Archive for the ‘Biology & Biomedical Sciences’ Category

Smith’s Research Hot Topic for ScienceInsider

Thursday, January 29th, 2015
active learning with Michelle SmithTop 10 lists are compiled annually — last year there were lists for best books, Seinfeld characters, movies and restaurants. In 2014, an article about a University of Maine professor’s research made a best-read list.

Michelle Smith, assistant professor in the School of Biology and Ecology, co-authored a paper about teaching approaches.

Aleszu Bajak penned “Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds,” for ScienceInsider about the research that Smith and others conducted with lead author Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. The piece was ScienceInsider’s third most popular of the year, just behind pieces on plagiarism and Ebola.

The researchers re-analyzed 225 studies that compared grades of students enrolled in undergraduate science, engineering and mathematics courses taught in a typical lecture format with the grades of students in STEM courses that utilized active learning methods.

Freeman, Smith and others found students in classes that incorporated active learning techniques were 1.5 times more likely to pass than those in traditional lecture format classes. In addition, they found students in active learning sections earned grades nearly one-half a standard deviation higher, or, for example, a B rather than a B-, than students listening to a lecturer.

The well-read study, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics,” was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

In Bajak’s ScienceInsider article about the study, Harvard University physicist Eric Mazur was quoted saying the research is important and that “it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data.”

He continued, “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis — an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”

Also in December, Smith and Farahad Dastoor, lecturer of biological sciences, were highlighted in a National Science Foundation story titled “Rules of engagement: Transforming the teaching of college-level science.”

Thanks to Smith and Dastoor, 800 UMaine students in three introductory biology sections utilize clickers (response devices) and engage in small group conversations rather than sitting and listening to information dispensed by a “sage on a stage.” Smith “is helping to re-envision science education on her campus as well as across the country,” says the article.

In 2013, Smith became principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another that were granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation; UMaine’s portion was $1,012,269. The projects are aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments. The studies are collaborative with other universities and involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K–12 teachers.

Contact: Beth Staples 207.581.3777

Flu Fighting

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

zebrafish

In the ongoing struggle to prevent and manage seasonal flu outbreaks, animal models of influenza infection are essential to gaining better understanding of innate immune response and screening for new drugs. A research team led by University of Maine scientists has shown that two strains of human influenza A virus (IAV) can infect live zebrafish embryos, and that treatment with an anti-influenza compound reduces mortality.

It is the first study establishing the zebrafish as a model for investigating IAV infection.
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Scientists to Study Impact of Soap Antimicrobial on Public Health

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

hand washing

Julie Gosse, University of Maine assistant professor of molecular and biomedical sciences, is examining how a synthetic antimicrobial common in soaps and deodorants inhibits cells that sometimes fight cancer.

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Breaking Barriers

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Rob Wheeler Grant

How does a normally peaceful agent break through a previously impenetrable barrier and become a potential killer?

Robert Wheeler has just received a five-year, $500,000 fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to figure that out.

The University of Maine Assistant Professor of Microbiology will study how and why Candida albicans — the most common human fungal pathogen — transforms from an innocuous yeast in the digestive tract of a person with a healthy immune system to a potentially fatal fungus in vital organs of a person whose immune system has been compromised.

“This award marks a new high point in my research career,” says Wheeler, one of 12 scientists nationwide to receive the 2014 Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award. After internal competitions at colleges and universities, each institution may nominate two investigators; this year, 144 scientists were put forward.

“This provides substantial funding that we can use to pursue high-risk projects with the potential to change our perspective on how dangerous infections begin.”

The goal, he says, is to improve diagnosis and therapy of fungal infection due to better understanding of the interactions between host and pathogen cells.

Wheeler’s lab will explore the host-fungal dialogue at mucosal surfaces where C. albicans — the leading cause of hospital-acquired infection that annually kills several thousand patients in the U.S. — is normally kept in check. “We expect that this will allow us to understand how the healthy immune system normally inhibits infection and how C. albicans invades past the epithelial wall,” he wrote in his application.

What happens at the earliest stages of active infection is one of the biggest mysteries about opportunistic pathogens, he says. And solving that mystery is imperative as infections complicate treatment of diseases, including leukemia, that require suppressing the immune system.

