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Obese and anorexic individuals react differently to taste

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have discovered that women suffering from anorexia nervosa and those who are obese respond differently to taste, a finding that could lead to new treatments for the eating disorders. 

 

“Taste is an important driver of food intake and invariably associated with distinct neuronal patters in the insula, the brain’s primary taste cortex,” said the study’s lead author Guido Frank, MD, a psychiatrist and associate professor at the CU School of Medicine.  

 

The study was recently published online in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Guido Frank, MD, associate professor of medicine and psychiatrist at the CU School of Medicine.

 

Frank and his team set out to find if abnormal eating patterns were associated with changes in the insula’s ability to classify taste stimuli. 

 

Some 106 women of similar age underwent brain imaging while tasting sugar water or a tasteless water solution. Researchers studied how well the insula could differentiate between the flavors.  

 

Individuals with anorexia nervosa or those who were obese, had difficulty distinguishing between ordinary water and sugar water, compared to control subjects and those who had recovered from anorexia nervosa.

 

“If you can’t differentiate between tastes, that could impact how much you eat,” Frank said. “That could also activate or not activate brain reward circuits.” 

 

These changes, he said, could occur on a variety of levels. For example, leptin and other hormones are altered in obesity and eating disorders, affecting how the brain responds to food. At the same time, the reduced ability of the insula to classify taste could be due to structural changes within this brain region or alternatively could result in altered taste signal processing in different pathways to the insula.

 

Research indicates that these problems diminish once a person reaches a healthy weight.

 

While more research is needed, Frank said one possible treatment could be to alter the taste of food. 

 

“Perhaps adjusting flavor intensity by reducing it for those with anorexia and enhancing it for those who are obese,” he said. “It’s something we need to examine more closely.” 

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Middle school students see the future at Gates Biomanufacturing Facility

The future of medicine is happening at the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility (GBF), and engineers are already working to hand it down to the next generation. The GBF hosted 30 seventh and eighth graders from Bell Middle School (BMS) to introduce them to drug treatments and cellular therapies produced through research in regenerative medicine and stem cell biology.

Patrick Gaines

Patrick Gaines addresses a group of seventh and eighth graders from Bell Middle School.

A field trip to a cutting-edge facility that translates the discoveries of clinical and commercial investigators into clinical-grade products might sound a bit advanced for middle school students. However, Patrick Gaines, executive director of the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine, knew they would be able to understand the basic concepts and could use the trip to potentially inspire careers in science.

“By seventh and eighth grade kids have been exposed to the basics of biology,” Gaines said. “They’ve learned what a cell is and the function in a living organism. Middle school students are a terrific group to bring in since they understand the principles. This is our chance to show them a glimpse into the future.”

The trip they chose

The trip, which was arranged by BMS STEM science teachers Shanna Atzmiller and Nicole King, built on curriculum students had completed on cellular function and structure.

“Our STEM programs are career based, so we are scheduling career exploration field trips so students can apply the skills and knowledge they have gained in class,” Atzmiller said. “All of the students here chose this trip specifically because they were very interested in cells and stem cell research.”

Seventh grader Connor Logan jumped at the opportunity to tour the facility. He is so interested in the implications of cell research that the GBF even won out over other field trip options, which included the zoo and a nuclear reactor.

“I thought it was fascinating to see the lab,” Logan said. “It’s the type of thing you see in the newspaper or in videos, but I never thought I’d actually be looking at one in person.”

Even before leaving the lab, Logan was already coming up with ideas on how stem cell research could be taken further, including applying the technology to plants to synthesize chloroplasts that photosynthesize all day and start cellular respiration at night—thus potentially creating an everlasting lifeform.

Gabe Orosco, Grace Searls, Connor Logan

Gabe Orosco’s knowledge was put to the test by students like Grace Searls and Connor Logan.

Eighth grader Grace Searls chose to visit the GBF because she has witnessed several family members with genetic conditions. She was particularly curious what the limitations are of cell therapy and how far it will advance in the future.

“I enjoy research science, and I hope cell therapy is one of the ways we could help fix some of the diseases in my family,” Searls said.

Touring the future

The tour included a preliminary discussion about the facility led by Lead Engineer and Director of Quality Assurance Gabe Orosco. Orosco discussed the work being done at the GBF and rapid growth of the field. He also emphasized how the students were already preparing for potential careers as researchers and scientists.

