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UToledo breakthrough in how cells link together has implications in proliferation of cancer

For cancer to be successful — from its point of view, anyway — the disease has to find a way to break out beyond its initial foothold and spread throughout the body. Newly published research from The University of Toledo could bring fresh insight into one of the first ways cancers proliferate.

Dr. Rafael Garcia-Mata, associate professor of biological sciences, recently identified a protein complex that regulates how epithelial cells bond together in such tight connections.

Dr. Rafael Garcia-Mata identified a protein complex that regulates how epithelial cells bond together, a breakthrough that could advance cancer research.

There are more than 150 different types of epithelial cells that carry out essential functions in a wide variety of tissues. Those jobs include making our skin resilient, producing the mucus that lines and guards our airways, and helping with the absorption of nutrients in our digestive system.

The discovery, which builds on Garcia-Mata’s research focus of how cancer cells spread throughout the body, is intriguing because it explains the behavior of cells that are by far the most common starting place for cancer.

“Eighty percent of cancers originate from epithelial cells, and most cancers will have to disassemble the adhesion system to grow and spread,” Garcia-Mata said. “If we understand how these adhesive structures are built, we can also try to understand what happens when cancer cells disassemble them.”

His research was published June 27 in the Journal of Cell Biology.

Epithelial tissues line the outer surfaces of organs and blood vessels throughout the body, as well as the inner surfaces of cavities in many internal organs. Their ability to form nearly impermeable junctions enables them to establish boundaries that separate the inside of organs and other tissues from the outside environment.

The way epithelial cells link together is unique in biology and involves a large number of components that work in synchrony to control their assembly. However, the science behind how they manage to form such perfect bonds has up to now been elusive.

“The way these cells organize is very important. What we’ve identified is a new molecular mechanism that controls a lot of the properties that make the ‘right’ epithelial tissues,” Garcia-Mata said. “Understanding how they normally function allows you to understand what happens when things go wrong.”

The implications of these findings go well beyond cancer. Garcia-Mata’s research also helps explain how cells coordinate to generate organ cavities, which may broaden the knowledge of early development and organ formation. It could add significant new pathways for explaining conditions such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

“A lot of diseases are essentially leaky epithelia. Understanding how these structures are modulated may help us learn why we get some of these diseases,” he said.

Garcia-Mata’s research into epithelial cells grew out of prior National Institutes of Health grant-funded work investigating how cancer cells spread away from the primary tumor.

“My lab studies basic, hardcore cell biology. This is where we make discoveries that lead to our ability to understand and target particular diseases, and the initial event in most cancers is the disassembly of these epithelial structures,” he said.

UToledo professors invent safer way to treat prostate cancer

Two innovative professors at The University of Toledo from different fields of expertise teamed up to create a clever, common-sense way to solve a problem in treating prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer in men.

Recognizing the potential, the Ohio Third Frontier Commission awarded $150,000 to the startup company founded by the mechanical engineer and medical physicist to develop and commercialize the new technology they invented that allows a higher level of radiation to safely be delivered at each session, decreasing significantly the number of treatment sessions needed to eradicate the cancer, while reducing damage to nearby, healthy tissue.

Dr. Mohammad Elahinia, left, and Dr. Ishmael Parsai developed the rectal retractor, which could help treat prostate cancer. The Ohio Third Frontier Commission awarded $150,000 to their startup company to commercialize the new technology.

Dr. Mohammad Elahinia, professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, and Dr. Ishmael Parsai, professor and chief medical physicist in the UToledo Radiation Oncology Department and director of the Graduate Medical Physics Program, created the company called Retractor with the support of UToledo Launchpad Incubation, Rocket Innovations and the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program.

