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UToledo to Maintain Critical Research Operations Only

The University of Toledo, in adherence to the Ohio Department of Health’s recent Stay at Home Order, will restrict research operations to critical research and related essential functions beginning Tuesday, March 24.

Critical research is defined as activity that if discontinued would generate significant data and sample loss; pose a safety hazard; or negatively impact the patient’s care. This includes coronavirus-related activity that has a timeline for deployment that could address the crisis and activity in support of essential human subject research. In addition, this also includes activity that maintains critical equipment in facilities and laboratories; critical samples, reagents and materials; animal populations; and critically needed plant populations, tissue cultures, bacteria, archaea and other living organisms.

Last week UToledo researchers were advised to begin planning for significant disruptions to routine operations. Those plans identified critical research functions and associated essential research personnel for those functions.

From UToledo to NASA, Recent Graduate’s Discovery Sheds New Light on Newborn Stars

Making her dreams come true, a recent graduate of The University of Toledo’s physics program is in the midst of a sky-rocketing year.

Dr. Nicole Karnath earned her Ph.D. last summer and quickly moved to California to serve as instrument scientist at the SOFIA Science Center, which is based in NASA Ames Research Center, where she flies regularly aboard the world’s largest airborne observatory.

Dr. Nicole Karnath, UToledo alumna and instrument scientist at the SOFIA Science Center in California, stands in front of SOFIA, the world’s largest airborne observatory.

On top of her already soaring career success, this week the Astrophysical Journal published Karnath’s research completed while she was a UToledo student, sharing her discovery that reflects a new understanding of what happens at the early stages of star formation.

She credits her student research and the support of her advisor, Dr. Tom Megeath, UToledo astronomy professor, for the job offer from NASA before she had her diploma.

“I am very happy. I enjoy the science, and I love studying the universe,” Karnath said. “Astronomy is an international, collaborative field because we’re working on telescopes all over the world and taking in huge amounts of data. The opportunities are there for students to break in. UToledo astronomy professors know so many people all over the world. Take advantage of their expertise, connections and need for help analyzing data. That’s how I ended up here.”

“Nicole made one of the most exciting discoveries to come out of our UToledo star formation group,” Megeath said. “Just as a talent agent’s biggest dream is to find the actor or actress who will become the next star, for an astronomer, the dream is to find the blob of gas that’s in the process of becoming a star. Nicole has found four such blobs — collapsing gas clouds that are in the first 6,000 years of forming what is called protostar. In ‘star years,’ this is the first 30 minutes of their lives.”

While a graduate student at UToledo, Karnath was part of an international team of astronomers who used two of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world to create more than 300 images of planet-forming disks around very young stars in the Orion molecular clouds.

Pointing both the Very Large Array (VLA) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to the region in space where many stars are born, the result is the largest survey to date of young stars, called protostars, and their protoplanetary disks, or planets born in rings of dust and gas.

Among the hundreds of survey images, four protostars looked different than the rest and caught Karnath’s attention.

“These newborn stars looked very irregular and blobby,” Karnath said. “We think that they are in one of the earliest stages of star formation and some may not even have formed into protostars yet.”

It is significant that the scientists discovered four of these objects, which Karnath estimates to be younger than 10,000 years old.

“We rarely find more than one such irregular object in one observation,” said Karnath, who used these four infant stars to propose a schematic pathway for the earliest stages of star formation.

To be defined as a typical protostar, stars should not only have a flattened rotating disk surrounding them, but also an outflow — spewing away material in opposite directions — that clears the dense cloud surrounding the stars and makes them optically visible. This outflow is important because it prevents stars from spinning out of control while they grow. But when exactly these outflows start to happen is an open question in astronomy.

One of the infant stars in this study, called HOPS 404, has an outflow velocity of only 2 kilometers per second, or 1.2 miles per second. A typical protostar outflow has a range of 10 to 100 kilometers per second, or 6 to 62 miles per second.

“It is a big puffy sun that is still gathering a lot of mass, but just started its outflow to lose angular momentum to be able to keep growing,” Karnath said. “This is one of the smallest outflows that we have seen, and it supports our theory of what the first step in forming a protostar looks like.”