“Science isn’t just about the facts, it’s about the people who do it,” Orosco said. “Your ability to solve problems, ask questions, collaborate with your classmates and imagine new ideas is prepping you for actual scientific knowledge and for being able to do what I do.”

The tour included clean rooms, a “miniature hospital,” and development facilities and equipment such as microbial cell fermenters. Along the way Orosco and Gaines took questions about the current uses of stem cells and discussed the implications of their growing prominence in medicine.

“Manipulating adult stem cells and returning them to their embryonic-like state is a great power,” said Gaines. “It is important that these kids understand the potential uses and leave with a broad imagination about the kind of problems they can solve one day.”

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The University of Colorado Anschutz Department of Orthopedics Becomes the Title Sponsor and Exclusive Healthcare Partner of the Colorado Storm Soccer Association

The Department of Orthopedics at the CU School of Medicine, in partnership with UCHealth, has become the title sponsor of the competitive Colorado Storm Soccer Association (CSSA). Colorado Storm is one of the oldest and largest soccer organizations in Colorado. Since its inception in 1967, Colorado Storm has coordinated soccer programs for girls and boys ages 3 through 18 within four regional clubs along the Front Range, processing more than 80,000 applications for both recreational and competitive programs.

This partnership comes at an ideal time as the Department of Orthopedics is experiencing a high rate of growth.“Adding this partnership to our portfolio positions the orthopedics department for a high level of exposure in the southern market and we look forward to strategically growing this relationship with Colorado Storm over the next five years”, said David Kaplan, Orthopedics Department Finance Administrator.

CU Orthopedics will provide an athletic trainer for side-line care to all Colorado Storm competitive teams. There are a number of benefits to having a fully integrated on-site trainer. Athletes will receive top-notch clinical oversight similar to a collegiate program. Colorado Storm athletes will receive faster intervention of injury during play, continuity of care from the moment of injury and access to the highly specialized providers from the CU Department of Orthopedics and the Sports Medicine Program encompassing Family Medicine, the Emergency Department and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

The partnership between Colorado Storm and CU Orthopedics will be a special one. Kaplan notes, “Becoming a sponsor uniquely positions us to focus on injury prevention with these young athletes and ultimately care for them at the appropriate location when an injury does occur.  The Sports Medicine team across the School of Medicine has the expertise and experience to take care of the Storm athletes similar to the way we cover Denver University and Colorado University Athletics.”

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Record number of students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

CU Anschutz students set a new campus record this spring, with seven students being awarded with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF). More than 17,000 applications were submitted for just 2,000 awards, which grants stipend support of $34,000 a year for three years in addition to $12,000 toward the cost of tuition, for first and second year graduate students.

Graduate Research Fellowship recipients

Seven CU Anschutz students were awarded with the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship. From left to right, back row: Cayla Jewett , Amanda Richer, Katrina Cable, Christal Davis, Ethan Guthman and Ashley Bourke. Front row: Alexandria Hughes

“This award is very prestigious,” said Shawna McMahon, assistant dean of the Graduate School. “This is an incredible achievement that each one will have on their CV for years to come and is an indicator of their potential as a researcher.”

McMahon credited the record-setting number of recipients to the caliber of students, who must demonstrate their potential as researchers and a commitment to broaden participation in STEM disciplines from underrepresented groups.

In addition McMahon said that workshops held for students interested in the Graduate Research Fellowship Program and faculty review sessions may have played a role in strengthening applications.

“There are keys to success and to conveying qualifications to the review committee,” McMahon said. “The workshops and review sessions we held were done to ensure that our students would stand out.”

Looking toward next year, McMahon said the Graduate School anticipates that the number of recipients could continue to increase, especially as faculty and staff across campus begin to explore a formalized process for helping students prepare their applications. This review process would also be rolled out to CU Denver, increasing the potential number of recipients for both campuses. Between CU Denver and CU Anschutz there are currently 10 Graduate Research Fellowship recipients.

“Very much a surprise”

It was 4 a.m. when Ashley Bourke, a student in the Pharmacology Program, found out she had been awarded an NSF GRF. She knew that the announcement was supposed to be made, and checked her email immediately after she awoke. She didn’t see anything at first, and then saw the message had been sorted into her junk folder.

“I had a good feeling about it from faculty reviews and feedback I had received, but it was still very much a surprise,” said Bourke, who is studying synaptic plasticity.

