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New security measures at CU Anschutz

Should the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus become a target of violence, a brand-new, state-of-the-art security system could save lives. Featuring panic buttons, frosted windows and blue-strobe lights, the new system will help secure safety – as long as everyone prepares for an emergency.

That’s the message of the University Police and supporting administrators as they roll out the new system that was authorized and funded by Senior Vice Chancellor Terri Carrothers and Chancellor Don Elliman last spring. 

Designed by Robin Brown, CU Anschutz director of electronic security, along with his deputy director, Kurt Proffitt, and other experts, the unique system’s first phase involved equipping 11 labs and 42 classrooms and lecture halls, in Education 1 and Education 2 buildings.

Equipped rooms

This is an example of a panic button, located in each equipped room.

Each equipped room has at least one panic button installed on the wall; if a teaching podium is present, a second button was installed at the podium. Each button is accompanied with guidance information posted on the wall. Pressing a panic button locks every security door in the corresponding building, although people inside can still get out.

“We wanted to give our campus members the option to evaluate their surroundings and make the best decision,” said University Police Chief Randy Repola. “Sometimes, that is to stay. Other times, that might be to leave.”

Only police officers with credentials will have badge access to the locked doors. Once a panic button activates the system, University Police will be notified. A blue-strobe light will activate inside all of the equipped rooms, as well as outside of the room where the button was pushed.

“We want to stress that this is to be used during an imminent threat, such as an active-harmer situation,” Repola said. “This button is not for typical police assistance. If anyone requires police assistance without an imminent threat, he or she should contact University Police by phone.”

‘We want our students to know that they can focus on their studies because we’ve got their backs.’ – Robin Brown, CU Anschutz director of electronic security

Equipped rooms also contain emergency trauma kits with severe-bleeding control supplies. An alarm sounds when the box is opened, notifying University Police.

Lastly, glass windows on doors have been reinforced and frosted, blocking the view from an outside active harmer and making the windows more difficult to break.

Make the call

Although the new security measures are a step toward a more-secure campus, a phone call during an emergency remains vital, Brown said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you have any questions about the security system, please contact Wendy Grover at wendy.grover@ucdenver.edu

“The phone call is the most important part of this scenario,” he said. “It gives our officers the opportunity to learn about the threat. Complete communication is always better than just opening a box or pressing a button.”

Calls – and multiple calls – can give officers a more complete picture of the scenario and the amount of resources needed, Brown said.

There is also an important distinction between calling 911 and calling the University Police, said Wendy Grover, the police department’s communications director.

“Only Dial 911 if you are using a phone connected to a wall,” Grover said. “You should dial 303-724-4444 if you are using a cellphone. That way we can ensure that you will get in touch with University Police. If you dial 911 on your cellphone, you may get put through with the Aurora Police Department or another law enforcement agency which could slow down the appropriate response.”

University Police encourages people to spread the word about the new system.

“The security has hardened our buildings, and the officers have been trained,” Repola said. “Now, we need to educate our university population.”

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trial commencing for Elipse Balloon

Enrollment for ENLIGHTEN, a United States clinical trial for the Elipse® Balloon – the world’s first and only procedureless™ gastric balloon for weight loss, has started at University of Colorado Hospital at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

The study is designed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the Elipse Balloon in 400 individuals. It is administered by Allurion Technologies, a leader in the development of weight loss therapies. The study will be conducted at up to twelve sites in the United States. Dr. Shelby Sullivan, associate visiting professor of gastroenterology at the CU School of Medicine and a specialist in endoscopic bariatric weight-loss procedures is leading the trial in Colorado.

“We are excited to be the only center in Colorado enrolling patients in the ENLIGHTEN study, the first completely procedureless gastric balloon for weight loss,” Sullivan said. “A device like this which doesn’t require a procedure will lower the barriers for patients who need help with weight loss.”