“These very young protostars don’t match existing theory very well, meaning that we still have a lot to learn from future studies,” Megeath said.

This schematic shows a proposed pathway, top row, for the formation of protostars, based on four very young protostars, bottom row, observed by Very Large Array (orange) and Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) (blue). Step 1 represents the collapsing fragment of gas and dust. In step 2, an opaque region starts to form in the cloud. In step 3, a hydrostatic core starts to form due to an increase in pressure and temperature, surrounded by a disk-like structure and the beginning of an outflow. Step 4 depicts the formation of a class 0 protostar inside the opaque region, which may have a rotationally supported disk and more well-defined outflows. Step 5 is a typical class 0 protostar with outflows that have broken through the envelope — making it optically visible — an actively accreting, rotationally supported disk. In the bottom row, white contours are the protostar outflows as seen with ALMA. This image is courtesy of ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), N. Karnath, and NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton and S. Dagnello.

Karnath’s stellar work continues in California at the SOFIA Science Center. SOFIA is a flying observatory made out of a modified Boeing 747, capable of making observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes.

SOFIA, which stands for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center and under contract with the Universities Space Research Association.

As an instrument scientist, Karnath is responsible for one of five instruments rotated on and off the telescope on the plane, depending on the type of data astronomers are looking to gather.

“I work on an instrument called FORCAST. It’s an imaging instrument and also a spectrometer,” Karnath said. “I’m up there making sure we’re getting the filters needed or the different wavelengths, or looking at a certain target for the right amount of time, and also troubleshooting issues.”

Karnath also is using SOFIA to continue her own research. She submitted a proposal and was awarded observation time on SOFIA scheduled for February 2021.

The curiosity and determination that first fueled her journey as a little girl still powers this successful woman in science today.

“My dad was an amateur astronomer who had a telescope and regularly had me looking at Saturn or a meteor shower,” Karnath said. “I thought astronomy was the most fascinating subject I ever studied. In high school I enjoyed physics and learned that you could make a living off of this. I never looked back, and I’m so lucky that I still love it.”

Karnath said she couldn’t have accomplished so much so soon without the support of Megeath, the UToledo astronomy program, and past advisors at Lowell Observatory and Ohio State University.

“The best part of my job is handing over astronomical data from a cutting-edge observatory, such as the Spitzer Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope, ALMA, or the Lowell Discovery Telescope, to a graduate student and seeing the discoveries they make from the data. They never know exactly what they will find,” Megeath said.

“In Nicole’s case, she did an extraordinary job working with an international team spanning three continents and involving universities and institutes across the U.S., Chile and Spain. She combined data from two of the most powerful radio telescopes on Earth to discover these objects. The exciting part is that every discovery brings new mysteries to solve.”

Prior to UToledo, Karnath earned a master’s in applied physics from Northern Arizona University and a bachelor’s in physics and astronomy from Ohio State University.

UToledo is a member of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, a prestigious consortium of 47 U.S. institutions and three international affiliates that operates world-class astronomical observatories for the National Science Foundation and NASA.

Vaccine Researchers Awarded $2.3 Million to Explore Preventing Drug-Resistant Infection

A multidisciplinary research group at The University of Toledo has been awarded $2.3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a vaccine against a bacterial infection that, once established, is nearly impossible to eradicate.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacterium that is generally harmless to healthy individuals. However, in people with compromised immune systems or specific conditions such as cystic fibrosis, it can be deadly.

Dr. Katherine Wall, professor and chair of medicinal and biological chemistry, and Dr. Steven Sucheck, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, have received a $2.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop a vaccine for Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Chronic lung infections, including those caused by drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, are the leading cause of death in cystic fibrosis. For example, 60% of individuals with cystic fibrosis experience such an infection, which is often chronic and leads to serious morbidity or mortality. In addition, ventilator-associated pneumonia represents a serious, and often deadly, hospital-acquired infection most commonly caused by infections from the bacterium.

“Pseudomonas, and many other bacteria, are becoming increasingly resistant to even the best currently available antibiotics. It’s a major source of hospital-acquired infections and has a high mortality rate,” said Dr. Katherine Wall, professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and principal investigator on the NIH grant. “The infection is very hard to get rid of once it gets established.”

