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UPDATED: UT Lake Erie Center Jan. 17 talk canceled

The UT Lake Erie Center announced Monday afternoon this talk is canceled.

The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center is hosting a free, public event about the collaborative efforts to re-establish a self-sustaining lake sturgeon population in the Maumee River.

Dr. Chris Vandergoot, research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, will give a talk Thursday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

Dr. Chris Vandergoot, research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, held a young lake sturgeon prior to its release in the Maumee River last fall.

“We want to bring awareness to the importance of the Maumee River watershed and restore a native fish species to the Lake Erie ecosystem,” Vandergoot said.

UT is a partner in the regional, state and federal teamwork to restore giant, ancient sturgeon to Lake Erie that culminated in thousands of juvenile sturgeons being released into the Maumee River in October.

“Lake sturgeon populations were once abundant throughout Lake Erie, particularly in the western basin. Currently, only two self-sustaining populations occur lake-wide. Those are in the Detroit and Niagara rivers,” Vandergoot said. “Our reintroduction efforts seek to re-establish a spawning population in the Maumee River, which is one of the spawning aggregations extirpated due to over-fishing and habitat degradation.”

Vandergoot is an expert in using acoustic telemetry to track fish. Acoustic telemetry involves implanting fish with special tags that produce sound that can be detected by a large network of receivers installed around the Great Lakes. It is a way to determine where fish are moving within the lakes and learn about their behavior and habitat use. Some of the sturgeon released into the Maumee River last year have these tags.

Two years ago, a UT graduate student helped the Toledo Zoo secure $90,000 in federal grant money to build a sturgeon rearing facility along the Maumee River. Dr. Jessica Sherman-Collier, who has since received her doctorate in ecology from UT, assisted the project by verifying that spawning and nursery habitat still exist in the Maumee River to sustain a population of the fish that can live to be 150 years old and grow up to 300 pounds and eight feet long.

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.

Water quality is a major research focus at UT. With more than $14 million in active grants underway, researchers are looking for pathways to restore the greatest natural resource for future generations.

Vandergoot’s talk is part of the Lake Erie Center’s Public Lecture Series.

A shuttle will be available to transport passengers from UT’s Main Campus to the Lake Erie Center and back. The shuttle will depart at 6:15 p.m. from the south side of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories, 3100 West Towerview Blvd. Passengers must reserve a spot. Email lakeeriecenter@utoledo.edu or call 419.530.8360 to make a reservation for the shuttle.

UT researcher calls on FDA to change rules to address spine screw contamination

A University of Toledo researcher is calling for a revamp of how operating room personnel store and handle the screws used in spinal fusion surgeries after results from a multicenter trial found high levels of contamination on supposedly sterile implants.

“Our findings about the prevalence of contaminated pedicle screws are concerning, to say the least,” said Dr. Aakash Agarwal, an adjunct professor in the UT Department of Bioengineering. “We immediately need to ensure all surgical implants are truly sterile. Our research unequivocally demonstrates that we have not been doing things correctly.”

Dr. Aakash Agarwal, shown here holding a prepackaged surgical screw, has petitioned the FDA to revamp how screws used in spinal fusion sureries are handled to avoid contamination.

Spinal fusion surgeries generally require four to six pedicle screws, but in the vast majority of procedures performed in the United States, surgeons begin with a tray containing 100 or more screws of different sizes to ensure the right size is immediately available within the operating room.

Because so few implants are used in each procedure, most screws are washed and sterilized repeatedly with other contaminated instruments from the operating room before they are actually used during a surgery.

But Agarwal said that isn’t practical or safe, and he’s calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the process in the United States.

In a paper published in the Global Spine Journal, a team of experts led by Agarwal found screws that had been repeatedly reprocessed are harboring a number of contaminants, including corrosion, soap residue and organic tissue.

