessly as an attending physician at The University of Toledo Medical Center, and they have two young sons.

Fortunately, a group of proactive students at The University of Toledo’s College of Medicine and Life Sciences are supporting healthcare workers and others in the community through the recently created UTCOMCares program, which provides volunteer assistance with child care, groceries, pet sitting and other basic needs.

Christian Carwell and Joshua Posadny pet sitting

Christian Carwell, left, and her husband, Joshua Posadny, assisted UTMC anesthesiology resident Kevin Lee by pet sitting during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the UTCOMCares program.

“It’s been a very stressful time, both physically and mentally. Especially since the boys were home schooling and our regular babysitter wasn’t available,” said Shafqat. “I never imagined the students’ help would have been so valuable. They were energetic, my sons had a wonderful time with them, and they really started looking forward to their time together.”

UTCOMCares was born from a natural urge of anyone entering the medical field: the desire to help. In March, UToledo medical students were dismissed from their clinical rotations as part of campus-wide precautions against the spread of COVID-19. That left a group of them with a combination of time, opportunity and sense of urgency.

“It’s hard to hear that the best thing for everyone is to step away,” said Christian Carwell, a fourth-year medical student specializing in emergency medicine. “We all come to medical school for different reasons, but we love Toledo and wanted to help in any way possible.”

UTCOMCares, together with the UToledo Geriatrics Club, is piloting a program with residents at The Laurels of Toledo, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center. The students send handwritten notes and create art projects for those who may be struggling with loneliness or depression after social distancing guidelines have prevented them from visiting with family.

“The residents’ biggest need is to be with their families. They miss them so much,” said Page Rostetter, recreation services director at The Laurels. “We are providing opportunities to FaceTime, Zoom and do window visits, but it’s not the same. The students have provided a great connection, and it gives residents something to look forward to during the day.”

Angie Jacob, a fourth-year medical student specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, helped spearhead UTCOMCares.

“This is certainly a confusing stage of our medical careers and is filled with many mixed emotions. We felt helpless,” said Jacob. “We began this journey in the hopes of helping those in need, so we are choosing to attend to the ‘little’ things so our colleagues, teachers and mentors can focus on the greater good.”

Kevin Lee, a resident in anesthesiology at UTMC, worked in the COVID intensive care unit for several weeks.

“Witnessing the severity of the virus was difficult to cope with,” said Lee. “I just got a new puppy, so the students helped out with pet sitting. I’m truly grateful and appreciative of them being able to take care of Zoey when I was not able to during the pandemic.”

“When you are treating patients, you have to be totally focused on what you’re doing. It’s devastating to have to worry about what’s happening at home, too,” said Shafqat. “Feeling that peace of mind was a great help. We’re so proud of what the students are doing.”

UTCOMCares continues its outreach and assistance in the Toledo community. If you are a student in the health sciences and wish to volunteer, complete the online form. Healthcare workers in need of assistance also can complete the request form.

UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, TPS to Host Virtual Discussion July 1 About Navigating Social Injustice Amidst COVID-19

The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Toledo Public Schools Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will hold a virtual roundtable titled “Navigating Social Injustices Amidst a Pandemic: Open Roundtable Discussion” Wednesday, July 1, from 5 to 6 p.m. on WebEx.

Register for and access the free, public event on the College of Medicine and Life Sciences website.

“This is an opportunity for members of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences to engage with the community and show support for Toledo Public Schools, students and parents. This aligns with our mission to serve the needs of our community outside the walls of our institution,” said Dr. Kimberly Jenkins, associate dean of diversity and inclusion in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and a moderator of the event.

“We aim to continue the dialogue surrounding social injustice and the protests related to recent police killings, as well as discuss meaningful ways to support our young people in coping with these crises. Dealing with the tragic events of this year in the midst of a pandemic has been especially traumatic. Through this event and upcoming collaborations, we hope to strengthen our support for Toledo-area youth and their families and assure them they won’t face these challenges alone.”

Panelists include:

• Bro. Washington Muhammad, co-founder of the Community Solidarity Response Network;

• Dr. Darren Gordon, UToledo M.D./Ph.D. candidate and former national speaker of the house for the Student National Medical Association; and

• Ashley Futrell, attorney and community advocate.

Moderators will be Jenkins, Dr. Treva Jeffries, assistant transformational leader of equity, diversity and inclusion at Toledo Public Schools, and Dr. Hope Bland, administrator in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Toledo Public Schools.

“The objective of this event is to provide support to our students and staff around the current social unrest while coping with the ongoing pandemic,” Jeffries said. “By including panelists from various fields, a wealth of knowledge will be gained in preparation for a successful transition into the new school year. I am confident that the panelists will provide valuable insight as to how participants can effectively work to eradicate racism in their own space.”

The UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences has a dedicated partnership with Toledo Public Schools, including pipeline programs that provide mentoring, bring students on campus, give them support and tools for success on college admissions and academic and professional development.

UToledo Students Examine Human Consumption in International Biodesign Challenge Summit 2020

Four University of Toledo students have teamed up to critically investigate the behaviors of human consumption. Their project is competing in the international Biodesign Challenge Summit 2020, held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The competition is being held online June 15-19, but the video presentations are available for view anytime. Winners will be announced June 19 on the Biodesign Challenge Summit website.