The Elipse Balloon received its European Union CE mark in 2015 and is currently available in more than 40 weight loss centers in countries across Europe and the Middle East. Over 4,000 individuals have already been treated. Unlike other weight loss balloons, the Elipse Balloon is placed and removed without surgery, endoscopy, or anesthesia. It is swallowed in a capsule during a brief, outpatient office visit and remains in the stomach for approximately four months, after which it opens and passes naturally from the body.

“We are looking forward to adding to our global clinical trial experience with the Elipse Balloon,” said Ram Chuttani, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Allurion. “Starting ENLIGHTEN is the first step toward bringing our flagship product to the United States where we can build upon the success we have had abroad.”

“The Elipse Balloon has the potential to revolutionize the way obesity is treated in the United States,” added Shantanu Gaur, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of Allurion. “Millions of Americans are struggling to lose weight, and they are calling for new options that are safe and effective. The ENLIGHTEN study is the next step in meeting this consumer need.”

The Elipse Balloon is made of a thin, flexible polymer film. The device is swallowed in a capsule and filled with liquid through a thin delivery catheter, which is then detached. The balloon remains in the stomach for approximately four months, after which it opens, allowing it to empty and pass naturally from the body without the need for a removal procedure.

A pilot clinical study and recent 135-patient clinical trial conducted outside the United States in overweight and obese individuals demonstrated an average weight loss of 29 to 33 pounds, approximately 15% of total body weight. Participants also saw improvements in their triglycerides, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and quality of life.

Study visits will occur at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. Interested participants can learn more about the study, eligibility and how to register at http://balloontrial.com and http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03261453.

Image Source: Allurion Technologies

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Mapping the Body art exhibit

An excited buzz replaced the usual quiet at the Health Sciences Library on Feb. 8, as students, faculty and staff from both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus joined for a first-of-its-kind art and poetry exhibit.

“Mapping the Body: Poetry & Anatomical Art,” a collaborative exhibit that combined creative writing and body parts, was the brainchild of two English professors and an anatomy professor. Organizers hope to see the collaborative project continue with future students.

A different kind of collaboration

In 2016, Danielle Royer, PhD, associate professor and the vice director of the Modern Human Anatomy master’s program at the CU School of Medicine, hosted Nicky Beer, PhD, an associate professor of English in the CU Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and her poetry class.

Angela Dueñas, Nicky Beer, PhD, Brian Barker, PhD, and Danielle Royer, PhD, organized the event.

“We showed the class through the lab,” said Royer. “The event was a powerful experience. Afterwards, I reached out to see if they were interested in a joint art exhibit with us at some later point.”

Brian Barker, PhD, also an associate professor of English in the CU Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Beer wanted to give their creative writing students a chance to imitate poetry they were studying in class.

“We were reading poetry about cadavers and the morgue,” said Beer. “Our students really took to it and wanted to try it themselves. Since CU Anschutz is just down the road, we knew we had the opportunity to work with students in the sciences and do something really cool.”

Creativity in the sciences

Each modern anatomy student created a piece of art inspired by the human body. A creative writing student from CU Denver was then paired with a CU Anschutz student and wrote a poem motivated by the artwork.

The 21 mixed-media pieces of art lined the walls of the Health Sciences Library Gallery, with 13 of them accompanied by poems. At the opening reception, the creative-writing students shared their poetry to a packed room.

CU Denver student Miriam Ordonez poses by her poetry.

Steven Vigil-Roach, student in the CU Denver College of Liberal Arts of Sciences, wrote a poem entitled “After the Diagnosis.”

– “On Sunday we said goodbye, one last prayer and I cried for hours after, knowing I was so near the end I didn’t want to go home, even the children were afraid to sleep. The whole truth seemed far too tangled up in the rest of everything, one endless tangle I wasn’t sure if prayers would help any of us sleep.”

“When I heard about the project, I knew I wanted to be involved,” said Vigil-Roach. “I love it when the scientific crosses paths with the creative. Interdisciplinary projects are a great opportunity to push boundaries and take new perspectives. Personally, I draw a lot of inspiration from the sciences, and so this was the perfect opportunity for me to have a foot in both worlds.”

