Deep sea, NOAA, Okeanos Explorer, World Oceans Day
The deep sea is an ominous and harsh environment where humans cannot physically venture, but technology makes it possible for UF doctoral student Randy Singer to join expeditions to explore never-before-seen parts of the ocean, all without leaving his desk. To discover more, dive in:
Why stable relationships are ‘poison control’ in fighting trauma and stress in kids
June 6, 2017
UF research scientist Melissa Bright describes the deleterious effect of childhood trauma from abuse, neglect and even divorce on the developing brain.
Parents are often reminded to keep harmful substances out of their child’s reach. But what if a child’s experiences at home were as toxic to their health as household solvents and cleaners?
On a basic level, toxins are poisonous substances that lead to disease. Although not stored in a bottle or on a shelf, stress in childhood meets the criteria.
The phrase “toxic stress” describes the body’s reaction to negative experiences that are not only intense and chronic but also caused by the absence of safe, stable and nurturing adult relationships. Toxic stress “gets under our skin” to change the way we respond to our environment and can lead to disease and disability across the lifespan.
My research at the University of Florida focuses on stressful experiences during childhood and how these experiences relate to a child’s health. We’re making progress in uncovering which health conditions are related to childhood stress and how we can prevent this stress.
What stress does to the body
When you are in a stressful situation, your brain prepares your body for one of three general responses: fight, flee or freeze. If you are attacked, for example, your body slows down processes that are not as important in that moment – like digestion – and speeds up processes that are important – like blood flow to muscles – so that you can either escape or defend yourself. When the crisis is over, your body goes back to its normal state. This ability to respond to and recover from stressful events is important for survival.
When a child experiences toxic stress, however, that child loses the ability to respond and recover appropriately. If a child lives in a household that uses violence to solve problems, for example, then his or her brain might regularly prepare his or her bodies to fight or flee. This situation gives a body very little time to recover and reset. This repeated response to stress also changes the way a body reacts to future events.
Some people who experience repeated stress become hyper-reactive, which might look like a quickness to react to situations and slowness to calm down. Others become hypo-reactive, which might look like a lack of awareness to situations that necessitate a response. Hypo-reactive individuals may fail to identify danger and become at risk for falling victim again.
The effects of toxic stress are also seen “under the skin.” Experiencing repeated stress lowers our immune system and makes us more susceptible to illnesses, from the common cold to diabetes to asthma.
Adverse childhood experiences, also called ACEs, can cause toxic stress. Most researchers focus on a dozen or so adverse experiences: physical abuse and neglect, emotional abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, caregiver separation or divorce, caregiver mental illness, caregiver substance use, caregiver incarceration and domestic violence. Click here to see your ACE score.
In the first study of ACEs in the 1990s, researchers found that adults who reported experiencing three or more ACEs were more likely to have two of the top three causes of death of adults in the U.S.: heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (e.g., emphysema or chronic bronchitis).
Experiencing three or more ACEs was also associated with substance use, depression, liver disease, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, suicide attempt and even early death.
Effects on the developing childhood brain
Early childhood is a time for significant brain development. Given that brain development is affected by our environment, toxic stress during this time can be particularly problematic.
In a recent study by my team, we examined adverse childhood experiences and health in a national survey of children aged 0-17 years. We included experiences like emotional abuse, financial struggles, caregiver divorce or separation, domestic violence, neighborhood violence and caregiver mental illness.
We focused on how these experiences related to not just physical health (e.g., vision and hearing problems, asthma) but also mental health (depression, anxiety) and developmental outcomes like learning and intellectual disability in childhood.
We found that experiencing three or more of these adverse experiences was associated with a two- to five-fold increase in the likelihood of having at least one condition in each of the three health categories above.
Adverse experiences weren’t just associated with increased likelihood of having one condition. Experiencing multiple forms of adversity was also associated with increased likelihood of having at least one condition in two categories.
Most alarming was that having three or more adverse experiences was associated with nearly a six-fold increase in the likelihood of having at least one physical, at least one mental and at least one developmental condition.
These startling findings tell us two things about childhood adversity. First, negative health effects are seen before adulthood, and, second, they affect multiple domains of health and development simultaneously.
This means that the effects of childhood adversity and toxic stress can be seen in the pediatrician’s clinic, the psychologist’s office and the teacher’s classroom.
A critical component to toxic stress is that it occurs only in the absence of safe, stable and nurturing adult relationships. If children experience stress but also have a warm, loving adult to support them, then that child will be able to respond to and recover from even the most difficult of circumstances.
Conversations around child safety need to extend beyond helmets and cleaning substances to include toxic stress and its causes. Parents need to be armed with strategies for creating safe, stable and nurturing relationships with their children. Building these relationships can reduce childhood adversity, toxic stress, and subsequent disease and disability.
University of Florida MBA offering full scholarships
June 6, 2017
The University of Florida MBA Full-Time program at the Hough Graduate School of Business is privileged to begin offering 100% tuition scholarships starting with the 2018 application cycle.
“We are honored to begin offering these full-tuition scholarships,” UF MBA Assistant Dean and Director John Gresley said. “Receiving your MBA can be a financial burden for students, and our goal is to relieve that stress as much as possible. We hope to give interested students who might not have been able to receive their MBA a chance to do so with these scholarships.”
Scholarships will be awarded to cover tuition and fees for in-state and out-of-state qualified students admitted to the full-time program. Only the number of Warrington credits required to complete the degree will be covered by the scholarship.
The UF MBA full-time program was ranked No. 19 among U.S. publics in the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” 2018 rankings.
Aspirin use has modest or no benefit for patients with hardened arteries, UF Health researchers find
June 6, 2017
For decades, aspirin has been widely used to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems. Now, a team led by a University of Florida Health researcher has found that aspirin may provide little or no benefit for certain patients who have plaque buildup in their arteries.
Aspirin is effective in treating strokes and heart attacks by reducing blood clots. The researchers tracked the health histories of over 33,000 patients with atherosclerosis — narrowed, hardened arteries — and determined that aspirin is marginally beneficial for those who have had a previous heart attack, stroke or other blood-flow issues involving arteries. However, among atherosclerosis patients with no prior heart attack or stroke, aspirin had no apparent benefit. The findings were published May 18 in the journal Clinical Cardiology.
Because the findings are observational, further study that includes clinical trials are needed before definitively declaring that aspirin has little or no effect on certain atherosclerosis patients, said Anthony Bavry, M.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of medicine and a cardiologist at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville.
“Aspirin therapy is widely used and embraced by cardiologists and general practitioners around the world. This takes a bit of the luster off the use of aspirin,” Bavry said.
Bavry said the findings do not undercut aspirin’s vital role in more immediate situations: If a heart attack or stroke is underway or suspected, patients should still take aspirin as a treatment measure.
“The benefit of aspirin is still maintained in acute events like a heart attack or a stroke,” he said.
Among more than 21,000 patients who had a previous heart attack or stroke, researchers found that the risk of subsequent cardiovascular death, heart attack or stroke was marginally lower among aspirin users.
For those atherosclerosis patients who had not experienced a heart attack or stroke, aspirin appeared to have no effect. The risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack and stroke was 10.7 percent among aspirin users and 10.5 percent for non-users.
Patients who enrolled in the nationwide study were at least 45 years old with coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease or peripheral vascular disease. Their medical data were collected between late 2003 and mid-2009.
The researchers did identify one group that got some benefit from aspirin — people who had a coronary bypass or stent but no history of stroke, heart attack or arterial blood-flow condition. Those patients should clearly stay on an aspirin regimen, Bavry said. Bavry said discerning aspirin’s effectiveness for various patients is also important because the medicine can create complications, including gastrointestinal bleeding and, less frequently, bleeding in the brain. Because of insufficient data, the current study wasn’t able to address the extent of aspirin’s role in bleeding cases.
“The cardiology community needs to appreciate that aspirin deserves ongoing study. There are many individuals who may not be deriving a benefit from aspirin. If we can identify those patients and spare them from aspirin, we’re doing a good thing,” he said.
