UF Explore Magazine Spring 2015

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UF Joins The Ebola Fight

Spring 2015, Vol. 20, No. 1 Dr. Kent Fuchs President Dr. David Norton Vice President for Research Board of Trustees Steven M. Scott, Boca Raton – Chair David L. Brandon, Palm Harbor Susan Cameron, Fort Lauderdale Christopher T. Corr, Lake Lure, NC Paul Davenport, Gainesville Charles B. Edwards, Ft. Myers James W. Heavener, Winter Park Rahul Patel, Atlanta, GA Jason J. Rosenberg, Alachua Robert G. Stern, Tampa David M. Thomas, Windermere Cory Yeffet, Gainesville Anita G. Zucker, Charleston, SC

Explore is published by the UF Office of Research. Opinions expressed do not reflect the official views of the university. Use of trade names implies no endorsement by the University of Florida. © 2015 University of Florida. explore.research.ufl.edu Editor: Joseph M. Kays joekays@ufl.edu Art Director: Katherine Kinsley-Momberger

Writers: Cindy Spence Morgan Sherburne Copy Editor: Bruce Mastron Printing: StorterChilds Printing, Gainesville Member of the University Research Magazine Association www.urma.org

Cover illustration: Paul Messal, lettering; K. Kinsley-Momberger, design.


Design and Illustration: Katherine Kinsley-Momberger Paul Messal Nancy Shreck

Scaled Down

Power Surge

Journalism professor’s new book takes a holistic look at fitness.

An updated training reactor offers new opportunities in nuclear engineering.



Extracts Cover Story Intersecting Paths New UF Diabetes Institute brings more than 100 researchers together to battle disease.




News Briefs

Outbreak UF researchers join the worldwide response to Ebola.

14 Excel Ph.D. Mentors



e deal with a lot of numbers here in the Office of Research. Almost 5,000 research grant proposals last year. More than 9,000 active research projects. A record $702 million in research awards in 2014, almost 300 invention disclosures and 17 start-up companies.

But we’re just the tip of the iceberg compared to the numbers our faculty work with every day. Just reading through the stories in this issue of Explore, I was struck by all the numbers.

•  As a biostatistician, it is Ira Longini’s job to crunch numbers on infectious John Jernigan

disease outbreaks and predict where they’ll go. So when Ebola burst out in West Africa last year, Longini was one of the first people the World Health Organization called. And while the more than 10,000 deaths so far are tragic, the models Longini and his colleagues have developed for use in designing vaccine trials and vaccination strategies should go a long way toward preventing thousands more from dying.

•  For diabetes, the numbers start with the name — type 1 or type 2.

Then there is the economic cost to society — which was estimated at $245 billion in 2012. At the UF Diabetes Institute, researchers are using more than $28 million in new funding to study how to predict, prevent and reverse diabetes. Fortunately, we have two of the top 10 diabetes researchers in the world running the institute.

•  Ted Spiker, chair of the Department of Journalism, has built a career

“UF is one of fewer than

30 universities with a research reactor — and ours is fresh off a $3 million makeover that includes state-of-theart controls.” David Norton

Vice President for Research

4 Spring 2015

around health numbers, from weight to marathon times. Spiker — a contributing editor on health and fitness to Time magazine, Men’s Health and other publications — has lost 75 pounds and finished an Ironman competition. Books he’s authored or co-authored have sold millions of copies and he has more than 10,000 followers on Twitter.

•  UF’s Nuclear Engineering Program is racking up some impressive student

numbers. A few years ago there were only half a dozen Ph.D. students. By this fall they expect to have more than 30. That’s because UF is one of fewer than 30 universities with a research reactor — and ours is fresh off a $3 million makeover that includes state-of-the-art controls.

All of these research numbers feed into UF’s efforts to be recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 public research universities.

Moths Shed Light On How To Fool Enemy Sonar It’s hard to hide from a bat: The camouflage and mimicry techniques that animals use to avoid becoming a meal aren’t much use against a predator using echolocation. But a new study shows that moths can outsmart sonar with a flick of their long tails. The study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows luna moths spin their trailing hindtails as they fly, confusing the sonar cries bats use to detect prey and other objects. The collaborative work between University of Florida and Boise State University researchers is a first step in determining why bats are lured into striking a false target. The findings could have implications on sonar development for the military, said Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. He was UF’s research leader on the project. “This finding expands our knowledge of anti-predator deflection strategies and the extent of a long-standing evolutionary arms race between bats and moths,” Kawahara said. The study is the first to show that insects use this type of trickery to thwart bats. Other animals also might use acoustic deflection strategies, said lead author Jesse Barber, a biologist at Boise State University.

Using high-speed infrared cameras and ultrasonic microphones, the researchers watched brown bats preying on moths. Luna moths with tails were 47 percent more likely to survive an attack than moths without tails. Bats targeted the tail during 55 percent of the interactions, suggesting the moths may lure bats to the tails to make an attack more survivable. While more than half of the 140,000 species of nocturnal moths have sonardetecting ears that provide a similar level of protection, more than 65,000 species lack this defense, Kawahara said. “When you pit them against bats, bats can’t find the moths. They go to the tail instead of the head,” Kawahara said. “When you look at Lepidoptera collections, you see moths with really short tails and some with extremely long tails. This also is an example of the important role biological collections serve as repositories of patterns and processes of biodiversity.” Kawahara said the study provides better understanding of biodiversity. “Most people focus on the beautiful things that are around us during the day, but there’s spectacular diversity in the places we cannot easily see, like in the soil, in the deep ocean, or in the night sky — places we really

Florida Museum of Natural History

don’t often think about,” Kawahara said. “Understanding nocturnal animal interactions is essential at a time when human activities are having major impacts on the natural world.” Akito Kawahara, kawahara@flmnh.ufl.edu

Stephenie Livingston



Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Fungal Treatment May Thwart Avocado Disease University of Florida scientists believe they’ve found what could be the first biological control strategy against laurel wilt, a disease that threatens the state’s avocado industry. Redbay ambrosia beetles bore holes into healthy avocado trees, bringing with them the pathogen that causes laurel wilt. Growers control the beetles that carry and spread laurel wilt by spraying insecticides on the trees, said Daniel Carrillo, an entomology research assistant professor at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead. But a team of researchers from the Tropical REC and the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce have identified a potential biological control to use against redbay ambrosia beetles that could help growers use less insecticide. First, they exposed beetles to three commercially available fungi, and all of the beetles died. Then they sprayed the fungi on avocado tree trunks, and beetles got infected while boring into the trunk. About 75 percent of those beetles died, said Carrillo, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member. Ideally, the fungal treatments could prevent beetles from boring into the trees, eliminating the risk that the pathogen would enter the trees, the study said. But tests

6 Spring 2015

showed female beetles bored into the trees and built tunnels regardless of the treatment. Still, researchers say their treatment can prevent the female beetles from laying eggs. UF/IFAS scientists don’t know yet how much less chemical spray will be needed to control the redbay ambrosia beetle, but Carrillo sees this study as the first step toward controlling the beetle in a sustainable way. “When you want to manage a pest, you want an integrated pest management approach,” Carrillo said. “This provides an alternative that we would use in combination with chemical control.” The redbay ambrosia beetle — native to India, Japan, Myanmar and Taiwan — was first detected in 2002 in southeast Georgia. It was presumably introduced in wood crates and pallets, and its

rapid spread has killed 6,000 avocado trees in Florida, or about 1 percent of the 655,000 commercial trees in Florida. The beetle was first discovered in South Florida in 2010. Most American-grown avocados come from California, with the rest coming from Florida and Hawaii. The domestic avocado market is worth $429 million, according to Edward Evans, a UF associate professor of food and resource economics. Florida’s avocados are valued at about $23 million, or about 5 percent of the national market. More than 95 percent of Florida’s commercial avocados grow in Miami-Dade County, although many Floridians have avocado trees in their yard. Daniel Carrillo, dancar@ufl.edu

Brad Buck

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

DNA Opens New Window Into Fungi Scientists have long tracked the migratory patterns of monarch butterflies, studied the longevity of the redwoods and know how the melting of the ice caps is affecting polar bears. But, until now, it has been difficult to keep tabs on the poor, humble fungi — another of the world’s lesserknown, yet diverse groups of multicellular living creatures. And new research shows there could be a new variety living in your backyard. Fungi — including mushrooms, yeast, truffles and molds — play fundamental ecological roles as decomposers, or symbiotic partners or pathogens of plants or

animals. They can also be used to create new medicines, food additives or even fuel. Fungi in the wild are important because they drive carbon cycling in forest soils, mediate mineral nutrition of plants and alleviate carbon limitations of other soil organisms. Breakthroughs in DNA technology are allowing researchers like the UF’s Matthew E. Smith to document roughly 100,000 species of soil fungi, some of them newly discovered during this research. Smith is an assistant professor of plant pathology and curator of the fungal herbarium with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Process Converts Human Waste Into Rocket Fuel moon-base goal, the agency wanted to reduce the weight of spacecraft. Historically, waste generated during spaceflight would not be used further. NASA stores it in containers until it’s loaded into space cargo vehicles that burn as they pass back through the Earth’s atmosphere. For future long-term missions, though, it would be impractical to bring all the stored waste back to Earth. Dumping it on the moon’s surface is not an option, so the space agency entered into an agreement with UF to develop test ideas. Pullammanappallil and then-graduate student Abhishek Dhoble accepted the challenge. “We were trying to find out how much methane can be produced from uneaten food, food packaging and human waste,” said Pullammanappallil,

a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member and Dhoble’s adviser. “The idea was to see whether we could make enough fuel to launch rockets and not carry all the fuel and its weight from Earth for the return journey. Methane can be used to fuel the rockets. Enough methane can be produced to come back from the moon.” NASA started by supplying the UF scientists with a packaged form of chemically produced human waste that also included simulated food waste, towels, wash cloths, clothing and packaging materials, Pullammanappallil said. He and Dhoble, now a doctoral student at the University of Illinois,

Sciences. He was a co-author of a study on fungal biodiversity, led by Leho Tedersoo from the Natural History Museum in Tartu, Estonia. Smith and his colleagues collected close to 15,000 soil samples from 365 sites around the world. Before their study, about 100,000 species of fungi had been described based on traditional taxonomic methods, but total species estimates ranged from 500,000 to 5 million. “We also found several groups of sequences that are clearly from fungi and are found at several sites but their DNA sequences do not correspond to any known fungal group,” Smith said. “This suggests that there are still fungal

groups that either have not been discovered or have not been studied using modern DNA-based approaches. Our studies suggest that there are literally hundreds of undescribed fungal species in our own backyards that still need to be studied.” Smith said new fungi could produce useful medicinal compounds. In the past, Penicillium chrysogenum mold was used to create the antibiotic penicillin. All statin drugs come from fungi, as do immune suppressants that are vital for organ transplants. New fungi could also be used for the creation of biofuel, lipid and enzyme production. Some species of fungi that are common in soil have been

used in the past through fermentation procedures to create lactic acid, polyunsaturated fatty acids and ethanol. “We have pretty good ideas about the broad scale distribution of major plant and animal groups across the globe but fungi have been a challenge in the past, mostly because they are a microscopic organism, and because the species are often very difficult to tell apart from one another,” Smith said. “The new techniques in DNA sequencing allowed us in this study to look at broadscale patterns of fungal diversity in soil across the entire globe.”