The new, patent-pending technology, which is being tested on cadavers, is a minimally invasive device that moves the rectum away from the vicinity of the radiation fields targeting the prostate cancer. This allows for the delivery of higher doses of more focused radiation beams, resulting in shorter treatment days while reducing damage to healthy rectal tissue.

the rectal retractor

“The rectal retractor provides a safer, more efficient way to treat prostate cancer,” Elahinia said. “The medical device is inserted into the body and set in motion by passing a small electrical current in a reliable, clean, silent process known as nitinol actuation, solving the persistent challenge in radiation therapy of prostate tumors.”

“Instead of a patient undergoing daily radiation treatment sessions for nearly two months in a conventional method of radiotherapy, he can come in and have five sessions,” Parsai said.

Through his work with patients at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at The University of Toledo Medical Center, Parsai came up with the idea for the rectal retractor and approached Elahinia to engineer a prototype.

“Normally during radiation therapy for prostate cancer, we work to reduce as much as possible the impact of the radiation dose on any healthy organs, such as the bladder and rectum, but often some damage to healthy, nearby tissue is unavoidable,” Parsai said. “This new device, however, allows us to move the rectum out of the field of radiation so we can eliminate the risk of sacrificing healthy tissue while safely delivering a higher dose for more effective treatment of the tumor. This especially is promising when implementing what is called high-dose rate brachytherapy, as well as newer techniques such as stereotactic body radiotherapy for treatment of prostate cancer.”

While the retractor will mainly serve prostate cancer patients, it also can be applied during radiation therapy for all pelvic tumors, such as cervical, uterine, vaginal and endometrial cancers.

The award to Retractor is part of $2.25 million given by the Ohio Third Frontier Commission to develop new technologies and move them out of the lab and into the marketplace.

“Ohio’s world-class research and medical institutions are developing breakthrough technologies,” said Lydia L. Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency and chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission. “We are helping get these products to market where they can make a difference.”

The Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund provides grants to Ohio institutions of higher education and other nonprofit research institutions. The funding is to demonstrate that a technology is commercially viable through activities such as testing and prototyping. The ultimate goal is to commercialize the technologies.

Retractor is a success story for UToledo’s Launchpad Incubation program and Rocket Fuel Fund. LaunchPad Incubation provides entrepreneurial assistance, state-of-the-art facilities and valuable resources to early-stage, technology-based concepts and startup companies. The Rocket Fuel Fund is a program in the UToledo Office of Research funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to support early-stage technology development.

“We serve the community, faculty, staff and students,” Brian Genide, director of incubation and venture development at Launchpad, said. “Our team helps with the advancement of early-stage technology concepts, providing funding support for feasibility testing, proof-of-concept validation and prototyping. Our team also has proven to increase the success of grant applications.”

Launchpad Incubation is located in the Nitschke Technology Commercialization Complex. Go to the LaunchPad Incubation website for more information on how the program helps launch new businesses.

Collaborative research between colleges of Pharmacy, Natural Science and Mathematics uncovers potential cancer drug

Scientists at The University of Toledo investigating improvements to a commonly used chemotherapy drug have discovered an entirely new class of cancer-killing agents that show promise in eradicating cancer stem cells.

Their findings could prove to be a breakthrough in not only treating tumors, but ensuring cancer doesn’t return years later — giving peace of mind to patients that their illness is truly gone.

Dr. William Taylor, left, and Dr. L.M. Viranga Tillekeratne are investigating a small molecule that locks on to and kills cancer stem cells.

“Not all cancer cells are the same, even in the same tumor,” said Dr. William Taylor, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the UToledo College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “There is a lot of variability and some of the cells, like cancer stem cells, are much nastier. Everyone is trying to figure out how to kill them, and this may be one way to do it.”

Taylor and Dr. L.M. Viranga Tillekeratne, a professor in the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry in the UToledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, reported their findings in a paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Cancer stem cells are an intriguing target for researchers because of their potential to re-seed tumors.

When doctors remove a tumor surgically or target it with chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy, the cancer may appear to be gone. However, evidence suggests that a tiny subpopulation of adaptable cancer cells can remain and circulate through the body to seed new metastasis in far-off locations.

