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Distinguished educator to deliver commencement address Dec. 17

Toledo native Dr. Timothy Law Snyder, president of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, will present the keynote address at the UT fall commencement Saturday, Dec. 17, at 10 a.m. in Savage Arena.

Snyder, who will receive an honorary degree during the ceremony, will address 2,066 candidates for degrees: 93 doctoral, 584 master’s, 1,346 bachelor’s and 43 associate’s degrees.

Snyder

Snyder

The ceremony will be streamed live at http://video.utoledo.edu.

Snyder is a distinguished American educator and academic administrator whose career includes success as a computational mathematician, musician, published scholar, lecturer and podcaster. He attended Toledo Public Schools and graduated from UT in 1981 with bachelor’s degrees in both psychology and mathematics. Additionally, he earned a master’s degree in mathematics from UT in 1983.

Snyder also holds a second master’s degree, as well as a doctoral degree, in computational mathematics from Princeton University.

“We’re honored to have Dr. Timothy Snyder return to his alma mater as our fall commencement speaker,” said UT President Sharon L. Gaber. “His career is proof that goals can be multidirectional, and success follows people who work hard to make lasting contributions, no matter what career paths they choose over a lifetime.”

In 2014, The University of Toledo Alumni Association recognized Snyder with its College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ Outstanding Alumnus Award.

“I return to my hometown with pride and excitement to deliver the keynote commencement address. My educational path and career were profoundly shaped by my years at UT,” Snyder said. “I continue to resonate with UT’s mission to improve the human condition and advance knowledge, among its other values. I hope to inspire graduates to pursue their life goals with creativity and integrity.”

Snyder has held academic positions at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and at Georgetown University, where he was chair of the Department of Computer Science and its first dean of science. Additionally, he served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University in Connecticut and vice president for academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland. In 2015, Snyder was appointed the 16th president of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

He has published and presented widely on his research, which includes computational mathematics, data structures, design and analysis of algorithms, geometric probability, digital signal processing, computer music, and the education of the millennial generation. More recently, he has been researching risk assessment in commercial airline safety, as well as HIV and its prevention.

A musician most of his life, Snyder was lead singer in the touring rock-and-punk band Whirlwind from 1976 to 1983. His music can be found on iTunes and SoundCloud. He is also active in social media through his Twitter handle @LMUSnyder.

The University’s fall commencement ceremony will recognize graduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters, Business and Innovation, Judith Herb College of Education, Health and Human Services, Medicine and Life Sciences, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Nursing, and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Additionally, UT’s College of Engineering will hold graduation ceremonies for its undergraduate and graduate candidates Friday, Dec. 16, at 5:30 p.m. in Savage Arena.

For more information, visit utoledo.edu/commencement.

UT awarded federal innovation grant to invest in academic researchers throughout northwest Ohio

The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded The University of Toledo $500,000 to help launch startup companies, move ideas to market, and spur job creation through faculty research.

Nearly $15 million was given to 35 organizations from 19 states through the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program. 

Business Hlogo 1c BlackThe total available to researchers in the northwest Ohio region is nearly $1.3 million after the University matched the i6 Challenge grant with an additional $767,903 through the Rocket Fuel Fund.

Researchers from academic and other nonprofit institutions are eligible to receive funding.

“This is an incredible opportunity for UT faculty and academic researchers throughout the northwest Ohio region to apply for this funding and help move their new technologies toward commercialization, including women and minorities who are typically underrepresented in innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Anne Izzi, licensing associate at UT’s Office of Technology Transfer. 

The selected recipients of Rocket Fuel grants will be awarded between $5,000 and $50,000 each to enhance the scope or patentability of inventions and improve market potential through targeted research, customer discovery, and development of a prototype and business model.

“The Regional Innovation Strategies program advances innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country by addressing two essential core components that entrepreneurs need to take their ideas to market: programmatic support and access to capital,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said. “As America’s Innovation Agency, the Commerce Department has a key role to play in supporting the visionaries and job creators of tomorrow. Congratulations to today’s awardees who will make U.S. communities, businesses and the workforce more globally competitive.”

Dr. William Messer, professor in the UT Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, plans to apply for i6 Challenge grant funding as his lab creates a drug to help autism patients make new patterns of behavior to live a more normal life. 

“There is a lot of work to do, but we would like to move this compound into clinical trials to see if it can help treat restricted and repetitive behaviors associated with autism,” Messer said. “We are exploring a number of options to obtain the funding needed to develop the patented technology, and the i6 Challenge grant represents an important new source of funding at the local level.”

