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UT research links states’ medical marijuana laws with increased use among college students

A University of Toledo study has found college students in states that have legalized medical marijuana are twice as likely to use the drug than students living in states that broadly prohibit marijuana.

Those students also are more likely to use marijuana on campus and believe their peers would be more accepting of their use of the drug than their peers in states that do not allow medical marijuana.

“Medical marijuana laws have to some extent normalized marijuana use,” said Dr. Tavis Glassman, a professor in the UT School of Population Health and one of the study’s authors. “The presence of permissive laws may lead some people to believe incorrectly that the drug is not harmful.”

Glassman worked with Dr. Amy Thompson, interim associate vice provost of faculty affairs and a professor in the UT School of Population Health, and Dr. Alexis Blavos, who earned her PhD at The University of Toledo and is an assistant professor at the State University of New York, to analyze a 2013 survey of more than 34,000 college students from 37 states about their drug usage.

The UT researchers separated out the approximately 3,100 students who were attending school in states with legalized medical marijuana to compare their experiences against those students who did not reside in states with medical marijuana laws.

They identified a number of correlations between more permissive marijuana laws and increased drug usage.

Among their findings:

• Students attending college in states that allow medical marijuana were twice as likely to have used marijuana in the last 30 days than those in states without medical marijuana laws.

• Students attending college in states that allow medical marijuana were significantly more likely to use tobacco, cocaine, opiates and synthetic designer drugs.

• Students attending college in states that allow medical marijuana reported higher rates of negative consequences associated with their substance use, regretting their actions, and suffering academic challenges.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.

“There’s this momentum to pass medical marijuana laws throughout the country, and there’s often not enough research being done on what the side effects can be,” Thompson said. “However, there is some related research by others that has found an increase in emergency room visits and mental health issues.”

The researchers said the findings highlight the need for more robust programming on drug and alcohol education and prevention on college campuses, as well as for state legislators to more deeply consider the direct and indirect health outcomes associated with passing medical marijuana laws.

“The take-home message of this is that, in some ways, when people have more access to marijuana, it creates more of a social norm that it’s OK to use it, so we see usage go up as a result,” Thompson said. “Just because something is legalized or considered to be a prescription-type drug doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or healthy for recreational use. There are health risks associated with its use.”

2018 report for Ohio’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative highlights UT water quality research

Ohio Sea Grant released today its 2018 update on the statewide Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) documenting three years of progress seeking solutions for harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

The University of Toledo, situated on the western basin of Lake Erie, is one of the lead universities in the initiative, which consists of more than 50 science teams from 10 Ohio universities working on critical knowledge gaps identified by state agencies that include the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Health and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

The initiative is funded by the Ohio Department of Higher Education and matching funds from participating universities. It is led by UT and Ohio State University.

The 38-page report features a variety of important research activity underway by members of the UT Water Task Force to protect the public water supply and public health, including Dr. Tom Bridgeman’s work to understand the vertical movement of algae up and down the water column to help water treatment plant operators better prepare for and reduce the amounts of algae they’re taking into their system over the course of a day, as well as Dr. Jason Huntley’s research using naturally occurring Lake Erie bacteria to develop treatments that can break down microcystin in drinking water.

Bridgeman is professor of ecology and director of the UT Lake Erie Center. Huntley is associate professor in the UT Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.

The third-year report reveals that the state of Ohio continues to benefit from the initiative:

• Early warning systems and forecasts of bloom size and location are giving water treatment plants a high-resolution picture of what could be affecting the drinking water they draw from Lake Erie.

• Researchers are working directly with water treatment plant operators to provide practical guidance about producing safe drinking water for cities and towns dealing with algal toxins.

• OEPA modified its permit procedure to better safeguard Ohioans when HABRI projects showed that crops might take in microcystins from water treatment residuals used on farm fields. New HABRI research is helping OEPA refine the methods it uses to analyze these byproducts of water treatment and better assess exposure risk.

• OEPA sought out HABRI researchers to help develop a Lake Erie open water impairment listing policy, and HABRI projects have helped collect data critical for refinement of this indicator. Ohio EPA listed the open waters of the western Lake Erie basin as impaired based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data and have plans to update it based on HABRI researchers’ recommendations.