Buck Rogers surely couldn’t have seen this one coming, but at NASA’s request, University of Florida researchers have figured out how to turn human waste — yes, that kind — into rocket fuel. Adolescent jokes aside, the process finally makes useful something that until now has been collected to burn up on re-entry. What’s more, like so many other things developed for the space program, the process could well turn up on Earth, said Pratap Pullammanappallil, a UF associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. “It could be used on campus or around town, or anywhere, to convert waste into fuel,” Pullammanappallil said. In 2006, NASA began making plans to build an inhabited facility on the moon’s surface between 2019 and 2024. As part of NASA’s

Matthew E. Smith, trufflesmith@ufl.edu

ran laboratory tests to find out how much methane could be produced from the waste and how quickly. They found the process could produce 290 liters of methane per crew per day, all produced in a week, Pullammanappallil said. Their results led to the creation of an anaerobic digester process, which kills pathogens from human waste, and produces biogas — a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide — by breaking down organic matter in waste. In Earthbound applications, that fuel could be used for heating, electricity generation or transportation. The digestion process also would produce about 200 gallons of nonpotable water annually from all the waste. That is water held within the organic matter, which is released as organic matter decomposes. Through electrolysis, the water can then be split into hydrogen and oxygen, and the astronauts can breathe oxygen as a backup system. The exhaled carbon dioxide and hydrogen can be converted to methane and water in the process, he said. Pratap Pullammanappallil, pcpratap@ufl.edu

Brad Buck

Kimberly Moore Wilmoth



College of Medicine

Hunt Is On For Leukemia’s Hiding Places

“ The blood vessel

walls are a shelter for leukemia cells, and we found that leukemia cells can nestle within blood vessel linings and go to sleep.”

— Dr. Christopher R. Cogle

8 Spring 2015

In patients with leukemia, cancer cells can embed within the walls of blood vessels and hide from chemotherapy, according to a University of Florida study. Now, researchers are using a two-year, $800,000 grant from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to screen for new drugs that disrupt the tight-knit relationship between leukemia cells and blood vessels. Dr. Christopher R. Cogle, one of the study’s lead coauthors and an associate professor of medicine at the UF College of Medicine, has found that leukemia cells hug the branches of blood vessels. When they do this, they integrate into the lining of the blood vessels. They also change shape, mimicking the long, thin cells lining blood vessels, called endothelial cells. “There’s a protective advantage when leukemia cells integrate within blood vessels,” Cogle said. “The blood vessel walls are a shelter for leukemia cells, and we found that leukemia cells can nestle within

blood vessel linings and go to sleep.” This can cause traditional chemotherapy to wash over leukemia cells. After some time has passed, these hidden cells reawaken as a form of relapse, Cogle said. Relapsing leukemia is one of the greatest challenges in treating patients with blood cancers. In the leukemia study, the researchers discovered leukemia cells clustering around and within blood vessel walls. Some leukemia cells fused with endothelial cells, blurring the lines between what is a blood vessel and what is cancer, said Ed Scott, a professor in the UF College of Medicine Department of molecular genetics and microbiology. Using a mouse model, Scott and Cogle, both members of the UF Health Cancer Center, were able to study human leukemia cells in mice. After treating the mice with chemotherapy, the researchers were able to study why some of the leukemia cells were able to survive, Scott said. “A small number of these leukemia cells stuck to the blood vessels so tightly that we had a hard time getting them out of the blood vessel wall,” Scott said. Cogle thinks these leukemia cells are responsible for relapsing disease. “In the race of survival of the fittest, leukemia cells

that hug blood vessels have a greater chance of withstanding chemotherapy and taking over the body,” Cogle said. Most chemotherapies target rapidly dividing cells, which is why people lose hair and can become nauseated, Scott said. “But when leukemia cells are in the blood vessel walls, it’s easy for them to get nutrients, hang out there and more or less take a nap,” Scott said. “If we can get them unattached or prevent interaction to begin with, then they are out in circulation where they are more exposed to chemotherapy.” Cogle is currently testing a drug, called OXi4503, in patients with acute myeloid leukemia or a myelodysplastic syndrome to determine the safety of various doses. The drug appears to target blood vessels and leukemia cells. The phase one clinical trial started in 2011. Sixteen patients age 18 to 70 have received the drug so far, and the team expects 12 more patients to receive it before the end of the trial’s phase one. “We’re currently recruiting patients with leukemia to our trial,” Cogle said. “I work with an amazing team of laboratory and clinical researchers.” Christopher Cogle, christopher.cogle@medicine.ufl.edu Ed Scott, escott@ufl.edu

Morgan Sherburne

College of Medicine

Researchers Grow Human Norovirus In Cells University of Florida researchers have grown a human norovirus in a cell culture dish, finally opening the door to developing medications for fighting the intestinal scourge that strikes tens of millions every year in schools, hotels and cruise ships worldwide. “The biggest hurdle to doing norovirus research for its entire history — it was discovered in 1972 — has been that we can’t culture the human viruses in a cell culture dish,” said Stephanie Karst, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in the UF College of Medicine. “That complicates every aspect of research. We can’t study how it replicates, we can’t test therapeutics and we can’t generate live virus vaccines.” Noroviruses are pernicious intestinal viruses. They cause violent vomiting and diarrhea, and people ill with the virus remain contagious up to three days after they seem to recover. Although a vaccine for these viruses is in clinical trials, there is still no medication to combat them. That’s in part because researchers have not been able to culture human noroviruses so they can test potential treatments — until now. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, human noroviruses cause 19 million to 21 million cases of illness, and contribute to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths, per year mostly in young children and

older adults. Noroviruses are resistant to many common disinfectants. Very little of the virus is needed to infect a host, so a surface may still contain enough virus to infect a person even after it is cleaned. Previously, researchers speculated that noroviruses primarily target intestinal epithelial cells, which line the intestine and protect it from pathogens, Karst said. However, this new research, published in the journal Science, demonstrates that the virus targets B cells, a type of white blood cell common in the intestine. “That’s a big surprise,” Karst said. “You would think that any virus that’s going to target the intestine would instead target the intestinal epithelial cells because that’s the first cell the virus is going to encounter.” Researchers also were surprised to find that bacteria present in the body’s gut flora, also known as commensal bacteria, helped the human norovirus infect B cells. Karst said scientists have long known that noroviruses need a particular kind of carbohydrate to infect cells. “What we’ve shown is that noroviruses attach to that carbohydrate expressed on commensal bacteria, and that this interaction stimulates viral infection of the B cell,” Karst said. “This is a really exciting, emerging theme. A variety of intestinal viruses seem to exploit the bacteria that are present in our intestines all the time. These viral infections are enhanced by the presence of bacteria in the gut.”

UF research scientist Melissa Jones, a co-author of the paper, said the idea to study B cells came from Karst’s research on mouse noroviruses. UF scientists detected virus in Peyer’s patches, pockets of lymphoid nodules that line the intestine and survey the organ for pathogens. “Ultimately, this system should open up new avenues for norovirus vaccine and antiviral drug development,” Karst said. Stephanie Karst, skarst@ufl.edu

Morgan Sherburne

“ The biggest hurdle

to doing norovirus research for its entire history — it was discovered in 1972 — has been that we can’t culture the human viruses in a cell culture dish.” — Stephanie Karst



Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Low-Cost Device Helps Growers Detect Greening While a commercially available cure for crop-killing citrus greening remains elusive, University of Florida researchers have developed a tool to help growers combat the insidious disease: an efficient, inexpensive and easy-to-use sensor that can quickly detect whether a tree has been infected. That early warning could give growers enough lead time to destroy plagued trees and save the rest. “The current ground inspection is very time-consuming, subjective and laborintensive, and also requires a lab analysis of leaf samples,” said Daniel Lee, a UF professor of agriculture and biological engineering who developed the sensor. “Our real-time, in-field detection system can

provide objective, fast and accurate results of the disease detection.” Scientists have been unable to find a cure for citrus greening because infected plants are difficult to maintain, regenerate and study. But in the development of the sensor, UF researchers relied on the fact that citrus greening causes leaves to store high levels of starch that can rotate the direction of reflected light from its original orientation. In 95 to 98 percent of laboratory and field tests, the sensor accurately detected the signs of citrus greening: leaves with veins and splotches that appear a pale shade of gray on the sensor’s images, an obvious contrast to the dark-gray image of healthy leaves. IFAS researchers used 10 high-powered LEDs and

an inexpensive camera to assemble the sensor for a cost of less than $1,000, making it affordable for even small citrus growers, although commercial availability depends on finding a sponsor, Lee said. Citrus greening, also known as HLB or “yellow dragon disease,” begins when a tiny sap-sucking insect deposits bacteria on the leaf of a healthy fruit tree. The bacteria invade the tree and starve it of nutrients, causing its fruit to be shrunken and misshapen with a thick, pale peel that remains green at the bottom. Most trees afflicted with citrus greening die within a few years. In Florida, greening is a major reason commercial citrus acreage decreased by 28 percent from 2004 to 2011. Wonsuk “Daniel” Lee, wslee@ufl.edu

Kimberly Moore Wilmoth

Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory

Mosquitoes' Attraction To Men May Illuminate How Viruses Spread Mosquitoes bite male birds nearly twice as often as they bite females, a finding that may help scientists understand how to stem some viruses from spreading to humans, UF research shows. Entomology Assistant Professor Nathan Burkett-Cadena found mosquitoes bite male birds 64 percent of the time, compared to 36 percent for females. This marks the first step for scientists to try to determine why mosquitoes bite men more often than women in some parts of the world and vice versa in other areas, said Burkett-Cadena, who is

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based at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach. “Understanding why mosquitoes bite males more often than females may lead to novel strategies for interrupting disease transmission,” said Burkett-Cadena, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member. Scientists such as BurkettCadena battle vector-borne diseases, which account for an estimated 17 percent of infectious diseases globally, according to the World Health Organization. Malaria, the most deadly vector-borne disease, caused

an estimated 627,000 deaths in 2012. “Until now, it’s only been suspected that mosquitoes bite males — whether they’re humans, birds or other animals — more often than females,” he said. “Male birds are infected more often than females with the diseases that mosquitoes carry, so it makes

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

A big tree next to your house can do more than just save home-cooling costs, it will also cut carbon emissions, University of Florida researchers say. Trees shade houses so that less energy is needed to cool them. But trees, especially older ones, also store and sequester carbon. Through photosynthesis, trees sequester — or capture — carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to create energy for growth. This carbon is then stored in the tree as long as the tree remains alive. Trees store carbon in their leaves, branches, trunks, stems and roots. Carbon dioxide is released through electricity use, home heating, waste and transportation, among other activities, said UF wildlife ecology and conservation Professor Mark Hostetler. Through photosynthesis, trees can

offset the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a house through carbon storage and sequestration. With UF experts projecting the state to grow from 19 million people now to 25 million in 2040, more land will be needed for housing, commercial and recreational uses. With a population increase comes more need for fossil fuels for heating, cooling and transportation and usually wildlife habitat losses, said Richard Vaughn, one of Hostetler’s former master’s students. “While climate change mitigation takes place on many levels, I focused on the city level,” Vaughn said. “Cities are increasingly trying to offset carbon dioxide emissions, and new residential developments are a major source of such emissions. Our study offers a viable mitigation strategy that addresses many of these issues.”

sense that mosquitoes bite males more often. However, until this study, no one had shown it.” For his study, BurkettCadena and his colleagues went to a swamp near Tampa to collect hundreds of females of three mosquito species known to transmit viruses from birds to humans. Many of the mosquitoes still had blood in their digestive system that came from the animals they bit. The blood-engorged mosquitoes were crushed to collect the animal blood from their guts. Then the blood was screened to determine what type of animal they had bitten and another test run

to determine the animal’s gender. Through the tests, Burkett-Cadena identified the sex of birds from which mosquitoes fed. Now that scientists know mosquitoes suck blood from male birds more than females, they can turn their research attention globally. For example, the human malaria parasite can be found five times more often in men than women in China, according to a 2009 study. Burkett-Cadena said using his method, researchers could investigate whether mosquitoes bite men more often than women and if that is the reason Chinese men are more often infected with malaria.

