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Professor’s poem dedicated to wife published in national journal

Dr. Blair Grubb’s poem was printed on the inside back cover of the autumn issue of The Pharos of Alpha Omega Alpha. The illustration is by Jim M’Guinness.

Dr. Blair Grubb’s poem was printed on the inside back cover of the autumn issue of The Pharos of Alpha Omega Alpha. The illustration is by Jim M’Guinness.

Dr. Blair Grubb, professor of medicine and pediatrics as well as director of UT’s Electrophysiology Program, does not see the human heart as just a muscular organ responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. He also sees it as the seat of value and meaning for humans, the fount of our existential drive.

And with Grubb’s heart, this value, meaning and drive is directed at his wife, Barbara Straus, who he has passionately loved for 34 years.

“Barbara is an amazing woman: a mother, wife, pediatrician and community leader who has bravely battled brain cancer for the last two years,” Grubb said. “She has never once given into remorse or self-pity; rather, she lives each day to its fullest.”

To celebrate her and the strength she has exhibited in battling cancer, Grubb wrote a poem titled “The Gaze” about her and their relationship that was published in the autumn issue of The Pharos. The quarterly journal is published by Alpha Omega Alpha, a prestigious national medical honor society of which Grubb is a member.

Part of the poem reads, “Turning to me your eyes tell it all. A gaze that reaches to my heart’s core.”

Grubb

Grubb

“The Pharos publishes engaging and scholarly essays and poetry on a wide array of medical subjects, emphasizing the artistic, the literary, and the place of music, language and culture in medicine,” said Debbie Lancaster, managing editor of the publication.

“The poem is an attempt to put into words the deep feeling and admiration that I have for Barbara,” Grubb said. “It was very gratifying to have the poem accepted for publication. I have always admired the way that The Pharos tries to blend medicine and the humanities into a seamless whole.”

Physicians need to observe this mixture, Grubb said. “Medicine is not a science, but rather it is an art that uses science as one of its tools in the act of reducing human pain and suffering. To lose sight of medicine’s human aspects and origins is to risk depersonalizing people into mere things.”

In fact, Grubb thinks that medicine is “among the foremost of the humanities.” After all, he asked, “What other animal cares for its ill or wounded?”

Grubb indicated that he has been writing poetry and essays for some time, although he says he feels like he is just now learning about poetry. He said he composes his pieces by going “over and over the poem until I hit a point where I have to write it down.” He rarely makes changes to first drafts, which he writes with a fountain pen on paper.

“Nothing matches poetry in it compactness of thought and directness in expression,” he said. “It is the ultimate expression of the beauty of human language.”

Professor of radiation oncology selected president-elect of society

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society recently selected a University of Toledo professor its new president-elect.

Feldmeier

Feldmeier

Dr. John Feldmeier, UT professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology, was tapped by the members of the organization for the leadership position at the annual meeting in June.

“The election represents the culmination of many years of effort by me in this profession in defining the role for hyperbaric oxygen as a treatment for radiation injuries,” Feldmeier said. “I am especially pleased to be elected to this office because it was achieved by a vote of my professional peers.”

Feldmeier has been a member of the society since 1980, has served as chair of the society’s Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Committee, and is the current chair of the society’s Research Committee. He is also the only physician in the nation to be board-certified in both hyperbaric medicine and radiation oncology.

“The election to a national professional medical society is a rare and humbling honor,” he added. “My goal is to live up to the confidence that my colleagues in hyperbaric oxygen have entrusted in me.”

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society is the premier professional group for those who practice or pursue research in hyperbaric medicine. The society has a professional membership of about 3,000 physicians and PhDs. These professionals from many different backgrounds share a common interest in diving and/or clinical hyperbaric medicine.

Feldmeier has served as chair of the UT Department of Radiation Oncology for 12 years, and is the former chief of radiation oncology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, as well as at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and Grace-Sinai Hospital in Detroit.

The appointment of Feldmeier is an eight-year term. He will be president-elect for two years, then president of the society for two years. Subsequently, he will serve on the Board of Directors as immediate past president for two years, then as past president for a final two-year period.