The UToledo project, “Wastr: Reassessing Our Trash,” was the brainchild of students Jarrett Cunningham, who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in film and video in May; Madalyn Jones, a senior majoring in environmental science; Michael Miller, a bioengineering major with an economics minor; and Mohamed Nawras, who received a bachelor of science degree in biology in 2018 and is a doctor of medicine candidate for fall 2020.

The team developed a presentation highlighting the paradox of creating an eco-friendly product that adds to consumptive behaviors. The ultimate goal is to get people to become more aware of the amount of waste they personally generate.

A video presentation of the project states, “Landfills are reaching capacity at alarming rates, impacting the environment tremendously while also contributing to a culture of consumption.”

Students from UToledo prepare for the competition every year through a class offered in the Department of Art. The spring 2020 Biodesign Challenge course brought together students from multiple disciplines into the Department of Art under the direction of faculty members Brian Carpenter and Eric Zeigler. Students worked in interdisciplinary teams to research real-world problems and then sought to solve those problems with biotechnology and/or biomaterials. This year’s groups addressed potential eutrophication solutions, antimicrobial structures, innovative health testing devices, and consumption.

The Biodesign Challenge course asks students to stretch their known capabilities by making meaningful connections between disciplines and designing unique solutions to complex problems in a normal year. As the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the course moved to virtual learning, the teams continued to work extensively on their projects.

“We are truly amazed at the tenacity of our students, and the outcomes from remote research they were able to accomplish in such a difficult time,” Carpenter, assistant professor of art and gallery director, said.

“We are proud of the work every student has done, and we are excited to compete internationally again,” Zeigler, associate lecturer of art, said.

UToledo Unites in Solidarity to Identify Solutions to Address Systemic Racial Injustice

The University of Toledo’s campus community united in solidarity and support Thursday evening for those affected by the killing of George Floyd.

The first Dialogues on Diversity Virtual Town Hall brought together University leadership, faculty, staff, students and the public to reflect on their experiences, identify solutions to address systemic racial injustice, and highlight campus and community resources to aid in coping with trauma.

“I am so pleased with the dynamic, meaningful ideas that resulted from our successful discussion,” Dr. Willie McKether, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said. “I appreciate the passion and motivation of our Rocket family and the support we have for each other. This is the beginning of a series of respectful, painful conversations in the coming weeks, including when the semester starts.”

More than 350 people attended the event that featured panelists:

• UToledo Police Chief Jeff Newton;

• Benjamin Davis, UToledo law professor;

• Dr. Monita Mungo, UToledo assistant professor of sociology;

• Dr. La Tasha Sullivan, director of the University Counseling Center;

• Nyah Kidd, president of the Black Student Union;

• Darren Gordon, former president of the UToledo chapter of the Student National Medical Association;

• Giselle Zelaya, president of the Latino Student Union;

• Nick Thompson, president of Student Government;

• Anjali Phadke, vice president of Student Government; and

• Asher Sovereign with the Sexuality and Gender Alliance.

Members of the campus community shared personal experiences and the great sadness and fear sparked by watching the video of George Floyd’s death.

“As a teen growing up in Mississippi, my parents would consistently remind my siblings and me when we would leave the house for fun or to hang out with our family and friends, ‘Remember we love you, but you must come home at night,’” Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, vice president for student affairs and vice provost, said. “As I got older and started to experience racism, discrimination and prejudice firsthand, I began to understand the meaning of those powerful 11 words. In essence, my parents were saying, ‘Always obey the law and follow their instructions and rules. Do as you are told. Don’t argue.’ These past two weeks have been the most difficult weeks in my life. When will this behavior stop? Am I next? I’m at a loss for words.”

“As I reflect on the events of the last few weeks and our community discussion last evening, I am inspired by our students, faculty, staff and alumni for their commitment, perseverance and passion to change the world,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “Yet I grieve the recent senseless deaths of George Floyd and Breona Taylor. As a human and a mother, I cannot fathom the pain and anguish that their families are experiencing. Racial injustice, police brutality and disparate treatment have painfully existed for longer than all of us have been alive. As a campus community, we have made great strides to create a more open and inclusive community, working together to develop and implement UToledo’s first diversity plan. And yet it isn’t nearly enough. Now is the time to end this in our community, our country and in the world. I challenge each and every one of you to ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’”

Panelists brought forward ideas and solutions to elevate our community, such as training students in nonviolence and conflict transformation to teach them how to respond to what they will face while protesting by utilizing faculty expertise in the Peace Education Program, which is part of the Judith Herb College of Education.

“I am proud of the strength and courage of our students as they engage in deep, thoughtful, critical discussions and examine the ways we can change our society for the better,” Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said. “It is our solemn responsibility and our honor to equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to lead that change into the future.”

Leaders from across the University have expressed their commitment to embracing the critical role higher education can and must play in facilitating open and honest discussions that empower us as a community and a nation to translate our ideals into actionable change.

• Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College: “We believe in the power of higher education to address major societal problems like this injustice. We hope that by challenging our students to think deeply about the world they live in and to take actions that support greater diversity, equity and inclusion, we are helping to build a better world.”

• Dr. Anne Balazs, dean of the College of Business and Innovation: “It is with great sadness that we bear witness to the events of the past week, with the untimely and violent death of George Floyd and the continuing expressions of hatred and prejudice. As members of a scholarly community, one which is dedicated to education and improving our shared quality of life, it is unacceptable to idly stand by and allow racism in all its many forms to persist.”