The current findings are the second time this year that Bavry and his collaborators have published research about the apparent ineffectiveness of aspirin therapy. In April, the group showed that the drug may not provide cardiovascular benefits for people with peripheral vascular disease, which causes narrowed arteries and reduced blood flow to the limbs.
Bavry also cautioned patients with atherosclerosis or peripheral vascular disease not to quit aspirin therapy on their own. Instead, they should discuss the matter with their physician, he said.
Scientists from France, England and Harvard Medical School collaborated on the research. Patient data were derived from The Reduction of Atherothrombosis for Continued Health registry, which was sponsored by the Waksman Foundation and pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
University of Florida Multicultural and Diversity Affairs selects new Black Affairs director
June 6, 2017
After a thorough national search, the University of Florida’s department of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs (MCDA) is pleased to announce that Carl Simien has been selected as Director of Black Affairs. He will start Monday, July 24.
Carl joins UF from Western Illinois University where he served as Director of Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center. He is the former College and Career Director of Umoja Student Development Corporation in Chicago, Illinois. He has also previously served as the program coordinator of Roberts Family Development Center in Sacramento, California and youth development trainer for WestEd in California.
He is a graduate of Valparaiso University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in communication and a Master of Arts in liberal studies with a focus on theology. He will be completing a second Master’s degree in college student personnel and higher education leadership this summer from Western Illinois University.
Carl's student development background and experience working with TRIO programs have shaped his ambition for empowering students and advocating for their success. He believes mentoring and having a strong network of support are vital.
“We are excited to welcome Carl to the MCDA team and the Gator Nation,” said Will Atkins, executive director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs. “His enthusiasm and experience are a great addition to our department, and we look forward to supporting his vision for Black Affairs. Carl has a passion for mentorship and is focused on building partnerships across the university to promote student success.”
Through the search process, the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs brought three candidates to Gainesville for on-campus interviews. The finalists were strongly vetted through a review of stakeholder feedback, strengths/weaknesses provided by the search committee, and extensive reference checks with the candidates’ current and former employers and faculty members.
As part Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, Black Affairs creates, sustains, promotes and affirms Black scholarship, culture, history, and leadership. The area coordinates an array of educational, cultural, and social programs focused on the Black experience at the University of Florida and across the African diaspora. Black Affairs actively supports sustainable efforts involving the recruitment and retention of Black students at UF.
For the role of Director of Black Affairs, Multicultural and Diversity Affairs sought an individual with strategic vision and leadership, strong communication skills, experience with advocacy, and a history of meaningful collaborations, among other attributes.
University of Florida research spending at record $791 million in 2016
June 7, 2017
Spending for research at the University of Florida, a key indicator of how healthy an institution’s research enterprise is, reached a record high of $791.3 million in 2016, according to a new report to the National Science Foundation.
UF’s response to NSF’s Higher Education Research and Development, or HERD, Survey showed a 7 percent increase in total expenditures over 2015’s total of $739.5 million. Expenditures represent how much grant money the university actually spends in any given year. So, for example, a five-year, $10 million award might report expenditures of $2 million per year.
Life sciences research, including health and agricultural research, accounted for $561.9 million or about 71 percent of the total, up 4.1 percent over 2015. Engineering research accounted for $94.6 million or 12 percent, up 8.3 percent. Physical sciences like physics and chemistry accounted for $28.2 million or 4 percent, a 7.3 percent increase.
Computer and information sciences and math accounted for $19.9 million, a 102.3 percent increase; geosciences totaled $15.8 million, up 7.2 percent; social sciences totaled $14.7 million, down 10.4 percent; psychology totaled $6.4 million, up 26.8 percent; and non-science and engineering fields like business, communications and education totaled $49.3 million, up 24 percent over 2015.
“This report illustrates the broad diversity of research underway at the University of Florida,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “Not only is this research helping to cure diseases, feed the world and probe the mysteries of the universe – it also has a significant economic impact on Florida’s economy.”
NSF collects expenditure data from universities around the country and compiles it into a report that will be released later this year. Last year, based on fiscal year 2015 data, UF ranked 25th among all universities and 16th among public universities in research expenditures.
Among the largest projects under way in 2016 were the HCV Target project to coordinate research on Hepatitis C across more than 100 universities around the world; a U.S. Department of Agriculture project to help pine growers throughout the South adapt to changing growth patterns brought on by climate change; a Florida Museum-led National Science Foundation project to digitize millions of specimens in natural history museums around the country; and a U.S. Air Force project in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering to study the effects of lightning in the ionosphere and its impact on satellite communications.
The University of Florida will hire 500 new faculty to further enhance teaching and research and to continue to be one of the very best research universities in the nation, UF President Kent Fuchs announced today. UF’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution in support of the announcement.
Funding for the new hires and compensation increases will come from state allocations, alumni and friends, as well as university resources.
“We know what we need to do and we are laser-focused on several areas that will have the greatest impact on our educational and research missions while giving UF an edge to compete successfully with the nation’s other top institutions for talented faculty, students and staff,” Fuchs said. “UF ranks among the top 10 public research universities and we have our eye on being among the top five.”
The 500 new faculty hires represent a number over and above the 300 to 400 faculty that UF hires annually to replace those who retire or leave the university, UF Provost Joe Glover said.
Funding for new hires and compensation increases will come initially from a $52 million allocation to UF that the Legislature approved earlier this year and from reallocated internal resources, Glover said. The university will also seek additional funding from a variety of sources for future years.
The hiring plan was created to address two primary university goals: reaching top-ranked status by strengthening various research disciplines, and improving the university’s student-faculty ratio, a widely recognized metric in determining an institution’s excellence and stature.
UF’s current student-faculty ratio is 20 to 1; the 500 new hires ultimately will result in a student-faculty ratio of 16 to 1. By comparison, the ratio at the University of Michigan, is 15 to 1. (Michigan, like UF, belongs to the Association of American Universities and is considered a peer institution to UF; others include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California, Berkeley.)
The new faculty will be hired in a variety of fields, Glover said, but “certainly a good portion will be in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and health. We will also give priority to areas focused on new business start-ups, tech transfer and economic development.”
The new hires will be in addition to the growth of 115 faculty hired in the past three years with funding the Legislature has provided as part of UF’s designation as a preeminent university.
The announcement of the new hiring initiative follows Wednesday’s news that UF faculty achieved a new high of nearly $800 million in research expenditures for the year. UF also announced an expected new record in annual fundraising topping $440 million. Additionally, five faculty became members of the National Academies during the year.
Fuchs said that UF has already made tremendous progress – and the new initiatives and records will propel UF to the highest ranks.
“In the vast majority of university rankings, the University of Florida is among the top 10 public research universities in the nation,” Fuchs said. “Our goal now is to be among the top five.”
Update 11/3/2017: This summer, 200 authorizations were issued and the university expects this first group of new faculty to begin employment by next Fall.
drones, unmanned aerial systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, construction safety
In UF's Human-Centered Technology in Construction Lab, a professor and his students test a new application for unmanned aerial systems.
When Masoud Gheisari envisions the construction site of tomorrow, he pictures squadrons of drones — not replacing workers, but keeping them safe.
On a typical construction project, new dangers arise throughout the day as equipment, people and materials move around the site. Instead of safety managers physically going to each area to identify potential hazards, as they do now, drones could serve as their eyes in the sky. Unmanned aerial systems can also reach inaccessible areas and get to potential trouble spots faster, helping safety managers get the information they need to protect workers.
Gheisari, who leads a human-computer interaction lab at the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning, first became interested in the role of drones in construction as a doctoral student at Georgia Tech.
“When I saw these new gadgets that can fly and provide real-time video to an iPhone or iPad, I thought it might be a useful tool for construction, especially for construction safety,” he said.
While widely used in civil and transportation engineering, drones in construction are typically used to inspect facades or monitor a project’s progress. That will likely change as loosened regulations, lower costs and easier operation make unmanned aerial vehicles viable for widespread use, Gheisari said.
Students in Masoud Gheisari's Introduction to Building Modeling course use drones to create spatial point cloud data, a potential application of UAV technology in construction.
