UF researchers receive Gates Foundation grant to combat health threats in Haiti

August 6, 2015
April Frawley Lacey

Conditions such as cholera and malaria pose serious public health threats to Haiti’s population, and numerous programs have been put in place to help combat them. However, these public health efforts typically operate in disease-specific silos, potentially losing out on benefits that could be yielded from targeting multiple health threats at once.

To determine whether integrating public health efforts would be a more efficient, effective and less costly way to eradicate these diseases in Haiti, researchers from the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute are preparing to launch pilot studies with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Haiti doesn’t have a strong health system, so the idea was if you can integrate you can save money and be more efficient,” said Kevin Bardosh, Ph.D., a scholar from the University of Edinburgh currently working with the Emerging Pathogens Institute 

Bardosh and UF researcher Glenn Morris, M.D., Ph.D., recently received $100,000 as part of the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations program. Grand Challenges Explorations grants are awarded to help researchers develop innovative, early stage projects that target challenging global health issues.

“The Grand Challenges program funds high-risk, high-reward ideas to provide researchers with the opportunity to try something innovative,” said Morris, director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute. “With these funds, you can run a pilot study and see if the idea will work. At the end if they like the project, then they have the option to fund it again over the next multiyear period.”

UF researchers have been involved with efforts to help Haiti for years, with a more profound focus there since the 2010 earthquake that devastated much of the region and paved the way for a cholera outbreak and other public health crises. In 2011, UF opened the UF Public Health Laboratory in Gressier, Haiti. In addition, several UF researchers specialize in the diseases that pose the biggest health threats to Haiti, including cholera, malaria and filariasis.

As part of the pilot studies, UF researchers will work closely with community members in two villages and one city in Haiti to determine their needs and goals. This will help researchers form the basis of their studies.

“We don’t want to just go in there and construct our own plan and say ‘This is what we are doing,’” Bardosh said. “We want to see what has been done before and delve deeply into community priorities. A key component of public health is determining what people are willing to do themselves so that projects are sustainable.”

At the end of the project, which will last between 12 and 18 months, the researchers will produce four models that show how public health efforts could be integrated. These models will allow researchers and funding agencies to determine whether the projects will be useful on a larger scale.

“Haiti is one of our closest neighbors,” Morris said. “We have a large Haitian-American population in Florida and a large population in our student body. Haiti has always had a unique relationship with UF and this grant further underscores our commitment to internationalization and to this special country.”

Global Impact

“Worth a million lectures”

August 21, 2015
Jill Pease

In communities in and around Kisumu, Kenya, examples of the link between human, animal and environmental health are easy to spot. Clean water and adequate sanitation can be scarce and chickens and goats roam freely before being brought into homes in the evening.

A group of graduate students from the department of environmental and global health in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions recently saw the challenges firsthand when they conducted field work in the Kisumu area, working alongside students of Great Lakes University of Kisumu, as part of UF’s One Health certificate program.

“What we saw was worth a million lectures,” said Bahareh Keith, a master’s student in One Health and a UF Health pediatric physician, pictured above with UF graduate student Makyba Charles and Great Lakes University of Kisumu student Martha Onyango processing fish samples collected from Lake Victoria. “The connection between animals, humans and the environment is glaring here. They are inseparably entwined and the effects on health become easy to see.”

The One Health approach recognizes the connection between the health of people, animals and the environment and seeks to bring together expertise in public health, veterinary medicine and environmental health to solve complex health problems. The University of Florida is one of the first institutions in the world to offer academic programs in One Health, including master’s and doctoral degrees in addition to the certificate.

“I don’t think there’s a single other field course in environmental health or One Health, that has this level of hands-on engagement and partnerships with communities and local students. I think it’s unparalleled,” said instructor Richard Rheingans, an associate professor in the department of environmental and global health and the UF Center for African Studies.

Rheingans began working with Great Lakes University of Kisumu, known as GLUK, nearly a decade ago on a study of school-based water and sanitation improvements. He felt the institution’s mission of training students to work with communities to enable them to overcome their own development challenges would provide a valuable perspective for UF students.

“At Great Lakes University of Kisumu, we believe that communities have the ability to solve their own problems. This is enhanced by building their capacities through partnerships,” said Kevin Achola, a lecturer in environmental health and epidemiology at GLUK. “Students benefit by looking, listening and learning from the communities they are exposed to.”

