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Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center to offer free breast cancer screenings Oct. 19

The Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at The University of Toledo Medical Center is recognizing National Breast Cancer Awareness Month with free events aimed at early detection and education about the disease.

“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to think about having your mammogram,” said Jan Tipton, a registered nurse and manager of the Infusion Center at the cancer center.

On National Mammography Day, which this year falls on Friday, Oct. 19, the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center is offering free mammograms and clinical breast exams for women who are uninsured or underinsured.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, but statistics show that one-third of women older than the age of 40 have not had a mammogram in the past two years.

“By doing regular screenings, we can detect these cancers early and hopefully prevent patients from needing more invasive treatments,” Tipton said.

Women who have not had a recent mammogram or those who have found a lump during a self-breast exam are encouraged to register. A limited number of spots are available. To register or inquire about eligibility, call 419.383.5170.

Later this month, the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center will host a free panel discussion with three of its breast cancer specialists to talk about the precision treatment options available at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

The program will begin at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, and feature breast surgeon Dr. Heather Klepacz, medical oncologist Dr. Danae Hamouda and radiation oncologist Dr. Tangel Chang, who will speak about the latest advances in breast cancer treatment, including the most individualized treatment available today. A question-and-answer session will follow.

“We are entering into a new age of state-of-the art care using precision targeted therapy. Drs. Klepacz, Hamouda and Chang are all outstanding physicians who are part of our family-centered multidisciplinary care team,” said Dr. F. Charles Brunicardi, a surgical oncologist at UTMC and director of the Cancer Program in the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “We are proud of the work the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center is doing and glad we can educate the community on the latest options in cancer care.”

The panel discussion is open to the public, but reservations are requested by emailing danacancercenter@utoledo.edu or calling 419.383.5243.

UT faculty recognized for tenure and promotion

Sixty-four University of Toledo faculty members were honored in a special 2018-19 tenure and promotion celebration Sept. 28 in Carlson Library. Last year, 53 faculty members earned tenure and promotion.

Each honoree was asked to select a book that was instrumental to his or her success, and these books — each containing a bookplate commemorating the honoree’s milestone — are now housed in the library.

“We began this tradition when I joined UT because we believe recognizing faculty helps to foster excellence in research and academics, and helps fuel innovation in all fields of study,” said President Sharon L. Gaber.

“Faculty success, together with student success, are two of the highest priorities of the University and of the Office of the Provost,” said Provost Andrew Hsu. “We have implemented a number of new programs to enhance faculty success since President Gaber joined The University of Toledo. And while the large number of faculty honorees this year demonstrates the progress that we have made in faculty success, the credit goes to the hard work and dedication of our faculty.”

UT faculty receiving tenure are Dr. Hossein Elgafy and Dr. Xin Wang, College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

Appointed as professor with tenure are Dr. Anne Balazs, College of Business and Innovation, and Dr. Raymond Witte, Judith Herb College of Education. And appointed as associate professor with tenure is Dr. Denise Bartell, Jesup Scott Honors College.

Faculty members who were promoted to professor are Dr. Tomer Avidor-Reiss, Dr. Maria Diakonova, Dr. Timothy Mueser and Dr. Michael Weintraub, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich and Dr. Frederick Williams, College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Dr. Florian Feucht and Dr. Tod Shockey, Judith Herb College of Education; Dr. Bashar Gammoh and Dr. Margaret Hopkins, College of Business and Innovation; Dr. Tavis Glassman and Dr. Sheryl Milz, College of Health and Human Services; Dr. Edmund Lingan, Dr. Mysoon Rizk, Dr. Sujata Shetty and Dr. Jami Taylor, College of Arts and Letters; Elizabeth McCuskey and Evan Zoldan, College of Law; Dr. Azedine Medhkour, Dr. Theodor Rais, Dr. Tallat Rizk and Dr. David Sohn, College of Medicine and Life Sciences; and Dr. Devinder Kaur, Dr. Scott Molitor, Dr. Youngwoo Seo, Dr. Gursel Serpen, Dr. Chunhua Sheng, Dr. Sridhar Viamajala and Dr. Hongyan Zhang, College of Engineering.

