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UT professor honored for technology commercialization efforts

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

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

Goel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Our team found that high salt consumption lowered levels of circulating beta hydroxybutyrate. When we put beta hydroxybutyrate back in the system, normal blood pressure is restored,” said Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of UT’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and director of the Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine. “We have an opportunity to control salt-sensitive hypertension without exercising.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UT study details link between social media and sex trafficking

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

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

Williamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• “Nobody gets me.”

• “I am so sick of being single.”

• “I am so ugly.”

• “How do I look?”

• “My life sucks.”

• “She’s not my true friend.”

• “My parents don’t trust me.”

• “I’m being treated like a kid.”

• “I need to get out of here.”

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

A trafficker’s strategic response includes:

• “I understand you.”

• “I love you.”

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

• “I’ll make your life better.”

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

• “I’ll protect you.”

• “I’ll make you successful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internetsafety101.org/internetpredators;

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

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

Netnanny.com; and

Safekids.com/quiz.

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

Click here to read the full study.

Two UT faculty members honored by American Chemical Society

Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich and Dr. Paul Erhardt were recognized at the American Chemical Society’s fall national meeting last month in Boston.

Bryant-Friedrich, interim dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, was named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society, and Erhardt, Distinguished University Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, was inducted into the American Chemical Society Medicinal Chemistry Division Hall of Fame.

Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, center, posed for a photo with Gurdat Premnauth, UT alumnus who received a master of science degree in chemistry in 2016, left, and Immaculate Sappy, a PhD candidate in the UT Department of Medicinal Chemistry, at the American Chemical Society’s fall national meeting last month in Boston. Bryant-Friedrich was named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society.

The American Chemical Society Fellow designation is awarded to a member who has made exceptional contributions to the science or profession and has provided excellent volunteer service to the community.

Bryant-Friedrich joined the University in 2007 as an associate professor in medicinal and biological chemistry in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. In 2016, she was appointed dean of the College of Graduate Studies, and on Sept. 1, she was named interim dean of the College of Pharmacy. She is vice provost for graduate affairs, professor of medicinal and biological chemistry, and director of the University’s Shimazdu Laboratory for Pharmaceutical Research Excellence.

She received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at North Carolina Central University, a master’s degree in chemistry from Duke University, and a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry from Ruprecht-Karls Universität in Germany. In addition, she conducted postdoctoral studies at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“After spending several years at an undergraduate-serving institution, I decided that having a larger research focus would allow me to offer more students opportunities,” Bryant-Friedrich said. “The University of Toledo has a research and teaching mission aligned with my interest as well as a globally diverse student body. When offered the opportunity to join this community, I couldn’t say no.”

Her research interests include modified nucleic acids; biomarkers; DNA and RNA damage; photochemistry; mass spectrometry; ionizing radiation; and women in science.

“It is important to me to remain active as a researcher to continue to provide training and research opportunities for students from around the world and right here in northwest Ohio,” said Bryant-Friedrich, one of 12 women named a Fellow this year. “So many questions still remain about the origins of disease, and I hope to continue to contribute to our understanding of the root of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s while searching for new treatments for viral infection.”

Dr. Paul Erhardt, right, received a plaque from Dr. Paul Ornstein, chair of the American Chemical Society Medicinal Chemistry Division, during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony last month in Boston.

Erhardt has been a member of the UT faculty for 25 years. He is director of the Center for Drug Design and Development, which promotes health-related interdisciplinary research programs and facilitates collaborations between the academic and private sectors so useful technologies can be matured and delivered to the marketplace to benefit the public.

He has been a member of the American Chemical Society for nearly 50 years. His early career began in the private sector, first at American Critical Care Labs and then at Berlex Laboratories, where he rose to the rank of assistant director of research and global development. After 20 years, he transitioned to academia and joined The University of Toledo with a desire to share his knowledge and research skills with students.

The American Chemical Society Division of Medical Chemistry Hall of Fame inducts those who have made outstanding contributions to medicinal chemistry through research, teaching and/or division service.

“With regard to the hall of fame award, I am enormously proud as this is the highest acknowledgement that can be bestowed within my chosen field of endeavor,” Erhardt said.

He received a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry and doctorate in medicinal chemistry from the University of Minnesota. He did postdoctoral studies in drug metabolism while at the University of Texas at Austin.

Erhardt is well-known for the pioneering discovery and development of esmolol, a soft drug used in emergency settings that continues to save numerous lives on a daily basis around the globe. He has written more than 125 publications and received more than 50 U.S. patents.

He has been an active member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, where he served as president of Division VII Chemistry and Human Health.

“I plan to retire and assume an emeritus position where I can continue to pursue research,” Erhardt said. “One hobby project that I have never had time for is to establish a human drug metabolism database on the internet akin to the protein database that can be used by all investigators across the globe who are interested in such a topic.”

