November 29, 2016
The University of Florida has received a grant of nearly $10 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, for a five-year project to explore the occupational safety and health of people working in agriculture, fishing and forestry in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and North and South Carolina. The goal of the new center is to conduct research and educational activities designed to promote occupational health and safety among Florida’s 47,000 farm operators and their families, as well as their employees and contractors. “Much of the data about Florida’s agricultural safety and health is over a decade old,” said J. Glenn Morris, M.D., M.P.H., director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and a professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine. “We need to add to the body of knowledge about farming, fishing and forestry workers in the region, so we proposed establishing a center that will facilitate collaboration with researchers throughout the Southeast.” Morris is the director of the center, called the Southeastern and Coastal Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, or SEC-CAgSH. It will be the 11th U.S. Agricultural Safety and Health center sponsored by NIOSH. While the University of Florida is the hosting institution, researchers from the University of South Florida, Florida State University, Emory University and Florida A&M have all agreed to work together on projects aiming to better understand the region’s occupational safety and health needs. NIOSH has awarded the grant to UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. Researchers from several UF colleges will participate. “This center provides an exciting opportunity for UF faculty to use their scientific expertise to address vital public health questions that will enhance the safety and well-being of people whose work is critical to our agricultural and seafood industries,” said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions. Faculty members from the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or IFAS, are also involved in the project. “Protecting the health of those who provide the labor for the $155 billion-a-year agriculture and natural resources industry has long been a focus area of IFAS research and Extension,” said Jack Payne, Ph.D., senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources. “UF is particularly qualified to address such complexities because of the comprehensive expertise it has. “The partnership between IFAS research and Extension, PHHP and EPI will create a powerful interdisciplinary focus on agricultural safety and health that will provide the industry with the tools and training to maintain a healthy workforce,’’ Payne said. The center will provide an opportunity to expand UF’s current training and outreach programs throughout the state and eventually the Southeast region, while developing new educational materials and methods of dissemination for diverse audiences. Several projects are already underway. Andrew Kane, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health, serves as the center’s associate director and lead investigator of the research project focused on Gulf seafood worker safety. Seafood industry workers are exposed to some of the greatest occupational risks nationally, according to Kane. While there are numerous anecdotal reports of injuries, very little data exists on worker health and safety in this largely self-employed and self-insured population. Kane’s team seeks to extend current knowledge about everyday hazards and risks in northeastern Gulf fisheries through surveys, direct observations, community engagement and expanded academic and community partnerships. The team will then develop, implement and assess community-based training activities aimed at reducing injuries. Gregory Glass, Ph.D., and Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D., will also lead projects at the center. Glass, a professor of geography and a member of the Emerging Pathogens Institute, will use remote sensing technology to estimate the levels of pesticide and herbicide usage in Florida’s croplands. Grzywacz, a professor in Florida State University’s College of Human Sciences and the chair of the department of family and child sciences, will develop and test whether safety and education materials produce changes in safety behaviors among Latino farmworkers. Tracy Irani, Ph.D., a professor in UF/IFAS and the chair of the department of family, youth, and community sciences, will oversee the center’s outreach and community engagement efforts. “Our role in the center will entail working with communities to identify the particular needs that are specific to agricultural production in Florida and the Southeast,” Irani said. “We also plan to develop new materials and utilize new media to reach our target populations in new ways.” Agriculture, fishing and forestry comprise a multibillion-dollar industry in the state of Florida. Florida is the second largest producer of fresh fruit and vegetable crops in the nation. Oranges alone generate more than $1.3 billion of annual sales, ranking as Florida’s second most important single commodity after greenhouse/nursery products, according to the USDA. The farm value of fresh market tomatoes, the state’s third most important commodity, averages about $500 million annually. The production and harvesting of these and other specialty crops grown in Florida depends on agricultural workers who produce and harvest citrus, fresh market vegetables, strawberries, blueberries and melons, as well as ornamental plants for the landscape and environmental horticulture sector. According to a UF/IFAS study, one acre of tomatoes is estimated to require more than 200 labor hours to plant, grow, harvest and pack for the fresh market. One acre of citrus harvesting requires between 50 and 60 hours of manual labor.
November 18, 2016
University of Florida researchers have developed a template showing the brain’s superhighways and how they are impacted by a stroke. The brain images required to create the template were processed on HiPerGator, UF's supercomputer. “We’re interested in the structure of the brain after a stroke,” said Stephen Coombes, assistant professor of applied physiology and kinesiology, who developed the template with post-doctoral research associate Derek Archer. “Collecting and analyzing images of brains from people that haven’t experienced a stroke helps us track the different motor pathways in the brain; sort of a ‘Google Maps’ for the brain’s corticospinal tract.” The benefits of mapping the corticospinal tract — it’s a superhighway for movement — can have a significant impact to the care and recovery of stroke patients. “Knowing which part of the tract is damaged may be extremely helpful in predicting recovery after stroke,” Coombes said. “Physical therapists can also use this information to prescribe more individualized rehabilitation exercises.” Utilizing 3,000 HiPerGator cores, the team's imaging needs were completed in three months. Without HiPerGator’s processing power, analyzing the data on a single computer would have taken 42 years of processing time. For more information about Coombes’s and Archer’s work on the corticospinal tract template and its applied use capabilities, visit the Laboratory for Rehabilitation Neuroscience web page.
