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U.S. Department of Energy Invests $5.7 Million in UToledo Solar Technology Research

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded The University of Toledo $5.7 million for two solar energy technology research projects.

Both projects involve the University collaborating with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and First Solar, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of solar cells and a company that originated in UToledo laboratories.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur shook hands with Dr. Yanfa Yan at a Nov. 6 press conference to announce the U.S. Department of Energy awarded The University of Toledo $5.7 million for two solar energy technology research projects.

It’s part of $128 million in grant funding the federal agency announced today it is awarding to 75 research projects across the country to advance solar technologies that will lower solar electricity costs while working to boost solar manufacturing, reduce red tape, and make solar systems more resilient to cyberattacks.

Media are invited to a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 2:30 p.m. in the UToledo Research and Technology Complex Room 1010. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Dr. Frank Calzonetti, UToledo vice president of research, will speak at the event.

The total federal funding awarded to northern Ohio today is $11 million with the addition of $3 million to Eaton Corp. near Cleveland. Representatives from Eaton are scheduled to attend the news conference at UToledo.

“Advancing global leadership in solar energy technology continues to be a critical focus of the University, and we are proud of the incredible progress and determination of our researchers,” Calzonetti said. “In the last few months alone, nearly $14 million in competitive federal funding has now been awarded to faculty and students working on cutting-edge solar technology in the UToledo Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization. Providing a strong research underpinning of our region’s solar energy industry is central to our mission.”

“Investments from the Department of Energy are yielding real results for ensuring a competitive 21st-century solar industry right here in northern Ohio,” Kaptur said. “Today’s competitively awarded grants highlight and support northern Ohio’s important role in the research and development of solar technology. Solar technology will be a monumental part of our economic and clean energy future, not only as a region, but as a nation and as a planet. Innovative institutions, including The University of Toledo and Eaton Corporation, both of which are national leaders in photovoltaics research, are moving the ball forward. As the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, I will continue to prioritize Department of Energy programs that fund these important programs and grant opportunities.”

Building on its more than 30-year history advancing solar technology to power the world using clean energy, UToledo is pushing the performance of solar cells to levels never before reached.

The Department of Energy awarded UToledo $4.5 million to develop the next-generation solar panel by bringing a new, ultra-high efficiency material to the consumer market.

As part of the project, UToledo will work with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and First Solar to develop industrially relevant methods for both the fabrication and performance prediction of low-cost, efficient and stable perovskite thin-film PV modules.

Perovskites are compound materials with a special crystal structure formed through chemistry.

Dr. Yanfa Yan, UToledo professor of physics, Ohio Research Scholar Chair and leader of the project, has had great success in the lab drawing record levels of power from the same amount of sunlight by using two perovskites on top of each other that use two different parts of the sun’s spectrum on very thin, flexible supporting material.

Yan’s efforts have increased the efficiency of the new solar cell to about 23%.

“We are producing higher-efficiency, lower-cost solar cells that show great promise to help solve the world energy crisis,” Yan said. “The meaningful work will help protect our planet for our children and future generations.”

The Department of Energy also announced an award of $3.5 million to Colorado State University to work with UToledo, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, First Solar and the University of Illinois at Chicago on a project to improve the voltage produced by cadmium-telluride-based solar cells. The amount of the award in this project going to The University of Toledo is approximately $1.2 million. UToledo’s leader on this project is Dr. Michael Heben, UToledo professor of physics and McMaster Endowed Chair.

The grants come after the Department of Energy selected UToledo to host National Lab Day, which last month connected students and researchers with preeminent scientists from world-class facilities across the country to explore opportunities for additional partnerships.

This summer the U.S. Air Force awarded UToledo physicists $7.4 million to develop solar technology that is lightweight, flexible, highly efficient and durable in space so it can provide power for space vehicles using sunlight.

The U.S. Department of Energy also recently awarded UToledo physicists $750,000 to improve the production of hydrogen as fuel, using clean energy — solar power — to split the water molecule and create clean energy — hydrogen fuel.

