Study: Sexism a powerful predictor for some Trump voters
January 2, 2018
psychology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
You might think voters’ political leanings would be the primary influence on how they cast their ballots, and past studies would back you up. But when University of Florida researchers looked at the 2016 presidential election, another factor emerged as a strong predictor: sexism.
In a study published in the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, UF psychologists found that in the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, voters’ choices were strongly linked to hostile attitudes toward women. On the Project Implicit website, participants answered questions on their political beliefs, attitudes toward women and their feelings about Clinton and Trump. Even after the researchers controlled for voters’ political ideologies, study participants who showed higher levels of sexism were more positive toward Trump and less positive toward Clinton. More-sexist participants also showed a greater intention to vote for Trump in responses collected before the election and a higher likelihood of having voted for Trump in responses collected afterward.
The effect of sexism remained when researchers controlled for participants’ gender, for attitudes toward racial and cultural minorities, and for attitudes toward whites.
“I don’t know how willing people are to realize or admit the role sexism might play in their behavior,” said Liz Redford, a UF doctoral candidate who co-authored the study with Project Implicit director and UF professor Kate Ratliff, Project Implicit researcher and UF professor Colin Smith, and UF graduate student John Conway. “Most Americans would probably like to think that sexism is not a big factor in their voting choices, but this forces us to consider whether political decisions are impacted by that.”
It’s unclear whether the predictive role of sexism the researchers observed is specific to preferences for Clinton versus Trump, or would apply to any election involving female and male candidates. Redford hopes future research can determine whether the correlation applies to state and local contests, as well.
“Even among those with politically liberal leanings, voters’ antagonistic views of women could be a liability to women — and an asset to men — running for office,” the authors wrote.
UF gets $8.7 million grant to improve nutritional quality, food safety in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso
January 3, 2018
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) announces an $8.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over five years to fund research aimed at tackling global hunger in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.
“This grant perfectly aligns with our current projects to improve the quality and quantity of food in developing nations,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “This is a significant investment in the work being accomplished at UF/IFAS.”
Livestock can help families rise from poverty and malnutrition by not only providing meat, eggs and dairy products, but also by allowing families to increase their income potential as they sell animal products to neighbors, said Adegbola Adesogan, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems at the University of Florida, and professor of animal sciences. “The grant is important because it will help poor farmers feed animals better diets. This research is particularly relevant in the face of climate change, and will develop environmentally-responsible strategies for farmers living in increasingly stressed environments,” he said.
“This award provides a tremendous opportunity to contribute towards improving the supply of quality feeds, which is perhaps the greatest constraint to livestock production in the developing world, and meeting the increasing global demand for livestock products,” Adesogan said. “Our research and capacity-building efforts will equip students, farmers and scientists in the target countries with the knowledge and innovative technologies to significantly increase livestock productivity and improve the nutritional status of vulnerable families.”
Adesogan leads research on providing feeds for dairy cows in Ethiopia, and sheep and goats in Burkina Faso. “These species are important for poor, smallholder livestock producers and are prioritized by the governments of their respective countries,” he said. “The research will have significant spillover impacts to other livestock species and neighboring countries.”
Another component of the research in Ethiopia will focus on helping children under the age of 2 avoid chronic gut inflammation by limiting exposure to chicken droppings. The inflammation, known as environmental enteric dysfunction (EED), likely causes chronic malnutrition and stunting, said the project’s leader Arie Havelaar, UF preeminent professor of global food safety and zoonoses (diseases of animals that are transmissible to humans) in the animal sciences department. Approximately 40 percent of all children under 5 in Ethiopia suffer from malnutrition and stunting, he said.
“Safe nutrition for children remains a major challenge for the rural people of Ethiopia,” Havelaar said. “Basic research questions remain about EED’s pathways and effects. Our project will break new ground in determining how contaminated environments cause stunting in children and help verify steps to prevent it,” said Havelaar, who is also affiliated with the UF/IFAS Institute for Sustainable Food Systems and the Emerging Pathogens Institute at UF.
This project will be carried out by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems in collaboration with multiple partners from Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and the U.S. For the feed research, partners include the International Livestock Research Institute, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, University of California-Davis, Hawassa University, Ethiopia, ACDI/VOCA and Environmental Institute for Agricultural Research ( Institut de l'Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles), Burkina Faso. For the EED research, partners include Haramaya University in Ethiopia, Ohio State University and Washington University in St. Louis.
In 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded UF/IFAS a $49 million, five-year cooperative agreement to establish the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems. The grant supports USAID’s agricultural research and capacity building work under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
The U.S. Agency for International Development administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.
“USAID has invested more than $75 million in the University of Florida’s ability to provide leadership to the global food systems’ research, teaching and Extension efforts,” Payne said. “With the support of the Gates Foundation, we are able to empower the poorest in society to feed themselves and create a sustainable future for their families.”
Brewing up success
January 5, 2018
What can an espresso machine teach engineering students about building a jet fighter? Plenty.