Promoted to professor with tenure are Dr. Guillermo Vazquez and Dr. Hongyan Li, College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

Faculty members who received tenure and promotion to associate professor include Dr. Wissam AbouAlaiwi, College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Dr. Halim Ayan and Dr. Eda Yildirim-Ayan, College of Engineering; Dr. Liat Ben-Moshe, Daniel Hernandez, Dr. Jason Levine, Dr. Thor Mednick and Dr. Daniel Thobias, College of Arts and Letters; Dr. Joseph Cooper and Dr. Kainan Wang, College of Business and Innovation; Dr. Rafael Garcia-Mata, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Dr. Mouhammad Jumaa, Dr. Krishna Reddy and Dr. Diana Shvydka, College of Medicine and Life Sciences; and Dr. Aravindhan Natarajan, College of Health and Human Services.

Faculty promoted to associate professor are Dr. Daniel Gehling, Dr. Claudiu Georgescu, Dr. Bryan Hinch, Dr. Kimberly Jenkins, Dr. Jeremy Laukka, Dr. Terrence Lewis, Dr. Jiayong Liu, Dr. Sumon Nandi and Dr. Syed Zaidi, College of Medicine and Life Sciences; and Dr. Randall Vesely, Judith Herb College of Education.

Faculty who received renewal of their titles with tenure are Michelle Cavalieri and Bryan Lammon, College of Law.

And Dr. George Darah was promoted to clinical associate professor in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

“We wish each of these individuals continued success at the University, and ask our campus community to join us in congratulating them,” Hsu said.

Faculty members posed for a photo with President Sharon L. Gaber and Provost Andrew Hsu during the tenure and promotion celebration held last month in Carlson Library.

$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.

Homecoming Gala to recognize Gold, Blue T, Young Alum award recipients

The University of Toledo Alumni Association will honor the winners of its most prestigious honors: the Gold T, Blue T and Edward H. Schmidt Outstanding Young Alum Award.

These three recipients will be recognized — along with distinguished alumni from each UT college — at the Homecoming Gala Friday, Oct. 5, at 6 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium.

Tickets for the gala are $30 per person, $10 for children. To make a reservation, visit toledoalumni.org or contact the UT Alumni Office at 419.530.ALUM (2586).

Montgomery

The Gold T is presented to a UT graduate in recognition of outstanding achievement in his or her field of endeavor while providing leadership and noteworthy service to the community.

The 2018 recipient is Betty Montgomery. She received a law degree from the University in 1976 and began blazing trails. In 1995, Montgomery became the first woman to serve as attorney general in the state of Ohio. She served a four-year term and was re-elected to another four-year term. In 2003, she ran for auditor of the state of Ohio. Again she was a trendsetter, becoming the first woman to hold that four-year title in the more than 200-year history of the Buckeye State.

Before that, Montgomery spent seven years as a state senator for District 2, covering Ottawa, Wood and parts of Lucas and Erie counties. She also served as Wood County’s prosecuting attorney for eight years, during which time she was the only woman prosecuting attorney in Ohio.

Wakefield

The Blue T is presented to a UT Alumni Association member and University graduate who has made outstanding contributions to the progress and development of the Alumni Association and his or her alma mater.

Dr. Tom Wakefield is the 2018 recipient. He received an undergraduate degree in premed in 1970 and a medical degree from the former Medical College of Ohio in 1973.

Wakefield is the James C. Stanley Professor of Surgery, section head of vascular surgery and director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center at the University of Michigan. He has received nearly $26 million in funded grants for vascular research. Wakefield is passionate about his alma mater. He served as president of the Alumni Association during the 2014-15 school year and is a major financial supporter of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences; the Athletics Department; the Alumni Association; and the Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women.

Ladd

The Edward H. Schmidt Outstanding Young Alum Award is presented to a University graduate who is 40 years or younger in recognition of outstanding achievement in her or his field of endeavor, while providing leadership and noteworthy service to the Alumni Association, University or community. This award is named in memory of the 1942 alumnus and a longtime supporter of the University and its Alumni Association.

The 2018 recipient is Dr. Mallory Ladd, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Jesup Scott Honors College in 2011.
A recent graduate of the University of Tennessee’s PhD program, Ladd has been hired by the federally funded Center for Naval Analysis in Washington, D.C. She is an internationally recognized scientist who has developed mass spectrometry tools to measure the chemistry of soils in the Artic, which is viewed as a tipping-point area for climate change. Ladd also has served as a panelist at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

For more information, contact Dan Saevig, UT associate vice president of alumni engagement, at 419.530.4008.