Eric Zamora

Conservation-Friendly Neighborhoods Cut Carbon Footprint

Mark Hostetler

With a goal of storing more carbon, Vaughn studied how to design conservation-friendly neighborhoods. Using tree data and a model, Vaughn examined how to design a subdivision for maximum tree carbon storage and sequestration.

“What if some behavior men are engaging in is exposing them more to mosquitoes?” he said. “It’s not that mosquitoes prefer to feed on men, but it’s probably something men are doing. If men and women are engaging in different activities that cause them to be bitten by mosquitoes more or less often, then perhaps people can alter their behaviors to reduce their chances of contracting a deadly disease.” Nathan Burkett-Cadena, nburkettcadena@ufl.edu

Brad Buck

He reviewed data from trees in a planned 1,741-acre subdivision that, if built, would have 1,835 homes in the Gainesville area. The land is still a managed pine forest and the subdivision proposal awaits final governmental approval. Vaughn studied groups of trees of certain ages — 2-9 years old, 10-18, 19-29 and 31-61 — in the planned subdivision. Older trees hold more carbon than younger ones, so Vaughn wanted to cluster homes closer to each other to protect older trees, thus helping the environment. In order to do this, he divided the buildable area by half, 1,025 acres to 512 acres. He then loaded the tree data, collected in 2011, into a model and came up with seven neighborhood compact designs, all of which helped conserve carbon. One design, which had the oldest trees, saved 91 percent of the original stored carbon and 82 percent of sequestered carbon. Vaughn concluded that compact subdivision designs can improve carbon storage and sequestration by conserving open space and placing built space in areas that contain the youngest trees. Hostetler said storing carbon in trees is just one advantage to designing neighborhoods in compact clusters. This data can encourage governments to allow, and developers to build, neighborhoods that preserve carbon and provide other environmental advantages, he said. Mark Hostetler, hostetm@ufl.edu Richard Vaughn, ecoaidiver@gmail.com

Brad Buck



George A. Smathers Libraries

Matching Grant Supports Judaica Collection The University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries have received a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant of $500,000 to build an endowment fund that will broaden access to humanities resources relating to the Jewish experience in Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean. The matching award provides a $1 match for every $3 raised. The NEH Challenge Grant project, “Repositioning Florida’s Judaica Library,” will raise $1.5 million in matching funds to enable the creation of the Endowment for Resources on Jewish Heritage in Florida, Latin America and

12 Spring 2015

the Caribbean in support of strategic acquisitions, digital collection building, outreach programs and research. Judith Russell, dean of University Libraries, and Rebecca Jefferson, head of the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica, are leading the effort. “We are excited to be at the forefront of a project that will transform our knowledge about the Jewish people of this region and greatly inform many other disciplines within the humanities,” Russell said. UF alumnus and Miami entrepreneur Gary R. Gerson, who provided the first funds to build the endowment, said he feels certain the Jewish community “will be interested in preserving the history of diasporic influences made by Jewish people transplanted to Florida.” The NEH Challenge Grant represents a second historic award for the libraries. The first was in 1977, when the NEH inaugurated the program for the purchase of books and materials that established Price Library. Today, the Price Library is recognized as the best Jewish Studies research collection in the southeastern United States. This second award of $500,000 recognizes that with the Price Library as its foundation, the University of Florida is singularly wellsuited to lead a new national and international effort to acquire resources that will promote and support greater study of the Jewish diaspora in the region. The Price Library is one of America’s foremost Judaica research collections.

It comprises over 90,000 fully cataloged volumes, incorporates three major private collections and is notable for its exceptional depth, scope and singularity. The library is particularly noteworthy for its concentration of late 19th and early 20th century imprints. Among these volumes are a wealth of titles now scarce in the United States, including ephemeral materials such as pamphlets, brochures and newsletters not held elsewhere. The library currently subscribes to more than 500 periodicals and newspapers. Many of the discontinued periodicals on the library shelves can no longer be found in Florida libraries or in the libraries of neighboring states. Another major strength of the Price Library is its range of imprints from Latin America, including booklets and newsletters in Yiddish and Spanish that are of growing interest to mainstream scholarship. Materials related to Florida Jewry are likewise preserved, alongside local and state Jewish newspapers. In addition to an extensive Holocaust collection, the library holds more than 500 limited print, post-war memorial books commemorating the lost Jewish communities of Europe. With the recent acquisition of a major post-war database and German archives on microfilm, the Price Library is now one of just 10 libraries in the United States offering key resources dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust. Rebecca Jefferson, rjefferson@ufl.edu

Steve Orlando

Florida Museum of Natural History

Study Reveals Oldest Primate Lived In Trees Say “primate” and most people wouldn’t think of a tree-dwelling, squirrel-like creature that weighs no more than a deck of playing cards, but a new study suggests that may perfectly describe humans’ earliest primate ancestors. Found in the same area of Montana that yielded the massive Tyrannosaurus rex, new anklebones smaller than a penny provide the first fossil evidence that the oldest primates lived in trees. That’s important because living in trees gave those early primates access to food sources that other species lacked — likely a critical factor in why primates succeeded in evolution where others may have failed. The study describes the first bones below the skull of Purgatorius — previously known only by its teeth. The shape of the teeth allowed paleontologists to determine the tree shrew-like animal ate insects and plants, but researchers knew little else about how the creature lived. The wide range of mobility in the joints of the ankle bones suggests that tiny Purgatorius — estimated to have weighed about 3.5 ounces — spent its time climbing trees and reaching for fruit at the edge of limbs, said lead author Stephen Chester, an assistant professor of anthropology at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, who received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Florida. “These ankle bones have really unique characteristics that indicate a specific kind of mobility that we only find in primates and their closest

relatives today,” Chester said. “Early primates were using this high degree of mobility to access resources that other animals on the ground couldn’t reach.” The adaptations Purgatorius had for climbing support the idea that the earliest primates diversified at the same time flowering plants became widespread, said co-author Jonathan Bloch, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Unique adaptations to a changing environment lead to the evolutionary success of the oldest primate ancestors, Bloch said. “While Purgatorius is found just after a dramatic extinction that includes all non-avian dinosaurs, the new fossils suggest that the divergence of primates from other mammals was a more subtle event,” Bloch said. “The beginning of primate evolution involved small modifications of the skeleton, making it easier to move through trees and eat the fruits, flowers, and leaves that they encountered.” Bloch and Chester found the ankle bones among boxes full of small and fragmented unidentified fossils recovered from the Garbani Channel sites in Montana by paleontologist and study co-author William Clemens, a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrated Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. The area is famous for producing the holotype specimen of T. rex. The anklebones were found in the same area as the teeth of Purgatorius and compared with the ankles of later primates, Clemens said. As you dig deeper back in time, you start finding

animals with fewer characteristics that people think of as primate-like when they think of today’s primates, Chester said, which can make it difficult to distinguish the early ancestors of modern primates. Bloch and Douglas Boyer, an assistant professor of anthropology at Duke University and study co-author, have worked throughout their careers to identify and uncover fossilized skeletons of many species of early primates. “You couldn’t possibly have predicted this animal if you only looked at the types of mammals that are alive today,” Bloch said. “This is something you only find in the fossil record.” Jonathan Bloch, jbloch@flmnh.ufl.edu

“ While Purgatorius

is found just after a dramatic extinction that includes all nonavian dinosaurs, the new fossils suggest that the divergence of primates from other mammals was a more subtle event.”

— Jonathan Bloch

Stephenie Livingston

Stephen Chester

Lead researcher Stephen Chester holds the tiny ankle bones of Purgatorius, which scientists believe weighed about 3.5 ounces — or as much as a deck of playing cards.




researchers join

the worldwide response to ebola

By Cindy Spence ra Longini has long experience in modeling infectious diseases, from the annual versions of influenza to the exotic chikungunya, and cholera and dengue in between. “About seven or eight years ago I started working on Ebola — I didn't publish anything — I just thought it might eventually become a problem, so I pulled together quite a bit of data going back to 1976,” says the University of Florida biostatistician. “I didn't do much with it because no one else seemed to think it was going to be a big problem.” When Ebola erupted on the international stage in 2014, Longini was ready. The disease spread across West Africa in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As the epidemic spilled into 2015, it had claimed more victims than all the previous outbreaks combined, and by spring more than 10,000 lives had been lost. The need for rapid assessment of the epidemic turned Longini's on-again off-again work on Ebola into a 24/7 undertaking. Today, Longini is on loan to the World Health Organization, which has called all hands on deck for fast-tracked Ebola virus disease vaccine research. Work by Longini and his colleagues is among the earliest research published on

14 Spring 2015

modeling the current Ebola epidemic and its spread, and Longini will work at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, through the spring, designing vaccine strategies and modeling the efficacy of vaccines when they roll out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's early, worst-case estimate — potentially 1.4 million cumulative Ebola cases by January 2015 — treated the region as a “big, random mixing unit,“ Longini says. He and his colleagues at the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases, or CSQUID, a joint program of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and UF, decided to design a detailed model focused on Liberia, taking into account geographic and demographic data and accounting for the non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as home health kit distribution and changes in funeral practices. Prior to the interventions, the research found, 38 percent of infections occurred in hospitals, 31 percent in households, 22 percent in the community, and 9 percent in funerals. “What you really have are hundreds if not thousands of small epidemics in regions and pockets at high risk,” Longini says. “Our model takes into account that there are many, many epidemic curves.”

Illustrations by K. Kinsley-Momberger



Where infections occurred prior to interventions

“What you really have are

hundreds if not thousands of small epidemics in regions and pockets at high risk. Our model takes into account that there are many, many epidemic curves.”





— Ira Longini




Jesse Jones


The model also predicted the decline in new cases in Liberia, as the interventions took hold. Longini says the model can be useful in designing and analyzing the vaccine trials and, once there is a vaccine or vaccines, the optimal strategies for vaccination, both in the current outbreak and in controlling future outbreaks. “It's a mathematical model we can use for the entire region for quite a few other things,” Longini says. “This isn't over. “In the reported cases, we just see the tip of the iceberg; we have no idea how many people were infected or what will happen next.” During his assignment to WHO, Longini will travel to Guinea, where he says outbreaks could be going on that have been missed because of the country’s geography and population distribution. This outbreak’s length, spanning more than a calendar year, also brings up other questions.

