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UT researcher receives grant to study male infertility

In approximately 40 percent of infertile couples, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributing factor of infertility. Of these cases, only half can be attributed to an identifiable reason.

A University of Toledo biologist hopes to learn more about what causes infertility in men with support from a National Institutes of Health grant.



The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has awarded Dr. Tomer Avidor-Reiss, UT associate professor of biological sciences, a two-year $147,500 grant to support his research titled “A Genome-wide Drosophila RNAi Screen for Regulators of Centrosome Reduction.”

The study’s outcomes are expected to advance the understanding of how and why centrosomal proteins decrease during sperm formation. Those centrosomal proteins are specialized subunits within an animal cell that serve as the main microtubule organizing center and regulate the division and duplication of DNA.

“Infertility is a problem for one in eight couples. Often we see sperm cells that look normal, but when they fertilize the egg, there are abnormalities in the embryo,” Avidor-Reiss said. “This study has provided the first insight into a molecular mechanism that regulates centrosome reduction and the first direct evidence this process is essential for post-fertilization embryonic development.”

“Once again The University of Toledo is the recipient of research grants for breakthrough discoveries,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. “This time it’s for the challenge of identifying contributing factors for male infertility, early stage miscarriages and developmental diseases, and, hopefully, finding new treatments.” 

Kaptur is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, which has oversight over the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

UT to give back to community through Big Event Aug. 28

Hundreds of students along with faculty and staff from The University of Toledo will lend a hand to do some good throughout the city Sunday, Aug. 28.

The volunteers will spread out across the community and spend the day raking, pulling weeds, painting, picking up garbage, washing windows and more at parks, residential homes, businesses and UT’s campuses.

Alpha Xi Delta and Pi Kappa Alpha, a social sorority and fraternity, teamed up to clean up a local garden for the Big Event last spring.

Alpha Xi Delta and Pi Kappa Alpha, a social sorority and fraternity, teamed up to clean up a local garden for the Big Event last spring.

The annual Big Event is the largest single-day community service event completed by UT students in the Toledo area.

“The Big Event is a great way to give back to Toledoans and businesses who do so much to support us throughout the year,” Joseph Leech, UT engineering student and director of this year’s event, said. “As we start our fall semester, we are enthusiastic to do something special and show we intend to make positive contributions to the city.”

This year’s Big Event will feature a new kickoff called Paint Your Pride.

Students will meet at 10 a.m. at the Student Recreation Center on Main Campus and use stencils to paint the Rocket insignia across campus.

“We are creating a new tradition,” Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said.

Several of the Big Event project locations across the city include:

• Bancroft Hills, the neighborhood just east of UT Main Campus between Bancroft Street and Dorr Street, and between St. Francis de Sales High School and Westwood Avenue, from noon to 2 p.m.

• Wildwood Preserve Metropark from noon to 2 p.m.

• UT Main Campus along the Ottawa River from noon to 2 p.m.

The next Big Event is scheduled for March 25, 2017, when students will again give back to UT’s neighbors.

“We will also be doing several Service Saturdays throughout school year,” Leech said.

Engineers awarded $175,000 grant to develop program for cybermanufacturing of micro-electro-mechanical systems

The National Science Foundation awarded a pair of engineering professors at The University of Toledo a $175,000 grant to design a program to manufacture micro-electro-mechanical systems on the Internet.

Micro-electro-mechanical systems, called MEMS, have tiny moving parts and are used in cell phones, vehicle airbags and other consumer electronic products. For example, these devices are what cause the screen on a tablet or smartphone to rotate automatically from portrait view to landscape.

College of Engineering LogoDr. Vijaya Kumar Devabhaktuni, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Dr. Daniel Georgiev, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will lead the project titled “CloudMEMS: Cybermanufacturing of Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems” to develop a web-based, low-cost program to design micro-electro-mechanical systems, which will allow entrepreneurs and researchers to more efficiently prototype their designs.

Devabhaktuni and Georgiev will collaborate on this project with Norfolk State University and the University of Dayton researchers who have been awarded $100,000 and $225,000. Overall, the National Science Foundation invested a total of $500,000 in this collaborative project.

According to the award, “The CloudMEMS platform will be made accessible via the Internet to bridge the cyber and manufacturing domains, thereby promoting leadership in the U.S. in cyber-driven microsystems and manufacturing.”

This three-year grant is one of five UT research projects to recently receive federal funds from the National Science Foundation totaling $375,000 in the fields of cybersecurity, advanced materials manufacturing, smart grid technology and three-dimensional cell culture.

“These funds will allow the top researchers at The University of Toledo to focus on developing breakthrough discoveries that will likely spur private-sector economic growth from new products and services for the automotive and aerospace sectors, cybersecurity and agriculture,” Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur said. “There are exciting things happening at The University of Toledo.”