Bourke took advantage of the workshops and faculty review sessions offered to students to polish her application. She was also able to boast ample outreach experience, having been president of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society at Michigan State. She has continued her STEM outreach at CU Anschutz through cofounding Women in STEM, which sees Bourke and her peers visiting schools and creating more opportunities for students interested in STEM disciplines.

While the award carries various financial benefits, the big takeaway from receiving the prestigious award is the ability to more freely pursue some of her own ideas as well as validation of her ability as a researcher.

“So many of us graduate students doubt ourselves and our capabilities,” Bourke said. “Having this recognition gives me confidence in myself as a scientist.”

Funding leads to more funding

Funding from the NSF was already a consideration for Katrina Cable, who came to CU Anschutz after completing her undergraduate degree at San Diego State University. While at San Diego State, Cable was part of a program focused on helping students start PhD programs and obtain research experience. The NSF was discussed extensively, and so when Cable started in the Cell, Stem Cell, and Development program at CU Anschutz, she knew that receiving a GRF could poise her for success.

“Being awarded with this fellowship is a huge weight off of my shoulders in terms of finding a lab home,” Cable said. “Because I come with funding, that weight of whether or not a lab can afford to have me working there is gone.”

To prepare the application, Cable attended the workshop hosted by the Graduate School, received feedback from her faculty mentor and also visited the Writing Center. By the time she had prepared her application, she felt she had strong chances of being awarded at least an honorable mention, and was thrilled when she received the news that she had been selected.

Thanks to the fellowship, Cable is able to take her time in selecting the lab on campus she will join. She is deciding between one that focuses on the development of the cerebral cortex in the mice model, and another that examines muscle development in the fly model. While the two areas may appear widely different, both focus on development, which is the area Cable is most interested in exploring.

Cable’s advice to her peers and future cohorts of students is to take advantage of the resources available through CU Anschutz to apply for the GRF. Aside from the immediate financial support, it could set a trend for future career growth.

“Funding builds on itself, so when you’re seeking future funding and you can show you are receiving funding in your first years, you have an edge,” Cable said. “It’s something I think everyone should be doing.”

Outreach is key

Christal Davis, a PhD student in the Structural Biology and Biochemistry Program, found her passion for science while studying at CU Denver. Davis, who double majored in chemistry and biology and is a LABCOATS IMSD grad, was fascinated with the structures of molecules and the way that even slight changes in molecular structure could cause drastic effects. While she knew she was laying the foundation for a career in research, she probably didn’t realize she was also laying the foundation to receive a GRF.

Davis was encouraged to apply for the fellowship by the director of her program. She analyzed the application and saw that while two pages were allotted for a research plan, three were given to share a personal statement.

“I knew they were looking for someone who will have potential as a great scientist in the future and someone who is willing to give back to the community,” Davis said.

Fortunately, Davis is that kind of person.

While at CU Denver, Davis served as president of the Chemistry Club and of the Chemistry Honors Society. Those activities gave her the opportunity to work with area schools, encouraging students’ interest in science. She also participated in The Bridge Project, teaching mathematics fundamentals and good study habits to students. In addition, she is currently on the board of the Inner City Science nonprofit, whose aim is to eradicate common misconceptions in science, and hopes to take on more outreach opportunities.

She believes that her outreach work helped her stand out among the candidates for the fellowship. She offered two pieces of advice for students who are considering applying for the fellowship program in the future: Apply and don’t neglect the personal statement.

“You are guaranteed to fail if you don’t even try,” Davis said. “Let who you are as a person shine through. They enjoyed what I wrote about the outreach work I have done, and I think that is what helped me to get selected.”

 

2016 NSF GRF recipients

Ashley Bourke, Pharmacology

Katrina Cable, Cells, Stem Cells & Development

Christal Davis, Structural Biology & Biochemistry

Ethan Guthman, Neuroscience

Alexandria Hughes, Neuroscience

Cayla Jewett, Molecular Biology

Amanda Richer, Biomedical Sciences Program

Previous NSF GRF recipients currently enrolled

Melissa Beauregard, Civil Engineering (Denver Campus)

Tanya Brown, Cell Biology, Stem Cells and Development

Jayne Aiken, Cell Biology, Stem Cells and Development

Harper Jocque, Integrative & Systems Biology (Denver Campus)

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ECHO Colorado Announces Leadership Transition

The ECHO Colorado board of directors announced today that John “Fred” Thomas, PhD, will succeed Tim Byers, MD, MPH, as Director of ECHO Colorado while Duane Pearson, MD, will serve as the program’s new associate director starting immediately.

