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UMD Capitol Hill Forum Addresses Health Disparities Research & Action for Equity

September 23, 2016

Contacts: Elise Carbonaro, 301-405-6501

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland, in collaboration with Rep. John P. Sarbanes and the Big Ten Academic Alliance, recently convened more than 100 people for a Research on the Hill forum focused on strategies to achieve health equity at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Moderated by Stephen B. Thomas, Ph.D., professor and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity in the UMD School of Public Health, the panel discussion engaged experts from academia, federal health agencies and the private business sector in a candid conversation about how to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities among vulnerable populations.

“Our exploratory research holds the solutions to many of the most challenging problems of our day,” said UMD Vice President and Chief Research Officer Patrick G. O’Shea, Ph.D. “As a university, it is our mission to create and understand knowledge to develop better ways to house and heal and fuel and feed our people in advanced societies that are just, secure, and free. Achieving health equity touches on the ‘heal’ aspect of that mission.”

The topics ranged from the progress that has been made in access to medical care as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to challenges that still remain in improving quality of care and in making the medical care system incorporate public health and address the social determinants of health that prevent people from acting health promotion and disease prevention recommendations. 

“The state of Maryland has embraced the ACA and there is clear evidence that the new incentives are indeed moving hospital systems away from a fee-for-service business model to one that rewards quality care and positive health outcomes over the volume of procedures,” said Thomas. “While the transition is not perfect, our state is a national leader for what the future of health care will look like.”

Panel members shared examples of effective and innovative community-based health interventions and public-private partnerships that are making a difference through culturally-tailored health promotion and disease prevention services, and highlighted the emergence of social determinants of health such as poverty, discrimination and residential segregation as factors that must be overcome.

 “I’m convinced that if you address racial and ethnic disparities with respect to the delivery of health care and health care coverage in this country, you will build the best health care system we can possibly have because diversity is our country’s hallmark,” said Congressman Sarbanes, who, as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been a tireless advocate for improving healthcare quality and addressing health disparities.
To achieve health equity, researchers, policymakers, and industry leaders must address broader issues beyond the traditional biomedical model and build trust between those who control health care delivery system and those who have lost hope in the system, said members of the panel. 

The panelists recommended that health equity be incorporated into all public policies, not just those related to health care, to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities. 

Panel members included:

  • Margo Edmunds, Ph.D., Vice President, Evidence Generation and Translation at Academy Health;
  • J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Director of the Office of Minority Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Julia Huggins, President of Cigna Mid-Atlantic;
  • Kolawole Okuyemi, M.D., MPH, Professor of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Director of the Program in Health Disparities Research and Inaugural Endowed Chair for Health Equity at the University of Minnesota; and
  • Eliseo Pérez-Stable, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health.

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, who represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District and is a distinguished UMD alumnus, also joined the event and emphasized that as an interconnected community, we should all care about health disparities.
“It is unacceptable that in the United States, where all are created equal in the words of our Declaration of Independence, that one’s access to healthcare may be higher or lower as a result of race, gender, or income,” said Congressman Hoyer. “Everybody being healthy is of concern to each and every one of us.”
He discussed how we must continue to defend the patient protections that Americans are benefiting from thanks to the ACA, such as the no-cost access to preventive services like mammograms and immunizations, as well as remind people of the dramatic increase in the number of people, particularly people of color, who now have health coverage as a result.

The event was held as part of the University of Maryland’s Research on the Hill series, which is aimed at raising awareness of research with great societal significance.

View the conversation at: https://youtu.be/HPedKr0jZLQ

UMD Study Finds Connecting Uninsured Patients to Primary Care Could Reduce ER Use

May 6, 2015

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418
Hillery Tsumba 301-628-3425

Montgomery County, Md. Initiative Could Improve Health, Reduce Costs

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – An intervention to connect low-income uninsured and Medicaid patients to a reliable source of primary health care shows promise for reducing avoidable use of hospital emergency departments in Maryland. A University of Maryland School of Public Health study evaluating the results of the intervention was published this week in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs

For twenty years, use of hospital emergency departments has been on the rise in the United States, particularly among low-income patients who face barriers to accessing health care outside of hospitals, including not having an identifiable primary health care provider. Almost half of emergency room visits are considered “avoidable.” The Emergency Department-Primary Care Connect Initiative of the Primary Care Coalition, which ran from 2009 through 2011, linked low-income uninsured and Medicaid patients to safety-net health clinics. 

