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UT researchers develop new mouse model for Type I diabetes that mimics full scope of the human disease

Researchers at The University of Toledo have found a new way to replicate in lab mice the development and progression of Type I diabetes, a breakthrough that has the potential to reshape how the chronic disease is studied.

An estimated 1.25 million Americans are living with Type I diabetes. While the condition can be managed with insulin, finding a treatment or cure for the disease has been elusive — in part because scientists have not had a reliable animal model that mimics the full scope of human Type I diabetes.

Dr. Shahnawaz Imam, left, and Dr. Juan Jaume display an array of diabetes management tools that patients rely on to control their disease. A new mouse model developed at UT may open the door to research that finds new therapies.

“We see these patients every day. We see them come to the hospital, we see how they struggle,” said Dr. Juan Jaume, professor of medicine in UT’s College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and senior author of the new invention. “Unfortunately, research has been held back because the scientific community didn’t have a good model to study the disease and its progression. Now we do. We have developed a mouse model that is a step forward toward finding a cure.”

The first peer-reviewed study using the UT-developed mouse model was published Feb. 7 in the natural sciences journal Scientific Reports.

In that study, Jaume, who is also chief of the Division of Endocrinology and director of UT’s Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Research, and co-collaborator Dr. Shahnawaz Imam, a senior researcher in the Department of Medicine and an associate member of the Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Research, looked at how a certain protein can influence T-cells in the pancreas to delay the onset of diabetes.

While the study adds to the overall knowledge about diabetes, it is the mouse model that holds the real potential.

In the new model, mice spontaneously develop Type I diabetes and, importantly, the full range of complications experienced by diabetes patients. That allows study of the disease and its natural progression in a way not previously possible.

“Our model is showing exactly the same physiopathology that humans with diabetes suffer,” Imam said. “Our mice are getting eye problems, they are getting kidney problems and also neuropathy. That’s a very important part of this — they have the same human complications that all diabetes patients have, not just those with Type I.”

The laboratory mice were developed through a series of selective breeding experiments and genetic modification that included adding human genes to the mice.

A provisional patent on the Spontaneous Type I Diabetes Mouse Model was filed last year.

Type I diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, results from an autoimmune attack on cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot process the sugars in food, leading to dangerously high blood sugar.

Though many species develop diabetes, Jaume said the process of Type I diabetes seems to be unique to humans. And while scientists have frequently used other specially bred mice, including what’s known as the non-obese diabetic mouse, to study diabetes and test treatments, those lab animals don’t mimic the exact human pathophysiology of the disease.

“The existing non-obese diabetic mouse model does not completely resemble the human condition,” Jaume said. “There are more than 125 different therapies that cure Type I diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice. Clinical trials were developed because of that model, but none have worked in humans. Everybody has been searching for a better model.”

Jaume and Imam have been working on their model for more than a decade. It is already showing research promise.

Using the same idea behind CAR T-cell therapy for cancer, in which certain immune system cells are taken from a patient and paired with an artificial receptor that once reintroduced into the body homes in on the tumor, the team is developing cellular therapies for diabetes that use the mice’s regulatory cells to cool down the immune response.

The University also has filed a provisional patent on the treatment method, and Jaume and Imam soon will begin a more in-depth study of its effectiveness.

UT to develop training tool to better care for patients who are homeless

The University of Toledo is developing a virtual reality training to improve Ohio Medicaid providers’ cultural competency and reduce implicit bias as a way to better understand the patients they serve. The virtual reality training focuses on the barriers to health care faced by those without stable, permanent housing.

UT faculty from the College of Medicine and Life Sciences and the College of Health and Human Services will conduct interviews and observe interactions in an area homeless shelter to build a realistic portrait of the health-care struggles experienced by individuals who depend on urban homeless shelters for their housing.

A multidisciplinary team from UT is building a virtual reality training program to help Ohio Medicaid providers better treat patients without stable, permanent housing. The investigators are, from left, Dr. Thomas Papadimos, medical director and associate dean for immersive and simulation-based learning; Dr. Shipra Singh, assistant professor of health education and public health; Dr. Lance Dworkin, professor and chair of medicine; and Dr. Scott Pappada, assistant professor of anesthesiology and bioengineering.