The Word Health Organization recently placed the bacterium among the most critical antibiotic-resistant pathogens, particularly because of the threat it poses in healthcare settings. In the United States alone, more than 32,000 infections of multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa occurred in hospitalized patients in 2017, causing an estimated 2,700 deaths. Thousands more deaths occurred worldwide. In addition to lung infections, Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause serious blood infections.

Researchers have been working on vaccines targeting the bacterial infection for decades, but as development of new antibiotics lags, preventing the infection has taken on a new urgency.

A 2016 report commissioned by the British government, for example, found antimicrobial resistance could cause up to 10 million annual deaths and cost $100 trillion in economic damages by the year 2050.

The five-year NIH grant, which comes through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will fund UToledo research aimed at developing new methods for creating synthetic vaccines and a workable vaccine that could protect against Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

“There have been many attempts to make protein and carbohydrate vaccines. One thing that is unique about this project is that we are combining well-defined organism-specific carbohydrate antigens with organism-specific protein antigens,” said Dr. Steven Sucheck, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and lead principal investigator on the grant.

Antigens are the toxins from a bacteria or virus that trigger the body’s immune response.

“In this work, we combine a synthetic carbohydrate antigen with organism-specific protein antigens to increase the antigen coverage,” Sucheck said. “If the strategy is successful, it greatly expands the potential applications of synthetic carbohydrates in vaccines.”

Many of the common vaccines we receive in childhood, such as chicken pox and polio, are manufactured with dead, weakened or altered pathogens to generate immunity to the infection.

Synthetic carbohydrate vaccines instead use complex chemistry to create well-defined carbohydrate antigens that can be conjugated with proteins to create a vaccine.

Sucheck and Wall have been collaborating on vaccine development for more than a decade, beginning with a project to develop synthetic vaccines to help the body’s natural immune system better engage against cancer cells.

The new Pseudomonas aeruginosa project, which also includes Dr. Erin Prestwich, assistant professor in the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, is a significant expansion of that, taking the basic vaccine development platform and shifting its target to bacteria rather than tumor cells.

Sucheck also is working on discovering new drugs to fight tuberculosis, another bacterial infection that is becoming increasingly difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance. In 2018, he and a former colleague now at the University of Nebraska received a five-year, $2.1 million NIH grant to continue their work.

“There’s an expertise in the lab related to carbohydrates that we’re trying to leverage in different ways. You can use them to make vaccines, or we can try to target bacteria such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis with small molecules. That’s the broader theme that runs through my work,” Sucheck said. “We’re always trying to do work that’s impactful and addresses an urgent need. New approaches to treating drug-resistant bacteria is one of those urgent needs.”

Researchers Seek New Treatment for Sepsis Through Innovative Approach

New research from The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences suggests it may be possible to treat septic shock with drugs that are already part of the clinical repertoire.

Screening existing pharmaceutical agents for unexpected applications is increasingly seen as a valuable tool for establishing new treatments, particularly within the field of oncology research.

Pan

Dr. Kevin Pan, professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, is applying that innovative approach to sepsis, a life-threatening condition in which the body’s extreme immune response to infection damages its own organs.

“Severe sepsis is a big problem in the clinic,” Pan said. “There are about 750,000 annual cases in the U.S. alone, and we do not have very effective treatments beyond targeting the original infection with antibiotics. We are hoping to find new ways within our existing drug library to regulate the immune response and directly treat sepsis.”

By focusing on existing drugs, researchers hope to advance therapies more quickly and with less cost than the novel drug discovery process.

Pan and his collaborators at Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, recently published a study in the journal Scientific Reports that found a drug called rolipram protected mice from E. coli induced septic shock.

“Our research shows rolipram can reduce inflammatory cytokine production and increase mouse survival. This suggests rolipram might be a novel therapeutic agent for fighting against sepsis in the clinical setting,” Pan said.

Rolipram was originally developed as an anti-depressant and has been studied for a number of other potential applications, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Pan’s team is the first to show it might protect against sepsis.