As part of their new “build class” last fall, a group of mechanical and aerospace engineering seniors in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering designed and built espresso machines.
In 15 weeks.
The idea behind the project: to give students hands-on experience in actually building something they designed – a concept that’s gaining popularity in engineering schools around the country.
The class, which gets financial support from aerospace company Northrop Grumman and diesel engine maker Cummins, teaches students how to pull off much bigger projects in the real world. Students worked on sub-systems, then brought the entire system together, just as in manufacturing.
It also teaches them that you can’t just make a simple one-off, you have to understand how to build a dozen – or thousands – of units requiring automation, mass production, molding and casting.
As Professor Greg Sawyer, who oversees the class, put it, “You have thermodynamics, you have heat transfer, you have electronics. Espresso machines are really a microcosm of the engineering world.”
And if you think about it, injecting high-pressure steam into an espresso head to make coffee really isn’t so different from injecting fuel into an engine cylinder. (And after all, coffee is rocket fuel for the brain.)
Neuroscientists find new avenue for treating Alzheimer’s disease
January 5, 2018
University of Florida neuroscientists have validated a potential pathway to halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder that affects millions of Americans and is the most common cause of dementia. The investigators made the finding while studying the toxicity of products that result from abnormal protein processing in the brain.
A wide body of genetic, pathologic and modeling literature all have shown how protein pieces called amyloid beta —known as Abeta — play a pivotal role in triggering Alzheimer’s disease. There are many forms of Abeta produced in the brain, but scientists recognize the accumulation of one form in particular — Abeta 42, which is composed of 42 amino acids — as key in promoting Alzheimer’s disease. Abeta peptides, or chains of amino acids, are produced by an enzyme called gamma-secretase.
One class of compounds previously developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease is known as gamma-secretase modulators, which have been shown to lower levels of Abeta 42 but raise levels of shorter Abeta peptides. These compounds do not completely inhibit the enzyme, however, but instead shift the enzyme’s activity. Some studies have suggested that the increase of shorter peptides could be harmful.
But in the cover article of today’s issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, a team of neuroscientists at the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida report that the short Abeta peptides were not toxic in two animal models — a mouse and a fruit fly — and in fact were protective from the toxic effects of Abeta 42, said MBI director and senior author Todd E. Golde, M.D., Ph.D.
The findings hold the potential for a drug therapy to stop Alzheimer’s progression to be tested in humans. Medications currently in use target the symptoms but not the disease progression of Alzheimer’s. More than 5 million Americans are currently living with the disease.
“We hope this finding will renew interest in the pharmaceutical industry to reinvest in developing new gamma-secretase modulators,” said Golde, a professor of neuroscience at UF’s College of Medicine, part of UF Health. “Our findings indicate that the last concern about this class of molecules is gone: There are now multiple lines of evidence to show that if one can find the right molecule, that molecule should be safe enough to use in a prevention setting.”
Added Golde: “We feel this is the last piece of biology that was needed to support further development of these compounds known as gamma-secretase modulators. If Abeta is the trigger, you have to stop the accumulation from forming in the first place, and that requires a drug that’s at least as safe as the statins we use to lower cholesterol levels. No drug is 100 percent safe, but that’s the bar.”
Previously developed drug therapies aimed at thwarting abnormal Abeta accumulation have not been successful, and it’s believed that some of the most promising ones have yet to make it to trial because of concerns over safety in humans.
The new results, said Golde, “really nail down that gamma-secretase modulators show promise to be safe, based on these preclinical studies."
Golde draws a parallel to using statins, a class of drugs used to control cholesterol levels in the blood.
“The way to think about this is, you have a drug that lowers your bad cholesterol and raises your good cholesterol. That’s sort of what this paper is saying for gamma-secretase modulators for Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
Golde’s team worked with an insect model, using genetic engineering to prompt the eyes of fruit flies to express human short Abeta peptides. The investigators observed that the short peptides did not accumulate or disrupt eye characteristics, as opposed to the Abeta 42 peptide, which did accumulate and caused a severe, visible disruption to the structure of the eye. Additionally, the eyes of flies that expressed both the toxic Abeta 42 and the short Abeta peptides were in better condition than flies that expressed Abeta 42 alone, indicating that the short Abeta peptides were protective.
The researchers then applied a relatively novel technology, developed by the Golde lab, using a virus to express the short Abeta peptides in mice. The researchers found that the short Abeta peptides did not accumulate like Abeta 42.
“This paper illustrates the power of fruit flies to solve issues that are difficult to approach in more conventional models of the disease,” said co-author Diego Rincon-Limas, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurology in the UF College of Medicine. “It’s a nice example to dissect complex, fundamental questions in the field.”
The study also opened new questions about the role of short Abeta peptides in the disease process and how some may actually protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
UF Distance and Continuing Education to host Inaugural Event in March 2018
Distance and Continuing Education at the University of Florida will host the first annual Inspiring Women Leaders Conference (IWL) March 8-9, 2018 at the UF Hilton Conference Center. Conference registration is now open (http://reg.conferences.dce.ufl.edu/WLC/Register) and includes engaging presentations, panel discussions interactive workshops and social networking opportunities. The early registration deadline ends February 1st, so make sure to register in advance to secure a spot at the conference.