16 Spring 2015

“We don't know yet if Ebola has a seasonal component, if it could come roaring back as we move into spring. We've only watched it for one year,” Longini says. “Many diseases, like flu and malaria, have seasonal components, and we don't know that for Ebola at this point.” Another difficulty is that the three countries, though neighbors that have been lumped together under the West African umbrella, are geographically and culturally very different. Sharon Abramowitz, a medical anthropologist who specializes in Liberia, has been trying to explain that, too. Abramowitz is coordinator of the UF Center for African Studies’ Health in Africa Working Group, an interdisciplinary group of faculty members and graduate students focused on Africa’s huge global burden of disease, from death in childbirth and malnutrition to malaria, AIDS and, in 2014, Ebola.

Early aid workers, Abramowitz says, failed to realize that the scattered rural villages they saw were deeply connected in a vibrant, mobile network that flows back and forth across the borders of the three countries constantly. Unlike in Central Africa, where past outbreaks had been contained in isolated villages, West Africans moved from rural to urban environments and back again in longstanding food, health care, workforce and social networks. Paul Psychas, a former Peace Corps medical officer and a member of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI), says the three countries’ different histories also complicated matters. Guinea, a former colony of France, speaks French. Sierra Leone, a former British colony, usually turns to the United Kingdom for help, and Liberia, with a long history with the United States, usually relies on the U.S. Decades of war and corruption in all three countries have made the residents

Symptoms of Ebola Incubation Period 2-21 days Sudden onset of headache and fever Sudden onset of sore throat Rash Internal and external bleeding Impaired kidney and liver function Vomiting and diarrhea


Muscle weakness and pain Conakry

Source: WHO.

Ebola is a hemorrhagic disease, meaning it can cause victims to bleed profusely from all body openings. Victims also produce copious amounts of bodily fluids — mucus, vomit, diarrhea — which helps the virus spread quickly and easily.

acutely suspicious. Eight health workers were killed in September in a village in Guinea. “This is where an anthropological understanding of a conflict between humanitarian responders and local populations is really important,” Abramowitz says. “Historically, the government of Guinea has been a violent, corrupt and predatory state, and Guineans have stayed as far out of reach of the state, deep in the forest, as they can. They are very mistrustful of outsiders for very sound reasons.” In Guinea, international health activities often have occurred in association with the state, making villagers suspicious of aid workers. The removal and quarantine of Ebola patients was consistent with past exposures to statesponsored violence. “There is a long history of people being taken away and never coming back,“ Abramowitz says. “Fighting

Sierra Leone




Location of patient zero in the Guéckédou region of Guinea


Ebola is a zoonotic disease, and fruit bats are believed to be its natural reservoir.

quarantine efforts may seem incomprehensible to us, but to many, this response was rational.” Abramowitz had been following the work in Guinea of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) through news feeds and on Twitter and message boards, but the “uh-oh” moment for her came when the epidemic moved into Liberia. Because of her research on her 2014 book, Searching for Normal in the Wake of the Liberian War, Abramowitz knew the country’s war-ravaged health system had not recovered enough to handle Ebola.

“If Ebola had managed to cross the borders into Sierra Leone and Liberia, it was clear the aid community did not understand the travel patterns and transit routes that connected the three countries. Nearly half of the Liberian population lives along just two or three trunk roads that intersect with the Guinean border,” Abramowitz says. “Once it had crossed into Lofa County, it was a no-brainer that Ebola was going to shoot down to Monrovia (the capital) in a flash.” Psychas, a physician, noted that Ebola knocks out a society’s immune



“This is where an

anthropological understanding of a conflict between humanitarian responders and local populations is really important.”

John Jernigan

— Sharon Abramowitz


Official Language: French Independence from France: 1958 Population: 11.75 million

Sierra Leone Official Language: English Independence from Great Britian: 1961 Population: 6.1 million


Official Language: English Americo-Liberian settlements begin: 1820 Population: 4.3 million

The three countries, though neighbors that have been lumped together under the West African umbrella, are geographically and culturally very different. Sharon Abramowitz at UF’s Harn Museum of Art with Nigerian artist El Anatsui's “Old Man’s Cloth” in the background.

system, its health care workers, many dying before Ebola was identified. The three fragile countries averaged one or two doctors per 100,000 population before the epidemic. At one point, 825 health care workers had contracted Ebola and 493 had died. Psychas knew Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the leading expert on hemorrhagic fevers in Sierra Leone, who died in July. Psychas also noted that with Ebola taking center stage, people were dying of preventable health issues, like complications in childbirth or infections. Psychas, a malaria specialist, says at one point Ebola was killing 85 people a day in five affected West African countries; malaria was killing 500. He says an international investment in knowledge about pathogens in animals that can

18 Spring 2015

spill over into humans is needed. Ebola, and 75 percent of emerging diseases, come from animals. J. Glenn Morris Jr., the director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, agrees. Although Americans have been on edge about Ebola, many other diseases — chikungunya, for instance — are bigger threats to the United States. Morris says Longini’s deployment to WHO is a perfect way for UF to contribute, since EPI cannot work with the Ebola pathogen itself. EPI labs are biosafety level three and Ebola is a biosafety four microorganism. UF often is called upon for mathematical modeling, however, “so on the modeling side we have a great deal to contribute.” For academic researchers, responding to the Ebola crisis has been

problematic, says Sarah McKune, an assistant professor of epidemiology in UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. Research takes a back seat to the need for humanitarian aid. Still, Abramowtiz and McKune were eager to help when a colleague at the World Health Organization in Liberia asked for assistance bringing international attention to data collected in Liberia as the epidemic was peaking from July through October. Abramowitz hoped a rapid analysis of the data and widespread circulation of the findings could help inform the aid response. Abramowitz, who had been invited to speak on Ebola in Washington, D.C. and other locations nationally, asked her Global Health Cultures class if anyone

Ebola in Africa


Ebola first recognized in Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo. Of 318 people infected, 88 percent died. A later outbreak that year infected 284 people, with a 53 percent fatality rate. The rare virus is named after the nearby Ebola River.

1989-90 Ebola Reston virus is discovered in quarantined monkeys imported into the U.S. from the Philippines but there are no human fatalities.

1994 In Gabon, 52 people contract Ebola and 60 percent die. 1995 In the

Democratic Republic of the Congo, 315 people contract Ebola and 81 percent die.

1996 Two outbreaks in Gabon are traced to dead

chimpanzees. Ebola Reston is identified again in quarantined monkeys in the U.S. and Philippines.

2000-2001 Uganda sees the largest outbreak to that date with 425 people infected and a fatality rate of 53 percent.

December 2007-January 2008 First new strain, Bundibugyo, occurs in Uganda, with 149 infections and a 25 percent fatality rate. This is the last large oubreak until 2014.

Dec. 6, 2013 Two-year-old Emile Ouamouno dies in a village in the Guéckédou region of Guinea. He later is identified as patient zero. Ebola transmissions add up, until the epidemic is identified in March 2014.  March 2014-2015

Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone reaches epidemic proportions. The Democratic Republic of the Congo reports a small outbreak of 66 cases, with a 74 percent fatality rate. The DRC’s experience with the virus helps it identify it and quell the outbreak. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

wanted to help with Ebola research. Thirty students lined up and formed the nucleus of the Ebola Research Group. With the army of assistants, the data were quickly mined, and Abramowitz and McKune say the results debunked the common image of West Africans as helpless, passive and ignorant. The data showed several Liberian communities demonstrated rapid social learning, assimilating the information they needed to know and discarding the irrelevant, urban myths that were circulating. It was the first study of the rate at which social learning around health issues takes place in a public health emergency, using data provided by Liberian health teams. The data also showed the resilience of the communities when the health

Paul Psychas

care system collapsed with Ebola Treatment Units unstaffed, hotlines unanswered and no help to be found. With survival at stake, families separated the sick from the well and changed their funeral customs. “Communities will do the unthinkable, the uncultural, in moments of crisis when the future depends on it,” Abramowitz says. “Culture has the capacity to accommodate emergencies by deferring or changing ordinary routines. You didn’t see that portrayed a lot.” McKune says simplistic messages — wash your hands, avoid sick people — had long since been assimilated, and people were hungry for, and able to use, more complex instructions. “The assumption is that these populations are unable to understand

uncertainty, and that underestimates them,“ McKune says. “In my research on climate change and household food security, we see farmers do it all the time with weather information. We can give people complex health messages, and they will be absorbed.” Early on, Liberian health officials and the World Health Organization reported that the epidemic was heavily “gendered,” with women making up about 75 percent of the deaths. Traditionally, women are more likely to be on the front line in health care clinics and in preparing bodies for burial, two key risk factors. They also are more likely to be the caregivers for ill family members, making them more likely to come into contact with infectious bodily fluids.



John Jernigan

August-November 2014

20 Spring 2015


“There were real instances of women knowing in advance they were sacrificing themselves to care for their families,” McKune says. Psychas, who witnessed a smaller outbreak in Gabon in 2002, says Ebola inspires fear and magical thinking. In Gabon, a local mayor got on the radio to announce that vampires caused Ebola, and other leaders saw quarantines as a way of keeping people from voting in elections. He points out that the U.S. has not been immune to the epidemic of fear: A school in Ohio closed because a school worker traveled on a plane — not even the same flight — as a person who had Ebola. “In a setting of fear and panic, do we believe in science or do we believe in vampires?“ Psychas asks. “After four decades of experience with Ebola, we know that the biomedical features of this outbreak are the same; it’s the geographic and social context that are different.” The international response, too, was lacking. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, about 800 NGOs showed up to help the country recover, a reaction not seen in the Ebola epidemic, Psychas says. Longini’s research has shown that travel restrictions were not warranted, and McKune, who travels widely for her research on climate and nutrition, agrees. In June, she traveled to Senegal, her 11-month-old child in tow, for fieldwork. She decided against taking her son to Mali in August, but traveled again in January to Nepal and will be in Senegal and Mali again this summer. “As Americans, we are a significant driver of global travel, and borders are gone,” McKune says. Abramowitz has spoken extensively about the epidemic and found her article, “Ten Things Anthropologists Can Do To Fight the West African

How Ebola is Contracted Direct contact with infected blood.

Sexual contact with infected person.

Ebola Epidemic,” widely circulated on the Internet. One of the early successes of the anthropological response to the Ebola epidemic, she says, was in offering guidelines to humanitarians regarding the management of the bodies of the dead, which prompted conflict with local populations. She says she would like to see the U.S. response ramped up. Since 2003, in Liberia, the U.S. has spent approximately $180 million a year on health aid. That pales next to estimates that it will cost $6 billion to $10 billion to end the current epidemic, she says. And everyone, she says, should have an international health ID card so that all aspects of healthcare can be linked to a broader system of public health surveillance. “This is a place where, when people die, it doesn’t really count,“ Abramowitz says. “Does it count if you don’t count them? Every death should count.”

Handling of infected corpses.

Handling of contaminated objects.

The expedited vaccine trials will attract a lot of interest, not only centered on their success or failure but because it is science at warp speed. “It usually takes five or 10 years for a vaccine to go through phase one and two testing and phase three trials and licensure, and that big long process is being compressed into six months. It's an open question: will they work, will they harm people?” says Longini. Two vaccines are ready for testing, one using a harmless chimpanzee adenovirus and one using a bovine virus to carry Ebola genetic material to trigger an immune response. Developing the vaccine is only the first hurdle. A vaccination program will be daunting in the chaotic conditions in West Africa, and it is up to Longini and his colleagues to develop vaccination strategies and evaluate them. Three strategies are under consideration.

