Posts tagged with "University of Missouri"

The Couch Potato Gene

Regular physical activity is a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle. However, a majority of American adults spend their waking hours sitting, which leads to a variety of health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Now, a researcher from the University of Missouri has identified a specific gene related to physical inactivity in rats that could potentially play a role in sedentary behavior in humans as well.

“Previous research has shown us that genes play some role in physical inactivity,” said Frank Booth, a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. “As inactivity leads to chronic disease, we wanted to identify which genes were involved and discovered one in particular, the Protein Kinase Inhibitor Alpha gene, that played a significant role.”

In 2009, Booth took 80 male rats and bred them with 80 female rats. He then placed the rats in voluntary running wheels, similar to those sold in pet stores, and tracked which rats ran the most and least. Over the past decade, Booth selectively bred the highly active rats with each other as well as the “lazy” rats with each other to determine if there is a difference in their genetic makeup. Booth found that the Protein Kinase Inhibitor Alpha gene was significantly less present in the “lazy” rats.

“What makes gene therapy difficult is that most chronic diseases are not caused by just one gene,” Booth said. “For example, there are more than 150 gene variations involved in type 2 diabetes. However, this study is paving the way for future research to identify other genes that might be involved in physical inactivity in humans as well.”

According to government data, costs associated with physical inactivity total $138 billion and account for more than 11% of total health care expenditures. In addition to the financial benefits of a more physically active society, Booth says a better understanding of genetic makeup could help public health officials see physical inactivity as a crucial priority to address.

“Physical inactivity contributes to more than 40 chronic diseases,” Booth said. “Rather than focusing on ways to treat chronic diseases after they have already developed, understanding the contributing factors to physical inactivity could help prevent those chronic diseases from occurring in the first place.”

Preventing Public Data Leaks

Protecting an individual’s identity from cyber thieves can be a monumental task, especially when thieves can gather information about someone by just using public data sources.

That’s why Rohit Chadha, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri, is working with researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on a $1.2 million grant over 4 years from the National Science Foundation to study how to help prevent privacy leaks when there is a large amount of data that can be gathered publicly.

“Differential privacy is a technique invented about fifteen years ago that ensures when someone asks questions of online databases — census data, consumer trends or aggregated information such as salary range or average number of children of people living in a certain area — the privacy of a person’s digital records remains intact,” Chadha said. “You still want to be able to grant access to these inquires because the data is important for businesses, researchers and governments. On the other hand, you also want to be able to protect an individual’s privacy.”

By asking enough valid questions of different databases, cyber thieves can build enough of a person’s profile that they can use that information in nefarious ways. Chadha said researchers have already begun testing different methods to thwart cyber thieves trying to attempt this.

“The research community has been aware of the possibility of these attacks for some time,” Chadha said.

Chadha, along with Aravinda Sistla of University of Illinois-Chicago and Mahesh Viswanathan of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and their teams will use the grant to verify the quality of the current methods being used and work to improve those methods as needed.

Rapidly detecting invisible dangers to food

When food is recalled due to contamination from bacteria such as salmonella, one may wonder how a tainted product ended up on store shelves. New technology being developed at the University of Missouri could give retailers and regulators an earlier warning on dangers in food, improving public health and giving consumers peace of mind.

The biosensor provides a rapid way for producers to know if this invisible danger is present in both raw and ready-to-eat food before it reaches the store. Annually, more than 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses in America, such as salmonella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Current tests used to determine positive cases of salmonella — for instance culturing samples and extracting DNA to detect pathogens — are accurate but may take anywhere from one to five days to produce results,” said Mahmoud Almasri, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the MU College of Engineering. “With this new device, we can produce results in just a few hours.”

In this study, researchers focused on poultry products, such as chicken and turkey. The biosensor uses a specific fluid that is mixed with the food to detect the presence of bacteria, such as salmonella, along a food production line in both raw and ready-to-eat food. That way, producers can know within a few hours — typically the length of a worker’s shift — if their products are safe to send out for sale to consumers. The researchers believe their device will enhance a food production plant’s operational efficiency and decrease cost.