In turn, “UF brings the research experience for our students a notch higher with laboratory skills” in microbiology, monitoring for particulate matter, DNA sequencing and more, says Jane Mumma, dean of the Tropical Institute of Community Health and Development at GLUK.

During the two-week field course, UF students collaborated with GLUK students to identify One Health issues and collect samples for analysis. Bahareh Keith and Makyba Charles, a doctoral student in environmental and global health, worked with a pair of GLUK students to test lake and farmed fish for the presence of bacteria.

“This experience would have not been as valuable and productive without the collaboration with GLUK,” Charles said. “Coming into an established community with unspoken rules and hierarchies can lead to a steep learning curve. Working with local residents and trusted establishments facilitated an increase in our credibility and our ability to make meaningful scientific contributions.”

Rheingans hopes that future One Health field work experiences in Kisumu also include UF students in other disciplines, such as veterinary medicine, social sciences, medicine, engineering and business.

“UF is unique because it has all of these different disciplines and One Health problems require interdisciplinary understanding and creative, diverse and innovative solutions,” he said. “There are very few institutions that have the breadth of expertise that UF does.”

Global Impact

Pressure washing old wooden decks, porches creates health hazards, study shows

August 20, 2015
Brad Buck, IFAS

Pressure washing that old wooden deck in your back yard might make it look better, but you may be creating a carcinogenic hazard that puts you, your children and your pets at risk in the process.

Pressure washing that old wooden deck in your back yard might make it look better, but you may be creating a carcinogenic hazard that puts you, your children and your pets at risk in the process.

That’s because wood decks manufactured before 2004 are made of CCA-treated wood, which contains arsenic and chromium -- both carcinogens -- and a new University of Florida study shows wet wood releases arsenic at three times the rate of dry wood.

Using bleach makes things even worse, the study shows: It causes the wood to also release chromate, another carcinogen.

The discovery could be relevant to millions of Americans:  In 2007, housing industry researchers estimated that 20 million single-family homes had a deck made from CCA-treated wood. Because the wood can last up to 40 years, most of those decks are still in use, posing a continual risk of arsenic exposure.

“The levels of arsenic and chromate on the surface of the boards after cleaning with bleach and in the rinse water show the potential for soil and water contamination and public health impacts,“ said Julia Gress, a postdoctoral scientist in the department of soil and water sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Gress led an experiment in which she and her colleagues used standard wipe methods to collect arsenic from the surface of wood from a 25-year-old deck from South Florida. Although the CCA-wood came from only one deck, it is representative of wood decks constructed before 2004, Gress said.

The researchers put water on the wood, then wiped it to see how much arsenic was present. They then cleaned different pieces of the decking with either tap water or a bleach-water solution, followed by pressure washing. 

Results showed water alone caused three times more arsenic to form on the surface of wet wood than dry wood, similar to effects from morning dew or light rainfall, and the use of bleach caused formation of chromate. They also found these chemicals in levels much higher than regulatory limits in the rinse water, which can pollute the soil around decks and present an exposure risk.

Gress’s study, performed under the supervision of soil and water science professor Lena Ma, is published in the August issue of the journal Environment International.

Wood treated with CCA was used on many residential decks built before 2004 because it is highly resistant to termites. But in 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pressured industry to stop using CCA to treat wood intended for use around homes, including outdoor decks, after finding arsenic leaches out of it.

The results highlight the importance of avoiding skin contact with wet decking, particularly right after cleaning with bleach, Gress said.

CCA wood continually leaches arsenic into the environment from normal rainfall and contaminates the soil around decks, Ma said.

For anyone concerned about their CCA-treated deck or porch, Gress suggests one or more of the following options:

  • Don’t grow vegetables on soils near the CCA-treated deck.
  • Keep children and pets off of CCA-treated lumber when it’s wet.
  • After children play outside on or near a CCA-treated deck, wash their hands.
  • Don’t give children food, such as finger foods, to eat while they’re playing outside and in contact with the deck.
  • Remove CCA-treated materials and replace them with non-CCA lumber. If you do remove it, don’t cut it into pieces. Researchers say the sawdust is high in arsenic and will dissolve easily into the soil. They also say not to burn it. The arsenic in the smoke and ash can harm humans and animals.