From that data, faculty and staff from the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, the School of Population Health in the College of Health and Human Services, and the Jacobs Interprofessional Immersive Simulation Center will create an interactive experience that will electronically place clinicians into a model homeless shelter as fly-on-the-wall observers.

“There’s a lot of attention nowadays to how one’s background and social structure impact not only their health, but also how successful they are in using the health-care system,” said Dr. Lance Dworkin, professor and chair of the UT Department of Medicine, and the primary investigator for the project. “If we understand that, we can integrate that knowledge into the care we provide so it’s more effective.”

The University also is building a robust evaluation component into the program that will monitor physical biomarkers such as heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate while participants are engaged in the simulation. Using assessment software developed by Dr. Scott Pappada, UT assistant professor of anesthesiology and bioengineering, and a co-investigator on the project, researchers will collect data before and after the simulation to learn how the program affects clinicians and whether it helps them connect with individuals who are marginalized by society.

The project is funded by a $1.24 million grant from the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

UT’s work is part of a larger partnership between the Ohio Department of Medicaid and Ohio’s medical schools, administered by the Ohio Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center. Like many projects managed by the center, the Medicaid equity simulation project is aimed at reducing health disparities, addressing the social determinants of health, and improving patient care and health outcomes for Ohio’s Medicaid population.

During the course of the homeless shelter simulation, health-care providers will see rudimentary sleeping quarters, dining and social areas, observe the interactions between guests and staff, and listen in on conversations gleaned from the real-life interviews.

“The big message here is how does one change clinical decision making based on what is learned about an individual in this environment,” said Dr. Shipra Singh, UT assistant professor of health education and public health, and a co-investigator on the project.

Singh, who is directing the scripts that will be used in the simulation, said those changes could be as simple as not forcing someone who has no access to reliable transportation to go to the back of the line if they’re late for an appointment, or understanding that immediate lifestyle changes may not be possible.

“You need to listen to the patient rather than just look at them and understand the cultural context they’re coming from and what really matters to them,” Singh said.

The program is expected to be ready to launch to Ohio Medicaid providers within The University of Toledo Medical Center in May and disseminated throughout the community by June.

UT engineering assistant professor receives $558,795 award for sustainability research targeting industrial smokestacks

Since she was a little girl growing up in Málaga, Spain, Dr. Ana C. Alba-Rubio brainstormed ways to motivate those around her to protect the planet.

“When I was 12 years old, I heard a neighboring community obtained a recycle bin,” Alba-Rubio said. “I talked with my teacher and organized our own paper collection system. My friends and I hauled that garbage from school to the other neighborhood once a week to recycle.”

Dr. Ana C. Alba-Rubio, assistant professor of chemical engineering, holds a Lego model showing how the dual-function material would capture carbon dioxide and convert it into methanol and higher alcohols that could be fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity to power factories.

Now an assistant professor of chemical engineering at The University of Toledo, she is pioneering a new method for factories to approach environmental stewardship and fight pollution with help from a five-year, $558,795 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Faculty Early Career Development award, known as CAREER, is one of the most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through the integration of research and education.

Alba-Rubio is creating a dual-function material, which acts as an absorber and a catalyst, that could be placed at the top of industrial smokestacks as an alternative to current processes of capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide. The material would capture carbon dioxide and convert it into methanol and higher alcohols that could be fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity to power the plant.

Alba-Rubio’s method would eliminate the energy requirement, corrosion and transportation issues associated with the processes currently used. Instead, the new material would transform carbon dioxide into a useful product on site.

“We must do as much as we can to reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate climate change,” Alba-Rubio said. “Converting carbon dioxide into something useful could be a great economic benefit for the industry while reducing emissions.”

World carbon dioxide emissions have increased 55 percent in the last 20 years, according to the Global Carbon Project, including 2.7 percent from 2017 to 2018, the largest jump in seven years.

As part of the grant-funded research, Alba-Rubio plans to engage students from elementary school to high school in her activities to expose them to chemical reactions and catalysis, as well as raise awareness of the effects of carbon dioxide on global warming.

