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Medicine and Life Sciences

College of Medicine and Life Sciences Launches Program That Introduces UToledo Research to Saudi Medical Students

A new program at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences that brings medical students from Saudi Arabia to UToledo for an intensive, six-week research program will look to expand next year.

Under the leadership of Dr. Alexzander Asea, professor of medicine, and Dr. Punit Kaur, associate director of the Precision Therapeutics Proteogenomics Diagnostics Center, five students from Alfaisal University College of Medicine in Riyadh spent a portion of their summer in Toledo getting experience in various biomolecular techniques.

Dr. Punit Kaur worked in the lab with medical students from Saudi Arabia.

Students also toured UToledo’s facilities and met Saudi-born faculty who shared their current research work and career path.

Unlike in the United States where getting into medical school requires an undergraduate degree, in Saudi Arabia and many other parts of the world, students enroll in medical school right out of high school.

“Because of that, they lack the lab experience and the experience of doing research, so it can really put them at a disadvantage,” Asea said. “We give them a hands-on look at how to analyze proteins in proteomics, how to look at DNA in genomics, and how to identify different cell lines in cell cultures. We think those are all things they are going to use in whatever specialty they ultimately choose.”

All of the projects the students engaged with were tied to colorectal cancer, which has become one of the most common forms of cancer in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Alexzander Asea, left, talked with medical students from Saudi Arabia who visited UToledo during the summer.

Asea brought the idea to UToledo from Texas A&M, where he developed a similar program in 2010.

The students’ home university pays a stipend for each student who enrolls; this covers the costs of the program and provides additional resources for research equipment and supplies.

The program also helps to establish a pipeline between Saudi medical schools and UToledo. Kaur said all five students who participated in the 2019 program hope to eventually practice in the United States.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity to learn about The University of Toledo and see what a great institution this is,” Asea said. “When they finish their medical degrees and are looking for fellowships or residencies, we hope they come here because they know the faculty and institution. Our hope is this establishes a pipeline.”

Asea and Kaur are aiming to expand the program to include at least 30 students in 2020.

Drive to Collect Stuffed Animals, Books for UToledo Medical Center Patients

The Master of Science in Biomedical Science Volunteer Patient Advocate Assistants will hold a stuffed animal and book drive Tuesday through Thursday, Oct. 29 to 31, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in The University of Toledo Medical Center Four Seasons Bistro.

The volunteer student group works throughout The University of Toledo Medical Center, with much of their time spent in the Emergency Room. Students who see patients in the ER know that a stuffed animal can make a difference in a child’s experience while those that see patients throughout the medical center can attest to the joy and accompaniment a book can bring a patient throughout their care at the hospital.

Master of Science in Biomedical Science Volunteer Patient Advocate Assistants showed off some of the stuffed animals and books they collected during a previous drive.

“A stuffed animal or book can considerably calm a patient and help put their mind at ease. With these simple gestures, ER and hospital staff are able to provide the effective and compassionate care UTMC is known for,” said Jihad Aoun, a member of the Master of Science in Biomedical Science Volunteer Patient Advocate Assistants.

All stuffed animal donations must be new, and books of all reading levels should be new or gently used. Monetary donations also will be accepted. All proceeds will be used to purchase stuffed animals for pediatric patients in the UTMC Emergency Department. This is the third year for the program.

Many of the group’s members plan to attend medical school.

“As patient advocates, we aim to facilitate improved medical care by advocating for the patients we come in contact with,” said Mirlinda Elmazi, a Master of Science in Biomedical Science Volunteer Patient Advocate Assistant. “We do this by improving doctor-patient communication with explanations of complicated medical concepts in terms that patients can understand. We hope to leave the program with effective communications skills so that, as physicians, we are able to better communicate with our patients and provide them with the best possible care.”

Graduate and Professional Program Fair Slated for Oct. 30

Looking to advance your career? Want to learn more about continuing your education? Stop by the Graduate and Professional Program Fair Wednesday, Oct. 30.

The event will take place from 2 to 6 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium.