Source: Lena Ma, 352-294-3135, lqma@ufl.edu

Science & Wellness

MRI scanners can steer tumor-busting viruses to specific target sites within the body

August 20, 2015
University of Sheffield
Medicine, Health

MRI scanners, normally used to produce images, can steer cell-based, tumor-busting therapies to specific target sites in the body, University of Florida researchers and their colleagues have discovered.

MRI scanners, normally used to produce images, can steer cell-based, tumor-busting therapies to specific target sites in the body, University of Florida researchers and their colleagues have discovered.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scanners have been used since the 1980s to take detailed images inside the body -- helping doctors to make a medical diagnosis and investigate the staging of a disease.

An international team of researchers, led by Dr. Munitta Muthana from the University of Sheffield’s department of oncology, have now found MRI scanners can non-invasively steer cells, which have been injected with tiny super-paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, or SPIOs, to both primary and secondary tumor sites within the body.

This targeted approach is extremely beneficial for patients as it dramatically increases the efficiency of treatment and drug doses could potentially be reduced -- helping to alleviate side effects.

Revolutionary cell-based therapies, which exploit modified human cells to treat diseases such as cancer, have advanced greatly over recent years. However, targeted application of cell-based therapy in specific tissues, such as those lying deep in the body where injection is not possible, has remained problematic.

The new research suggests MRI scanners are the key to administering treatments directly to both primary and secondary tumours wherever they are located in the body.

Jon Dobson, a professor of biomedical engineering and biomaterials at the University of Florida, participated in designing the experiment and analyzing the results.

“This study arose out of our groups' collaborative work on magnetic nanoparticle targeting of macrophages and I'm grateful we were able to be part of the team that enabled this breakthrough,” Dobson said. “This research uses a magnetic nanotechnology approach to harness the innate ability of this type of cell to home in on hard-to-reach tumor cores, and turn this enhanced homing ability into a viable therapy for treating cancer”.

The study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, shows that cancer mouse models injected with immune cells carrying SPIOs and armed with the cancer killing oncolytic virus, which infects and kills cancer cells, showed an 800 percent increase in the effects of the therapy.

“Our results suggest that it is possible to use a standard MRI scanner to naturally deliver cell-based therapies to both primary and secondary tumours which would normally be impossible to reach by injection,” Muthana said. “This not only increases the therapeutic efficacy but also decreases the risk of unwanted side effects.

“The beauty of using the MRI scanner to administer the therapy is that you can also use it for its original purpose providing a real-time image-guide to ensure the treatment has gone where it is needed.”

The study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council, was conducted in collaboration with University College London and University College London Comprehensive Cancer Imaging Centre.

Source: Jon Dobson, jdobson@ufl.edu, 352-294-5344 or 352-846-3373

Science & Wellness

Study finds no significant cognitive benefit from moderate exercise in frail, older adults

August 26, 2015
Morgan Sherburne
aging, health, exercise

Studies often show that older adults find cognitive benefit from exercise, but a new study by University of Florida Health researchers and their colleagues has found that frail older adults gain no such benefit from moderate physical activity.

The researchers drew their data for this study, published today (Aug. 25) in the Journal of the American Medical Association, from the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders study. The LIFE study randomly divided more than 1,600 participants between the ages of 70 to 89 into two groups: those who exercised and those who received health education. The participants had not previously exercised, and though they had to be able to walk a quarter of a mile within 15 minutes, they were at risk of losing that ability. In this study, researchers used data from 1,476 of the participants.

Neither the participants in the physical activity group nor the health education group had improvements in their global cognitive function or in the function of the parts of the brain that perform certain tasks.

“We had hoped that physical activity would benefit the whole group, but it didn’t,” said University of Florida’s Institute on Aging director Marco Pahor, M.D., a co-author of the current study and principal investigator of the LIFE study.

The LIFE study looks at the effects of physical activity on older adults. UF Health photo by Jesse S. Jones.

The LIFE study looks at the effects of physical activity on older adults. UF Health photo by Jesse S. Jones.

‌Pahor pointed to previous studies that have shown that older adults gain cognitive benefits from exercising. However, this benefit may result from a higher level of physical activity than the LIFE participants engaged in. Intense aerobic training improves the brain’s ability to consume oxygen, which translates to better cognitive function.

“Our participants took part in moderate intensity activity, which may not give the same effect that higher intensity may have,” Pahor said.