“We randomly selected screws from four different trays of cleaned, wrapped and sterilized screws. Every screw we took out was contaminated, and they were about to go into a patient’s body,” Agarwal said. “The health-care system and patients would really benefit if we start packaging screws individually. The repeated reprocessing system in trays should be banned.”

The researchers recently submitted a formal petition along with their data to the FDA.

Agarwal and his fellow researchers — which included Dr. Steven R. Garfin, interim dean of the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, and Dr. Jeffrey C. Wang, co-director of the University of Southern California Spine Institute and president of North American Spine Society — presented evidence in a separate paper that individually sterile-packed screws also are picking up contaminants as they are handled in the operating room.

The researchers devised a study in which two groups of individually packaged screws were used during live spine surgeries at multiple centers across the United States. One group of screws had a built-in intraoperative guard, while the other group did not have such a guard. The screws were prepared for insertion then sent away for analysis.

“All 26 surgeries in the study had bacterial growth on the unguarded screws. That was the major finding, which surprised everyone,” Agarwal said. “Even if you provide screws in an individually sterile package, the way it’s handled in the operating theater makes it unsterile.”

That could potentially lead to infection and biofilm formation at the screw-bone interface.

No microbial growth was detected on the screws that had integrated guards, which is meant to shield the screw itself from being exposed to air or touch while loading it onto the insertion device.

The findings were published in Global Spine Journal and multiple conference proceedings. It also has been published by news media, including Becker’s Spine Review, Spinal News International, Orthopedic This Week and Orthopedics Today.

Also involved in the research were Dr. Vijay Goel, Distinguished University Professor and Endowed Chair and McMaster-Gardner Professor of Orthopaedic Bioengineering at UT; Dr. Anand K. Agarwal, professor at UT’s Engineering Center for Orthopaedic Research Excellence; Dr. Hossein Elgafy, professor of orthopaedic surgery at UT; and Dr. Boren Lin, postdoctoral fellow at UT’s Engineering Center for Orthopaedic Research Excellence.

Data on surgical site infections following spine surgery varies, but a recent randomized trial from Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in New York found a 12.7 percent incidence rate. Agarwal said that could represent up to 100,000 patients suffering from surgical site infection in the United States alone.

“We shouldn’t be knowingly putting bacteria and other contaminates inside a patient’s body. With the disclosure of these evidences, it would be impossible to not undertake necessary safety measures,” Agarwal said.

In addition to his faculty appointment at UT, Agarwal is the director of research and development for Spinal Balance, a private company that was founded in 2013 by a group of UT research professors. The firm, with its corporate office at the UT LaunchPad Incubation building, was created in part to address the problem of surgical site infection stemming from contaminated implants.

Agarwal also was recently appointed to the editorial board of the Clinical Spine Surgery journal by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins for his contribution toward original research and peer reviews in the spine field.

Cancer Research Symposium highlights UT’s work in precision therapy

The University of Toledo’s research in immune therapy and precision molecular therapy for treating cancer was acknowledged in 2018 as an area of emerging research excellence with the potential to generate national attention.

At UT’s second Cancer Research Symposium held late last year, Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president for clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, told assembled faculty and students from across the University they must all work together to turn that potential into reality.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president for clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, delivered the opening remarks for the 2018 UT Cancer Research Symposium. The event, held last month, focused on the work of UT researchers whose findings are advancing precision cancer therapies.

“Our job is to make it an area of excellence,” he said. “We need to move from emerging to being excellent in cancer immune therapy and molecular precision therapy. To get there is going to require success both at the bench and at the bedside.”

The symposium, attended by more than 120 physicians, research scientists and students, was focused on UT’s efforts to create a precision cancer therapy program that will develop more targeted treatments thanks to the huge scientific advances in how we understand not just cancer, but the way it affects specific individuals.