• Benjamin Barros, dean of the College of Law: “The past week’s events have shown the realities of the work we must do as a nation to ensure that our justice system protects and serves all people. Our mission at the law school is intrinsically tied to the mission of equal access to justice. We are uniquely positioned to empower future generations of lawyers to evaluate our country’s legal systems, engage in thoughtful discourse, and address inequality. The change we need to see as a nation begins with each of us doing our part to create a diverse, supportive and inclusive community.”

• Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, dean of the College of Graduate Studies: “Life is heavy for all of us today. It has been that way for some of us for many, many days. First, a global pandemic and now violence and division dominate our news cycle. I am sad, I am afraid, and I am hopeful. I am sorry for your loss, I am sorry for your fear, I am sorry for your anger, I am sorry for the lack of justice, I am sorry there is no cure, and I am sorry that I am sorry. You are valued, and we hear you. We are here for you today and every day.”

• Beau Case, dean of University Libraries: “The University Libraries believe that diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are not merely ideals — they are core values which we display daily in our work. Our campus doors are open to all. Our services are free of bias. We offer safe spaces for exploration, discovery, lifelong learning and wonder.”

• Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences: “From all appearances, he was neither protected with courage nor served with compassion. Now ‘I can’t breathe’ has become the rallying cry of protests locally and nationally, peaceful and violent. Lurking beneath this are the concerns and outrage of ongoing racism, systemic racism, institutional violence and failed inclusion. If we want to improve the world, we better start close to home with our region, our community and, most importantly, with ourselves.”

• Charlene Gilbert, dean of the College of Arts and Letters: “The peaceful protests occurring in many of our major cities and towns not only reflect the anger over the death of Mr. Floyd, but also represent years of frustration with the injustice and unequal treatment experienced by African Americans and people of color in communities all across this nation. The College of Arts and Letters is a community where we value and celebrate not only critical inquiry, but also thoughtful action. We want to thank every student, faculty member, staff person and alumnus who has participated in some form of action to add your voice to the many calling for justice.”

• Dr. John Laux, associate dean of student affairs in the College of Health and Human Services: “George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers is the latest example of violence perpetrated against African Americans. We honor George Floyd’s life, and those who were murdered or assaulted previously by focusing our attention on our society’s history of and ongoing racism and systemic social injustice by working collectively to be agents of change. The College of Health and Human Services trains students for careers in social service, health sciences and criminal justice, including police civil service. We recognize that we are a product of our society. The status quo is not acceptable. And, as such, we have work to do to root out and put an end to individual and institutional racism. We are committed to do the work necessary to be a part of the solution.”

• Dr. Linda Lewandowski, dean of the College of Nursing: “We know that long-term discrimination has negative effects on physical and mental health and that violence, discrimination and racism directly impact social determinants of health and result in health disparities and inequities. Given the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our African-American communities, the health impact of continued disparities is even more profound. As healthcare professionals, we are in a unique position to address the health and the social justice issues that are so pressing in our nation at this time. Change begins with each one of us and is reflected in how we treat each other on a daily basis.”

• Mike O’Brien, vice president and athletic director: “Last night’s dialogue was excellent as it was very informative and insightful. We must stand together and be committed for equity, diversity and the fight against racial injustice.”

• Dr. John Plenefisch, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics: “The College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics must translate the powerful words and feelings expressed by those protesting systemic racism into sustained action that makes a concrete difference in our community, including through our work and actions here in our college. As scientists and mathematicians, we can take action against racism, bigotry and prejudice in many ways, including choosing to focus our research on issues that disproportionally impact marginalized communities or groups, and deliberately supporting the careers and training of people of color as future generations of scientists and mathematicians.”

• Dr. Gary Pollack, dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences: “Our obligation to our fellow human beings is not diminished by the color of their skin, or by how they express their spirituality, or by their country of origin, or by whom they happen to love. Those characteristics, which some voices emphasize in an attempt to divide us, are infinitesimal compared to the many things that make us what we are: the human family.”

• Dr. Mike Toole, dean of the College of Engineering: “I found each of the speakers and the entire event to be compelling and inspiring. It is critical that we have administrators, faculty and student leaders on campus who are speaking out to support the protests against racial injustice in our nation. Eliminating institutionalized racism, white privilege and racist violence will take many voices and much work.”

• Dr. Raymond Witte, dean of the Judith Herb College of Education: “We all want to feel safe when in the presence of the police. This will require time and honest dialogue because many, including myself now, don’t feel safe. I am now faced with the reality that police may not act impartially and without bias. To be honest, most of us are biased in some way. However, the decisions police make can have life and death outcomes.”

The next Dialogues on Diversity Virtual Roundtable is scheduled Thursday, June 25, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Access and panelist participation information will be released prior to the event, which is titled “The Death of George Floyd: Race and Anti-Blackness in America.”

New Research From UToledo Medical Resident Links COVID-19 to Loss of Taste

Nearly half of individuals who contract COVID-19 experience an abnormal or complete loss of their sense of taste, a new analysis led by a University of Toledo researcher has found.

The systematic review, published in the journal Gastroenterology, could provide yet another diagnostic hint for clinicians who suspect their patients might have the disease.