“As a Hispanic woman, I have a strong interest in increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in science, and I will continue providing hands-on experiences to migrant students in Ohio’s rural communities and other underrepresented students through the programs that The University of Toledo offers to Toledo Public Schools,” Alba-Rubio said.

She is especially passionate about serving as a role model to encourage girls to pursue careers in science. Alba-Rubio is gathering support from other successful women across northwest Ohio in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to create a coloring book titled “Women Scientists Near You” to distribute to elementary schools throughout the region.

“The coloring book will feature stories of each of us to inspire girls to envision themselves on a similar path to success,” Alba-Rubio said. “Each ‘character’ in the book will visit schools to share her experiences and do experiments. The goal is to catch their curiosity and build their confidence. Becoming a scientist is within their reach. It’s an exciting career that can help change lives and create a better world.”

Lake Erie Center talk to focus on saving birds in urban areas

We often hear about the psychological benefits of reconnecting with nature. Take a walk. Listen to birds chirping. Plant flowers.

Bringing people back into harmony with nature also can save wildlife.

Shumar

The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center is hosting a free, public event about community-level solutions to wildlife conservation in an increasingly urban landscape.

Matthew Shumar, program coordinator for the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative and co-editor of “The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio,” will give a talk titled “It Takes a Village” Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

The avian ecologist plans to speak about the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative’s Lights Out program designed to address light and glass issues that threaten birds in urban areas.

“Artificial lighting has become a major concern for migratory bird populations,” Shumar said. “Birds attracted to bright lighting often fatally collide with buildings, and it is estimated that between 365 and 988 million birds are killed by collisions each year in the United States.”

“Programs like the ones led by Matt are making a measurable difference in human impacts on migratory birds,” said Dr. Henry Streby, ornithologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. “Often the hardest part is gaining the attention of the public and policymakers about small changes that can make big differences for conservation. That’s the hard work that Matt and his colleagues are taking on.”

Streby studies rare songbirds and red-headed woodpeckers. His groundbreaking migration research revealed the key to population declines in golden-winged warblers.

The Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative is a collaboration of nonprofit groups, businesses, citizens, and state and federal agencies working to advance bird conservation efforts.

Shumar’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.

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 our greatest natural resource for future generations.

UT researcher awarded $792,000 grant to further work on new way to detect early-stage breast cancer

Without treatment, more than 40 percent of precancerous breast lesions could develop into invasive breast cancer.

But what if scientists could more accurately predict which lesions are likely to become cancerous, or better yet, provide women a way to prevent the lesions from forming in the first place?

Dr. Saori Furuta, front left, received a $792,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to study precancerous breast lesions with her team, from left, Dr. Xunzhen Zheng, postdoctoral researcher;
Dr. Gang Ren, graduate student in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics; Matthew Bommarito, research technician; and Joshua Letson and Yashna Walia, graduate research assistants.

Dr. Saori Furuta, assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, believes that might be within reach.

Furuta has spent years exploring the role nitric oxide plays in the development of precancerous lesions. Nitric oxide is a signaling molecule produced throughout the body, and abnormal levels of it in mammary cells has been implicated in the formation of early-stage cancer.

Now Furuta is investigating how nitric oxide, in its proper concentration, can suppress tumors from forming, and whether its abnormal concentrations might be able to be used as a biomarker that identifies women with or at risk of developing early-stage cancer.

“We have made great progress in diagnosing and treating breast cancer, but it remains a lethal disease. One in eight women will get breast cancer during her lifetime, making it the second leading cause of cancer death among women,” Furuta said. “The hope is that this study will not only advance our understanding of the cause of breast cancer, but also contribute to the development of new approaches to prevention and early detection methods. Taken together, those methods could save lives.”

Furuta’s research is being funded by a multi-year $795,000 research grant from the American Cancer Society. The study was one of 74 funded earlier this year by the American Cancer Society across the United States.

“Dr. Furuta’s goal in finding the causes of precancerous lesions could further the progress in breast cancer prevention and treatment, helping to save lives,” said Sarah Wells, executive director of the Northern Ohio American Cancer Society. “This new research grant at The University of Toledo is just one example of how the American Cancer Society is leading the fight against cancer with the support of our local community and partners.”