“Our study found that uninsured patients with chronic health issues – such as those suffering from hypertension, diabetes, asthma, COPD, congestive heart failure, depression or anxiety – relied less on the emergency department after they were linked to a local health clinic for ongoing care,” says Dr. Karoline Mortensen, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and senior researcher. “Connecting patients to primary care and expanding the availability of these safety-net clinics could reduce emergency department visits and provide better continuity of care for vulnerable populations.”  

Funded by a grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the initiative engaged all five of the hospitals operating in Montgomery County, Maryland at the time, and four safety-net clinics serving low-income patients. Using “patient navigators,” individuals trained to help patients find the care they need and can afford, these hospitals referred more than 10,000 low-income, uninsured and Medicaid patients who visited emergency departments to four local primary care clinics, with the goal of encouraging them to establish an ongoing relationship with the clinic and reduce their reliance on costly emergency department care. 

Two hospitals in Montgomery County who participated in the intervention continued the program after the initial grant period concluded because of the benefits they saw for patients and for reducing emergency department visits and associated costs. These hospitals are currently testing a new version of the intervention specifically deigned to link emergency department patients with behavioral health conditions to appropriate community-based services. 

While hospital administrators and health policy experts throughout the country are recognizing that access to primary care improves continuity of care for patients and reduces avoidable use of emergency departments, the implications of this project are particularly important for hospitals in Maryland, which are now operating under a unique all-payer model for hospital payments. Within this new payment structure, Maryland hospitals will have to meet ambitious spending, quality of care, and population health goals. Reducing avoidable use of emergency departments can help in reaching these goals.

The project provides promise not only for hospitals in Maryland but throughout the nation to improve health care experiences and outcomes for their patients. Shared learning systems were an integral component of the project so participants were learning from each other and sharing best practices throughout the project and that learning has now been documented and can be replicated in other communities.

“This was an incredibly rewarding project to work on,” says Barbara H. Eldridge, Manager of Quality Improvement at the Primary Care Coalition. “We created a learning system that permits us to sustain improved communication between patients and their providers, between hospital discharge planners and community based clinics, and across five hospitals operating in Montgomery County.” The initiative has proven successful in Montgomery County, Maryland and is being replicated in communities in other parts of the country. 

“Linking Uninsured Patients Treated In The Emergency Department To Primary Care Shows Some Promise In Maryland” was written by Theresa Y. Kim, Karoline Mortensen, and Barbara Eldridge and published in the journal Health Affairs

University Launches Dynamic, Interactive Information Website UMD Right Now

December 4, 2012

Crystal Brown 301-405-4618 crystalb@umd.edu

College Park, Md. – Today, the University of Maryland launched a brand-new multimedia news and information portal, UMD Right Now, which provides members of the media and the public with real-time information on the university and its extended community.

UMD Right Now replaces Newsdesk, which previously served as the university’s news hub and central resource for members of the media. The new site is aimed at reaching broader audiences and allows visitors to keep up with the latest Maryland news and events, view photos and videos and connect with the university across all of its social media platforms.

“We designed UMD Right Now to be a comprehensive, vibrant site where visitors can find new and exciting things happening at Maryland,” said Linda Martin, executive director, Web and New Media Strategies. “Through social media, video, photos and news information, we hope to engage visitors and compel the community to explore all that Maryland has to offer.”

The new website, umdrightnow.umd.edu, contains up-to-date news releases and announcements, facts and figures about the university, a searchable database of faculty and staff experts, information highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, additional resources for news media and other campus and athletics news.