During this two-day event, topics such as: how to delegate effectively; how to recognize bias; how to take calculated risks; and how to communicate with confidence, will be showcased through the Leadership, Professional, and Business tracks.
Jennifer Ransaw Smith, CEO and Founder of Brand id|Strategic Partners, Rachel Braun Scherl, the co-founder and principal of SPARK Solutions for Growth, and Judi Holler-Durkin, the CEO of HOLLA! Productions represent the dynamic Keynote Speaker lineup along with a multitude of top executives from across the country.
Conference sponsorship guarantees prime access to participants, along with opportunities for professional networking and marketing your organization throughout both days of the event. This year’s IWL conference is sponsored by Carl, Riggs and Ingram, Campus USA Credit Union, Infotech, Exactech and, UF Division of Sponsored Research. Sponsorship opportunities are still available.
Laurel Brown, the conference organizer said, “Last year with the start of our professional development workshops for women, we soon discovered there was an urgent desire to learn, share, and connect with working professionals and industry leaders, which led to the formation of this inaugural conference event. We are very excited that the event kicks off on International Women’s day and that it will provide a rich environment full of professional and personal growth opportunities.”
It is time to Ignite and Inspire by participating in the 2018 IWL conference to exchange ideas, build relationships, and create a stronger community of empowered leaders. For more information, please visit our conference website: http://reg.conferences.dce.ufl.edu/WLC
U.S. News ranks UF Online No. 12 in the nation for online bachelor’s degree programs
January 9, 2018
UF Online, the University of Florida’s online bachelor’s degree program, is ranked No. 12 in the 2018 U.S. News & World Report Best Online Programs in the country, up eight places from its previous spot at No. 20 in 2017.
This makes the University of Florida the top-ranked public university for online undergraduate programs in Florida, according to the U.S. News list.
UF Online was ranked No. 12 based on the following factors: student engagement (35 percent); student services and technology (25 percent); faculty credentials and training (20 percent); and peer reputation (20 percent).
“We are thrilled with this latest ranking and recognition from U.S. News,” says Evangeline Cummings, assistant provost and director of UF Online. “I am extremely proud of this campus and in particular the accomplishments of our amazing UF faculty that have propelled UF up eight spots in the rankings since last year. The University of Florida’s commitment to being the best online undergraduate program in the nation is only fortified by these rankings, as we continue to deliver and expand academically rigorous programs paired with an engaging and rich student experience.”
Other interesting findings from the U.S. News rankings include:
The University of Florida is the No. 1-ranked school in the Southeastern Conference for online bachelor’s degree programs.
Three graduate programs at the University of Florida also achieved top rankings:
Education ranked No. 2
MBA ranked No. 6
Engineering ranked No. 21
Additionally, three other public colleges in Florida were also ranked in the top 50 – the University of Central Florida (No. 16), Daytona State College (No. 23) and the University of North Florida (No. 31).
The University of Florida, ranked No. 9 in the list of top 10 best public universities by U.S. News, has been offering online undergraduate degree programs since 2001. Students can select from 19 majors across a variety of disciplines as well as seven minors and work with a dedicated academic advisor to design their own academic pathway. Degree programs are continually being added. Visit ufonline.ufl.edu to learn more.
Gyms across the country will be packed in the new year with people sticking, however briefly, to their New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Most of them do not know that the cards are stacked against them and that weight loss is much more complicated than working out and not eating dessert.
Years into the obesity epidemic, millions of Americans have tried to lose weight, and millions of them have failed to do so long term.
The U.S., and increasingly the world, is in the grip of a real epidemic – the seriousness of which is lost in our obsession with diets. One study estimated an additional 65 million obese Americans by 2030, and increased medical costs between US$48 billion to $66 billion a year.
As an endocrinologist, I study obesity and treat people with obesity every day. Here are some things I see, and some things I see that could begin to address the problem.
Costs across the board
Obesity, defined as a body mass index of at least 30, is about far more than vanity. It impairs quality of life and exacerbates health risks involving many medical conditions in children and adults. Obese people incur more medical costs, live shorter lives and miss more work than their thinner counterparts.
The health risks include gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, gout, sleep apnea, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cardiovascular disease and a broad spectrum of cancers, such as pancreatic, liver, breast and kidney cancers.
Obesity also leads to metabolic conditions such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which has long been overlooked as a life-threatening consequence of poor eating habits. This disease was rare until 1980.
The medical costs associated with obesity are enormous – and growing. One study estimated the annual medical care costs of obesity in the United States in 2008 dollars at $209.7 billion. To put that in perspective, consider that that’s almost half the amount of the estimated federal deficit for fiscal year 2018. About 1 in 5 health care dollars are spent to treat obesity-related illness.