Byers retired last month after a distinguished career at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus that began back in 1995.  Most recently, he served as Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, Director of the Rocky Mountain Public Health Training Center, Director of ECHO Colorado, and professor of Epidemiology in the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz. In addition, he has served as the Deputy Director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

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John “Fred” Thomas, PhD, will succeed Tim Byers, MD, MPH, as Director of ECHO Colorado

“During the past few months, our board and management team have worked diligently together to prepare for this change in leadership,” said Byers. “Our goal has been to ensure a seamless transition and I am honored to announce Fred’s elevated role and the addition of Duane to the leadership team.”

Byers continued, “Working with Fred for the past few years on the ECHO Colorado program development, I have seen his passion for developing meaningful community health outcomes through the use of tele-enabled connection and building innovative models of care delivery.”

ECHO, or Extension for Community Health Outcomes in Colorado, is a statewide professional education initiative aimed at connecting health workforces to topic experts to increase access to specialty care and expert knowledge.

 

Tim Byers, MD, MPH, retired last month after a distinguished career at CU Anschutz that began in 1995.

For over 15 years, Thomas has been a healthcare innovator and social entrepreneur.  Prior to arriving in Colorado four years ago to lead the telehealth efforts for Children’s Hospital Colorado, he had over a decade of service and innovation at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), where he was Director of Community Based Mental Health Services and Policy.  In that role, he led the development of a regional telehealth-based pediatric system of care recognized as a national model. Thomas received his doctorate from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; his Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin; and his Bachelor of Business Administration Degree in Finance from Texas State University.

As Director of ECHO Colorado (ECHO-CO), Thomas looks forward to working with the ECHO-CO team along with Pearson to integrate ECHO methodology into innovative care delivery and population health efforts. In addition, he is committed to providing a robust evaluation of ECHO-based models of education, capacity building, and care delivery.

Duane Pearson, MD, new associate director of ECHO Colorado.

“ECHO is best described as a model of providing health professionals with applicable knowledge and collegial support to effectively manage complex chronic and public health conditions within their own practices and communities,” Thomas said. “It has become a widely accepted model of care collaboration. And as private and public sector support for the ECHO model builds, health care entities will begin to recognize the foundational role it serves. Value-based healthcare demands improved cost effectiveness and care received in the right place, at the right time, and in the manner that best suits a patient’s needs. ECHO will be essential in driving improvements in cost, quality, and outcomes”.

Thomas continued, “It has been an honor to work with Tim on the development of this statewide initiative and I look forward to sharing the vision with Duane as associate director. His passion for the development of new clinical pathways that may improve efficiency and decrease healthcare disparities made him a promising fit for the new leadership role in ECHO Colorado.”

Dr. Duane Pearson is Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.  He currently serves as the practice director for the CU School of Medicine’s Rheumatology practice. After completing his residency and fellowship in Rheumatology at the CU School of Medicine, focusing on translational research programs in lupus, he moved to Ventura, California to further explore healthcare delivery in a medically underserved population. At the Ventura County Health Care Agency, he served as the Medical Director for Specialty Services, where his main focus was the coordination of care transition between a large primary-care network and a robust specialty panel. Currently, he is also a member of the Clinical Leadership Council’s Subcommittee for Ambulatory Referrals, participating in the Community Health Assessment Grant steering committee, sitting on the Aurora Health Care Access Specialty Task Force, and partnering with CORHIO and HCPF for an e-Consult pilot project to improve specialty care access for Medicaid participants.

“Fred and Duane offer significant combined experience in innovative care delivery models and passion for building capacity in Colorado’s health workforce,” said Lilly Marks. “We look forward to supporting ECHO Colorado as the leadership team undergoes this transition.”

Marks serves as Vice President for Health Affairs for the University of Colorado and Anschutz Medical Campus as well as a member on the ECHO Colorado board of directors.

 

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Breast milk hormones found to impact bacteria in infants’ guts

A new University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus study finds that hormones in breast milk may impact the development of healthy bacteria in infants’ guts, potentially protecting them from intestinal inflammation, obesity and other diseases later in life.

The study, published Monday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examines the role of human milk hormones in the development of infants’ microbiome, a bacterial ecosystem in the digestive system that contributes to multiple facets of health.