Furuta has already examined the link between abnormal — too high or too low — levels of nitric oxide and mammary tumor formation. This research will take that prior work a step further by investigating the mechanisms by which a normal level serves to protect breast cells.

To do that, Furuta’s lab will use a mouse model in which tumor-promoting genes have been altered so they would not be affected by nitric oxide. Researchers will be able to test whether those specific genes produce mammary tumors, similar to how they do when nitric oxide levels are abnormal.

Lab tests also will be conducted on normal human breast tissue, as well as tissue from different stages of cancer to determine how the level of nitric oxide changes as cancer develops and progresses.

“Ultimately, we want to test whether proteins secreted in the blood and urine are also modified by nitric oxide and whether such analyses could be utilized in biological tests to diagnose breast cancer,” Furuta said. “Since there is no such diagnostic test available for many types of cancers, this would be a breakthrough.”

The grant from the American Cancer Society was preceded by an anonymous $50,000 gift from one of the members of The University of Toledo Medical Research Society to begin preliminary research.

“Utilizing the donation, we finished some of the critical experiments and re-sent our proposal,” Furuta said. “Without the generous support, this would have been impossible.”

UT research looks at fiber as a trigger and cure for inflammatory bowel disease

New research from The University of Toledo’s College of Medicine and Life Sciences may give patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease a better roadmap for managing their symptoms by changing the type of fiber they eat during flare-ups.

Because there’s no cure for the chronic condition, patients living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — the two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — often rely on anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive drugs and careful diet planning to manage their symptoms, said Dr. Matam Vijay-Kumar, the senior author on the study and director of the UT Microbiome Consortium and associate professor in the UT Department of Physiology and Pharmacology.

Research conducted by Dr. Vishal Singh suggests foods high in the dietary fiber pectin, found in apples and extractable from orange peels, may help individuals with inflammatory bowel disease.

But even that can seem like guesswork.

“IBD can be a debilitating condition and its prevalence is on the rise. For IBD patients, there has been a puzzling question of why they report poor tolerance to certain types of dietary fibers,” said Dr. Vishal Singh, a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Fellow mentored by Vijay-Kumar at UT.

“For healthy people, dietary fibers are good,” he said. “But when it comes to the IBD patients, not all-natural fibers are created equal; thus, their metabolism is distinct. We wanted to understand why.”

In a study published last month in the gastroenterology journal Gut, a team of UT researchers demonstrated a diet rich in pectin or pectin-derived fibers may be a better alternative to the prevailing dietary fiber guidelines aimed at helping patients improve their IBD symptoms.

The study also confirmed that inulin and inulin-like fiber exacerbated colitis in lab mice.

Inulin and pectin are two of the most common refined fibers added to processed foods as a way to add texture and boost their health appeal. Both are indigestible soluble fibers, Vijay-Kumar said, but they require different bacterial enzymes to be broken down in the gut into short-chain fatty acids.
“Many patients try to avoid fiber,” said Singh, the study’s first author. “However, the research shows it’s not about reducing fiber in general, but getting the right kind into your system.”

Singh and his fellow researchers said the finding could assist patients in developing a better diet for managing or preventing flare-ups.

“Following strict dietary guidelines is not new for IBD patients. Physicians often recommend patients limit or avoid a group of foods that contain fermentable carbohydrates, commonly known as the low-FODMAP diet,” Vijay-Kumar said. “Pectin is not included in that diet, but our research shows it brings a clear benefit.”

The study was supported by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

In the study, researchers examined the role played by bacteria that naturally reside in the gut. They demonstrated that inulin promoted accelerated growth of one particular harmful bacterial strain, while pectin did not.

They also found that a brief period of fasting may boost the body’s production of a physiological inflammation inhibitor that can protect against the inflammatory reaction caused by the gut bacteria processing inulin.

“For me, this study connects very well from bench to bedside,” Singh said. “If an IBD patient is noticing complications after eating some type of food, they can look to see if it is rich in inulin or inulin-type fibers. If it is, they can switch to foods enriched with pectin.”