Working with University of Nebraska engineering professor Behzad Esmaeili, Gheisari evaluated existing studies and conducted interviews and surveys to identify the top three areas where drones could be most effective in construction safety: around booms and cranes, next to edges and openings, and in the blind spots of heavy equipment. Some challenges remain, however, before drones become as ubiquitous as bulldozers on construction sites. Construction professionals have raised concerns ranging from liability to privacy – topics of future studies for Gheisari and his colleagues.
“It’s not just the technological implications we need to look into,” he said, “but the social, legal and financial factors as well.”
National Geographic explorer shares Florida’s springs through photography, research
June 12, 2017
Hannah O. Brown
springs, National Geographic, photography, environment, School of Natural Resources and Environment
Jenny Adler’s journey through graduate school has closely resembled the winding limestone caves of the Floridan Aquifer that she photographs from the inside out.
Adler is a doctoral student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, and her dissertation research straddles the nexus of the science, education and communication of conserving Florida’s springs—a path that took time to define and develop because of its innovative and interdisciplinary nature.
Adler first came to Florida in 2011 to pursue a job with United States Geological Survey tagging sturgeon for a research project on the Suwannee River. It was the combination of heat and sturgeon slime that made her first experiences of jumping into the Florida springs after fieldwork so sweet.
“On the weekends, I started to get really into snorkeling and diving in the springs because I was just completely fascinated by them,” she said. “I had never been in a place with water that clear before.”
She made it her goal to swim in every first magnitude spring—defined as springs that discharge water at a rate of more than 65 million gallons per day—in Florida. She started photographing the crystal clear waters of the springs as a way to share their beauty with her family back home in Massachusetts.
Two years after arriving in Gainesville, Adler began her graduate career at UF. Her first research proposals focused on how dissolved oxygen affected snail grazing. She spent her time parsing out the science and reading as many scientific studies on the springs as she could get her hands on.
“I kind of convinced myself that I wanted to study snails,” she said. “I don’t regret doing that because having that scientific background is really helpful—essential, in fact.”
Through understanding the science as well as the disconnect between what scientists have discovered and what the public understands, Adler couldn’t justify devoting years of study to a single organism after she realized that she could personally address the issue of communicating springs science to the public.
The issue that Adler discovered was multifaceted. First, the way scientists discussed the springs and the way the springs were covered in newspapers frequently were not aligned, and second, the overwhelming message she found in newspaper coverage was that any issues with springs conservation were primarily framed as a government problem.
“If we are going to change how we use water in Florida, we really need to look more at changing our water ethic and helping people understand the problem," she said.
Adler’s virtual tour of Ginnie Springs allows people to see inside of the caves of the Floridan aquifer from their computer. Click photo for tour.
Eventually, Adler developed a proposal for a completely new project that she calls “Visual Ecology.” The crux of her work looks at how photography can be used as a tool to educate students about springs conservation. She examines both the natural science and the way the science has been communicated to the public, and she has designed her own environmental education program called “Walking on Water” for students in Gainesville schools.
“Basically, I’m going to bring that around to schools to show the kids about the aquifer and what it is, and then I’ll also take them on field trips to the springs to do photography themselves,” she said. “Because in my experience photography changed the way that I looked at the springs and looked at the natural world.”
Gainesville students visit Blue Springs to snorkel and take photos for Adler’s “Walking on Water” environmental education program. Photo by Jenny Adler.
Luisa Arnedo, the program officer for Adler’s grant from National Geographic, said the magazine has supported many projects in Florida before, including two documentaries on the Florida Wildlife Corridor, but Adler’s project is one of the first to focus specifically on the Florida springs.
“Jenny's project is a beautiful combination of conservation, photography and education,” Arnedo said. “Our grants committee was impressed with Jenny's well thought-out project as well as her scientific credentials. We looked at her past work and had felt that she had a great chance of being successful with this project.”
Adler’s experience in both science and communication gives her a unique vantage point from which to develop her project. As the first SNRE doctoral student to focus on environmental communication, she made connections with researchers and professionals around the region to help piece the project together.
“It really was kind of taking a lot of classes and meeting a lot of people who did different things and then understanding how you can combine them into something that would make sense,” she said. “So it really is a science, but then taking a new approach to education and journalism research.”
Adler helps fit a snorkeling mask on a student at Blue Springs.
As she has developed her project and refined her focus, Adler says people have contacted her asking how they can do what she does. She admits she is still trying to figure it out as she goes. But through trial and error, Adler has developed a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish by combining photography, conservation and environmental education with her “Walking on Water” project. Her aim is to provide the tools that empower others to feel as passionate as she does about the springs.
“It’s not just communicating with people, it’s letting them experience something and wanting to care about it and wanting to protect it,” she said. “If we raise a generation that has this new perspective, then we won’t need to bombard them with information about climate change or saving water, because they have been raised that way, and they will understand why it’s important.”
Can ocean science bring Cuba and the United States together?
June 13, 2017
Jorge Alberto Angulo-Valdes
A visiting research scholar at UF’s school of natural resources and environment discusses the importance of U.S. collaboration with Cuba, including mutual efforts to protect marine sanctuaries in the Caribbean, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to the contrary.
Cuba is the ecological crown jewel of the Caribbean. It harbors thousands of the region’s endemic species and about half of its coastal ecosystems. It is rare to find comparable ecosystems or such rich biodiversity anywhere in the Caribbean, and perhaps in the Western Hemisphere.
Cuba also is inextricably linked to its neighbor countries, especially the United States. These two nations have been adversaries for over 60 years, but their common backyard is an ocean filled with limited shared resources.
I am a Cuban marine biologist and have had the opportunity to be part of U.S. academia and facilitate scientific partnerships between the two countries. Scientists on both sides are very interested in working together, and I believe that we owe it to nature and people on both sides to keep this door open.
Cuban waters provide vital spawning and nursery grounds for snapper, grouper and other marine species that are commercially important in the United States. Cuba is also a major stopover point on migration routes for many North America birds.
When I tagged and tracked longfin mako sharks with colleagues from Florida, we found that they ranged into territorial waters around Cuba, the United States, the Bahamas and Mexico – showing clearly just how connected our waters are. Other scientists have reported similar results for species including manatees, sea turtles and fish larvae.
Since the U.S. government relaxed restrictions on American travel to Cuba in 2015, Cuba has experienced an explosion in international tourism, which is projected to continue. Expanding tourism and related development, combined with longstanding poor management of reefs and fisheries and economic scarcity, could have major impacts on the waters that link our countries.
Although Cuba’s coastal habitats are in fairly good condition, its fish populations are heavily exploited and threatened by commercial and private subsistence fisheries. Over 80 percent of its fishery resources are in critical condition.
In many coastal communities, for example, small private fishermen depend on fish for subsistence and also supplement their incomes by selling fish on the black market. Pressures on targeted species such as tarpon and bonefish are believed to be substantial, but currently no data are available to quantify the extent and magnitude of impacts on fish populations or ecosystems.
Cuban agriculture does not presently rely on extensive use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or other agricultural chemicals. This means that pollution and eutrophication (overfertilization, which produces large blooms of algae and “dead zones”) may not be major threats to its fisheries and marine ecosystems. Nonetheless, isolated and significant pollution sources, such as food processing industries and oil refineries, affect many important bays and harbors around the island. Their impacts on marine ecosystems currently are not well-understood or well-documented.
Cuba has established 108 marine protected areas that provide some level of protection to nearly 23 percent of the shallow waters around the island. However, many of them are at risk due to funding shortages, lack of trained staff, poor enforcement and inefficient management. In 2015 the United States and Cuba agreed to create partnerships between sanctuaries in the two countries, so that we can share data and ideas for conserving these sites.
Cuba at a crossroads
Our common ocean is an essential resource for the United States and Cuba, and any action (or inaction) by one country will significantly impact the other. Scientific collaboration to protect marine resources will benefit both nations.
Cooperation between scientific organizations in Cuba and the United States dates back to the 19th century, and has helped to maintain dialogue even during the most difficult phases of U.S.-Cuban relations. Cuban and American scientists have worked together to address sensitive environmental issues such as shark conservation, conduct state-of-the-art research and train Cubans to do research and conservation.
