Can pharmacists help fill the growing primary care gap?

January 5, 2016
John Gums

By 2020 157 million people in the US will be living with at least one chronic health condition. As the number of Americans managing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol increases, the ranks of primary care providers (PCPs) who currently perform the majority of chronic disease management are dwindling.

Within the next 10 years, there is estimated to be a 27% shortage of PCPs in the US – about 90,000 fewer PCPs than the US health care system requires.

But there are approximately 300,000 pharmacists in the US, and the number of pharmacists is going up. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of pharmacists in the US increased by approximately 19%.

Pharmacists are trained to do much more than dispense medication, and they could help plug the growing gaps in chronic care management in the United States.

The trouble is that state pharmacy practice statutes were written in a different era, and haven’t caught up with the training pharmacists receive today. There’s a chasm between what pharmacists are trained to do and what they are allowed to do by law.

What does your pharmacist know how to do?

Your local pharmacist is a highly trained medical professional. Before pharmacy students even start school, they have to take and pass the standardized Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT), which covers topics like chemistry and biology and mathematics. Before entering pharmacy school (which is a four-year program), most students will have completed a bachelor’s degree or a rigorous two-year program of prerequisites. That means graduates of pharmacy schools have doctoral level training.

Would this work? Before they can practice, students have to pass a licensure exam (North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination, NAPLEX). Some will go on to receive board certification in cardiology, pediatrics or infectious disease or other specialties, by the Board of Pharmaceutical Sciences (BPS).

Of course, pharmacists receive extensive training in drug therapy management – medical care provided by pharmacists whose aim is to optimize drug therapy and improve therapeutic outcomes for patients, and the subtle differences between medications.

But pharmacists are also well versed in preventative care, patient counseling and health and wellness. They know how to manage chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. A pharmacist can manage a treatment plan initiated by physician, order basic laboratory tests, and adjust medication dosages, adding or subtracting medications as needed. These are things that many patients with chronic disease need to schedule an appointment with their PCP to do.

Pharmacists are often more accessible to patients than PCPs. No appointments are needed and in general pharmacists are available for consultation at hours during the day and night that most physician offices are closed.

But in most states, pharmacists stick with drug therapy management and don’t get to use the rest of the skills that they learn throughout their pharmacy education.

In some states, pharmacists are allowed to participate in administration of certain immunizations or are allowed to participate in preventative care or wellness. But it is the minority of states that have progressive pharmacy statutes allowing pharmacists to interact with patients, take medical histories, and order appropriate laboratory tests under certain conditions.

Why aren’t pharmacists doing more?

Outdated pharmacy statues aren’t the only thing blocking pharmacists from doing more than dispensing medication.

Pharmacists are often assisted by pharmacy technicians who preform routine tasks, like counting pills and labeling bottles, so they can devote more time to patients. Despite that division of labor, almost 70% of a pharmacist’s time is still spent on tasks that can be performed by technicians.

Pharmacists are paid based on the number of prescriptions filled. Even though they can do a lot more than dispense medication, that’s what they get paid to do, with a few exceptions.

For instance, Medicare reimburses pharmacists for medication therapy management – where a pharmacist manages and adjusts a the medication to suit an individual patient’s needs.

Because pharmacists don’t get paid for other services they provide, the end result is that patients receive less care than they could and should when visiting the pharmacy.

Letting pharmacists play a bigger role in care is a boon for patients

Even if there were enough PCPs to take care of the explosion in chronic diseases, there is evidence that PCPs aren’t doing a good job at managing their patients' chronic diseases.

Fifty percent of patients walk out of appointments not understanding what they were told by their physician. Patients actively participate in their own clinical decision-making less than 10% of the time. Just one-third of US patients with diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol have their conditions under good control.

And patients are taking more medication than ever. The number of prescriptions written in the US has increased from 700 million in 1989 to 4 billion in 2014. Since 2002 there has been a 15% increase in the number of 55-64-year-olds taking five or more medications. Ninety percent of adults over the age of 65 years take at least one prescription drug.

Taking more medication makes it more likely that a person won’t take them as directed. This can lead to medical complications, higher costs and even death. And more medication means a greater the likelihood of harmful interactions.

But research shows that when pharmacists are part of patient care teams they can help avoid these problems and result in better patient care. This is called a collaborative care model.

For example, the physician in charge of the care team would assign activities to a pharmacist, like monitoring blood pressure, ordering lab tests, evaluating and changing medication or doses. This lets the pharmacist act more independently while still working closely with the physician who is leading the care.

Collaborative care models have been shown to improve outcomes in patients with hypertension, diabetes, clotting disorders and high cholesterol. Putting a pharmacist on the care team can reduce adverse drug reactions and lower costs. If patients can go to a pharmacists for day-to-day management of their condition, physicians can spend more time seeing the patients that really need their expertise.

Change is happening…slowly

There are bills in both the House and Senate proposing an amendment to the Social Security Act authorizing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop pharmacist-specific codes for insurance reimbursement.

These efforts are necessary and long overdue, but even if these bills are passed and signed into law, what pharmacists can do is still restricted by antiquated state statutes that have little connection to how pharmacists are trained today.

Once laws catch up to what pharmacists are really trained to do, it will be the patients who benefit the most.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on Jan. 5, 2016.


Science & Wellness

Mark S. Long named new Sid Martin Biotechnology director

January 5, 2016

The University of Florida Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator recently announced the appointment of its new director, Mark S. Long. An internationally recognized program fostering the growth of startup bioscience companies, the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, or SMBI, hired Long to help support its own continued growth.

Long will replace retiring director Patti Breedlove. Previously, he served as a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in the department of management and entrepreneurship. On two occasions, he earned the Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award for outstanding teaching. Long has an M.S. in molecular biology and a B.S. in biology from Florida State University.

He is also the president of Long Performance Advisors, a global consulting company focused on accelerating efforts in business incubation, technology transfer, small business development and economic development with clients in Russia, China, the Caribbean, Malaysia and throughout the U.S. Long also has extensive private sector experience in the biomedical industry having held management positions at Coulter Corp., Baxter Healthcare and Sigma Diagnostics.

From 2002 to 2008, he served as president and CEO of the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., where he directed the IU Emerging Technologies Center and the Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute. Prior to that, Long was director of technology operations for technology transfer at Washington University in St. Louis.  He is a co-author of “Wholesale Economic Development” and “Put It in Writing II.”

David L. Day, assistant vice president of Technology Transfer at the University of Florida, says, “Mark has an outstanding reputation and brings a rare combination of insights into entrepreneurship, business incubation, science, and the biotechnology industry itself. He is the perfect choice to lead this internationally recognized program and work with our many partners to enhance the exciting biotech growth we’re seeing locally and across Florida.”

UF’s SMBI companies have attracted more than $1.3B in funding, created more than 2,000 area jobs and brought millions in revenue to city coffers. The recepient of four international and national awards, the Incubator provides space, equipment and support services to foster the growth of young bioscience companies. SMBI also developed and maintains the Florida Biodatabase.

For more information, please contact David L. Day at dlday@ufl.edu or 352-392-8929.

Campus Life

The Democracy Machine: How one engineer is making voting possible for all

January 5, 2016
Jon Silman

As an African American computer scientist, Juan Gilbert understands separation and the desire to belong. The University of Florida professor spent most of his college years as one of the only black students in his field. He didn’t have clear footsteps to follow.

“I was the only one like me. I was the only one who looked like me. I was isolated,” he said. “It’s easier to struggle when you have a community around you.”

That isolation shaped him, and so he has dedicated his life’s work to helping people who have been marginalized exercise this country’s most empowering guarantee: the right to vote.