November 16, 2016
A quick, precise genetic test can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by helping to identify more effective medication for some heart patients, a group led by University of Florida Health researchers has found. The test identifies a genetic deficiency that affects the body’s ability to activate clopidogrel, a common anti-clotting drug given after a coronary artery stent is inserted. During a recent study from the National Institutes of Health’s Implementing Genomics in Practice (IGNITE) Network, researchers at UF Health and other sites throughout the country analyzed medical outcomes in 1,815 patients who had genetic testing at the time of their cardiac procedure. The genetic testing allows physicians to pinpoint the best anti-clotting medication for each patient. The study reported significant results: About 60 percent of patients with the genetic deficiency were given a different, more effective medication. Using the genetic data to guide changes in therapy reduced the percentage of deaths, heart attacks or strokes by nearly half compared with those who continued taking clopidogrel, the researchers found. Among those who had the genetic deficiency and continued taking clopidogrel, 8 percent of patients experienced one of those complications. Their findings are being presented today (Nov. 15) at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. The study examined the effect of genotype-guided treatment on cardiovascular outcomes after a heart procedure known as percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI, in which a metallic stent is inserted into a heart artery to treat a blockage. More broadly, one UF Health researcher said it shows the power and the promise of personalized medicine, which tailors medical decisions based on a patient’s genetic information and other unique characteristics. “We saw significantly fewer adverse events among patients who were switched to an alternative drug,” said Larisa Cavallari, Pharm.D., director of the Center for Pharmacogenomics at the UF College of Pharmacy and associate director of the UF Health Personalized Medicine Program, which was created in 2011 within the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute. About 30 percent of all patients have a genetic deficiency that impairs their ability to activate the drug, which can lead to decreased clopidogrel effectiveness and increased risk for adverse cardiovascular events such as strokes, heart attacks and death. Having timely access to a patient’s genetic information can be particularly helpful as physicians work to prescribe the most appropriate medicine. “This is an important breakthrough in personalized medicine because it shows how a genetic marker can be used to modify treatments and improve patient outcomes,” said Dominick J. Angiolillo, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist, professor of medicine and director of cardiovascular research at UF Health Jacksonville. In addition to pinpointing the best drug for PCI patients, the genetic testing is efficient. On average during the study, a patient’s genetic information was available in about one day and an alternative medication was provided within a similar time. “There was prompt genotyping and the patients were quickly given the drug we thought would work best for them,” Cavallari said. Yet decoding a patient’s genetic tendencies isn’t just about rapid treatment: Many patients take an anti-clotting drug for a year or longer. Patients who had the genetic deficiency and received an alternative medication were less likely to have a major adverse cardiovascular event compared with those who received clopidogrel during the follow-up period of up to a year, researchers found. The findings are the first from a large group of U.S. patients to show that the risk of cardiovascular problems is reduced when PCI patients with a genetic deficiency get an alternative medication, said Deepak Voora, M.D., a cardiologist and member of the Center for Applied Genomics & Precision Medicine at Duke University and a co-author of the current study. “This should give patients who carry the genetic variant and their providers confidence to use more effective, alternative medications,” Voora said. The genetic test that identifies a patient’s response to clopidogrel is already being used at UF Health hospitals in Gainesville and Jacksonville and other sites that contributed to these results. Patient samples for the UF Health sites are analyzed by UF Health pathology labs, which helps to expedite results. In most cases, test results at UF Health Jacksonville are available within an hour. That helps physicians decide in a timely manner which drug to prescribe, Angiolillo said. The findings being presented today are encouraging, said R. David Anderson, a UF Health interventional cardiologist and professor in the department of medicine division of cardiovascular medicine who assisted with Cavallari’s study. The results of pending clinical trials may help to determine whether or not the genotyping for clopidogrel response becomes more widely used in cardiac care, Anderson said. However, clinical trial data may not be available for several years. In the meantime, Cavallari said, data such as these from patients genotyped as part of clinical care support broader implementation. The current research was organized through a collaborative genomic medicine network funded by the NIH and known as Implementing Genomics in Practice, or IGNITE. Other institutions that participated in the clopidogrel research were the University of North Carolina, the University of Maryland-Baltimore, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Indiana University-Indianapolis, Sanford Health, Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania.