• ODNR has changed the way that information is collected on algal toxin concentrations in sportfish fillets, sampling more frequently during the harmful algal bloom season and from a wider range of Lake Erie locations to better understand how harmful algal blooms affect sportfish.

• HABRI has driven information sharing and priority setting between universities and agencies, positioning Ohio to better prevent and manage future crises through ongoing collaborations.

“Having the collaboration with our sister agencies to coordinate research priorities and funding is critically important,” said Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “Likewise, having through HABRI a consortium of university experts to take our priorities and quickly do critical, practical research with conclusions that we can immediately use to inform policy and the public is invaluable.”

The Ohio Department of Higher Education made $7.5 million available for four rounds of research funding (before matching funds by participating universities) since 2015. Ohio Sea Grant manages the projects, which also include a $500,000 match from OEPA in 2018. Results from the most recent 21 funded projects are expected in 2020.

“Colleges and universities around Ohio are making positive contributions to our state each and every day,” said Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey. “The Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative is a model of collaborative problem-solving that we should strive to replicate wherever possible. I am so encouraged to see how our higher education assets are being used, alongside other state and local partners, to address real issues that are facing Ohioans.”

Information about HABRI projects, as well as partner organizations and background on the initiative, is also available on the Ohio Sea Grant website. The report can be downloaded directly at ohioseagrant.osu.edu/p/qjpof/view.

The Ohio Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant, a network of 33 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For more information, visit the Ohio Sea Grant College Program website.

UT researcher links public health of communities to likelihood of mass shootings

The overall public health of a community appears to correspond with the likelihood of mass shooting events, while many gun control laws do not, according to preliminary research out of The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

Dr. Stephen Markowiak, a general surgery research fellow at UT, found mass shootings tend to happen more in communities that have issues with overcrowding, higher rates of income inequality, lower rates of socialization, and a disconnect between mental health needs and mental health providers.

Markowiak

“The communities that have suffered through mass shootings tend to be much less healthy than the national average, both from a standpoint of physical health and mental health,” Markowiak said. “We need to think about this problem through the lens of public health and encourage more objective research.”

He presented his research findings Oct. 23 at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2018.

Markowiak used data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Census, Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and Giffords Law Center for Gun Violence to develop a slate of common characteristics of communities where 186 mass shootings have occurred.

For the purpose of the study, a mass shooting was defined as a single incident in which four or more people are killed, not including the gunman. Researchers excluded shootings that had a clear motive.

One of the intriguing findings of the research is that six of the 11 common state gun control measures Markowiak examined did not correspond with a lowered occurrence of mass shooting events. In fact, some pointed to a higher incidence.

“While the data show stricter gun control laws are associated with lower levels of overall violent crime, mass shootings appear to be the exception to the rule,” Markowiak said. “That sort of supports our notion that these are a different phenomenon than your average everyday crime.”

Five gun control measures, however, did correlate with a lower incidence of mass shootings — mandatory reporting of mental health records to the National Incident Criminal Background Check System, bans on open carrying of firearms, laws preventing child access, laws disarming dangerous persons, and mandatory waiting periods.

Markowiak and research collaborators did not seek to promote any political position on gun violence, but rather show it is possible to study mass shootings in a way that’s objective and apolitical.

The researchers did, however, say they believe Congress needs to take more action to ensure there is solid data available to researchers looking at the issue and to clarify that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can investigate gun violence as a public health issue.

Although the last congressional spending bill specified the 1996 Dickey Amendment was not an outright ban on the CDC researching gun violence as it had widely been understood, the amendment remains on the books. There’s also the so-called Tiahrt Amendment that restricts the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from releasing much of its data to researchers.

“From a public health study standpoint, those amendments need to be revised if we’re going to ever address this issue in a more comprehensive way than we’ve done,” Markowiak said.

Co-authors include Dr. Philip Welch, assistant professor in Bowling Green State University’s Department of Public and Allied Health, and Dr. David Heidt, a trauma surgeon formerly of The University of Toledo Medical Center who now works at St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich.