There’s always talk about the Latino vote, the black vote, and the female vote, but what about the disability vote? What about the citizen who can’t enter a polling place because of a wheelchair? What about the blind, the deaf, or the intellectually disabled?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a secret ballot, yet thousands of disabled persons have never experienced what so many take for granted: making their own choices and voting without help, comfortable in the knowledge that they helped shape the future of their country by their actions.

A recent Rutgers University study found that when compared to the general population, people with disabilities vote less. In fact, if they voted at the same rate as their able-bodied peers, it would translate to an extra 3 million people at the polls.

Systematic flaws involving the ballot box have plagued this country since its founding, but for voters with disabilities, the challenges are amplified.

They may have trouble reading or seeing the ballot. They may have trouble understanding how to vote or how to use the equipment. Many are scared, or intimidated, or embarrassed. They’ve never had the opportunity to vote on a machine built for them to use.

Gilbert noticed this deficit and decided to change things. What if, he asked, there were a machine that every single person could use, disability or not.

It can’t be done, he was told. No way.

He didn’t listen.

Gilbert is the Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed Chair and chair of the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida. He was recruited in the UF Preeminence initiative, which gives state money to the university to attract top talent to Florida.

Gilbert brought a team of students with him—almost 20, basically his own community. His work is in human-centered computing, where he focuses on how communities, especially minority communities, interact with technology.

That machine mentioned earlier? It’s called Prime III, and it’s already in use today. It’s an open source voting technology, designed to be used by everyone, particularly people with intellectual and physical disabilities. It’s radically changing the way people vote.

To read more of the story, go to http://www.upf.com/book.asp?id=SILMA001, where you can download the complete text, available from University Press, for $5.95.

The stories chronicled in GATORBYTES span all colleges and units across the UF campus. They detail the far-reaching impact of UF’s research, technologies, and innovations—and the UF faculty members dedicated to them. Gatorbytes describe how UF is continuing to build on its strengths and extend the reach of its efforts so that it can help even more people in even more places.

Gatorbytes are available from University Press of Florida [URL: www.upf.com] and can be found wherever books and ebooks are sold.

Global Impact

Dr. King’s letter: 53 years later

January 6, 2016
Paul Bernard

Jonathan R. Cohen, professor of Law and Associate Director of the Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Levin College of Law will present “MLK, Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’: Lessons for Social Justice Advocacy” Jan. 14 from 3 to 4:15 p.m. in Holland Hall, Room 285C.

In 1963, while imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama for his participation in nonviolent protests against segregation, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a response to an open letter from eight white religious leaders of the South criticizing King’s action and positioning him as an agitator. To this day, his 7,000-word letter, also known as “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” remains one of the most highly regarded essays in history to address civil rights.

Cohen received his A.B. (summa cum laude), J.D., and Ph.D. (economics) from Harvard University. Prior to teaching at the University of Florida, he clerked for the Honorable Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, practiced employment litigation at a private law firm and served as a Hewlett Fellow at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. The central theme of Cohen’s research is ethical human relations, and his writings, especially concerning apology, have been influential both nationally and internationally in promoting legislative reforms and changes to legal practice. 

This event is sponsored by UF Law’s Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations. For more information, please contact Anju Kaduvettoor Davidson at davidson@law.ufl.edu or 352-273-0614.

Society & Culture

UF researchers find high teacher attrition rates at charter schools

January 6, 2016
Charles Boisseau

Teachers at state charter schools have more than twice the within-year attrition rate of those at traditional public schools, which could have a negative impact on student academic achievement, a new University of Florida study finds.

Florida charter schools on average lost roughly 10 percent of their teachers each school year from 2011-2012 to 2014-2015, the study shows. In contrast, the teacher turnover rate at traditional public schools was about 4 percent during the same period.

“We think that over the long-term, high attrition rates negatively impact student learning at the charter schools,” said M. David Miller, director of the Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services at UF’s College of Education.

Charter school principals and administrators interviewed as part of the study cited teacher turnover as among their biggest challenges. High teacher within-year attrition -- meaning during the school year -- typically results in the hiring of less experienced teachers, which can impede student academic achievement. Also, recruiting and hiring replacements costs valuable academic time and money.

Specifically, the state’s charter schools lost 3,406 teachers between 2011-12 and 2014-2015. There were 9,409 teachers at charter schools in the most recent school year studied. In contrast, traditional public schools lost a total of 24,581 teachers during the same period out of the far larger pool of roughly 150,000 teachers.

The UF researchers found that school administrators commonly cited three likely contributing factors for the high turnover rates at charter schools:

  • Salaries of charter-school teachers are almost always lower than those of their traditional-school counterparts.
  • Charter-school teachers typically do not have access to the state teacher retirement system.
  • The vast majority of charter schools have no formal teacher mentoring programs to support new teachers.

The scholars said more research is necessary to determine definitive reasons for the high attrition rates.

State education officials said the report’s findings raise concerns.

“The high attrition is worrisome to me as a teacher educator,” said Chris Muire, education policy director at the Florida Department of Education. He said state education officials are reviewing the report.

The scholars’ findings are included in a semi-annual report to the Florida Department of Education, which contracted with UF to assess the effect charter schools have on student achievement as part of a federal grant.

This ongoing research project is the first independent look at Florida’s charter schools since the U.S. Department of Education awarded the state a five-year, $104 million grant in 2011 to support the creation of charter schools, especially in high-need neighborhoods and rural and low-income school districts.

In recent years, the number of charter schools statewide has more than doubled from roughly 300 to about 700, Muire said. The UF study showed 582 in 2014-2015, up 33 percent from 436 at the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run schools created through agreements or “charters” with local district school boards. They are designed to increase parental options and provide schools more freedom to create innovative learning opportunities.

The study comes at a time of increased scrutiny of Florida charter schools, which some observers have criticized for siphoning off precious state funds and high-demand teachers. A recent Associated Press analysis of Florida Department of Education records found that charter schools in 30 districts have closed after receiving as much as $70 million in state funding since 2000.

In addition to Miller, the UF research project team includes Tom Dana, associate dean for the college; educational leadership researcher and project manager Nancy Thornqvist; and research methods graduate student Wei Xu. Miller also directs the college’s School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education.

See the full study.

Society & Culture

UF selected as a top school by Military Advanced Education & Transition’s 2016 Guide to College’s & Universities

January 7, 2016
Steve Orlando

Military Advanced Education & Transition, the journal of higher education for service members and veterans making the transition from military to the civilian sector, has designated the University of Florida a Top School in its 2016 MAE&T Guide to Colleges & Universities, measuring best practices in military and veteran education.

The guide presents results of a questionnaire of the military-supportive policies enacted at more than 600 institutions including private, public, for-profit, not-for-profit, four-year and two-year colleges. From community colleges to state universities, online universities and nationally known centers of higher learning, MAE&T’s 2016 Guide to Colleges & Universities arms students with information about institutions that go out of their way to give back to our men and women in uniform.

With input from an advisory board of educational and government experts, and criteria based on recommendations from the VA and military services, MAE&T’s Guide to Colleges and Universities provides the foundational information a prospective student would use in framing his or her educational needs.

“Our goal is to be a dynamic resource for active service members and those who have moved from the military to their civilian careers, helping them find the school that best fits their plans for the future,” said Kelly Fodel, Military Advanced Education & Transition’s editor. “We think this year’s guide is our most comprehensive to date, thanks to our newly established advisory board. The board evaluated the drafts of the questionnaire, made pages of notes and suggestions and helped to redefine questions for clarity. We thank them for their thoughtful edits and additions to our process.”

UF’s scorecard can be found online at http://mae.kmimediagroup.com/schools?state=FL&zip%5Bdistance%5D=100&zip%5Bunit%5D=6371&zip%5Borigin%5D=32611&class=All&size=All&name=&=Search%3Cspan+class%3D%27glyphicon+glyphicon-menu-right%27+aria-hidden%3D%27true%27%3E%3C%2Fspan%3E&sort_by=title

The guide is available online at www.mae-kmi.com and in the December issue of Military Advanced Education & Transition.