The group who exercised walked 150 minutes per week and did strength, flexibility and balance training for 24 months. The health education group received education as well as light stretching exercises. At the beginning of the study, each participant took four tests that assessed cognition and three computer-based tests that assessed the speed at which the participant could process commands. At the end of the study, the participants took these tests again, as well as three additional tests.

One subgroup in the study did see a small benefit: those who were the most frail. These participants were 80 or older, and had the lowest physical function of the group.

“Those who were more frail had to put more effort into the exercise, increasing the intensity of the exercise,” Pahor said. “By contrast, the less frail group may have taken a longer time to experience cognitive decline -- and therefore could take a longer time to derive a benefit from exercise.”

The researchers also speculated that the socialization the participants received in the health education group could have had an effect on cognitive function parallel to an effect in the physical activity group.

“It’s possible that the effect of education and social stimulation in the comparison group was not null, and also served to protect cognitive function,” said Mark A. Espeland, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistical sciences in the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Sticht Center on Aging and co-author of the paper.

While there was no increase in cognitive function, there was also no reduction.

“Cognitive function as a whole remained stable over the two years for all participants,” Pahor said. “We can’t rule out that both interventions were successful at maintaining cognitive function.”

Science & Wellness

St. Augustine dig open for city's 450th anniversary

August 26, 2015
Stephenie Livingston
St. Augustine, archaeology

The remains of the oldest stone mission church completed in colonial Spanish Florida are open to the public as University of Florida archaeologists return to the site during the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine.

Through Sept. 11, archaeologists are digging deeper to explore the 70-by-35-foot-structure, one of the largest churches known to Spanish Florida. The excavation could reveal clues about daily life at the first and longest-lasting Franciscan mission in the Southeast, said lead researcher Gifford Waters, Florida Museum of Natural History historical archaeology collection manager.

“This season is both a research project as well as a public archaeology project,” Waters said. “I want to get local residents and tourists involved as we investigate activities that went on inside the church and attached convent.”

The church, which was completed before the famous Castillo de San Marcos, was discovered in 2011 at Mission Nombre de Dios, in operation from 1587 until 1763. Researchers have uncovered the majority of the coquina stone and tabby foundations, but this season Waters will excavate rooms identified last year, including where he thinks the friar’s residence was located.

“We really hope to get better insight into how the friar was interacting with the Native Americans,” Waters said. “In turn, I want to know how that was different from interactions with Spanish that lived inside the colonial city of St. Augustine.”

Past excavations have revealed evidence and artifacts — such as the sherds of pottery pictured above, a Spanish majolica called Puebla Polychrome — dating to the 17th century, suggesting the structure is likely the church commissioned in 1677 by Florida governor Pablo de Hita y Salazar in honor of the Shrine of Nuestra Senora de la Leche. Waters said the site played a key role in the lives of Spaniards in early St. Augustine and in all of Spanish Florida.

“Visitors came from all over Florida to the shrine, which was believed to provide a safe pregnancy and delivery,” he said. “The church was also instrumental in introducing Catholicism to Native Americans.”

Unearthing the stone church will be a multi-year project, culminating in a digital reconstruction of what the church and friar’s quarters looked like during colonial times, Waters said.

Visitors to the site will be given tours and some will have the opportunity to screen wash excavated material for artifacts. Florida Museum researchers will also post daily blog updates.

Society & Culture

What's new for fall

August 24, 2015
UF News

Six new and notable developments on campus.

‌If you're back in Gainesville after a summer away — or just want to know what's new on campus — here's a quick look at the latest, from 24-hour library access to a 1,500-pound alligator.

Campus Life

Mothers Against Drunk Driving
honors UF Police Department

August 18, 2015
Paul Bernard

The UFPD was named the recipient of the “Outstanding Dedication to DUI Enforcement and Prevention - University/College Agency” award by the MADD organization at an event held last month. Officer Kyle Peterson accepted the award on behalf of Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick. This is an annual award in the state of Florida.

In 2014, the UFPD made 97 DUI arrests, and also presented or participated in numerous alcohol awareness events across the UF campus as part of Student Community Oriented Policing Effort. These events included presentations, tabling at special campus events, participation in UF Preview, hosting UFPD’s Spring Break Safety Fair and working with campus partners such as the Inter-Fraternity and Panhellenic councils.