Obesity’s roots are in American culture, from the stress of the workplace to the onslaught of food advertising, to our tradition of holiday overindulgence. The taste buds of our youth are raised on junk food and sugary treats, habits that follow children into adulthood.
American society is structured around productivity and long work hours. This leads to unbalanced lives, unhealthy lifestyles and unhappy people. Stress and lack of sleep can contribute to obesity.
For many families struggling between paychecks, the foods that make the most financial sense are the processed, packaged, fatty choices serving up the most calories.
Meal portions at restaurants have sharply increased in recent decades as well. The percentage of our food budget spent on out-of-home dining climbed to 46 percent in 2006, up 20 percent since 1970. The temptation of unhealthy food greets us on every street corner, in our breakrooms and at our favorite supermarkets. We Americans are eating too much yet we can’t seem to reverse it. Why?
Some blame the epidemic on the advent of the microwave and the growth of fast food options since the 1970s. Also, our food choices have changed, with food industries mass market fattening foods to children.
Americans are more sedentary than we were decades ago. Our lives are tied to computer screens, big and small, in both our jobs and our homes. Our children are now raised on hand-held devices that serve as surrogate playmates in a world where “playing ball” is more likely to be done via internet connection than the actual playing field.
Blaming the victim?
Many of us invoke “willpower” in our fight against fat, blaming and shaming ourselves and others for not losing weight. While many people have lost weight in the short term, they struggle to break the cycle of food addiction and unhealthy food choices. Yet scientists have learned that this is not about a shortage of willpower but about an abundance of physiological factors that make the body hold onto fat.
Patients standing alone with just their willpower and the latest diet to guide them invariably face great difficulty against a complex disease like obesity. Going it alone may be a barrier to appropriate treatment options, such as behavioral modification counseling, anti-obesity drugs and bariatric surgery.
Weight regain is common, as structured diets are hard to follow over the long haul. The body resists long-term calorie restriction by sending signals to our brains that trigger a craving for food, making diets prone to failure.
Because of the frustration of failure, many people are simply giving up on slimming down, making obesity an accepted social norm. One study has shown a declining percentage of men and women trying to lose weight since 1988, perhaps due to a lack of motivation after failed efforts.
Even so, we’re making some progress battling this epidemic. Studies show obesity appears to be plateauing in Caucasians, though not in ethnic minorities. But the numbers are already so high, “plateauing” seems more euphemistic than hopeful.
Scientific research has shown that the fixes are not about dieting, however. The solutions are complex and will take time and resources. Patients need more support than they are receiving.
Clearly, our country needs a greater systematic effort in the realms of public health, the government and industry. For starters, our political leaders should make combating obesity a top priority. Our nation faces many challenges, and the obesity epidemic has fallen to the bottom of a long list of health care problems.
Schools could play a role. Students should receive additional education in schools on good eating habits and how to control stress.
As someone who sees this devastating illness every day, I believe that health care insurers need to be more willing to pay upfront to manage obesity before it becomes a much more expensive disease to treat. Given the structure of health insurance now, physicians simply cannot spend the time needed with patients to properly communicate and educate.
Each of us needs to become an advocate for a healthier way of life. Adults can start by teaching our youngsters about good dietary habits, by insisting on a better balance in the workplace, and by demanding more accountability from the food and health industries, and our government. Doing that will help ensure a brighter and healthier future for our children.
For Americans who live along the east and Gulf of Mexico coasts, the end of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season on Nov. 30 was a relief. This year forecasters recorded 17 named storms, 10 of which became hurricanes. Six were major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger), and three made landfall: Harvey in Texas, Irma in the Caribbean and Florida, and Maria in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. It was the most costly season ever, inflicting more than US$200 billion in damages.
Many scientists have found evidence that climate change is amplifying the impacts of hurricanes. For example, several studies just published this month conclude that human-induced climate change made rainfall during Hurricane Harvey more intense. But climate change is not the only factor making hurricanes more damaging.
In a study we co-authored with our colleague Jon Martin, we showed that two converging natural climate processes created a “hot spot” from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to Miami where sea levels rose six times faster than the global average between 2011 and 2015. We also showed that such hot spots have occurred at other points along the Eastern Seaboard over the past century. Now we see indications that one is developing in Texas and Louisiana, where it likely amplified flooding during Harvey – and could make future coastal storms more damaging.
Solving a salinity puzzle
Our work started when Jon Martin showed one of us (Arnoldo) salinity data from water trapped between sediments lining the floor of the Indian River Lagoon in east Central Florida. Here groundwater with zero salinity pools along the coast behind several barrier islands. Jon and his research team were analyzing changes in water chemistry and found that salinity had increased dramatically over the preceding decade. This suggested that saltwater was rapidly intruding into the lagoon.
This process is typically driven either by sea level rise or humans pumping fresh water from underground, or some combination of the two. Arnoldo consulted online data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and found that sea level rise had accelerated rapidly at nearby Trident Pier between 2011 and 2015. While global sea level has been rising at an average pace of about 1 foot per century, this site had recorded an increase of about 5 inches in a mere five years.