Register for Wound and Hyperbaric Symposium

Members of the medical community are invited to participate in this year’s Wound and Hyperbaric Symposium Friday, Sept. 16, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kalahari NIA Convention Center in Sandusky, Ohio.

Presented by the UT Division of Vascular/Endovascular and Wound Surgery, the symposium will emphasize the new advances in wound healing and management of biofilm. It will provide health-care professionals the opportunity to advance their knowledge on comprehensive wound assessment and documentation, the economic impact of lower extremity wounds, the role of physical therapist in wound care, and designing a wound team. There also will be several panel discussions with question-and-answer sessions.

wound symposium webThe cost to attend “The Art of Healing” for health-care providers is $90, which includes registration, breakfast/lunch and credit.

The deadline for registration is Friday, Sept. 2; there will be no guarantee of availability after that date. Online registration is encouraged at cme.utoledo.edu.

No syllabus will be provided at the event, but it will be available to view or print online one week prior to the symposium.

For more information, call the UT Center for Continuing Medical Education at 419.383.4237.

Professor’s anatomy series to be translated for international audience

A series of anatomy books written by Dr. Ben Pansky, professor emeritus in the Department of Surgery in the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences, will be published in multiple languages and distributed worldwide this year.

Lippincott’s Concise Illustrated Anatomy is a series of three volumes presenting human gross anatomy in full digital color and providing clinical considerations for each region of the body. Featured in the series are Back, Upper Limb and Lower Limb; Thorax, Abdomen and Pelvis; and Head and Neck.



The books contain numerous illustrations based on Pansky’s original drawings.

First published in English in 2013, the series is co-authored by Dr. Thomas R. Gest and will be translated to Spanish, Chinese, Turkish, Greek and Japanese starting this year.

“I was thrilled to hear the books would be used by students and physicians in other countries,” Pansky said. “I am pleased to know The University of Toledo will be recognized internationally through these books.”

Pansky also is the author of numerous books including Gross Anatomy, now in its sixth edition, Embryology and Neuroscience. His work has been widely adopted in medical schools in the United States and around the world and is considered authoritative texts in their respective fields of study. He said he is approached frequently by physicians who thank him for his work.

“They will stop me to say they have the books in their libraries and reference them often. It’s satisfying to know what started as a hobby has made a difference for these physicians,” Pansky said.

Pansky began his career as an associate professor at New York Medical College, where he taught and conducted research. He then continued as a professor of anatomy with the first class at the Medical College of Ohio in 1970. In the evenings, he would work on the books, writing and drawing the structures of the body in pen and ink in exacting detail. Those drawings would later serve as the illustrations for his books.

“Over time, color has been added to the drawings and, with today’s technology, my drawings have been converted to full-color digital renderings for this series,” he said.

His medical illustration talents also were an intriguing feature of his lectures.

“I would tell students to put down their pens and just listen and watch,” Pansky said. “Then I would take them on a tour of a part of the body by drawing it on the chalkboard in three dimensions with fluorescent chalk under UV lighting. We would discuss each structure as the image took shape and relate it to the clinical perspective. I think they learned better that way.”

In addition to his books and anatomy lectures, Pansky helped to organize the anatomy and nursing departmental courses and conducted research in diabetes and immunology. He was one of the first professors to receive the University’s Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence and has received 11 of them since that time.

Crews clean up University Hall flooding

A ruptured steam line in an office on the sixth floor of University Hall set off the fire suppression system Monday evening causing flooding to that area.

No classrooms were impacted by the flooding, which also extended to the fifth and fourth floors of the building; however, a number of office areas were damaged.

Crews with the University worked throughout the evening and continue this morning to clean up the water damage.

Normal operations will continue today in University Hall.

UT medical faculty, students studying effects of algal bloom toxins on liver

A research team in The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences is taking an in-depth look at Lake Erie algal bloom toxins and the impact they can have on your liver.

“No one knows what safe limits are for a large segment of the public,” said Dr. David Kennedy, assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. “Previous studies only focused on healthy animals.”

Andrew Kleinhenz, biomedical research assistant, and Dalal Mahmoud, UT junior majoring in biology, thawed plasma samples from mouse blood for molecular analysis to measure liver damage.

Andrew Kleinhenz, biomedical research assistant, and Dalal Mahmoud, UT junior majoring in biology, thawed plasma samples from mouse blood for molecular analysis to measure liver damage.

During the heart of this algal bloom season, researchers are using mice as a model to study the impact of microcystin exposure on patients who have the most common and often undiagnosed form of liver disease that is tightly linked to obesity.