Breakthrough research at UT shows promise in treating drug-resistant form of deadly breast cancer

A University of Toledo cancer researcher has received nearly $450,000 in grant funding from Susan G. Komen Northwest Ohio to continue his research into triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease that frequently develops resistance to existing chemotherapies.

Dr. Amit K. Tiwari, an assistant professor in UT’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences who specializes in investigating multidrug resistant cancers, recently identified a new chemotherapy drug that is showing promise in curing triple negative breast cancer, even in cases where patients have developed resistance to conventional chemotherapy.

Tiwari

“Poor prognosis in most triple negative breast cancer cases is due to development of drug resistance. Once patients develop resistance to one chemotherapy, they stop responding to any other chemotherapy. Resistant triple negative breast cancer results in metastasis, diminishing patient survival time to less than a year,” Tiwari said. “These new drugs are unique. Not only are they showing promise in destroying triple negative breast cancer cells, but even if the disease gets to the stage of drug resistance, it is reversing the resistance and making it more sensitive to traditional chemotherapy.”

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for between 15 percent to 20 percent of all breast cancer cases. Treatment is difficult because the cancer does not respond to hormonal therapies or therapies that target HER2 receptors — common methods of treating other breast cancers.

But what makes the disease especially deadly is that the patient often develops resistance to currently available chemotherapy drugs.

“The goal of my research has been to understand why these patients end up getting drug resistance and how we can stop it,” Tiwari said.

His research led him to targeting the cancer cells in a nonconventional way, which has proven both successful in treating the disease and in reversing drug resistance. The new treatment, which has been lab-tested on human breast cancer models, has been provisionally patented by UT.

With the three-year grant from Susan G. Komen Northwest Ohio, Tiwari and his team of researchers at The University of Toledo will be able to continue development and research of the new drugs and move their work closer to clinical trials.

“We are so thankful for the friends, family and neighbors that fight alongside us, helping to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths in Ohio, both on the ground and through research,” said Mary Westphal, executive director of Susan G. Komen Northwest Ohio. “As we celebrate 25 years of impact in northwest Ohio, we are so pleased to be able to award this grant to our partners at The University of Toledo.”

“The University of Toledo is a long-standing partner of Komen Northwest Ohio, receiving funding to support community health programming and advance scientific research for a number of years,” UT Vice President for Research Frank Calzonetti said. “Dr. Tiwari’s efforts to develop new treatments for the most aggressive form of breast cancer is the latest example of how our talented faculty experts are advancing knowledge that impacts our community.”

Triple negative breast cancer patients currently have a poor five-year survival prognosis; however, Tiwari said those who do make it to the five-year mark have a good long-term prognosis. If the new treatment is proven to be as promising as the initial research suggests, Tiwari said it could be a major breakthrough toward curing triple negative breast cancer.

“This actually brings a lot of hope,” Tiwari said.

UT research award dollars reach five-year high

The University of Toledo researchers brought in $27.1 million in new grants to fund research during the 2018 fiscal year, contributing to a five-year high in external research funding.

When combining the 39.5 percent increase in new awards compared to 2017 with renewal grants awarded to continue progress on previously funded projects, the total amount of grants awarded to UT in 2018 climbed to $46.6 million, an increase of 21 percent compared to the previous year.

“Our research portfolio is growing,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “The University’s faculty members are leaders in their academic disciplines who are making important advancements in their field of study and helping UT achieve national research prominence.”

The number of grants jumped 15 percent in fiscal year 2018, from 282 in 2017 to 326. Of those, the number of new awards increased 11 percent, from 163 to 182.

“My office has seen grant awards increase across the entire campus in a wide range of disciplines, showing a strong faculty response in supporting the University’s commitment to building research,” Vice President for Research Frank Calzonetti said. “I am particularly impressed by the number of new awards, compared to awards to continue previously funded projects. These new awards are mostly for projects that have met agency merit review criteria and have a higher probability of future funding.”

Federal awards in 2018 include:

• $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to Dr. Sridhar Viamajala, professor in the UT Department of Chemical Engineering, for a project titled “A Comprehensive Strategy for Stable, High Productivity Cultivation of Microalgae With Controllable Biomass Composition”;

• $1.8 million from the Air Force Research Laboratory to Dr. Randy Ellingson, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, for a project titled “Ultra-High Efficiency and Lightweight Thin-Film Photovoltaic Electricity for Portable, On-Demand Power for Defense Applications”; and

• $438,172 from the National Institutes of Health to Dr. Heather Conti, assistant professor in the UT Department of Biological Sciences, for a project titled “Novel Role for B-Defensin 3 in the Regulation of Innate Lymphocytes and Oral Mucosal Immune Responses.”

For more information about UT’s research enterprise, visit utoledo.edu/research.

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.