“UMD RightNow is the place to go to find out all the things happening on and around campus on any given day,” said Crystal Brown, chief communications officer. “This website brings real-time news, events and information right to your fingertips.”

For more information and contact information for the Office of University Communications, please visit umdrightnow.umd.edu.

It's Not Your Ears, It's Your Brain

October 18, 2016

Melissa Andreychek 301-405-0292

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — "Could you repeat that?" The reason you may have to say something twice when talking to older family members at Thanksgiving dinner may not be because of their hearing. Researchers at the University of Maryland have determined that something is going on in the brains of typical older adults that causes them to struggle to follow speech amidst background noise, even when their hearing would be considered normal on a clinical assessment.

In an interdisciplinary study published by the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers Samira Anderson, Jonathan Z. Simon, and Alessandro Presacco found that adults aged 61–73 with normal hearing scored significantly worse on speech understanding in noisy environments than adults aged 18–30 with normal hearing. The researchers are all associated with the UMD’s Brain and Behavior Initiative.

"Evidence of degraded representation of speech in noise, in the aging midbrain and cortex" is part of ongoing research into the so-called cocktail party problem, or the brain’s ability to focus on and process a particular stream of speech in the middle of a noisy environment. This research brings together the fields of hearing and speech science, neuroscience and cognitive science, electrical engineering, biology, and systems science.
The study subjects underwent two different kinds of scans to measure their brains’ electrical activity while they listened to people talk. The researchers were able to see what the subjects’ brains were up to when asked what someone was saying, both in a quiet environment and amidst a level of noise.
The researchers studied two areas of the brain. They looked at the more ‘ancestral’ midbrain area, which most vertebrate animals—all the way down to fish—have, and which does basic processing of all sounds.  They also looked at the cortex, which is particularly large in humans and part of which specializes in speech processing.

In the younger subject group, the midbrain generated a signal that matched its task in each case—looking like speech in the quiet environment, and speech clearly discernable against a noisy background in the noise environment.
But in the older subject group, the quality of the response to the speech signal was degraded even when in the quiet environment, and the response was even worse in the noisy environment.

"For older listeners, even when there isn’t any noise, the brain is already having trouble processing the speech," said Simon.
Neural signals recorded from cortex showed that younger adults could process speech well in a relatively short amount of time. But the auditory cortex of older test subjects took longer to represent the same amount of information.
Why is this the case? "Part of the comprehension problems experienced by older adults in both quiet and noise conditions could be linked to age-related imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neural processes in the brain," Presacco said. "This imbalance could impair the brain’s ability to correctly process auditory stimuli and could be the main cause of the abnormally high cortical response observed in our study."
"Older people need more time to figure out what a speaker is saying," Simon noted. "They are dedicating more of their resources and exerting more effort than younger adults when they are listening to speech."

"Often we will hear an older person say, ‘I can hear you, I just can’t understand you,’" said Anderson. "This research gives us new insight into why that is the case."

This eroding of brain function appears to be typical for older adults and a natural part of the aging process. The researchers are now looking into whether brain training techniques may be able to help older adults improve their speech comprehension.
Simple courtesies can help, too. Since being able to see as well as hear someone speaking helps with speech processing, it’s a good idea to look directly at older adults and make sure you have their attention before talking with them.

"The older brain just drops part of the speech signal, even if the ears captured it all just fine," said Simon. "When someone can see you speaking, instead of only hearing you, their visual system can sometimes make up for that loss."
Holding conversations in a quiet environment helps as well.

"The main message is that the older adults in our study have normal hearing as measured on an audiogram, yet they have difficulty understanding speech in noise because the timing aspects of the speech signal are not being accurately encoded," said Anderson. "Because they have normal hearing, talking louder does not help. So if someone is having trouble understanding you in a noisy restaurant or in a crowded room, it is most important to speak clearly at a normal or slightly slower than normal rate. Your older loved ones will appreciate this courtesy during the upcoming holidays!"