The mission of MADD is “to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.” Enforcement of DUI traffic laws is an important duty of law enforcement officers charged with safeguarding the public. Drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs represent a significant threat to public safety.

Statistics show that every day, 300,000 people drive impaired, and nearly 30 people in the U.S. die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The officers of the UFPD recognize these facts and work to support the efforts of MADD through its proactive enforcement endeavors.

For more information about MADD, please visit madd.org

Campus Life

Five centuries of fashion
and one great cause

August 14, 2015
Paul Bernard

Fashions from the 1500s to the 1970s will be modeled during a fashion show fundraiser hosted by the Climb for Cancer Foundation. “A Dose of Fashion” will be present Thursday, Sep. 10, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Gainesville Woman's Club on University Avenue.

Among the models will be none other than UF’s First Lady, Linda Moskeland Fuchs. She will be joined by UF physician Alice Rhoton-Vlasak, Climb for Cancer co-founder Dianne Farb, as well as others in what promises to be will be a very different kind of fashion show.

Guests will enjoy tea with such notables as Marie Antoinette, Jane Austen, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and Madame Curie.

Danette Baker from the Ruffled Rose Tearoom will provide the sweets and savories. Tickets are $60 each; a table of eight costs $400. All proceeds benefit oncology programs at UF & Shands.

Table purchasers have the option of competing for best table decorations honors. The table decorating guidelines can be downloaded here.

Climb for Cancer Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit foundation whose mission is to ease the pain and suffering of those affected by cancer. Since creating the Foundation, Farb and her husband Ron, an accomplished mountain climber, have raised more than $1,000,000 for cancer research and related support programs.

Campus Life

Overnight hours? The UF Marston Science Library is open to that.

August 14, 2015
Paul Bernard

With the fall semester underway, the University of Florida Marston Science Library is running on a 24/5 schedule. The library will be open continuously from 10 a.m. Sunday through 10 p.m. Friday. Hours on Saturday are 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

With the fall semester underway, the University of Florida Marston Science Library is running on a 24/5 schedule. The library will be open continuously from 10 a.m. Sunday through 10 p.m. Friday. Hours on Saturday are 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

The extended hours are the result of a recent student survey. UF Student Government will fund the extended hours, as it did for the Library West overnight hours.

Printing, course reserves, study room reservations, the MADE@UF mobile app development lab and other resources are available whenever the library is open. Starbucks will stay open as well.

Recent renovations have brought new furniture, more outlets, better technology and an increased seating capacity of more than 2,000. For the adventurous, additional technologies include iPad 3D scanners, Arduino products, and Raspberry Pi computers. Printing and computers (including new dual monitors and Macs) are now managed by UF Information Technology; Marston computers offer the same software found in Academic Technology computer labs. To accommodate all students’ preferences, a variety of study environments are now available, including group study in the Collaboration Commons and silent individual study on the fifth floor.

“The UF Libraries are appreciative of Student Government’s continued partnership,” said Valrie Minson, chair of Marston Science Library. “We welcome feedback from students about the switch to Marston as it is our goal to provide the best study environment possible.”

Campus Life

Fracking may lead to decline in visitation in public parks

August 27, 2015
Tim Kellison

Fracking in or near public park lands could prompt tourists to stay away, according to a new survey released today.

The study of park users in five Appalachian states found more than a third say they would be unwilling to participate in recreational activities near hydraulic fracturing operations, known more commonly as fracking.

A team of tourism, recreation, and sport management researchers from the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, and Florida State University aimed to explore the extent—if any—to which hydraulic fracturing in or around public parks may influence continued visitation and participation. A total of 225 self-identified park users across Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee completed online surveys.

Following the innovation of hydraulic fracturing to effectively collect natural gas, interest has grown in placing exploration and extraction wells in or adjacent to a number of public park and forest systems across North America and Europe. For example, the National Parks Conservation Association outlined a number of parks affected by fracking operations, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania and New Jersey), Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) and Glacier National Park (Montana).

In one of the first studies exploring the impact of fracking on park visitation, the researchers found that found that park users are concerned that their ability to access and enjoy their favorite parks systems will be hindered if public lands are leased for the purposes of natural gas exploration and extraction. Specifically, only one-third of participants indicated their willingness to participate in recreational activities near fracking operations (33%, compared to 38% unwilling and 29% neutral). More than half of all respondents expressed:

  • concerns that fracking operations would limit their ability to access their favorite park (52 percent);
  • a willingness to travel further to visit a park unaffected by fracking (52 percent); and
  • their support for legislation prohibiting fracking near their favorite park (58 percent).