Pectin is found naturally in a variety of foods, including apples. It also can be derived from other natural sources, such as orange peels, and used as a food additive.

Though the study looked only at pectin and inulin, the team hopes to conduct similar studies on a wide variety of dietary fibers present in processed foods with the goal of learning more about how different types of fiber cause or reduce colonic inflammation.

UT scientists advance new technology to protect drinking water from Lake Erie algal toxins

Before the 2014 Toledo Water Crisis left half a million residents without safe drinking water for three days, Dr. Jason Huntley’s research at The University of Toledo focused on bacteria that cause pneumonia.

After the harmful algal bloom prompted the city of Toledo’s “Do Not Drink” advisory, the microbiologist expanded his research projects to target microcystin.

Huntley

“I live here, and I have a young son,” said Huntley, associate professor in the UT Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “I don’t want toxins in the water, and I am committed to helping the water treatment plant protect the public.”

Huntley’s research lab recently made major progress in his mission to create a biofilter that uses naturally occurring Lake Erie bacteria to remove microcystin released by harmful algal blooms from drinking water, reducing or eliminating the use of chlorine and other chemicals.

“We’ve identified groups of bacteria in Lake Erie that can be used to naturally purify water. To our knowledge, these bacteria have not been previously used to fight harmful algal blooms in other parts of the world,” Huntley said.

The microbiologists successfully isolated bacteria from Lake Erie that degrade the microcystin toxin known as MC-LR — the most toxic, most common and most closely linked to liver cancer and other diseases — at a daily rate of up to 19 parts per billion (ppb).

Water analysts and toxicologists measure microcystin and other contaminants using the metric of ppb; one ppb is one part in 1 billion. These ppb numbers are important for human health because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that young children not drink water containing more than 0.3 ppb of microcystin and adults not drink water containing more than 1.6 ppb of microcystin.

“The bacteria we’ve identified can degrade much more toxin than was reported in the 2014 water crisis,” Huntley said. “Based on recorded toxin levels in Lake Erie in recent years, these rates would be able to effectively remove microcystin from water supplies.”

None of the 13 microcystin-degrading bacterial isolates has been associated with human disease, so their use in future water-purifying biofilters is unlikely to be a public health concern. The identified bacteria are Flectobacillus major, Pseudomonas lutea, Agrobacterium albertimagni, Leadbetterella byssophila, Pseudomonas putida, Flectobacillus major, Pseudomonas hunanensis, Runella slithyformis, Porphyrobacter sp., Pseudomonas parafulva, Sphingobium yanoikuyae, Pseudomonas fluorescens and Sphingobium yanoikuyae.

The research is published in the February issue of the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Researchers in Australia, China and other countries also have identified bacteria that can chew up and break down microcystin from algal blooms; however, Huntley said those specific types of bacteria were not found in any of his Lake Erie studies.

The lab-scale biofilters used during Dr. Jason Huntley’s research are sand filters that contain biologically active bacteria that break down microcystin toxins.

Thirteen water samples used for the study were collected from visible algal blooms in the summers of 2014 and 2015 in the western basin of Lake Erie. The scientists added MC-LR to each water sample every three to four days for approximately four weeks, alongside a control group that did not receive additional MC-LR.

The lab used multiple approaches to confirm the microcystin degradation results, including mass spectrometry and the ELISA test, which is the standard method water treatment plant operators use to measure microcystin concentration during algal bloom season.

His lab is now in the process of identifying the enzymatic pathways the bacteria use to break down microcystin.

Currently, municipal water treatment plants remove or degrade microcystin using methods such as chlorination, ozonation, activated carbon adsorption and flocculation.

“Those techniques are not ideal because of high costs, limited removal efficiencies, and they lead to the production of harmful byproducts or hazardous waste,” Huntley said. “Biofilters are a cost-effective and safe alternative to the use of chemicals and other conventional water treatment practices.”

“We’re very excited about the research and the findings,” said Andrew McClure, administrator for the city of Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant. “We’ve had preliminary talks with Dr. Huntley about ways we can implement it as a treatment technique in our plant’s process.”