State honors UT algae expert for leadership of Ohio Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative

Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey visited The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center Oct. 22 to honor UT’s harmful algal bloom expert for his role leading the state’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, which consists of more than 30 science teams at universities across the state seeking solutions to address toxic algae in Lake Erie.

Carey recognized Dr. Tom Bridgeman, ecology professor and director of the UT Lake Erie Center, with the Chancellor’s Award, which honors exemplary faculty, administration and students who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in using the power of higher education to impact the communities where they are located and for the greater good of all of Ohio.

Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey, left, presented Dr. Tom Bridgeman, ecology professor and director of the UT Lake Erie Center, with the Chancellor’s Award for his role leading the state’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative.

“I’m proud of the work that has been done thus far, and of the example of effective collaboration that has been set thanks to Dr. Bridgeman’s leadership and expertise,” Carey said.

“It has been an honor to help lead the Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative for the Ohio Department of Higher Education,” Bridgeman said. “The chancellor recognized that Ohio’s university researchers had the potential to contribute to solving the harmful algal bloom problem. Since the start of the initiative, researchers have been working hard to provide science that can be used by state agencies in designing solutions. Not only are we providing answers to the pressing questions on how to manage and prevent harmful algal blooms now, we are training the next generation of scientists who will be called upon to help solve future environmental problems.”

Bridgeman has monitored, tracked and studied algae in the Great Lakes for nearly two decades. He created a new method to measure how much harmful algae there is in the lake during the course of the summer and has compared the bloom from one year to another since 2002.

He helps sound the early warning for water treatment plant operators throughout algal bloom season, which recently ended for the year.

Bridgeman also connects with legislative policymakers to raise awareness about his research exploring ways to protect the lake and ensure communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

The Lake Erie Center is UT’s freshwater research and science education campus focused on finding solutions to water quality issues that face the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants.

UT professor honored for technology commercialization efforts

Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey presented the 2018 Ohio Faculty Council Technology Commercialization Award to The University of Toledo’s Dr. Vijay Goel in Columbus Oct. 12.

Goel was recognized for his accomplishments toward the development and commercialization of the Libra Pedicle Screw System, which is being used in a growing number of hospitals and spinal surgery centers.

Goel

He has been a professor of bioengineering at the University since 2001 and has demonstrated outstanding success in translating his research into patented technologies that serve as a foundation for commercial ventures. He directs the Center for Orthopaedic Research Excellence that brings together UT faculty from a number of disciplines, such as engineering, medicine, kinesiology and physical therapy. He is an inventor on 42 invention disclosures at the University, has 25 issued patents, and the Libra pre-sterilized pedicle screw system is being widely used in trauma, deformity and degenerative applications in the spine.

In nominating Goel for the award, UT Provost Andrew Hsu wrote, “He contributes to the UT mission in many ways, but he is exceptional in his ability to translate his funded research into licensing and commercialization opportunities.”

“I am honored to receive this Technology Commercialization Award on behalf of UT and my bioengineering colleagues and collaborators, Dr. Anand Agarwal, Dr. Sarit Bhaduri and several others,” Goel said. “As faculty researchers, we look for opportunities to solve problems. I am proud we were able to do that with LIBRA to combat contamination in the operating room and a few other FDA-approved products, the bases for the two startups, Spinal Balance Inc. and OsteoNovus Inc.”

Dr. Jay Lee from the University of Cincinnati also was recognized as the runner-up for this year’s award. He was honored for his development of Watchdog Agent — a collection of machine learning and artificial intelligence software tools that can be customized for predictive health monitoring and diagnosis of equipment and systems in many diverse applications.

The Ohio Faculty Council launched its annual Technology Commercialization Award in 2016 to recognize a faculty member in the state university system for exceptional research discoveries and the role they have played in supporting the translation of those discoveries into marketable products and/or services.