Other findings of note include:

  • Most respondents expressed familiarity with the process of hydraulic fracturing.More than 60 percent reported being either somewhat familiar or very familiar with the term “hydraulic fracturing”; on the other hand, 10 percent had never heard of the term before taking the survey. Nearly one-third of the sample lives in a region impacted (either currently or expected) by fracking. Most respondents (40 percent) oppose fracking in any form, while 23 percent are supportive, 25 percent are neither supportive nor unsupportive, and 12 percent are unsure.
  • Park users believe that fracking on public land is unnecessary and bad for the environment.More park users agree fracking on public land is bad for the environment (48 percent) than those who agree fracking has no impact on the environment (16 percent). More park users also support banning fracking on public land (46 percent, as opposed to 20 percent who agree with promoting it). Fifty percent of respondents believe fracking on public land should be subject to greater oversight and regulation, while 13 percent believe it should be subject to less oversight and regulation. When neutral responses are removed from calculation, the contrasts are much starker.
  • While park users generally hold strong opinions that fracking has a negative impact on the natural environment, most park users surveyed for this study are less critical when it comes to its economic benefits.Park users attitudes toward the economic impact of fracking on public land were far more neutral (e.g., regarding its contribution to traffic and gas prices), and in some cases, were positive (such as its impact on the creation of temporary jobs).

The results of the study will be presented next month in Dublin, Ireland, during the annual meeting of the European Association of Sport Management. Additionally, the full results are provided in a report published by the research team, “Fracking and Parkland: Understanding the Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on Public Park Usage,” available at http://www.stadiatrack.com/fracking.

Science & Wellness

Before the drop, a rosy August: Florida consumer sentiment reading slightly higher, but may be erased by recent stock market drop

August 28, 2015
Colleen Porter
consumer sentiment

Consumer sentiment among Floridians rose less than a point in August to 91.2, according to a new University of Florida study.

Of the five components that make up the index, two rose and three declined. However, since interviews were conducted each day over the entire month, the full impact of the recent stock market drop may not be showing in the data. 

Perceptions of personal finances now compared with a year ago fell 2.5 points to 83.4, while expectations of personal finances a year from now declined by half a point to 101.3.

Looking at the national economic outlook, expectations of U.S. economic conditions in the upcoming year rose nearly five points to 88.8, while expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years rose 5.7 points to 88.9. 

Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy big-ticket consumer items like a car or appliance fell 4.2 points to 93.4.

“On balance, the preliminary index for August is relatively upbeat, but this does not show the full effect of the decline in the stock market,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“Prior to the crash that began about a week ago, Floridians were particularly optimistic about the future direction of the U.S. economy. “  McCarty said.  “There were exceptional gains among households with an annual income over $50,000 for both the short- and long-term outlook of the U.S. economy. Much of that optimism was likely erased this week when panic in the Chinese stock market spilled over into U.S. equities. Losses of this magnitude will raise questions among consumers, many who are invested in stocks through retirement accounts.”

Up until a week ago, economic indicators for Florida were relatively positive. The unemployment rate for July was 5.4 percent, down two-tenths of a percentage point from June. Job gains were led by the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector that includes retail trade, leisure and hospitality. The labor force declined by 53,000, which contributed to lower unemployment, and the labor force participation rate continued to fall and is now at 58.5 percent, the lowest since June 1983. 

While the median price of a single-family home in Florida fell by $3,600 to $199,900, the volume of sales remains strong. Consumer prices rose by only one-tenth of a percent, and gas prices in particular have remained low, declining by more than 15 cents since last month. The stock market had been stable for most of the month but is now down more than 10 percent, a decline most economists consider a “correction. “

“Typically, the Federal Reserve would not factor the stock market in their decisions to raise interest rates,” McCarty said. “They were prepared to raise rates in September, but given the mixed economic signals and the global nature of this decline, they will likely wait until December. The central role China plays as an exporter of goods and potential as future consumer of U.S. products means that the effects of the problems in the Chinese economy are likely not over yet.”