“This is the first study of its kind to suggest that hormones in human milk may play an important role in shaping a healthy infant microbiome,” said Bridget Young, co-first author and assistant professor of pediatric nutrition at CU Anschutz. “We’ve known for a long time that breast milk contributes to infant intestinal maturation and healthy growth. This study suggests that hormones in milk may be partly responsible for this positive impact through interactions with the infant’s developing microbiome.”

Researchers found that levels of insulin and leptin in the breast milk were positively associated with greater microbial diversity and families of bacteria in the infants’ stool. Insulin and leptin were associated with bacterial functions that help the intestine develop as a barrier against harmful toxins, which help prevent intestinal inflammation. By promoting a stronger intestinal barrier early in life, these hormones also may protect children from chronic low-grade inflammation, which can lead to a host of additional digestive problems and diseases.

In addition, researchers found significant differences in the intestinal microbiome of breastfed infants who are born to mothers with obesity compared to those born to mothers of normal weight. Infants born to mothers with obesity showed a significant reduction in gammaproteobacteria, a pioneer species that aids in normal intestinal development and microbiome maturation.

Gammaproteobacteria have been shown in mice and newborn infants to cause a healthy amount inflammation in their intestines, protecting them from inflammatory and autoimmune disorders later in life. The 2-week-old infants born to obese mothers in this study had a reduced number of gammaproteobacteria in the infant gut microbiome.

“I eagerly anticipate our follow-up studies to know whether these early results will help us understand what factors help make up a healthier immune system in infants born to obese mothers over the first year of life,” said Jed Friedman, corresponding author and professor of pediatrics at CU Anschutz. “What happens if you restore these bacteria in the infant born to an obese mother remains an open question.”

To examine the role of breast milk hormones, leptin and insulin, researchers analyzed the bacteria present in stool samples from 30 two-week-old infants who were exclusively breastfed –18 infants born to normal weight mothers and 12 born to obese mothers. The researchers not only analyzed what bacteria were growing, but the metabolism of the bacteria that were active in the infants’ intestines.

“Just like children learn language and social cues as they grow, their digestive system learns how to regulate itself,” said co-first author Dominick Lemas, now an assistant professor at the University of Florida. “What we’ve found is that hormones in breast milk are linked to the development of infants’ microbiome, potentially having long-term effects on children’s intestinal and autoimmune health.”

Young and Lemas hypothesize that human milk hormones affect the microbiome by binding to specific receptors in the infants’ intestines. These hormones may stimulate the body to produce proteins, called anti-microbial peptides, which kill off certain types of bad bacteria and may stimulate infant intestinal cells to secrete molecules that allow good bacteria to flourish.

Funding for this study was provided by the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health. Funding for this study was provided by the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health. Additional authors include Peter R. Baker II, Angela C. Tomczik, Taylor K. Soderborg, Teri L. Hernandez, Becky A. de la Houssaye, Charles E. Robertson, Michael C. Rudolph, Diana Ir, Zachary W. Patinkin, Nancy F. Krebs, Stephanie A. Santorico, Tiffany L. Weir, Linda A. Barbour and Daniel N. Frank.

 

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For First Time, Colorado Directly Funds Cancer Research

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signing House Bill 16-1408

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper with CU Cancer Center Director, Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, CU School of Medicine Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD and others at the signing of Colorado House Bill 16-1408.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill giving approximately $1.7 million annually to University of Colorado Cancer Center for cancer research. The money will be allocated from tobacco litigation settlement money. This is the first time the state legislature has earmarked money specifically for cancer research.

“We have always thought of CU Cancer Center as Colorado’s Cancer Center,” said Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, CU Cancer Center director. “The additional research money will help us move cancer science forward and get the right treatments and interventions to the right patients at the right time.”

In 1998, Colorado signed the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement awarding a total of $206 billion to counteract the health effects of tobacco use in the United States. To date, Colorado has received more than $1.5 billion of these monies. The bill signed today, House Bill 16-1408, allocates money from this fund to speed the pace of cancer research and other health related programs in the State of Colorado.

CU Cancer Center is the only comprehensive cancer center in the state of Colorado as designated by the National Cancer Institute. It also is part of several elite groups, including the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) which establishes standards of care for cancer patients and guidelines for programs to improve quality of life for cancer survivors. CU Cancer Center is also a member of the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN). The partnership takes samples from patient tumors and pairs it with information describing their treatments and results. All while protecting patient privacy, the information is collected in a shared database so ORIEN-affiliated cancer researchers can draw conclusions based on many more patients than at their own institution, thus allowing studies would otherwise not be feasible.