Those cancer stem cells, Taylor said, are similar to dandelions in a well-manicured lawn.

“You could chop the plant off, but it will drop a seed. You know the seeds are there, but they’re hiding,” he said. “You pull one weed out and another comes up right after it. Cancers can be like this as well.”

The small molecule they have isolated appears to lock on to those stem cells and kill them by blocking their absorption of an amino acid called cystine.

UToledo was awarded a patent for the discovery late last year.

For Tillekeratne and Taylor, uncovering a new class of therapeutic molecules could prove to be an even larger contribution to cancer research than the project they initially envisioned.

“At present, there are no drugs that can kill cancer stem cells, but people are looking for them,” Tillekeratne said. “A lot of drugs are discovered by serendipity. Sometimes in research if you get unexpected results, you welcome that because it opens up a new line of research. This also shows the beauty of collaboration. I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own, and [Taylor] wouldn’t have been able to do it on his own.”

Tillekeratne also has received a three-year, $449,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute to continue testing the effectiveness of the newly identified therapy.

Because the molecules so selectively target cancer stem cells, it’s possible they could ultimately be paired with other chemotherapy drugs to deliver a more comprehensive treatment.

However, the researchers have found their agents show stand-alone promise in treating sarcomas and a subtype of breast cancer known as claudin-low breast cancer, which represents up to 14 percent of all breast cancers and can be particularly difficult to treat.

Families invited on cruise to learn how UToledo monitors health of rivers, Lake Erie

Scientists and students at The University of Toledo work tirelessly to study the waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries in the fight against harmful algal blooms and invasive Asian carp. They also evaluate potential for reintroducing historic fish, such as sturgeon.

This summer, families are invited to board the Sandpiper and cruise the Maumee River while learning how researchers at the UToledo Lake Erie Center collect water information.

“The Maumee River may look like just a muddy river, but it’s full of life,” Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, UToledo professor of ecology and director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center, said. “We show kids how sediment and algae affect water clarity, but they also get to see the tiny, shrimp-like animals that are eating the algae and — in turn — feeding the fish that make western Lake Erie the ‘Walleye Capital of the World.’”

The two-hour “Discover the River” cruise starts at 10 a.m. every Saturday through August at the dock at Water Street and Jefferson Avenue near Promenade Park in downtown Toledo.

Admission to the 100-passenger Sandpiper is $19. Children younger than 12 are $11. Purchase tickets in advance on the Sandpiper website.

UToledo student studying suicide and opioids awarded prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Margaret Baer, a first-year doctoral student in The University of Toledo Department of Psychology, uses science to help make sense of suicide and substance use, leading causes of death in the United States.

Baer’s somber work is driven by these widespread sources of pain and unlocking new ways to ease suffering and prevent the loss of more lives.

Baer

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Baer a Graduate Research Fellowship in clinical psychology, recognizing her potential for significant research achievements.

The fellowship is worth $34,000 a year for three years. It is regarded as one of the most competitive and respected scientific fellowships in the country. This year the NSF awarded fellowships to 2,050 students around the country out of about 12,000 applications.

“I am immensely grateful for the NSF support,” said Baer, who is currently examining the link between suicide and substance abuse. “My passion is to conduct impactful, innovative research that ameliorates these large-scale public health problems. Among other studies, I hope to investigate the mechanisms underlying the co-occurrence of suicide-related behaviors and opioid misuse.”

Baer, who is from Evansville, Ind., works in the Personality and Emotion Research and Treatment Laboratory of Dr. Matthew Tull and Dr. Kim Gratz, both UToledo professors of psychology.

“Margaret is highly dedicated to conducting innovative and clinically relevant research, particularly in the areas of substance abuse and suicide,” Tull said. “I am incredibly pleased that the NSF has recognized her with this fellowship, which will provide her with even more opportunities to contribute to the field, as well as provide a foundation and resources for Margaret to build a highly impactful career.”