Attendees can meet with representatives from colleges and programs; learn ways to fund graduate education; and start the graduate program application process.

On hand will be representatives from all UToledo colleges: Arts and Letters; Business and Innovation; Engineering; Health and Human Services; Judith Herb College of Education; Law; Medicine and Life Sciences; Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Nursing; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Graduate Studies; Jesup Scott Honors College; and University College.

Go to the Graduate and Professional Program Fair website and register.

The first 100 to attend the event will receive an application fee waiver; J.D., M.D. and Pharm.D. applications not included.

For more information, email graduateinquiry@utoledo.edu.

Day of Giving College Events and Giving Stations

UToledo’s third annual Day of Giving will take place Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 15 and 16.

The 36-hour campaign, “Rocket Forward: You Launch Lives,” will begin at midnight Oct. 15 and end at noon Oct. 16.

Several events are planned Tuesday, Oct. 15:

Day of Giving Fall Festival — 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Centennial Mall

• Student organizations will host booths with games.

• The Rocket Marching Band and UToledo cheerleaders will perform.

• President Sharon L. Gaber will greet students from noon to 12:30 p.m.

• The festival also will offer a dog-petting station, corn hole games, a basketball contest, pie in the face, pumpkin bowling and pumpkin golf.

College of Business and Innovation — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Savage & Associates Business Complex Second-Floor Atrium

• Giving station with ice cream.

Judith Herb College of Education — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Gillham Hall

• Giving station with popcorn.

College of Health and Human Services — 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 16, 8 to 10:30 a.m. in the Health and Human Services Building Atrium

• Giving station with popcorn, other snacks and prizes.

Jesup Scott Honors College — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside MacKinnon Hall

• Giving station with snacks.

College of Law — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Law Center Patio

• Fall Fest hosted by the Student Bar Association: Donate to decorate mini-pumpkins; play corn hole, ring toss and horseshoes; and eat kettle corn, caramel apples and cider.

Student Recreation Center — 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

• Giving station; popcorn from 2 to 6 p.m.

University College — 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 16, 9 to 10:30 a.m. in Rocket Hall

• Giving station with popcorn, snacks, and a chance to spin the wheel to win prizes with a donation.

The University of Toledo Medical Center — starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 15 and 16, in the Four Seasons Bistro

• Giving station in the cafeteria.

Colleges of Nursing; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; and Medicine and Life Sciences — 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Collier Building Lobby

College of Nursing will host a Day of Giving party with a giving station, snacks, a pumpkin decorating contest, music and entertainment. President Sharon L. Gaber and Health Science Campus deans will be on hand for Day of Giving selfie photos with students, faculty and staff.

Give online at rocketforward.utoledo.edu Oct. 15-16 and share your UToledo story on social media at #RocketForward.

Hussain Lecture to Chart Transformation of Medical Science

The great Greek physician Galen of Pergamon was one of the most influential forces in medical history, with his theories informing the profession for centuries.

Unfortunately, many of Galen’s ideas were wrong.

“For nearly 2,000 years, we were practicing medicine like it was the Stone Age. There was nothing scientific about it,” said Dr. Syed Tasnim Raza, a cardiothoracic surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Columbia University Medical Center.

Tasnim Raza

Thankfully, real scientific discovery eventually won out, helping to lead medicine into the cutting-edge field it is today.

Tasnim Raza, who has spent the last decade studying the history of medicine after more than three decades as a heart surgeon in Buffalo, N.Y., will outline those radical changes at the 11th annual S. Amjad Hussain Visiting Lecture in the History of Medicine and Surgery Thursday, Oct. 17, at 5 p.m.

The free, public lecture will be held in Health Education Building Room 110 on Health Science Campus. RSVPs are requested; email hscevents@utoledo.edu or call 419.383.6300.

One of Galen’s primary mistakes was assuming the anatomy of animals he dissected was wholly applicable to humans. For 1,300 years, no one dared question him.

“The thinking was, ‘If Galen said it, it has to be true,’” said Tasnim Raza. “We need to have the strength to challenge conventional wisdom, dogma and current thinking to improve and continue to change.”