“Raw and processed food could potentially contain various levels of bacteria,” said Shuping Zhang, professor and director of the Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. “Our device will help control and verify that food products are safe for consumers to eat and hopefully decrease the amount of food recalls that happen.”

Researchers said the next step would be testing the biosensor in a commercial setting. Almasri said he believes people in the food processing industry would welcome this device to help make food safer.

The study, “A microfluidic based biosensor for rapid detection of Salmonella in food products,” was published in PLOS ONE, one of the world’s leading peer-reviewed journals focused on science and medicine. Other authors include Ibrahem Jasim, Zhenyu Shen, Lu Zhao at MU; and Majed Dweik at Lincoln University. Funding was provided by a partnership between MU, the Coulter Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

This study details the latest findings for this interdisciplinary team of researchers who have developed multiple biosensors and published results of their previous findings in Scientific Reports, Biosensors and Bioelectronics and Electrophoresis.

Growing New Chompers

Unlike people, crocodiles do not clean their teeth to slow down wear and tear. Instead, they get rid of them and replace them with new copies.

Having one of the most powerful bites in the animal kingdom, crocodiles must be able to bite hard to eat their food such as turtles, wildebeest and other large prey. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that crocodiles — and even their plant-eating ancestors — had thin tooth enamel, a trait that is in stark contrast to humans and other hard-biting species. These findings could suggest new approaches for dealing with people’s teeth.

“Once we unlock genetically how crocodiles and other non-mammals do this, maybe new teeth can be bioengineered for people,” said Brianne Schmiegelow, a former undergraduate student at MU and current dental student at University of Missouri-Kansas City. “Instead of using fillers such as crowns, people could instead ‘grow’ new teeth when they need to replace their worn out chompers.”

The team used a three-dimensional x-ray scanner to measure the thickness of tooth enamel in crocodiles. They found regardless of tooth position — incisor, canine, molar — age or diet, crocodiles do not have thick tooth enamel. With this new information, the team also studied published data on dinosaur teeth and found that the data nearly matched what they were seeing in crocodiles. For instance, a Tyrannosaurus rex has the same enamel thickness as a crocodile and can also bite extremely hard.

“Crocodiles bite really hard, so we were curious if they have teeth that correspondingly withstand those forces — tough teeth to match a tough bite,” said Kaleb Sellers, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri and lead researcher on the study. “We found that they don’t have tough teeth, and we think it’s because they replace their teeth like most other non-mammal animals. That made us wonder if other animals — even prehistoric — had similar issues.”

Researchers said the next step is to study tooth replacement and the timing of teeth growth in crocodiles and other animals such as dinosaurs — even looking into the possibility of genetic causes.

“Enamel takes a long time to build, so it’s not something animals will do ‘off-the-cuff,’ so to speak,” said Casey Holliday, an associate professor of anatomy in the MU School of Medicine. “It presents us with an interesting puzzle. If ancient crocodiles were chewing plants, did their new teeth already have the correct architecture — dimples and facets — to allow for this chewing? The findings here have paved the way for exploring this mystery with future research.”

The study, “The significance of enamel thickness in the teeth of Alligator mississippiensis and its diversity among crocodyliforms,” was published in the Journal of Zoology. Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation grant (NSF-EAR 1631684), the University of Missouri Research Board, the University of Missouri Research Council, and the University of Missouri Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Opportunity program. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Virtual Cardiovascular System

MU scientists advance a way to track changes in a person’s cardiovascular system

Scientists have discovered a way to provide early detection of various cardiovascular diseases — a mathematical model of the ballistocardiogram. While an electrocardiogram uses a contact approach to measure the electrical activity of the heart, a ballistocardiogram is a non-contact way of measuring the mechanical effect of the blood flow through the cardiovascular system.