“The public university system of Ohio is a critical incubator for innovation and the Ohio Faculty Council embraces the opportunity to recognize the role that our world-class faculty play in economic development,” said Dan Krane, chair of the Ohio Faculty Council. “Dr. Goel’s and Dr. Lee’s work are outstanding examples of the ingenuity and entrepreneurship taking place on campuses across the state that are greatly facilitated by our institution’s investment in higher education and commitment to academic freedom.”

The Ohio Faculty Council represents the faculty at all of the four-year public universities in the state. It addresses concerns common to faculty members across Ohio and presents a faculty perspective on major issues affecting higher education. It is committed to supporting and bringing attention to the critical role that Ohio’s institutions of higher education play in revitalizing the economy of the state and the nation by attracting and training an educated workforce. Learn more at ohiofacultycouncil.org.

UT research discovers link between refined dietary fiber, gut bacteria and liver cancer

Many of the processed foods we find on grocery store shelves have been loaded up with highly refined soluble fibers such as inulin, a popular probiotic that recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to be marketed as health-promoting.

But a new study from The University of Toledo’s College of Medicine and Life Sciences is raising serious questions about whether the risks of adding refined fiber to processed foods may significantly outweigh the benefits.

Dr. Vishal Singh, center, a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Fellow at the University, recently authored a study published in the journal Cell that found a link between highly refined soluble fibers and liver cancer. He is pictured with fellow researchers Beng San Yeoh, left, a PhD student, and Dr. Matam Vijay-Kumar, director of the UT Microbiome Consortium and associate professor of physiology and pharmacology.

Dr. Matam Vijay-Kumar, director of the UT Microbiome Consortium and associate professor in the UT Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and his research team recently investigated if a diet enriched with refined inulin might help combat obesity-associated complications in mice.

While the inulin-containing diet did stave off obesity in 40 percent of mice, many of those same mice went on to develop liver cancer at the end of the six-month study.

“The findings shook us,” Vijay-Kumar said, “but at the same time we recognized their potential importance and accepted the challenge of exploring how processed dietary soluble fiber was inducing liver cancer.”

Although this study was performed in mice, it has potential implications for human health. It also suggests, researchers say, that enriching processed foods with refined, fermentable fiber should be approached with great caution.

“We fully appreciate that the fibers present in whole foods like fruits and vegetables are healthy,” Vijay-Kumar said. “Because of that, fortifying or adding purified fiber to processed food sounds logical. However, our results suggest it may in fact be dangerous.”

The findings were published in the Oct. 18 issue of Cell, one of the world’s leading biological journals.

There are two basic types of naturally occurring dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers are fermented by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids. Insoluble fibers pass through the digestive system unchanged.

While both types are beneficial, the concern raised in the study relates to how gut bacteria break down the highly refined fiber that is added to some processed foods as a dietary supplement.

Dr. Vishal Singh, a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Fellow at The University of Toledo and lead author of the paper, said refined fiber is a new addition to our diets and we are in the very early stages of understanding the risks and benefits it may present.

“Soluble fibers added to processed foods are not part of a natural meal,” Singh said. “The inulin used in this study is from chicory root, which is not a food we would normally eat. In addition, during the extraction and processing of the fiber, it goes through a chemical process. We don’t know how the body responds to these processed fibers.”

Chicory root is used as a source of inulin to fortify fiber in processed foods.

The mice that developed liver cancer in this study had altered and elevated gut bacteria, a condition known as dysbiosis. Intriguingly, the researchers observed no evidence of liver cancer in inulin-fed mice that were treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics to deplete gut bacteria.

The UT team collaborated with researchers at Georgia State University who performed a similar study in germ-free mice that completely lack gut bacteria. The absence of liver cancer in those mice further confirmed the contributory role of gut bacteria.

The bacteria collectively known as gut microbiota degrade and digest soluble fibers via fermentation. To inhibit that fermentation process, the UT researchers fed mice beta acids derived from Humulus lupulus — a plant more commonly known for producing the hops that go into beer to prevent spoilage from fermentation.

“Strikingly, feeding beta-acids to inulin-fed mice averted liver cancer, which further reinforce our hypothesis that gut bacterial dysmetabolism primarily driving liver cancer in these mice,” Singh said.