At times, however, bureaucratic hurdles and misunderstandings on both sides have arisen, and government decisions or indecision have blocked good projects and ideas, such as importing and exporting equipment, organizing research expeditions and field courses, and collecting and exporting samples.
Cubans are facing very difficult economic times, and many are struggling to feed their families. In such circumstances they are unlikely to see environmental protection as a high priority. Cuba is at a crucial decision point, choosing between an environmentally friendly development path like Costa Rica’s or a destructive Cancun-style model.
Joint Cuban-American scientific ventures should reach out to the public in both countries with a strong message about preserving our shared ocean resources. They should also invest in communities to change environmental perceptions and attitudes. We need to create effective incentives, increase exchanges of people and ideas, and improve communication about these issues.
More academic partnerships
Academia has a key role to play in this effort. U.S. colleges and universities should explore models that offer more opportunities to Cuban scientists, and Cuban schools should do the same. U.S. schools are already increasing their presence in Cuba through field courses that allow students to experience Cuban realities. Other U.S. organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund have also expanded ties with Cuban institutions and people.
Unfortunately, this process is working in only one direction. It is much more difficult for Cubans to visit the United States, thanks to restrictions on both sides. We need opportunities for groups of Cuban students to come to the United States for field courses and other academic programs.
Cubans and Americans have more in common than anyone may think. Our nations are united by nature, history and cultural links that have overcome politics. The timing is right for scientists on both sides to make a strong case in favor of normalization over confrontation, and a better future for both countries.
New York Gator elected chair of the University of Florida’s investment company
June 13, 2017
Bessemer Trust’s Rebecca Patterson charged with growing, managing UF’s endowment
New York investor Rebecca Patterson, managing director and chief investment officer for the 110-year-old wealth management firm Bessemer Trust and widely recognized as one of the “most powerful women in finance,” has been chosen to oversee the University of Florida’s endowment.
Patterson, a UF alumna, will serve a six-year term as chair of the University of Florida Investment Corporation (UFICO). In that position, she works with a 12-member board of directors of industry leaders to manage the university’s $1.57 billion endowment. Those investments are designed to safeguard the endowment’s strength as permanent funding streams for scholarships, professorships and other UF programs. She succeeds UF alumnus Andrew Banks, founder and chairman of the private equity investment firm ABRY Partners. Banks began serving as chair in July 2012.
“As the University of Florida rises in stature and continues to be one of the nation’s very best universities, we absolutely must grow our endowment and successfully manage our investments,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “Having Rebecca Patterson follow Andrew Banks — both of such high caliber and with such impressive credentials — is an important part of the process.”
In her role at Bessemer Trust, Patterson is responsible for more than $100 billion in assets under supervision. American Banker named her to its 2014, 2015 and 2016 lists of “The 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance.” Patterson serves on the New York Federal Reserve’s Investor Advisory Committee and is a member of the Economic Club of New York and the Council on Foreign Relations. She is also a regular contributor for CNBC.
In 2013, she joined UFICO’s board of directors. Prior to joining Bessemer, Patterson rose to chief markets strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management. Earlier in her career, she was a journalist in London, Rome, New York and Washington, D.C. Patterson earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UF in 1990 and later earned an MBA at New York University and master’s in international economics and politics at Johns Hopkins University.
“Rebecca is a proven superstar. Her contribution of time and talent to the oversight and management of the endowment has earned her great respect among the board and staff of UFICO. There’s no doubt that with her leadership, UFICO will continue achieving new levels of investment excellence. The University of Florida is very fortunate to have her leading the strategic direction of the endowment,” UFICO Chief Executive Officer William Reeser said.
The University of Florida’s mission is to prepare our students to lead and influence the next generation and beyond for economic, cultural and societal benefit. One of the nation’s largest public universities, UF is the only member of the Association of American Universities in the state of Florida. Teaching, research and scholarship, and service span all of the UF’s academic disciplines and represent its commitment to be a premier university that the state, nation and world look to for leadership.
Study links getting drunk at early age to increased risk of premature death
June 14, 2017
People who first became intoxicated as young teens have a greater risk of dying prematurely than those who first became drunk later in adolescence or not at all, according to a study led by University of Florida researchers. The findings appear online ahead of print in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
“Although the causes remain uncertain and future studies are warranted, findings from this study suggest that early drunkenness is a strong predictor for premature mortality and can be used to identify high-risk populations for interventions,” said Hui Hu, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a research assistant scientist in the department of epidemiology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine, both part of UF Health.
Chronic alcohol misuse is associated with several health issues, including injuries, cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as higher mortality rates. For the new study, researchers wanted to examine if becoming drunk at an early age might be associated with a higher risk of premature death later in life. Researchers used data collected from the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey, a large multisite study conducted in the early 1980s to understand the prevalence of adult mental health disorders. UF researchers linked those study participants to National Death Index records through 2007. Of the nearly 15,000 participants who answered questions about drinking in the original study, nearly 7,000 had died by the end of 2007.
Eight percent of study participants reported first becoming intoxicated before the age of 15. Researchers found they were 23 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who reported first getting drunk at or after the age of 15, and 47 percent more likely to die prematurely than people who said they had never been drunk.
While more research is needed to understand why people who get drunk for the first time in early adolescence may be at risk for dying prematurely, there are several possible contributing factors, Hu said.
“People with early onset of drunkenness are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder, more likely to engage in other alcohol-related health behaviors such as smoking, fighting, unplanned and unprotected sex, and more likely to have low academic performance,” he said.
The researchers were surprised to find early drunkenness was associated with premature mortality regardless of whether participants had alcohol use disorder at the time of the survey, suggesting there may be many factors at play. The UF researchers plan to explore the possible factors in future studies with the goal of informing interventions designed to decrease alcohol use among adolescents, Hu said.
The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey is a unique study that is still providing researchers with valuable information 37 years after it was first conducted, said Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., FACE, chair of the UF department of epidemiology, the senior author of the new study and coordinator of one of the five sites of the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey team in the 1980s. As new longitudinal studies are developed, it is important that researchers be thoughtful in the design of the questions, she said.
“In epidemiology we design studies for life and questions that will stand the test of time,” said Cottler, PHHP’s associate dean for research and planning.
In addition to Hu and Cottler, the study team included William W. Eaton, Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins University, and James C. Anthony, Ph.D., of Michigan State University, who have both been involved in the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey since the beginning of the study, and Li-Tzy Wu, D.Sc., of Duke University Medical Center. The study was supported by funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Drill holes in fossil shells point to bigger predators picking on small prey
June 15, 2017
Natalie van Hoose
The drill holes left in fossil shells by hunters such as snails and slugs show marine predators have grown steadily bigger and more powerful over time but stuck to picking off small prey, rather than using their added heft to pursue larger quarry, new research shows.
The study, published today in Science, found the percent of shell area drilled by predators increased 67-fold over the past 500 million years, suggesting that the ratio of predatory driller size and tough-shelled prey increased substantially. The study’s authors say the widening gap could be caused by greater numbers and better nutritional value of prey species and perhaps to minimize predators’ vulnerability to their own enemies.
“These drill holes track the rise of bullies: bigger, stronger predators hunting the same size prey their much smaller predecessors did,” said Michal Kowalewski, the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and a study co-author. “What’s exciting about this project is that we found a drilled fossil shell can tell us both the size of the prey and the size of the predator that ate it. This gives us the first glimpse into how the size of predators and prey are related to each other and how this size relation changed through the history of life.”
Michal Kowalewski, a researcher with the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, holds an American bittersweet shell. The hole in the shell testifies to the mollusk's grisly end as a meal for a drilling predator. This fossil is about 2 million years old. (Photo by Kristen Grace, Florida Museum of Natural History)
Predation is a major ecological process in modern ecosystems, but its role in shaping animal evolution has been contentious, Kowalewski said. This study sheds light on predation’s ability to drive evolutionary changes by supporting a critical tenet of the escalation hypothesis: the idea that top-down pressure from increasingly larger and stronger predators helped trigger key evolutionary developments in prey species such as defensive armor, better mobility and stealth tactics like burrowing into the sea floor.