Huntley’s team is developing and testing biofilters — water filters containing the specialized bacteria that degrade microcystin toxins from lake water as it flows through the filter. Huntley holds a provisional patent on this technology.

The research was supported by grants from the Ohio Department of Higher Education through the state’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, which consists of 54 science teams at universities across the state seeking solutions to address toxic algae in Lake Erie.

“This is another great example of how Ohio Department of Higher Education-funded research is producing solutions that directly benefit Ohio EPA and those water treatment plant operators responsible for managing our drinking water,” said Dr. Chris Winslow, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory at Ohio State University.

Research integrity officer named

Dr. Debra Boardley, professor in the School of Population Health, has been appointed as the research integrity officer for The University of Toledo.

Boardley has experience in research integrity issues, having served as a member of the University Research Council and as a member of both research misconduct inquiry and investigation committees.

Boardley

She is an expert in food and nutrition behavior, and is particularly concerned about local food issues, including nutrition needs of older adults, children and women.

A registered and licensed dietitian, Boardley holds a master of health science degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD from the University of South Carolina.

Boardley will take over duties from Dr. Wayne Hoss, who came back after retiring from his position as associate dean in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, to serve the University on an interim basis as the research integrity officer. Hoss will still see cases started under his watch through conclusion, with a transition of new cases to Boardley.

“I am pleased that Dr. Boardley is willing to bring her talent and energy to a demanding position at the University that is so important to maintaining our commitment to integrity in research and scholarship,” Dr. Frank Calzonetti, UT vice president for research, said.

Calzonetti thanked Hoss for his service, which included helping to draft a new research misconduct policy.

History scholar awarded fellowship to write book about female plantation owner during American Revolution

A history scholar at The University of Toledo has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) that will allow her to spend the 2019-20 academic year writing the history of Mary Willing Byrd, one of the few women who ran a large plantation in the early American South.

Dr. Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch, associate professor and chair of the UT Department of History, will use the fellowship to complete her book, “The World of Westover: Mary Willing Byrd, Gender, Slavery, and the Economics of Citizenship in Revolutionary Virginia.”

Pflugrad-Jackisch

“I was shocked I had never heard of this woman when I first learned her name about 10 years ago, so I am excited by this opportunity to write an extensive study about her life,” Pflugrad-Jackisch said. “Mary Willing Byrd explodes a lot of myths about Southern white women during the revolutionary era. She’s not your typical Southern belle. Byrd believed that she was entitled to the same citizenship rights as white male property owners in the new republic, and she pushed to try and secure these rights for herself.”

Determined to track down and shine a light on Byrd’s story, Pflugrad-Jackisch spent nearly a decade unearthing a paper trail of letters, court cases, and property records and records. Her archival quest took her to Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Michigan.

“There is a stereotype that women slaveholders were more compassionate toward their slaves than men were, but women could be just as brutal as men could be,” Pflugrad-Jackisch said. “Mary Willing Byrd is a fascinating example. A wealthy widow, she ran the Westover plantation for 37 years and was able to pay off the estate’s enormous debts left by her late husband William Byrd III by using slave labor to make her plantation profitable.”

Pflugrad-Jackisch received one of 84 fellowships announced by the NEH totaling $4.6 million. The NEH, an independent federal agency created in 1965, works to serve and strengthen the country and convey the lessons of history by awarding grants for top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers.

“These new NEH grants represent the humanities at its most vital and creative,” Jon Parrish Peede, NEH chairman, said. “These projects will shed new light on age-old questions, safeguard our cultural heritage, and expand educational opportunities in classrooms nationwide.”

“We are extremely proud of Dr. Pflugrad-Jackisch’s award. This prestigious national fellowship was awarded to only 7 percent of the applicants,” Charlene Gilbert, dean of the UT College of Arts and Letters, said. “Her success is a testament to her brilliant scholarship and dedication to her research.”

In her manuscript, Pflugrad-Jackisch makes use of Byrd’s correspondence to Thomas Jefferson and high-ranking military officials during the Revolutionary War, including the Marquis de Lafayette. These letters demand the return of escaped slaves and compensation for property lost when the British army under the command of the traitor Benedict Arnold raided her plantation along the James River, damaging all of her farming equipment.