With the signing of this bill, Colorado joins states including California, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Arizona, Massachusetts and others that directly fund cancer research, the vast majority with similar tobacco tax and/or tobacco settlement monies.

“This money from the state legislature will help our efforts to discover targets for cancer treatment, develop medications for those targets and deliver the therapies to patients,” said Theodorescu. “Knowing we have the confidence of the state legislature and additional resources, we will be able to make a bigger impact on the fight against cancer for patients in Colorado and beyond.”

Guest Contributor: Garth Sundem, CU Cancer Center

 

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ColoradoSPH graduate learns to adapt, persist and excel

Mohammed Tahir has lived through a remarkable range of experiences – from the war-torn chaos of his native Afghanistan to the peaceful and modern environs of Colorado and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

About three years ago, at a pivotal juncture of his journey from one end of the spectrum to the other, he drove through a war zone in Afghanistan to reach a GRE-testing site.

Now, as he wraps up his master’s in public health (MPH) from the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH), he plans to give back to his homeland, which continues its struggle to rebuild.

“I will contribute to the health sector of Afghanistan what I’ve learned here,” he says. “I’ve seen the big gap between these two health systems – what’s available in a developing country and the model here in the United States – so I can understand how these gaps can be filled.”

Bridging gaps and striving for connections have defined Tahir’s life. Having earned his MD in Afghanistan, Tahir found his career options limited in the early 2000s when war broke out and “all the sectors were destroyed, including the health sector,” he says. He started working for the World Health Organization to educate the public about the benefits of polio immunizations.

He then became a grant officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an agency that provides humanitarian assistance to developing countries. Tahir managed grants for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that implemented health systems in rural Afghanistan. Public health became a “natural pathway” for Tahir, as he discovered ways to improve the health of entire populations.

Winning a Fulbright

Wanting to learn more about public health, he applied for one of the prized Fulbright Scholarships available to Afghans. Out of 14,000 applicants, he was among the 75 awardees.

Mohammed Tahir of Colorado School of Public Health

Mohammed Tahir’s educational journey is a story of persistence, adaptation and excellence.

He applied to the ColoradoSPH and immediately impressed admissions reviewers with his unique background and international public health experience. “His letters of reference were glowing as to the potential that he had, and he brought that same enthusiasm to his study here,” says Elaine Morrato, DrPH, associate dean for public health practice and associate professor in Health Systems, Management and Policy.

Morrato says Tahir is an excellent example of the diverse and experienced talent that is drawn to the ColoradoSPH. His interest in the MPH program in Health Systems, Management and Policy illustrates the program’s flexibility in delivering leadership opportunities at local, national and international levels. “Tahir was strategic and used his practicum and capstone to help him pivot to what should be a meaningful next step in his career journey,” Morrato says.

For his practicum last summer, Tahir served as a support to the Regional Desk Officer at the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in New York. He remains on the UNFPA payroll as a National Program Officer in Afghanistan, getting two years of special leave to complete his MPH. In the short term, he may seek a promotion within the UNFPA, and in the long term, he plans to be a leader in reforming Afghanistan’s public health system. “With a master’s degree from the Colorado School of Public Health more doors are going to open for me,” he says.

Nations across the globe are lining up financial support to help reconstruct Afghanistan, Tahir says. He wants to help maximize that momentum.

“I can help figure out how the money should be directed for priorities in the public health sector, and in the health education sector, rather than for the demands of the politicians running the country,” he says.

Afghanistan’s health system is currently almost entirely dependent on donations. Tahir says the country needs to prioritize the launch of accredited and revenue-generating systems, such as those used in the United States, to ensure that both the health and education sectors become high-quality and self-reliant.

‘Always felt accepted’

Prayer Room at CU Anschutz

Muhammed Tahir and students of a variety of religions and cultures at CU Anschutz are appreciative of this prayer and meditative room in the Ed2 South Building.

Self-reliance is one of Tahir’s key characteristics, but he acknowledged that adjusting to the United States – especially the very different academic structure – was initially difficult. “For every international student, the first semester is stressful,” he says. “I was greatly helped by Elaine (his academic advisor) and by the people from the Colorado School of Public Health’s international student group. I also found American Muslim students here on campus and got networked with them.”

