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Medicine and Life Sciences

Women & Philanthropy awards two grants to College of Medicine

Women & Philanthropy, a volunteer organization that promotes The University of Toledo through grants to UT initiatives, has given 2018 grants in the amount of $69,348.44.

The first grant for $63,400 was awarded to the College of Medicine and Life Sciences to create the Women & Philanthropy Thrombosis and Hemostasis Research Center. This grant will address a significant gap in the University’s ability to assess thrombosis in human patient and rodent samples.

Scientists in the college are focusing on diseases that have significant mortality due to thrombotic complications and in projects surrounding cancer-induced thrombosis.

“The ability to find reliable diagnostic tests or markers that will accurately characterize the risk of developing a clot is vital,” Marcy McMahon, chair of Women & Philanthropy, said. “While the scientists can do certain assays associated with assessing clotting, they do not have the necessary equipment to perform platelet aggregometry and complete blood counts.”

The new equipment will have broad-ranging applications from autoimmune to metabolic disease. Investigators in multiple departments will be able to highlight the Thrombosis and Hemostasis Research Center in grant applications to organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation to help secure more research funding for investigators and The University of Toledo.

The second grant for $5,948.44 also went to the College of Medicine and Life Sciences to provide for photoscreening of infants and children at well-care visits.

The Spot Vision Screener to be utilized requires minimal patient cooperation, bypassing traditional screening methods. It will allow infants and toddlers to be screened, along with older children with significant developmental disabilities.

“This screening is important in order to reduce the risk of amblyopia, a condition that causes permanent vision impairment but is preventable if vision problems are recognized early,” McMahon said.

Women & Philanthropy at The University of Toledo was chartered in 2006 and made its first award to UT in 2008. Through this giving circle, members of diverse backgrounds and interests work collaboratively to make positive, meaningful and immediate impacts at the University.

Women & Philanthropy has given a total of 19 grants totaling $493,687.44 to The University of Toledo during the past 10 years.

Applications for 2019 grants will be available in late fall.

Additional information about Women & Philanthropy is available at

UT scientists awarded nearly $1 million in federal grants to examine cell behaviors

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded nearly $1 million in federal grants to two scientists at The University of Toledo for research projects examining cell behaviors that can lead to the development of better medicines to treat cancer, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disease.

“Once again one of our top-level Ohio universities proves that they are on the cutting edge of medical research and innovation,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. “Northern Ohio is a leader in medical research, and these funds build on that foundation of excellence. These researchers are pushing boundaries and working to develop treatments and therapies to help those suffering from chronic illness. The University of Toledo distinguishes itself by competing and winning competitive grant opportunities such as the one announced [Sept. 11]. I am pleased to be able to support their efforts to access federal research resources.”

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, received $441,323 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to examine the regulation of a crucial group of signaling pathways named G-protein and GPCRs that help the body control functions, including heart rate, and are involved in pathological processes such as cancer and heart disease.

“Knowledge from our experiments will help develop tissue- and organ-specific therapeutics for a variety of diseases, including cancer, that are less harmful to bodily functions,” Karunarathne said.

Dr. James Slama, professor in the UT Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, received $461,898 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to identify the elusive receptor for nicotinic acid adenine dinucleotide phosphate, or NAADP, which could lead to the development of inhibitors that may be useful as anti-tumor drugs.

“This project is part of an effort to discover how cells in an organism control their behaviors, and how they can respond to changing outside conditions,” Slama said. “Calcium inside of the cell is an important controller, and a second chemical, named NAADP, is one of several substances that triggers internal calcium release. Our goal is to understand how NAADP causes this calcium release and to identify the individual steps in the process in both normal and in diseased states.”

Professor receives $2.6 million research grant to further examine link between gut bacteria and high blood pressure

A University of Toledo researcher recently received a $2.64 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to continue her groundbreaking study into how the unique colonies of tiny microorganisms living in our gut can regulate blood pressure — or lead to hypertension.

High blood pressure is one of the most common ailments among American adults. According to figures from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults has hypertension. And only about half of those have their condition under control.

Dr. Bina Joe has received a $2.64 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for her research on hypertension and gut bacteria.

But even those who are actively controlling their hypertension are frequently just masking the problem.

“Blood pressure medicines are not curing the cause. They are attacking it after its onset,” said Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of UT’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and director of the Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine. “If we know that there are some bacteria that shouldn’t be there and we can correct it early on, will that lead to better health as a preventative measure?”