The S. Amjad Hussain Visiting Lecture in the History of Medicine and Surgery was created in honor of Hussain, professor emeritus of cardiovascular surgery and humanities, a former member of the UToledo Board of Trustees, and columnist for The Blade.

“Dr. Tasnim Raza has had a deep interest in the history of medicine and has just finished a book manuscript on the history of heart surgery. He is a man who is well-versed in not only the subject of surgery, but also in the arts and humanities,” Hussain said. “The study of the history of medicine is important because it shows us the distance we have covered and the path we have traversed to reach the present. History being a continuum, we cannot chart a future unless we know the past.”

In part, the lecture series helped further inspire Tasnim Raza’s interest in the history of medicine after he came to Toledo in 2013 to hear author Wendy Moore speak about her biography of the 18th-century Scottish physician Dr. John Hunter.

Tasnim Raza’s sister also has presented the Hussain lecture. Dr. Azra Raza, a well-known oncologist and cancer researcher, and Chan Soon-Shiong Professor of Medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center, visited Toledo in 2017.

Azra Raza will join Tasnim Raza in Toledo to kick off a book tour for her forthcoming title, “The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.”

National Lab Day at UToledo to Fuel Region’s Engagement With Preeminent Scientists, World-Class Facilities

For the first time, The University of Toledo will host National Lab Day to connect students and researchers with scientists from U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories and explore opportunities for additional partnerships.

The event to enhance northwest Ohio’s collaborations to make discoveries, find innovative solutions, and create groundbreaking technology will take place Thursday and Friday, Oct. 10 and 11, on the University’s Main Campus.

“We are proud to welcome to our campus the country’s preeminent scientists from world-class facilities across the country,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “This event presents an extraordinary opportunity for our students and scientists. We appreciate the Department of Energy recognizing UToledo’s momentum in advancing science and selecting us to host National Lab Day.”

A kickoff ceremony will be held at 8:45 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, in Nitschke Auditorium and feature Gaber, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Chris Fall, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

“From manufacturing the first Jeeps for the U.S. government at the onset of WWII, to the founding of America’s largest solar company — First Solar – Toledo has a long and storied history as a world leader in manufacturing, national security, and cutting-edge research and development,” Kaptur said. “That is why Toledo is the perfect place to host an event like National Lab Day. Partnership is at the core of the success of our national labs, and National Lab Day will help facilitate important and long-lasting partnerships that bring students and faculty together with the National Lab directors.”

The Department of Energy maintains 17 national labs that tackle the critical scientific and national security challenges of our time — from combating climate change to discovering the origins of our universe — and possess unique instruments and facilities, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Toledo native and director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Mike Witherell, who grew up just blocks from the University, is a key organizer of the event.

“The University of Toledo is experiencing tremendous growth in its research enterprise,” Witherell said. “As a resource for the nation, the Department of Energy national laboratories are a resource for the University as it innovates and drives economic growth for Toledo, the northwest Ohio region, the state and the nation. My colleagues from the labs and I are delighted to join with the University and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur at National Lab Day to explore the many exciting possibilities for engagement.”

Participants in National Lab Day 2019 at UToledo will meet laboratory directors and researchers; explore funding and fellowship opportunities; discover facilities open to academic and industry scientists; and learn about student internships and postdoctoral fellowships.

UToledo scientists will lead panel discussions with national laboratory scientists on a variety of topics, including:

• The Land-Water Interface: The Great Lakes Region and the World;

• Sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment;

• Structural Biology, Imaging and Spectroscopy;

• Astrophysics;

• Exposure Science — ‘Omics’ Applications for Human Health;

• Materials and Manufacturing; and

• Photovoltaics.

Registration, which is open for the academic and commercial research community, is required. Visit the National Lab Day website to register.

As part of National Lab Day, about 100 high school seniors will be on campus Friday, Oct. 11, to learn about career paths in STEM, meet national laboratory scientists, and learn about each of the national laboratories.

UToledo Hypertension Expert Receives Prestigious American Heart Association Award

The American Heart Association has recognized University of Toledo hypertension researcher Dr. Bina Joe for her innovative work focusing on the links between high blood pressure, genetics and gut bacteria.

Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, has spent nearly two decades studying and isolating the role genetics play in individuals with high blood pressure.

Dr. Bina Joe spoke at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. More than 600 people from 22 countries attended the event.

Her research has helped begin to unravel some of the potential causes of hypertension that go beyond one’s diet and exercise routine.

Most recently, Joe’s lab has been investigating how the colonies of tiny microorganisms that call our bodies home may help regulate our blood pressure. In 2018, Joe received a $2.64 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to advance her groundbreaking research.

In recognition of her impactful work, the American Heart Association recently presented Joe with the Harriet Dustan Award, which recognizes female investigators who have made outstanding contributions in the field of hypertension.

“This is a really prestigious award, chosen from many of the top hypertension researchers in the world,” said Joe, who is also founding director of the UToledo Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine, which is recognized by the University as a research area of unique distinction. “I feel very passionate about our research, and I’m honored to have been recognized by this award from the American Heart Association.”

The award is named in honor of Dr. Harriet Dustan, a trailblazer as both a female physician-scientist and as a hypertension researcher. Dustan was the first woman to sit on the Board of Governors of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and she was among the first researchers who linked hypertension to excess sodium consumption.

Dustan, who started her career at the Cleveland Clinic and later went on to the University of Alabama School of Medicine, died in 1999.

“Dr. Dustan was born and lived her life in the previous century when they did not have a genomic avenue to look at microbial genomes and their contributions to hypertension,” Joe said. “She was asking the same questions we are now. She once wrote in one of her papers that not everything is known. I hope to fill that knowledge gap with the new idea we have that salt regulates blood pressure via microbiota and liver metabolites. I’m proud to bring the award bearing her name back to Ohio, where she started her research career.”

The award was presented in New Orleans Sept. 7 during the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions.

Joe also was the recipient of the association’s 2014 Lewis Dahl Memorial Lectureship. That award honors the groundbreaking work of Dahl, who developed a genetically based experimental model of hypertension. The lecture is given each year by a prominent hypertension researcher.

UToledo Researchers Take Over National Academic Research Program This Week

Five scholars from The University of Toledo will have a national audience this week through The Academic Minute, a public radio program that gives researchers the chance to share their expertise in their own words.

Beginning Monday, Sept. 23, and running through Friday, Sept. 27, one UToledo faculty member will be featured each morning on the program, which is heard on approximately 200 public radio stations throughout the country.

The program, which is produced by Northeast Public Radio in Albany, N.Y., can be livestreamed on the WAMC website at 7:30 a.m. and again at 3:56 p.m.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday, Sept. 23: Dr. Rupali Chandar, professor of astronomy in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, will explain her work peering deep into space to identify and understand young and expanding galaxies.

Tuesday, Sept. 24: Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the College of Medicine and Life Science, will outline her research into the role played by microbiota in regulating blood pressure.

Wednesday, Sept. 25: Dr. Celia Williamson, Distinguished University Professor and director of the UToledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute in the College of Health and Human Services, will discuss her research into how traffickers use social media.

Thursday, Sept. 26: Dr. Neil Reid, professor of geography and planning in the College of Arts and Letters, will talk about his recent study that found craft breweries increase residential property values.

Friday, Sept. 27: Dr. Amit Tiwari, associate professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, will review his innovative work of identifying new compounds that provide hope for treating multidrug resistant cancer.

Each segment will be available on The Academic Minute website and shared on the Inside Higher Ed website. The Academic Minute also is available as a podcast from NPR.

For People With Pre-Existing Liver Disease, Toxic Algae May Be More Dangerous

Toxins produced during harmful algal blooms may be more harmful to people than previously known.

Researchers at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences sought to examine how microcystin might affect individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a widespread condition that is frequently asymptomatic. They found the toxin can significantly amplify the disease at levels below what would harm a healthy liver.

Dr. David Kennedy, left, and Dr. Steven Haller

The study, published last month in the journal Toxins, follows earlier research from UToledo that found clear evidence that microcystin exposure worsens the severity of pre-existing colitis. Microcystin is a byproduct of the cyanobacteria found in what is commonly known as blue-green algae.