Treatment for sepsis is largely limited to flooding the body with antibiotics and fluids. However, the growing problem of antibiotic resistance means many bacterial infections can be difficult to kill, allowing the body’s overheated immune response to go on unchecked.

By exploring new ways to modulate that immune response, Pan and his collaborators hope to provide a complimentary treatment to go along with antibiotics that can prevent damage to critical organ systems.

“This is early stage research, and rolipram is known to have difficult side effects. However, our work proves the potential of repurposing drugs to treat septic shock,” Pan said. “We plan to continue working with rolipram, and are beginning tests on a number of other drugs.”

New Biomarker Could Better Predict Diabetic Kidney Disease

Clinicians may soon have a better way to predict which of their diabetic patients are most likely to develop kidney disease, allowing for earlier interventions that keep patients off lifelong dialysis or transplant waiting lists.

In a study led by Dr. Rujun Gong, professor and director of kidney research at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, researchers analyzed how an enzyme present in urine can be used as a novel biomarker for diabetic kidney disease progression.

Gong

The study was published in the journal Kidney International.

“The research in this field is very important,” Gong said. “There is a pressing need to more precisely determine which diabetic patients are at the highest risk, as early intervention and intensive treatment can prevent this certain cohort of patients from developing diabetic kidney disease and kidney failure.”

Diabetic kidney disease is the No. 1 cause of kidney failure in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all new cases, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Prior research has shown approximately 40% of diabetics will develop kidney disease, but Gong said clinicians lack a reliable way of determining which patients will be affected.

“Right now, testing patients for albuminuria, or protein in the urine, is considered by some as a gold standard diagnostic,” Gong said. “However, in the field of nephrology practice, there is a huge debate about the test’s usefulness. There is evidence suggesting it is not accurate.”

By examining cell culture and animal models and performing a retrospective study of diabetic patients in China, Gong and his collaborators from the Brown University School of Medicine and Zhengzhou University concluded that an over-activation of an enzyme called GSK3-beta was strongly linked to the progression of diabetic kidney disease, and a better indicator of disease development than albuminuria.

GSK3-beta plays a key role primarily in the insulin pathway, helping the body transform glucose — or sugar — into glycogen — or stored energy — and back again. The enzyme is also pivotal for other cellular processes and can be measured in urine because it is present in cells shed from the kidney.

“The idea here is to take advantage of these exfoliated cells as a liquid biopsy,” Gong said. “It’s not painful. It’s not invasive. We can simply collect the urine and examine the exfoliated kidney cells as a biomarker.”

The incidence rate of diabetes has risen sharply. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the percentage of Americans living with diabetes rose from 4.4% in 2000 to 7.4% in 2015, while the World Health Organization says the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.

As the number of people with diabetes continues to grow, Gong said it is important to give clinicians new tools to keep their patients healthy. If a physician knows a diabetic patient is prone to developing kidney disease, they can take steps to reduce the risk by ensuring tighter glycemic control, strictly monitoring blood pressure, avoiding nephrotoxic drugs, and prescribing other protective medications.

Beyond being a biomarker, GSK3-beta may be a therapeutic target itself, as it is implicated in a number of kidney conditions. Previous research by Gong under the support of the National Institutes of Health grant found that very small doses of lithium, frequently used as a medication for conditions such as bipolar affective disorder, can inhibit GSK3-beta and accelerate the recovery of renal function.

The next step for researchers is to conduct a large-scale randomized study to further confirm the ability of GSK3-beta to predict diabetic kidney disease.

UToledo Law Scholar’s New Book ‘Originalism’s Promise’ Illuminates Constitution

In the midst of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and heading into the 2020 presidential election, a constitutional law scholar at The University of Toledo released a new book providing the first natural law justification for an originalist interpretation of the American Constitution.

In “Originalism’s Promise: A Natural Law Account of the American Constitution” published by Cambridge University Press, Lee Strang, John W. Stoepler Professor of Law and Values in the UToledo College of Law, provides a summary of the history of constitutional interpretation in the United States and writes a thorough and detailed description of how originalism operates in practice.

Strang

“This book provides an argument for how Americans should interpret the Constitution and offers a way out of the bitterness exemplified by the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh,” Strang said. “Faithfulness to the Constitution’s original meaning is supported by sound reasons, reasons that help all Americans achieve their own human flourishing.”