“Microcystin is a toxin that specifically targets the liver, a vital organ that needs to be healthy in order to process the food you eat,” Kennedy said. “And non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most prevalent type of liver disease nationally — particularly in northwest Ohio. Whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, a third of northwest Ohioans have this disease that is silent at first, but predisposes you to big problems down the road, such as the liver becoming scarred and inflamed.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity is a major risk factor for the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which causes the organ to swell with fat. Unchecked, the disease can lead to liver failure and the need for a transplant.

“There is a large population of people who may be susceptible to the effects of microcystin exposure, whether it’s swallowed while swimming at the beach or through the tap should toxic algae once again contaminate the public water supply,” said Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and co-leader of the project that began in the spring. “The Toledo water crisis inspired us to re-evaluate what levels we’re calling safe.”

Taking a closer look at how algal bloom toxins affect the liver are, from left, Dr. David Kennedy; Dr. Steven Haller; Dalal Mahmoud, junior undergraduate student; Aaron Tipton, second-year medical student; Erin Crawford, research assistant; Andrew Kleinhenz, research assistant; Dr. Fatimah Khalaf, second-year graduate student; Shungang Zhang, second-year graduate student; Dr. Paul M. Stemmer, associate professor and director of the Proteomics Facility at the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Wayne State University; and Dr. Johnna A. Birbeck, ‎senior research scientist at Wayne State University.

Taking a closer look at how algal bloom toxins affect the liver are, from left, Dr. David Kennedy; Dr. Steven Haller; Dalal Mahmoud, junior undergraduate student; Aaron Tipton, second-year medical student; Erin Crawford, research assistant; Andrew Kleinhenz, research assistant; Dr. Fatimah Khalaf, second-year graduate student; Shungang Zhang, second-year graduate student; Dr. Paul M. Stemmer, associate professor and director of the Proteomics Facility at the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Wayne State University; and Dr. Johnna A. Birbeck, ‎senior research scientist at Wayne State University.

Two years ago this month, the city of Toledo issued a Do Not Drink advisory for half a million water customers due to the level of microcystin detected in the drinking water.

The state awarded UT researchers a $45,000 grant, which is matched by the University, for the project to discover if a pre-existing liver disease makes a person more susceptible to damage from the toxin released by algal blooms.

The goal is to help inform local, state and international health organizations as they form guidelines for safe limits of exposure.

“By focusing on people who may be at risk, we feel we are doing something beneficial to protect them if, in fact, we detect a damaging connection where microcystin causes the liver disease to progress,” Haller said.

“A healthy animal wouldn’t produce symptoms of liver failure at this level of exposure,” Kennedy said.

Haller and Kennedy have enlisted the help of several UT students in their experiments that use a breed of mouse predisposed to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Second-year medical student Aaron Tipton helped develop the standards to measure liver function after injecting mice with low doses of microcystin through a tube in their stomachs over the course of a month.

“We developed that from scratch because a big issue that came to light during the water crisis is that the only validated way to measure microcystin is expensive and takes a long time,” Tipton said. “Our work is one of the many ways that University of Toledo researchers are attacking the water quality issue to protect our community.”

“I’m honored to be involved in water quality research that is so important for the health and safety of families not only in our community, but in other places across the world also affected by toxic algal blooms,” said Dalal Mahmoud, a UT junior majoring in biology. “It’s a great opportunity to expand my studies and what I want to do in the future.”

Mahmoud and Tipton were the inaugural beneficiaries of a recent philanthropic gift to the lab, the David and Helen Boone Research Award, which helped fund their summer research.

The toxicity project is expected to be completed next June, but Kennedy and Haller hope this is only the first phase.

“Over the long term, we want to come up with a better diagnostic test that patients can take at the emergency room or doctor’s office — such as a simple blood test — to measure the microcystin levels in the body, for example, if you get sick after swimming in the water during algal bloom season,” Haller said. “Even further, we want to find out if there is a preventative or therapeutic strategy where someone can be treated so they don’t keep going down the road of liver disease progression.”

Officers increase community-policing efforts

University of Toledo police officers don’t want students to only contact them when in trouble.

“Our number one priority is keeping students safe. The community is safer when we care and respect each other and work together to create a great campus experience for everyone,” said Jeff Newton, UT police chief and director of public safety.

UT Police Officers Desiree Beatty and Pat Greene talked with two students on Main Campus.

UT Police Officers Desiree Beatty and Pat Greene talked with two students on Main Campus.

The officers will take the first step with a Meet the Office of Public Safety Event Thursday, Aug. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Varsity T Pavilion and nearby South Tennis Courts and South Basketball Courts.