Other than a few rare finds of predator and prey preserved mid-battle, a lack of direct fossil evidence has hindered a clearer understanding of how predators have influenced other species’ evolutionary paths.
Adiel Klompmaker, then a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum, was working on a database of drill holes—the marks left in a shell by a predator such as a snail or slug—when he saw their untapped potential as “smoking gun” evidence of deadly saltwater dramas.
Drilling predators such as snails, slugs, octopuses and beetles penetrate their prey’s protective skeleton and eat the soft flesh inside, leaving behind a telltale hole in the shell. Trillions of these drill holes exist in the fossil record, providing valuable information about predation over millions of years. But while drill holes have been used extensively to explore questions about the intensity of predation, Klompmaker realized they could also shed light on predator-prey size ratios.
Just as a bullet hole indicates the caliber of gun fired, a drill hole points to the size of the predator that created it—regardless of what kind of animal it was. By compiling these hole sizes, researchers can gain insights into 500 million years of predator-prey interactions.
“Finding direct evidence of behavior in the fossil record can be difficult, certainly in comparison to all animal behavior we can simply observe today,” said Klompmaker, the study’s lead author and now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, where he conducted most of the research. “Drill holes in shells are an exception to this rule.”
To determine whether drill hole size is a good predictor of the size of the animal that made it, the researchers compiled 556 measurements of predator sizes and the diameter of the holes they produced. The measurements spanned 14 families and five phyla of drillers, both terrestrial and marine: mollusks, arthropods, nematodes, Cercozoa (parasitic protists) and Foraminifera (amoeboid protists). The team found a strong correlation between predator size and the diameter of drill holes.
“It’s similar to how the size of your arm is related to your height and overall body mass,” Kowalewski said. “It’s not a perfect correlation, but there is a very strong relation between the two.”
The team then used data compiled from 6,943 drilled animals representing many fossil species to examine trends in the size of drill holes, prey size and predator-prey size ratios, starting in the Cambrian Period—when most marine organisms appeared—and running to the present.
Despite growing bigger, predators may not have needed to switch to larger targets because prey became more nutritious through time, the researchers said. In the Paleozoic Era, about 541 million to 252 million years ago, clam-like organisms known as brachiopods were the most common prey available. But predators gained few nutrients from brachiopods and gradually transitioned to mollusks, similarly-sized but meatier prey that became abundant in oceans after the Paleozoic.
“In modern oceans, a predator can gain quite a bit of food from eating a small animal,” Kowalewski said. “This was not the case 500 million years ago when much less fleshy prey items were on the menu. Ancient small prey could only satisfy the needs of small predators.”
Another factor circles back to the escalation hypothesis: As predation ramped up, predators themselves were increasingly vulnerable to their own predators. Chasing, hunting and drilling into prey creates a window of time when predators are exposed to their own enemies, such as crabs and fish, Klompmaker said. Pursuing small, easy prey could lessen the risk to predators themselves.
Seth Finnegan of the University of California, Berkeley and John Huntley of the University of Missouri also co-authored the study.
Funding for the research came from the National Science Foundation, the Packard Foundation and the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Endowment Fund.
UF Multicultural and Diversity Affairs selects new LGBTQ Affairs director
June 12, 2017
After a thorough national search, the University of Florida’s department of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs (MCDA) is pleased to announce that Billy Huff has been selected as Director of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer Affairs. He will start Monday, July 10.
Billy joins the Gator Nation from University of South Florida where he was an Instructor in the Department of Communication. He spent the five years prior as an Assistant Professor of Communication at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). While at FGCU, Billy served as the adviser for the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, a student organization for LGBTQ students and allies. Billy also served on the executive boards of Visuality, a SW Florida LGBTQ Youth Community Center, and the SW Florida Community Foundation's LGBT Fund.
He earned his Ph.D. in "Rhetoric and Politics" from Georgia State University. His research focuses on the areas of social dissent rhetoric, queer theory, and transgender studies.
“We are thrilled to have Billy join our team and university,” said Will Atkins, executive director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs. “He brings a scholarly grounding through his research in queer theory and transgender studies, while also taking a practical, intersectional approach to the work. His passion and commitment to the LGBTQ community was evident during his interview, and we are excited to support his vision for LGBTQ Affairs.
Through the search process, the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs brought two candidates to Gainesville for on-campus interviews. The finalists were strongly vetted through a review of stakeholder feedback, strengths/weaknesses provided by the search committee, and extensive reference checks with the candidates’ current and former employers and faculty members.
As part Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, LGBTQ Affairs educates, advocates, and supports LGBTQ people and issues at the University of Florida and in the Gainesville community. Through student-centered programming, outreach, community building and advocacy, they are committed to creating a safe and developmentally supportive and affirming campus-community for students, staff, faculty, and alumni of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.
For the role of Director of LGBTQ Affairs, Multicultural and Diversity Affairs sought an individual with strategic vision and leadership, strong communication skills, experience with advocacy, and a history of meaningful collaborations, among other attributes.
The issue arises because when Trump objects to what people say about him on Twitter, he sometimes blocks their access to his account. What is blocking? As Twitter describes it:
“When you block an account on Twitter, you restrict that account’s ability to interact with your account. It can be an effective way to handle unwanted interactions from accounts you do not want to engage with. Accounts you have blocked will not be able to view your Tweets, following or followers lists, likes, or lists when logged in on Twitter, and you will not receive notifications of mentions directly from those accounts. You’ll also stop seeing their Tweets in your timeline.”
Now Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, which is dedicated to protecting free speech and free press, is threatening to sue Trump unless he unblocks “the Twitter accounts of individuals denied access to his account after they criticized or disagreed with him.”
In a letter to Trump dated June 6, officials from Knight argue that
“Blocking users from your Twitter account violates the First Amendment. When the government makes a space available to the public at large for the purpose of expressive activity, it creates a public forum from which it may not constitutionally exclude individuals on the basis of viewpoint.”
Initially, the First Amendment protects free speech and the press from government censorship, as well as the right of citizens to petition the government for a redress of grievances. When people complain to Trump on his Twitter account about his policies, they not only are engaging in free speech, but also are petitioning the government.
The First Amendment, however, doesn’t address or prevent censorship imposed by private individuals and private businesses. Twitter is a private entity, but because Trump is a government official, the First Amendment applies. In essence, according to this argument, when Trump blocks people from interacting with him on Twitter, he plays the role of government censor preventing people from speaking and petitioning the government.
In addition, the First Amendment prohibits viewpoint-based censorship of speech. This means that the government cannot favor or suppress sides on any given issue or topic. It cannot allow one viewpoint to be expressed but not another. For example, a law permitting only pro-life speech on the topic of abortion and banning pro-choice expression is viewpoint-based and thus unconstitutional.
When Trump blocks access to his Twitter account for those who disagree with him but permits access for those who agree with him, he is engaging in viewpoint-based censorship.
Third, the rule against viewpoint-based censorship applies when the government (in this case, Trump) creates what is called a public forum for speech. There are two main kinds of public forum. The first – called a traditional public forum – is easy to understand. These venues include physical spaces such as public sidewalks and public parks where speech, such as rallies, protests and concerts, have occurred for many decades. Twitter clearly is not such a traditional public forum.
The Knight Institute, however, argues in its letter to the president that Trump’s Twitter account constitutes a designated public forum, a space created by the government specifically for speech. Imagine, for instance, a bulletin board inside city hall or a courthouse where people can post flyers about upcoming events. Essentially, Trump’s Twitter account is akin to a virtual bulletin board. People who are blocked cannot respond directly to him. They cannot, by analogy, use the bulletin board.
“surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the President must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable. Having opened this forum to all comers, the President can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.”
Public forums in the modern age
But is his Twitter account a designated public forum? This is the tricky part of Knight’s case against Trump, were it to file a lawsuit. Twitter has more than 300 million active users each month. It is a vibrant, virtual space where people – Trump included – engage in often robust discussion about political issues. Trump’s first address to Congress, for example, spawned more than three million tweets. By these measures, it’s a modern-day public forum, yet it’s not run by the government.