One, the gold standard for science, is a randomized, controlled trial, in which one group is vaccinated, while another is not to serve as a control. While that would provide the best data, it also raises an ethical issue: Is it OK to give a potentially lifesaving vaccine to some but not others, and how do you choose who gets it? A second strategy would be vaccinating groups in sequence, with the later groups serving as the control for the first groups. All groups would eventually be vaccinated. Considering that doses may be limited initially, this strategy could work from a practical perspective. A third strategy is ring vaccination, which vaccinates the family and social circle around an infected individual to halt the spread of the disease. Longini says it may be possible to use all three and says a vaccine may be the

best hope for an end to the epidemic. His previous research has shown that vaccinating 60 percent of a population ends up protecting nearly 100 percent by offering “herd“ immunity. The trials would not be easy under normal circumstances, Longini says, and they will be even more complicated in West Africa. “This speed is unprecedented,” Longini says. “It’s a bit of gamble, and there are a lot of question marks. But think what a good vaccine could do.” Ira Longini Professor of Biostatistics ilongini@ufl.edu Sharon Abramowitz Assistant Professor of Anthropology sabramowitz@ufl.edu

John Jernigan



“There were real

instances of women knowing in advance they were sacrificing themselves to care for their families.” — Sarah McKune

Related website: http://africa.ufl.edu/research-training/working-groups/ ebola-research-group



22 Spring 2015



n the world of weight loss and fitness, numbers rule: 279 pounds; 20,000 pushups; 75 miles; a 6:22 marathon; a 16:39:53 Ironman; a 750-pound truck tire; the No. 6 at the drive-thru; a 76-ounce steak. One number ought to be fair game for a chat with the author of Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning PantsSplitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success, so …

Illustrations by Paul Messal, photography by Steve Johnson

“What did you weigh when you stepped on the scale this morning?” Ted Spiker, University of Florida journalism professor and noted health and fitness author, smiles serenely. “I haven’t weighed myself in nine months,” Spiker says. “I just kind of stopped, and I try not to be so wrapped up in that number.” This from a guy who pokes fun at himself on the Big Guy Blog in Runner’s

World and who ate that 76-ounce steak, with fries and ice cream, for a magazine story in Men’s Health. In Down Size, he talks about growing up thinking he had an extra gland that caused him to pack pounds on his hips, and gym class humiliations that almost everyone can relate to but no one wants to talk about. So what are these weight loss truths that have caused him to break up with his scale?




Your “extra gland” is all in your head


Why, yes, you can outsmart the cheese dip


Focusing on process will get you unstuck


If you’re the butt of a joke, you must then kick butt

5—Inspection Data is only a fraction about numbers


Mojo is manufacturable


You can dream your own diet


Playing hard never feels like hard work



Authentic progress happens when no one’s watching

You will get most inspired when you try to inspire


It takes others to do it by yourself


There is no finish line

24 Spring 2015

In a book that bridges the gap between the prescriptive — eat this, don’t eat that — and the memoir — I lost 100 pounds and changed my life – Spiker reports on weight loss and fitness, using dozens of sports psychologists, trainers, physicians and nutritionists for the science. He delivers his insight, too, in a funny, self-deprecating style, and the book is almost an adventure in weight loss and fitness with a side of fries. He is vulnerable but makes it clear that he “owns” his weight. He’s hard on himself, but his tone to readers is gentle; the book is an empathetic nudge in the direction of good health for weary weight-loss warriors. “For so long, I put so much stock in that number on the scale, that I’ve realized that can’t be what it’s about,” says Spiker, who guesses he is in the low 200s, which he carries well on his 6-foot-2 frame. “For me, for society as a whole, for people trying to lose weight, that number is devilish. “I want to win the day, win the week and try to think of health more holistically,” Spiker says. Although numbers are part of goalsetting, Spiker’s 12 truths (see list) are heavily seasoned with the concept of “feel.” Whether we are overweight or just have body image issues, we need to stop beating ourselves up in our pursuit of good health. He details his lifelong affair with food and his top 10, which always features meat and potatoes but currently includes cheese grits. “I never really had them until recently; oh my gosh, cheese grits are really good,” Spiker says. Followers tease him on Twitter about pancakes because of a story he wrote for Runner’s World. He likes chicken, and on occasion will ask his wife to get him his own rotisserie chicken for dinner, and he makes it a meal with a little sriracha. For him, cutting carbohydrates and sugar helps with weight loss, but he says he likes his carbs too much to go completely carb-free.

• Spiker's book cover. • Crossing the Ironman finish line • Ironman finishing medal

His land mines are clear from the mouth-watering smorgasbord that appears in the book: bacon cheeseburgers, tacos, peanut butter cups, icy coffee drinks, pretzel rolls, snickerdoodles, Cherry Garcia ice cream, cake-batterflavored coffee creamer, Fudgsicles, banana pudding, barbecue chips, Easter candy, ravioli, cinnamon buns, lasagna, S’Mores Blizzards. He uses humor – “I want to have my cake, and eat yours, too” — to make the point that food issues are anything but easy. As a society, we need to come to grips with the role of food and stop thinking, “We’re going to beat the pepperoni out of the obesity epidemic with a fifty-pound bag of carrots,” Spiker writes.

The Food Dilemma

Our food environment is challenging. Smoking declined in popularity because the environment changed for smokers. Food is trickier. Food is still cool, and we all eat, so changing the environment for food will take a huge buy-in beyond what anti-smoking campaigns saw. For foodies, the question Spiker poses — Do we stand a chance against chicken parm sandwiches? — is downright existential. Food also comes with family and friends attached. For Spiker, his wife’s Thanksgiving meal is his favorite food memory, not just because it’s so delicious but because the family goes with the food. Still, every occasion cannot be a special occasion. “I cannot remember a time ...” he trails off, and begins again, “It’s very hard for me to have an indulgent meal and not have guilt with it.” As he writes in Down Size: “Food is part of who I am. I eat fast. I eat a lot.”

His gusto for food is matched by his passion for exercise, particularly a challenge. Spiker says he’s not big on New Year’s resolutions, but likes to have a goal each year. In 2013, it was the Ironman, the most elite of endurance events, with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. Racers who finish the three legs with a time higher than 17 hours are listed as DNF, Did Not Finish, their effort not even recorded. Spiker’s goal was to beat 17 hours. In a road race, nobody hangs around to watch the last runners. But at the Ironman, the 17th hour ticking to a close, Spiker high-fived his way the last half-mile to the finish line, with a time of 16:39:53. “I was passing people who had their medals on, they had already showered and napped and eaten, literally probably finished six hours beforehand, and they’re out there cheering you on,” Spiker says.

“It was almost like the weight was gone. I did it. No matter how fast or slow I am, or how much I gain or lose, I have that.” Spiker says the great part about an Ironman is there’s zero judgment on your time. He was downplaying his time — “I’d hardly call it a race” — in a conversation with a friend, when the friend said to him, “You know what they call the person who finished last in medical school? Doctor. It’s OK, you’re still an Ironman.” The cachet of the Ironman label has traveled with him as well. In party conversation, a woman said in passing, “Well, you’re an elite athlete.” “I almost spit my drink out,” Spiker says. “That’s the furthest thing from what I am. It’s interesting to see people’s perceptions of you, when you’ve had other perceptions for 40-some years about how you are.”



• The Sub-30 Club with Ted Spiker at a 2014 Runner's World event. • Spiker teaching a journalism class • Spiker's Aaron Hernandez tweet

Breaking News

Those perceptions come through in Down Size, the story fluctuating between vulnerable and gutsy. The guy picked last for basketball, who got a D in gym class, runs the New York City marathon, an Ironman and a Tough Mudder. A reader can hope that exorcises the demons of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. He’s explored for himself the line between reasons and excuses and urges readers to do so, too. Spiker says he’s felt supported on his weight loss and fitness quests, and he likes to pay that forward. He first started hearing from atypical runners when he started the Big Guy Blog for Runner’s World. Even people without weight issues would write in and say, “You kind of represent misfits in a way.” He started a Facebook group for runners trying to break 30 minutes on a 5K race, thinking he might be the only one, but the Sub-30 Club page now has 3,000 members. The number is the goal, but it comes with encouragement. “It’s an amazing community. We all know what it’s like not to fit in,” Spiker says. “But the spirit of the people, it’s crazy how they all are supportive of each other.”

26 Spring 2015

When one member was struggling with her 5K time, Spiker decided to attend her next race, although he’d never met her in person. He managed to pick her out of the crowd, and, “She was coming up the last tenth of a mile, and I see the time, and it’s clear she’s going to get it, and I yelled her name, ‘You got it, you got it, you’re crushing it!’” She was shocked to see him and even more shocked that he had shown up specifically to see her get her sub-30 time. “The look on her face, that I came out to cheer her on ... It wasn’t a hard thing for me to do, but she said that it meant something for me to do that, and that’s important.” That’s the connection he wants to forge with his readers. One woman described Down Size as “motivation for the imperfect person.” Another reader, an acquaintance he’d fallen out of touch with, called and asked to have lunch after reading it. He was struggling with some personal issues, not weight loss, but the book resonated so much that he began to cry. He was open enough, Spiker says, to see the connections between emotions and food.

In 2014, Spiker started the year using a spread sheet to track his goals: 20,000 pushups, 75 miles swimming, 1,000 miles running, 1,500 miles biking, 25 tire-flipping workouts, 1,500 minutes of stretching, 30,000 seconds in plank position, 1 unassisted pull-up. Then along came a curveball. “This is reality,” Spiker says. “Life gets in the way.” The rejiggering of fitness goals aside, this curveball is welcome. Spiker became the chair of the Department of Journalism in the College of Journalism and Communications, an exciting opportunity at a time when the field needs leadership. He loves teaching, and students love him if his reviews on Rate My Professor are any indication: “Spiker rocks!” and “Best teacher at UF.” One student wrote, “ … some might say he is kind of hot,” a nice boost for body image. He even has a red chili pepper, although his isn’t on fire like another colleague’s. In his capstone magazine class, he sometimes uses audio files to give feedback, and in his packed Sports Media & Society class, he brings in speakers to explore the complicated role of sports in the world today. “In my magazine and book stuff I can hopefully reach a bigger audience, but I don’t get a ton of feedback,” Spiker says. “With teaching, I have a small audience in a lot of cases, and you can really help somebody one on one, and steer them in a way that affects their lives.”