It was only two decades ago that scientists decoded the human genome and just a decade ago that scientists first sequenced one individual’s DNA. At the time, those were extraordinarily lengthy and expensive projects. Today scientists can sequence an individual’s DNA for roughly $1,000, said Dr. F. Charles Brunicardi, director of the Cancer Program in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

“We think it will keep decreasing in cost where it will become a routine part of every one of our medical charts,” Brunicardi said. “And that’s where we’re trying to go today with a precision cancer therapy program where we’re using foundation medicine to sequence patient’s cancers and then tailor the therapy toward the targets that we find.”

The symposium featured nearly two dozen UT faculty presenters from the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics who discussed topics including genomic sequencing, immunotherapy for breast cancer, novel drug discovery, and how drugs already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might be able to be repurposed for cancer treatment.

The event also featured a keynote address from Dr. Jian-Ting Zhang who provided perspectives on establishing a targeted drug discovery program. Zhang, formerly professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, will join UT as chair of the Department of Cancer Biology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences in February.

“This is the best of academia, where we bring together people from different disciplines and different approaches and we tackle important problems that matter to our community, our region and our world,” Cooper said.

More information about the symposium and the presented research can be found by visiting the UT Cancer Research Symposium website.

UT blue light research named a Top 100 science paper of 2018

A scientific discovery at The University of Toledo was selected as one of the top 100 most talked about scholarly publications in the world this year.

Altmetric, a data company that tracks and tallies the year’s 100 most attention-grabbing studies, chose UT’s blue light research as No. 76 in its annual list that provides a picture of the influence and reach of academic work.

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne examined toxic oxygen generation by retinal during blue light exposure.

According to Altmetric’s analysis, “The blue light coming from your computers, phones and tablets is doing damage to your retinas, and this study elaborates on the mechanisms by which blue light causes retinal degradation. The study has elicited a lot of interest, concern and conflicting advice across popular media about how best to protect your eyes.”

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, earned international attention in August for discovering how blue light triggers cell death in the presence of retinal, a light harvesting molecule in the eye.

His research about blue light-induced cell damage reached more than 400 million people around the world through hundreds of news outlets, including Popular Science, USA Today, CNN Headline News/HLN, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Forbes and Newsweek.

Altmetric not only tracks news media mentions, but also social media shares and policy documents. Overall, the company tracked more than 25 million mentions of 2.8 million research outputs in 2018.

In its demographic breakdown of the blue light research, Altmetric shows that while scientists and physicians shared UT’s news on Twitter, most of the tweets — 84 percent — came from members of the public.

“My group is composed of extremely talented and hardworking graduate and undergraduate students, and this recognition is a tribute to their passion in advancing science,” Karunarathne said. “Our published work is an example of how multidisciplinary research can unveil hidden molecular details of crucial cellular mechanisms.”

In this case, UT chemists explored how the combination of blue light and retinal — the abundant chromophore in the eye — damages cells.

Karunarathne’s lab found that blue light exposure causes retinal to trigger reactions that generate poisonous chemical molecules in photoreceptor cells.

After his research showing retinal-generated toxicity by blue light was published in the journal Scientific Reports in July, Karunarathne said he received feedback from people who shared their experiences on how occupational blue light exposure is a major health concern for them.

“It is an honor to study a process that people care so much about,” Karunarathne said. “In this high-tech world, we are being exposed to blue light continuously. It is crucial to find how and when blue light becomes damaging.”

Karunarathne’s lab currently is measuring light coming from television, cell phone and tablet screens to get a better understanding of how the cells derived from the eye respond to everyday blue light exposure.

“We are looking into the details of the discovered mechanism and investigating if commonly used light-emitting devices have the potential to trigger toxic chemical reactions in cells,” Karunarathne said.

UT engineering professors’ invention named to prestigious R&D Top 100 list

A synthetic bone graft substitute developed at The University of Toledo has been recognized by R&D Magazine as one of the year’s most exceptional innovations in science and technology.

Created by Dr. Sarit Bhaduri, UT Distinguished University Professor of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, NovoGro is a moldable bone substitute putty used to fill gaps in bone and encourage new bone growth. It is used primarily in complicated fractures that would not otherwise heal properly on their own.