Funding the humanities

Organizers received a “President’s Fund for the Humanities” CU system grant for the exhibit. Modern Human Anatomy graduate student Angelique Dueñas helped secure the funding.

The exhibit will be displayed until March 30. It will return in August to the Fulginiti Pavilion for the start of the 2018-19 school year, with many students and organizers saying they hope the project will continue beyond next year.

SEE THE EXHIBIT

Catch this exhibit at the Health Sciences Library until March 30.

New traditions 

“Collaborative works are so great for students,” said Vigil-Roach. “It brings the student community together. I think projects like this help dispel the notion that the creative and the scientific exist in separate spheres when they in fact overlap and coexist in wonderful ways,” he said.

 

“We look forward to continue bridging academic disciplines,” said Royer. “We get special exposure for our students, while showcasing our talent to coworkers, fellow students and community members.”

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2018 W-4 release delayed due to tax rate changes

The passage of Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017 has implications for University of Colorado faculty and staff’s paychecks. Among them: Slightly larger paychecks and a delay in the release of the 2018 Form W-4.

Paycheck amounts

When viewing their January paychecks, many employees noticed that they were larger than usual. “That’s because the recently passed tax bill changed tax rates for many income levels, typically resulting in larger paychecks,” said Sharon Bishop, director of payroll for Employee Services.

2018 W-4 delay

Tax changes passed in December also delayed the IRS’s release of the 2018 W-4 until Feb. 28.

The W-4 allows employees to determine the amount of federal income tax withheld from their pay. Employee Services recommends that all employees check their W-4 and make any needed adjustments at the start of each year – especially if an employee got married, had a child or experienced other changes that would affect their tax status.

Ben Franklin and bitcoins

The IRS delay means employees and new hires can continue using the 2017 W-4 for 30 days after the new one is available. Employees who claimed tax-exempt in 2017 will have their exemption extended until Feb. 28.

Bishop encourages faculty, staff and student employees to continue to review the federal and state withholdings on their paychecks until the IRS releases the new W-4 form and online withholding calculator. Employee Services will share news of its release through campus communications channels.

“I highly encourage everyone to take advantage of the IRS calculator tool to see how change to the tax laws will affect them,” Bishop said. “It will help to make sure you will not owe taxes when you complete your 2018 tax return.”

When released, the IRS withholding calculator will be available at IRS.gov/W4App. The IRS anticipates that this calculator will be available by the end of February.

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Aurora Public Schools to open STEM school next to CU Anschutz

The next generation of health professionals will soon be learning in a STEM-focused school next door to the world-class CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Aurora Public Schools (APS) recently announced that the Fitzsimons Innovation Campus will be home to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) school for grades 6-12. The school is scheduled to open during the 2019-20 school year to sixth-graders. A new grade will be added each subsequent year.

The new school, in partnership with the Denver School of Science and Technology, will provide APS students with a robust STEM program and access to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and its pioneering research labs.

Enhances quality of life

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman said having a STEM school next door provides outstanding opportunities for the medical campus. “Not only does it give our faculty, staff and students another avenue for community outreach and health education, but the addition of a school in our immediate neighborhood will positively affect the quality of life for our nearby residents now and into the future,” he said. “Coupled with other new amenities such as a food market, hotel and light rail, the school will contribute to a stronger community for those who work and live here.”

Students and educators at the school will enjoy the easy proximity to internships, externships and job-shadowing opportunities. CU Anschutz has a long history of exposing students from neighboring communities to potential health care careers.

Opportunity, impact for students

Superintendent Rico Munn said APS, which has enjoyed partnering with the Community-Campus Partnership at CU Anschutz, is committed to providing opportunity and impact for its students. “We are eager to grow the next generation of APS doctors, researchers and medical professionals who will be inspired to learn, work and give back to our community,” he said.