The hope is that the grant-funded research could ultimately lead to breakthroughs that would give clinicians a way to treat or even prevent high blood pressure by manipulating those microorganisms, also known as microbiota.

Researchers have long known that our genes can predispose us to high blood pressure. But only more recently — thanks in large part to the research by Joe’s team at The University of Toledo — has the medical community begun to realize how the microorganisms living in our bodies play a role in that equation.

“A human is an ecosystem,” Joe said. “We have one host and so many microbiota. Together they influence several traits for normal health.”

The four-year grant will allow Joe’s lab and co-investigators from her department, Drs. Matam Vijay-Kumar and Ritu Chakravarti, to dig deeper into that connection in three ways:

• First, researchers will look into how an individual’s genome determines which microorganisms flourish in their guts.

• Second, researchers will look at the effects of high salt consumption on the animals’ microbiota. Salt can kill bacteria, and it’s possible, Joe said, that high salt intake can disturb the microbiota that are beneficial to maintenance of normal blood pressure.

• Third, researchers will look at epigenetics — essentially how gene function can be altered by environmental factors and diet.

Though the work is still early, Joe and her graduate student, Saroj Chakraborty, have already been granted a patent. Researchers isolated a certain chemical called beta hydroxybutyrate that increases with exercise, but decreases with salt consumption. Joe said it’s possible that exercise benefits hypertension in part because of the higher concentration of that compound.

The lab fed hypertensive rats a precursor of that molecule to see if their blood pressure decreased.

“Sure enough, it did,” Joe said. “Our idea is if there are people who cannot exercise but they’re salt-sensitive hypertensives, here could be a magic pill. You could take a bit of this chemical so you don’t have to keep running but you can control your blood pressure. That’s unpublished data coming from this work, currently in peer review.”

Some of Joe’s earlier work on microbiota and hypertension also is getting attention for its intersection with the growing worry that overuse of antibiotics is leading to an increase in drug-resistant superbugs.

Research led by her lab found that common antibiotics could lead to a spike in blood pressure for certain individuals, while other antibiotics may actually reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients.

The reason for that discrepancy appears to be tied to how the antibiotics interact with an individual’s microbiota.

The findings, which were recently published in the journal Physiological Genomics, could lead to additional studies that hone a more individualized approach for physicians to consider when using antibiotics to treat infection.

“I think this study is hugely important for the future of prescribing antibiotics. They’re prescribed so often to hypertensive individuals, and this study shows that can have a really negative affect on their blood pressures,” said Sarah Galla, an MD/PhD candidate, who worked with Joe on the study.

“This highlights the importance of more studies that need to be done to further the field of personalized medicine, rather than just prescribing the same antibiotic to every patient.”

The University Toledo College of Nursing and ProMedica expand partnership

The University of Toledo College of Nursing and ProMedica today announced an expanded partnership to bolster nursing education and address current and future health-care industry challenges.

The planned partnership between the UT College of Nursing and ProMedica will focus on enhancing undergraduate and graduate nursing education and high-quality care while developing a clinical nursing workforce to help meet current and future health-care needs in ProMedica’s local, regional and national service areas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States is expecting 1.2 million job position vacancies for registered nurses by 2020.

The UT College of Nursing provides nursing education programs responsive to the changing needs of students and the health-care environment. UT’s nationally ranked master’s and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program include a range of specialties, including adult gerontology primary care, pediatrics and psychiatric mental health. UT’s Post-Baccalaureate Doctor of Nursing Practice Program was the first such program in the state to take nurses to the highest level of clinical practice and position them as leaders in the health-care field.

Through this partnership, ProMedica and UT will collaborate to develop innovative educational programs, diverse clinical experiences for students, interprofessional research collaborations and high-quality professional development programs to improve health care in our community.

Additionally, the partnership will work to advance the nursing profession and health care by supporting the development of local, state and national policies.

“Our expanded partnership with The University of Toledo College of Nursing is a natural extension of the academic affiliation between ProMedica and The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and it reflects our shared commitment to developing northwest Ohio into a premier hub of medical education and clinical care,” said Randy Oostra, president and CEO of ProMedica. “This is an especially exciting time to take this partnership to the next level given our recent addition of HCR ManorCare, and the increased opportunities to educate and better prepare nurses to meet the needs of the growing senior population.”