Discovery by UMD Biologists Reveals a Key Mechanism of Non-Genetic Inheritance

October 17, 2016

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267

COLLLEGE PARK, Md. – The basics of genetic inheritance are well known: parents each pass half of their DNA to their offspring during reproduction. This genetic recipe is thought to contain all of the information that a new organism needs to build and operate its body.

But recent research has shown that, in some species, parents’ life experiences can alter their offspring. Being underfed, exposed to toxins or stricken by disease can cause changes in a parent’s gene expression patterns, and in some cases, these changes can be passed down to the next generation. However, the mechanisms that cause this effect—known as non-genetic inheritance—are a mystery.

New research from the University of Maryland provides a surprising possible explanation. For the first time, developmental biologists have observed molecules of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)—a close cousin of DNA that can silence genes within cells—being passed directly from parent to offspring in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Importantly, the gene silencing effect created by dsRNA molecules in parents also persisted in their offspring.

The work, published October 17, 2016 in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the mechanisms for non-genetic inheritance might be simpler than anyone had suspected.

“This is the first time we’ve seen a dsRNA molecule passing from one generation to the next,” said Antony Jose, an assistant professor in the UMD Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics and senior author on the study. “The assumption has been that dsRNA changes the parent’s genetic material and this altered genetic material is transmitted to the next generation. But our observations suggest that RNA is cutting out the middle man.”

Jose and his team, including graduate student and lead author Julia Marré and former research technician Edward Traver, introduced dsRNA marked with a fluorescent label into the circulatory system of C. elegans worms. They then watched as these fluorescent RNA molecules physically moved from the parent’s circulatory system into an egg cell waiting to be fertilized.

In a surprising turn of events, some of the dsRNA molecules could not silence genes in the parent because the dsRNA sequence did not match any of the parent’s genes. But the dsRNA molecules did silence genes in the offspring, when the new worm gained a copy of the matching gene from its other parent. This suggests that, in some cases, gene silencing by dsRNA might be able to skip an entire generation.

“It’s shocking that we can see dsRNA cross generational boundaries. Our results  “But it’s doubly surprising to see that a parent can transmit the information to silence a gene it doesn’t have.”

Jose and his colleagues did not expect dsRNA to play such a direct role in the transmission of information across generations. Because dsRNA factors into the life cycle of many viruses, Jose explained, it is reasonable to assume that a living cell’s natural defenses would prevent dsRNA from invading the next generation.

“It’s very surprising. One would think the next generation would be protected, but we are seeing all of these dsRNA molecules being dumped into the next generation,” Jose added. “Egg cells use the same mechanism to absorb nutrients as they prepare for fertilization. The next generation is not only getting nutrition, it’s also getting information.”

Jose and his colleagues hope to learn more about the precise mechanisms by which dsRNA silences genes across multiple generations.

“There are hints that similar things could be happening in humans. We know that RNA exists in the human bloodstream. But, we don’t know where the RNA molecules are coming from, where they’re going or exactly what they’re doing,” Jose said. “Our work reveals an exciting possibility—they could be messages from parents to their offspring.”
In addition to Jose, UMD co-authors on the paper included graduate student Julia Marré and former research technician Edward Traver.

The research paper, “Extracellular RNA is transported from one generation to the next in Caenorhabditis elegans,” Julia Marré, Edward Traver and Antony Jose, appears in the October 17, 2016 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Award No. R01GM111457).


National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center at UMD Receives $28.5M Renewal from the National Science Foundation

October 14, 2016

Mary Shelley 410-919-4810

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) renewed its support for the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) at the University of Maryland with a new five-year, $28.5 million grant.

SESYNC supports cutting-edge research that accelerates scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Located in Annapolis, Maryland, SESYNC serves as a unique resource for the academic, management and policy communities.

“Creating sustainable environments for future generations, while meeting the needs of diverse populations today, is an urgent issue that requires innovative, interdisciplinary research,” said UMD Provost Mary Ann Rankin. “The University of Maryland and SESYNC researchers have made real progress in addressing these challenges and will continue to do so for years to come with the NSF’s renewed support.”