The College of Law is celebrating the book’s release with a book launch that features a lecture by Strang Wednesday, Jan. 29, at noon in the Law Center McQuade Auditorium. The free, public event will be followed by a book signing.

Strang, who was a visiting fellow at the James Madison Program at Princeton University during the 2018-19 academic year, has published dozens of articles in the fields of constitutional law and interpretation; property law; and religion and the First Amendment.

“In this presidential election year, my goal is to inform Americans as they debate the Supreme Court’s future,” Strang said. “‘Originalism’s Promise’ is the product of more than 20 years of thinking through two common American commitments. First, Americans strive to be faithful to our Constitution. Second, and following the Declaration of Independence, many Americans are committed to some version of natural law. Together, these commitments suggest that Americans of all stripes should utilize originalism to interpret our common Constitution.”

The UToledo College of Law awarded Strang the Faculty Scholarship Award in 2019 for “Originalism’s Promise.” He was the recipient of The University of Toledo Outstanding Faculty Research and Scholarship Award in 2017.

In 2015, Strang served as a visiting scholar at the Georgetown Center for the Constitution.

Strang said the inspiration for writing the book stems from his experiences as a younger person attending political events with his parents, his education as a law student, and how vigorously Americans disagree about how to interpret the Constitution.

“I listened as politicians and activists argued that the Constitution supported their positions, so this book grew out of an attempt to identify how Americans can ascertain which claims are correct,” Strang said. “Also, as a student taking constitutional law classes, we did not study the Constitution’s text, structure and history. I remember we nearly always read Supreme Court opinions, which themselves rarely paid attention to the Constitution’s text. This book both criticizes and supports aspects of that educational approach.”

Study Examines Attitudes Toward Transgender Athletes

As several states draft legislation that would force student-athletes to play as their gender identified on their birth certificate instead of on a team that matches their gender identity, a team of political scientists investigated underlying factors that drive public opinion on transgender athletes.

The new study shows while women in general are more supportive than men of transgender athletes participating in sports by gender identity instead of biological sex, women who are sports fans are more likely to oppose it, holding views that resemble male sports fans.

The research recently published in the journal Sex Roles investigated public attitudes toward the participation of transgender people in sports by using data from a 2015 survey of 1,020 adults across the U.S.; the data was previously used by the same researchers to analyze public opinion on a variety of transgender rights issues.

Dr. Jami Taylor, professor of political science and public administration at The University of Toledo who focuses on transgender politics and policy, is part of the team who found that attitudes about transgender athletes are strongly shaped by an individual’s characteristics, political values and personality traits.

Also, the study shows people who have contact with transgender, gay and lesbian people, as well as those with stronger egalitarian attitudes, are more favorable toward transgender participation, whereas those with high moral traditionalism are more opposed.

“This is a very complicated area, and there are legitimate concerns about fairness for both transgender athletes and those who are not transgender,” said Taylor, author of the 2017 book “The Remarkable Rise of Transgender Rights.” “We need to have thoughtful policies that ensure fair competitions, but also ensure that transgender athletes aren’t discriminated against. As governments, nonprofits and businesses begin to craft policies that decide how and with whom transgender athletes will compete in sports, they need to avoid one-size-fits-all solutions because of the complexity of the issues.”

“Given the gendered nature of sports and the resistance to the issue among sports fans — both male and female — policymakers will likely need to tread carefully and should have a care in this area as they craft policy solutions. Our work might be helpful to inform policymakers, as well as advocates who promote inclusion.”

Research contributors include Taylor; Dr. Andrew Flores, assistant professor in the Department of Government at American University and lead author of the study; Dr. Donald Haider-Markel, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Kansas; Dr. Daniel Lewis, associate professor of political science at Siena College; Dr. Patrick Miller, associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kansas; and Dr. Barry Tadlock, professor of political science at Ohio University.

Current policy depends on the position of governing bodies, such as the NCAA at the collegiate level, and applicable laws that may vary by location. For instance, California law requires that transgender students be treated according to their gender identity, not biological sex.