Report Examines State Progress in Implementing Great Lakes Compact

The University of Toledo College of Law’s Legal Institute of the Great Lakes released a new report assessing the progress each of the eight Great Lakes states has made in implementing the terms of the 2008 interstate compact that ushered in a new era of water management and conservation in the Great Lakes region.

While the overall assessment is positive, the report identifies critical areas for improvement within each state.

Ken Kilbert, UToledo professor of law and director of the Legal Institute of the Great Lakes, is the principal author of the white paper titled An Assessment of the Great Lakes States’ Implementation of the Water Management and Conservation Provisions of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.” The report provides a state-by-state assessment of how Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are carrying out the water management, conservation and efficiency provisions of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

Forrest Miller, a third-year UToledo law student, and Aubrey Merkle, a second-year UToledo law student, are co-authors of the white paper. This project afforded them the opportunity to enhance their substantive knowledge of water law and related fields, as well as their legal research, writing and analytical skills.

The report is particularly timely. This December, each state is required to report on its implementation of water management, conservation and efficiency programs under the compact. The states’ reports are subject to review by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council, which will determine whether state programs meet compact provisions and will make recommendations to those that do not.

“The compact not only banned most new diversions of water outside the Great Lakes basin, it also required the states to undertake stronger programs for management and conservation of waters within the basin,” Kilbert said. “In order to fulfill the promise of the compact, it is essential that the states carry out their obligations to implement its terms.”

The Legal Institute of the Great Lakes is a multidisciplinary research center within the College of Law. The research project was funded by a grant from the Joyce Foundation.

Kilbert joined UToledo College of Law faculty in 2006. He teaches environmental law, natural resources law, administrative law, civil procedure and water law. As director of the institute, Kilbert organizes the annual Great Lakes Water Conference, which this year is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 8.

UToledo to Collaborate With Oak Ridge National Laboratory on Automotive Materials Research

Lightweight materials are critical for advancing the energy efficiency and range of electric vehicles.

The University of Toledo and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee signed a memorandum of understanding Oct. 9 to team up for collaborative research into the advanced design and manufacturing of lightweight, strong, intelligent materials for the automotive industry.

Dr. Frank Calzonetti, UToledo vice president for research, left, and Dr. Moe Khaleel, associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, signed a memorandum of understanding for their institutions to team up to research, design and manufacture lightweight, strong, intelligent materials for the automotive industry.

The partnership will play a key role in developing new processes to produce alloys and metals, as well as enhance northwest Ohio’s leadership in research, innovation, development and production in the automotive industry.

“We are proud to collaborate with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on this critical research to drive the next generation of automotive manufacturing,” said Dr. Mike Toole, dean of the UToledo College of Engineering. “Our partnership teaming innovative mechanical engineers at UToledo with some of the country’s preeminent scientists will focus on finding solutions to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader. The research will have spillover from the national level to the regional level.”

The researchers plan to engage with the automotive industry in Ohio and Michigan as they combine ORNL’s expertise and capabilities in manufacturing, carbon fiber and composites, machining, energy storage, and metrology with UToledo’s expertise in manufacturing system modeling, metals engineering and assembly systems.

“This partnership will develop technological solutions to enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. automotive manufacturing sector,” said Dr. Moe Khaleel, associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences at ORNL. “ORNL is looking forward to providing access to its research facilities, along with expertise and guidance in advanced materials and manufacturing to the University in this valuable partnership.”

The collaboration will focus on monitoring and control systems for metal forming processes; optimizing joining techniques for high-strength materials such as steel, aluminum and composites; and exploring the combination of new materials such as shape-memory alloys with additive manufacturing to create strong, resilient, active structures for vehicle applications.

ORNL provides researchers with sophisticated equipment and unique facilities to solve some of the nation’s most compelling challenges. As the largest U.S. Department of Energy open science laboratory, ORNL’s mission is to deliver scientific discoveries and technical breakthroughs that will accelerate the development and deployment of solutions in clean energy and global security while creating economic opportunities for the nation.