John Freeman

Gwenn Kolenich

In the new position, “I want to take the things I’ve learned and help people get where they want to go, students and faculty. This job is going to be about ideas, it’s going to be about the big picture.” The hand-wringing over the death of his craft misses the point, he says: Journalism is evolving. It’s no longer just newspapers or the evening news, but “… everything from those things to online platforms to magazine style to tweets to citizen journalism to storytelling within corporations.” Spiker embraces the post-traditional platforms — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. When UF removed a brick commemorating former Gator tight end Aaron Hernandez after he was charged with murder while in the NFL, Spiker happened to be walking by. Journalism juices flowing, he took a photo of the brick and tweeted it out. “I said to myself this is a significant moment, a national moment, and I’m right here,” Spiker says. “That’s the advantage of social media, we’re all reporters.” Spiker also took to Twitter when he got a jaywalking ticket for crossing a side street in a crosswalk against a red signal. “I was livid,” Spiker says. “I was careful, I looked both ways, it was a side street, nothing was coming, and I got pulled over on foot. “This is the point of social media, you have a voice when you feel like

you’ve been wronged. That’s really what journalism can be about, so social media can be an extension of that.” In the spirit of journalistic fairness — if you rip somebody, you have to give him a chance to respond — he tagged Gainesville Police. To his surprise and GPD’s credit, he says, they engaged (he still had to pay the ticket). While he acknowledges that the market is nearly saturated for health and diet books, he felt there was room for Down Size. “If we have all these diet books, and we’re still an overweight society, then obviously something is missing,” Spiker says. The quick fixes might work for “two weeks, or two months, but how do you sustain it?” Spiker asks. “We all want the quick prescription, just do this and everything will work out. The reality, as we all know, is it’s not that easy. “That’s probably one of the reasons I haven’t weighed myself. When I was training for the Ironman, I felt strong. I wasn’t the lowest weight I’ve ever been, but I felt strong, and I felt good, and I felt like I was achieving something, and I felt like I had the support of a huge network of people, not just in person but online,” Spiker says. “I feel good. So what does that number in the scale mean?” Ted Spiker Associate Professor of Journalism tspiker@jou.ufl.edu Related website: http://www.tedspiker.com/






he University of Florida Training Reactor was commissioned in 1959 as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, and today it is one of the five oldest university research reactors still licensed.

28 Spring 2015

From left, Leigh Winfrey, Kelly Jordan and Jim Baciak are shown inside the room that houses the reactor. Reactor manager Brian Shea is in the control room, which is being converted from analog to digital. John Jernigan

As it approached the half-century mark, it was due for a makeover, however, and no one is more excited to see it emerge from that process and “go critical” again than UF Nuclear Engineering Program Director Jim Baciak. “I think I’m the last person on campus who actually saw that reactor operate,” says Baciak, a materials science and engineering professor at UF from 2004-2010. “We did an experiment for one of my classes in 2007, and that was the last time it was used.” On track to be recommissioned this spring, the refurbished reactor will open new research and education opportunities at an exciting time for UF’s Nuclear Engineering Program. Like others throughout the U.S., the UF program had languished for a couple of decades. Power plants were not being built and the demand for nuclear scientists was low. Today, with the latest generation of nuclear power reactors ready to go online and others on order, and advances in nuclear science, UF’s program and others are seeing healthy gains in enrollment. Baciak returned to UF in 2012 after two years at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, rejoining a faculty that includes reactor director Kelly Jordan, an R&D 100 award winner in 2013 for innovation in nuclear security technology. Baciak was named program director in 2014 and began hiring faculty and adding students. Two new faculty members joined, and enrollment of Ph.D. students, down to half a dozen two or three years ago, stands at 25 and by fall should be at 32 or 33. In what Baciak calls “the old days,” the UF program was in the top 10 and, he says, “I think we can get back there in relatively short order.”



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John Jernigan

Research reactors do not produce electricity but operate as a source for neutrons that can be used for research, training, testing materials or producing radioisotopes for medicine and industry. The UF reactor is one of fewer than 30 research reactors on college campuses.

actually teach our students “how Wetocanoperate a reactor, how to bring it up to critical power safely and translate what they learn to the real world.

— Jim Baciak

30 Spring 2015

Baciak credits Jordan with keeping the arduous task of reactor renovation on course and for using it as a research opportunity to investigate ways to switch from midcentury analog equipment to modern digital equipment. While the reactor has been idle, nearly everything around it has been replaced and other modern features, like around-the-clock cameras for surveillance and monitoring experiments, has been added. “We’ve pretty much replaced everything,” Baciak says. “The only thing that’s going to be old is the concrete and some graphite blocks.” While some universities have decommissioned their research reactors, Baciak is glad UF decided to remain part of the university reactor fleet, which numbers fewer than 30. Research reactors play an important role in training the next generation of nuclear scientists and power plant operators. They also function as a neutron source for experiments that range from medical to archaeological. “Strategically, if you have a reactor, it allows you to incorporate it into your education and research program, and gives you the ability to do a lot of things some other nuclear programs cannot do,” Baciak says. “We can actually teach our students how to operate a reactor, how to bring it up to critical power safely and translate what they learn to the real world. “It also allows us to irradiate materials and learn how they perform under high-intensity radiation,” Baciak says. “We can use our neutron imaging capabilities for non-destructive analysis that can be interesting for fields like medicine and archaeology and forensic science. “We hope others on campus will take advantage of it.”

rooms look like something “inThea badcontrol sci-fi movie. In the nuclear world, from a control perspective, everything runs on 1970s technologies; it’s all analog. It’s the last sector of anything, anywhere that still runs on analog. — Kelly Jordan

John Jernigan

UF’s Nuclear Engineering Building was constructed to house the reactor, which was commissioned in 1959. UF President J. Wayne Reitz got a tour of the controls of the then-new reactor. The original control room window will be restored as part of the reactor upgrade.

The reactor update opened new avenues of research, Jordan said. The research reactor does not produce electricity, so it can function as a testbed for modernization. As reactors nationwide aged, technology marched on. “The control rooms look like something in a bad sci-fi movie,” Jordan says. “In the nuclear world, from a control perspective, everything runs on 1970s technologies; it’s all analog. It’s the last sector of anything, anywhere that still runs on analog.” For reactor repairs, and people who can do the repairs, that became a problem. “Nobody is producing new electrical engineers that are experts in analog,” Jordan says. “Everything

becomes a custom design, and that’s not sustainable.” Digital equipment is available, but installing it is not as simple as turning a reactor off, putting new controls into place, and turning the reactor back on. Initially, both systems are used simultaneously. This allows operators to confirm that the digital equipment works as planned and generates data to assure regulators the digital system works properly. The long history with analog is part of what makes it safe. The goal is to gain that history with digital controls without compromising safety. “Safety and reliability are the things you’re shooting for most: knowing how, when, and why your equipment is going to fail is about the most

valuable thing you can know,” Jordan says. “With analog technologies, you have 40 years of experience with these things. We don’t have that with digital technologies yet.” That’s where the UF research reactor comes in. It will be the first to accomplish the switch from analog to digital, and provides a safe testbed for the digital learning curve. The presence of a research reactor was a plus for Leigh Winfrey, UF’s newest nuclear engineering faculty member. When she was working at Virginia Tech, she had to travel to North Carolina State University when she “needed neutrons.” Baciak says Winfrey, who is only the second woman ever on the nuclear



engineering faculty, is reviving an area UF has not had since the 1990s: plasma physics and fusion. It’s a dynamic area he expects to attract students and research projects. The bread and butter of nuclear science is fission, the splitting of atoms to create energy. Fusion seeks to do the opposite. In fusion, tritium and deuterium atoms combine under ultra-high pressure and temperature, releasing huge amounts of energy that dwarf the energy produced by fission. The sun is powered by fusion. On earth, fusion presents issues, Winfrey says. The physics of confining the reaction, without touching it, is an interesting physics question. Magnetic fields might work, but then, the next question is how to add more tritium and deuterium to sustain the reaction. That requires fusion pellet injections at super high speeds that can enter an area about the size of a small room that is as hot as the sun.





“How you do that is a really interesting question,” says Winfrey, and one that brings in her interest in plasma physics. “Fun fact, about 99 percent of the matter in the universe is plasma, and plasmas have a number of applications for materials processing and making new materials,” Winfrey says. “Computer processors use plasmas, new running clothes use plasmas, they can be used in just about any industry you can think of.” A plasma is any atom, compound or molecule that has had some or all of its electrons removed to produce a charge. Neon restaurant signs are plasmas. In nuclear engineering, plasmas are useful in producing thin films for impermeable coatings to contain the radiation from spent fuel. “The work now is to come up with a material that can take thermal and radiation stresses, and be picked up and moved around safely,” Winfrey says. “Plasma physicists are sometimes not part of nuclear programs, so I’m happy we can do it here.” UF made a good first impression on Winfrey last spring, when Jordan invited her to give a seminar. The talk was in March on the first day and during the first game of March Madness and the room was full.

“I said I could stop at half an hour, and we were still going an hour and a half later,” Winfrey says. “The students were incredibly engaging.” Baciak, Jordan and Winfrey all agree that nuclear engineering programs need to communicate the benefits of their science and ease the qualms of those who fear it. “It comes down to radiation. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, you can’t feel it, or you don’t realize you see it, touch it and feel it every day,” Winfrey says. Baciak says the resurgence in new plant orders, especially for countries like China, shows that people realize nuclear energy is a reliable way to produce electricity without emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Other countries have embraced it, like France, which gets 80 percent of its energy from nuclear power. Researchers are constantly looking for better and more cost-effective ways of reusing spent fuel, Baciak says. “If you take all the radioactive spent fuel from throughout the country for the last 50 years, you could stack it about 10 meters high, end zone to end zone in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium,” Baciak says. “If we reprocessed it, instead of end zone to end zone, it would be from the 10-yard line to the end zone.”



236U 92Kr


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32 Spring 2015

The reactor sits inside a white concrete bunker, painted with an orange-andblue stripe and festooned with the flags of the United States, Florida and the Gators. The round opening on the left and the square openings in the front are ports for inserting materials to be exposed to neutrons. When the analog controls are replaced, new digital equipment will be installed, including multiple computer systems and screens.

and 28 people died within the next few weeks from acute radiation poisoning. In Fukushima, a tsunami swamped the plant, and three cores melted, causing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people. The Fukushima plant had ignored a recommendation to build a sea wall. Economics may help in communicating nuclear power advantages, Baciak says. In the Pacific Northwest, with nuclear and hydroelectric sources of power, electricity costs about 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour. In the Southeast, with primarily coal and natural gas utilities, electricity costs more than twice that. That’s why, he says, nuclear plants are on order in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. With nuclear plants in demand, the need for research grows as well. Baciak says the program has brought in $10 million in the last two years. And the program got another boost when Coquí RadioPharmaceuticals announced that it will build a $250 million radioisotope

facility near UF’s Progress Park, citing proximity to UF’s nuclear engineering program as one of the factors. When it opens, Coquí will become the only U.S. supplier of technetium, a material critical in about 18 million medical procedures each year. Canadian sources of technetium are being decommissioned, so Coquí provides a secure, national supply chain, Baciak says. “Nuclear power, nuclear science truly has benefits for our country and for the earth,” Baciak says. “And we’d like to do a better job of communicating that.” James Baciak Associate Professor and Director of Nuclear Engineering Program jebaciak@mse.ufl.edu Kelly Jordan Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering kjordan@ufl.edu Leigh Winfrey Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering winfrey@mse.ufl.edu Related website: http://www.nuceng.ufl.edu/

now is to come up “withThe aworkmaterial that can take thermal and radiation stresses, and be picked up and moved around safely.