When Arnoldo shared this finding with Andrea, an international expert in past sea level rise, she was floored. These rates were ten times higher than the long-term rates of sea level rise along the Florida coastline. Further investigation showed that all tide gauges south of Cape Hatteras showed a similar uptick over the same period. This raised two questions: Had similar rates of rapid sea level rise previously been observed in the southeast United States? And what was causing this temporary acceleration?
Converging climate patterns
Previous work along the Atlantic coast had identified the area north of Cape Hatteras as vulnerable to accelerated rates of sea level rise, particularly in the context of climate change. Warming of the planet is expected to weaken the Gulf Stream, a powerful Atlantic Ocean current that pulls water away from the east coast and carries it northward. Slowing down the Gulf Stream leaves more water in place along the coastline, raising sea levels.
But this mechanism could not explain a jump of this magnitude in sea levels south of the Cape. Another previous study offered an additional clue. It proposed that the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a seesaw pattern in air pressure over different regions of the North Atlantic Ocean, could explain the shift in the position of short-term variations in sea level rise.
Shifts in the NAO alter the position of the jet stream, wind patterns and storm tracks, all of which affect the distribution of water in the North Atlantic basin. Ultimately, the cumulative effects of NAO on the ocean determine whether water will pile up to the north or south of Cape Hatteras. Thus, water piled up preferentially to the north of Cape Hatteras in the period 2009-2010, and to the south from 2011 to 2015.
This NAO-related mechanism explained where sea level accelerations might occur along the Atlantic coast, but did not seem to explain their timing. We filled in the blanks by examining tide gauge records over the last century along the entire U.S. Atlantic coast. This review showed that the timing of short-term sea level accelerations, lasting one to several years, was correlated with the accumulated signal of another recurring climate pattern: The El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, which is the result of an oscillation of atmospheric pressure in the Tropical Pacific Ocean basin.
Although ENSO occurs in the Pacific, its effects propagate across North America, altering air temperatures and wind regimes in the eastern United States. These changes in wind distributions can affect water transport in the North Atlantic Ocean, causing it to build up along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard at times. Other scientists have shown that this transport ultimately determines the timing of short-term accelerations in sea-level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast.
In summary, we found that short-term accelerations in sea level rise have repeatedly occurred over the last century, sometimes occurring south of Cape Hatteras and sometimes focused north of the Cape. These hot spots can exceed rates of 4 inches in five years, and can occur anywhere along the U.S. Atlantic coast. They form when the accumulated signals of ENSO and the NAO converge, displacing seawater toward the coastline.
A wild card for coastal flooding
Our research has serious implications for coastal planners. Global warming is raising sea levels along the entire Atlantic coast, and communities should be preparing for it. In addition, our findings show that sea level can rise and fall around this level by more than 4 inches over a five-year period, due to variability in ocean-atmosphere interactions in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean basins. This variability can occur over the course of five to 10 years.
These hot spots amplify the severity of coastal flooding that is already occurring from storms and king tides. Residents between Charleston, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida – a stretch where sea levels are at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) higher now then they were in 2010 – have found this out the hard way.
Now we are looking at data from the Gulf of Mexico, where tide stations are also showing water levels which are typically higher than predicted. The increase along Florida’s Gulf coast is past its peak, but Texas and Louisiana are still seeing an acceleration in sea level rise. Accelerations in sea level rise are hard to predict, and it is unclear whether they will become more serious over time. But they make it even more urgent for coastal communities to take sea level rise seriously today.
Deep brain stimulation shows promise for select Tourette patients in new UF-led worldwide registry
January 16, 2018
Michelle Koidin Jaffee
University of Florida neuroscientists are leading a multinational effort to track outcomes for patients with Tourette syndrome who undergo deep brain stimulation surgery, an established treatment for other movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease that’s now being tested as a potential means to decrease the motor and vocal tics of Tourette syndrome in certain patients.
Data collected thus far in a registry of a small international group of patients with uncontrolled Tourette syndrome show a link between deep brain stimulation, or DBS, and some symptom improvement as well as some adverse events, the neuroscientists report in today’s issue of JAMA Neurology. The results indicate an approximate 45 percent reduction in tics one year after the DBS device was implanted. Just over a third of the patients reported adverse events including dysarthria, which is a speech disorder caused by muscle weakness, and paresthesias, which is a burning or prickling in the arms or legs.
Patients who have undergone DBS surgery receive electrical stimulation to specific areas of the brain to decrease symptoms such as involuntary motor movements. The goal of the new registry of pooled data is to understand the safety and efficacy of DBS for Tourette syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder that typically starts in early childhood or adolescence and is estimated to affect about one in 160 children ages 5 to 17.