Aziz

“Earlier studies didn’t note this symptom, and that was probably because of the severity of other symptoms like cough, fever and trouble breathing,” said Dr. Muhammad Aziz, chief internal medicine resident at UToledo and the paper’s lead author. “We were beginning to note that altered or lost sense of taste were also present, not just here and there, but in a significant proportion.”

Aziz and his research collaborators analyzed data from five studies conducted between mid-January and the end of March. Of the 817 patients studied, 49.8% experienced changes to their sense of taste. Researchers suspect the true prevalence could be even higher because some of the studies were based on reviews of patient charts, which may not have noted every symptom.

“We propose that this symptom should be one of the screening symptoms in addition to the fever, shortness of breath and productive cough. Not just for suspected COIVD patients, but also for the general population to identify healthy carriers of the virus,” Aziz said.

Prior research has found that a significant number of people who have COVID-19 don’t know they’ve been infected and may be spreading the virus.

Aziz and his research collaborators suspect an altered sense of taste is more prevalent in patients with minor symptoms, though more studies are needed to validate that suspicion. Even so, changes in an individual’s sense of taste could be a valuable way to identify carriers who are otherwise mostly asymptomatic.

Taste disorders are tied to a variety of viral illnesses. The review did not attempt to identify the reason that COVID-19 is causing changes in patients’ sense of taste; however, researchers theorize it could be COVID-19’s ability to bind to what’s known as the ACE-2 receptor, which is expressed in epithelial cells on the tongue and mouth.

Because the novel coronavirus was unknown prior to its emergence in January, scientists have been moving rapidly to learn more about both the virus and the disease it causes.

Aziz said the drip of new information shows the need for more scientists to dig into the impacts of COVID-19.

“A lot of things are being missed, which is why I think researchers from every field should try to look into this and see if it’s affecting their specialty in one way or another,” he said. “Who knows what systems this virus is affecting. If we can catch it earlier in the disease course, we can prevent the spread of the virus and potentially have ways of managing it.”

UToledo Experts Share What You Need to Know About COVID-19 as States Reopen

As governments begin easing restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, public health and infectious disease experts from The University of Toledo are offering insight into what you need to know about the novel coronavirus, how to protect yourself, and how to protect others.

The virus is still here. We have to act accordingly.

Fink

While the number of newly confirmed cases in many states — including Ohio and Michigan — appears to have peaked, the virus hasn’t gone away or become less dangerous.

“We all yearn for the way life was in the pre-pandemic days, and we are going to get there, but this is going to be the situation for a while,” said Dr. Brian Fink, an epidemiologist and professor of public health. “We have to respect that and continue taking the same precautions.”

Though it’s tempting to see businesses reopening and leisure activities resuming and think the threat of the virus is behind us, Fink said the reality is the novel coronavirus is still spreading across the United States.

Take steps to protect your own health and the health of others.

“People do still need to be careful,” said Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan, an associate professor of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at The University of Toledo Medical Center. “One of the worst things that people could do at this point is go out and resume their normal behavior. We would certainly have a resurgence.”

Diligent handwashing, avoiding touching your nose and mouth, staying home if you’re sick, and social distancing should all continue, UToledo experts said. Individuals who are older or high-risk because of underlying health conditions should be more careful.

Fink said there are simple things you can do. For example, when shopping, avoid picking up an item and then putting it back, and keep your distance from other shoppers. It’s also important, he said, to make decisions based not only on your own risk, but the risk of those around you.

“It’s difficult. We all want to see our friends and family,” he said. “We just have to be patient. If we’re patient and we follow the guidelines as best as possible, we’ll be back to normal sooner rather than later, even though that’s going to take time,” Fink said.

Wearing a cloth face covering does make a difference. Wear one if you’re around others.

Hanrahan

The shifting guidance from public health officials on mask usage has caused confusion and pushback, but Hanrahan encourages people to wear a simple mask or cloth face covering when around other people.

“Two things are happening. The person wearing the mask is reducing the amount of stuff they’re putting in the environment, and they’re also reducing the amount they breath in,” she said. “It’s not going to prevent everything, but there is some protection.”

Hanrahan said face coverings, combined with continued social distancing and new measures being implemented by businesses, such as clear barriers at cash registers and limits on the number of people allowed in one place at one time, will reduce the overall risk.

Fink said its important people recognize things such as mask recommendations or requirements are being done for the benefit of everyone, not to target specific individuals.

“I always tell my students there are going to be people in the population who aren’t going to be happy. We’re seeing that,” Fink said. “But we’re putting these guidelines in place for the health and well-being of everyone.”

Individuals with pre-existing health conditions are most vulnerable, but no one is immune to the illness.

As physicians and researchers learn more about COVID-19, there are also some troubling discoveries. Along with older Americans and those who have diabetes, compromised immune systems and chronic lung diseases, Hanrahan said doctors are finding people with morbid obesity and high blood pressure are at high risk of complications.

“Hypertension alone would not necessarily be thought of as a potential problem with a viral infection, but it actually is,” she said. “For people who have those conditions or other underlying medical conditions, they really need to think about whether it makes sense for them to go to the grocery store or be around a lot of other people.”

Additionally, there are an increasing number of reports of children developing a severe inflammatory response linked to COVID-19, even when they weren’t previously sick.