The issue, according to lawmakers proposing new legislation in New Hampshire, Washington, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri, is whether transgender-rights protections are leading to unfair competition in women’s sports, referencing male-to-female transgender students and arguing they have natural physical advantages over biological females.

However, the study cited a female-to-male case: Mack Beggs’ victory in the Texas Class 6A girls’ state wrestling championship in 2017, even though the female-to-male transgender student started his transition two years prior and took testosterone injections.

“It was a ridiculous situation. He wanted to wrestle with the boys and received harsh treatment from fans when he was forced to compete with girls,” Taylor said. “Due to his success, parents accused him of cheating, but the rule in Texas was he had to compete according to the gender on his birth certificate, which was a girl. If he was in California, he would’ve competed against boys.”

The study finds that 35.6% of women agreed with allowing transgender athletes to participate in sports aligned with their gender identity, compared to 23.2% of men.

As the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo approach, Taylor calls the Olympics reasonably inclusive to transgender athletes and commends the International Olympic Committee for its attention to both human rights and fair competition.

“The International Olympic Committee no longer requires transgender athletes to have had surgery, but there is a strict requirement around hormonal management,” Taylor said. “It’s far less restrictive for female-to-male athletes than for male-to-female athletes, which seems to be a reasonable attempt to grapple with this complex issue. Importantly, the IOC’s approach looks at evidence in this evolving area.”

Growth of Craft Beer Linked to Record Number of States Harvesting Hops

Tasting terroir, or a sense of place, isn’t only reserved for wine lovers drinking a glass of burgundy or champagne from France.

It’s evident, too, in the U.S. craft beer boom and the growing preference for local hops.

Reid

Hops, a key ingredient in making beer, is a crop making a comeback on farms across the country thanks to the incredible rise of the craft brewing industry over the past decade.

Craft breweries and their customers’ thirst for new, locally grown flavors are playing a big role in fueling an unprecedented geographic expansion of hop production across the U.S., according to researchers at The University of Toledo and Penn State University.

Their findings, which were recently published in the Journal of Wine Economics, suggest that as more craft breweries emerge around the country, so may new opportunities for farmers.

“It is fantastic to see the re-emergence of hop production in states which, at one point, had abandoned the crop,” said Dr. Neil Reid, professor of geography and planning at The University of Toledo, who teaches a class titled The Geography of Beer and Brewing. “Hops provide aroma and bittering characteristics in beer. Looking to differentiate themselves from Molson Coors and Anheuser Busch, independent craft brewers demand locally grown hops, experiment with different varieties of hops, and use more hops in beer production compared to mass-produced beers.”

According to the Brewers Association, between 2007 and 2017, the number of breweries in the U.S. increased from 1,459 to 6,490.

The researchers found that the number of breweries in a state is associated with more hop farms and hop acres five years later. The number of hop farms grew from 68 to 817, and hop acreage expanded from 31,145 to 59,429 acres.

Before 2007, hop production in the country was limited to only three Pacific Northwest states—Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Hops are now produced in 29 states, according to the Hop Growers of America.

“Our study is the first to systematically show that the number of hop farms in a state is related to the number of craft breweries,” said Claudia Schmidt, assistant professor of agricultural economics in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “It suggests that in areas where hop production is possible and not cost-prohibitive, breweries are expanding markets for farmers and providing an opportunity to diversify farm income.”

In fact, the growth positioned the U.S. as the largest producer of hops globally, both in terms of acreage and production.

Working with farm, brewery and climate data, the researchers developed a statistical model to determine whether new craft breweries in a state between 2007 and 2017 resulted in a larger number of hop producers and hop acres planted, by both new and existing growers in that state. They built a time lag into their model to identify the effect of new breweries over time. They also controlled for other variables that may influence farmers to start growing hops, such as average farm size, average net farm income and climate.

Their findings are correlational and do not point to a clear cause and effect. However, the time lag built into the model indicates that the growth in breweries preceded the growth in hop farms.

If more brewers are looking for hops grown nearby, then more farmers may be willing to try growing them, even if only on a small scale. For instance, in Pennsylvania, only 17 farms reported hop production in 2017, and their combined acreage is small — only 21 acres in all, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

In contrast, in 2017, there were 100 acres of farmland devoted to hop production in Ohio. According to the Ohio Hop Growers Guild, there are more than 70 farms in Ohio that are growing hops.