As president of the society, Feldmeier said his duties will be scientific, political and administrative. One of his primary goals, he said, is to move his presidency “toward a collaborative multi-institutional research group for hyperbaric oxygen comparable to the cancer research groups sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.”

“My highest goal as a clinician involved in hyperbaric oxygen therapy is to ensure the best quality of care to our patients,” he added.

“Dr. Feldmeier excels as an educator and as a physician, and has shown a genuine commitment to advancing science and medicine,” said Raj Patel, a third-year medical student who worked with Feldmeier on a research project last summer. “He has made many contributions to the field of hyperbaric medicine during his years as a physician.”

Professor recognized for research on headaches, strokes

A University of Toledo researcher’s work with the impact of childhood abuse on future pain and health disorders is receiving national attention.

Tietjen

Tietjen

Dr. Gretchen Tietjen, professor and chair of neurology, director of the Headache Treatment and Research Program, and director of the Stroke Program, recently gave four oral and two poster presentations on the breadth of her research at the American Headache Society’s annual meeting in Los Angeles.

A study Tietjen led of more than 1,300 migraine patients revealed a link between the risk of stroke and heart attack and the number of forms of abuse a person suffered as a child, such as neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

“It’s fascinating,” Tietjen said. “A few years ago you didn’t see much on the links between childhood stresses and future health problems, but research in this area is really starting to grow.”

The study was noted in a number of journals and news outlets following the June conference. Building on additional work that had already shown that childhood maltreatment is linked to migraines, this study showed that early abuse also puts adults with migraines at greater risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, Tietjen said.

“Dr. Tietjen and her teams are pioneers in understanding the relationship between negative childhood experiences and migraine,” Dr. David Dodick, president of the American Headache Society, said in a news release. “Now we need to drill even deeper to understand the relationship between migraine, aura status, childhood maltreatment and [cardiovascular] disease risk.”

Because people with migraines can be predisposed to other pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowl syndrome, finding the best ways to treat and intervene early could really have an impact on the health of those patients, Tietjen said.

“It’s interesting to learn what course has been set in motion and work to find ways to stop it,” she said. “If you are able to treat the headaches, would that be enough to stop related future conditions? We don’t know yet.”

Tietjen’s research in this area continues. She is involved in another study with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study,” of the general population that surveys thousands about stressful childhood experiences and physical and mental illnesses, including headache, to look for links there.

A larger study, “The American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study,” also is under way to investigate if there is a link between child abuse and migraines specifically or headache pain more broadly, Tietjen said.

“I’d love to be able to take the information from these surveys and research to find ways to help people,” she said.

Tietjen’s research crosses disciplines; her work on stroke is being recognized at the same time as her migraine studies. She earned a first-place Innovation Award at the 2010 International Stroke Conference for her research on biomarkers that linked migraine and stroke in young women.

Researcher takes creative approach to solving child nutrition issue

Dr. Hironori Matsushima, left, and Dr. Akira Takashima look at a culture dish to see if the antimicrobial proteins can kill bacteria. The researchers plan to incorporate those proteins into a powdered milk that would help solve the problem of chronic diarrhea in children of developing countries.

Dr. Hironori Matsushima, left, and Dr. Akira Takashima look at a culture dish to see if the antimicrobial proteins can kill bacteria. The researchers plan to incorporate those proteins into a powdered milk that would help solve the problem of chronic diarrhea in children of developing countries.

A University of Toledo professor has an idea to solve the problem of chronic diarrhea, a large cause of infant mortality in developing countries, that is so simple it might just work.

Dr. Hironori Matsushima, a research assistant professor in the UT Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, proposes a powdered milk that could be produced with antimicrobial proteins allowing it to be mixed with virtually any water source and be safe to drink. And this enhanced milk would kill the pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella that cause diarrhea, the problem that is responsible for 1.5 million children under the age of 5 dying every year in developing countries.

Not only would it provide the necessary proteins to prevent gastrointestinal bacterial infections that lead to digestive problems, but the powdered milk product also would provide necessary nutrition to these young children.