The police officers, security staff, and safety and health officials in the Office of Public Safety invite students to check out their public safety vehicles, eat pizza, and challenge the staff in basketball, tennis, corn hole and other games.

“We’re looking forward to a fun event where we can get to know students better during the first week of classes and continue that positive momentum in the weeks and months ahead for a fun and safe year,” Newton said.

The conversations will continue with monthly “Pizza with the Police” events scheduled throughout the year across campus where students can meet officers, ask questions, and learn about resources available to them. Following the Aug. 25 kickoff, the next pizza event will be Thursday, Sept. 15, from 1 to 2 p.m. in Parks Tower’s main lobby.

Additional personal safety and self-defense courses also are scheduled during the first few weeks of classes for students, as well as faculty and staff, to learn tactics. The first class is Monday, Aug. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Health Education Building Gym on Main Campus. Additional classes will be Wednesday, Aug. 31, and Thursday, Sept. 8, at the same time and location.

The UT Police Department is working with faculty in the Center for Student Advocacy and Wellness and Department of Criminal Justice on a new one-credit, eight-week personal safety and wellness class that teaches these safety and self-defense tactics, as well as information on dating violence, healthy boundaries, alcohol and drug prevention, and first aid training.

The department also has new bicycles for officers to patrol campus and connect more closely with students in pedestrian areas.

UTPD will again offer ALICE training to the campus community this year. ALICE, which is an acronym that stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate, is a national program that instructs participants on how to survive an active shooter situation.

“ALICE is training we hope no one ever needs, but we provide it so that members of our community can be empowered with the knowledge to survive a violent encounter should they ever be in that situation,” Newton.

ALICE training sessions will be held twice a month, one on each campus, throughout fall semester and also can be scheduled for departments or student groups.

For more information about the UT Police Department and full schedule of the events, visit utoledo.edu/depts/police.

Provide input on facilities master plan

The University of Toledo is looking for your feedback on the guiding principles of the facilities master planning project currently underway.

“These guiding principles will shape the future of UT campuses, and it is important that we hear from everyone affiliated with the University,” said Jason Toth, associate vice president for facilities and construction. “We heard during the summer from some members of the UT faculty and staff, as well as the Toledo community, and I’m really hoping that students will provide us their feedback as classes get underway for the new school year.”

master planning copyA revised draft of the guiding principles that incorporates that early feedback is posted on the master planning website at utoledomasterplan.org with the ability to comment directly on the site and reply to other posts.

The principles are organized according to categories, including asset stewardship, academics and research, student life experience, campus character, and community interface.

“Of course students are the best source for feedback on the student life experience category, and we need their input there, but in all areas of our plan as well,” Toth said.

Feedback on the guiding principles is requested by Friday, Sept. 2.

For the next step in the process, the master planning team is drafting master plan scenarios that will be shared with campus Monday, Sept. 12, and Tuesday, Sept. 13.

UT research group contributes to international study on itch sensation

Researchers at The University of Toledo are investigating what makes us itch.

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and his research group recently completed a collaborative, interdisciplinary study of the body’s itch response.



“While itchiness is not a life-threatening health concern, it is uncomfortable and can be a quality of life issue for some people,” Karunarathne said. “Our lab worked with researchers nationally and internationally to explore how the body interprets the itch sensation.”

Led by Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen in the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University School of Medicine, researchers explored the cell’s sensory neuron response to itch-inducing stimuli. Karunarathne’s research group was selected to participate due to its expertise in subcellular optogenetics, which is live cell imaging and signaling.

“Our lab designs and uses light-sensitive signaling proteins and precisely targeted light beams to control signaling in specific regions in single cells,” Karunarathne said. “This way, we can use light for both controlling and monitoring cellular activities and understanding pathologically important cell behaviors such as cancer cell migration.”

Imaging fluorescence biosensors help to capture activities in various cellular compartments. However, scientists do not have a precise way of controlling signaling activities in these subcellular locations.

In the body, a cell’s transient receptor potential (TRP) channels transmit the sensation of pain, itch, temperature and touch to the brain. One channel, named TRPV1, responds to histamine signals, and another channel, TRPA1, responds to the itch-inducing chemical chlorquine.

Using their confocal subcellular fluorescence resonance energy transfer techniques, Karunarathne and his colleagues at UT were able to extract data that helped the team to identify a third member of the TRP family that also plays a role in the body’s itch response.

“We examined the role TRPV4 plays in itch and tested the hypotheses that TRPV1 and TRPV4 cooperate to relay itch information in sensory neurons,” Karunarathne said. “The study suggested that TRPV4 is required for cells to form complexes that relay itch signals.”

This new discovery could lead to new pharmaceuticals that target TRPV4 to provide relief to chronic itch.

The team’s work was published in Science Signaling online last month.