“A registry for a surgical therapy like DBS is of incredible value, and it’s something that’s a critical need for the field as we begin to put out new devices,” said senior author Michael S. Okun, M.D., chair of neurology at UF’s College of Medicine, part of UF Health, and a member of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida. “How are we going to track these? How are we going to know what do they do, short and long term? What are the side effects? How do we monitor how these devices are performing for individual patients? We see registries in other diseases and in other drugs, but we haven’t seen many registries for devices, making this project critical for the field.”
In partnership with the Tourette Association of America, UF researchers have established the new public registry and database, which will allow patients, physicians and families to review one-year outcome data for 171 patients with uncontrolled Tourette who underwent DBS from 2012 to 2016 at 31 medical institutions in 10 countries.
As patients, physicians and the public nationwide strive to understand the benefits as well as potential side effects of an array of implanted medical devices, the new International Deep Brain Stimulation Database and Registry hosted by the Fixel Center for Neurological Diseases at UF Health offers free, detailed data about DBS and Tourette syndrome. A public website will go live at https://tourettedeepbrainstimulationregistry.ese.ufhealth.org/ concurrent with today’s publication in JAMA Neurology.
One limitation of the new database is that the various sites may have used different surgical techniques or treatment approaches, possibly affecting the results.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved DBS for Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, but not for Tourette syndrome at this time. DBS is the most commonly performed surgical treatment for Parkinson’s disease, and it also shows promise to treat dystonia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, Okun said.
Now, physicians want to test the efficacy and safety of DBS for a growing number of conditions, to include Tourette syndrome, depression, obesity and addiction. At the University of Florida, physicians now are performing all DBS surgeries at the new UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital—a hospital devoted to diseases and disorders of the brain.
Tourette causes involuntary motor tics and vocalizations (sniffing, coughing, clearing the throat), symptoms that can negatively affect quality of life and even result in injuries such as whiplash. “Tics can be very stressful and anxiety-provoking,” said Okun, editor of the 2017 book “Tourette Syndrome: 10 Secrets to a Happier Life.” “In most cases, the people are experiencing what’s known as a premonitory urge, a feeling that they need to move their arm or shoulder or make a noise, and until they do, that urge doesn’t go away.”
In cases of uncontrolled Tourette, or when medications and behavioral therapies fail to offer any or minimal relief, the next step may be a detailed, interdisciplinary evaluation, which could yield a recommendation for DBS in select patients after weighing potential benefits and risks, Okun said.
Yet, even expert medical centers may have only one or two Tourette surgical cases a year. “By putting our results together, we can get data that can really inform and drive the field forward,” Okun said.
UF team to help innovate retrofits for homes for people with disabilities
January 17, 2018
Imagine using your living room as a dining room or your kitchen as a bedroom – complete with handicap-accessible equipment.
University of Florida researchers will help develop those conversions, as they work on a three-year, $531,000, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to develop and test innovations to retrofit homes for people with disabilities to make them more accessible and affordable.
In the past, research in this area focused on single-family homes, but this research zeroes in on attached housing, such as townhouses and duplexes, said Sherry Ahrentzen, a professor in the UF Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, and lead investigator on the project.
The center is part of the M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management, a division of the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning. Faculty members from that college, along with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the College of Public Health and Health Professions will collaborate to collect and disseminate data for the project.
Most members of the research team are part of UF Vital by Design Initiative, which addresses challenges of an aging society by working with systems built without an aging population in mind, Ahrentzen said.
If national statistics are any indication, many people will benefit from this research.
“The ideal outcome for persons with disabilities is to have resources for accessible, affordable and aesthetically pleasing modifications to existing housing,” said Linda Struckmeyer, clinical assistant professor in the UF department of occupational therapy and one of 10 UF faculty members conducting research for the project.
Project investigators will use virtual reality techniques to simulate situations people with disabilities might face in their homes. Then, the people with disabilities will use virtual reality headsets to experience these simulated settings, providing researchers with feedback on ease of use, accessibility, comfort and aesthetic appeal.
Before they take participants through the virtual reality experimentation, researchers will meet with focus groups this spring and summer. Those panels will include people with disabilities, their care providers, occupational therapy and rehabilitation professionals, builders and others to find out what works and what doesn’t in people’s homes, Ahrentzen said.
“We will also interview people with disabilities to see what modifications they’ve done to their homes so we can have a better understanding of what they’ve come up against and how they’ve had to try to make it work,” she said.
UF researchers cannot construct the exact environment that people with disabilities encounter, so they will simulate them as best they can using virtual reality, Ahrentzen said.
“Here we can simulate these situations with the virtual reality and make it look as good as we can,” she said. “We’re trying to use technologies that we have so people can personally test them before they’re built or selected.”
For example, when volunteers take part in the study, they will wear a headset that projects virtual reality – three-dimensional space that adjusts as people move through it, turn their head and make other movements. They’ll also use haptic gloves to see if they would be able to open a door or pull out a drawer in a proposed design, for example. Such a process allows participants to see and touch objects as though they were real, Ahrentzen said.