“Strengthening the University’s partnership with ProMedica provides exciting opportunities to expand clinical training opportunities for our nursing students and to increase academic-clinical collaboration to advance nursing education, research and practice,” said Dr. Sharon L. Gaber, president of The University of Toledo. “We are proud to build on our existing Academic Affiliation to continue to advance our region as an innovative leader in education and health-care delivery. As part of this new partnership with the College of Nursing, research will be enhanced and the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, through the Academic Affiliation, is committing $1 million to collaborative research between the colleges.”

Fellows selected for MAC Leadership Program

Three UT faculty members have been named fellows to participate in the second year of the new Mid-American Conference Academic Leadership Development Program.

The program was created to identify, develop, prepare and advance faculty as leaders in the colleges and universities that are members of the Mid-American Conference. Fellows participating in the program have the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and experience by working closely with select administrators from other colleges and universities in the MAC.

Dr. Andrew Hsu, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said, “Leadership development is an important part of faculty professional development and faculty success, and The University of Toledo is committed to providing these exceptional leadership opportunities for our faculty.”

Fellows for the 2018-19 academic year are:

• Dr. Cyndee Gruden, interim dean of the College of Graduate Studies, and professor of civil and environmental engineering;

• Dr. Jason Huntley, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology; and

• Dr. Kristen Keith, associate professor of economics, assistant to the executive vice president for finance and administration/chief financial officer, and faculty associate.

Last year, two UT faculty members participated in the inaugural year of the MAC Academic Leadership Development Program: Holly Monsos, professor of theatre and associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters, and Dr. Amy Thompson, professor of public health and interim associate vice provost for faculty affairs.

All tenured faculty with experience in administrative leadership and service were eligible to apply for the MAC Academic Leadership Development Program. Candidates needed to submit a letter of support from their dean, as well as an application and curriculum vitae for consideration.

“Our fellows will participate in a development program with UT leaders to gain valuable insight and experience,” Hsu said. “In addition, they will work with administrators and peers from MAC member institutions to better understand how universities operate.”

All MAC Academic Leadership Development Program fellows will attend one three-day workshop each semester. Topics to be addressed include budgeting, conflict resolution, accreditation and accountability.

“Thanks to this program, our fellows will see firsthand the challenges and rewards of institutional service as they prepare for potential leadership positions,” Hsu said. “This is an excellent opportunity to advance academic leadership among our faculty at UT.”

Read more about the MAC Academic Leadership Development Program here.

UT psychiatrist wins Fulbright grant to study child abuse prevention in Netherlands

About 540 children are identified as victims of abuse or neglect each year in Lucas County.

“For every substantiated case of physical child abuse in the U.S., approximately 40 more exist that go undetected. It’s heartbreaking,” said Dr. Michele Knox, University of Toledo professor of psychiatry, who has dedicated her life to protecting children and educating parents with alternative methods of discipline.


She recently was awarded her second Fulbright award to visit the Netherlands to find innovative and effective ways to improve child abuse prevention in the United States.

“I am honored to receive this award. It is an opportunity to bring home new ideas and approaches because the Netherlands is among the nations with the lowest rates of child maltreatment deaths,” Knox said. “I will be learning from the people there and benefiting from their expertise, knowledge and success.”

Starting in spring 2019, Knox will spend nearly three weeks at the University of Utrecht, the largest university in the Netherlands.

“This is a big change from my last Fulbright specialist project, which was in northern Portugal,” Knox said. “I was teaching the Portuguese how to use evidence-based parenting group programs to prevent child abuse.”

The United States, Mexico and Portugal have “exceptionally” high rates of child maltreatment deaths, according to the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

For 16 years, Knox has been a master trainer for the American Psychological Association’s Adults and Children Together (ACT) Raising Safe Kids Program, which trains parents and caregivers in nonviolent discipline, child development, anger management and social problem-solving skills.

While in the Netherlands, Knox plans to teach college students and professionals about the ACT program and other topics related to child abuse and well-being.

Knox teaches medical students and residents at UT. She also is a clinical psychologist who specializes in children, adolescents and trauma; child abuse prevention; and parenting.

“Spanking is often the first step in the cycle of child abuse, and it can result in aggressive behavior and delinquency in kids,” Knox said. “I teach alternative methods of discipline for positive parenting solutions, such as the use of timeouts, removal of privileges, and positive reinforcement to reward the child’s good behavior.”

Her current research addresses factors related to harsh and abusive parenting, outcomes of child maltreatment prevention programs, and the efficacy of the Child Advocacy Studies training program for medical students.

Women in STEM to host network-building event

Women in STEM at The University of Toledo is working with the Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women and the Association for Women in Science to create mentoring programs and initiatives for students.