About Military Advanced Education & Transition:
Military Advanced Education & Transition (www.mae-kmi.com) is the journal of higher education for service members and veterans making the transition from military to the civilian sector. Covering issues and hot topics in higher education, career trends, transition assistance, innovative programs, and schools of special interest to the military, MAE&T focuses on news and resources that will empower a military student to pursue a quality education and rewarding career. MAE&T serves education services officers (ESOs) and transition officers (TOs) at every U.S. military installation, along with the service members they counsel. Published 10 times yearly, MAE&T’s editorial coverage includes exclusive interviews with military executive leadership, educators, and members of Congress; best practices; career and transition spotlights, service member, school, and program profiles, and periodic special reports.

Campus Life

Why isn’t learning about public health a larger part of becoming a doctor?

January 7, 2016
Erik Black

Chronic conditions, such as Type II diabetes and hypertension, account for seven in 10 deaths in the United States each year. And by some estimates, public health factors, such as the physical environment we live in, socioeconomic status and ability to access health services, determine 90 percent of our health. Biomedical sciences and actual medical care – the stuff doctors do – determine the remaining 10 percent.

Clinical medicine can treat patients when they are sick, but public health provides an opportunity to prevent disease and poor health. But too often, medical students don’t get to learn about public health, or how to use it when they become doctors. That means many of today’s students aren’t learning about health care in a broader context.

Why doctors need to know about public health

What should a physician do if patients are unable to visit a physician because their workplace doesn’t give them sick days? What about an obese individual who has trouble following healthy eating recommendations because their neighborhood doesn’t have a grocery store?

If we want the next generation of medical professionals to understand why some patients have an easier time following a care plan than others, or understand what causes these conditions so we can prevent them, medical schools need to look toward public health.
Epidemiology, a core discipline within public health, emphasizes the study and application of treatment to disease and other health-related issues within a population. It is focused on prevention, which means understanding what makes people sick or unwell.

You might hear about epidemiologists who work on figuring out how infectious diseases spread. But they also study obesity, cancer, how our environments affect our health and more.

So a doctor with training in public health would have an understanding of how environmental, social and behavioral factors impact their patients' health. These physicians might also draw on other medical professionals to treat individuals who are sick, and prevent sickness from occurring in the first place.

Medical schools recognize that their students should learn more about public health. But according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), about one-fourth of 2015 medical school graduates report that they intend to participate in public health-related activities during their career, and nearly one-third of graduates report that training related to community health and social service agencies was inadequate.

Putting public health into medicine

But this is slowly starting to change.

For instance, the Medical College Acceptance Test (MCAT), which all medical school applicants in the US take, used to focus on just physical and biological sciences and verbal reasoning. But in 2014 the MCAT added a new section on the psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior. The idea is to provide students with a foundation learn about what public health scholars call the social determinants of health. These are conditions and environments in which we are born, work, live and interact with others.

Expectations for students transitioning from medical school to their postgraduate residency are also starting to change.

The AAMC has a list of 13 activities that medical school graduates are expected to be able to do on their first day of residency. The activities (called Entrustable Professional Activities, or EPAs) integrate, among other core competencies, principles of public health into everyday practice. They include guidelines for working with individuals who have different belief systems, patient-centered practice and understanding how to access and use information about the needs individuals have and the community resource available to them.

Having students make house calls

At the University of Florida, where I teach, population health-based topics are integrated into our medical school curriculum, and also into curricula for other health professions.

Each fall, 700 first-year health science students studying everything from dentistry to clinical psychology, health administration, pharmacy, nursing and more take part in a service learning project with local families.

Students complete coursework about public health, but they are also assigned to work with a family through the year. Students make a series of home visits, which means that they can see, firsthand, how the family’s home environment shapes their health. Because the project includes students from all the health professions, it helps them understand each other’s roles and responsibilities in providing care.

In these visits, students get a chance to see the myriad factors that can make it easier or harder for a patient to follow the care plan their doctor prescribes. Students may learn that their patients have priorities in life that come before monitoring their own health. And for many students, this may be the only home visit that they make during their entire career.

For instance, a team of our students were humbled to learn that one of the patients they visited, a woman with severe hypertension and Type II diabetes, put her desire to provide Christmas presents for the six grandchildren she was raising over her medication adherence or her glucose monitoring. She was more focused on her grandchildren than spending time on monitoring her health and taking medications.

These home visits show students how complex their patients' lives really are. And that give these future doctors a perspective on their patients that they may never get in a clinical visit.

Other medical schools putting public health on the agenda

The University of Florida isn’t the only medical school investing time and energy to explore new methods to teach students about public health.

Some are adopting dual-degree models that allow medical students to earn degrees in both public health and medicine. Often, these programs extend students' training by 12 months, but some institutions, like the University of Miami and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, have developed four-year dual-degree programs.

Other institutions, such as the University of Illinois and Florida International University, are integrating population and public health perspectives throughout their curricula, to make sure that all students learn about public health.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on Jan. 6, 2016.

Science & Wellness

UF colleges partner to present play about cystic fibrosis

January 7, 2016
Leah Spellman

Brennen Reeves uses one word to describe the play he co-created with David Lee Nelson: honest.

Breathe chronicles Reeves’ journey to live beyond the odds, detailing his struggle of living with cystic fibrosis and being a double lung transplant. The University of Florida’s College of the Arts and College of Public Health and Health Professions are partnering to bring the one-man play to UF Performing Arts’ Squitieri Studio Theatre Jan. 16-17.

Breathe was created after Reeves took a solo performance class with Nelson at the College of Charleston. First previewed in November 2014 at Theatre 99 in Charleston, SC, the play was named one of the top five shows at the 2015 Piccolo Spoleto Festival in South Carolina.

It was at that festival that Lucinda Lavelli, dean of UF’s College of the Arts, saw the play and believed the UF and Gainesville community would find the story compelling. She approached Michael G. Perri, dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions, about a co-sponsorship to bring the production to campus.

Creating Breathe and opening up about his personal story was not easy, Reeves said.

“Everyone has baggage; everyone has their Breathe show,” he said. “I've found my voice in life, and I hope people can see that. My show is funny – don’t take life too seriously – and it’s said – one step forward, two steps back. That's what my life has been.”

Reeves, who majored in theatre performance, lives in Charleston where he continues to perform both on stage and in film. He has appeared in more than 10 shows and is involved in Charleston’s comedy scene where he performs stand-up and sketch comedy. While traveling with his show, Reeves is working on a creative non-fiction novel about his life. Nelson, director/co-creator of Breathe, is an award winning actor, playwright and solo performer.

Attendees of the Jan. 17 performance are invited to stay after the show for a panel discussion moderated by Jill Sonke, director of UF’s Center for Arts in Medicine. The panel will feature Reeves and Nelson along with Dr. Mutasim Abu-Hasan of UF's Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine and Dr. David Fedele of UF's Department of Clinical and Health Psychology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Reeves said that coming to UF is a dream.

“I hope students, professors, anyone and everyone that can come, comes,” he said. “My wish is that everyone goes home after the show and relates their lives to Breathe."

Campus Life

The Jews of Mexico: history, culture and libraries

January 8, 2016
uf news

Enrique Chmelnik Lubinsky, director of the Center of Documentation and Research for the Jewish Communities in Mexico, will speak on Thursday, Jan. 14 at 5:30 p.m. in the Judaica Suite, located inside the Grand Reading Room on the second floor of Smathers Library (East).

The talk is sponsored by the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica and the Latin American & Caribbean Collection of the George A. Smathers Libraries, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Alexander Grass Chair in Jewish Studies, the Center for Jewish Studies Gary Gerson Lecture Series and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information, please contact Barbara Hood at bhood@ufl.edu or 352-273-2505.