At the new STEM school, students living in northwest Aurora will be given preference for enrollment. Then, enrollment will open up to other APS students.

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June monthly pay date returns to last day of month

University of Colorado employees who are paid monthly will now receive their June paycheck on the final business day in June, instead of the first business day in July.

The change comes after State of Colorado Controller Robert Jaros released an alert stating that a 15-year-old state directive, which delays all monthly paid state employees’ June pay to the first business day in July, no longer applies to higher education institutions.

Payday“The payroll and finance teams are happy to have this change, but, I imagine, not as happy as all the monthly paid employees,” said Sharon Bishop, Director of Payroll for Employee Services. “We’ll no longer need to adjust any automatic payments that come out of our bank accounts on the last day of the month for our June pay.”

The one-day pay shift was implemented in 2003, when Gov. Bill Owens signed into law Colorado Senate Bill 03-197. The change eliminated one of the state’s 12 monthly pay cycles during fiscal year 2002-03, and saved the state $90 million in general fund expenditures, according to the Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting.

There is no change for employees who are paid biweekly.

To view 2018 monthly and biweekly paydays, click here.

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Unintended birth rates decrease

Thanks in large part to a team of researchers on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, a state program heralded for dramatically reducing Colorado’s teen birth and abortion rates gained a funding boost, allowing the public health initiative to continue.

Dr. Marcelo Perraillon
Dr. Marcelo Perraillon helped spearhead this project.

Chosen from a pool of highly qualified applicants, Marcelo Perraillon, PhD, an assistant professor in the Colorado School of Public Health, and his team were tasked with crunching the numbers of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative (CFPI). Their goal: to show lawmakers the program’s fiscal worth in addition to its public-health value.

Their mission was accomplished. The independent analysis indicated the program was responsible for more than half of the drop in births from 2009 through 2015 and up to nearly $70 million in potential and actual cost-savings for state and federal programs.

Colorado Family Planning Initiative

“The CFPI was originally funded by an anonymous donor,” Perraillon said of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment initiative. “This special program was created to help curb unintended pregnancies. We wanted to use the report to inform decision-makers about the impact of the initiative on cost savings and health outcomes.”

The CFPI’s chief goals are to provide physician training, operational support and low- or no-cost long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs). Launched in 2009, the program provided about 32,000 LARCs, which include IUDs and hormonal implants, in its first six years.

Once implanted in a female candidate, these devices are 99 percent effective and can prevent pregnancies for up to 10 years. This method doesn’t require a monthly prescription, constant monitoring by a physician or a reminder to take it, decreasing chances for unintended pregnancies. So, where’s the pitfall? Its price tag.

“LARCs are substantially more expensive than other methods,” said Perraillon. “A lot of low-income women cannot afford this option, and must use cheaper, less-reliable options, such as condoms or birth control pills. It puts them at a higher risk of unintended pregnancies.”

Although there are public health programs in which women can receive low-cost or no-cost IUDs, their waiting lists can be long, leaving economically disadvantaged women at higher risk of becoming pregnant.

Crunching the numbers

To create convincing evidence, Perraillon and his team prepared an extensive report.

Melanie Whittington
Student Melanie Whittington, PhD, assisted in estimating the reduction in unintended pregnancies.

Melanie Whittington, PhD, a student when she was involved in the project, assisted in estimating the percent reduction in unintended pregnancies. The other team members included Richard Lindrooth, PhD; Mark Gritz, PhD; and graduate students Rose Hardy, MPH, and Shannon Sainer, MSW.

“I’ve always been interested in health economics,” said Whittington. “It’s fascinating to uncover how policy can impact public health. This project was a great example of how we can help provide evidence to lawmakers to make Colorado a better place.”

In 2007, the abortion rate for 15- to 19-year-olds in Colorado was 11.4 abortions per 1,000 women. During the program, the rate dropped nearly by half, from 10.3 in 2009 to 5.4 in 2014. The unintended pregnancy rate dropped 40 percent, from 35 per 1,000 teens in 2009 to 21 in 2014.