A welcoming and network-building event will take place Monday, Aug. 20, for women pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering or math at the University. The organization also has expanded its inclusion of those studying the medical sciences.

This free event will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Libbey Hall Dining Room and provide students and faculty with a relaxed atmosphere that will allow them to establish and develop mentoring relationships to ensure their success at UT.

Women in STEM at UT also has worked with IDEAL-N, a multi-university project that is funded through the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program and facilitated by Case Western Reserve University.

IDEAL-N aims to institutionalize gender equity transformation at leading research universities by creating a learning community of academic leaders that is empowered to develop leverage knowledge, skills, resources and networks to transform university cultures and enhance diversity and inclusion.

“Organizations like these and the Association for Women in Science are a valuable source of information for women in STEMM,” said Dr. Patricia Case, associate dean for the UT College of Arts and Letters. “They provide links to education and research opportunities, as well as provide opportunities to develop relationships with other women in STEMM.”

Research has found that a male-dominated discipline can be demoralizing to women, and having a group of individuals to guide you or “have your back” can be the difference between success and exiting a career path, Case explained.

“Women account for approximately 52 percent of the population, so equality would mean that we have more representation in these fields,” Case added. “When barriers are lifted, women pursue and succeed in these degrees as much as men.”

If interested in attending the event, RSVP to Angelica Johnson at angelica.johnson2@utoledo.edu or 419.530.5146.

For questions about the event, contact Case at patricia.case@utoledo.edu.

White coats to be given to UT College of Medicine students Aug. 2

The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences will recognize first-year medical students during its official white coat ceremony Thursday, Aug. 2, at 10 a.m. in Nitschke Auditorium.

The ceremony, held during the week of orientation, welcomes medical students to the college and prepares them for undertaking a medical career. Highlights of the event include a welcome from the dean of the college, a keynote address on humanism in medicine, and the presentation of white coats and recitation of the Medical Student Pledge of Ethics.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president of clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, will officiate the ceremony in which 175 medical students will receive their white coats.

“This ceremony underscores the foundation of the medical profession for first-year medical students,” Cooper said. “The white coat serves as a symbol of their entry into medical school. Secondly, it reiterates their commitment to professionalism, continuing education, and their service to others through medical care.”

Nearly 75 percent of the new students are Ohio residents, and more than 30 percent are from northwest Ohio.

In addition, nearly 10 percent of the class studied at UT: A quarter of the incoming students have master’s degrees half of which are from the University.

The annual ceremony will conclude orientation week for the medical students. The event can be watch live here.

In addition to College of Medicine and Life Sciences, the UT College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences holds a white coat ceremony for third-year PharmD students, and the UT College of Health and Human Services presents white coats to first-year physical therapy and occupational therapy doctoral students and respiratory care students in their junior year, which is the first year of their professional program. And the College of Nursing has a white coat ceremony for students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program and the Clinical Nursing Leader Program.

Study shows overeating during breastfeeding may lead to health problems for offspring

Breastfeeding has many health benefits for children, such as reducing their risk of obesity and strengthening their immune system. However, new mothers who consume a high-fat diet while breastfeeding may undermine some of those advantages, according to new research at The University of Toledo.

When mouse moms ate a high-fat, high-calorie diet while nursing, their offspring developed obesity, early puberty, diabetes and fertility issues.


Dr. Mengjie Wang, a PhD candidate in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, is the lead researcher of a team that used mice as a model to study the impact of excess calories during the breastfeeding stage on the offspring’s metabolism and reproduction.

“All over the world, puberty is starting earlier than it did in the past,” said Wang, who is earning her PhD at UT after graduating from medical school in China at Guangxi Medical University. “Childhood obesity, a common health issue, is one of the risk factors for early puberty. Previous evidence from animals has revealed that post-weaning overeating advances the timing of puberty, but we lack knowledge of how nutrition before weaning influences metabolism and reproduction.”

To determine how excess body fat alters the timing of puberty, Wang’s team gave female mice that are new mothers a high-fat diet from the date they gave birth and started breastfeeding until they weaned their offspring. A second group of mice that also were new mothers were given a regular diet. The onset of puberty was evaluated in the offspring after weaning, and fertility tests were done on the mice in adulthood, as well as an examination of their metabolic function.

“We found that excess calories during the breastfeeding phase can cause early obesity and early puberty and increases the risk of developing diabetes, metabolic dysfunction and subfertility during adulthood,” Wang said. “These results show that the breastfeeding phase is a critical window that influences when puberty happens.”