“COVID-19 is not just affecting people who are at high risk for complications,” Hanrahan said.

Scientists and physicians have learned a lot about the virus, but we’re still a long way from having routine treatments or a vaccine.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was completely unknown before it began spreading among people early this year. Since then, there has been a tremendous amount of research both in how the virus spreads and potential ways to treat or prevent it.

“We have learned a lot about this virus,” Hanrahan said. “Most of the spread really is by droplets, typically within a few feet of the person. The social isolation part, keeping six feet of distance, that does actually make a difference.”

Doctors also have a better idea how to manage the virus, and hundreds of drugs are being examined to potentially fight COVID-19 and its effects. Some, including the antiviral drug remdesivir, are showing promising early results. Progress also is being made in vaccine development.

However, while there is reason for hope, Hanrahan said it will take time to get any of these therapeutics in the quantities needed. Gilead Sciences, which makes remdesivir, anticipates making a million courses of that drug globally by December.

“That’s not going to be enough to treat people if we get a really huge outbreak. This is unfortunately going to be with us for a while,” Hanrahan said. “That’s why it’s important everyone continue to treat this pandemic seriously.”

State Awards UToledo $613,436 to Lead Harmful Algal Bloom Research Projects

The University of Toledo is among four Ohio universities to receive a total of $2.08 million from the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative in this year’s round of state funding to address Lake Erie water quality and find solutions for algal bloom toxicity.

UToledo scientists situated on the western basin of Lake Erie from diverse research areas were awarded $613,436 to lead four projects related to protecting public health:

• Dr. April Ames and Dr. Michael Valigosky, assistant professors in the School of Population Health in the College of Health and Human Services, will assess microcystin inhalation risk to shoreline populations;

• Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, will work to create a new therapy for microcystin exposure and hepatotoxicity using naturally occurring Lake Erie bacteria that removes microcystin released by harmful algal blooms in drinking water;

• Haller also will conduct deep phenotyping of human organ biobank specimens for cyanotoxin exposure in at-risk populations; and

• Dr. Von Sigler, professor of environmental microbiology in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, will investigate any risks to beach visitors who come in contact with sand along a beach that has had bloom-enriched water wash up on the shoreline.

The UToledo Lake Erie Center research vessel helps to monitor the lake’s water quality.

“Foreshore sands are frequently contacted by beach visitors and are known to play a crucial role in accumulating bacteria, often harboring potentially pathogenic bacteria in densities exceeding those in nearby waters,” Sigler said. “Although no data is currently available that describes the ecology of microcystis in sands, there is potential for human health impacts.”

UToledo and Ohio State University lead the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, which consists of dozens of science teams across the state and is managed by Ohio Sea Grant.

Researchers from UToledo, Ohio State University, the University of Akron and Bowling Green State University will lead 12 newly announced projects — four from UToledo — to track blooms from the source, produce safe drinking water, protect public health, and engage stakeholders.

The selected projects focus on reducing nutrient loading to Lake Erie, investigating algal toxin formation and human health impacts, studying bloom dynamics, and better informing water treatment plants how to remove toxins.

Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and co-chair of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, examines a water sample aboard the UToledo Lake Erie Center research vessel.

“Thanks in part to past HABRI projects, the primary threat of microcystin algal toxin to our Lake Erie-sourced drinking water has been greatly diminished,” said Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, professor of ecology, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and co-chair of the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative. “Even under the best-case scenario, however, we are likely to be living with harmful algal blooms for many years to come. This new set of HABRI projects allows us to follow up with questions about other algal toxins such as saxitoxin and anatoxin that we know much less about, long-term exposure to toxins, and secondary routes of exposure, such as inhalation.”

Harmful algal blooms are not only a Lake Erie problem.

“Many lakes and rivers across Ohio are having similar issues,” Bridgeman said. “Several new projects are dedicated to helping smaller Ohio lakes and rivers use remote sensing, groundwater tracing and improved toxin-testing methodology.”

Previous HABRI projects have developed algal toxin early warning systems for water treatment plants, changed the way state agencies collect data for fish consumption advisories, and helped modify permit procedures for safer use of water treatment residuals as agricultural fertilizer.

“Lake Erie is an invaluable resource and a true treasure for the state of Ohio, and we have a responsibility to do all we can to preserve it and protect it,” said Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE). “I’m pleased that our university researchers are collaborating to lead this endeavor.”

The projects also aid the efforts of state agencies such as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Health, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“Direct engagement with these front-line agencies continues to allow HABRI scientists to develop research proposals that address both immediate and long-term needs of the people tackling this important statewide issue,” said Dr. Kristen Fussell, assistant director of research and administration for Ohio Sea Grant, who leads the initiative’s daily administration.

A total of $9.1 million in funding was made available through ODHE in 2015 and designated for five rounds of HABRI projects. Matching funding from participating Ohio universities increases the total investment to almost $19.5 million for more than 60 projects, demonstrating the state’s overall commitment to solving the harmful algal bloom problem.

Information about HABRI projects, partner organizations and background on the initiative is available on the Ohio Sea Grant website.

The UToledo Water Task Force, which is composed of faculty and researchers in diverse fields spanning the University, serves as a resource for government officials and the public looking for expertise on investigating the causes and effects of algal blooms, the health of Lake Erie, and the health of the communities depending on its water. The task force includes experts in economics, engineering, environmental sciences, business, pharmacy, law, chemistry and biochemistry, geography and planning, and medical microbiology and immunology.