Conducted Aug. 1-24, the UF study reflects the responses of 451 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data

Society & Culture

Alumni, friends give record $315M through UF to impact humanity, help scholars reach dreams

August 28, 2015
UF News

Young learners, children with diabetes and student-athletes preparing for careers outside sports will benefit from the generosity of University of Florida donors who this past fiscal year gave a record $315 million.

Young learners, children with diabetes and student-athletes preparing for careers outside sports will benefit from the generosity of University of Florida donors who this past fiscal year gave a record $315 million.                                        

Nearly 78,000 alumni, friends and organizations invested in UF’s efforts to address society’s most pressing concerns and champion the university’s highest priorities, such as scholarships for first-generation students and endowments that support faculty research and teaching.

The $315 million in total commitments for fiscal year 2014-15, which ended June 30, includes cash, pledges and deferred gifts. Total gift commitments for the previous fiscal year were $286 million.

“Gators possess two traits that set them apart: incredible generosity and a remarkable desire to make a positive and profound difference in the world. When those two traits come together, amazing things happen,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “It a wonderful illustration of what ‘The Gator Good’ is really all about.”

“As UF aspires to join the ranks of the world’s best universities, it is inspiring to see how committed our alumni and friends are to helping us reach that goal,” said Dr. Steve Scott, chair of the UF Board of Trustees. “It’s remarkable, but not surprising, that so many Gators have stepped forward to invest through our university to help impact the lives of people around the world.”

Among many notable gifts this year were:

  • More than 650 acres of pristine conservation land from Gainesville couple Steve and Carol Shey that will eventually serve as a conference center and retreat, in addition to other support for the Harn Museum of Art;
  • $12.5 million from an anonymous donor to create the Otis Hawkins Center for Academic and Personal Excellence, a center for tutoring, studying, academic advising and other services for UF’s 500 student-athletes;
  • $5 million from Charleston, S.C., businesswoman Anita Zucker to establish a Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies in the College of Education; and,
  • $1 million from business executive Gale King to establish scholarships for first-generation, academically exceptional students from families with modest incomes.

Other gifts will help UF scientists find sustainable energy alternatives and develop drought-resistant crops, ensure freshwater supplies are plentiful and clean, and fund cancer research and treatment.

“This university truly is a world resource,” said University of Florida Foundation Chair Scott Hawkins. “Our depth and reach give us the ability to touch almost every aspect of people’s lives in a positive way. The university is receiving gifts from graduates, parents of graduates, corporations, foundations, and individuals with no affiliation with the university, who collectively share in the vision that the university has become a profound force for good.  A gift to UF really is a gift to all of humankind. Together, we really can change the world.”

“Gators have a long history of reaching out to help others stand up. When we see a problem, we look for a solution. It’s who we are,” said Zucker, who joined the UF Board of Trustees this year. “All of us whose lives were improved because of the university have an obligation to invest in it so others can benefit from the discovery, outreach and teaching that takes place at UF.” 

Global Impact

Prominent award goes to UF researcher Laura P.W. Ranum

August 13, 2015
Paul Bernard

University of Florida Health researcher Laura P.W. Ranum has won a prestigious Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study an inherited central nervous system disease.

Named for the late U.S. Sen. Jacob Javits, the award offers up to seven years of research funding to scientists “who have a distinguished record of substantial contributions in a field of neurological science and who can be expected to be highly productive,” according to the institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

The four-year, $2.5 million grant, which can be renewed for three additional years, will be used to conduct research on spinocerebellar ataxia type 8, said Ranum, director of the Center for NeuroGenetics and a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of molecular genetics and microbiology.

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 8 is a genetic disorder that impairs nerve fibers carrying messages to and from the brain, according to the National Ataxia Foundation. The disease causes balance and coordination problems, slow and drawn-out speech as well as difficulty swallowing as it progresses

 The Javits Award is an especially significant honor because it recognizes a researcher’s body of work. Some 560 Javits Awards have been granted since 1983. Ranum is the fifth UF researcher to receive the award.

“I was thrilled to learn about this award.  It’s a big honor and an award I see as credit to the many talented students and postdocs that I have had the pleasure to work with over the years,” Ranum said.

The award validates the importance of Ranum’s work, which is leading to new understandings of the mechanisms that result in neurological diseases, said Henry Baker, chairman of the department of molecular genetics and microbiology.