From music to medicine: MD/PhD student serves as concertmaster for high-profile charity orchestra in nation’s capital

Robin Su won an international piano competition before he had a driver’s license, has been invited to play at Carnegie Hall, and performed a violin solo at the esteemed Cleveland Orchestra.

But the greatest musical honor of the violinist and aspiring physician’s life came in August when he was selected to be concertmaster for two rare joint performances by the World Doctors Orchestra and the National Institutes of Health Philharmonia in Washington.

Robin Su, fourth-year MD/PhD candidate in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, performed last month with the World Doctors Orchestra and the National Institutes of Health Philharmonia in Washington.

Su, a fourth-year MD/PhD candidate in The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, wasn’t just sitting first chair — the most important orchestra position after the conductor — he was the only student among the 70 or so doctors and researchers volunteering their time for the charity concerts.

“It is very difficult to be invited to perform with this orchestra,” Su said. “Some of the world’s finest MDs and PhDs were there together.”

Su, 25, is hoping to join their ranks.

As he worked toward a degree in violin performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Su was taking pre-med classes at Case Western Reserve University.

Robin Su posed for a photo with Nancia D’Alimonte, music director of the National Institutes of Health Philharmonia, in Washington.

“I was always interested in music and medicine,” he said. “As I got older and looked at the different possibilities of pursing both, I think that became more realistic.”

Su was one of just three students accepted into UT’s joint MD/PhD Program in fall 2015. His current research is focused on how microcystin, a dangerous toxin produced by algal blooms, might affect individuals with pre-existing conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

He is working to find biomarkers that could help clinicians diagnose microcystin-induced liver damage.

“We’re trying to be at the front end and have preventative measures and diagnostic measures to prevent it from progressing further,” Su said. “Liver disease is a progressive disease from multiple hits, and we think that microcystin definitely plays into that and accelerates that process. We’re trying to prevent that from moving forward.”

As a professional musician, Su would dedicate eight hours a day to practice. That’s been significantly scaled back as he juggles his course load and laboratory work. Even so, Su managed to cram in four hours of practice every night in the weeks prior to the August performances.

Once together in Washington, the group went through three days of grueling eight-hour rehearsals. As concertmaster, Su took on many added responsibilities, including the execution of several solo passages, acting as a liaison between the conductor and orchestra to facilitate musical communication, and serving as a leader of the entire orchestra to ensure musical unity.

That’s no small task when you’re talking about an organization in the World Doctors Orchestra that draws from a rotating cast of more than 1,200 physicians from nearly 50 countries. Combine that with integrating musicians from the NIH Philharmonia, and it’s downright challenging.

“Normal orchestras rehearse throughout the year and we only have three days,” Su said. “I think everyone was very appreciative of my strong leadership of the orchestra, and I think it played a role in bringing everything together very quickly.”

His work won high praise from Sheyna Burt, president of the World Doctors Orchestra USA. There’s a bit of a cliché, Burt said, of a hard-charging physician by day and a dedicated amateur performer by night.

“With Robin it’s different. Whatever his academic prowess might be, he is a genuinely gifted and sensitive artist,” she said. “During the first rehearsal of the World Doctors Orchestra/NIH Philharmonia collaboration, I witnessed his interpretation of the opening violin solo in Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Russian Easter Overture’ stop an entire orchestra in its tracks.”

Su, who is about halfway through his dual degree program, eventually wants to actively practice medicine along with conducting academic research.

And he hopes to continue playing violin, encouraged by the world-class doctors and researchers with whom he recently performed.

“It’s definitely inspirational for me, seeing that physicians can still balance their work with their musical passion,” he said.

Opioid epidemic’s impact on older adults topic of upcoming UT, BGSU seminar

The University of Toledo is partnering with Bowling Green State University’s Optimal Aging Institute, the Wood County Committee on Aging and the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio to hold a town hall discussion on how the opioid crisis is affecting older adults and what the community can do to help.

The program, called Opioid Misuse and Addiction Among Older Adults, will be held Friday, Oct. 5, from 7:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Penta Career Center in Perrysburg.

Among the scheduled speakers will be Lance Robertson, assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Opioid abuse is often seen as a problem that only affects young adults, but experts say misuse among older Americans is a real and rapidly growing concern.

“We don’t think of it as much in older adult populations, and it’s probably not as prevalent, but it certainly is a problem that exists and needs to be addressed,” said Dr. Victoria Steiner, associate professor in the UT School of Population Health and assistant director of the Center for Successful Aging.