Water quality is a major research focus at UToledo, with experts studying algal blooms, invasive species such as Asian carp, and pollutants. Researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure our communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

UToledo Students Join Volunteer Army of Contact Tracers

A group of nursing, public health and physician assistant students from The University of Toledo is playing a vital role in the region’s effort to curb the spread of coronavirus by serving as volunteer contact tracers.

Contact tracing is a core tool that public health officials use for stopping the spread of infectious diseases. It sounds deceptively easy — interview patients with a confirmed illness, find out who they were in close contact with, notify those individuals, and ask them to pay close attention to their health and limit their exposure to others.

In reality, it’s a time-consuming process that, in a pandemic, can quickly overwhelm existing resources.

Joseph Dake

Dake

“Those calls take a fair amount of time,” said Dr. Joseph Dake, professor and chair of the UToledo School of Population Health. “When there’s only three or four cases coming in per day, that’s no problem. When we get to 30 or 50 cases per day, it’s much more difficult for health departments to keep up.”

In early April, after speaking with Lucas County Health Commissioner Dr. Eric Zgodzinski, Dake put out a call for volunteers interested in being trained as contact tracers. The first group of students began working with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department on April 8.

As of the first week of May, the Volunteer Contact Tracing Program has grown to include 57 public health students, 65 students from the College of Nursing and five students from the physician assistant program. Nearly 100 additional nursing students will be trained early this summer.

“Dr. Dake took the idea of using UToledo students for contact tracing far beyond my expectations,” Zgodzinski said. “Through the work of UToledo, this will allow us to take what we have and may be used as a national model and training program for any local health jurisdiction to protect their community from COVID-19.”

Together, UToledo students have made more than 350 calls to individuals in Lucas County who have either tested positive or been identified as having been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“This is vitally important. You’ll hear a lot in the next few weeks about contact tracing and the need for more trained individuals. At the end of the day, the whole idea is prevention,” Dake said.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials estimates the nation is likely to need nearly 100,000 contact tracers — tens of thousands more than currently exist.

“We really need to have stronger infrastructure for mass contract tracing,” Dake said. “We’re really trying to make sure we build the capacity the right way.”

Dake has been in contact with officials at the Ohio Department of Health and shared one of UToledo’s training modules to be incorporated in their training program.

Bailey Kurtz

Kurtz

The training program developed by Dake takes about six hours of independent study. The students must then do a full mock interview with a faculty member or clinical instructor who is part of the team, and be cleared before they begin making calls.

One of the first students trained was Bailey Kurtz, who is in her first year of the Master in Public Health Program.

“There are times where I’ll spend an hour and a half talking to someone who’s in the hospital and doesn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said. “It’s not just about the data collection. It’s about making sure people in our community are doing OK. Being that light to answer their questions and give them some peace of mind.”

Kurtz, who hopes to eventually go to medical school, estimates that she has made between 20 and 30 calls since she finished training. She’s providing a crucial service to the community and getting hours that count toward her required internship.

The pandemic and their response to it is also giving Kurtz and her peers perspective that’s likely to last the rest of their lives.

“We have to prepare for the unknown. We have a unique opportunity as young professionals. We can implement some of that preparation into our careers later in life,” she said. “We’re going to be talking about this for the rest of our professional careers.”

Inquisitive Medicine Graduate Ready to Help Patients

Jack Edminister can trace his inquisitive nature back to his childhood.

At the age of 6, his 8-year-old brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He began asking questions as part of that new challenge for his family — and showing the hunger for knowledge that would foreshadow his later career.

Graduation Cap

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: During this time when we cannot come together to celebrate our graduates, UToledo is recognizing the Class of 2020 with a series of feature stories on students who are receiving their degrees. Help us celebrate our newest UToledo alumni. Visit utoledo.edu/commencement to share a message of support to graduates and come back online Saturday, May 9, to take part in the virtual commencement ceremony.

“Once my brother was diagnosed, I quickly became interested in some unfamiliar words and concepts,” said Edminister, who will graduate with a doctor of medicine degree Friday, May 15, from the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “I started asking what a pancreas is, what insulin does and why it’s important. Those were life-saving pieces of information for my brother.”

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, Edminister followed up that early curiosity with a request to his instructors during his sophomore year in high school to allow him to take an AP chemistry class as a junior. He and a friend successfully lobbied and were able to take the course the following year.

Edminister went on to earn a bachelor of science in biology from Ohio State University in 2014.

“During my undergraduate experience, the idea was there, of how to use my love of science,” Edminister said. “But once I interviewed at The University of Toledo for medical school, I knew this was where I belonged. The collaborative atmosphere among everyone I met, students and faculty, made me feel right at home.”

As he made his way through medical school, Edminister ultimately settled on dermatology as his field of medicine. While it’s a competitive specialty, the choice was made clear by a combination of faculty mentorship and his interactions with patients during clinical rotations.

“My experiences showed me that I wanted to impact people directly, not from behind the scenes,” Edminister said. “I saw firsthand how certain dermatological patients would enter the clinic very defeated by their conditions and would leave more confident as they received treatment. I’m invigorated by helping people in that way.”