Wheeler’s lab will use zebrafish models of candidiasis at multiple levels — holistic, cellular and molecular genetic — to investigate the interaction between fungal cells and host cells during the earliest stages of infection. The integrated approach will utilize a new set of tools to address questions that have previously been inaccessible, he says.

His lab already has conducted pioneering studies with transparent zebrafish, which model infections caused by bacterial and fungal pathogens of humans. The resulting findings, he says, “opened the door to a deeper understanding of host and pathogen activity at the beginning stage of infection.”

Wheeler credits the previous scientific breakthroughs, and the work on the grant, to the talented, highly motivated and hard-working students and post-doctoral fellows in the laboratory. “The award is based on the pioneering work that they have done to change our perspective on fungal infection over the last five years,” he says.

With this fellowship, Wheeler says his lab will seek to exploit “that opening to discover the mechanistic underpinnings of the dialog between C. albicans and innate immunity at the epithelial barrier.”

On a personal level, Wheeler says he’s humbled to join the creative group of scientists that have previously held or currently hold BWF grants. “It pushes me to further excel and tackle the most important problems in infectious disease,” he says.

Wheeler’s peers lauded both his prior research and his potential.

Aaron Mitchell, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, says Wheeler has “been an insightful innovator for his entire scientific career.”

This award, Mitchell says, will allow Wheeler to build upon his initial findings “to look at the way that the host manipulates the pathogen, and how the pathogen manipulates the host. The remarkable zebrafish toolbox will allow Rob to look for key features of host defense that we can strengthen to thwart the pathogen before it gets a foothold.”

Joseph Heitman, chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University Medical Center, says Wheeler’s research on how “Candida albicans … shields its immunogenic cell surface from immune surveillance in a variety of ways, which can in part be circumvented by drugs that unveil immunogenic signals” has blazed trails.

Heitman says the award will allow Wheeler, a “highly creative and innovative” investigator, to continue to be a leader in the field.

Gerald Fink, the Herman and Margaret Sokol Professor at the Whitehead Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the award “recognizes [Wheeler’s] preeminence as a leader in the battle to combat Candida, a feared human fungal pathogen … for which we have no satisfactory protection.”

Fink anticipates Wheeler’s research will “provide critical insights into our natural immunity from Candida infections, which is the first step towards developing antifungal agents.”

And Deborah Hogan, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, says, “Ultimately, this work is likely to provide important insight into better ways to prevent and fight these often dangerous infections” in babies, in people undergoing chemotherapy and in those with suppressed immune systems.

The first installment of the award will be sent to UMaine on July 15, according to BWF, an independent private foundation based in North Carolina that supports research to advance biomedical sciences.

Victoria McGovern, senior program officer at BWF, says Wheeler’s selection was “based on the scientific excellence and innovation” of his proposal, as well as the strength of the scholarship at UMaine and Wheeler’s accomplishments as a researcher.

Wheeler says he’s pleased the award showcases UMaine and the laboratory to the national research community and he’s excited for opportunities to be in “contact with a number of the best and brightest infectious disease investigators in the U.S., through yearly meetings and a number of networking opportunities at national conferences.”

“The University of Maine is very proud of Dr. Wheeler’s achievement,” says Carol Kim, UMaine vice president for research.

“The BWF is a very prestigious award and identifies Rob as a leader in his field.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Smith Leads a Science Transformation

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

STEM

A University of Maine researcher is participating in five projects aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments.

Michelle Smith, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is the principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF); UMaine’s portion is $1,012,269.

The projects, three of which are collaborative with other universities, involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K-12 teachers. “All of these stakeholders … will contribute to national initiatives to improve science education,” says Smith, a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (Maine RiSE Center).

In August, Smith was returning from a reunion with family members when she learned about the possible funding. “We stopped for lunch and I looked down at my phone and realized my inbox was full of messages from the NSF requesting that I provide them with more information on four different grants within 48 hours,” she says. “I told my family they had to eat ‘right now’ because we had to get home.”

Susan McKay, UMaine professor of physics and director of the Maine RiSE Center, as well as Smith and several other colleagues, will receive $299,998 to transform K-12 STEM education by restructuring teaching methods courses to align with national standards. They’ll also work to attract and retain STEM majors in college as educators and form partnerships with area school districts.

Researchers say the project could make a difference in Maine, where more than 50 percent of students in more than half the school districts are eligible for free or reduced lunch and the resource-based economy could benefit from more technology jobs.