— Leigh Winfrey



John Jernigan

Baciak is not opposed to other alternative energy sources; he once owned a home with solar heating panels. But nuclear energy should be part of the mix, he says. Jordan agrees, pointing out, “We ruined an entire Gulf just kind of doing our normal day to day thing, drilling oil, and we’re scared of nuclear,” Jordan says. “What scares the heck out of me is this business of global warming.” The nuclear culture in the United States is a safety-first culture, Jordan says, joking that nuclear engineers are so risk-averse that they have incredibly low divorce rates. The striking differences between the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States and accidents overseas — Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 — should ease some public concern, Baciak says. A cooling malfunction at Three Mile Island caused part of a core to melt, releasing some radioactive gas a few days afterward, which dispersed to background radiation levels (there is constant background radiation in the air). By contrast, in the Chernobyl accident, as a result of flawed design and inadequately trained personnel, two plant workers died that night

John Jernigan


John Jernigan

S H T PA 34 Spring 2015

NEW DIABETES INSTITUTE BRINGS MORE THAN 100 RESEARCHERS TOGETHER TO BATTLE DISEASE my and Mike Mangan knew immediately that something was wrong with their son Griffin when he came home to Ocala last September just a month after starting his sophomore year at Florida State University. “I was taken aback by how he looked. He had clearly lost a lot of weight — he didn’t look healthy,” Amy says. “We thought perhaps he was stressed, that he had a crazy schedule. He’s a conscientious student, so perhaps he was working really hard. Maybe he had a virus.” When Griffin stepped on a scale and they realized their son had lost 20 pounds, they rushed him to an emergency clinic. There, he was so dehydrated it took nine attempts to draw blood. The results were disturbing. Griffin’s blood sugar was 399 milligrams per deciliter. Normal is 70 to 100 before eating. The clinic sent him straight to the nearby hospital.





At the hospital, Griffin told doctors he was always thirsty, so he drank a lot, and urinated a lot. He was tired, but he chalked it up to the new semester. “The symptoms just showed up, and I hadn’t thought much about them before I came home,” Griffin says. But to the doctors, those symptoms pointed to a serious problem — Griffin had type 1 diabetes. “The diagnosis came out of nowhere,” Amy says. “It was such a shock.” It took just a few minutes online for Amy to find some of the nation’s leading diabetes researchers 40 miles up the road at the University of Florida. Griffin was admitted to UF Health

Shands, a place the Mangans know well. Their daughter, Gillian, is treated at UF Health for epilepsy. At UF Health, Griffin landed in the hands of a team led by researcher Mark Atkinson, who says Griffin’s case highlights the insidious nature of diabetes, which can strike seemingly healthy people out of the blue. “In type 1, 85 percent of the time there’s no family history of diabetes, so it’s shocking when it is diagnosed,” says Atkinson, the American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar for Diabetes Research. Atkinson has spent more than 30 years at UF, building an interdisciplinary foundation to tackle one of the most intractable diseases of our time. He and Desmond Schatz, co-medical director, pediatric diabetes and president-elect




“From clinicians to researchers to social workers to teachers, nearly every department that can contribute to diabetes research is involved.” - Mark Atkinson

36 Spring 2015

of the American Diabetes Association, are among the top 10 type 1 diabetes researchers in the world, according to Expertscape, a health information website. While UF has a long history of diabetes research, in 2014 the university officially pulled all of that research together with the launch of the UF Diabetes Institute, with Atkinson as director and Schatz as medical director. The institute brings together nearly 100 faculty members from the colleges of Medicine, Engineering, Public Health and Health Professions, Nursing, Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and UF Health Jacksonville. UF traces its diabetes roots to 1968, when Dr. Arlen Rosenbloom was recruited from the University of Wisconsin as the university’s first pediatric endocrinologist. Rosenbloom subsequently recruited other diabetes experts, like Janet Silverstein and Noel Maclaren.

When Atkinson, fresh out of his undergraduate program, approached Maclaren about joining his research team, Maclaren first sent him to the Florida Camp for Children and Youth with Diabetes. “My eyes were opened,” Atkinson says. “I didn’t know much about diabetes then, I just thought I’d hate to take shots, and not be able to eat what I want. But I saw the impact of diabetes, how it’s there with you 24/7 ... I wanted to make a difference.” Atkinson says Maclaren offered this advice: “If you pursue three avenues of investigation and find out their answers, you will make a valuable contribution to type 1 diabetes — determine what causes type 1 diabetes; identify a means to predict, months to years in advance, who will develop the disease; and develop a method to cure type 1 diabetes.” “I can say with both a sense of happiness and sadness that these three avenues remain a major focus of my

research efforts,” Atkinson says. “Happiness, in that progress has been made toward each goal, but at the same time none have been fully addressed.” UF researchers were among the first to understand the cascade of events that result in type 1 diabetes, which improved the means to predict those at increased risk to develop the disease. Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes occurs when white blood cells vital to the body’s defenses against infectious diseases launch a self-directed or “autoimmune” attack on insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The insulin these beta cells produce regulates how the body uses and stores sugar and other food nutrients for energy. Research has shown that the pancreas is a resilient organ and more than half of its insulin-producing beta cells must be irreversibly destroyed before an individual develops the kinds of symptoms Griffin experienced — frequent urination and increased fluid

and food consumption. While these symptoms appear abruptly, the disease process itself takes months or even years to occur. The goals of UF diabetes research today are the same as when Atkinson began his career. The difference is UF’s breadth and depth. From clinicians to researchers to social workers to teachers, nearly every department that can contribute to diabetes research is involved, Atkinson says. The interdisciplinary approach has turned UF into a hub for diabetes work and has attracted a cadre of talented researchers and grants. “This makes our program quite unique in terms of its kind within the United States,” Atkinson says. When he started diabetes research in the early 1980s, Atkinson says, “people thought a cure for type 1 diabetes was right around the corner.” Indeed, many diabetes advocates viewed the 1990s as the “decade of the cure” for type 1 diabetes. Genetic

advances, new drugs to aid in organ transplants, and new animal models for research all fueled optimism. But the months turned into years, and the years turned into decades, and although great leaps have been made in disease management and in tests to predict who might get the disease, the cause and the cure have proven elusive. “As time went on, it got later and later in the ‘90s, and there was no cure,” Atkinson says. “You can look back now and could argue that researchers were naïve, but there was a lot of optimism at the time. “Diabetes is a tough nut to crack. It is much more complex than we ever thought decades ago,” he adds. Although the current environment is the most difficult he has seen for obtaining research funding, Atkinson says the UF Diabetes Institute continues to attract significant grants, creating a synergy in its research enterprise, and renewed optimism.



“Now, more than any other time in my career, people are collaborating, they are pooling resources, pooling ideas to tackle diabetes together,” Atkinson says. Last fall, four UF researchers received a total of more than $10 million in grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, on top of funding in 2013 of a five-year program to Atkinson of nearly $18 million from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or JDRF. The JDRF funding supported nPOD, the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes, which gives scientists the opportunity to work with human pancreatic tissue rather than mouse models. Atkinson says UF formed nPOD in 2007 because “existing data from human pancreases was mostly from older studies that didn’t factor in modern technologies available today. “Until nPOD, research primarily involved rodent models of the disease. But this has limitations because rodents

only partially reproduce the human condition and several key questions cannot be investigated unless using human tissue.” About 150 projects from 17 countries currently rely on nPOD, with 38 projects added in 2014 alone. Atkinson says it’s a team approach pioneered by diabetes researchers and now modeled in other health care arenas. While a cause and cure remain unsolved, advances in treatment are changing lives. “In the generation before me, if a child developed type 1 diabetes, the parents might be told their child would live into their 20s or 30s but wouldn’t have a long life, or women would be advised against having children. The innovations of the 1950s, ’60s and ‘70s changed those dogmas. But even in the 1980s and ‘90s, statistics told us diabetes was the leading cause of blindness in adults and the major cause of limb amputation, and it reduced lifespan by two decades,” Atkinson says.

DNA BREAKTHROUGH Patrick Concannon, director of the UF Genetics Institute, was part of a team of researchers that gathered genetic information from 27,000 people — including some who had type 1 diabetes — and looked for differences in their DNA. Starting with 200,000 possible locations in the genome, they narrowed the number of potential disease-causing DNA variations down to five or less. “It’s a game-changer for type 1 diabetes,” Concannon says. “We’ve taken this genetic data which was interesting but hard to work with, and we’ve condensed it down into something that people can actually use to begin to explore the mechanism of the disease." Researchers can now shift away from trying to determine which genes heighten the risk for diseases like Type 1 diabetes, says Todd Brusko, an assistant professor in the UF Diabetes Institute. Instead, they can focus on how genetic changes alter immune cell activity. “Ultimately, this information will allow researchers and clinicians to tailor treatments to correct underlying defects in the immune system that allow for autoimmune disease development,” Brusko says. The findings by the team from UF, Harvard, MIT and the University of Cambridge were published in the journal Nature Genetics.

38 Spring 2015 38

“Data emerging in even the last year show a very different picture,” he adds. "If you have access to diabetes supplies, health care education, and follow the advice given, the risk of complications plummets. Because of medical advances, the story is not so bleak." Atkinson says advances in the technology of diabetes care — insulin pumps, simple and fast blood tests, several varieties of insulin — have improved the lives of diabetes patients, at least in the United States. Globally, the picture is different, ranging from very good to quite grim. Atkinson and his wife, Carol, work with Insulin for Life USA, the world’s second largest not-for-profit provider of free diabetes supplies to developing countries. Atkinson, president of the organization, says the growing program helps about 5,000 patients a year. “For those with type 1 diabetes, not having access to insulin is a death sentence,” Atkinson says. “Even if you

stay alive with limited access to insulin, the complications that are rare here are rampant in other parts of the world.” Atkinson tells how Insulin for Life USA provided insulin for a girl in India, who nevertheless died at 12. The diagnosis of diabetes made her unsuitable as a marriage partner, and parents feared the supply of insulin might be unreliable, so they did not treat her diabetes. “For much of the developing world, what we view as a mere treatment and find unacceptable is considered a cure, because it keeps people alive,” Atkinson says. While progress is being made on type 1 diabetes, the number of people with the more common type 2, or insulin resistant, diabetes continues to skyrocket. (See sidebar) In the United States, one in five health care dollars is spent by someone diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Research by Atkinson and colleagues in 2010 placed the costs of

type 1 diabetes at $14.4 billion, and the ADA estimates costs for all forms of diabetes hit $245 billion in 2012. “The public at large doesn’t understand diabetes. They think the worst part is that you can’t eat what you want, or you take a pill, and you’re OK,” Atkinson says. “They think, ‘Diabetes? Meh.’ Diabetes isn’t ‘meh.’” For young adults like Griffin, diabetes can be particularly challenging, as they transition from the regular care of a pediatrician and the watchful eyes of parents to start college or a job. Many are living in dorms or sharing apartments. For them, a diabetes diagnosis is a curveball. “It’s an awkward time for anybody, but if you have type 1 diabetes, it’s a really awkward time,” Atkinson says. “Having diabetes sucks, it really stinks. It’s never good to have diabetes.” Still, Atkinson says, “If you have to have the disease there is no better time in history than now, at least in the United States.” For now, Griffin is learning to live with his new companion. “I was completely ignorant of the disease at first,” Griffin

said. “It was a really big learning curve for the first month.” He’s adjusted his eating habits, cutting out sweet tea. He checks his blood sugar before each meal, and before he runs or goes to rugby practice. Recently, Griffin met with a UF nutritionist to make sure he was correctly estimating his carbohydrate consumption. Griffin’s final new routine? Checking in with his mother, to whom he texts his blood glucose levels each time he measures them. At the UF Diabetes Institute, Atkinson says, Griffin is backed by a team ready to help. Although no one in his own family has diabetes, Atkinson says children who took part in research trials in the 1980s now come back to him to screen, and possibly treat, their children. “We have generations of the same family coming back to us for research and clinical care,” says Atkinson. “I have hundreds of family members with diabetes.” Mark Atkinson Professor of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine atkinson@pathology.ufl.edu Desmond Schatz Professor of Pediatrics schatz@ufl.edu Related website: diabetes.ufl.edu

BETA DEATH While Mathews unravels why beta cells fail, Desmond Schatz says researchers still need a method to detect the death of beta cells. They know beta cells have died primarily because of the absence of insulin. “This has slowed our progress in our quest for the prevention and cure of the disease,” he says. Schatz and colleagues at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Imperial College, London, are using a $1.4 million grant to explore novel methods to detect the death of beta cells in blood samples.