Jack Edminister White Coat Ceremony

Jack Edminister, second from left, received his white coat when starting medical school at UToledo in 2016. Edminister, pictured here with his brother, George, left, mother, Alice, and father, John, is specializing in dermatology.

Dr. Lorie Gottwald, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Dermatology, is one of the instructors who inspired Edminister to pursue dermatology as a career.

“His sensitivity toward patients is unparalleled; he makes everyone comfortable and confident in his presence,” Gottwald said. “He is the kind of individual you would be proud to call a brother, a son, a family member. I am just extremely proud to call him my student. I know he will make his mark.”

During UToledo’s virtual Match Day event in March, Edminister learned that he will perform his three-year residency at Wake Forest University beginning in July 2021. First, however, his transitional year as a medical intern will be completed at hospitals of the Mercy Health system in the Toledo area.

Edminister expects the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis to play a large role during that transitional year. He’s better able to face that challenge thanks to two things: the support he received during medical school, and a bedside manner reflected in his induction to the Gold Humanism Honor Society after being nominated by his peers and UToledo faculty.

“It was a huge honor to be selected. That’s why I’m going into medicine, to impact people in a positive, respectful way,” Edminister said.

“We’re entering the medical field at an interesting time. But the people around me always believed in me, perhaps more than I believed in myself. I’m honored to call this year’s other graduates my colleagues.”

University Honors Faculty, Staff for Advising, Research, Teaching, Mentoring, Outreach

UToledo has announced outstanding advisors, researchers and teachers, and recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement for the 2019-20 academic year.

In addition, the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award has been presented.

“It is important to recognize these dedicated and deserving award recipients, even though we were not able to hold an official ceremony this semester,” Dr. Karen Bjorkman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said. “These faculty members and advisors exemplify the excellence everyone at The University of Toledo strives for every day.”

A ceremony to celebrate recipients is scheduled to take place during fall semester.

Recipients of the Outstanding Advisor Award are:

Dr. Lorie D. Gottwald, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Dermatology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She received her doctor of medicine degree from the former Medical College of Ohio in 1990. Gottwald joined the MCO faculty in 1998.

“It is obvious to anyone who has spent time around Dr. Gottwald how much time and effort she puts toward cultivating success for her mentees,” one nominator wrote. “When one of her students is successful or reaches a goal, she shares that joy with him or her. She is very invested in her mentees.” Another noted, “Dr. Gottwald develops great relationships with her students, especially those interested in dermatology. She is friendly, positive, and always encourages students to pursue their dreams.” Another wrote, “She has frank conversations about strengths and weaknesses, and she is helpful in finding research opportunities.”

Matt Reising, academic advisor for interdisciplinary and special programs, and instructor in University College. He started advising UToledo students in 2016.

“Matt educates and empowers students by listening to them and understanding what their future goals are,” a nominator wrote. “He has a nurturing personality, substantial knowledge about academic pathways, and an overall love for helping students reach their goals.” Another wrote, “Matt creates an environment in which students feel comfortable sharing their goals, fears and concerns. He is a good listener and offers positivity, hope and vision for each of his students.” Another wrote, “I’d be lost without his knowledge and guidance of everything UToledo. I’ve bombarded him with countless emails and calls, and he shows me the way time and time again. Thanks for everything.”

Recipients of the Outstanding Research and Scholarship Award are:

Dr. A. Champa Jayasuriya, professor of orthopaedic research in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. She joined the faculty in 2004 and also holds an adjunct faculty position with the Department of Bioengineering in the College of Engineering.

Her work focuses on injectable bone graft devices to regenerate and repair damaged human bone tissues. She is investigating biocompatible, biodegradable and injectable biomaterials that can be applied for bone regeneration via an arthroscopically administered, minimally invasive procedure. Jayasuriya’s recent research uses a 3D printer to create viable multifunctional bone grafts to regenerate damaged or lost bone tissues. In addition to bone regeneration studies, Jayasuriya’s lab is working on the delivery of drugs, antibiotics, growth factors and cells. She has received $4.6 million for her research and has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, which have approximately 1,750 citations.

Dr. Sridhar Viamajala, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He has been at UToledo since 2009.

Viamajala’s research concentrates on sustainable energy production and green engineering. He is working to find a faster, cleaner process to produce fuel using algae without needing to add concentrated carbon dioxide. Viamajala has received nearly $12.1 million in awards for his pioneering work in the areas of algae cultivation, harvesting and conversion. His creative, innovative engineering solutions are aiming for commercial implementation to replace fossil fuels with algal fuels. He has established collaborations with researchers at UToledo, Montana State University and Arizona State University. Viamajala has written more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and technical reports, presented his work at more than 110 conferences, and received 11 patents with colleagues.

Recipients of the Edith Rathbun Award for Outreach and Engagement are:

Dr. G. Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. He joined the faculty in 1994.

Lipscomb has led efforts to engage students in chemical and environmental engineering in projects to provide clean water to communities in need. In 2015, he arranged a partnership between the University and Clean Water for the World, a nonprofit organization, for UToledo students to have a multi-year experiential learning project. Students in the chemical and environmental engineering programs produce and install units that deliver up to 300 gallons per hour of clean water — enough water for a community of up to 600 people. These water treatment systems greatly reduce water-borne diseases. Students also raise funds to travel to villages to install the systems. Thanks to Lipscomb, UToledo students have provided clean water to communities in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Dr. Matt Foss, assistant professor of theatre in the College of Arts and Letters. He began teaching and directing at the University in 2017.