Smith and colleagues MacKenzie Stetzer, Susan McKay and Jeff St. John will receive $249,851 to establish a UMaine program to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses. UMaine faculty and area K-12 teachers will observe and document instruction in university STEM courses. Their data will be used to develop workshops targeting faculty members’ needs and implement innovative teaching practices.

Smith will receive $219,966 of a $528,459 collaborative project to develop assessments called Bio-MAPS (Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science) that gauge whether undergraduate college biology students understand core concepts. The University of Washington and University of Colorado-Boulder are partners in the endeavor “to articulate common learning goals and monitor longitudinal student learning in biology.”

The assessments will identify areas in biology in which students struggle. They’ll also help two-year community colleges evaluate how effectively they’re preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. Assessment data will inform faculty about where changes need to be made in the biology curriculum.

Smith will also receive $187,968 to expand a national network for open-ended assessments called Automated Assessment of Constructed Response (AACR) in which computer software programs analyze answers of students in large-enrollment science courses. The assessments provide more insight into student thinking on common conceptual difficulties than multiple-choice questions.

Michigan State, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Georgia, and Stony Brook University, are also participating in the $5 million project, in which researchers will create a community Web portal to improve alliances among STEM education researchers and promote nationwide implementation of innovative instruction materials.

Smith will receive $54,486 of a $718,000 collaborative award with four other universities to build a national network of Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) that provide professional development opportunities so more faculty can use constructed response assessments to reform teaching in biology. UMaine faculty members Seanna Annis, Farahad Dastoor and Brian Olsen will work with Smith to develop the UMaine FLC.

The project seeks to provide insight into factors that facilitate or hamper faculty using modified teaching materials and practices. It also lays the foundation for a national network of FLCs and subject-based virtual communities with access to real-time automated analysis of AACR assessment items, faculty-developed teaching resources and support.

Smith, who says she chose a faculty position at UMaine in order to work with fantastic researchers and supportive peers, appreciates that her colleagues helped her think about research questions and mentored her during the grant-writing process.

She’s also grateful for the contributions of K-12 teachers. “The pilot data the K-12 teachers collected about university-level STEM instruction was featured in the grant to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses,” Smith says. “That grant earned the highest scores of any I submitted. My colleagues and I are incredibly lucky to work with such a talented group of teachers who are also excellent researchers.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Discovery Could Reduce Muscle Degeneration

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Clarissa HenryUMaine Researcher Finds Vitamin-Based Treatment Could Counter Muscular Dystrophy Symptoms

Boosting the activity of a vitamin-sensitive cell adhesion pathway has the potential to counteract the muscle degeneration and reduced mobility caused by muscular dystrophies, according to a research team led by scientists at the University of Maine.

The discovery, published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, is particularly important for congenital muscular dystrophies, which are progressive, debilitating and often lethal diseases that currently remain without cure. The researchers found that they could improve muscle structure and function in a zebrafish version of muscular dystrophy by supplying a common cellular chemical (or its precursor, vitamin B3) to activate a cell adhesion pathway.

Muscle cells are in themselves relatively delicate, but derive important additional mechanical strength from adhesion protein complexes; these anchor the muscle cells to an external framework known as the basement membrane, thereby helping to buffer the cells against the extreme forces that they experience during muscle contractions. Mutations in the genes that encode these adhesion proteins can weaken these attachments, making muscle cells more susceptible to damage and death.

The resulting muscle degeneration can eventually lead to progressive muscle-wasting diseases, such as muscular dystrophies. A major component of the basement membrane, a protein called laminin, binds to multiple different receptors on the muscle cell surface and forms a dense, organized network.

The study was led by UMaine Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Clarissa Henry, whose laboratory focuses on understanding how cell adhesion complexes contribute to muscle development. The researchers discovered that a pathway involving a common cellular chemical called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) plays a role in the formation of organized basement membranes in muscle tissue, during development of the fish embryo. As disordered basement membranes are seen in many different types of muscular dystrophies, the researchers wondered whether activating this pathway might reduce the severity of some muscular dystrophies.

In the current study, the researchers show that NAD+ improves the organization of laminin in a zebrafish version of muscular dystrophy. Zebrafish lacking either of the two main receptors for laminin have a disorganized basement membrane, causing muscle degeneration and difficulties with movement. However adding extra NAD+, or even an EmergenC vitamin packet containing vitamin B3 (niacin, a precursor to NAD+), significantly reduced these symptoms.