Trump’s own account, however, is run by the government – namely, himself. That’s the argument that the designated public forum label applies and, in turn, that Trump’s blockage of users based on their viewpoints is unconstitutional.
Any claim that @realDonaldTrump is his personal account (not his official one, @POTUS) and does not represent the government has been conceded by the White House already: Remember Spicer’s statement that Trump’s tweets are “official statements by the president of the United States.”
If Trump does not comply with Knight’s request to unblock users, Knight may sue. That would give both Knight and Trump the opportunity to break new First Amendment ground on public forums in the digital era. And if Knight prevails and expands free speech rights to clarify that government officials on Twitter can’t block interactions with other users, it would be a most ironic outcome for a president who often takes aim at the First Amendment.
Life-altering treatments available to Tourette patients
June 16, 2017
The chairman of UF’s department of neurology discusses the many life-altering treatments that have become available to patients with this tic disorder.
Tourette syndrome is a mysterious medical curiosity that has puzzled doctors for more than a century. People who have it suffer from tics and other behavioral problems, such as obsessive compulsive traits and attention deficit disorder.
In addition, they are cursed by a stereotype that they swear loudly and inappropriately. In reality, 10 percent actually experience these verbal outbursts, but many are stigmatized and isolated nonetheless.
I have studied Tourette syndrome for years, and recently published a book about treatments and the common spectrum of behavioral disorders associated with it. Swearing isn’t even one of the more frequent ones.
The fact is that over the last several years, many exciting and life-altering treatments have become available to Tourette patients and their families. We have reached a crossroads in this disease where it will become increasingly critical to reeducate the public and to make new therapies widely available.
Twitches and tics
French scientist Jean-Martin Charcot, the founder of modern clinical neurology, coined the eponym “Tourette syndrome” after his student, Georges Albert Gilles de la Tourette, who in 1885 described nine patients suffering from the tic “malady.”
Researchers soon noticed that Tourette occurred among multiple family members across multiple generations.
Over the generations, however, new knowledge came slowly. Critical gaps in our understanding of the syndrome remain, and half of all cases remain undiagnosed.
Even the precise number of people affected has been hard to know. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 362 children, or 0.3 percent, has Tourette. The Tourette Association of America, on the other hand, estimates the disease is twice as common, with one in 166 kids (0.6 percent) affected.
Some Tourette syndrome cases are mild, with symptoms such as nonbothersome eye blinking, or mild body twitching. In many cases, the motor tics will resolve in late adolescence or early adulthood. Many patients will even lead relatively normal lives.
Lessons from the brain yield advances
Knowledge of the syndrome has increased as scientists have learned more in general about the brain.
The normal functions of the human brain seem to be dictated by rhythmic oscillations that continuously repeat over and over, much like a popular song on the radio. These oscillations change and modulate, and they act to control various human behaviors.
If an oscillation “goes bad,” it can result in a disabling tic or other behavioral symptoms of Tourette syndrome.
An important secret to the development of new therapies for Tourette is that we can alter these oscillations with rehabilitative therapies, cognitive behavioral intervention therapy (CBIT), medications such as tetrabenazine or even deep brain stimulation, which involves a small straw-like probe being inserted into the brain. Electricity can be delivered through this probe to disrupt the abnormal oscillations responsible for tics.
Continued study also helping
The genetics of Tourette remain opaque. Despite the fact that the disease tends to run in families, no one has discovered a single DNA abnormality linking all, or even most, cases.
In the meantime, however, technology is offering new means of detection and treatment. Scientists have recorded tic signals from the human brain and even deployed the first smart devices to detect and suppress tics.
Some investigators are studying newer generations of medicines that decrease the complications that can occur with old-fashioned drugs, such as Haloperidol, that have traditionally been used to treat Tourette. Scientists are also looking for way to suppress or modulate inappropriate brain signals, spurring development of new drugs with novel brain targets, such as cannabinoid receptors.
Using marijuana to treat the symptoms of Tourette syndrome makes some scientific sense. Cannabinoids occur naturally in the body, and cannabinoid receptors are found throughout many brain regions. In fact, CB1 cannabinoid receptors are located in high concentrations in regions of the brain thought to be involved in Tourette syndrome.
Living with Tourette syndrome
While it may appear to the casual observer that someone with Tourette syndrome outgrows it in adolescence or early adulthood, in fact most do not. While the motor and vocal tics wane in most cases, the obsessive-compulsive and behavioral features may persist and even escalate.
These behavioral features in Tourette syndrome, if left undiagnosed and untreated, will make it harder to live a normal life and will affect the person more than the noticeable motor and vocal tics.
While new treatments may lie in the future, there are many things that patients and their families can do today. Many changes, often very simple, can be incorporated into patients’ lives.
Comprehensive care teams from different disciplines play a key role. For example, a social worker can help to set up an individualized school education plan and connect families to resources that can transform difficult school situations into success stories. A rehabilitative therapist can now in many cases successfully address tics without the use of a single medication.
Our care team has taken care of close to 10,000 movement disorder patients at the University of Florida and tens of thousands more with our colleagues in the Southeast Regional Tourette Association of America Center of Excellence, which also includes neurologists, psychiatrists, rehabilitative specialists, social workers and scientists at the University of South Florida, Emory University, University of Alabama and the University of South Carolina.
There are good reasons to try different treatments, even if none seems to work. Patients need to learn how to recognize when a plan or therapy isn’t working and how to speak with their doctors and care team about trying something else. The point is that left unchecked, brain vibrations can, in some Tourette cases, lead to neck-snapping tics which can cause injuries, even paralysis. Today even the most severe cases have a chance for treatment with deep brain stimulation.
Though Tourette syndrome remains mysterious in the public eye, it is important that we teach families about the broad palette of options that provide tangible benefits for quality of life. That is definitely something worth shouting about.
A UF clinical decision scientist and health economist explains why six weeks of radiation therapy after surgery may not be the most effective treatment for women with breast cancer.
Women with breast cancer have long faced complicated choices about the best course of treatment.
One particular concern has been the daily radiation therapy many women with breast cancer receive for six weeks after surgery. This form of therapy, also known as conventionally fractionated external beam radiation, has generally been recommended for most women undergoing breast conservation therapy. The goal has been to rid the body of any remaining cancerous cells that the surgeon’s tools could not remove.
Radiation, however, can be time-consuming and expensive for the patient and society. It also carries a small risk for late complications, such as heart disease.
New therapies have been tested that would shorten the length of radiotherapy from six weeks to three weeks, or deliver a single dose at the time of the lumpectomy procedure in the operating room.
A shorter course of radiation means more convenience, perhaps, fewer side effects and fewer out-of-pocket expenses. And a single dose of radiation is much cheaper than whole breast radiation therapy delivered over multiple weeks, but is associated with a slightly higher risk of local recurrence. So which option should patients and physicians choose?
In our recently published paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, we came up with what we think is an answer. We showed through computer modeling that there is a better way for women – and one that can save our health care system nearly US$100 million every year.
Problem and possible solutions
For decades, breast cancer was considered such a formidable foe that doctors who treated it and women who had it wanted to use everything in their arsenal to fight it.
That included the radical Halsted mastectomy, which often took out chest muscles along with the breast and left women disfigured.
It also included lengthy radiation treatments, sometimes for as long as seven weeks (known as conventionally fractionated radiation), given every day Monday through Friday after surgery. This form of radiation comes at great cost to women and causes hardships for those who live far away from radiation clinics.
In recent years, doctors studied new therapies for breast cancer. Halsted radical mastectomy has been replaced with a lumpectomy procedure that is usually performed on an outpatient basis. The radiation course has been shortened and is now delivered using sophisticated equipment, sparing unnecessary dose to the heart and lungs.
The better equipment also began to allow researchers to look at ways to shorten treatment. Hypofractionated radiation, in which a portion of the breast is treated for a shorter time, was one result.
Alternative therapies to conventional and hypofractionated radiation have also been recently introduced to deliver a single dose of radiation just to the tumor bed at the time of surgery. This is known is intraoperative radiotherapy, or IORT, meaning performed during the course of a surgical operation.