The study found that offspring of the mothers fed a high-fat diet while breastfeeding suffered from glucose intolerance and insulin insensitivity. They also had decreased litter sizes and impaired pregnancy rates.

“Human studies are needed to know whether these results apply to our species,” Wang said. “Still, I recommend that mothers consume a moderate and healthy diet while breastfeeding to protect their child’s long-term health.”

Wang said the research is significant in the clinical setting because doctors don’t always follow the same patients from puberty to adult life.

“Our findings can alert doctors and patients with early puberty that other health problems may arise after they become adults,” Wang said.

UT researcher cures high blood pressure in rats

A University of Toledo researcher recently won a prestigious award for his cutting-edge hypertension study that cured high blood pressure in rats.

Dr. Xi Cheng, a UT College of Medicine postdoctoral fellow, won the Physiological Genomics Group New Investigator Award from the American Physiological Society and presented his research in April at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.


In his trailblazing research, Cheng identified a gene responsible for inherited high blood pressure in rats, and then he genetically engineered that gene to cure hypertension in the rats. Both were firsts in the field of genomic science that is focused on essential hypertension.

About one in three U.S. adults suffers from essential hypertension, or high blood pressure, which is a complex condition with no clear cause. Blood pressure can be affected by environmental factors such as diet and weight, but hypertension also runs in families with no identifiable, pre-existing cause. This kind of hypertension is what interests the UT researchers.

Cheng also discovered that another kind of genetic material — circular RNA — also seems to play a role in hypertension. His paper, published last fall in Physiological Genomics, was chosen as an APSselect article, an award given to authors of the most exciting original research articles published by the American Physiological Society.

Cheng has been studying hypertension since 2013, when he came to UT as a doctoral student in molecular medicine. He continues to work with his mentor, Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and director of the Center for Hypertension and Personalized Medicine. Their research focuses on how to correct and, if possible, permanently cure hypertension.

Scientists believe patients with hypertension inherit multiple genetic defects, which are difficult for researchers to find on strands of DNA that are millions of base pairs long. It’s also difficult to prove whether the defects “cause” or are “associated” with high blood pressure.

Cheng identified a new gene that regulates blood pressure in rats and pinpointed the mutation that is inherited and causes high blood pressure. He found a 19-base sequence of DNA in rats with lower blood pressure that was missing in rats with higher blood pressure.

Using a new technology, he extracted that critical DNA sequence from the rats with normal blood pressure and inserted it into the genome of hypertensive rats to see if correcting the mutation would cause their blood pressure to decrease. It was the first time anyone had used the new technique, called CRISPR/​Cas9 technology, to perform genome surgery in rats for correcting mutations for hypertension.

The embryos with the edited gene were implanted into surrogate mother rats. When the rodents were born, they became the world’s first genetically altered rats created to pinpoint the area on their DNA that caused them to inherit hypertension. More importantly, Cheng’s new rat strain no longer had high blood pressure. The “cure” had worked.

Cheng’s first-of-its-kind research proved that genome surgery — editing genes — can permanently cure a genetically inherited cause of hypertension in rats.

Allen Cowley, an internationally renowned hypertension researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin, remarked in his review of Cheng’s work that “the work represents a technical tour de force and illustrates the critically important role of animal models that can mimic human traits of a complex disease to advance our understanding of the polymorphic associations that have been defined in human populations.”

Human patients can’t throw out their blood pressure meds just yet, though.

“Additional research will determine the possibility of this approach to cure hypertension in humans as we work to identify all the genetic pieces within the human genome that contribute to hypertension,” Cheng said.

The particular region that controls blood pressure in rats is similar to a region on a chromosome in humans in which scientists have reported associations with cardiac dysfunction and high blood pressure.

It’s much more difficult, though, to test this in humans, whose genes vary in millions of ways from person to person. To pinpoint the piece of genetic material that causes high blood pressure is like finding that proverbial needle in a haystack.

But the researchers are hopeful about the future of the research being conducted at the Center for Hypertension and Personalized Medicine.

“Here in Toledo, we are contributing to a piece of the puzzle,” Joe said. “When Xi and I were born, we didn’t have genome sequencing ability. Now we do.”

In the future, she said, scientists will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict who will get what diseases. And those scientists will rely on researchers like Joe and Cheng for data and to understand the blueprint of the genome.

Cheng has been accepted into a highly competitive online master’s program in computer science and machine learning at the Georgia Institute of Technology and will apply what he learns in the program to his research in Toledo.