“The take-home message from our research is there are certain groups of people who need to pay extra attention and may be more susceptible to microcystin toxins. We may need to explore special preventative guidelines for those people in terms of how much microcystin they are exposed to through drinking water or other means,” said Dr. David Kennedy, UToledo assistant professor of medicine and one of the study’s lead authors.

Aided by nutrient runoff and warming waters, seasonal blooms of blue-green algae are flourishing across much of the United States. Not all algal blooms produce toxins, but many do.

Potentially dangerous concentrations of microcystin have been found this year in ponds in New York City’s Central Park, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, reservoirs in California, and a portion of Lake Erie’s coastline near Toledo.

While no human deaths have been linked to microcystin in the United States, deaths have been reported elsewhere — most notably among a group of kidney dialysis patients in Brazil. There also have been reports this year of pet dogs dying after exposure to blue-green algae in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

With annual blooms becoming more frequent and intense, researchers in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences wanted to better understand how the toxins might affect people already suffering from conditions that affect organ systems microcystin is known to attack, such as the liver.

“It’s a gray area in terms of what microcystin is really doing to you if you have a pre-existing disease state. Are you more susceptible? Are we going to have to go back and re-evaluate what we consider safe in a person with a pre-existing disease state? It’s important we start providing answers to these questions,” said Dr. Steven Haller, UToledo assistant professor of medicine.

In the liver study, researchers examined how chronic, low-level exposure of microcystin affected mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease compared to mice with healthy livers.

At microcystin ingestion levels below the No Observed Adverse Effect Level for healthy mice, analysis showed significant exacerbation of liver damage in mice with fatty liver disease. Researchers observed no liver damage in mice who started the experiment with healthy livers.

“Current exposure limits from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for humans are based off studies done in healthy animals,” Haller said. “The results of this study suggest there may be a need to review those guidelines for people with pre-existing conditions.”

They also noted major differences in how microcystin was processed by the kidneys in the two test groups.

In mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, elevated levels of microcystin were found in the blood plasma, but were not detectable in the plasma of healthy mice. Mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease also excreted far less microcystin in their urine.

The differences seen in how microcystin was processed between the two test groups suggest that kidney function may play an important role in the increased susceptibility of the mice with pre-existing liver disease.

“This may be highly relevant to help us understand the deaths that occurred in kidney dialysis patients and point to the need to pay particular attention to at-risk patient populations as we design preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies,” Kennedy said.

The results from the liver study build on prior work from Kennedy and Haller looking at how microcystin exposure might affect individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, another common condition that impacts an estimated 1 million Americans.

In that study, published in June, the researchers demonstrated that exposure to microcystin-LR prolongs and worsens the severity of pre-existing colitis, contributing to significant weight loss, bleeding, and higher numbers of signaling molecules that cause inflammation.

“Based on this data, we’re coming up with insights into how we can potentially treat exposures if they do occur,” Kennedy said. “This is giving us a number of insights into how we might help patients, especially patients who are vulnerable or susceptible if there was an exposure.”

The lead author of the paper published in August was doctoral student Apurva Lad. Doctoral student Robin Su was the author on the paper about inflammatory bowel disease published in June.

Deans Appointed to Vice Provost Roles to Advance Health Affairs

The Office of the Provost has appointed two deans to take on additional responsibilities as vice provosts.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and executive vice president for clinical affairs, has been appointed to serve as vice provost for educational health affairs.

Dr. Linda Lewandowski, dean of the College of Nursing, has been appointed to serve as vice provost for health affairs for interprofessional and community partnerships.

In his vice provost role, Cooper will serve as a liaison between the Office of the Provost and the deans of the four health-related colleges with a focus on facilities and college resources related to health education.

In her vice provost role, Lewandowski will serve as a liaison between the Office of the Provost and the external community for targeted health-related partnerships and initiatives, and will be responsible for the development and implementation of interprofessional collaborations among the University’s health-related academic programs.