While the growing of hops in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania is a relatively recent phenomenon, many Midwestern and Northeastern states have historical connections to the hop industry.

“In 1870, the three leading hop-producing states were New York, Wisconsin and Michigan,” Reid said. “A number of factors, including declining yields, disease outbreaks, high production and processing costs, and an inability to achieve economies of scale, contributed to the decline and disappearance of the hop industry in the Midwest and Northeast.”

Reid, who is affectionately known as “The Beer Professor,” is an expert on the craft brewing industry and its economic geography. His research is focused on the industry’s growth in the U.S. and its potential role in helping to revitalize neighborhood economies.

His previous research found that the craft brewery boom is good for home values. That study showed single-family homes in the city of Charlotte, N.C., saw their value increase by nearly 10% after a brewery opened within a half mile of the property, and center-city condos got a nearly 3% bump.

Reid will give the opening keynote address at the 2020 Beer Marketing and Tourism Conference Wednesday, Feb. 5, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

His new book titled “Agritourism, Wine Tourism, and Craft Beer Tourism: Local Responses to Peripherality Through Tourism Niches” will be published later this month. The book is co-edited with Maria Giulia Pezzi and Alessandra Faggian of the Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila, Italy.

University Opens New Germ-Free Research Facility

The University of Toledo is expanding its microbiome research capabilities with the creation of a new germ-free laboratory that will provide unique opportunities for scientists investigating the link between gut bacteria and chronic conditions such as hypertension.

Researchers in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences have been at the forefront of innovative research that suggests the particular makeup of our individual gut bacteria has major implications on our health.

Doing the honors to mark the creation of a new germ-free laboratory on Health Science Campus were, from left, Scott Bechaz, associate director of the Department of Laboratory Animal Resources; Dr. Lisa Root, attending veterinarian and director of the Department of Laboratory Animal Resources; Dr. Matam Vijay-Kumar, director of the UToledo Microbiome Consortium; Dee Talmage, chair of Women & Philanthropy; Marja Dooner, chair of the Women & Philanthropy Grants Committee; Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology; and Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and executive vice president for clinical affairs.

The research is particularly promising with relation to high blood pressure — so much so that the University has recognized the work among its spotlight areas of unique distinction.

“We have been working with available models asking as many research questions as we can. We are getting definitive links, but we haven’t yet found definitive answers for mechanisms,” said Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. “It is our hope this new lab will help provide those answers and open avenues for new therapeutic methods.”

By studying germ-free animal models that completely lack microbiota, Joe and other UToledo researchers will seek to further their understanding of how the colonies of tiny organisms that call our bodies home benefit or harm human health.

The project received $65,000 in grant funding from Women & Philanthropy and matching funds from the College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

While germ-free models are used for a variety of research applications, UToledo’s lab will be one of the only academic sites in the country with germ-free rats, which Joe said more closely mimic human disease states.

Preliminary work on the new Women & Philanthropy Germ-Free Facility for Biomedical Research is underway, with the facility expected to be up and running in 2020 under the guidance of Dr. Matam Vijay-Kumar, director of the UToledo Microbiome Consortium.

“The Women & Philanthropy grant is what is fueling this. We’re extremely grateful for their investment,” Joe said. “I think they see the value in promoting a woman scientist, and they see the value in the technology. We at The University of Toledo want to remain the first to fully understand these links and mechanisms in order to develop new clinical approaches. Rather than taking pills and monitoring your blood pressure every day, you might eventually be monitoring your microbiota and transferring beneficial ones as needed.”

“Women & Philanthropy is proud to be a part of such critical research and cutting-edge technology here at The University of Toledo,” Dee Talmage, chair of Women & Philanthropy, said. “It is a pleasure to support this important medical research, particularly when it has such a national impact.”

Women & Philanthropy has allocated up to $65,000 for 2020 grants to be awarded next spring. Learn more on the Women & Philanthropy website.