“This research has been quite tedious because Byrd’s information is often catalogued in archives under the names of men, not her own name, or placed unlabeled in the ‘miscellaneous’ folders. She has a letter in the collection of Thomas Jefferson’s papers, but you have to know it is there to go look for it,” Pflugrad-Jackisch said. “You have to physically go and dig through boxes of male relatives’ business records because Byrd is unlisted. You wouldn’t know they were there. I found 33 of Byrd’s letters in a collection marked ‘Willing Family Business Records’ that only listed the names of her brothers and nephews.”

In her role as manager of Westover plantation, Byrd directed the labor of more than 100 slaves; supervised the plantation’s overseers; sold wheat, barley, corn and tobacco crops; and fended off her late husband’s creditors in court. Her interactions with the state, military and market were out of the ordinary for a woman during that tumultuous time of upheaval.

“Byrd’s world provides scaffolding and a framework for the broader complexities of this era, bundling together the challenges of establishing credit, political loyalty, motherhood and slave management, themes that historians usually explore separately,” Pflugrad-Jackisch said. “This project examines how the remaking of Virginia’s legal, economic and cultural institutions during and after the war laid the foundation for the construction of gendered and racial hierarchies that would come to define women’s citizenship by the beginning of the 19th century.”

Pflugrad-Jackisch’s first book, “Brothers of a Vow: Secret Fraternal Organizations and the Transformation of White Male Culture in Antebellum Virginia,” was published in 2010 by the University of Georgia Press.

Doctoral student receives American Heart Association fellowship award

A University of Toledo graduate student has been awarded a highly competitive predoctoral fellowship grant from the American Heart Association.

Hannah Saternos is in her third year of the Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics PhD Program in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The two-year, $53,866 grant, which began Jan. 1, will take her through the completion of her doctoral degree.

Saternos, left, and AbouAlaiwi

Dr. Wissam AbouAlaiwi, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, said Saternos is an exceptionally bright and dedicated student.

“To bring $54,000 at the predoctoral level is impressive,” AbouAlaiwi said. “Usually students come to the lab, perform their research project, and leave with a decent research experience. For Hannah, it’s more like a major career step. She is a student, she’s taking care of her research — but she’s also training other students, organizing the lab, ordering supplies, and writing grants. She has a very promising future in this field.”

Saternos’ grant application scored in the top 11th percentile, with one reviewer noting she is already “arguably equal to an early to mid-stage postdoctoral fellow in scientific and networking skills.”

The American Heart Association funds 100 to 130 predoctoral fellowships annually.

Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Saternos received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of Toledo. She joined AbouAlaiwi’s lab in 2014 and has since published eight research papers.

The primary focus of Saternos’ work is on cilia, hair-like antenna structures that extend from human cells, and the potential role they may play in blood pressure and polycystic kidney disease. She was the first to discover that cilia contain a certain family of receptors and is now investigating whether it might be possible to link and target the receptors as a treatment for those conditions.

AbouAlaiwi said other researchers already have clinically tested drugs that target those receptors elsewhere in the body for treating other disorders.

“If these drugs have proven to be beneficial for polycystic kidney disease or hypertension, you will save a lot of time during the clinical trial periods as you do not have to go through all the safety testing procedure again. Those steps have already been done,” he said. “I think that’s what drew the attention of the American Heart Association to fund this project because it’s a novel idea and it could have an impact on cardiovascular disease in the future.”

There is currently no effective cure or treatment for polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys and elsewhere. Ultimately, it can lead to kidney failure.

AbouAlaiwi and Saternos each received grants from the American Heart Association in 2016 to support their work. Read the UT News story about those awards.

Saternos sees her fellowship award as validation that she’s on track for meeting her professional goal of being a research professor in cardiovascular therapeutics.

“I’m naturally curious, and I instantly fell in love with the research project and the lab. Every day I’m excited to be here,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to have my own lab, and getting this award encourages me that dream is realistic. I want to find something I’m passionate about and continue to jump down these rabbit holes. I’m never going to work a day in my life. I genuinely love this.”