“Even when we stand or lie still, our mass redistributes inside our body and generates a bodily motion that can be captured with a ballistocardiogram,” said Giovanna Guidoboni, the lead researcher on the study at the University of Missouri. “By applying our mathematical model, we can see information that we haven’t previously known about an individual’s cardiovascular system, such as the elasticity of the arteries, the contractility of the ventricles in the heart, or the viscoelasticity of the blood vessels. We built a virtual cardiovascular system by mathematically modeling the blood flow in our bodies.”

For more on the study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, please click here.

CartiHeal

Seth L. Sherman, MD, a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon at University of Missouri Health Care’s Missouri Orthopaedic Institute, recently became one of the first American surgeons to enroll patients in a clinical research study aimed at earning FDA approval for a new knee-cartilage implant.

Agili-C™ (CartiHeal, Israel) is a new implant designed to help patients with knee-cartilage defects regenerate their own healthy cartilage. The implant has been shown to be safe and effective in a series of clinical trials previously conducted in Europe and Israel. Sherman is one of 15 primary investigators in the United States conducting the FDA-approved study, which is the final step before earning FDA approval for the implant.

“We are thrilled to be on the leading edge of orthopaedic sports medicine and joint preservation,” Sherman said. “In the U.S., there are limited options for off-the-shelf cartilage repair that can be performed during a single surgical procedure. Benefits of this technology include its relative low cost, ease of use, and strong basic science and clinical track record.”

Cartilage damage is a common knee problem that occurs in patients of all ages. It can happen as a result of an injury, like a blow to the knee, or due to wear and tear over time. In any case, it causes knee swelling, stiffness and pain that can reduce function and decrease quality of life.

The Agili-C™ implant is a cell-free implant made of the inorganic exoskeleton of sea coral. The implant can be used in this study to treat a variety of cartilage defects and patient types, which is another reason it is attractive to orthopaedic surgeons.

“Often in studies like this one, we can enroll only a very strict subset of young, active patients with a single, isolated cartilage defect,” said Sherman. “In reality, that’s not the type of patient we see every day. This implant is different because it’s medically indicated for a wide range of situations, including patients with multiple cartilage defects and even those with mild to moderate osteoarthritis. We can use it in patients who are in their 20s or in those who are in their 60s. This versatility allows us to find more patients who may benefit from this procedure.”

Those who qualify for the study are randomly assigned either one of the traditional surgical options or the new implant. So far, Sherman has enrolled four patients in the study. He plans to enroll at least 25 before submitting his research to the FDA.

The implant is manufactured by CartiHeal, a medical device company headquartered in Kfar Saba, Isreal and Closter, New Jersey. To date, more than 400 patients in Europe and Israel — where the device has already been approved — have received the new implant. The Agili-CTM implant is not available for sale in the United States. It is an investigational device limited for use in the device study.

To find out if you qualify for this study, visit this link on the CartiHeal website.

Fitness Advice for New Year’s Resolutions

At the beginning of every year, gyms across the country are buzzing with new members who have made resolutions to lose weight, get back in shape or live a more active lifestyle. However, as the weeks go by, it can be challenging for some to stick to those resolutions. Steve Ball, professor at the University of Missouri and one of the nation’s leading experts on fitness and exercise, says that for resolutions to stick, people need to focus not only on outcome goals, but also goals related to the process of being physically active. You can read more about Dr. Ball’s advice here.

Dr. Ball also has comments on new federal guidelines for physical activity, which suggest that adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week, and any amount of time spent doing physical activity now counts toward the goal of active minutes. Prior guidelines had called for at least 10 minutes of activity for it to count.

There are video and audio resources available for broadcast-quality download here. The video features Donna Fox, who has recently made changes to lead a more active lifestyle and considers herself a “gym rat” now after never setting foot in a gym while growing up in the Caribbean.

As January winds down and the thrill of New Year’s resolutions wears off, Dr. Ball’s expertise in fitness and physical activity can be used as encouragement to stay on track with New Year’s fitness resolutions.