The University of Toledo also is a member of another organization that closely interacts with the U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), which includes more than 100 Ph.D.-granting institutions as its members. ORAU works with the U.S. Department of Energy and other agencies in providing scientific and technical solutions to a wide range of topics as well as supporting science education and workforce development.

Later this week, UToledo will host for the first time National Lab Day to connect students and researchers with scientists from DOE national laboratories across the country and explore opportunities for additional partnerships.

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

UToledo Part of Team Awarded Federal Grant to Test Portable Device That Measures Algal Bloom Toxins

The University of Toledo is part of a regional team of scientists awarded a $408,371 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test a new, compact, lightweight, hand-held tool that rapidly measures algal bloom toxin levels and to integrate the device with current monitoring systems.

The three-year grant is one of 12 totaling $10.2 million that NOAA announced it is allocating across the country to protect marine resources, public health and coastal economies from exposure to harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Dr. Tom Bridgeman examined a water sample aboard the UToledo Lake Erie Center research vessel.

“Through the National Centers for Ocean Science, NOAA is funding the latest scientific research to support environmental managers trying to cope with increasing and recurring toxic algae that continue to affect environmental and human health and coastal economies,” said Dr. Steven Thur, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. “Improved understanding of these coastal HAB threats will lead to better bloom observation and prediction, and help to mitigate effects along the U.S. coast.”

Dr. Tom Bridgeman, director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center and professor of ecology, said the device could provide water treatment plant managers, beach managers and others along Lake Erie and around the world with rapid measurements of algal toxins in order to make timely decisions about treating water or beach use during the algal bloom season.

“If the new technology proves to be reliable, it would provide a significant advance in public safety,” Bridgeman said. “Instead of sending a water sample off to a laboratory and waiting a few days for an answer, a beach manager, charter captain or water treatment professional could use the device to get an accurate measurement of toxin levels right on the spot.

“An additional advantage is that no special skills or training are needed to use the device. This project is about testing the device against the current standard lab methods of measuring toxin, determining whether non-experts can produce reliable measurements with it, and then getting it into the hands of people who can make the best use of it.”

UToledo’s partners in the grant include Bowling Green State University, Ohio State University, University of Michigan Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, LimnoTech Inc., MBIO Diagnostics Inc., NOAA and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

According to the award, the project, which has a total anticipated funding of $876,843, will pilot use of a commercially available, rapid, portable system capable of quantitative detection of cyanobacterial toxins, cylindrospermopsins and microcystins. This system will be integrated into existing monitoring programs that engage recreational beach managers, water treatment plant operators, charter boat captains and state environmental scientists. The researchers will analyze and determine the system’s accuracy.

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.

Regional Biological Sciences Conference Blends Art, Discovery

Cytoskeletons serve as the internal frame for individual cells, providing the structural support that allows a wide variety of essential cellular functions to happen.

Under the right light and magnification, cytoskeletons also can be incredibly beautiful.

UToledo student Savanna Hudson created this work; the faces of the people are made of images of cells from humans and other organisms, emphasizing the correlation of everything alive in nature being made of the same basic unit.

On Friday, Sept. 27, The University of Toledo will host the third annual CellulART, a regional scientific meeting that blends cutting-edge cytoskeleton research and art.

“In the cytoskeletal field, you’re constantly trying to think about what’s the best or most aesthetically pleasing way you can present your research,” said Maura Graves, a doctoral student in the UToledo Department of Biological Sciences. “In a way, you have to think like an artist. What’s the most beautiful way you can take this image from microscopy and engage with your audience?”

Graves is the lead organizer for this year’s event, working alongside fellow biological sciences doctoral students Sushil Khanal and Debatrayee Sinha.

The event will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. in the Center for the Visual Arts on the University’s Toledo Museum of Art Campus.