“I had never really thought of diarrhea as such a serious problem, but it is for children in developing countries,” Matsushima said. “I started to think about how to help and came up with this idea. It really could be a relatively easy solution to a widespread problem.”

It’s a much less-expensive approach than providing antibiotics to these countries or attempting a complete overhaul of water resources for cleaner drinking and food options, said Dr. Akira Takashima, professor and chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, who is assisting Matsushima with the research.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also saw merit in the idea and awarded a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant that promotes innovation in global health.

UT’s project is one of 78 grants awarded in the fourth round of the initiative that helps fund scientists to explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries.

So how exactly would the correct antimicrobial proteins get into the powdered milk to help the children? It starts with the cows.

Matsushima and Takashima explain that mammals are capable of producing antibiotics, so the plan is to engineer cows to produce milk containing human antibiotics, specifically the peptidoglycan recognition protein-1. The milk from those transgenic cows will be turned into powdered milk so that it can be stored for long periods without refrigeration.

When that milk is mixed with water and ingested, those human antimicrobial proteins will work with the stomach acids to combat bacteria that would otherwise cause diarrhea.

Matsushima, with Takashima and doctoral student Yi Yao, first will test the antibiotic proteins in the lab against common pathogens to confirm it is the best to counteract those bacteria and will work successfully in the powdered milk form.

If successful, the team will pursue additional funding to test the concept in mice and then to cows.

“Simple is the best,” Takashima said. “This is really a creative and interesting approach that could address the massive problem of chronic diarrhea in these young children and at the same time provide a nutritious and preventive care method with continued drinking of this milk. It could indeed be a breakthrough.”

The funding from the Gates Foundation program is a highly competitive process with nearly 2,700 proposals submitted for this round. Scientists such as Matsushima who received the awards represent 18 countries on six continents.

“The winners of these grants show the bold thinking we need to tackle some of the world’s greatest health challenges,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program. “I’m excited about their ideas and look forward to seeing some of these exploratory projects turn into life-saving breakthroughs.”

Researcher receives national honor for hypertension work

Dr. Bina Joe, UT associate professor of physiology and pharmacology, thanks her mentors for fostering an interest in science and exploration leading to a successful research career that recently was recognized with a national honor.

Dr. Bina Joe received the Young Scholar Award from the American Society of Hypertension from the organization’s president, Dr. Henry R. Black. Dr. Nader Abraham, UT professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, was in New York for the presentation at the society’s annual meeting.

Dr. Bina Joe received the Young Scholar Award from the American Society of Hypertension from the organization’s president, Dr. Henry R. Black. Dr. Nader Abraham, UT professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, was in New York for the presentation at the society’s annual meeting.

Joe received the Young Scholar Award from the American Society of Hypertension Inc., the country’s largest organization dedicated to hypertension and related cardiovascular disease, for her work identifying specific genes that contribute to the disorder. She received the award earlier this month at the society’s annual scientific meeting and exposition in New York.

“We know hypertension runs in families and something is being inherited, but what that something is we don’t know,” Joe said.

There are both genetic and environmental factors, such as salt, exercise and weight, which lead to hypertension issues. Joe’s laboratory works with segregated rats that have hypertension and those that are resistant to it. By controlling the environmental factors, the researchers can pinpoint genes that contribute to the disorder.

Joe’s predecessor and mentor at UT, Dr. John Rapp, identified a gene and her team has found another. There could be several more that contribute to hypertension. After mapping the genes, the focus will switch to changing the variations in them that lead to problems.

“Usually when a person receives an award for their research, they may not be really doing the work anymore. It’s their team. But for me, it’s both; I’ve done the work, and I’ve led postdoctoral students in doing the work,” Joe said. “It’s been very gratifying for me to both be part of it and leading a group. I owe it both to my mentors, who I owe my start and earlier career to, and the youngsters who are the future.”

The Young Scholar Award recognizes the achievements of outstanding young investigators in the field of hypertension. Candidates for the award must have received an advanced professional degree within the last 15 years and be active in research.