UToledo Study Estimates Impact of Opioid Epidemic at $1.6B in Northwest Ohio

Fatal overdoses tied to Ohio’s ongoing opioid epidemic cost the metropolitan Toledo economy $1.6 billion and more than 2,000 jobs in 2017, according to a new study by The University of Toledo.

At $1.6 billion, the total economic impact of the opioid epidemic is equivalent to approximately 4.5% of the region’s gross domestic product — or roughly the same amount of economic activity generated annually by the entire private construction industry.

“The University of Toledo has an important role to play in addressing the major issues that affect northwest Ohio and beyond,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “This research provides another piece of the puzzle as we work together to confront the opioid epidemic.”

The research was led by Dr. Oleg Smirnov, associate professor of economics, in close collaboration with members of The University of Toledo Opioid Task Force.

“Over a relatively period of short time, the number of deaths from opioid overdose has skyrocketed, and the crisis doesn’t show any signs of abating,” Smirnov said. “This report helps give us a better understanding of how the epidemic affects our region and also provides a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of our community’s ongoing response.”

Among the report’s key findings:

• Fatal opioid overdoses directly resulted in $1.27 billion in lost economic output in 2017.

• Each overdose death costs the economy $8.67 million.

• The indirect, or spillover, effects of fatal opioid overdose were $329.2 million in 2017.

• Premature deaths caused by the opioid epidemic cost metropolitan Toledo the equivalent of 2,082 jobs in 2017.

• While Narcan is relatively expensive at approximately $130 per dose, there is clear evidence the economic benefit outweighs the cost of administering the drug.

“These new findings add valuable context to our understanding of and response to the opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Amy Thompson, vice provost for faculty affairs, professor of public health, and co-chair of the UToledo Opioid Task Force. “The research can be used to advocate for funding that goes toward prevention efforts and treatment of opioid use disorder. It also can be used to inform local businesses how this epidemic is affecting the job market and creating financial loss in the community.”

The report’s calculations are based on data from the Ohio Department of Health’s Ohio Public Data Warehouse, which documented 147 fatal opioid overdoses in Lucas, Wood, Fulton and Ottawa counties in 2017. Data from 2017 is the most recent finalized figures available.

State records show those four counties had 22 deaths attributed to opioid overdose in 2007. The state data relies on the official cause of death listed on state-issued death certificates and differs slightly from fatal overdose data from local sources.

“While it may seem morbid to put a price on human life, there are established economic models that show how an individual’s premature death ripples through the economy,” Smirnov said. “This report shows just how costly each death is to our entire community, on top of the personal loss of a friend, brother, sister or parent. The opioid crisis may appear hidden to some, but it affects all of us.”

To calculate the economic cost of a fatal opioid overdose in metro Toledo, researchers began with a federally established finding that a premature death has an economic cost of $9.4 million. By adjusting for northwest Ohio’s lower per-capita income and lower cost of living, they arrived at a figure of $8.6 million per premature death and $1.27 billion in lost economic output in 2017.

Each fatal overdose also hurts the economy indirectly. As spending and demand for goods and services shrink, employers may begin to reduce staffing. In turn, individuals who have lost their jobs cut back on their own spending. UToledo researchers calculated those indirect, or spillover, effects cost the local economy $329.2 million in 2017, while reducing full-time equivalent employment by 2,082 jobs.

The total economic burden in UToledo’s report does not include calculations from non-lethal overdoses. While those incidents do have costs associated with them — emergency room visits, criminal justice proceedings and mental health services, for example — the spending stays within the local community.

The report also offers some hints that the region’s response to the opioid epidemic is making a difference.

For example, a comparison of overdose-related 911 calls received by Lucas County dispatchers in 2016 and 2017 to the total number of overdose deaths in those years found the mortality of opioid overdoses declined from 8% in 2016 to 6% in 2017.

Researchers attribute that to first-responders dealing with opioid overdose more effectively, particularly with the use of naloxone.

UToledo’s research also supports the notion that the expanded use of naloxone prevents not only additional deaths, but also significant damage to the local economy.

While first responders in Lucas County administered an estimated $1 million-plus worth of naloxone in 2017, a single premature death would have cost the regional economy $8.6 million.

Access the full economic impact report online at utoledo.edu/economic-impact/opioids.