Baer’s own undergraduate experience at several different colleges sparked her interest in becoming a suicide researcher.

“I thought of college as a very exciting, hopeful time. I was shocked at the number of students who struggled with thoughts of suicide,” Baer said. “Kids were at their healthiest and youngest, on the cusp of exploring their extraordinary potential in higher education. It was an eye-opener. I felt the urgency of suicide prevention.”

Before arriving at UToledo in August 2018 to pursue her Ph.D., Baer worked with researchers at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

“There is great need for suicide prevention at all ages — adolescents, seniors and middle-aged adults. All may resort to risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or self-injury — cutting, for example — while also having thoughts of suicide or attempting suicide,” Baer said. “My focus right now is on substance use impacting barriers to suicide. Soon I hope to examine the relationship between negative social interactions in daily life and opioid craving.”

Since 1952, NSF has funded more than 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates.

UToledo astronomer wins observing time on Hubble after most competitive cycle in history

This summer’s 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing also marks a major life milestone for The University of Toledo astronomer who is a world leader in her particularly male-dominated field.

“I was born in 1969, two months after Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Dr. Rupali Chandar, professor of astronomy, said. “I am delighted every time the anniversary comes up in July — the moon landing epitomized the human spirit of discovery, and that same spirit drives my research to understand our universe of galaxies.”

Dr. Rupali Chandar, professor of astronomy, was awarded 40 hours of observing time with the Hubble Telescope between July and early 2020. Her work will focus on star formation in nearby galaxies.

Chandar, who studies star formation in galaxies far, far away with her feet firmly on Earth, is gearing up to once again use NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope for her research.

However, this year is extra-special for two reasons.

Chandar not only won coveted observing time in the most competitive cycle in history, she also leads the Space Telescope Users Committee.

Chandar heads the group of 12 astrophysicists from around the world who act as the direct interface between astronomers who want to use the telescope and top-level management of the Hubble project. Committee members hail from places with prestigious astronomical communities such as Harvard and Arizona State, as well as Paris, Spain and Italy.

She is the second UToledo astronomer to lead this powerful committee. Dr. Michael Cushing, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and director of Ritter Planetarium, led the committee in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s unusual for one university to have had more than one representative in the group — let alone two people who have led the committee’s work,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, interim provost and Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy. “Dr. Chandar is a shining star for women in science and contributes significantly to The University of Toledo’s research excellence in astronomy and astrophysics.”

Even as a child, Dr. Rupali Chandar was looking skyward. She was born two months after the Apollo moon landing and is shown in this photo with her mother, Sneh Chandar.

Every year astronomers around the world vie for precious minutes of Hubble’s view of unfathomably distant celestial targets. It is NASA’s flagship space telescope.

“I’ve used Hubble data from the beginning of my career, and this cycle was the most challenging one in my experience, with only one in 12 proposals being successful,” Chandar said. “I am thrilled that my proposal was approved.”

As head of the Space Telescope Users Committee, she helped implement the dual-anonymous selection process that debuted this cycle, which means the names of the proposers and reviewers are made known only after the review process is complete.

“Hubble is leading the way in emphasizing the science and ideas that are proposed, and not who is doing the proposing,” Chandar said. “Although it’s too early to tell, this double-blind review process has the potential to reduce inherent bias.”

Chandar, a mother of two who joined the UToledo faculty in 2007, was awarded approximately 40 hours of observing time spread out between July and early 2020. Her work will help understand star formation in some of the most intensely star-forming galaxies found in the nearby universe.

And by nearby, she means those 130 million to 300 million light years away.

These galaxies are generating stars at a pace about 100 times faster than the Milky Way.

“In the modern-day nearby universe, most galaxies form stars at a modest rate,” Chandar said. “I will be observing a sample of the few actively merging, nearby galaxies that have rates of star formation that are as high as galaxies in the early universe. Studying them gives us insight into what was happening when the universe was young and galaxies were just starting to form.”