Dr. Sarit Bhaduri, center, held the R&D Magazine award he received for NovoGro, a synthetic bone graft substitute he created with Dr. Anand Agarwal, left, and Dr. Vijay K. Goel. R&D Magazine named their invention as one of the year’s most exceptional innovations in science and technology.

“Our composition is innovative and quite different from any of our well-known competitors,” Bhaduri said. “The response of bone growth is much faster than other products that are currently available. Our product also incorporates innovative processing techniques that simplify production, which further sets it apart.”

R&D Magazine has annually selected the top 100 revolutionary technologies of the past year since 1963. Among this year’s other winners were Dow Chemical, Texas Instruments, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

“The R&D 100 Award is one of the most prestigious recognitions in applied science,” UT Vice President for Research Frank Calzonetti said. “This award speaks to the ability of Bhaduri and his University of Toledo colleagues in translating highest quality research into marketable products to improve the health outcomes of many.”

Bhaduri teamed up with Dr. Vijay K. Goel, UT Distinguished University Professor and Endowed Chair and McMaster-Gardner Professor of Orthopaedic Bioengineering, and Dr. Anand Agarwal, UT research professor of bioengineering, to license the technology from the University and co-found the biomedical firm OsteoNovus Inc. Agarwal also serves as the president and chief executive officer of OsteoNovus, where the product has undergone further development.

“In this category of orthobiologics — how to grow bone — there are many players, but the problem is the big guys aren’t doing much innovation,” Bhaduri said. “We wanted to disrupt that.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared NovoGro for use in two different indications — spine and the extremities.

Currently, NovoGro has a half dozen clinical users across the country and is trying to grow the client base significantly in 2019.

The company’s corporate offices and manufacturing facility are housed within The University of Toledo LaunchPad Incubation Program.

Researcher awarded $2.1 million NIH grant to study fungal infection common in cancer patients

A University of Toledo scientist has been awarded a $2.1 million National Institutes of Health grant to continue her research into one of the most common and debilitating conditions experienced by patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancers.

Dr. Heather Conti, UT assistant professor of biological sciences, studies a fungal infection called oral candidiasis. The infection is more commonly known as thrush.

Conti

In otherwise healthy individuals, the condition is minor, but for those with compromised immune systems or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, oral candidiasis can turn into a serious and potentially dangerous illness.

“Unfortunately, many patients who develop this condition choose to forego their cancer treatment,” Conti said. “It can actually have a direct link to cancer prognosis because the symptoms are too hard to deal with.”

The five-year grant, which is distributed through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, will fund research into the role blood platelets play in the body’s natural defense against oral candidiasis.

“Platelets are commonly thought of for their role in blood clotting. But what we’re finding more and more is that platelets also play a very important role in the immune response,” Conti said. “They can protect against various bacteria — or in our case, fungi — which is a novel thought in the field. Platelets can be a much more complicated cell than just taking part in blood clotting.”

She is collaborating with Dr. Randall Worth, UT associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology, on the project.

The reason oral candidiasis can cause such serious problems in cancer patients is the fact that chemotherapy and radiation often destroy the mucous membrane in the mouth, allowing the fungi to grow unchecked. That, Conti said, can lead to sores on the gums or tongue, difficulty swallowing, bleeding and pain. If the fungal infection reaches the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body, it can become life-threatening.

Patients with HIV are also at greater risk of serious infection from oral candidiasis.

Candidiasis can be successfully treated with antifungal medications, but Conti said there is an emerging trend of strains that have developed resistance to commonly prescribed drugs. That limits clinicians’ options, particularly in individuals who are already in poor health.

The goal of this study, Conti said, is better understanding how the body fights the infection and how researchers might be able to leverage that response to formulate new treatments.

“The immune response to oral candidiasis is quite complicated. If platelets play an important role, we need to understand that response. The hope would be to develop therapeutics that not only kill the fungus directly, but can also bolster the immune response,” she said.