Overdose incidents among older Americans are rising sharply. Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses among those aged 35 to 54 increased by 37 percent. Among those 55 or older, ER visits were up by 32 percent. More than 44 percent of overdose deaths in 2016 occurred in those 45 and older, the CDC reported.

Beyond overdoses, there are other unique concerns related to prescription opioid use in older populations.

“Even if they’re not addicted, opioids can cause problems with breathing, with confusion and with falls in older adults,” Steiner said. “There’s also a risk that somebody else in the family could be diverting their medications.”

Topics to be addressed at the seminar include warning signs that older adults may be suffering from opioid addiction; examples of situations that increase the risk for abuse or addiction; evidence-based pain management in the era of the opioid crisis; and public policy and resources for health-care professionals who work with older adults and their families.

“Older adults are interfacing with so many different health-care professionals and our hope with this Oct. 5 presentation is to bring in all these providers so they receive the same prevention education messages and recognize the importance of assessing opioid use and misuse,” said Dr. Nancy Orel, executive director of research at BGSU’s Optimal Aging Institute and interim chair of the Department of Human Services.

To register for the free, public event, call the Wood County Committee on Aging at 419.353.5661 or email oai@bgsu.edu. The event does not offer continuing medical education credits.

UT faculty awarded $1.3 million in federal grants for medical research, education, technology

Faculty members at The University of Toledo were awarded $1.3 million in federal grants for projects related to opioid abuse, mental health, cancer and antimicrobial technology.

“The University of Toledo continues to advance its strong research base, this time in the two critical areas of innovative drug targets for cancer risk and also to public health and opioid crisis education,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. “The University of Toledo’s leadership in pioneering treatments and therapies for everything from heart disease to detecting a substance-use relapse has earned it the attention of granting agencies. Securing competitive federal awards is no easy task. Congratulations to UT for identifying and competing in very competitive space.”

Dr. Cheryl McCullumsmith, professor and chair of the UT Department of Psychiatry, was awarded a three-year, $449,076 grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment to expand education about opioid use disorder across all disciplines within UT’s College of Medicine and Life Sciences.

“The College of Medicine and Life Sciences will equip all medical students with the knowledge and the skills they need to appropriately manage opioid treatment and confidently identify opioid use disorders, regardless of their planned specialty. We are training a generation of family medicine doctors, surgeons and internists to actively prevent and treat opioid use disorders,” McCullumsmith said.

Dr. Linda Lewandowski, dean of the UT College of Nursing and co-chair of the UT Opioid Task Force, was awarded a three-year, $371,723 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for an interdisciplinary public health project that will provide evidenced-based mental health awareness training to UT students, faculty and staff, as well as the wider northwest Ohio community.

The training includes appropriate responses, materials on available community resources, and information about the unique mental health needs of active-duty military and veterans. The program is built with a specific emphasis on issues related to the opioid epidemic.

“With one in five Americans experiencing mental health problems in a given year, it is more likely that an individual will come across someone having an emotional or mental health crisis than someone having a heart attack. By providing ‘mental health first aid,’ we will empower our students, faculty and community to recognize mental health and substance abuse problems and respond appropriately. This type of training is especially important during this time of the pervasive opioid crisis affecting our state and the nation,” Lewandowski said.

Dr. Maria Diakonova, professor in the UT Department of Biological Sciences, was awarded a three-year, $449,667 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to focus on a protein called JAK2 as she works to identify new drug targets to reduce the risk of cancer.

“Our goal is to explain the JAK2-mediated intracellular pathways and have a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in cell proliferation, or cell division, which could provide insight into future therapeutic approaches to cancer,” Diakonova said.

Dr. Terry Bigioni, professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was awarded a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to research broad-spectrum antimicrobial coatings for garments and textiles. Antimicrobial treatments are already used in medicine as anti-infective treatments and in garments and textiles for odor control. This technology could bring odor control to a wider range of products and reduce the need to launder many garments, improving garment lifespan and reducing their environmental impacts.

“We think our antimicrobial technology could bring a lot of added value to the garment and medical industries and create new manufacturing jobs right here in northwestern Ohio,” Bigioni said.

Women & Philanthropy awards two grants to College of Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications for 2019 grants will be available in late fall.

Additional information about Women & Philanthropy is available at
utfoundation.org/give/women-philanthropy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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