Astronomers can’t study details of star formation in early galaxies because they’re too far away. We’re talking billions and billions of light years.

However, astronomers believe new, more powerful telescopes in the pipeline, like the James Webb Space Telescope, will make it possible to study the evolution of the earliest stars in greater detail than ever before.

As Chandar looks ahead to the next 50 years of space exploration, it’s vitally important for her to inspire children, especially girls, to take the step toward science.

“Girls in elementary school are just as interested in science as boys. It’s alarming how much that changes during middle school,” Chandar said. “When I was in fifth and sixth grades, I read about the formation of the solar system and wrote reports about black holes, but I didn’t think you could do astronomy as a career until I took a class during my sophomore year of college.”

She ended up earning her Ph.D. in astrophysics at Johns Hopkins University in 2000.

“Good professors make a difference,” Chandar said. “Without many female astronomers around, my mentors have been almost exclusively men. Their support has been critical for achieving my dream career.”

Chandar has one more connection to the moon landing, besides being born in 1969.

“I was lucky enough to hear Neil Armstrong’s last public address at the July 21, 2012, First Light Gala to celebrate the debut of the Discovery Channel Telescope when The University of Toledo joined as a scientific partner,” Chandar said. “We were all devastated when Neil died just a few weeks after that.”

As part of the partnership, UToledo students and researchers use the Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona to collect data on a wide variety of objects, from the closest failed stars known as brown dwarfs to star-forming regions within our own galaxy to more distant merging galaxies.

The 4.3-meter telescope located south of Flagstaff overlooks the Verde Valley and is the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States and one of the most technologically advanced.

The Discovery Channel Telescope partnership has been a boon to UToledo astronomers and helped put the astronomy department on the map.

“It’s another powerful tool at our fingertips to continue NASA’s mission and push technology to new frontiers over the next 50 years,” Chandar said.

UToledo scholar awarded Fulbright to Sudan for next academic year

Dr. Asma Abdel Halim’s quarter century of research questioning the breach and progress of Muslim women’s human rights is personal.

Her own life experience fuels her life’s work to protect Muslim women worldwide for generations to come.

Abdel Halim

The next leg of her journey takes her back to her native Sudan, a place Abdel Halim describes as “a country that has always subjected women to a version of Islamic law that is fashioned according to the political mood of the government.”

The prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar program selected The University of Toledo faculty member focused on women’s rights under religious laws to travel to Sub-Saharan Africa for the 2019-20 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar.

Abdel Halim, associate professor in the UToledo Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, and director of the Center of the Muslim Woman, will study the history of gender effects on Sudanese law, produce ideas for reform, and teach a class on gender and the law at her alma mater, the University of Khartoum.

“As a Muslim woman joining other Muslim women in researching Islamic laws and critiquing centuries of patriarchal dominance, I find it necessary to explore women’s history, rights and developments because I am determined to address gendered laws and how to combat their effects,” Abdel Halim said.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar program within the U.S. Department of State has worked to improve intercultural relations and diplomacy through national fellowship. The program in Sudan was suspended in 1992 after the U.S. issued an embargo on relations with the country and was reinstated two years ago after President Trump lifted U.S. sanctions.

“As Dr. Asma Abdel Halim travels around the world sharing her knowledge, insight and experience, she helps raise awareness about problems and protections of women living under Muslim laws,” Dr. Sharon Barnes, associate professor and chair in the UToledo Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, said. “Her outstanding scholarship consistently brings great prestige to The University of Toledo. While we will miss her at home, we are proud the Fulbright program has recognized her forward-thinking work on international women’s issues.”

Abdel Halim, a faculty member at UToledo for 15 years, graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Khartoum with a bachelor’s degree in 1980 and a master’s degree in 1988.

“As a student there, I never encountered gender in any of the courses,” Abdel Halim said. “My experience studying and teaching in the United States proved that gender as a tool of analysis is vital in studying law.”

Abdel Halim, who earned her Ph.D. at Ohio University, said actions of extremists lead many to question the tenets of Islam and the religion’s commitment to equality.