Since coming to UToledo, Foss has found opportunities to be involved in the community — and included his students. He has worked with the Toledo Museum of Art on two projects, “Portraits of Toledo” and “The Art of the Cut.” After “Portraits,” the museum requested his assistance with “The Art of the Cut,” an initiative with ProMedica that raised awareness of the role barbershops play in the health and wellness of African-American men. Foss involved students to help stage manage the event, which proved a success in 2018 and was repeated this year. He and students also created puppets of endangered area wildlife and held eco-parades to raise awareness during the Momentum Festival.

Recipients of the Outstanding Teacher Award are:

Dr. Gabriella Baki, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and director of the Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Program for undergraduates in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She came to the University in 2012.

“I am so lucky to have the opportunity of knowing such an amazing faculty member. Dr. Baki assists us with finding good internship sites and great job opportunities, and she encourages us to attend conferences to become the best version of ourselves,” one nominator wrote. Another noted, “I love that she always welcomes students to her office. Students can come for help, for questions, for guidance, or even candies she keeps stocked. She will always make sure she has time for students.” “Dr. Baki is friendly but respected, challenging but helpful. She encourages her students to work hard and put themselves out there,” another wrote.

Dr. David Gajewski, associate lecturer of mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The UToledo alumnus received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University, where he started to teach in 2009.

“Dr. Gajewski was my favorite calculus teacher in college,” one nominator wrote. “Not only does he have a real passion for the math he teaches, he also really cares about the students in his class. A lot of teachers are intimidating and hard to approach, but with Dr. Gajewski, it is easy to make jokes and be friendly while still respecting the fact he is a professor.” “He explained things so logically that I found I no longer thought of calculus as some alien language. Instead, it made complete sense. I actually started looking forward to class,” another wrote. Another noted, “He even met students who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving for dinner.”

Dr. David Jex, professor of music in the College of Arts and Letters. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University in 1973 and joined the UToledo faculty in 1983.

“Dr. Jex is extremely warm and inviting. The first time you meet him, it feels like reconnecting with an old friend,” a nominator wrote. “When sitting in class, I can’t help but admire his creative styles in keeping the class engaged and active with each lesson. He is a leader in the Music Department and has gone unnoticed for far too long. It is because of him and his encouragement that I feel like I’m going to be successful in the future.” “As an accomplished composer, Dr. Jex has always been a champion of the creation of new music,” another wrote. “Dr. Jex is well-liked and well-respected by music students and faculty.”

Teresa Keefe, Distinguished University Lecturer of Information Operations and Technology Management in the College of Business and Innovation. She received a B.B.A. and a M.B.A. from the University in 1987 and 1990, respectively, and began teaching at her alma mater in 2001.

“She teaches each concept with the utmost patience and loves to solve problems for each student. I love that she has a lot of knowledge about whatever she teaches and loves to joke around in class,” a nominator wrote. “She teaches with the best material, which is very simple to understand.” Another wrote, “She is an exceptional lecturer; all of the handouts and learning materials were custom-made by her for the specific class and concepts being taught. I learned and retained more information than in any other class that I can recall because the presentation made it a joy, and I always looked forward to class.”

Dr. Kristi Mock, associate lecturer of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. She began teaching at UToledo in 2011.

“Despite only having Dr. Mock as an instructor for one semester, her kindness and helpfulness made a huge impact on me,” one nominator wrote. “Something I found incredibly helpful was the amount of resources she provided. Every class, she would come in with a new opportunity — shadowing doctors, scribing jobs, volunteer and internship opportunities — for those of us who desired a job in chemistry.” “Dr. Mock is an incredibly enthusiastic teacher. She is incredibly knowledgeable and describes subjects in many ways so students can better understand. She is very passionate and grounded when she is teaching. She is very approachable and is always there for her students,” another wrote. Another noted, “Moving forward, we all really miss her lectures and her personality.”

Dr. Ozcan Sezer, associate professor of finance in the College of Business and Innovation. He joined the faculty in 2002.

“I am in the Student Managed Portfolio class taught by Dr. Sezer. It has been the most useful class I have taken,” one nominator wrote. “We receive a huge amount of investment knowledge, as well as learning how to work together toward one main goal. This class is a great simulation of the workplace. It is not a regular class; it is real money, which puts a lot of responsibilities on students, but Dr. Sezer set up the class as an amazing learning experience.” Another wrote, “Dr. Sezer is very laid-back, open-minded and friendly, which makes it very easy to communicate with him. And at the same time, you are feeling respected and appreciated for your effort.”

The recipient of the inaugural Faculty Mentoring Award is:

Dr. Maria Coleman, professor and chair of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering, and associate director of the Polymer Institute. She joined the University in 1998.

“I have worked with Dr. Maria Coleman since 2003. She began serving as my mentor when I arrived on campus and began my tenure-track position. We also have collaborated on research and co-mentored many women in engineering,” a nominator wrote. “She is an approachable, nonjudgmental and thoughtful mentor. She has always been more than willing to help, intervene on behalf of, and to advocate for her mentees. Dr. Coleman has been a longstanding and excellent mentor to several current and former women in the UToledo College of Engineering.”