Uncovering the cost savings

Perraillon and his team needed to consider the potential savings from the many different state-funded programs that assist mothers. These programs range from providing prenatal care all the way to putting a child through preschool.

“When you run an experiment, interpreting the data is fairly straightforward,” said Perraillon. “You have a control, and you have an experimental group. But when you are using observational data, things can get very complicated very quickly.”

Through sophisticated techniques for analyzing observational data, Perraillon and his team found that the CFPI helped save Colorado between $66.1 million and $69.6 million.

“It is important to note that the creation of the CFPI alone did not cause all the reduction in birth rates,” said Perraillon. “There are other factors that influence birth rates, including unemployment rates. Our analysis had to take these and other factors into account.”

However, the evidence clearly suggested the program influenced a decline in birth rates and an increased cost savings for the state. The Legislature allocated funding for the program, allowing Colorado to continue a nationwide model for family planning.

“I think just by the numbers, you can tell this effort was very successful,” said Perraillon. “I’m very pleased with the outcome of our findings.”

 

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University brand review and survey

The University of Colorado’s Brand Identity Standards Board is undergoing a review of CU’s brand identity system, including naming, logo system, colors and typeface. Our goal is to ensure that our brand remains relevant and functional – in both application and experience – given the changes in technology and audience behavior that have taken place since its implementation in 2011.

Take the CU brand survey.

“To be successful, brands must stay relevant, engaging and authentic. Regular checkups and feedback ensures that CU’s brand meets the needs of today, as well as those of tomorrow.”

“To be successful, brands must stay relevant, engaging and authentic. Regular checkups and feedback ensures that CU’s brand meets the needs of today, as well as those of tomorrow,” said Jeff Exstrum, creative director for University Communications.

Your feedback is vital to CU’s long-term brand health. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey to share your experiences working with our brand, as well as your thoughts and suggestions on how it could be improved. For consideration, please respond by end of day Friday, February 9.

Thanks for your assistance. If you would like more information or have any questions about this project, feel free to email brand@ucdenver.edu.

University of Colorado Denver

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Curiosity: It’s what makes new interim vice chancellor tick

Robert Eckel at desk
Dr. Robert “Bob” Eckel is serving as interim vice chancellor for research while a search for a permanent replacement is underway. Eckel has served as program director of the Clinical Translational Research Center Network of the Colorado Clinical Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI) and the CU Adult General Clinical Research Center. He was only the second endocrinologist ever to serve as president of the American Heart Association.

It might have been what killed the cat, but to Dr. Robert “Bob” Eckel, the University of Colorado’s new interim vice chancellor for research, curiosity reigns in propelling a successful career and research program.

“It’s what drives the bus here,” said Eckel, MD, recently tapped for the job left vacant by Dr. Richard “Dick” Traystman’s death this fall, as CU administrators launch a search for a permanent vice chancellor.

Although “filling Dick’s shoes is impossible,” Eckel, an international expert in his field of lipid and lipoprotein metabolism and a recognized face on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus after nearly 40 years, said he hopes his ingrained curiosity can serve as a catalyst for furthering the research enterprise at an institution that has been good to him and his profession.

“There are many components to a successful career in science and medicine,” Eckel said. “But curiosity, in my opinion, is one of the most important factors. If curiosity is driving you, then grants, papers and quality research will follow.”

Fanning the curiosity flame

The curiosity flame was lit early in Eckel’s career. After conceding that he was no Vivaldi and ditching the thought of a profession in music (a passion that led him to his first wife, a talented violinist), Eckel decided his idea of medical school was more on track. “And I knew it would make my mother happier.”