Researchers also found they could halt the development of liver cancer by intervening to replace inulin with the insoluble fiber cellulose.

“Cellulose could not be fermented by gut bacteria present in mice or humans. This finding again highlights the link between bacterial fermentation of soluble fiber and liver cancer development in these mice,” said Beng San Yeoh, a graduate student in Vijay-Kumar’s lab and another lead author of this study.

Researchers said their findings suggest the need for more studies that look at human consumption of the type of refined fiber found in processed foods.

“Our study is going against the conventional wisdom of what people think, that fiber is good, no matter how they get it,” Vijay-Kumar said. “We do not want to promote that fiber is bad. Rather, we highlight that fortifying processed foods with refined soluble fiber may not be safe or advisable to certain individuals with gut bacterial overgrowth or dysbiosis, whose abnormal fermentation of this fiber could increase the susceptibly to liver cancer.”

The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health.

A no-pain gain to combat hypertension: UT research finds way to mimic exercise’s blood pressure lowering effects

Couch potatoes, rejoice: There might be a way to get the blood pressure lowering benefits of exercise in pill form.

Hypertension researchers at The University of Toledo have shown that by increasing the body’s supply of beta hydroxybutyrate, a chemical produced predominantly by the liver, it is possible to regulate high blood pressure without reducing sodium intake or increasing exercise.

Saroj Chakraborty, left, and Dr. Bina Joe have discovered that by increasing the body’s supply of beta hydroxybutyrate, a chemical produced predominantly by the liver, it is possible to regulate high blood pressure without reducing sodium intake or increasing exercise.

“Our team found that high salt consumption lowered levels of circulating beta hydroxybutyrate. When we put beta hydroxybutyrate back in the system, normal blood pressure is restored,” 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. “We have an opportunity to control salt-sensitive hypertension without exercising.”

The team’s findings were published in the Oct. 16 issue of the life sciences journal Cell Reports.

Beta hydroxybutyrate is a ketone body produced in the liver from the metabolism of fatty acids. It had not been previously explored as a method for controlling blood pressure, but the UT researchers noted a number of intriguing connections between how the body produces beta hydroxybutyrate and environmental factors known to raise or lower blood pressure.

“As we searched through the literature, we saw beta hydroxybutyrate has been observed increasing with exercise or calorie restriction. Both of those activities also reduce blood pressure. The key piece of our discovery is we now know that beta hydroxybutyrate decreases with salt consumption. This is a novel mechanism by which salt is tied to an increase in blood pressure,” said Saroj Chakraborty, a fourth-year PhD student in the UT Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and the paper’s lead author.

To test its hypothesis, the team led by Chakraborty and Joe developed a study in which they fed lab rats a chemical called 1,3-butanediol.

When that supplement reaches the liver, enzymes convert it to beta hydroxybutyrate. From there, it goes to the kidney, where it was shown to reduce inflammation commonly associated with hypertension — and significantly decrease blood pressure in the process.

“By fixing the kidney, it is indirectly contributing to the lowering of blood pressure. There could be many other organs that it is impacting,” Joe said. “We are studying the heart, blood vessels, brain and other organ systems. But this paper says that this molecule, predominately made in the liver, goes to the kidney, fixes kidney damage, and controls your blood pressure.”

Joe noted that controlling function of the liver to regulate blood pressure is a new concept for researchers.

UT has received a provisional patent on the concept. Researchers in Joe’s lab next want to compare the level of beta hydroxybutyrate in hypertensive patients against those without high blood pressure. Further studies also will determine how much 1,3-butanediol is needed to modulate blood pressure and whether it might cause any potential damage to other organs.

Once the team collects that data, the researchers hope to secure funding for a clinical trial.

While lowering blood pressure without hitting the gym might sound appealing to those averse to breaking a sweat, it also could prove beneficial to those who aren’t able to exercise.

“There are certain patients who are not able to exercise for various reasons. This could prove to be a legitimate alternative for those individuals,” Chakraborty said.