UT engineers create method to save at least $120,000 per mile on road pavement projects

Before orange construction barrels dot pot-holed streets or highways, a vital part of planning a pavement project is determining how thick the next layer of asphalt needs to be, taking into consideration the layers that already lie beneath the surface.

A team of engineers at The University of Toledo created a new procedure and design software to more accurately estimate the structural capacity of existing pavement that could save the Ohio Department of Transportation millions of dollars on road improvement projects and be adopted by states across the country.

Dr. Eddie Chou is leading a team of UT engineers that designed software to estimate the structural capacity of existing pavement that could save the Ohio Department of Transportation millions of dollars on road improvement projects.

The Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, selected UT’s project for developing a revised pavement overlay thickness design procedure as one of 32 High-Value Research projects nationwide to be highlighted at its annual meeting Jan. 13-17 in Washington, D.C. The meeting attracts 13,000 transportation professionals from around the world.

The new method is specifically designed for composite pavement — concrete pavement already topped with a thick layer of asphalt — which accounts for the majority of ODOT’s four-lane and interstate highways. Previously, ODOT used a design method that was originally developed for rigid, concrete pavements that tended to produce designs often deemed too thick and wasteful for today’s roadways, as pavement becomes thicker with each additional overlay.

For an update, ODOT turned to the engineer who crafted the original design 25 years ago: Dr. Eddie Chou, UT professor of civil and environmental engineering, and director of the Transportation Systems Research Lab.

“The previous procedure did not work well with thick composite pavement. With this particular type of road, it tended to underestimate the existing structure’s worth,” said Chou, who worked on the project with Dr. Liango Hu, UT associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Many existing pavement sections we examined now require several inches thinner than previously demanded to withstand traffic for an additional 20 to 25 years.”

The UT research team adopted a three-layer model for back-calculating the properties of the soil subgrade and pavement layers, instead of the old two-layer model that combined cement and asphalt into one.

Chou said the new design reduces on average about five inches of overlay thickness, and the reduction of each additional inch of overlay can save approximately $120,000 per mile.

“In addition to being more environmentally friendly, the potential cost savings can be substantial considering each year ODOT rehabilitates several hundred miles of existing composite pavements by laying additional asphalt on top,” Chou said.

The revised design procedure was implemented into design software that adopts the improved back-calculation model. The software also offers an optional feature that takes into consideration the effects of temperature.

The Ohio Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration sponsored the UT research.

“This UT research developed a revised rehabilitation design procedure for composite pavement structures in Ohio and more accurately characterizes pavement layers for this analysis,” Patrick Bierl, pavement design engineer and pavement rating coordinator in ODOT’s Office of Pavement Engineering, said. “This revised procedure allows ODOT to continue to produce efficient and cost-effective rehabilitation designs to manage our composite pavements.”

Bioengineer to receive international award for work in orthopaedic mechanics

Dr. Vijay K. Goel will be honored by the government of Dubai this month with the Hamdan International Award for Medical Research Excellence for his lifelong work in orthopaedic mechanics.

Goel, Distinguished University Professor and Endowed Chair and McMaster-Gardner Professor of Orthopaedic Bioengineering at The University of Toledo, was nominated for the award by UT President Sharon L. Gaber.

Goel

“This is a noteworthy award. Many of the previous winners are among the world’s top physicians and researchers. They really pick the cream of the cream,” Goel said. “I’m very honored, very excited, and very proud to have been selected. From my perspective, it is the cumulation of all the work I have done that helped me to get this award.”

The Hamdan International Award for Medical Research Excellence was established in 1999 by Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the United Arab Emirates vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, to recognize those behind transformative medical research that serves the interests of humanity.

This year’s conference and awards are focused on musculoskeletal disorders, rheumatology, orthopaedics and orthopaedic mechanics. Goel is set to receive the award at a ceremony Dec. 12.

“I’m helping several institutions in India to establish bioengineering programs, and I hope with this award I may be able to help Gulf countries establish programs as well,” he said.

