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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.


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.


“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.


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.”


“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.”

UT’s ‘Beer Professor’ to give keynote address at 10th annual Wisconsin Hop Seminar

The hop crop is a hot topic as the craft brewing industry’s thirst for new, locally grown flavors and aromas powers how and where farmers grow the key ingredient in beer.

“The incredible rise of the craft beer industry over the past decade changed and propelled the hop industry, particularly leading to new, experimental markets in the Great Lakes region,” said Dr. Neil Reid, professor of geography and planning at The University of Toledo, who is affectionately known as the “Beer Professor.” “With 810 acres dedicated to farming hop plants, Michigan is now the largest hop producer in the country outside the Pacific Northwest.”

Dr. Neil Reid, professor of geography and planning, will talk about the craft beer revolution at the Wisconsin Hop Seminar in February.

Reid, who is teaching a new class this semester at UT titled The Geography of Beer and Brewing, will speak about the impact of the craft beer revolution on the American hops industry at the 10th annual Wisconsin Hop Seminar hosted by University of Wisconsin-Extension on Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Hillsboro Brewing Co., located at 815 Water St. in Hillsboro, Wis. The deadline to register is Thursday, Feb. 7.

The event connects craft beer brewers, such as the brew masters for New Glarus Brewing Co. and South Shore Brewing, with hop growers and University of Wisconsin experts in a variety of fields, including plant pathology and breeding.

“We want to focus on the relationship between the brewers and the growers because it is necessary for the small industry to succeed,” Carl Duley, Buffalo County agricultural agent for the University of Wisconsin-Extension, said. “Michigan has grown a lot faster than we have when it comes to hops production. In 2017, about 300 acres of land in Wisconsin was devoted to hops farming. That’s up from nearly nothing 10 years ago. It’s exciting to see the supply side of the business evolve.”

Reid is an expert on the craft brewing industry and its economic geography. His research is focused on the industry’s growth in the United States and its potential role in helping to revitalize neighborhood economies.

“Craft brewers demand locally grown hops, experiment with different varieties of hops, and use more hops in beer production compared to mass-produced beers,” Reid said. “For example, an Imperial IPA [India pale ale] uses four pounds of hops per keg. A Pilsner, like Budweiser, uses 0.3 pounds of hops per keg.”


The volume of craft beer sales increased nationwide in 2017 to 12.7 percent of total U.S. beer sales, but more than 23 percent of the $111.4 billion U.S. beer market, according to the Brewers Association.

“A bigger share of money is being spent on craft beer,” Reid said. “The way these small, independently owned brewers are collectively challenging Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing is part of the local foods movement. And farmers in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — as well as 23 other states — are starting to see this as an opportunity to diversify and meet the demand.”

Reid said the hops farms in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin are small compared to ones in Washington, Idaho or Oregon that together grow 95 percent of all hops in the country.

While four ingredients go into making beer — hops, barley, water and yeast — hops have grabbed most of the attention of consumers since its flavor and aroma are dominant.

Until around 2011, farmers in the Pacific Northwest mostly focused on alpha hop varieties that are used to give mass-produced beers like Budweiser and Miller Lite their bitterness. Instead of alpha, independent brewers want aroma hops that give beer flavors such as orange or fragrances like pine, and dual-purpose hops that are a hybrid of aromatic and bittering hops.

“In the last 10 years, alpha hop production in Washington dropped from 73 percent down to 26 percent of hops produced,” Reid said. “Craft brewers are driving the change to aroma and dual-purpose hops.”

As mass-beer makers focus on consistency so each bottle tastes the same, Reid said craft brewers enjoy creativity using different combinations of more than 125 varieties of hops, including Citra, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and Mosaic.

To learn more about the evolving appetite of craft beer drinkers and the experimentation of craft brewers, tap into Reid’s blog about the beer industry at thebeerprofessor.com.

UPDATED: UT Lake Erie Center Jan. 17 talk canceled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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