Campus Life

Kathleen Benson: Writing African-American children’s literature

January 8, 2016
uf news

“Draw What You See” is the latest work from award-winning children’s literature author Kathleen Benson. She will discuss the book, which focuses on the life and art of Benny Andrews on Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 4 p.m. in Room 100 of Smathers Library (East).

Andrews was a noted African-American painter who interpreted suffering and injustice, such as the Holocaust, Native American forced migration and Hurricane Katrina in his creative works. He co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition in 1969 to protest an exhibit in Harlem at which no work from African-Americans was displayed.

Benson will discuss her collaborations with Andrews and their work in social justice. She worked at the Museum of the City of New York and has authored more than 150 books for children and young adults.

The Baldwin Library Speaker Series brings to UF distinguished scholars and authors in children’s literature and the field of childhood studies. The series was founded in 2012 and has featured Peter Sis, Maria Tatar and Jerry Griswald. It is presented by the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida.

For more information about this event, please contact Suzan Alteri at salteri@ufl.edu.

Campus Life

UF researchers uncover new details linking stress, fat metabolism

January 8, 2016
Doug Bennett

If you’re under constant stress and can’t lose weight, there might be a protein to blame.

In cell and mouse model experiments, University of Florida Health researchers have discovered that chronic stress stimulates production of betatrophin, a protein that then goes on to inhibit an enzyme involved in fat metabolism. Those findings were published recently in the journal BBA Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids.

Its role as a stress-related protein brings new attention to betatrophin, which was once hailed by researchers elsewhere as a breakthrough therapy for diabetes, but later deemed ineffective.

While the latest properties of betatrophin have yet to be tested in a clinical setting, one researcher said the findings have potential implications for humans.

“Betatrophin reduces the body’s ability to break down fat, underscoring a link between chronic stress and weight gain,” said Li-Jun Yang, M.D., a professor and lead investigator in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine.

In the present study, mouse models experiencing metabolic stress produced significantly more betatrophin, and their normal fat-burning processes slowed down markedly. Such observations are significant because they shed new light on the biological mechanisms linking stress, betatrophin and fat metabolism, Yang said.

Betatrophin set the scientific world abuzz in 2013, when a Harvard University study suggested it could increase the number of insulin-producing beta cells in people with diabetes. Other researchers later concluded that it had no such effect.

Now it seems that betatrophin has an important, if less celebrated, role: The results provide experimental evidence that stress makes it harder to break down body fat, according to Yang and co-first author Yuan Zhang, M.D., who is completing her Ph.D. research at UF as part of the College of Medicine’s joint training program with the Second Hospital of Shandong University in Jinan, China.

Researchers there collaborated with Yang’s group, and this study was funded in part by the Lupus Research Institute and the China Scholarship Council.

Yang’s group made several novel findings, including that betatrophin is a stress-related protein. They also discovered why more betatrophin leads to less fat burning: It suppresses adipose triglyceride lipase, an enzyme that breaks down stored fat.

Experiments on cells derived from mice and humans were first used to establish betatrophin’s role in body fat regulation, Yang said. Next, researchers studied how betatrophin levels increased as mouse models experienced environmental and metabolic stress. Both types of stress boosted betatrophin production in fat tissue and the liver. That finding established betatrophin is a stress-related protein, Yang said.

While researchers have yet to test betatrophin’s effect on fat metabolism in humans, Yang said the new findings explain how reducing stress can be beneficial. While short-term mild stress can help people perform better and get through difficult situations, long-term stress can be far more detrimental.

“Stress causes you to accumulate more fat, or at least slows down fat metabolism. This is yet another reason why it’s best to resolve stressful situations and to pursue a balanced life,” Yang said.

Science & Wellness

UF's Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration 2016

January 11, 2016
Sarah Tanner

Award-winning poet, author and civil rights activist Nikki Giovanni will speak Jan. 19 as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week at the University of Florida.

Giovanni will discuss the power one has to make a difference in oneself and in the lives of others, and how to uphold King’s values. She will speak at 7 p.m. in the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom.

Vee Smith, UF’s director of black affairs, said the theme of the events will continue this year to empower individuals to “Leave Your Mark” through reflection on eight values lived by King: courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility, service and tolerance.

“It is important for students today to understand the historic relevance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Smith said. “In light of recent events happening in our country, now more than ever, we need to understand the impact of advocacy and importance of creating an environment of respect and inclusion.”

The celebration of events marking King’s birthday will start Jan. 13 with a candlelight march through campus and opening ceremonies. The march will begin at the Institute of Black Culture at 6 p.m. and end at the J. Wayne Reitz Union Grand Ballroom in time for the celebration opening ceremonies.

On Jan. 18, UF encourages students, faculty and staff to spend the “day on, not the day off” by participating in the MLK Day of Service and volunteering to do service in the community.

Additional information and opportunities:


or https://www.facebook.com/ufmlkcelebration/

Campus Life

UF's leadership in online programs reflected in latest U.S. News rankings

January 12, 2016
Donna Winchester

Two online programs at the University of Florida are among the top 10 nationally and two others improved their standing in the latest U.S News & World Report rankings released today.

Of particular note, UF ranked No. 1 in the Best Online Graduate Education Programs category, a rise from No. 13 in 2015, when the program improved from No. 47.

Meanwhile, two UF online programs – Online Bachelor’s and Online Graduate Engineering – also improved over last year, moving from 13th to 11th place and from 56th to 44th place, respectively.

Andy McCollough, UF associate provost for teaching and technology, said the latest rankings are an affirmation that the university is continuing to deliver excellence in online education.

“These results bear witness to the hard work of the faculty and staff engaged in online programs at UF,” McCollough said.  “We are continuing to build on the excellent reputation we enjoy not only among our peers, but in the online industry as well.”

UF also placed fourth this year in the Best Online MBA Programs category.

UF offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees via distance and online learning. Applicants must meet UF’s general admission requirements, as well as those specified by the individual degree program.

In January 2014, the university launched UF Online specifically for undergraduate students. With 14 bachelor’s degrees fully online including Business Administration, Computer Science and Environmental Management, UF Online is one of the first such programs in the country offered by a major public research university.

Criteria considered in calculating program rankings vary by level and discipline and can include factors such as student engagement, faculty credentials and training, peer reputation and student services and technology. Complete criteria for each program are available online at http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/rankings-methodologies. The complete rankings are available online at http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education.

Campus Life

Can schools punish students for off-campus online speech?

January 13, 2016
Clay Calvert

In January 2014, Reid Sagehorn, a student at Rogers High School in Minnesota, jokingly tweeted "actually yeah" in response to a question about whether he had made out with one of his high school teachers.

The public school, acting on the tweet, suspended him for seven weeks. Sagehorn, a member of the National Honor Society, fought the suspension in a federal court, claiming the actions of school officials violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

Did the school have the right to punish him for his off-campus expression? It turns out – no.

In August 2015, a federal judge rejected the school officials' motion to have the case dismissed. After all, the court found that Sagehorn made the post while away from campus, during nonschool hours, without using the school’s computers. And last month Sagehorn collected a settlement of more than US$400,000.

Sadly, Reid Sagehorn’s case is not unique. For at least the past 15 years, schools across the nation have engaged in Orwellian overreaches into the homes and bedrooms of students to punish them for their off-campus, online expression regarding classmates, teachers and administrators.

Despite the bevy of cases, the issue of whether schools can punish students for off-campus, online speech remains unresolved.

Cases where school kids were suspended

For instance, in April 2015, a federal court in Oregon considered a case called Burge v Colton School District 53 in which an eighth grader was suspended from his public middle school based upon out-of-school comments he posted on his personal Facebook page.

And in September 2014, a federal court in New York considered a case called Bradford v Norwich City School District in which a public high school student was suspended “based on a text-message conversation he had with another student regarding a third student while outside of school.”