A total of 215 organizations applied for the grant funding; these included nonprofits, institutions of higher education and entrepreneurship-focused groups.

“The 2016 Regional Innovation Strategies grantees will reach a variety of communities and help entrepreneurs gain the edge they need to succeed,” said Jay Williams, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. “The diversity in programs and regional representation proves that innovation and entrepreneurship are igniting all corners of the country and is a recognized tool for economic growth and resilience.”

Professional development events available to UT women in science fields

University of Toledo female students, staff and faculty interested in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) fields are encouraged to take advantage of upcoming Association for Women in Science (AWIS) opportunities.

AWIS logo“The Association for Women in Science is the largest multidisciplinary organization for women working in STEMM,” said Dr. Susanne Nonekowski, associate lecturer in the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry and president of the AWIS Northwestern Ohio Chapter. “These events are designed to support equity and full participation of women in all science-related disciplines and across all employment sectors.”

A workshop for preparing a professional social media profile titled “How to Craft the Perfect LinkedIn Profile in 30 Minutes” will take place Wednesday, Nov. 2, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Martin Conference Room of the Frederick and Mary Wolfe Center on Health Science Campus.

awis flyerMary Jo Borden, practicum coordinator in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, will share best practices for creating a presence online and explain how to use LinkedIn’s search functions to build a professional network. A photographer also will be on hand to take professional headshots.

“This workshop will be valuable to students, faculty and staff,” Nonekowski said. “Whether you are new to LinkedIn or if it has been a while since you updated your profile, this event will have you looking your best online.”

The group also is seeking individuals interested in becoming members of its Mentorship Circle.

“We are looking for anyone interested in connecting with other women in the STEMM fields in order to build relationships and learn from those who were once in their shoes,” Nonekowski said. “Mentors can be from any science-related career field, whether academic or professional. We want individuals who are motivated and interested in supporting other women as they grow in STEMM careers.” 

Mentors and mentees will be paired according to career interest and meet once a month throughout the academic year.

“The Mentorship Circle is in the planning stages, but we want to be sure that everyone who is interested has the chance to join us before mentoring teams are established,” she said. “There have been several successful Mentorship Circles across the country, and we are excited to bring this program to the Toledo area.”

Nonekowski said UT is an institutional partner with AWIS, which means any undergraduate or graduate student enrolled in a STEMM field can register with the organization for free at awis.org/utoledo. When registering, students should be sure to choose the Northwestern Ohio Chapter to be notified of local activities.

“We are grateful to the University for their support of AWIS,” Nonekowski said. “This partnership is instrumental to the support of female science students and professionals across northwest Ohio.”

For more information about AWIS, to join the Mentorship Circle, or to register for the LinkedIn event, call 419.530.1979 or email susanne.nonekowski@utoledo.edu.

Association for Women in Science workshop to be held Oct. 7 on Scott Park Campus

Dr. Joan Herbers, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University, will share her insights at an Association for Women in Science Mentoring Circle Workshop Friday, Oct. 7, in Classroom Center Room 1080 on Scott Park Campus.

Herbers

Herbers

There will be two sessions to choose from to hear Herbers, who is the immediate past president of the Association for Women in Science: from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 2 to 5 p.m.

Registration is required for the free, public workshops. To register, visit utoledo.edu/centers/eberly.

The Association for Women in Science Mentor Circles meet regularly to share advice and encouragement, focusing on career growth and problem solving, and are guided by mentors to promote productivity.

Dr. Susanne Nonekowski, UT associate lecturer of medicinal chemistry and president of the Association for Women in Science northwest Ohio chapter, is responsible for bringing this workshop to The University of Toledo.

“Susanne has only been president of the local Association for Women in Science chapter for a few months, but she is really driving our organization trying to bring exciting and productive events to northwest Ohio, building our membership, and acknowledging our founders,” said Dr. Caren Steinmiller, UT associate lecturer of pharmacology and secretary of the local chapter of the association.

Any questions can be directed to susanne.nonekowski@utoledo.edu.

UT researchers receive funding to study link between kidney disorder and cardiovascular disease

Researchers at The University of Toledo are examining how a genetic kidney disorder also increases the person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Dr. Wissam AbouAlaiwi, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, received a three-year, $231,000 Scientist Development Grant, and doctoral student Hannah Saternos received a $2,000 award from the American Heart Association to study the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease in polycystic kidney disease (PKD).