The research team found that the main protective effects of NAD+ come from enhancing the organization of the laminin structure in the basement membrane, which helps to increase the resilience of diseased muscle fibers.

Because the same cell adhesion complexes are found in humans, the research team is optimistic that these findings may one day positively impact patients with muscular dystrophies. “Although there is a long way to go, I’m hopeful that our data could eventually lead to new adjuvant therapies,” says University of Maine Ph.D. student Michelle Goody, who led the research team with Henry.

“One of my favorite aspects of this study is that it is a poster child for how asking basic biological questions can lead to exciting discoveries that may have future therapeutic potential,” Henry says.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, (207) 581-3745

UMaine Research Studies the Effects of Arsenic on the Cell

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

water drop

Science has long known that arsenic is toxic to humans. Exposure to high doses over a brief period can lead rapidly to organ failure and death. At lower doses over a longer time, arsenic exposure is associated with cancer, diabetes, impaired neurological development, behavioral changes and more.

But the mechanism of arsenic’s toxicity is poorly understood. To complicate matters, it appears that some of the same qualities that make it so deadly may actually have a therapeutic effect in specific circumstances. And, importantly, since arsenic is all around us, most people have some exposure.

At the University of Maine’s Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, professors Carol Kim and Julie Gosse are learning more about arsenic and the ways it functions in the body. By advancing scientific understanding of its mechanisms, they hope to promote science-based environmental regulations and medical interventions that can mitigate arsenic’s toxic effects.

Like its elemental cousins lead and mercury, arsenic (As) is found in naturally occurring deposits from which it leaches into water and soils. It also can be released more rapidly into the environment through natural processes, such as volcanic activity and erosion, and through human activity such as mining and agriculture.

Arsenic is found in manufactured products as well, including wood preservatives, paints, dyes, metals, soaps and medicines, and workers in these industries may be exposed. Arsenic-containing waste is present in many landfills and dumps. In some cultures, arsenic in high doses has been used as an effective therapy for acute asthma attacks, although its mechanism has been poorly understood and its therapeutic value is offset by its long-term risks.

In Maine, arsenic is present in many public and private water supplies, most often at levels below the 10 parts per billion (ppb) cap designated as “safe” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, following a 2001 rule change that took effect in 2006. Prior to this change, the EPA’s allowable standard was 50 ppb.

Public water supplies are closely monitored for arsenic and that information is available to the public through individual water utilities and the governmental agencies that oversee them. But private wells are unregulated and may contain much higher levels. Concerns remain that exposure to arsenic over time — even at very low levels, perhaps below the current 10 ppb limit — poses a significant and pernicious risk to human health.

Arsenic contamination from both naturally occurring deposits and human-produced pollution is a problem across the country, but particularly in Maine and New Hampshire, says Carol Kim, director of UMaine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, who has been conducting research since 1998 on innate immunity and infectious diseases, using zebrafish as a model organism.

Kim’s most recent project studies the effects of low levels of arsenic — like those found in drinking water — on a healthy innate immune response and one compromised by the gene mutation that causes cystic fibrosis. Her study is funded by a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, part of an $11 million NIH grant to Dartmouth Medical School. The principal investigator is Jason Moore, a computational geneticist at Dartmouth Medical School.

The project draws on the strength of two major milestones in Kim’s lab: the development of a zebrafish model for studying cystic fibrosis, funded in 2005 with an NIH grant of more than $405,000; and a 2007 discovery showing that arsenic exposure at levels deemed safe in human drinking water suppressed the overall innate immune health of zebrafish, causing increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections.

“We’re trying to understand how arsenic exacerbates cystic fibrosis and the extent to which this effect is brought about by exposure to arsenic as an environmental toxicant,” Kim says.

Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease in the United States, according to NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute. An estimated 30,000 people in the U.S. have the disease, which is caused by mutations in the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR). Approximately 10 million Americans carry the defective CFTR gene.

In normal cells, the CFTR protein serves as a channel, allowing cells to release chloride and water into the lungs. However, in people with cystic fibrosis, the protein is defective and the cells do not release the chloride, resulting in an improper salt balance and less water on the lung surfaces, producing abnormally thick mucus.