Judge Glenn Suddaby observed in Bradford that “the Supreme Court has yet to speak on the scope of a school’s authority to discipline a student for speech that does not occur on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event.”

Silence from the Supreme Court

Indeed, a key problem here is that the US Supreme Court has never ruled in a case involving the off-campus speech rights of students in the digital era.

Public school students do possess First Amendment speech rights, although those rights are not the same as those of adults in nonschool settings.

A case in point is the Supreme Court’s famous 1969 proclamation in Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

A key problem has been the silence of the Supreme Court on free speech rights of students. Jeff Kubina, CC BY-SA

In this case, a divided court upheld the right of students to wear to school black armbands emblazoned with peace signs as a form of political protest against the war in Vietnam. The majority reasoned that such speech could be stopped only if school officials had actual facts to believe it would lead to a substantial and material disruption of the educational atmosphere.

But Tinker was an on-campus speech case. And although the Supreme Court has considered three more student speech cases since Tinker, none involved either off-campus or digital expression.

A chance to resolve the issue

Schools today are trying to exert their authority far beyond the schoolhouse gate. Some courts have allowed these efforts and others have rejected them, but now the Supreme Court has a prime opportunity to resolve the matter in a case called Bell v Itawamba County School Board.

In January 2011, a Mississippi high school student, Taylor Bell, was suspended from Itawamba Agricultural High School after he posted, while away from campus during nonschool hours, a homemade rap video to Facebook and YouTube.

In the video, Bell criticizes in no uncertain terms two male teachers for their alleged sexual harassment of minor female students. A version of rap that describes the resulting controversy is available online.

In August 2015, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit narrowly ruled that high school officials in Mississippi did not violate the First Amendment speech rights of Bell when they punished him for posting the video because it allegedly threatened two teachers.

In a ruling against Taylor Bell, the Fifth Circuit majority concluded that the rule from the Tinker case applies to off-campus speech:
when a student intentionally directs at the school community speech reasonably understood by school officials to threaten, harass, and intimidate a teacher, even when such speech originated, and was disseminated, off-campus without the use of school resources.

One of the judges in the case, James Dennis, writing in dissent, ripped into the majority for broadly proclaiming “that a public school board is constitutionally empowered to punish a student whistleblower for his purely off-campus Internet speech publicizing a matter of public concern.”

Judge Dennis stressed that the rule from Tinker, which requires school officials to reasonably predict a substantial and material disruption will be caused by speech before it can be stopped, does not apply to off-campus speech cases.

Why the Supreme Court should hear the Taylor Bell case

Some minors inevitably will post and upload – while away from campus and using their own digital communication devices – allegedly disparaging, offensive or threatening messages and images about fellow students, teachers and school officials on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat.

The key question, then, is whether and to what extent public schools, consistent with the First Amendment, may discipline students for their off-campus speech.

In November 2015, Bell filed a petition with the US Supreme Court asking it to hear his case.

As Bell’s attorneys argue, the court should take the case because whether or not Tinker applies to off-campus speech cases has “vexed school officials and courts across the country.”

In December, the organization I direct, the Marion B Brechner First Amendment Project, filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to take the case.

Briefs from the attorneys for the school are due January 20, and the court will decide whether to hear Bell later this spring.

The bottom line is this: public school students deserve the right to know, pre-posting and pre-texting, what their First Amendment rights are when they are away from campus.

They must, in other words, be given fair notice. The court should hear Bell to let them know precisely what their rights are. It is an issue not likely to go away soon.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on Jan. 12, 2016.

Society & Culture

Alive and well in 2016

January 14, 2016
Paul Bernard

“Windows to Wellness,” a health and wellness fair designed with UF and UF Health employees in mind, will be held 
Friday, Jan. 22, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
 at Emerson Alumni Hall.

Looking for a way to start the year off on the right foot?

This one-day event will include activities, information and resources designed to support you in your wellness journey. Benefits-eligible employees can participate in free workshops and health screenings, meet with representatives from a variety of campus organizations, enjoy healthy refreshments, enter to win door prizes and much more.

Guests can learn by participating in mini-workshops on meditation, cooking, yoga, Zumba, deskercise and more throughout the day. The first 10 attendees at each mini-workshop will receive a goody bag.

Complete assessments to gauge your health, including body composition screenings, blood pressure checks and stroke risk evaluations will all be available, as will flu shots and chair massages. You'll also have an opportunity to discover the many "windows to wellness" available right here on campus.

By participating in the event, attendees can enter to win a variety of health and wellness door prizes. Those who bring a donation to UF’s Field and Fork campus food pantry will receive a bonus entry. Representatives from several organizations will be on hand to share information and resources.

“Windows to Wellness” is hosted by the UF Office of Human Resource Services. For more information, please visit hr.ufl.edu/windows-to-wellness.

Campus Life

Living the Dream

January 15, 2016
UF News

More than 240 UF students were expected to participate in the annual MLK Day of Service on Jan. 18, honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. by helping their neighbors and communities through a variety of volunteer projects.


Campus Life

A variety of art from a variety of faculty

January 20, 2016
Paul Bernard

The works of 22 University of Florida School of Art + Art History faculty members are on display in University Gallery through Friday, Jan. 29.

“The 51st annual Faculty Exhibition features everything from sculpture to photography to graphic design to video performance art,” said Amy Vigilante, director of University Galleries. “We hope you will join us to view brand new work by our esteemed studio faculty members. Several new faculty members are featured as well as senior faculty who have been teaching at the University of Florida for many years.”

The artists represented in this year’s exhibition include: Anthea Behm, Anna Calluori Holcombe, Amy Freeman, Coco Fusco, Katerie Gladdys & Anna Prizzia, Richard Heipp, Lisa Igelsias, Ron Janowich, Ellen Knudson, Sean Miller, Julia Morrisroe, Robert Mueller, Derek Reeverts, Maria Rogal, Bradley Smith, Craig Smith, Nan Smith, Rotem Tamir, Bethany Taylor, Michelle Tillander and Amy Vigilante.

University Galleries comprises three art galleries (University, Focus and Grinter) at UF and is an integral part of the programs and curricula of the School of Art + Art History.

For more information, please contact the University Gallery at 352-273-3000 or visit arts.ufl.edu/galleries.

Campus Life

A dream come true for UF’s Christine Miller

January 20, 2016
uf news

A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher has won an $822,000 early-career award from the National Science Foundation in recognition of her commitment to research and its integration into teaching undergraduate students.

The NSF honored Christine Miller, an assistant professor of entomology, with its CAREER award as part of a foundation-wide activity that supports faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars.

“It’s been a dream of mine for years to receive this award, and at some level I still can’t believe that it has actually happened,” Miller said. “I am very excited about the next five years. It will be great to involve so many young researchers in the cutting edge of science.”

During the course of the five-year grant, Miller will investigate the evolution and diversification of elaborate animal weapons, such as antlers, horns and spurs, which males use to compete for females. Together with hundreds of students and her research team, Miller will determine how fighting behaviors have led to diversification of these weapons.

“This work will engage and train hundreds of students,” Miller said. “Undergraduates are often fascinated by animal behavior and weaponry, and these topics will be a fun way to engage and retain students in science.”

She added that with her grant, students will learn about the research process, the nature of science itself and how science informs our society.

“Many more talented science graduates are needed in the coming years to enable the United States to continue to be a leader in science, technology and mathematics,” Miller said. Innovative approaches, such as those planned by Miller, may be an important way to achieve this national goal.

Miller has worked at UF for more than eight years, after earning a doctorate from the University of Montana in 2006.

Campus Life

Defending your computer from cyber-attacks, Sun Tzu style

January 20, 2016
Alisson Clark
UF Preeminence, cybersecurity, technology

Can unpredictability protect computers against malware?