Goel joined The University of Toledo in 2000 after 18 years at the University of Iowa. He also spent three years as a research associate in the Department of Orthopedics at Yale Medical School.

Goel holds 18 patents and has been involved in establishing several companies, including OsteoNovus Inc. and Spinal Balance Inc. He recently received an Ohio Faculty Council Technology Commercialization Award from the Ohio Department of Higher Education for his work in developing and commercializing the Libra Pedicel Screw System.

UT engineering students to show off senior design projects Dec. 7

From biofuels to a collapsible wind turbine, dozens of senior design projects will be on display Friday, Dec. 7, from noon to 3 p.m. in Nitschke Hall at The University of Toledo.

The CodeWeGo team is, from left, Rita Ablordeppey, Zach Podbielniak, Carla Marzari and Jake Perkins.

A design team made up of students in the UT Department of Engineering Technology has created a multi-lingual web platform that is already in the startup phase due to assistance from UT’s LaunchPad Incubation Program. CodeWeGo is a senior capstone project for Carla Marzari, Jacob Perkins, Zachary Podbielniak and Rita Ablordeppey.

“The team has developed a scalable web application to assist non-English-speaking users to learn how to code using their native languages, including Spanish and Chinese. The project uses front-end framework React and Golang/Node programming languages,” Dr. Weiqing Sun, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology, said.

The free, public exposition showcases projects created by more than 250 graduating seniors from the departments of Bioengineering; Civil and Environmental Engineering; Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Engineering Technology; and Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

As part of these projects, students form business-consulting units develop a solution for a client’s technical or business challenge. Businesses, industries and federal agencies sponsor the projects required for graduating seniors in the UT College of Engineering.

The expo also will showcase 12 freshman design projects and feature the High School Design Competition for area high school students from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Discovery of single material that produces white light could boost efficiency, appeal of LED bulbs

Physicists at The University of Toledo are part of an international team of scientists who discovered a single material that produces white light, opening the door for a new frontier in lighting, which accounts for one-fifth of global energy consumption.

“Due to its high efficiency, this new material can potentially replace the current phosphors used in LED lights — eliminating the blue-tinged hue — and save energy,” said Dr. Yanfa Yan, UT professor of physics. “More research needs to be done before it can be applied to consumer products, but the ability to reduce the power that bulbs consume and improve the color quality of light that the bulbs emit is a positive step to making the future more environmentally friendly.”

Dr. Xiaoming Wang, left, and Dr. Yanfa Yan are part of an international team that discovered a single material that produces white light.

The renewable energy research was recently published in Nature, the world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal.

The equation to make the inorganic compound combines a lead-free double perovskite with sodium.

“Together, cesium, silver, indium and chloride emit white light, but the efficiency is very low and not usable,” Yan said. “When you incorporate sodium, the efficiency increases dramatically. However, when sodium concentration reaches beyond 40 percent, side effects occur and the white light emission efficiency starts to drop below the peak of 86 percent.”

Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Center in Colorado known as CHOISE, Yan and Dr. Xiaoming Wang, UT postdoctoral researcher, conducted the theoretical calculations that revealed why the new material created through experiments by a team led by Dr. Jiang Tang at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China produces high-efficiency white light.

“It was a wonderful experience working with Dr. Wang and Dr. Yan. Their professional theoretical simulation helps to reveal the emission mechanism of this miracle material,” said Tang, professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology’s Wuhan National Laboratory. “This lead-free all-inorganic perovskite not only emits stable and efficient warm-white light that finds itself useful for solid-state lighting, but also shows as an encouraging example that lead-free perovskites could even show better performance than their lead cousins.”

“Their work is truly impressive,” Dr. Sanjay Khare, professor and chair of the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy, said. “Emission of white light from a single material is likely to open a whole new field in opto-electronics.”

Monash University, Jilin University, University of Toronto, Tsinghua University, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Wuhan University also contributed to the research.