November 16, 2016
Todd E. Golde, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally known expert in the scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, has been appointed executive director of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida. His appointment will be effective Dec. 1. “We are very fortunate to have Dr. Golde lead the McKnight Brain Institute,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “He is a world-class translational scientist and is committed to promoting collaborative neuroscience among an expanding base of research programs under the institute’s umbrella. Dr. Golde’s expertise will also stimulate cross-cutting investigation at the MBI, creating interfaces, for example, between basic, translational and clinical scientists who are supported by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation.” Golde, currently a professor of neuroscience and director of UF’s Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease and the 1Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center consortium of institutions, has served the MBI for six years as both an investigator and a leader, pioneering programs to closely link basic-science laboratory work with patient-based studies to translate new discoveries into diagnoses and treatments. Golde was selected as the new MBI director after an extensive national search. Interim executive director Steven T. DeKosky, M.D., will continue as deputy director. “Dr. Golde stood out among the candidates as the person with a vision for bringing together the MBI to build on the current research and education programs, taking them to the next level,” said Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., UF Health executive vice president for research and education and the chair of the MBI director search committee. Golde came to UF Health from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, bringing a wealth of administrative and strategic-planning experience. As chair of Mayo’s department of neuroscience, he oversaw an extramural grant portfolio that exceeded $10 million a year. An investigator into the study of Alzheimer’s disease for almost three decades, Golde has published more than 220 papers that have been cited more than 25,000 times. He has expanded his leading-edge research to include other neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and even malaria. “In this new role, I hope to use these experiences to ensure that our broad neuroscience research and education programs flourish and are viewed as world-class,” Golde said. “My passion is to assemble multidisciplinary teams of physicians and scientists to conduct research into neurological disorders that could one day help change the current understanding of many of these diseases from being incurable, inevitable and largely untreatable to a new reality in which these disorders can be cured, prevented and treated.” Nationally, Golde is a member of the medical and scientific advisory board for the Alzheimer’s Association and the BrightFocus Foundation. He also serves on several state advisory boards related to Alzheimer’s disease. At the MBI, Golde will succeed Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., who is now director of the neurosciences research program at Houston Methodist Hospital. Golde aims to align the vision and mission of the MBI, at a time when UF is preparing to open a new hospital devoted solely to neuromedicine in 2017. “We’ve made a lot of investments in neuromedicine and neuroscience research at the Health Science Center over the last five years,” he said. “We have outstanding investigators, and I want to help them collaborate and find synergy and share resources so we can continue our growth in this area. Moving forward, we’d like more connections between research at the lab bench and care at the bedside.”
November 2, 2016
Listen up: Everybody has heard that exercise can help keep you slim and is good for heart health, but University of Florida researchers have also found that exercise may also help prevent age-related hearing loss — at least in mice. The researchers found that the sedentary mice lost structures that are important in the auditory system — hair cells and strial capillaries — at a much higher rate than their exercising counterparts. This resulted in a roughly 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice compared with a 5 percent hearing loss in active mice. The researchers published their results today (Wednesday, Nov. 2) in the Journal of Neuroscience. Age-related hearing loss plagues about 70 percent of adults age 70 and older, and occurs when people lose hair cells, strial capillaries and spiral ganglion in the cochlear system of their ear. Hair cells sense sound, strial capillaries feed the auditory system with oxygen and spiral ganglion are a group of nerve cells that send sound from the cochlea to the brain. Shaped like a snail shell, the auditory system is always running, says lead author Shinichi Someya, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of aging and geriatric research “The cochlear, or inner ear, is a high-energy demanding organ,” said Someya, also a member of the UF Institute on Aging. “The auditory system is always on and always processing sound. To process sound, it needs a huge amount of energy molecules.” The system needs to be well-fed with oxygen, delivered to the inner ear by strial capillaries, to generate those energy molecules. To test how exercise affects the loss of strial capillaries, hair cells and neurons, Someya and his fellow researchers separated mice into two groups: mice that had access to a running wheel and mice that did not have that access. The mice were also housed individually so that the researchers could keep track of how far the mice ran on their running wheels. The exercise regimen for the mice peaked when the animals were 6 months old, or about 25 in human years. As the mice aged — to 24 months, or 60 human years — their exercise levels decreased. At their peak, the mice were running about 7.6 miles per day, but at the lowest, the mice were still running about 2.5 miles per day. The researchers then compared the group of exercising mice with a control group of non-exercising mice. The researchers think age-related inflammation damages the capillaries and cells, and that exercising provides protection against that kind of inflammation. In another part of the study, the researchers compared inflammation in the bodies of the sedentary mice to inflammation in the exercising group. The mouse runners were able to keep most markers of inflammation to about half that of the sedentary group, which may help preserve the capillaries and hair cells involved in hearing. While epidemiological studies have shown a link between hearing sensitivity and exercise, this is the first research to show that regular exercise can prevent age-related hearing loss in mice, Someya said. The research also translates well to humans, Someya said. Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and professor and vice chair of research for the Institute on Aging, said the National Institutes of Health is currently beginning an initiative to discover other molecules that may be released by exercise that preserve biological function in humans. UF has submitted applications to the $170 million initiative, called Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans, for research funding. “Exercise likely releases some growth factors yet to be discovered that maintain capillary density as compared to the control animals who were not exercising,” Leeuwenburgh said. “Also, exercise may release other beneficial factors, but can also attenuate and blunt negative factors, such as inflammation.”
WEEKLY NEWS: December 1, 2016