Given the availability of choices with overlapping costs and outcomes, clinicians always face a dilemma: Which treatment is best for my patient? Likewise, patients can ask their clinicians, “What’s best for me?” And, if both treatments are equally effective, is there a difference in price that might guide decisions?
Multiple randomized trials have shown that a 3- to 4-week course of whole breast radiation therapy is equivalent to a 6- to 8-week course. In fact, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines endorse the short hypofractionated course as the preferred approach.
Despite all this, American doctors have not widely adopted the new strategy. The reasons for this are varied, including dissemination of new findings to private practitioners and financial incentives of treating with a longer course. Our current fee-for-service reimbursement structure pays more for the longer treatment, which may be a factor in the surprisingly slow adoption of the convenient hypofractionated whole breast radiotherapy approach.
What might be adding more to this dilemma?
Clinical trials have compared these treatment choices with one another. Several large randomized trials have compared a 6-week course to a 3- to 4-week course of whole breast treatment and found that the two treatment approaches are equivalent in terms of cancer control. In fact, one trial found that the shorter course of treatment yielded lower rates of acute toxic effects compared to the longer course. Several randomized trials have compared conventionally fractionated radiation therapy to a single fraction intraoperative treatment just to the tumor bed at the time of surgery. Although extremely convenient, IORT was slightly worse at controlling cancer recurrence.
Yet, no single clinical trial has compared all three available options head-to-head. Another dilemma is that clinical trials usually follow patients for a period of five to 10 years, not a lifetime. That left an important question unanswered: How do we know which treatment is most beneficial over patient lifetime, and at what cost?
In our study, our interdisciplinary team tried to identify the most optimal radiation therapy – that is, one that provides maximum value for money – for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.
We simulated (created in computer) a hypothetical population of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. As per standard of care guidelines, women first get surgical treatment (lumpectomy).
Now comes the uncertainty! These hypothetical women can get either conventional whole breast radiation, hypofractionated radiation or one-time intraoperative radiation.
We obtained data from several clinical trials and databases to define treatment effectiveness and side effects, improvement or deterioration in quality of life, inconvenience (measures in term of travel time, lost wages, travel cost) and future consequences, including a possibility of cancer coming back or spreading to other organs.
In our simulation, we then followed these hypothetical women over their lifetime to identify which treatment strategy is most valuable, or cost-effective.
After extensive validation, we found that hypofractionated radiation is the most valuable treatment almost under all scenarios. It not only improves quality of life without compromising survival (adds four additional months of life with improved quality of health) but it also saves nearly $3,500 per patient.
We also learned that IORT, or radiation treatment at the time of operation, may be appropriate for older women who live far from radiation facilities and would have to endure hardship when traveling for daily whole breast radiation for three to four weeks.
Win-win for all! Our society saves health care dollars, and patients benefit most from treatment.
Our analysis showed that conventionally fractionated radiation, in which women receive the radiation over six weeks, is not cost-effective under any scenario and should not be considered as a choice by physicians or patients. Our study is the first to evaluate this using the latest available data.
A single dose of intraoperative radiation therapy, despite being much more convenient and less expensive, is associated with higher cancer recurrence rates. This difference in the risk of recurrence ends up costing the patient and society more than the hypofractionated treatment over a patient’s lifetime. Intraoperative radiation might be an option for older women who live in regions with poor access to health services. The shorter hypofractionated course is less expensive and improves quality of life substantially!
With growing health care costs and an aging population, we are starting to focus more and more on identifying treatments that are less expensive and equally effective. We found that the use of the optimal strategy in this situation has the potential to improve health outcomes and save at least $100 million every year.
UF to receive additional $7.4 million in state performance funding
June 22, 2017
The University of Florida will receive an additional $7.4 million in state performance funding this year versus last year, bringing the total allotted to the university since 2014 to more than $103 million. The money will be used in UF’s ongoing efforts to hire and retain the world’s best and brightest faculty and keep the university on the path to becoming one of the nation’s very best public research universities.
UF received 95 points out of 100 – the highest score of all the 11 public universities in Florida measured in the performance-funding model created in 2014 by the Florida Board of Governors, the governing body for the State University System of Florida.
The university’s high score was due in part to increasing its number of licenses and options executed on technologies developed at the university, a measure of how successful its ideas are in the marketplace, from 147 to 261. That distinction gave UF a No. 3 ranking nationwide, according to the latest statistics released in November by the Association of University Technology Managers.
UF credits its success in that arena to playing “the long game,” focusing on closing deals, fostering a great reputation and encouraging commercially targeted thinking among faculty.
“I am very pleased with the University of Florida’s top score and grateful for the ongoing support of the governor, the Legislature and the Board of Governors,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “When UF succeeds, the state of Florida wins.”
Eight of the metrics are common to all universities. They are the following, with UF’s score indicated on a 1-to-10 scale with 10 being the best:
percent of bachelor's graduates employed (Earning $25,000+) or continuing their education -- 8
bachelor's degrees awarded in areas of strategic emphasis -- 10
median wages of bachelor’s graduates employed one year after graduation -- 10
university access rate (percent of undergraduates with a Pell grant) – 9
average cost to the student -- 8
graduate degrees awarded in areas of strategic emphasis -- 10
six-year graduation rate -- 10
academic progress rate -- 10
Two of the 10 metrics are “choice” metrics: one picked by the Board of Governors and one by the university boards of trustees. For UF, those metrics are:
number of licenses and options executed annually on its technologies -- 10
faculty awards -- 10
Based on their excellence or improvement on the board’s metrics, universities are eligible for a share of the $520 million allocated by the governor and Legislature during the 2017 legislative session.
“In the past four years, we’ve seen steady improvements at the system level and for individual universities,” said Tom Kuntz, Board of Governors’ chair. “Especially exciting is that we’ve seen universities in the bottom three soar to the top of the pack as they’ve renewed their focus on student success.”
The board’s newest metric, cost-to-the-student, also pointed to positive outcomes. The average cost in the SUS of earning a bachelor’s degree is less than $15,000 after financial aid (grants, scholarships and waivers). The average cost at the University of Florida has been calculated by the board to be $10,700. Furthermore, University Work Plans, in which institutions lay out their future financial goals, indicate that SUS universities are expected to decrease their prices further in the coming years, cutting the student cost per degree from $14,820 to $14,090 by the 2019-2020 school year.
“Affordability has been a priority for the governor and the Legislature as well as the Board of Governors because it increases student access and relieves student debt,” said Ned Lautenbach, vice chair of the Board of Governors and chair of the Budget and Finance Committee. “It’s exciting to see the universities turning that goal into a reality.”
Does a tiny sea creature hold the key to heart regeneration?
June 26, 2017
genetics, evolution, heart health
When Mark Martindale decided to trace the evolutionary origin of muscle cells, like the ones that form our hearts, he looked in an unlikely place: the genes of animals without hearts or muscles.
In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the University of Florida scientist and colleagues found genes known to form heart cells in humans and other animals in the gut of a muscle-less and heartless sea anemone. But the sea anemone isn’t just any sea creature. It has superpower-like abilities: Cut it into many pieces and each piece will regenerate into a new anemone.
Study scientists examined the genes of the starlet sea anemone (Nematostella vectensis) shown here. Sea anemones are related to corals and jellyfish, and are composed of an outer skin armed with stinging cells (cnidocytes) and a tube shaped gut, with nothing in the middle.
So why does the sea anemone regenerate while humans cannot? When analyzing the function of its “heart genes,” study researchers discovered a difference in the way these genes interact with one another, which may help explain its ability to regenerate, said Martindale, a UF biology professor and director of the Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine.
The study’s findings point to potential for tweaking communication between human genes and advancing our ability to treat heart conditions and stimulate regenerative healing, he said.
“Our study shows that if we learn more about the logic of how genes that give rise to heart cells talk to each other, muscle regeneration in humans might be possible,” Martindale said.
These heart genes generate what engineers calls lockdown loops in vertebrates and flies, which means that once the genes are turned on, they tell each other to stay on in an animal’s cells for its entire lifetime. In other words, animals with a lockdown on their genes cannot grow new heart parts or use those cells for other functions.
“This ensures that heart cells always stay heart cells and cannot become any other type of cell,” Martindale said.