Also as part of the research, HUD will provide the UF investigators with building documents of layouts and designs of many typical federally assisted attached housing. UF researchers will then propose renovations of the designs for accessible use.
After the testing determines which retrofits were most accessible, affordable and attractive, the UF faculty will then need to disseminate their data. Randy Cantrell, a UF/IFAS housing and community development specialist, will lead that effort. For instance, Cantrell might use focus groups that include builders. He also will meet with UF/IFAS county Extension faculty to figure how best to get the research results to the public.
Disabled populations as well as caregivers of elderly populations will be among those who will benefit from the research findings, said Cantrell, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of family, youth and community sciences.
“Boomers in their 50s are putting their children through college while beginning to ponder how best to safely and comfortably house their parents,” he said. “They will find this information beneficial if for no other reason than to understand future discussions with potential remodelers.”
Why should you love squirrels? Here are six reasons
January 17, 2018
Squirrels often get a bad rap. They raid bird feeders. They can chew through just about anything. They dart out in front of cars.
But, while sometimes inconvenient for humans, this oft-labeled “nuisance” animal has a lot to offer, according to a University of Florida researcher who studies squirrel ecology.
“Squirrels are some of the most visible wildlife in our modern urban and suburban settings, and they are a vital part of the ecosystems they inhabit,” said Robert McCleery, an associate professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
So on this National Squirrel Appreciation Day, Jan. 21, take a moment to learn what’s fun, interesting and mysterious about these fluffy-tailed creatures, McCleery said.
1. They chew for a reason.
“The reason they are chewing on things is because they have incisors — front teeth — that are always growing,” McCleery explained. “If they don’t chew on something, their teeth are going to grow into their lower jaw and skull.” To avoid that, squirrels will chew on anything that helps wear down their teeth.
2. They are nature's gardeners.
Squirrels have an important ecological role, especially in forest ecosystems, McCleery said.
“Their biggest contribution to the forest is in shaping plant composition. They have a peculiar habit of taking seeds, which are their main source of nutrients, and burying them. They bury them throughout the environment, and often, when they go back and look for them, they forget where they are. When that happens, they are effectively planting seeds,” McCleery said.
Over time, this behavior, called caching, changes the composition of a forest.
“They will expand forests and change the types of trees that are there,” he said. In Florida, for example, they have an important role of maintaining the native long-leaf pine ecosystem, McCleery said.
3. They have some zany behaviors that are entertaining to watch.
Squirrels have some behaviors that may be puzzling to humans, McCleery said.
For example, if you see a squirrel rubbing its face on an acorn, that’s the squirrel marking the seed with its scent, increasing the chances it will find it later.
Ever see one squirrel in hot pursuit of another squirrel? That’s a mating chase, McCleery said.
4. They will tell you off.
“If you’re in your backyard, walking across a college campus or through a park, you might hear squirrels. They make a rolling chirping noise,” McCleery said. As they make that noise, they may also rapidly flick their tails over their heads.
All this is the squirrel’s way of saying, Back off!
They’ll often do this when another squirrel is nearby, McCleery said. Or, if they spot you walking your dog, which they see as a potential predator, they might go on the defensive.
“But if there isn’t another squirrel around and you’re not walking your dog, they may actually be making that sound at you. They are scolding you because you are near a tree they’ve utilized or are near some food resource, or you’re also perceived as a predator,” McCleery said.
5. There are many species of squirrel, and they come in lots of shapes, colors and sizes.
“There are three squirrels commonly found in Florida. The gray squirrel is smaller than the others and is gray in color. The fox squirrel, on the other hand, is larger than the gray squirrel, and is the most variably colored mammal in North America,” McCleery said.
A third and smallest type of squirrel, the flying squirrel, is fairly common, though you’ll rarely see one, said McCleerly. That’s because this squirrel is nocturnal.
“But you can hear them,” McCleery said. “Just go outside at dusk, and listen for a high-pitched squeaking noise, which sounds like a screen door, coming from the tops of the trees.”
Flying squirrels get their name from the flaps of skin between their front and back legs. These flaps allow them to glide from one tree to the next. “That’s probably going on in your backyard tonight,” McCleery said.
6. They are full of mystery.
There is still so much that’s not known about squirrels, McCleery said. It’s one reason he never gets tired of studying them.
“One of the things we are trying to understand right now is why squirrels sometimes decide to eat a seed right away and other times decide to bury it,” McCleery said. Factors, such as how much nutrition is in the seed or how dangerous a location is, may be at play.
From a conservation standpoint, McCleery is also trying to understand why there are fewer fox squirrels now than there used to be. He hypothesizes that this may be due to competition with gray squirrels and a changing environment that favors gray squirrels over fox squirrels.
Being Winnie the Pooh made this Disney alum a better doctor
January 18, 2018
Dr. Marvin Dewar learned some of his most important life lessons inside a Winnie the Pooh costume.