We want our computers to perform the way we expect. But what if the key to defeating malware is introducing a bit of chaos?

Daniela Oliveira, a professor in the University of Florida Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, thinks a bit of unpredictability could help outsmart malware. That’s the logic behind Chameleon, the operating system she’s developing with colleagues at UF, Stony Brook University and the University of California, Davis.

In Chameleon, which is still in the conceptual phase, unknown programs that could be malware run in a special “unpredictable” environment, where the OS intentionally introduces some unpredictability to the way they operate.

“Even though it seems crazy to impact functionality, it can be very effective at countering attacks if it only impacts software that could be malicious,” Oliveira said. “The malicious process thinks it’s in control, but it’s not.”

Programs you know and trust could be approved to run in a standard environment where they’ll function normally, while detected malware are sequestered in a third environment, called deceptive. Instead of squashing them immediately, Chameleon would let the malicious processes continue to work in a façade environment while collecting information that can be used to understand and defeat them.

Oliveira’s inspiration came in part from her interest in military strategy.

“I’ve read a lot about warfare. Sun Tzu, Julius Caesar – they were successful because of the element of surprise. Cyberwarfare is the same,” she said.

Deception has been used against cyber-attacks before, mostly in “honeypot” strategies that lure attackers in to gather information. But those deceptions typically are quickly revealed, Oliveira says, which limits their effectiveness. What sets Chameleon apart is inconsistent deception: Software that has been quarantined – or malware that bypasses standard detection systems – runs in an unfavorable environment until proven either benign or malicious.

An operating system like Chameleon would be great for a corporate environment, where the mission-critical software is known in advance, Oliveira says. That’s good news not just for corporations, but also for those of us who entrust our sensitive data to them.

“Predictable computer systems make life too easy for attackers,” she said. 

Global Impact

Nikki Giovanni provokes thoughts, laughter at UF's MLK Celebration

January 21, 2016
Claire Campbell

The Reitz Union Grand Ballroom boasted a capacity crowd Jan. 19 as award-winning poet, author and civil rights activist Nikki Giovanni urged listeners to follow the lead of those who came before them and not back down.

Giovanni, 72, shared her experiences from the Civil Rights era, touching on her relationships with Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Speaking candidly about the history of slavery, she said some good had to come of it. At the very least, people learned to find comfort during a terrible time.

She elicited laughter with her blunt honesty and quick wit. When asked what she would claim as her legacy during a question-and-answer session, Giovanni spoke about her cooking.

"If you were to ask me about legacy, that would probably be it," she said. "I'm a good cook."

She recited a poem she wrote in honor of King as her closing.

Kassidy Wallace, a second-year double major in African-American studies and visual art studies, called Giovanni "the voice of a generation."

Tianna Dowie-Chin, secretary of the Black Graduate Student Organization, said she was glad UF invited Giovanni to be the event’s keynote speaker.

"She was more than we expected," Dowie-Chin said. "She’s definitely one of the legends in my mind."

The MLK Celebration, sponsored the Black Graduate Student Organization, Black Student Union, African American Studies Program, and Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, also featured the UF Gospel Choir, Black on Black Rhyme, a dance performance by the African Student Union and Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Rudy Currence.

Campus Life

Lessons from the aftermath

January 22, 2016
Steve Orlando

As Florida braces for an El Nino weather pattern that is predicted to mean more tornadoes for the Sunshine State this winter, UF engineering professor David Prevatt and his team are gearing up to study what happens to structures when the high winds hit. The team’s goal: to find better construction materials and techniques that make buildings safer for their inhabitants.

The team traveled to the Dallas area to examine the aftermath of a rash of deadly twisters that struck Christmas Day and, more recently, to Siesta Key near Sarasota, where two tornadoes struck in mid-January, killing two people.

“It’s up to us as civil engineers,” Prevatt said, “to try to help the community do much better in terms of … rebuilding.”

Science & Wellness

Joining forces for safety and response

January 22, 2016
uf news

The University of Florida Division of Public Safety has announced its partnership with the University of Florida Gator Emergency Medical Response Unit. This collaboration will support the educational responsibility of the university and the UF Public Safety mission in providing the highest level of community service in the protection of life and property through innovative services.

The Florida Gator Emergency Medical Response Unit, or GEMRU, was created in 2015. Working with UFPD and fire rescue response, it provides emergency and non-emergency medical care to UF students, faculty, staff and visitors. The GEMRU is student-operated, volunteer and nonprofit.

Of the GEMRU’s 41 current members, 13 are EMT/Paramedic certified. Medical Director, Dr. Christine Van Dillen, the UF Department of Emergency Medicine and Assistant Vice-President of Public and Environmental Safety, Chief Linda J. Stump-Kurnick, oversee the unit. Van Dillen said “The GEMRU is a great addition to emergency medical resources and the program provides a great amount of motivation and experience to the personnel involved. I am excited to be a part of it all.”

The GEMRU will be present throughout the year at numerous special events that would ordinarily not have emergency medical staff on site, beginning with January’s Dance Marathon.

Additional information can be found at www.gemru.org.

Campus Life

Center for Smell and Taste under new leadership

January 25, 2016
uf news

Steven D. Munger has been appointed director of the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste, succeeding founding director Barry Ache, who stepped down from the position at the end of last year.

Munger, professor and vice chair of the UF department of pharmacology and therapeutics, earned his doctorate at the University of Florida under Ache, and has established himself as a leader in chemosensory research. He was recruited to UF in 2014 as part of the UF Preeminence initiative from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where he was a faculty member for 14 years.

"Dr. Ache's leadership has brought together diverse talents from across the UF that might not have collaborated before,” he said. ”I am looking forward to working with this remarkable group of scientists and educators as UF leads the way in the study of taste and smell."

Ache, a distinguished professor of biology and neuroscience at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, and a national leader in the science of smell and taste, has served as the center’s director since its founding in 1998. He has been a UF faculty member since 1978. He will continue to be involved with the center in his new role as chair of its Scientific Advisory Board, and said the transition to Munger should prove natural.

“Under the leadership of Dr. Steven Munger, the center can be expected to continue to move to prominence in chemical senses research with concomitant gain in competitiveness for grants, collaborations with industry, ability to contribute to the health and wellness of Florida citizens, and public visibility,” he said.

Munger is the recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the Ajinomoto Award for Young Investigators in Gustation. He is also the president-elect of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences, the leading scientific society for the study of smell and taste. His research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms responsible for the detection of odors and tastes.

"Chemical senses researchers at UF are poised to make major advances in treating smell loss, improving the taste of food, controlling agricultural and disease-carrying pests, and designing better sensors," Munger said.

The UF Center for Smell and Taste is one of only three recognized centers of chemical senses research in the U.S., and the only one associated with exceptionally strong medical and agricultural enterprises. It includes more than 50 faculty members across 20 departments at UF.

Campus Life

UF researchers uncover how dopamine transports within the brain

January 25, 2016
Doug Bennett

Researchers at University of Florida Health have discovered the mechanics of how dopamine transports into and out of brain cells, a finding that could someday lead to more effective treatment of drug addictions and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers, including Habibeh Khoshbouei, Pharm D., Ph.D., an associate professor of neuroscience in the UF College of Medicine, report their findings in the current edition of the journal Nature Communications.

The findings are significant because dopamine is involved in many brain-related functions, Khoshbouei said. Too little dopamine can lead to Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that causes shaking and problems with movement and coordination. Abnormally high concentrations of dopamine are linked to schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Cocaine and methamphetamine affect the brain by blocking the normal transport of dopamine back into neurons.

Knowing how a particular protein called dopamine transporter controls dopamine movement in and out of neurons is crucial to further understanding dopamine-related disorders, Khoshbouei said.

“It’s an important first step. If we know how the dopamine transport system works, then we can start fixing it when it’s broken or malfunctioning,” she said.