But in sea anemone embryos, the lockdown loops do not exist. This finding suggests a mechanism for why the gut cells expressing heart genes in sea anemones can turn into other kinds of cells, such as those needed to regenerate damaged body parts, Martindale said.
The study supports the idea that definitive muscle cells found in the majority of animals arose from a bifunctional gut tissue that had both absorptive and contractile properties. And while the gut tissue of a sea anemone might not look like a beating heart, it does undergo slow, rhythmic peristaltic waves of contraction, much like the human digestive system.
Study authors argue that the first animal muscle cells might have been very heart-like, Martindale said.
“The idea is these genes have been around a long time and preceded the twitchy muscles that cover our skeleton,” Martindale said.
Continued research could one day allow scientists to coax muscles cells into regenerating different kinds of new cells, including more heart cells, Martindale said.
Mark Martindale studies the starlet sea anemone under a microscope at the Whitney Lab. Photo courtesy of the Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience
Other study authors include UF biology graduate student Dave Simmons and former UF postdoctoral researcher Naveen Wijesena.
On Eid 2017, a peek into the lives of Puerto Rican Muslims
June 29, 2017
A UF Ph.D. candidate and an expert on religion in the Americas and global Islam provides a glimpse into the struggles of Puerto Rican Muslims.
For Juan, Ramadan is a balancing act. On the one hand is his religious faith and practice. On the other is his land, his culture, his home – Puerto Rico.
Although he weaves these two elements of his identity together in many ways, during Ramadan the borderline between them becomes palpable. For the 3,500 to 5,000 Puerto Rican Muslims like Juan, the holy month of fasting brings to the surface the tensions they feel in their daily life as minorities – Muslims among their Puerto Rican family and Puerto Ricans in the Muslim community.
So, who are the Puerto Rican Muslims and what are their struggles?
Since 2015, my broader research on Islam in Latin America and the Caribbean has taken me back and forth between Puerto Rico and cities in the U.S. where Puerto Rican Muslims live in large numbers (New York, New Jersey, Florida, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Philadelphia) in an effort to better understand the Puerto Rican Muslim story.
What I have found in my research is a deep history and a rich narrative that expands the understanding of what it means to be Muslim, and Puerto Rican, today.
Slaves from West Africa also came. Though these Muslim slave communities did not thrive, or even survive, Islam established itself in significant ways across the American hemisphere. It became the region’s “second monotheistic religion” – a result of the religious imagination and inventive ritualistic adaptation of Muslim slaves, former slaves and maroons – Africans who escaped slavery and founded independent settlements. These Muslims left their mark and contributed to the culture and history of the continents.
These slave communities, however, faded due to conversion to Catholicism or adoption of Afro-American religious practices. Today’s Muslim communities largely comprise recent immigrants from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria; some are descendants of late 19th- and 20th-century immigrants. Ethnically speaking, nearly two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s Muslim population is made up of Palestinian immigrants living in places like Caguas and San Juan who came fleeing political turmoil or to pursue business interests abroad.
In recent years some Puerto Ricans have been reverting to the religion of their ancestors: Islam. How they wrestle with their identity as both Muslim and Puerto Rican is a key focus of my research.
Straddled between a predominately Arab Muslim population on the one hand and their avowedly Puerto Rican families, neighbors and coworkers who imagine Islam as something foreign to, rather than part of, Puerto Rico, converts struggle to marry the two identities they now claim. They are in search of a Boricua “Islamidad” – a unique Puerto Rican Muslim identity that resists complete assimilation to Arab cultural norms even as it reimagines and expands what it means to be Puerto Rican and a Muslim.
One of them is Juan, whom I first met at an Eid al-Fitr – the festival of breaking the Ramadan fast – celebration at the San Juan Convention Center in 2015. The 40-something man of Dominican descent and Puerto Rican heritage said,
“I came to Islam by asking questions: about the ills of society, the difficulties of life.”
Juan found that Catholicism, the religion adopted by his ancestors when they converted, was too confusing, the doctrine of “tawhid” in Islam – the oneness of God – simpler than what he believed to be the complex theology of the Trinity. Furthermore, he felt that Islam called for a higher morality and sense of self-discipline. And so, he “reverted” – that is, returned to the faith of his birth and the heritage of his Iberian forebears in al-Andalus, in what is modern-day Spain.
But Juan, like many other converts, is also searching for a sense of authenticity in his new community. While Juan finds that his Muslim brothers and sisters appreciate him, he still feels marginalized because of his cultural background. He finds ways to express his “Boricua” (a term for resident Puerto Ricans, derived from the island’s indigenous name Borinquen) pride and his Muslim identity by sporting a “taqiyah” (a short, rounded skull cap) decorated with the Puerto Rican flag.
Another Puerto Rican convert from Aguadilla, Abu Livia, lives in this tension as well. He told me during an interview, “too often we hear people say you have to wear certain clothes, speak a certain language, look like an Arab, talk like an Arab, behave like an Arab.”
Not just Juan and Abu Livia, as I found in my research, but many other Puerto Rican Muslims are looking toward Andalusia, or Moorish Spain, to define who they are in a Puerto Rican society that claims a mixed background of indigenous, African and European influences.
As such, Puerto Rican Muslims are finding ways of expressing their Muslim faith through symbols of Puerto Rican culture, whether it be their flag, their family traditions or their food.
Walking toward his home at the end of a long day of work, Juan looks forward to a quiet “iftar” – a meal to break the daily fast – with his family. It’s hot; beads of sweat have gathered like the faithful for prayer on his forehead; his legs are almost to the point of dragging up the small hill to his home; and the difficulties of Ramadan in a Caribbean climate weigh upon him. Even so, he smiles and gives praise to Allah.
As the sun sets and Juan prepares a light Puerto Rican meal of tostones – twice-fried plantains – his sincerity toward both his culture and his faith cannot be challenged.
“If anyone questions my religion,” said Juan, “they cannot question my ‘taqwa,’ my intention and fear of God.”
Multicultural and Diversity Affairs selects new APIA Affairs director
June 29, 2017
After a thorough national search, the University of Florida’s department of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs (MCDA) is pleased to announce that Jack Nguyen has been selected as Director of Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs. He will start Monday, July 17.
Jack joins the UF family from The Ohio State University where he served as an Intercultural Specialist in the Student Life Multicultural Center. In that role, he oversaw the planning, development, and implementation of all Asian American intercultural programming to address and highlight six programmatic themes of education, health and wellness, social justice, interfaith/spirituality, social/community building, and service/community outreach. Prior to The Ohio State, he was a practicum student in the Academic Center and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and a graduate assistant in the Asian American Cultural Center at University of Connecticut. Hailing from Chicago, Jack earned his Bachelors of Arts in Advertising and Public Relations with minors in Asian Studies and Visual Communication from Loyola University Chicago. He holds a Master’s of Arts in Higher Education Student Affairs from University of Connecticut.
“We are thrilled to have Jack join the MCDA team and Gator Nation,” said Will Atkins, Executive Director of MCDA. “He brings perspective, knowledge, and energy that will serve the APIA community and university well. We look forward to supporting his vision for APIA Affairs.”
Through the search process, the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs brought two candidates to Gainesville for on-campus interviews. The finalists were strongly vetted through a review of stakeholder feedback, strengths/weaknesses provided by the search committee, and extensive reference checks with the candidates’ current and former employers and faculty members.
Jack is full of excitement to join UF. He “believe[s] wholeheartedly that we all can work towards creating an equitable society through understanding the basic questions of 'who am I', 'who are you', and 'who are we'.”
As part Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, APIA Affairs promotes a more critical understanding of APIA issues and identity while advocating for the needs of APIA community. By focusing on leadership development, providing educational dialogue focused on the complex heritage of Asian Pacific Islander Americans, and being a voice for the APIA community at UF, APIA Affairs empowers its community members to take a more active role in shaping their experiences at the University of Florida and beyond.
For the role of Director of APIA Affairs, Multicultural and Diversity Affairs sought an individual with strategic vision and leadership, strong communication skills, experience with advocacy, and a history of meaningful collaborations, among other attributes.