Tahir has enjoyed the international group’s friendship and support – the club offers regular potlucks, cultural celebrations and day trips – and he’s a founder and leader of the Muslim Medical Society (MMS) at CU Anschutz.

“The Muslim Medical Society linked me with all these diverse disciplines on the campus, and this is a really good thing,” he says. “I’m so glad that the campus has assigned a room for meditation (in Ed2 South), which is not only for Muslims but a place where people of all faiths can relax.”

He says the society, which currently has 75 members, wants to play an active role in helping the campus meet its diversity and community outreach objectives. The MMS also encourages its members to to be active professionals and contributors to the state’s medical sector and the ColoradoSPH.

Mohammed Tahir and other students at CU Anschutz

Mohammed Tahir has enjoyed the academic, cultural and recreational opportunities offered at the friendly and welcoming CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Tahir says he’s been around the United States – to 17 states so far – and Colorado is by far his favorite. “I’ve always felt accepted here – no matter other people’s color, religion or ethnic group. I never felt sidelined,” he says. “My opinions were always respected and, in the Colorado School of Public Health, I’ve met friends from different corners of the world and I’ve been exposed to many different cultures.”

Besides gratitude, Tahir has a message of encouragement for his health care peers at CU Anschutz. He recommends the Fulbright Scholarship program as a way for his American counterparts to get exposed to other nations.

Much of the rest of the world, he says, is interested in learning from American values and systems. “Students here can serve all over the world – in developing countries, for NGOs – so they shouldn’t only concentrate on (the United States),” Tahir says. “There are people who are in need and our CU Anschutz graduates can help fill those needs.”

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RaCAS: A showcase of scientific and creative achievements

The future of security might not be fingerprint readers or retina scanners—it could be your gait. That’s just one of the applications that David Attid and Andrew Gale, seniors from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, are considering for the data they are collecting on gait. The team believes that the subtle, unique movements of individuals can be used for personal identification.

Gale and Attid

Andrew Gale and David Attid showed off their work that explored gait as a method for human identification.

Attid and Gale presented their project at the 19th annual Research and Creative Activities Symposium (RaCAS), held April 29 in the Student Commons Building. RaCAS provides a venue for CU Denver and CU Anschutz students to showcase their scholarly activities through presentations, posters, computer simulations, demonstrations, art and even puppetry. Nearly 300 undergraduate and graduate students delivered approximately 180 presentations encompassing a variety disciplines and industries.

“No other event showcases the diverse research, creative and other scholarly activities undertaken by students at CU Denver and CU Anschutz,” said Leo Bruederle, PhD, director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities and RaCAS. “For many students, this day will remain in their memory as a time at which they were recognized for something they did that was truly excellent.”

Gait for identification

Attid and Gale began exploring gait and its capacity for human identification for their senior project, alongside graduate student Siddhant Kulkarni, under the guidance of Farnoush Banaei-Kashani, head of the Big Data Management and Mining Lab.

The team employs a feature-based identification system that tracks the movement of 15 joints. Attid, Gale and Kulkarni designed the user interface and utilized an established skeleton capture framework. The result is a model that can capture data for individuals’ unique gait movement.

“Gait is unique to an individual,” Gale said. “We are thinking about how we can use that to enhance security. This could be used at a bank or an airport in lieu of credentials.”

Presenting at RaCAS has offered a team an opportunity to get reactions from attendees, as well as ideas on how to expand their research.

“Up until now it’s just been three guys in a room coding away to get the system to work,” Attid said. “It’s great because you see the fresh expressions of anyone who comes by to learn about this.”

Theory behind necrotizing organs

Flap resconstructive surgery, a procedure in which tissue is taken from one area of the body and overlaid on a wound, carries a potentially dangerous side effect. The flap, which must carry its own blood supply due to its size and must be sewn into existing blood vessels, can cause necrosis in the greater organ.

Phillip Ross

Phillip Ross explains that necrosis of organs during flap surgery could be explained by “head loss.”

The phenomenon is referred to as vascular steal, which ultimately sees blood being siphoned or stolen away from the organ, leaving it to die. Vascular steal was largely accepted as the rationale for the necrosis, which often lead to amputation.

Phillip Ross, a third-year School of Medicine student, presented a different theory at RaCAS. In a project titled “Head Loss as an Explanation of the Steal Phenomenon in Microvascular Surgery,” Ross proposes that “head loss” may actually be the culprit behind the necrotizing organs.