Like most scientific meetings, CellulART features a series of lectures and poster presentations. Unique to this event is the addition of artwork created by both cytoskeletal researchers and UToledo art students who have reinterpreted scientific data and images.

Fifteen regional universities are participating, including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Loyola and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This year’s keynote speaker at 1 p.m. is Dr. Bruce Goode, professor of biology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., who is widely recognized as one of the country’s preeminent cytoskeletal researchers.

“Dr. Goode is at the forefront of his field. He’s pushing the limits in a lot of different ways, not only in the nature of his discoveries, but also in the technology he’s using. He’s one of the world leaders of the new generation of cytoskeleton researchers,” said Dr. Rafael Garcia-Mata, UToledo associate professor of biological sciences and one of the event creators.

The event also will feature a presentation and artwork by Dr. Ahna Skop, a professor in the Department of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Event sponsors include the American Society for Cell Biology, the Journal of Cell Science, Thermo Fisher Scientific, New England Biolabs, Ibidi and Cytokeleton Inc.

For more information, visit the CellulART website.

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.

Study May Unlock New Diagnostic Tools for Fainting Disorder

New research from The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences strongly suggests postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, is an autoimmune disorder and may help pave the way for a simple blood test that could help physicians diagnose the condition.

POTS is characterized by large increases in heart rate and sometimes decreases in blood pressure when standing up. That can cause lightheadedness, heart palpitations and even loss of consciousness. In addition to fainting, POTS patients also regularly suffer from a litany of additional symptoms, including fatigue, pain, gastrointestinal issues, bleeding disorders, anxiety and brain fog.

About 3 million Americans are believed to be affected, but because of its wide-ranging and seemingly unrelated symptoms, POTS is notoriously difficult to identify.

Grubb

“The trouble with diagnosing POTS is that it’s currently principally a clinical diagnosis. It’s based on history, the absence of other illness, as well as the finding of increase in heart rate when standing. There is no blood test right now to aid in the diagnosis. It can be an incredibly frustrating process for patients,” said Dr. Blair Grubb, Distinguished University Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences and director of electrophysiology services at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

In the largest study of POTS patients to date, published Sept. 9 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Grubb and UToledo research collaborators found 89 percent of patients they examined had elevated levels of autoantibodies against the adrenergic alpha 1 receptor.

“People have suspected an autoimmune connection for years, and other small-scale studies have suggested it,” said Grubb, one of the world’s foremost experts in syncope and disorders of the autonomic nervous system. “We did a much larger cross-section of patients than has ever been done before and found that almost all of them tested positive for autoimmune antibodies. That’s a significant finding.”

None of the 55 patients who participated in the study had another recognized autoimmune disorder. Fifty-two were female, with an average age of 30.

Researchers screened the patients’ blood for autoantibodies against nine receptors. A handful of patients showed elevated levels against all nine. But it was the prevalence of adrenergic A1 subtype receptor autoantibodies that make their findings so intriguing.

Gunning

“I think that we have identified a biomarker. We now might have the ability to diagnosis this, or at least have an inkling. Like other autoimmune disease, we can take a blood sample and detect if there are increased levels of autoantibodies present. According to our results, autoantibodies against this particular receptor should be present in about 90 percent of patients with POTS,” said Dr. William Gunning, a professor of pathology in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and the paper’s lead author.

Gunning and Grubb say much more research is needed. However, this study adds significantly to the evidence that POTS is an autoimmune disorder — and it shows it may be possible to give physicians unfamiliar with the condition an easy way to test for it.

“What this does is prove the concept,” Grubb said. “Other studies had used very expensive research tests. What we used are the same kind of testing methods that would be used by regular hospitals. We wanted to do something that would potentially be a test applicable to the general population, not just a research test.”

While Gunning and Grubb caution they’re still investigating the precise methods by which POTS is established, their study does raise the possibility that existing immune modulating medications could be a viable therapeutic method for some patients.

The study was supported by funding from the Dysautonomia Advocacy Foundation, the Life as a Zebra Foundation, and the Virginia Lounsbury Foundation.