The researchers’ findings offer a broader understanding of how dopamine moves through cell membranes. Using mouse and human-derived dopamine neurons, researchers found that dopamine movement is affected by changes in electrical properties of the neurons. That, in turn, changes the way dopamine transporters function.

Khoshbouei likens the dopamine transporter to a powerful, efficient “vacuum cleaner” that helps the brain maintain its normal chemical balance by rapidly drawing dopamine back into the neurons. In a normally functioning brain, dopamine is released from the neurons in response to pleasurable or life-sustaining activities, such as eating or sex. When the “vacuum cleaner” works properly, dopamine is eventually swept back into the neurons by the dopamine transporter, returning the brain to a less-stimulated state. Drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine keep the brain stimulated by preventing neurons from “vacuuming up” excess dopamine.

Ultimately, it’s about balance: A properly functioning dopamine system controls movement, reward and pleasurable feelings. Imbalance in the dopamine transport system leads to neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases. Understanding the dopamine transport system is another step toward possibly being able to treat drug addictions or diseases related to dopamine imbalance, Khoshbouei said.

Grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders funded the research, which included collaborators from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and the NIDA.

Science & Wellness

College hackers unite

January 28, 2016
Desirae Lee

In just 24 hours, students created websites and apps during Swamp Hacks, the University of Florida's second annual hacker convention.

Hackers from UF, Florida State University, Florida International University, Stetson University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology collaborated at the event January 23-24 in Marston Science Library. 

A collaboration with Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon league powered by Dell and Intel, helped boost attendance to more than double last year's event. The Association of Computer Engineers, the Association of Computer Machinery, Women in Computer Science and Engineering, the Software Engineering Club and other student organizations began planning for the event, which is entirely student-run, in early fall. 

Hacking may be a misleading term, leaving people expecting a competition for cracking codes and breaking into computer systems. Instead, the attendees were creating innovative applications, many of them for the first time. Many students came on their own and formed teams with the new people they met. Isabel Laurenceau, a computer engineering major with a minor in dance, was one of the only solo hackers. She created an application to connect dancers all over Gainesville, alerting them of upcoming workshops and dance events. Laurenceau said that she has wanted to combine her interests into one idea for a while and used the hackathon as a way to finally make it happen.

Katie Porterfield attended with fellow Stetson University student Marisa Gomez. The two have attended dozens of hackathons and are planning to start one of their own.

“Hackathons are about pushing your limits and welcoming community,” Porterfield said.

Representatives from the event's sponsors mentored, recruited and served as judges at the event. Winning submissions included an application called “Honey, I’m Home,” which uses face recognition to notify residents of people entering their house. Another was a system for the visually impaired in which users can scan a room with their phone and have it speak keywords that describe what it “sees.” Prizes ranged from Xbox gaming systems to Canon cameras.

Campus Life

Explainer: Where did Zika virus come from?

January 28, 2016
Amy Y. Vittor

From October 2015 to January 2016, there were almost 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil. Before then, there were just 150 cases per year.

The suspected culprit is a mosquito-borne virus called Zika. Officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have suggested that women delay becoming pregnant. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to postpone travel to countries where Zika is active.

The World Health Organization says it is likely that the virus will spread, as the mosquitoes that carry the virus are found in almost every country in the Americas.

Zika virus was discovered almost 70 years ago, but wasn’t associated with outbreaks until 2007. So how did this formerly obscure virus wind up causing so much trouble in Brazil and other nations in South America?

Where did Zika come from?

Zika virus was first detected in Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947 in a rhesus monkey, and again in 1948 in the mosquito Aedes africanus, which is the forest relative of Aedes aegypti. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus can both spread Zika. Sexual transmission between people has also been reported.

Zika has a lot in common with dengue and chikungunya, another emergent virus. All three originated from West and central Africa and Southeast Asia, but have recently expanded their range to include much of the tropics and subtropics globally. And they are all spread by the same species of mosquitoes.

Until 2007 very few cases of Zika in humans were reported. Then an outbreak occurred on Yap Island of Micronesia, infecting approximately 75 percent of the population. Six years later, the virus appeared in French Polynesia, along with outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya viruses.

How did Zika get to the Americas?

Genetic analysis of the virus revealed that the strain in Brazil was most similar to one that had been circulating in the Pacific.

Brazil had been on alert for an introduction of a new virus following the 2014 FIFA World Cup, because the event concentrated people from all over the world. However, no Pacific island nation with Zika transmission had competed at this event, making it less likely to be the source.

There is another theory that Zika virus may have been introduced following an international canoe event held in Rio de Janeiro in August of 2014, which hosted competitors from various Pacific islands.

Another possible route of introduction was overland from Chile, since that country had detected a case of Zika disease in a returning traveler from Easter Island.

Most people with Zika don’t know they have it

According to research after the Yap Island outbreak, the vast majority of people (80 percent) infected with Zika virus will never know it – they do not develop any symptoms at all. A minority who do become ill tend to have fever, rash, joint pains, red eyes, headache and muscle pain lasting up to a week. And no deaths had been reported.

However, in the aftermath of the Polynesian outbreak it became evident that Zika was associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a life-threatening neurological paralyzing condition.

In early 2015, Brazilian public health officials sounded the alert that Zika virus had been detected in patients with fevers in northeast Brazil. Then there was a similar uptick in the number of cases of Guillain-Barré in Brazil and El Salvador. And in late 2015 in Brazil, cases of microcephaly started to emerge.

At present, the link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly isn’t confirmed, but the virus has been found in amniotic fluid and brain tissue of a handful of cases.

How Zika might affect the brain is unclear, but a study from the 1970s revealed that the virus could replicate in neurons of young mice, causing neuronal destruction. Recent genetic analyses suggest that strains of Zika virus may be undergoing mutations, possibly accounting for changes in virulence and its ability to infect mosquitoes or hosts.

The Swiss cheese model for system failure

One way to understand how Zika spread is to use something called the Swiss cheese model. Imagine a stack of Swiss cheese slices. The holes in each slice are a weakness, and throughout the stack, these holes aren’t the same size or the same shape. Problems arise when the holes align.

With any disease outbreak, multiple factors are at play, and each may be necessary but not sufficient on its own to cause it. Applying this model to our mosquito-borne mystery makes it easier to see how many different factors, or layers, coincided to create the current Zika outbreak.

A hole through the layers

The first layer is a fertile environment for mosquitoes. That’s something my colleagues and I have studied in the Amazon rain forest. We found that deforestation followed by agriculture and regrowth of low-lying vegetation provided a much more suitable environment for the malaria mosquito carrier than pristine forest.

Increasing urbanization and poverty create a fertile environment for the mosquitoes that spread dengue by creating ample breeding sites. In addition, climate change may raise the temperature and/or humidity in areas that previously have been below the threshold required for the mosquitoes to thrive.

The second layer is the introduction of the mosquito vector. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus have expanded their geographic range in the past few decades. Urbanization, changing climate, air travel and transportation, and waxing and waning control efforts that are at the mercy of economic and political factors have led to these mosquitoes spreading to new areas and coming back in areas where they had previously been eradicated.

For instance, in Latin America, continental mosquito eradication campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s led by the Pan American Health Organization conducted to battle yellow fever dramatically shrunk the range of Aedes aegypti. Following this success, however, interest in maintaining these mosquito control programs waned, and between 1980 and the 2000s the mosquito had made a full comeback.

The third layer, susceptible hosts, is critical as well. For instance, chikungunya virus has a tendency to infect very large portions of a population when it first invades an area. But once it blows through a small island, the virus may vanish because there are very few susceptible hosts remaining.

Since Zika is new to the Americas, there is a large population of susceptible hosts who haven’t previously been exposed. In a large country, Brazil for instance, the virus can continue circulating without running out of susceptible hosts for a long time.