The gene mutations cause increased susceptibility to Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bacterium in water and soil. P. aeruginosa is the cause of chronic infection and irreparable lung tissue scarring in 80 percent of cystic fibrosis patients in their late teens, Kim says. Yet the bacterium is not a common lung pathogen in people with healthy immune systems.

“We’re trying to understand how arsenic exacerbates cystic fibrosis and the extent to which this effect is brought about by exposure to arsenic as an environmental toxicant.” Carol Kim

Kim’s research has shown that the zebrafish’s ability to resist bacterial and viral infection is compromised by exposure to arsenic. She hopes to identify genes and pathways involved in modulating innate immunity in response to arsenic exposure, as well as CFTR modulation. Her data will be shared with a Dartmouth-based biostatistician and a bioinformatics specialist to help identify sets of human genes and signaling pathways that contribute to the innate immune response, respond to arsenic and are influenced by CFTR.

With the NIH grant, Dartmouth Medical School will establish an NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence to advance biomedical research and foster collaboration among scientists from UMaine, Harvard, Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Maine Medical Center, University of New Hampshire, University of Southern Maine and University of Vermont.

“There is real potential to find genes associated with CF and to identify potential drug targets that could reduce or eliminate many of the debilitating effects of the disease,” Kim says.

There have been a lot of recent studies about arsenic, says Julie Gosse, “but we need to fill in some of the gaps.” Gosse specializes in the study of biochemical, molecular and cellular toxicology with the long-term goal of protecting humans from environmental health risks. At UMaine, she and her students are examining arsenic’s molecular activity and its impact on the immune system.

Gosse is looking at mast cells, a type of immune cell found in most bodily tissues that plays a key role in triggering allergies, asthma and inflammation. Mast cells also protect the body from certain types of parasites. By treating rat mast cells with arsenic, Gosse has determined that exposure inhibits the mast cell process known as degranulation, in which the cells release histamine and other chemicals into blood and tissue.

The result of normal degranulation is localized swelling, warmth, redness, itching and pain. In humans, degranulation can cause allergic reactions, such as asthma and eczema. But degranulation also triggers a healthy immune response that helps fight off parasites and other human pathogens.

Since arsenic is a known endocrine disrupter, Gosse says, it may inhibit normal degranulation by blocking estrogen signaling involved in histamine release. Or, as recent data suggest, the process may be taking place at an early step in the signaling pathway, such as by inhibition of tyrosine phosphorylation, an important signaling process in mast cells.

“We don’t fully understand the molecular mechanism yet,” Gosse says. She and her students continue to work with rat mast cells and now with human mast cells. In the future, Gosse plans to extend her arsenic research into zebrafish.

It is much too early to apply her findings to human health models, but Gosse says her research may help shed some light on the success of traditional Chinese healers in treating acute asthma attacks with high doses of arsenic.

Although the inhibition of degranulation effectively calms swollen and inflamed respiratory tissues, the long-term results of this treatment often include serious chronic illnesses, such as cancer and neurological disorders. And in populations where persistent intestinal parasites cause serious diarrheal diseases and anemia in children, such as in Bangladesh, consistently elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water supplies may be suppressing healthy immune response and promoting generalized muscle wasting and related disorders.

Gosse came to UMaine in 2008 after completing her post-doctoral work at Dartmouth Medical School. Her work here, funded by the PhRMA Foundation, the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, and UMaine start-up funds, builds on recent studies at Dartmouth that first identified arsenic as an endocrine disrupter.

“Someday, this could point to a drug target,” Gosse says of her research. She envisions a safe medical alternative that would mimic arsenic’s valuable suppressive effects for disorders such as asthma or autoimmune disorders, without undermining overall immune response — and without arsenic’s potentially lethal risks.

NSFA Professor Receives Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Three engineers and a biochemist are the recipients of the top annual faculty awards at the University of Maine, which will be presented May 4 as part of the Academic Recognition Convocation.

Professor of Chemical Engineering Joseph Genco is the 2012 Distinguished Maine Professor, an award presented by the University of Maine Alumni Association to recognize outstanding achievement in UMaine’s tripartite mission of teaching, research and public service.

Professor of Biochemistry Mary Rumpho is this year’s Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award recipient. The 2012 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award recipient is Professor of Chemical Engineering Hemant Pendse. Karen Horton, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, is the recipient of the Presidential Public Service Achievement Award.