$1 million gift from couple to expand UT research into pancreatic cancer

Toledo businessman Hal Fetterman and his wife, Susan Fetterman, have pledged $1 million to The University of Toledo to fund new research into treatments for pancreatic cancer, the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

The donation is in honor of Hal Fetterman’s sister, Joyce Schwyn, and three close friends who lost their lives to pancreatic cancer.

Hal Fetterman, center, was thanked last week by Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president of clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and President Sharon L. Gaber after signing a pledge to give the University $1 million to research pancreatic cancer treatments.

“They were the ones who inspired me to go in this particular direction,” Fetterman said. “There are people passing away from pancreatic cancer all the time. The ultimate goal of this gift would be a cure for the disease.”

The Fetterman’s donation will establish the UT Medical Center Pancreatic Cancer Research Innovation Fund. Half of the gift will be dedicated to recruiting a top-tier faculty researcher to the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences. The remaining $500,000 will be split between covering the costs of an upcoming clinical drug trial at UT Medical Center and supporting a grant competition among faculty cancer researchers.

“The University of Toledo is grateful for the incredible generosity of Hal and Susan Fetterman,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “The Fettermans have been loyal supporters of UT for years, and this new investment in the University will support important advances in medical care.”

Pancreatic cancer is relatively rare accounting for just 3 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States, but it is to blame for 7 percent of all cancer deaths. According to the National Cancer Institute, only lung cancer and colon cancer kill more Americans than pancreatic cancer.

Dr. F. Charles Brunicardi, the John Howard Endowed Professor of Pancreatic Surgery and director of the cancer program in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, said there is already promising research being done at UT, and the Fettermans’ gift will take it to the next step.

“I’m deeply honored by the Fettermans’ generosity and their devotion toward finding better treatments for pancreatic cancer,” Brunicardi said. “We feel that we’re on the verge of a big breakthrough. We can cure mice of pancreatic cancer. What we need to do now is translate that into clinical trials, and this grant will allow us to do that.”

Fetterman felt it was important that someone make a sizeable donation to draw more attention to the cause and hopefully additional resources to advance treatment options.

“Somebody’s got to break the ice. I think that more people need to get involved with things like this,” Fetterman said. “It’s not necessarily wanting to leave a legacy, but I can’t take it with me. God’s been good to me. I didn’t go to college, and I didn’t have wealthy parents. I’m basically a farm boy from out in Fulton County. I want to do what I can to help people have a better life.”

The Fettermans are longtime supporters of UT. In 2007, the couple donated $1 million to the UT Athletic Department to build an indoor multi-sport practice facility that would ultimately become the Fetterman Training Center. They also established the Scott Raymond Fetterman Memorial Scholarship Fund in 1996 for UT engineering students.

UT scholar’s ‘The Oxford Handbook of Disability History’ offers first global chronicle

A pioneering professor of disability studies at The University of Toledo is an editor and contributor to “The Oxford Handbook of Disability History.”

Dr. Kim Nielsen, who helped launch the first undergraduate degree of its kind in disability studies in the country at UT, is one of three editors of the book published by Oxford University Press and one of 30 experts to write a chapter.

Dr. Kim Nielsen is one of three editors of the “The Oxford Handbook of Disability History” and one of 30 experts to write a chapter.

“Disability has a generally unacknowledged or even enthusiastically denied universality,” Nielsen said. “The book is the first volume to represent the global scale of this history, from ancient Greece to British West Africa and post-World War II Hungary and contemporary Japan.”

The cover of the book was designed by a group of artists who work together at Shared Lives Studio in downtown Toledo.

“We wanted meaningful, quality art done by a person or persons with disabilities, and we found it,” Nielsen said. “Their work is beautiful.”

Nielsen’s co-editor Dr. Michael Rembis, associate professor in the Department of History and director of the Center for Disability Studies at the University at Buffalo, will host a public lecture at UT titled “A Fact Was No Less a Fact Because It Was Told by a Crazy Person” Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 4 p.m. in Carlson Library Room 1005.