Dr. Wissam AbouAlaiwi and doctoral student Hannah Saternos both received grants for their research examining how a genetic kidney disorder increases a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Dr. Wissam AbouAlaiwi and doctoral student Hannah Saternos both received grants for their research examining how a genetic kidney disorder increases a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

PKD is a genetic disorder that causes numerous fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys, ultimately destroying their architecture and reducing their function over time. These cysts also are associated with the development of high blood pressure and problems with the heart and blood vessels in the brain.

“There is currently no cure or treatment for PKD. A kidney transplant can buy an individual more time, but patients with PKD will still usually die from cardiovascular complications such as high blood pressure and heart disease,” AbouAlaiwi said.

AbouAlaiwi and his team are studying a cellular organelle called primary cilia and its role in kidney and cardiovascular disease.

“Primary cilia are antenna-like structures that, until recently, were believed to have no function in the body. We now know they contribute to dozens of genetic disorders and play a role in calcium signaling in heart cells, which is important to its contraction,” he said. “We have developed mouse models to further study these cilia and the complications that arise from their dysfunction.”

This is the third grant for AbouAlaiwi’s lab in one year, and he is quick to credit his team of students for their hard work and dedication.

“The students are very reliable and passionate and the driving force behind the research,” he said. “Funding for research is very competitive, and I am proud that Hannah was able to receive support from the American Heart Association. She is very talented, smart and dedicated to her work. The award is well-deserved.”

Saternos is researching the function of a family of receptors that she recently discovered in the primary cilia and how it affects PKD and regulates blood pressure.

“If you would have told me four years ago I would be working with the kidney and loving it, I would have thought you were crazy,” she said. “It’s fascinating. I don’t think people realize how much impact the kidney has on the rest of the body.”

UT researchers test new experimental drug to treat diabetes and increase bone mass

Researchers from The University of Toledo, in collaboration with chemists from the Scripps Research Institute, have discovered a compound that normalizes glucose levels while increasing the mass and quality of bone.

Body processes that regulate energy metabolism and bone mass are closely intertwined, and numerous studies have shown individuals with Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for bone fractures. Additionally, some current anti-diabetic drugs work well to regulate insulin levels, but can cause further bone damage.

Dr. Beata Lecka-Czernik, right, posed for a photo with her team, from left, Shermel Sherman, Faiz Tausif, Amit Chougule, Lance Stechschulte, Matthew Mazur, Zachary Rotter and Ali Eltatawy.

Dr. Beata Lecka-Czernik, right, posed for a photo with her team, from left, Shermel Sherman, Faiz Tausif, Amit Chougule, Lance Stechschulte, Matthew Mazur, Zachary Rotter and Ali Eltatawy.

“Our data demonstrate the regulation of bone mass and energy metabolism share similar mechanisms,” said Dr. Beata Lecka-Czernik, professor in UT’s departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and Physiology and Pharmacology, and a member of the faculty in the Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Research. “This suggests a new pharmacologic agent could be developed to treat both diabetes and metabolic bone diseases.”

Targeting PPARγ, the protein in the body that regulates energy use and bone cell differentiation and function, Dr. Patrick Griffin and researchers from the Scripps Research Institute developed a series of new insulin sensitizers.

“Our multidisciplinary chemical biology team at Scripps Florida had spent many years developing precise structure activity relationships around many chemical scaffolds that alter the shape and behavior of PPARγ,” Griffin said. “These efforts were then combined with the bone biology expertise of Dr. Lecka-Czernik to explore whether we have compounds that maintain excellent insulin sensitization efficacy but are positive on bone health.”

Lecka-Czernik and her team at UT then tested these compounds for bone safety.

“During the course of our experiments, we discovered that a compound called SR10171 normalizes glucose levels in Type 2 diabetes, prevents associated weight gain, and increases the mass and quality of bone,” she said. “Remarkably, this experimental drug also maintains its positive effect on bone in non-diabetic conditions and acts as insulin sensitizer only on demand when normal glucose and insulin becomes imbalanced.”

SR10171 supports bone formation by directly regulating bone cells that work together to break down, build and protect bone.

The results also suggest the bone remodeling properties of this compound could be used to treat osteoporosis, Lecka-Czernik said.

The team’s findings, “PPARG Post-Translational Modifications Regulate Bone Formation and Bone Resorption,” was published in the August issue of EBioMedicine. This team science was funded in part on a collaborative grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

UT College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences welcomes new students with ceremony

First-year learners enrolled in The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will participate in a professional advancement ceremony Thursday, Aug. 18, at 4:30 p.m. in the Lois and Norman Nitschke Auditorium.