Mary Rumpho, 2012 Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award

Students and colleagues alike recognize Mary Rumpho as an outstanding teacher and mentor, and effective communicator and organizer. Her great strengths include her knowledge and enthusiasm of the subject matter, her service to the students, and her flexibility and commitment to continual development as a teacher. Rumpho has influenced and shaped the lives of many students, both in the laboratory and the classroom. She is a demanding professor who expects the best from her students and they, in turn, strive to meet her expectations. And she teaches an array of biochemistry classes, from introductory courses for nonmajors to upper-level undergraduate and graduate classes. The size of these classes ranges from 200 students to an intimate graduate seminar with five students.

Many of Rumpho’s students have commented on her ability to transform complex principles of biochemistry and make them comprehensible. Rumpho easily develops an excellent rapport with her students and because they find her so approachable, they are more willing to ask questions. Rumpho teaches with a remarkable command of the subject matter and honest enthusiasm for the topic. Across the board, students comment on Rumpho’s energy and passion for teaching. One student writes that, “I have taken three module courses with Rumpho and I have found her enthusiasm to be contagious. Not only do I feel more excited and knowledgeable about the material covered in these modules, there is an obvious increase in enthusiasm throughout the classroom.”

Rumpho also is very active in teaching service and outreach. Her research efforts focus on the uptake of algal chloroplasts by a sea slug, resulting in an animal capable of carrying out photosynthesis. She has adapted this system for educational purposes and has established collaborations with numerous schools to provide sea slugs to be used in education.

Rumpho’s teaching efforts also include student advising, which requires dedication, organization, clarity and, oftentimes, patience. She is an exceptionally caring person who unerringly makes an extra effort to help and to find resources for students. Whether it is a personal/family issue or an athlete struggling with juggling classes and maintaining grades, Rumpho is supportive, helpful and highly effective.

 

Common Antimicrobial Inhibits Immune Cell Function

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Triclosan, a common antibacterial agent found in many hand soaps and other products, is known to have the added benefit of alleviating allergic skin conditions such as eczema. In a study recently published in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, University of Maine researchers Julie Gosse and Rachel Palmer find that this anti-inflammatory effect may be caused by triclosan’s inhibitory effect on mast cells, which are implicated in allergies and asthma but which also are key components of a healthy immune system.

Mast cells are a type of immune cell found in most bodily tissues. In response to the presence of allergens, mast cells release histamines and other substances into body tissues. The process is known as degranulation and it is responsible for inflammation, swelling, redness and pain. But degranulation also triggers the healthy deployment of white blood cells and supports the innate immune response that helps prevent infection and tumor growth.

Triclosan, effective at a 1% concentration against a broad swath of disease-causing microorganisms, was first introduced in the 1970s as an effective agent in surgical scrub solutions, says Gosse, an assistant professor of biochemistry in the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences. Now, however, it is widespread in consumer products.

“Today, TCS [triclosan] is found in hundreds of medical, consumer and personal care products (e.g. toys, bedding,deodorant, cosmetics, soap and toothpaste) at concentrations up to 0.3 % or 10mM,” Gosse writes. Triclosan is readily absorbed into the skin.

Testing rat mast cells with triclosan at much lower concentrations than those found in household products, Gosse’s study found that triclosan strongly inhibits degranulation and other mast cell functions, possibly accounting for its therapeutic effect in treating eczema and other allergic skin disorders.

Her findings support clinical evidence that triclosan could be an effective targeted treatment for such conditions.

But Gosse calls for further investigation into the unintended effects of triclosan’s widespread availability in consumer products, including recent separate reports that triclosan may function as an endocrine disrupter.  Additionally, other immune cell types that are biochemically similar to mast cells could potentially be adversely affected by triclosan.

Contact: Meg Haskell (207) 581-3766
Julie Gosse: (207) 581 4833

SteriPEN Research Noted in Article

Friday, December 16th, 2011

A Bangor Daily News article about the SteriPEN, a compact water purifier which was recently named one of TIME Magazine’s Top 100 All-Time Gadgets, noted that some of the research for the device was done in laboratories at UMaine in the department of molecular and biological sciences. The article noted that the company turned to UMaine for research in the use of ultraviolet LEDs in water purification and also for product testing.

Contact: Jessica Bloch, 207-581-3777