Today, Dewar is a senior associate dean at the University of Florida and the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Medical Officer for UF Health Physicians. But in 1971, when Walt Disney World had just opened, Dewar was Winnie the Pooh at the Magic Kingdom. For six years, he had the privilege of wandering around Disney after hours, exploring the staff-only tunnels beneath the park and bringing smiles to people who lined up to meet Pooh. He was even part of the opening-day parade.
Looking back on his time as Pooh, however, is more than nostalgia. Dewar says he draws on his experiences at Disney every day.
“What I learned from Disney that helped me in my medical career is that it really is about others,” he says. “There are certainly times when you’re having a bad day, but at Disney, the attendee should never know that. In our delivery of health care, our patient should never know if we’re having a bad day. All they should see is our total attention to them and to making their experience as good as it could be.”
Dewar started working at the park in tenth grade and kept it up during summer and holiday breaks through his first year of medical school. The gig even paid for his wife’s engagement ring.
“It was such a blessing to have the opportunity to be Pooh,” he says. “The only bad part was how hot it was inside those costumes.”
Given the chance, would the self-professed “Disney addict” get back into the Pooh suit for a day?
Noise pollution causes chronic stress in birds, with health consequences for young
January 18, 2018
Natalie van Hoose
Birds exposed to the persistent noise of natural gas compressors show symptoms remarkably similar to those in humans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, new research shows.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that adults and nestlings of three species showed multiple signs of chronic stress caused by noise pollution, including skewed stress hormone levels, possibly due to increased anxiety, distraction and hypervigilance.
The study is the first to test the relationships between noise, stress hormones and fitness in animals that breed in natural areas with unrelenting, human-made noise.
Constant noise could be acting as an “acoustic blanket,” muffling the audio cues birds rely on to detect predators, competitors and their own species, said study co-author Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Unable to discern whether their environment is safe, mother birds must choose between staying on guard at the nest and finding food for their young.
Nestlings in the noisiest environments had smaller body sizes and reduced feather development, potentially diminishing their odds of survival. Hatching rates in western bluebirds – the most noise-tolerant species studied – dropped in response to noise.
“These birds can’t escape this noise. It’s persistent, and it completely screws up their ability to get cues from the environment,” Guralnick said. “They’re perpetually stressed because they can’t figure out what’s going on. Just as constant stress tends to degrade many aspects of a person’s health, this ultimately has a whole cascade of effects on their physiological health and fitness.”
A research team led by Nathan Kleist, then a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder, set up 240 nesting boxes staggered at precise distances from gas compressors. This allowed the researchers to examine stress responses of nesting birds across a measurable gradient of noise, Guralnick said.
The team tested levels of the stress hormone corticosterone in three species – western bluebirds, mountain bluebirds and ash-throated flycatchers. Expecting corticosterone levels to be high, the researchers found the opposite: The louder the noise from gas compressors, the lower the birds’ baseline corticosterone levels. These results were consistent in adults and chicks across all three species.
While initially surprising, the findings came into focus when compared with lab studies of chronic stress. Low corticosterone can be a sign that stress is so intense, the body has dialed down the baseline levels of the hormone as a means of self-protection.
“On the surface, you might look at this result and assume this means they are not stressed,” said Christopher Lowry, study co-author and stress physiologist at CU Boulder. “But what we are learning from both human and rodent research is that with inescapable stressors, including post-traumatic stress disorder in humans, stress hormones are often chronically low.”
When testing chicks’ response to a sudden threat, researchers found that the birds’ corticosterone skyrocketed compared with typical high-stress levels and was slow to return to baseline levels. The link between low baseline corticosterone levels and abnormal spikes in acute stressor-triggered corticosterone also parallels previous chronic stress studies on human and rodents, Guralnick said.
“This is a neat alignment between two entirely different types of literature – studies about stress and studies about conservation and physiology,” he said. “The connection between these low and high hormone levels helps explain why data on corticosterone from previous conservation physiology studies seemed to be all over the place. This helps illuminate the underlying pattern and suggests a new paradigm for how noise affects wildlife.”
Noise levels at natural gas fields are not unusually loud compared with human-made noise in many other parts of the country, which has important implications for protecting wildlife and possibly human health, the researchers said.
“This study shows that noise pollution reduces animal habitat and directly influences their fitness and ultimately their numbers,” Guralnick said. “By doing so, it makes it harder for animals to survive. Taken together, that’s a pretty damning picture of what human-made noise can do to natural populations of animals.”
A 10-decibel increase in noise above natural levels can shrink animals’ listening area by 90 percent, the researchers said. In the U.S., the amount of land area characterized by this moderate noise increase is an estimated 301,532 square miles – greater than the size of Texas.
“Hearing is the universal surveillance system across vertebrates, including humans,” said co-author Clinton Francis, assistant professor of biology at California Polytechnic State University. “Hearing is also the sense that remains active even during sleep and other instances of unconsciousness. Because we and other animals rely on hearing in these capacities, it may not be too much of a stretch to expect similar physiological impacts on humans.”
The study was funded by the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the North American Bluebird Society and the University of Colorado Graduate School and department of ecology and evolutionary biology.