“She has assembled a strong team at UF, and I am confident that Dr. Ranum and her group will make many important discoveries in the future and receive many accolades and awards,” Baker said.

Campus Life

UF, Mount Sinai Medical Center of Florida receive funding for Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center

August 31, 2015
Paul Bernard

The National Institutes of Health is providing funds to University of Florida Health and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach to establish a center dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease research.

“The state of Florida is one of the epicenters of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, with something like 500,000 people diagnosed with the disease,” said Dr. Todd Golde, director of the UF Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease. “From a demographic point of view, we really need an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.”

The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers, or ADRC, comprise a network of organizations across the U.S. funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health. Investigators at the centers aim to turn research into better diagnosis and care for people with Alzheimer’s. The UF/Mount Sinai center will be the only fully staffed ADRC located in Florida, and one of only 30 in the United States.

“Mount Sinai Medical Center is proud to partner with the University of Florida to establish Florida’s only fully staffed Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center,” said Mount Sinai president and chief executive officer Steven D. Sonenreich. “Through this initiative, we will be able to translate research advances into improved diagnosis and care for people in Florida battling the disease.”

The center has received initial funding for $1.5 million for the first year, with expectation of renewal for five years total. The funding will support five cores within the center, including an administration, clinical, neuropathology, data management and statistics and outreach, recruitment and education core.

A major focus of the news center will be to study Hispanic patients with Alzheimer’s disease and compare them with non-Hispanics with the disease, said Dr. Ranjan Duara, medical director of the Wien Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders at Mount Sinai Medical Center, associate director of the ADRC and director of the clinical core based at Mount Sinai.

“In Florida we have a very diverse population who have different lifestyles, speak different languages, have varying cultures, levels of education and levels of stress,” said Duara. “Although this poses challenges in determining the correct diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and its rate of progression, it can also help us better understand how these factors influence the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and how it progresses.”

Another $1 million from the State of Florida, secured by state Reps. Erik Fresen, Matt Hudson and Fresen’s aide David Winialski, will augment aspects of the neuropathology and education cores.

Campus Life

McGuire Center curator among 2015
Entomological Society of America honorees

August 31, 2015
Paul Bernard

Jacqueline Y. Miller, curator of Lepidoptera at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, has been elected an Honorary Member of the Entomological Society of America.

Honorary Membership acknowledges those who have served ESA for at least 20 years through significant involvement in the affairs of the Society that has reached an extraordinary level. Candidates for this honor are selected by the ESA Governing Board and then voted on by the ESA membership.

Miller, who is also an adjunct professor in both the departments of entomology and nematology and biology at UF, has been a member of ESA since 1992. She received a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Florida and has been associated with the Florida Museum of Natural History since 1981. She is presently serving on the Local Arrangements Committee for the 2016 International Congress of Entomology and on the Presidential Committee on Section Leadership.

Along with the other Honorary Members listed below, Miller will be recognized during the awards ceremony at Entomology 2015, ESA's annual meeting, in Minneapolis this November.

  • Wayne A. Gardner, University of Georgia
  • Michael E. Gray, University of Illinois
  • Marlin E. Rice, Iowa State University
  • John Trumble, University of California at Riverside

The Entomological Society of America is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has nearly 7,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. For more information, please visit http://www.entsoc.org.

Campus Life

“Research!” takes center stage
on October 27

September 1, 2015
Paul Bernard

The Graduate Student Advisory Council, or GSAC, will be hosting its fourth annual Celebration of Graduate Research on October 27 at the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom.

This year’s “Research!” event will feature UF President Kent Fuchs speaking on his vision to establish the University of Florida as a national leader and a voice for higher education. The afternoon panel discussion, "What I Wish I Knew," will include senior doctoral students across various disciplines at UF. They will share their thoughts about the early years of graduate school, how they maintained a positive work/life balance, the resources they found helpful and available to them, as well as other pertinent topics.

The event is open to all graduate students, postdoctoral fellows/associates, researchers and faculty. Undergraduate students participating in research activities are also encouraged to attend the event.

A poster competition will also be featured, with cash prizes awarded to the winning entries.

The deadline for poster submission and event registration is October 2. For questions on the poster competition, please contact Ha Nguyen at Hanguyen@chem.ufl.edu.

General questions about Graduate Student Research Day, should be sent to Samantha Roberts at sjr2145@ufl.edu.

Campus Life

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