“Religious interpretations are being misused to strengthen conservative stances regarding the curbing of human rights,” Abdel Halim said. “Old traditions of favoring men because of their participation in war lead to the subjugation of women to the authority of male guardians.”

Abdel Halim plans to write a book after accessing old Shari’a sources, such as treaties written by scholars centuries ago and still considered the main source of Islamic rules today. She also plans to delve into the era of Mahdiyya uprisings and older archives.

“The intersection of religion and gender seems to be working against women where legislation is concerned,” Abdel Halim said. “Ideological traditions find safety in regression to old traditions rather than in change. I plan to follow the historical events of the recent history of the Sudan and look closely to the history of women in the country and understand why developments in legislation go back and forth. I also will examine how the intersection of gender and religion seems to always end in the defeat of women’s rights in favor of archaic religious norms.”

Inexpensive agricultural waste product can remove microcystin from water, new UToledo research finds

Scientists at The University of Toledo have discovered that rice husks can effectively remove microcystin from water, a finding that could have far-reaching implications for communities along the Great Lakes and across the developing world.

An abundant and inexpensive agricultural byproduct, rice husks have been investigated as a water purification solution in the past. However, this is the first time they have been shown to remove microcystin, the toxin released by harmful algal blooms.

Dr. Jon Kirchhoff, right, Dr. Dragan Isailovic, center, and doctoral student David Baliu-Rodriguez have published a paper, along with UToledo graduates, Dr. Dilrukshika Palagama and Dr. Amila Devasurendra, about using rice husks to remove microcystin from water.

The results of the study were recently published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Delivering safe water is critical, and finding an economically viable solution to deliver safe water to people all over the world is going to be really important. The ability of this simple material to be powerful enough to address this issue is impressive,” said Dr. Jon Kirchhoff, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.

The research, led by Kirchhoff and Dr. Dragan Isailovic, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, used organic rice husks that were treated with hydrochloric acid and heated to 250 degrees Celsius.

The rice husks were then dispersed in a series of water samples collected from Lake Erie during the 2017 harmful algal bloom to measure how much of the toxin they could absorb.

UToledo researchers say rice husks are effective at removing microcystin from water. In addition, the rice husks are economical and, after soaking up microcystin, can be heated to destroy the toxins and create silica particles that can be used for other applications.

Researchers found the rice husks removed more than 95 percent of microcystin MC-LR — the most common type found in Lake Erie — in concentrations of up to 596 parts per billion (ppb). Even in concentrations approaching 3,000 ppb, more than 70 percent of the MC-LR was removed, and other types of MCs were removed as well.

“We looked at the removal of microcystins from real environmental samples and the material has performed really well,” Isailovic said. “We are talking about extremely high concentrations of microcystins originating from cyanobacterial cells. Normally during summer, we have much, much lower concentrations in Lake Erie.”

Devasurendra

The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends a 10-day drinking water guideline that young children not drink water containing more than a total of 0.3 ppb of microcystin and school-age children and adults not drink water containing more than a total of 1.6 ppb of microcystin.

Beyond their effectiveness, rice husks have a number of other appealing attributes. They’re cheap — researchers paid $14.50 for half a cubic foot, and buying in bulk would bring that price down significantly — and they’re able to be repurposed.

Heating microcystin-laden rice husks to 560 degrees Celsius destroys the toxins and produces silica particles, which can be used in other applications.

Palagama

The researchers are hopeful their discovery could be scaled up beyond the lab to develop a more environmentally friendly method for treating water that has been contaminated by harmful algal blooms or cheap but effective filtration systems for the developing world.

“We could potentially use this readily available material to purify water before it even gets into Lake Erie,” Isailovic said. “There are engineering solutions that need to be done, but one of our dreams is to apply what we develop in our labs to provide safe drinking water.”