But his vision of being solely a clinically-focused doctor soon vanished. “I found out during my residency in internal medicine that I was starting to get increasingly curious about what made people sick and why they weren’t responding to therapy,” said Eckel, an endocrinologist in both the School of Medicine’s Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes and Division of Cardiology. He also has an appointment in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

“I thought if I wanted to pursue that drive, that ultimately I needed to be trained in research,” said Eckel, crediting his subsequent research-fellowship experience at the University of Washington for fanning the flames. “I came out on fire for research.”

‘There are many components to a successful career in science and medicine. But curiosity, in my opinion, is one of the most important factors. If curiosity is driving you, then grants, papers and quality research will follow.’ – Robert Eckel, MD

Bringing a dual perspective

Eckel, who often calls himself a “cross-dresser” as a preventive cardiologist and endocrinologist, said he loves all components of his job. “As a clinician, I’m more of a preventive cardiologist, but as a scientist, I’m a metabolically-driven guy,” he said, adding that his physician-scientist perspective brings a different “twist” to the vice chancellor position.

As an investigator, Eckel thrives on being tucked in his lab, where he and Assistant Research Professor Kimberley Bruce, PhD, have expanded their longtime focus on how lipids (such as cholesterol and triglycerides) and lipoproteins (which carry lipids) relate to obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The two have joined forces with Wendy Macklin, PhD, a leading expert on glial biology in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, in investigating how lipids and lipoproteins play a role in neurological disorders, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease, with a renewed funding award on Feb. 1.

“Myelin is loaded with lipids,” Eckel said, referring to the myelin sheath that protects the body’s nervous system. With MS, a disabling degenerative disease that affects an estimated 400,000 Americans, myelin is slowly destroyed. “So we are involved in understanding how lipids and lipoproteins can be processed to re-myelinate nerves that have been demyelinated.”

Eckel and wife at Nuggets game
Dr. Robert Eckel poses with Rocky and wife, Margaret, at a Nuggets game. Eckel credits the women in his life for much of his success.

Encouraging research partnerships

Bruce and Eckel have also teamed up with another top CU Anschutz Medical Campus researcher, SOM’s Department of Neurology’s Huntington Potter, PhD, in their work on the role of lipids and lipoproteins and the brain-degenerating Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s affects at least 5.5 million Americans, a number expected to soar with an aging population.

During her years working beside him, Bruce said Eckel has served as a great mentor and role model. “I’ve learned a great deal from Bob, not just about lipid and lipoprotein biology, but also about how to strive for scientific excellence while still keeping your feet on the ground,” she said. “I honestly can’t think of anyone better for this vice chancellor role.”

No stranger to cross-disciplinary collaboration, Eckel said researcher success also depends on networking. “None of us is an island anymore in science and medicine. There are no single-authored papers anymore. Science is really teamwork, and that’s something I will consider as I look at the big network of research on both campuses.”

Recognizing research’s influence

Eckel, winner of the Endocrine Society’s 2016 Outstanding Clinical Investigator Award, understands the power of research on both a professional and a personal level.

Diagnosed at age 5 with Type 1 diabetes, a disease he shares with two sons and opted early on to separate from his lab work, Eckel said he’s grateful for his colleagues who have made huge research strides in the insulin-related disorder.

“There’s been so much improvement in therapeutics for Type 1 diabetes,” he said. “I have a pump and a sensor,” he said, patting his lower chest, where a pump automatically infuses the insulin his body cannot make. “I’ve had this disease for 65 years now, and I’ve never felt better in my life. I feel fortunate to be alive, and that’s research,” he said.

Finding collaboration on all fronts

Eckel with family
Dr. Robert Eckel balances career and family, which includes three grandchildren and five grown children. Eckel, who emphasizes the importance of music in a well-rounded lifestyle, taught each of his kids piano until they were in sixth grade.

Eckel doesn’t just stand out in his field. In 2016, he won Father of the Year from the American Diabetes Association, for which he serves on the board. A devoted but humble family man, he doesn’t take the credit for his well-rounded success.