White coats will be given to 107 doctor of pharmacy students and 35 bachelor of science in pharmaceutical sciences students as a gift supported by CVS/Caremark and white coat mentors. In addition, eight pharmacy administration majors will receive embossed portfolios. One dual degree learner is among the bachelor of science majors.

The traditional ceremony is held at the end of orientation week and marks the student’s transition from the study of pre-clinical to clinical health sciences. It is considered a rite of passage in the journey toward a health-care career.

UT College of Pharmacy logo“These students have laid the foundation for their future success, but the curriculum is challenging. They will be tested beyond anything they have experienced before. We encourage these students to have a sharp focus and to be ready to work hard to become leaders,” said Dr. Johnnie Early, dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “The history of the program has shown us that through dedicated effort and solid commitment, the vast majority of our students will rise to the occasion and be very successful in their educational journey.”

Twenty-eight students received UT’s Pharmacy Excellence Scholarship. The award is given to academically exceptional students who meet or exceed eligibility requirements for the highly competitive contingent admission program.

Early will speak at the ceremony along with UT President Sharon L. Gaber, Provost Andrew Hsu, Dr. Dorothea Sawicki, vice provost for health science affairs and university accreditation, and Joel Levitan, pharmacist with the Neighborhood Health Association.

Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences was the first college established at UT in 1904. The college’s guiding principles are personal integrity, professionalism, and respect for humanity and human diversity.

Students serve UTMC patients through new advocate assistant program

This week, University of Toledo undergraduate and graduate student volunteers joined physicians, nurses and other health professionals as a part of a patient’s care team at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

Students pursuing a health-related career such as nursing, pre-med, pharmacy, social work or health-care administration began rounds as patient advocate assistants to provide a unique service to patients during their stay at UTMC.

Allison Gerren and Mahbod Pourriahi, UT patient advocate assistants, talked with UTMC patient Louis Turley during his recent hospital stay.

Allison Gerren and Mahbod Pourriahi, UT patient advocate assistants, talked with UTMC patient Louis Turley during his recent hospital stay.

A part of the Service Excellence Department, the patient advocate assistant serves as a patient resource, answering questions, facilitating communication between patients and hospital staff, troubleshooting when challenges arise, and ensuring patients are comfortable while they are recovering in the hospital.

“Communication issues are the main criticism patients have with hospitals nationwide,” said Debra O’Connell, UTMC patient advocate. “This program will help improve two-way communication with our patients and their family members while providing a unique learning opportunity for UT students enrolled in various health-related careers.”

The field of health care is complex, and patients and their family members can find a hospital stay overwhelming.

“It’s not always easy for a patient to ask their physicians questions about their care, or they may think of something after the doctor has finished rounds,” said UT student Mahbod Pourriahi, a patient advocate assistant studying bioengineering. “That’s where we come in. We spend time visiting with the patients, understanding their concerns, and gathering any questions they may have for their health-care team.”

Patient advocate assistants also ensure patients are resting comfortably during their stay.

“We visit patients on their second day in the hospital,” said future UT medical student Allison Gerren, a patient advocate assistant. “I was expecting to meet patients who were sad or in a lot of pain, but instead I found patients smiling and laughing and happy to talk with me. It brightens my day, and I look forward to doing rounds.”

Ten students have completed the training program, and 15 additional students are entering phase two of training. The students will begin regular rounds within UTMC’s Cardiovascular Unit and Medical/Surgical Step-Down and Neurology units. There are plans to expand the program to other areas of the hospital as more students enter the program.

“The program is another way UTMC strives to provide excellent patient care while training future doctors, nurses, pharmacists and hospital administrators,” said Dustin Ballinger, nursing director in the UTMC Cardiovascular Unit. “This program provides another avenue for checking in on our patients and receiving their feedback.”

Students also benefit from the opportunity to build relationships with medical professionals, get real-world experience interacting with patients, and practice communication and customer service skills.

“We want each and every patient to know that they are our priority,” O’Connell said. “Patients and their families should feel comfortable with all decisions and plans that are made during their stay. We encourage patients to be more active during consultations with physicians. The goal of this program is to provide the best care possible for the patient.”

The students in the program said they have already learned from the training experience and are ready to begin visiting their own patient caseload.

“The training has really helped me to become more comfortable approaching and talking to people in need of care,” Pourriahi said. “I think working with patients now will make me a better and more receptive doctor in the future.”

Assistant professor examines nicotine addiction in new book

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances with 13 percent of Americans dependent on its use, despite sharp declines in smoking rates during the last 30 years.

While most adults have tried nicotine, not all become addicted. A new book by a University of Toledo researcher explores why some people are more likely to begin smoking and have a more difficult time giving up the nicotine habit.