Other authors of the study were doctoral students Dr. Dilrukshika Palagama and Dr. Amila Devasurendra, who first proposed looking at rice husks as a way to remove microcystin and have since graduated from UToledo, and current doctoral student David Baliu-Rodriguez.

UToledo researcher using drones to measure algal blooms to speak May 23 at National Museum of the Great Lakes

Determined to protect drinking water and avert another water crisis, a scientist at The University of Toledo deploys drones to snap a quick assessment of water quality during algal bloom season, no boat or satellite required.

Dr. Richard Becker, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, will give a presentation titled “Using Drones to Answer Questions in Environmental Science” Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m. at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, located at 1701 Front St. in Toledo.

Dr. Richard Becker uses drones to help monitor water quality during algal bloom season.

The researcher will discuss his use of low-flying unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the health of Lake Erie.

The free, public event is the final presentation in the 2018-19 UToledo Lake Erie Center Lecture Series.

“As remote sensing technology advances, monitoring lakes using satellites, aircraft and drones is becoming more effective,” Dr. Tom Bridgeman, professor of ecology and director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center, said. “Dr. Becker’s research in coupling remote sensing data with boat-based water monitoring has improved the accuracy of harmful algal bloom assessments. Also, his research to develop drones as inexpensive tools to measure algal blooms is helping to fill a gap left by more expensive methods.”

A shuttle will be available to transport visitors from UToledo’s Main Campus to the National Museum of the Great Lakes and back. The shuttle will depart at 6:15 p.m. from the south side of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories. Passengers must reserve a spot by Tuesday, May 21.

Email lakeeriecenter@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.8360 to make a reservation for the shuttle.

UToledo public health expert awarded Fulbright grant to Taiwan

A University of Toledo public health expert will spend six weeks in Taiwan this spring to help one of that country’s top universities internationalize its public health curriculum.

Dr. Jiunn-Jye Sheu, a professor in the College of Health and Human Services’ School of Population Health, received a Fulbright Specialist Award to advance global health initiatives.

Dr. Jiunn-Jye Sheu showed off his Fulbright Specialist Award. He leaves this week for National Taiwan Normal University, where he will help revise and refine its public health curriculum.

The trip to National Taiwan Normal University in May will be his first as part of the Fulbright program.

“To become a Fulbright Specialist or Scholar really comes with enthusiasm. We have so many qualified, outstanding faculty at The University of Toledo, and I’m very proud and pleased to have been selected,” Sheu said. “I think it’s meaningful I’m able to make such a contribution to help people in Taiwan and the United States.”

He will provide guidance to National Taiwan Normal University, which is working to revise and refine its public health curriculum to meet the same standards set by the accrediting body in the U.S.

Sheu, who earned his bachelor’s degree at National Taiwan Normal University, also will help the school toward its goal of adding more English-instructed courses.

Taiwan has a robust health-care system, but as a fully developed country, residents face many of the same chronic health threats as the United States — heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke are among the 10 leading causes of death.

“Good patient education can prevent unnecessary costs in health care,” he said. “Unfortunately, patient education has not been mandated in Taiwan or the U.S. I want to investigate in collaboration with Taiwan scholars how they work patient education into the national health insurance system and how that is effective and efficient.”

Much of Sheu’s research work is focused on quantitative analysis of public health data, particularly on youth risk behaviors and the ways in which patients and health-care providers make choices that influence care.

Recently, using path modeling, he worked with Dr. Colleen Taylor, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, to investigate the factors that go into how nurses make decisions about administering pain medication in patients recovering from operations. The study was named the 2017 best research paper of the year by the journal Orthopaedic Nursing.

Sheu also collaborated on soon-to-be-published research into how pregnant women adhere to prenatal care recommendations and the health protective behaviors of women who had gestational diabetes.

“These types of studies provide a better understanding about how people make their decisions and how people act in terms of their health-related behaviors,” he said. “We’ve always known their stated reasons, but without this technique, we don’t know how those reasons interact with each other and which are direct and indirect influences.”