“It’s the women I’ve done it all with,” he said, acknowledging his first wife, who worked as a teacher while he went through medical school and then raised their five children before she died of breast cancer at age 45. “She was a great mom.”

Eckel eventually married his current wife, Margaret. “She stepped up and became a stepmom who’s now loved by all of my kids, and I’ve been married to her almost as long as I was my first wife. So I had great companionship and love from two women, and I probably didn’t deserve either one of them.”

On the professional side, Eckel said Bruce “runs the bus” in his research lab. “She’s smarter than I am. I’m lucky to have her.” With a retirement date set for July 1, 2019, Eckel hopes to have his research program ready to hand over to Bruce and to have fulfilled his new interim post to the best of his ability.

“I work at a great institution that’s been incredibly supportive, and it’s a privilege to serve,” said Eckel, who will not vie for the permanent post. “But right now, I’m neither intellectually nor emotionally ready to retire. The science is just too much fun.”

 

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Research Uncovers Risk Factors for Mysterious Kidney Disease in Farm Workers

Researchers from the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have identified new risk factors for a mysterious kidney illness affecting tens of thousands of farm workers worldwide. Their findings have been published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Partnering with Pantaleon, one of the largest sugar producers in Central America, ColoradoSPH researchers examined 330 sugarcane cutters in Guatemala over the course of a six-month harvest season. More than one-third of the workers showed a decline in kidney function over the course of the harvest, while the other two-thirds of the workers’ kidney function remained the same or improved. The researchers discovered that factors including smoking, living in the local community, and low kidney function before employment were associated with a decline in kidney function. The researchers found no association with other health conditions, the amount of water workers drank, sugary drink consumption, or home use of pesticides.

Following worker protection guidelines for rest and hydration set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), Pantaleon already provides rest breaks, shade, water and electrolyte solutions similar to sports drinks to their employees. Based on the findings of this study, these preventive measures are not sufficient to protect all workers from kidney injury.

Previous studies have identified an illness called “Mesoamerican Nephropathy,” also referred to as Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu). Notably, this new study shows that when a workforce has access to water, rest, and shade, the rates of CKDu onset and kidney injury are lower, and the injury is less severe than that seen in previous studies.

Hydration, rest, shade ‘probably not enough’

“Water, rest and shade are important for anyone doing heavy labor in hot climates. It’s vitally important that employers continue to focus on that. But our study shows that hydration, rest and shade are probably not enough to stop the global epidemic of kidney disease,” explained Dr. Jaime Butler-Dawson, lead author of the study and researcher at the Center for Health, Work & Environment. “We now have a better idea of some strategies to help keep workers safe and healthy,” she said.

Pantaleon has long prided itself on its commitment to worker health and sustainability. The company initially sought the input of Dr. Lee Newman, director of the Center for Health, Work & Environment in 2016 to conduct a rigorous third-party evaluation of their workplace health programs. The partnership has grown since and they have launched multiple studies. The goals of the collaboration are to evaluate Pantaleon’s progress towards achieving its sustainability goals and to help identify and eliminate the health risks of agricultural workers.

Researchers at the Center for Health, Work & Environment see these findings as part of a larger picture of evolving science in the field of Total Worker Health®, an integrated approach to workplace health and safety coined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Requires more holistic approach

“What we are seeing in our research is that protecting workers from hazards and supporting their health requires a more holistic approach, what NIOSH refers to as Total Worker Health. That is why we are examining work-related factors and personal risk factors. Both need to be addressed together,” said Butler-Dawson.

Dr. Butler-Dawson and her team are focusing future research on delving deeper into understanding the factors that contribute to declining kidney function, such as why workers who live closer to the sugarcane field are more likely to have impaired kidney function at the end of the harvest season. They are also examining why two-thirds of the workers in this study maintained healthy kidney function or improved their kidney function. Her team is collaborating with researchers in the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Global Health to design and test ways to improve the health of sugarcane workers and other agricultural workers in the region.

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