“Dr. Rembis is a skilled historian and storyteller whose work can help us better understand today’s mental health practices and helps us remember that people considered mentally ill also live lives with family, labor, community institutions and day-to-day interactions,” Nielsen said. “This scholarship should be of interest to all interested in public health policies, disability, history, psychology and social change.”

In the introduction to the new book, the editors wrote, “By its very nature, an Oxford Handbook offers legitimacy to disability history, an indication of the field’s growing import.”

Nielsen’s book chapter is titled “The Perils and Promises of Disability Biography.”

“Telling the life story of someone whose life included disability, unpacking the relationship between that individual life and its larger historical context, and analyzing the questions and insights raised by that life have much to offer scholars and readers,” Nielsen wrote.

“A disability analysis does not simply mean discerning whether or not historical subjects have a disability, just as a gender or racial analysis does not simply mean discerning the race or sex of historical subjects. A disability approach analyzes the role of ableism — built structures and social systems that favor the nondisabled — in shaping relationships, systems of power, ideals, disparagements, and the multiple ways of being in the world.”

Nielsen fights back against the common narrative of disability in the Western world that an individual overcomes or “triumphs over the calamity of disability.”

She uses President Franklin Roosevelt as an example showing that his life reveals the embedded nature of disability.

“From the time he was first affected by polio as a young adult to his death while in his fourth term as the U.S. president, the wealthy son of a prestigious New York family was aided by an extensive network of individuals willing to help him pass as nondisabled,” Nielsen wrote. “The FDR that most of us know and admire today was made possible by an intimate network of support; an American public that variably denied, ignored or was ignorant of his disability; and historians who followed that path.”

Nielsen also discusses the use of primary sources, the opportunities to analyze previously unconsidered sources, and reconsidering the imbalanced power dynamics used to create and archive historical sources.

“For example, many, if not all, of the photographs of Millie and Christine McKoy, conjoined twins born into slavery in 1851, made under the guise of science, were sexually exploitive, coerced and sensationalistic,” Nielsen wrote. “Many people with disabilities live and have lived in times and spaces where they have no recognized right or access to privacy.”

As a historian who is not disabled, Nielsen opens up about the importance of visiting places central to individuals who were overlooked or hidden away from society, such as her visit to the grave of the subject of her current biographical project, Dr. Anna Ott, a white female physician who died in 1893 after being determined legally incompetent and institutionalized for 20 years in a state insane asylum as a patient of one of her former male colleagues.

Of the 771 people buried at the “nearly unmarked cemetery” over a nearly 100-year period, Nielsen said, “Only eight of the dead had the privilege of grave markers. The rest lay unnamed and largely unclaimed. The disregard with which they had been treated in death revealed much about their lives.”

Nielsen also said that disability biography can be about nondisabled subjects, such as Frances Perkins, who “served as secretary of labor in the Franklin Roosevelt administration, while simultaneously mothering a daughter, providing exclusive financial support for her household, and caring for/managing her frequently institutionalized husband.”

“Perkins was not disabled, but disability permeated her life,” Nielsen wrote.

Nielson’s most recent book, “A Disability History of the United States,” was published by Beacon Press in 2012.

UT study details link between social media and sex trafficking

Social media is increasingly being exploited to contact, recruit and sell children for sex, according to a study by The University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute.

The study, which was requested by the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission, reveals how traffickers quickly target and connect with vulnerable children on the Internet through social media.

Williamson

“It is vitally important to educate parents, professionals and youth — especially our middle school or teenage daughters who may be insecure — about the dangers of online predatory practices used by master manipulators,” said Dr. Celia Williamson, UT professor of social work and director of the UT Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute. “Through this outreach and education, we can help save children from becoming victims of modern-day slavery.”

“We know predators are using the internet to find their victims, and this eye-opening study highlights what a predator looks for in a victim and helps parents recognize the signs that their child may be a target,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “Using real-life examples, this study provides valuable information that parents can use to start open and honest conversations with their children about staying safe online.”

Through a series of 16 in-depth interviews by the institute’s staff and student interns with knowledgeable members of Ohio law enforcement, judges, direct service providers, advocates and researchers who engaged with victims who were trafficked online, the study outlines how traffickers connect to vulnerable youth online, groom the children to form quicker relationships, avoid detection, and move the connections from online to in person.