“Head loss occurs at the junction where two vessels meet,” Ross said. “When blood reaches a juncture where a new vessel has been sewn, it loses momentum that results in a lack of profusion to the end organ.”

Despite strong evidence to support the head loss explanation, Ross would like to take more steps to confirm the finding, including adding variables to a computational model and comparing patient cohorts to see if any statistical difference in the blood flow to organs occurs.

“I don’t consider this matter to be solved. There is still more work to be done,” said Ross. “However I hope this provides a new talking point and can generate a discussion between other scientists and surgeons in an effort to lock down this phenomenon.”

Ross decided to present at RaCAS as he saw the symposium as an opportunity to share his findings and learn from other presenters.

Marian Gottlieb

Marian Gottlieb sheds light on how womanhood and beauty are explored in art.

“I knew RaCAS would be another great opportunity to showcase my work and also to see other scientific achievements that a lot of the graduate and undergraduate students have done as well,” Ross said.

Recontextualizing beauty

Brightly colored fabrics, a spray of flower petals and an assortment of eggshells are just a few objects arranged on BFA student Marian Gottlieb’s table. Among the curiosities is something that seemingly does not belong—a squid preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. But Gottlieb, who uses her art to explore the ideas of womanhood, women’s roles and women’s bodies in art, has an explanation for the inclusion.

“The objects symbolize womanhood, fertility and beauty—concepts frequently seen in feminist art,” Gottlieb said. “Preserving something and having something that is a curiosity to be viewed is how women’s bodies been historically viewed.”

Gottlieb’s goal is to find whether there is a way for contemporary artists to reclaim and recontextualize women’s bodies in art. This concept and the ways in which individuals experience and interpret beauty are ideas are central to her senior thesis.

“I am advocating for understanding beauty as an experience of the sublime and portraying beautiful people the way artists have traditionally represented the sublime,” Gottlieb said.

Sharing her art and research at RaCAS has allowed Gottlieb to hone in on key ideas in her thesis through discussing her work with others.

“RaCAS has been a really good way to clarify my ideas behind my thesis for myself,” Gottlieb said. “Doing a pitch about my thesis has helped me narrow down what I want to say.”

Gottlieb’s work will be featured at the CU Denver BFA Thesis Exhibition through May 14 at the RedLine Gallery.

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Breastfeeding app shows promise in supporting first-time mothers

mother and baby renderingBreastfeeding was significantly increased by a mobile phone application that provided supportive texts and an online community to new moms, a new University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus pilot study found.

An abstract of the study, “Mother’s Milk Messaging (MMM): A Pilot Study of an App to Support Breastfeeding in First Time Mothers,” will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2016 Meeting in Baltimore on May 1. Lead investigator Maya Bunik, associate professor of pediatrics at the CU School of Medicine, developed the app with colleagues in the mHealth Impact Laboratory at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz. Bunik leads the Breastfeeding Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado and authored the PAS book: “Breastfeeding Telephone Triage and Advice.”

“We wanted as many mothers and babies as possible to take advantage of the health benefits of breastfeeding and all babies to be offered human milk as their first food, and we know that women of child-bearing age are in the generation most likely to own a cell phone and use texting to communicate,” Bunik said. “Cell phones have been shown to be an effective way to increase the prescribed use of HIV medication, to help people quit smoking and to better manage diabetes. Our pilot study suggests that they also can be useful with breastfeeding support and management.”

The study is another example of CU Anschutz researchers and clinicians bringing advances in the laboratory directly to the clinic to improve patient care.

Among study participants who used the app, 95 percent were currently breastfeeding three months after giving birth, compared with 83 percent of the control group. The same amount (95 percent) were feeding babies breastmilk more than 80 percent of the time, compared with 78 percent of women who hadn’t used the app. Participants who used the app also had greater confidence ratings about breastfeeding issues, such as knowing if their babies were getting enough milk and coping with breastfeeding challenges.

Women participating in the study began interacting with the MMM app roughly six weeks before and after their delivery date and received five to seven messages to the app as push notifications via text each week. About a quarter of the text messages asked for a response from participants, querying them about normal stooling patterns in babies in the first 4 to 7 days of life, for example, or whether they knew that babies fed exclusively with breast milk in their first months of life have lower rates of obesity later. The app also linked participants to a private Facebook page where informative links, supportive comments and brief videos were posted.

Bunik, who monitored user comments and questions and provided responses, said a larger trial is being planned.

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