John Jernigan


ndocrinologist Michael Haller — Griffin’s physician — is in the midst of a 15-year study called The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in Youth, or TEDDY, in the Department of Pediatrics. The study is tracking some 8,000 youth at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The researchers review the participants’ blood draws, urine, fingernail and hair samples, diet and vaccine histories and illness records in an attempt to pin down what happens in a person’s environment that triggers the immune system to attack their beta cells. “There’s any number of potential pathways to get the immune system attacking beta cells,” Haller says. “It may not be a single event – it may be any number of events or a collection of events. Being able to parse those out is why type 1 diabetes is so challenging.” Haller also recently completed a pilot study of two drugs. The first, Thymoglobulin, knocks out attacking immune system cells. The other, Neulasta, helps produce new, healthy immune cells. After one year, participants who received the combination therapy were still producing insulin at baseline levels while the insulin production of participants who received a placebo decreased by 40 percent. The international diabetes research network TrialNet will launch the study in a larger, national population.

40 Spring 2015


enneth Cusi, chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and adult medical director for the Diabetes Institute, focuses on the burgeoning issue of type 2 diabetes. A 2010 study by Novo Nordisk, one of the leading producers of insulin

Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes.

John Jernigan

medications, predicted a 64 percent increase in the number of Americans living with diabetes — diagnosed and undiagnosed — by 2025. In type 2 diabetes, the body either no longer produces enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels, or the insulin it does produce cannot properly

Another 86 million people have prediabetes.

break down glucose. Nearly 30 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes, according to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report. Another 86 million have prediabetes, with its elevated blood sugar, and 15 to 30 percent of them will develop type 2 diabetes within five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. UF Endocrinology Clinics now treat about 7,000 diabetes patients annually, prompting Cusi and his team to create a diabetes care task force of nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists and diabetes educators, among others. The task force meets weekly to review cases and learn about the latest research. Cusi is an expert on another condition that predisposes people to type 2 diabetes: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which afflicts about 100 million people in the United States. The disease and its more severe counterpart, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, are caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. About two-thirds of people who are obese have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Only 1 out of 10 know they have prediabetes.

“In obesity, it’s not just that you have more fat — you have a sick, or dysfunctional, fat. This fat doesn’t behave normally, but releases a number of adipokines, or proteins, and fatty acids into the bloodstream,” Cusi says. At UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Professor Linda Bobroff and colleagues have developed a self-management education program for adults with type 2 diabetes called “Take Charge of Your Diabetes.” The program — which includes 11 lessons focused on standards of medical care in diabetes, self-monitoring of blood glucose, diabetes medications, nutritional management, exercise and others — is implemented at extension offices throughout Florida in collaboration with local health professionals. “We know that positive lifestyle changes can reduce the incidence of health complications among adults with diabetes, but it’s a challenge to reach all of those who can benefit from a self-management education program,” says Bobroff, state extension nutrition specialist.

15 - 30% of those 86 million will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years.

The predicted increase in the number of Americans living with diabetes— diagnosed and undiagnosed— by 2025 UF adult Endocrinology Clinics treat about 7,000 diabetes patients annually. Explore


Janise McNair

Janise McNair says teaching electrical and computer engineering is her dream career, and a key to the associate professor’s dream is guiding her doctoral students toward their dream careers. One of her former students designs satellites for Boeing, two are now faculty members at other schools, and one has founded a startup company. Their paths are as diverse as they are, and McNair says diversity is important to her as well.

David Miller’s mentees have high praise for the education professor, but Miller says he has gotten as much out of the relationships as they have. “The core of mentoring is based on a long-term commitment to building a mutually beneficial relationship with students,” says Miller, a professor of research and evaluation methods. Miller’s expertise in research methods makes him highly sought after by doctoral students who need advice on their research and dissertations. He has served on 326 doctoral committees since 1987. His reputation for academic rigor is tempered by his kindness, says Janna Underhill, a 2014 doctoral graduate. Underhill worked full-time throughout her academic career, taking a decade to finish her Ph.D., and says Miller is the reason she stayed motivated on that journey. She doubts many professors

42 Spring 2015

As the only African-American professor in the department and one of the few women, McNair says she is passionate about boosting under-represented minorities, and her lab has fostered students from China, India, Latin America, and the United Arab Emirates as well as the U.S. “In some small way, I hope that I am teaching them to embrace their differences and engage their similarities,” McNair says. Department Chair John Harris says McNair has been vital to recruiting a diverse pool of students and has served as faculty advisor to the UF chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Ph.D. candidate Corey Baker says McNair is the epitome of a great mentor. “Dr. McNair has an ability to constructively build a student’s weaknesses while simultaneously reinforcing their strengths, without ever sacrificing a student’s confidence,” Baker says.

would have been as willing to take on a part-time student, but Miller “never gave up on me.” “He was actively supportive of my unusual situation, even from the first day I ever met with him to talk about the program,” Underhill says. “It was very obvious that he genuinely cared not only about my academic progress but also about me as a person; that, in turn, made me strive to work harder to make him proud.” College of Education Dean Glenn Good said Miller is known to be “gracious with his time,” and his students agree. Miller says through educational research and other academic collaborations, over time, the mentee and mentor become colleagues. “I have found mentoring and collaborative research with doctoral students to be the most rewarding part

Alumnus Paul Muri, now at Boeing, says McNair provided a range of opportunities as his mentor. Muri worked at two NASA sites, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Shanghai, and at Google during his doctoral research. McNair values hands-on experience, and often her students develop their own simulation tools and test beds. Several student-designed tools have been used by NASA and the U.S. military. Equally important, however, is that her students “become a valuable resource in society.” “I try to keep my students aware of their community, both the laboratory and society, to keep them engaged and connected as colleagues and friends,” McNair says. “In short, I feel that my role as a doctoral advisor is to help my doctoral students dream big, learn continually, embrace new experiences and engage with community and society.”

College of Education

College of Engineering

Ph.D. Mentors

David Miller of my faculty experience,” Miller says. “Mentoring has also become a robust learning experience for me. I have had the opportunity to research domains that I never before had considered exploring and learning new methodologies. These experiences, driven by student interest, have broadened and increased my research skills as a faculty member.”

Each year the Graduate School recognizes faculty members for excellence in mentoring doctoral students with the doctoral dissertation/mentoring award.

For Professor Madan Oli, mentoring begins when students enter his lab, but it never ends. One testament to that is Arpat Ozgul, Oli’s first mentee, who says he has observed Oli’s devotion to mentoring for 13 years. “A professor’s motivation for investing time in doctoral advising often contradicts his or her own career interests, which require peer-reviewed publication and grants; dedication to advising often has limited tangible returns for the professor,” says Ozgul, now director of a large research group at the University of Zurich. “Madan has always been a remarkable, dedicated, hard-working and selfless mentor to his doctoral students.” Ozgul says one measure of a mentor is the opportunities offered to a mentee. Ozgul arrived in Zurich by way of prestigious institutions such as Imperial College London and the University of

Cambridge. Another of Oli’s mentees now works at the Smithsonian Institution, and still another leads a conservation group in India. “As the alumni of Madan’s lab, we still form a strong network of scientific exchange and continue to follow in his footsteps as mentors dedicated to our fundamental responsibility to the society,” Ozgul says. Oli has served on 26 Ph.D. committees, chairing or co-chairing seven. He also was recognized in 2014 as the college Graduate Advisor/Teacher of the Year. He says it is important that his students have a reputation for being thorough and independent thinkers, representing UF well in the real world. Wildlife ecology and conservation department Chair Eric Hellgren says he has achieved just that: “These students are raising the profile, both nationally and internationally, of the University of

Madan Oli Florida and represent a tangible expression of Dr. Oli’s influence.” Oli’s most recent graduate, Carolina Perez-Heydrich, now an assistant professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., says she owes her success to Oli, although he was not her committee chair. “I would not have completed my program out of sheer frustration and lack of guidance.” Perez-Heydrich says. “Madan took it upon himself to serve as my unofficial advisor,”

Juan-Carlos Molleda

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

could have claimed it himself. Dean Diane McFarlin notes that Molleda “actively involved students in his own research,” leading to awards and honors for the budding scholars. Since 2000, they say, Molleda has chaired or served as a member of 23 doctoral committees. “He is their mentor — and, ultimately, their friend — for life,” McFarlin says. Molleda says he tries to ease the stress of the doctoral journey by helping students face their challenges. “It gives me immense pleasure when I see an expression of relief in their faces,” Molleda says. Bravo says she hopes to emulate Molleda’s wisdom and warmth with her own students. “I have learned, thanks to him, that an advisor is not only an academic example but a role model for his/her students in every sense,” Bravo says. “I am a better person because of him.”

College of Journalism & Communications

Vanessa Bravo earned her Ph.D. in 2011, but four years later her mentor still sends emails about publication opportunities, information about conferences and even interesting newspaper articles that could be useful in her classroom. “And I am not even his student anymore,” she says. That kind of sustained interest is a hallmark of mentorship for JuanCarlos Molleda, chair and professor of the Department of Public Relations

in UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, say former students like Bravo, who is now an assistant professor at Elon University. Maria De Moya, now an assistant professor at North DePaul University, said she had serious questions about pursuing doctoral studies after new student orientation in 2007. Then she met Molleda. “My first meeting with Dr. Molleda was a calming and encouraging experience,” De Moya says. “After that meeting, I felt for the first time that I had the means to take control of my academic progress and rise to the challenge of being a Ph.D. student at UF.” Former students also agree that Molleda is generous with his scholarship, offering help, advice and research opportunities, but without pushing students to pursue his research agenda. Bravo said Molleda gave her first authorship on a paper, when he easily



Michail Bentley

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“Afternoon Drink” A butterfly stops along a riverbank in the Peruvian Amazon to lick valuable minerals off of a rock before afternoon rains return the minerals to the river in “Afternoon Drink” by UF entomology graduate student Michael Benley. The image won honorable mention in the 2014 Elegance of Science art competition sponsored by the Marston Science Library and the Florida Museum of Natural History. The competition emphasizes and facilitates the link between artistic and scientific perceptions of reality. Learn more at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/elegance-science/home/

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