“The transition from messaging to meeting a trafficker in person is becoming less prevalent,” Williamson said. “As technology is playing a larger role in trafficking, this allows some traffickers to be able to exploit youth without meeting face to face. Social media helps to mask traditional cues that alert individuals to a potentially dangerous person.”

Williamson cites a 2018 report that says while 58 percent of victims eventually meet their traffickers face to face, 42 percent who initially met their trafficker online never met their trafficker in person and were still trafficked.

The experts, whose identities are not being released, said the traffickers educate themselves by studying what the victim posts on commonly used view-and-comment sites such as Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat, as well as dating apps such as Tinder, Blendr and Yellow, or webcam sites like Chatroulette and Monkey, in order to build trust.

“These guys, they learn about the girls and pretend to understand them, and so these girls, who are feeling not understood and not loved and not beautiful … these guys are very good at sort of pretending that they are all of these things and they really understand them and, ‘I know how you feel, you are beautiful,’ and just filling the hole that these girls are feeling,” said a professional contributing to the study.

One expert in Columbus shared a telling story: “The guy was reaching out to a lot of girls all day long. One girl, who is actually in a youth home, she had access to the internet, and he connects with her on a social media platform. He drives all the way up from Columbus to Toledo, picks her up at her foster home, and drives her back down to Columbus, and then traffics her here in Columbus. You know, 20, 30 years ago, he would have never been able to connect with her, but because of social media, that connection was immediately made in over a few hours. He found out where she was, and she told him, ‘Yeah, please come get me. I want out of here.’”

Examples of social media posts that draw the attention of a trafficker include expressions of fear, emptiness and disappointment, such as:

• “Nobody gets me.”

• “I am so sick of being single.”

• “I am so ugly.”

• “How do I look?”

• “My life sucks.”

• “She’s not my true friend.”

• “My parents don’t trust me.”

• “I’m being treated like a kid.”

• “I need to get out of here.”

Predators look for indicators of substance abuse, runaway activity and destabilization within the home.

A trafficker’s strategic response includes:

• “I understand you.”

• “I love you.”

• “I think you’re beautiful. I’ll encourage you to show your body. Use your body.”

• “I’ll make your life better.”

• “I’ll encourage you to take risks. You’re an adult.”

• “I’ll protect you.”

• “I’ll make you successful.”

Grooming children for sex trafficking consists of convincing someone to send a risky picture and then using it to extort them.

“They will use fear of repercussions as a way to compel the youth, coerce the youth [to move them from a monitored page to a less monitored page] … by saying, ‘You don’t want your parents to find out what we’re talking about,’” said one expert.

Technology offers traffickers ease in advertising multiple victims at one time.

The study lists several advertising and sales sites browsed by “johns/sugar daddies,” such as Cityxguide, Skipthegames, Bedpage, Seekingarrangement.com and sugar-babies.com. Williamson said Bedpage is a spinoff of Backpage, which was the focus of a 2017 documentary called “I Am Jane Doe” about the fight against child sex trafficking online.

“Even though Backpage has been shut down, other sites are being created and gaining traction,” Williamson said. “The landscape is rapidly changing.”

Parents form the front line in the fight to protect their child against traffickers by monitoring or blocking questionable activity.

“Parents who are educated can wage a worthy defense against potential recruitment and recruitment of their youth online,” Williamson said. “Parents who work to build healthy, open and communicative relationships are more likely to have youth that share information about where they go and who they talk to online.”

The study lists several resources for parents and children, including:

Internetsafety101.org/internetpredators;

Connectsafely.org/a-parents-guide-to-cybersecurity;

Cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/pdf/parental_monitoring_factsheet.pdf;

Netnanny.com; and

Safekids.com/quiz.

For additional resources on ways to prevent human trafficking, visit the Ohio Attorney General’s website at https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Files/Publications-Files/Publications-for-Victims/Human-Trafficking-An-Online-Threat.

Click here to read the full study.