The fourth layer is the introduction of the virus. It can be very difficult to pinpoint exactly when a virus is introduced in a particular setting. However, studies have associated increasing air travel with the spread of certain viruses such as dengue.

When these multiple factors are in alignment, it creates the conditions needed for an outbreak to start.

Putting the layers together

My colleagues and I are studying the role of these “layers” as they relate to the outbreak of yet another mosquito-borne virus, Madariaga virus (formerly known as Central/South American eastern equine encephalitis virus), which has caused numerous cases of encephalitis in the Darien jungle region of Panama.

There, we are examining the association between deforestation, mosquito vector factors, and the susceptibility of migrants compared to indigenous people in the affected area.

In our highly interconnected world which is being subjected to massive ecological change, we can expect ongoing outbreaks of viruses originating in far-flung regions with names we can barely pronounce – yet.

This article originally was published in The Conversation on Jan. 27, 2016.

Global Impact

Stomp the Swamp to benefit autism center

January 29, 2016
Aileen Mack
CARD, autism, The Swamp

A student group is inviting Gainesville and University of Florida community members to do stadiums for a cause at Stomp the Swamp for Autism on Feb. 6.

IMPACT Autism organizes the annual event, which is from 10 a.m.-noon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, to benefit UF’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.

In teams or as individuals, participants run or walk the stadium’s steps or inner loop. Kids 12 and under can participate in a free obstacle course along with activities for families.

KISS 105.3 will provide live entertainment, and various UF organizations, community groups and student athletes will share information and cheer on the participants. The event includes breakfast, along with the chance to win prizes, including gym memberships and gift cards.

Last year, over 500 participants raised over $9,000 for UF CARD. This helped them to give away safety boxes with items for parents in case their autistic child wanders away, such as bracelets and shoe tags with the child’s information. The proceeds also support parent and peer tutoring groups and fund assistance for those on the autism spectrum, including schedules and manual communication aids.

On-site sign-up begins when gates open at 9 a.m. Donations for the event on-site are $20, and extra event shirts will be on sale at the event for $10.

For more information, please call 352-273-0581.

Campus Life

Despite Florida’s continued job growth, market turmoil keeps economic expectations lower

January 29, 2016
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians fell slightly in January to 91.5 -- down one-tenth of a point from December’s revised reading of 91.6 and 1.6 points lower than January 2015, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.

Among the five components that make up the index, three declined and two increased.

Both short- and long-term views of the national economy were down. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year fell 1.8 points to 84.1, while the outlook on U.S. economic conditions over the next five years fell 4 points to 86.8. Compared with January 2015, both components are significantly lower: 11.6 points lower for expectations in the upcoming year, and 5.1 points lower for the next five years.

Opinions as to whether it is a good time to buy a big-ticket item fell 1 point to 100.9 but remained higher than the January 2015 figure.

Perceptions of personal finances now compared with a year ago rose 3 points to 83.7, which is 6.2 points higher than for the same month last year. Expectation of personal finances a year from now rose 3.5 points to 102, the same reading as January 2015.

“While only three out of five components fell, the biggest change between January 2015 and 2016 was the more than 11-point decrease in anticipation of U.S. economic conditions over the next year,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Although the biggest declines in expectations of U.S. economic conditions were observed in those aged 60 and over and those in households making more than $50,000, this unfavorable perspective is shared by all Floridians in general, independent of their gender, age or income level.”

Economic data in Florida continues to be mostly positive, particularly in the labor market. Unemployment among Floridians continues to fall, with December’s rate at 5.0 percent. There has also been a gain of 233,100 jobs since December 2014, which represents an increase of 2.9 percent. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, December was the 65th consecutive month with positive annual job growth.

Although inflation is expected to pick up as unemployment falls, the inflation rate decreased as the cost of energy products declined. This generates uncertainty on how the Federal Reserve will respond, given the increase in the interest rates announced last month to stay ahead of inflation. Nonetheless, the low price of gas represents a huge savings for Floridians, putting more money in their pockets.

“Despite the positive trends in the labor market, the decline in Floridians’ consumer sentiment, in particular the decline in the short- and long-run expectations on U.S. economic conditions, might be due to the drop in the stock market this year combined with the deterioration of the Chinese economy,” Sandoval said. “On one hand, if the turmoil in the stock market persists, this will reduce consumer spending in the medium-run; on the other, job losses might occur as a consequence of China’s slowdown,” Sandoval said. 

Conducted Jan. 1-24, the UF study reflects the responses of 427 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

International Center’s Study Abroad Fair attracts students eager to learn

January 29, 2016
Kelli Kaufmann

An expansive white tent roofed dozens of fold-out tables, each bearing the flag of a different nation, offering UF sophomore Emily Fletcher a sea of choices.

Fletcher, 19, a statistics major, was among hundreds of UF students who came to the Plaza of the Americas Jan. 27 to explore her options at the spring 2016 Study Abroad Fair. The fair, hosted by UF’s International Center, showcased opportunities from around the world for students seeking an enriching cultural experience and heightened global awareness.

“So many students are interested in studying abroad,” Fletcher said. “I could be travelling with anyone here and making memories with them.”

Program directors, providers and former study abroad students were at the fair to share their international experiences and to help students begin finding the right program. Other universities and institutions that sponsor UF-approved opportunities also were there.

Austin Bracey, a 21-year-old chemical engineer, shared some of the benefits of his study abroad opportunity in Lima, Peru.

“This experience gave me the confidence to travel alone to places I would have never gone to before,” he said.

At first, Bracey said, he had trouble finding a travel abroad opportunity that pertained to his major. He said this challenge, in addition to the time commitment to a five-year major, can make it difficult for UF to convince engineering students to travel.

But 18-year-old business management student Kevin Rivera said UF’s International Center is tackling this problem head on, providing resources to make his goal to study abroad a reality.

“You’re not here for one major,” he said. “You’re here to educate yourself on how the world works.”

The Center has helped Rivera do just that with a new program called Learning Without Borders. Educating students on global awareness through certificate coursework, language learning, civic engagement and study abroad opportunities, this program is just one of many showcased at the Study Abroad Fair.

This past year, more than 2,000 UF students studied abroad in Europe, Central and South America and the Middle East, according to the International Center. Students interested in learning more are encouraged to stop by the International Center, 1765 Stadium Road, Suite 170 HUB.

“Get outside of the dorm and the study room,” Rivera said. “You become a more enlightened individual by doing more than your major requires.”

Campus Life

Stopping domestic violence and helping those who couldn’t

January 29, 2016
uf news

The University of Florida Division of Public Safety recently announced its partnership with the Atkins Warren Chapter of NOBLE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, to collect used cell phones for the Hopeline® from Verizon.

The program collects no-longer used wireless phones, batteries, chargers and accessories – in any condition, from any service provider – to benefit victims and survivors of domestic violence. The phones donated to Hopeline are recycled or resold, with the proceeds going towards the financial support of domestic violence awareness and prevention initiatives.

One of the missions of the University Police Department, or UFPD, is to help reduce the incidence and severity of domestic violence, protect the victims, and then provide them with support through a combination of law enforcement and community services.

Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick and several UFPD officers are active members of the Atkins Warren Chapter of NOBLE, which is the local organization chapter, and all recognize the immediate benefit of this program. UFPD Victim Advocate Naomi Phineas said, “There are numerous services within our community that care deeply about the issue of domestic violence. All are collectively working towards providing a service to promote the well-being and safety of those who are experiencing domestic violence and this program is but one more example of those services.”

During this initiative, a collection box will be placed at the front desk of the UF Public Safety building located at 1555 Museum Road (Museum Road and Newell Drive). The collection box will be available until the end of February.

Additional information about the Hopeline from Verizon program can be found at verizon.com/about/responsibility/hopeline.


Campus Life

Got a Story Idea? We're interested in hearing about it.

Tell Us