Hall

Hall

“Everyone has a different reason to smoke,” said Dr. F. Scott Hall, assistant professor of pharmacology. “The key to helping someone quit is exploring why they begin smoking and continue to use nicotine.”

Negative Affective States and Cognitive Impairments in Nicotine Dependence explores the idea that there could be more to nicotine addiction than its “feel good” effects and the avoidance of nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

When a smoker inhales nicotine, the body reacts within seconds and the brain releases dopamine, which regulates behavior and mood and gives smokers a pleasant feeling. Getting that happy nicotine rush is a major part of the attraction of smoking. However, other effects of nicotine on other brain systems, particularly those involved in attention and cognition, could be as important in some people.

“This positive reinforcement response tapers with time as a smoker builds tolerance to nicotine,” Hall said. “Eventually, a smoker needs nicotine not to feel good, but to feel normal.”

Once nicotine and dopamine levels drop, smokers may react with a depressed mood, greater appetite, slower heart rate and problems focusing.

“That’s why it can be so difficult for smokers to quit,” Hall said. “They continue to use nicotine to avoid the negative effects of nicotine withdrawal.”

Hall’s book is the first of its kind to examine other contributing factors to nicotine addiction such as an underlying psychiatric disorder.

“Nearly 80 percent of schizophrenia patients are smokers, and individuals with ADHD are two times more likely to use nicotine,” Hall said. “Patients with other disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder may be using nicotine as a way to self-treat these conditions.”

This correlation also could explain why some individuals find it so hard to quit smoking or begin smoking again after stopping.

“It’s important for smokers to do a little self-examination about why they smoke and to talk with their doctor about what their triggers are for smoking,” Hall said. “If an underlying condition is treated, it may be much easier to kick the nicotine habit for good.”

The book, aimed at doctors and researchers, provides the psychological perspective on nicotine addiction and paves the way for improved psychiatric and addictive medications and tailored treatment programs. It is scheduled to be published by Elsevier Science Publishing Co. Inc. in September.

“There is no one-size-fits-all answer for stopping smoking,” Hall said. “The treatment plan for nicotine addiction should be just as individualized as the reason someone begins smoking in the first place.”

Discovery may lead to new treatments for Type 2 diabetes

Researchers at The University of Toledo have designed a new drug that has shown promise in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Terry Hinds Jr., assistant professor in the UT Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, constructed new molecules that could lead to the development of medications that not only lower blood glucose levels for Type 2 diabetics, but also may help to manage a patient’s weight and blood pressure.

Dr. Terry Hinds Jr., left, is assisted in the lab by, from left, Assumpta Nwaneri, Imani Driskell, Vikram Sundararaghavan, Kevin Stephenoff, Lucien McBeth, Kari Neifer-Sadhwani and Justina Tain.

Dr. Terry Hinds Jr., left, is assisted in the lab by, from left, Assumpta Nwaneri, Imani Driskell, Vikram Sundararaghavan, Kevin Stephenoff, Lucien McBeth, Kari Neifer-Sadhwani and Justina Tain.

“Current medications for Type 2 diabetics do a good job of reducing glucose, but they often lead to weight gain and further medical complications, including cardiovascular disease,” Hinds said. “We showed that bilirubin can reduce blood glucose and is known to lower cardiovascular events.”

Bilirubin is an orange-yellow pigment formed naturally in the liver by the breakdown of hemoglobin.

The new molecules are created from a half bilirubin structure that binds directly to a receptor that lowers blood glucose and body fat percentage. Hinds and his research team termed the new compounds Thin Molecules. He worked in collaboration with Dr. Paul Erhardt and Dr. Chris Trabbic at UT’s Center for Drug Design and Development and Dr. David Stec from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“For a long time, we thought bilirubin was harmful to the body,” Hinds said. “In the past decade, research has shown that bilirubin is a powerful antioxidant that was inversely associated with obesity and waist circumstance.”

Hinds discovered that bilirubin has a function outside of its role as an antioxidant by also binding to the fat-burning nuclear receptor PPARalpha, which helps to more effectively metabolize fat and reduce obesity levels.

Slightly increased levels of bilirubin in the body can mean positive results for Type 2 diabetics.

“We think the Thin Molecules will be especially effective at reducing obesity and blood glucose, as well as lowering blood pressure,” Hinds said.

This discovery was published in April in the Public of Library Science journal PLOS ONE, and a provisional patent has been approved for the Thin Molecules.

Hinds and his research team now are building a library of the molecules to continue testing to determine which provide the most benefit.