Established in 2011 with a five-year, $27.5 million grant—the largest NSF award ever received by UMD—the center brings together diverse groups in interdisciplinary collaborations to provide data-driven solutions to society’s most challenging and complex environmental problems.

“SESYNC was founded on the premise that progress toward a sustainable future requires new knowledge that arises from close collaborations across many disciplines and sectors, including the natural and social sciences, nongovernmental organizations, and government agencies,” said SESYNC Director Margaret Palmer, who is a Distinguished University Professor of Entomology at UMD. “Such collaborations and the involvement of knowledge users create a research portfolio with the potential to identify solutions and inform decisions.”

Since its inception, SESYNC has funded 131 research projects and its researchers have authored over 200 peer-reviewed publications. Each year, over a thousand participants take part in research meetings at the center, with nearly one-quarter hailing from outside the United States and one-fourth coming from non-academic organizations.

At UMD, 97 faculty members have participated in SESYNC programs, 45 graduate students received research assistantships through SESYNC and 67 undergraduate students conducted summer interdisciplinary research projects with UMD mentors through SESYNC.

“SESYNC’s programs and ability to facilitate productive teamwork have had a positive impact on the University of Maryland and beyond,” said Jayanth Banavar, dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at UMD. “SESYNC is viewed across campus as a successful model for building bridges across disciplines and involving researchers at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and senior scientist levels to solve challenging problems that are important to decision makers.”

Researchers at SESYNC frame their projects to inform discourse and results beyond academia. In the past six months, two research teams published influential commentary articles in the journal Nature to help inform decisions and improve the design of public policies. Peter Jørgensen, Didier Wernli, Scott Carroll and colleagues provided a socio-environmental perspective for a call to action on antimicrobial resistance ahead of a high-level United Nations (UN) meeting at which the UN General Assembly’s commited to addressing the root causes of antimicrobial resistance in a coordinated manner. Another team, led by Christopher Golden of Harvard University, utilized new databases on global fish catch and human dietary nutrition to show that fish resources are under the most intense pressure in low-latitude developing nations.

The center embraces a diversity of perspectives, methods and cultures among disciplines to explore solutions to pressing societal problems. For example, J. Baird Callicott, who recently retired from the University of North Texas, led a diverse team of legal scholars, economists, ecologists, conservation scientists and political ecologists. The researchers synthesized data to understand the implications of shifting ecological restoration goals. The team published its results in the journal Science less than a year after its first meeting.

Susan Clayton of the College of Wooster in Ohio led a project that explored the intersection of environmental science and psychology. This work led to a publication in the journal Nature Climate Change that highlighted the links between individual behaviors and perceptions of climate change and how this influences responses to climate change response and mitigation.

Ecological economists Klaus Hubacek and Kuishaung Feng of UMD guided a project linking local consumption to global environmental impacts. A publication about this work in the Journal of Industrial Ecology addressed the understanding of lifestyles and local consumption activities in global supply and value chain analysis.

Wei-Ning Xiang from East China Normal University in Shanghai and Joan Nassauer from the University of Michigan synthesized knowledge of ecological functions and patterns, land use, and human population distributions in urban mega-regions of China, where urban populations rose from 18 percent of the total population in 1978 to about 50 percent in 2010. The team published 14 articles in a special issue of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning that have implications for urban ecology, landscape planning, governance, public health, environmental justice and most broadly the sustainability of cities.

David Gill, a SESYNC postdoctoral fellow, published a study in the journal Ecological Economics that quantified how the loss of reef fish communities could impact the Caribbean’s tourism economy. The study demonstrated why conserving coral reefs should be both an economic and ecological priority and provided policymakers with a possible road map for sustainably financing that conservation. Neil Carter, another SESYNC postdoctoral fellow, developed a novel, spatially explicit agent-based model of tiger population dynamics and applied it to a global biodiversity hot spot with a large tiger population. The model explores human-tiger conflict interactions and population dynamics to inform policies and assess threats to tiger populations.

“Many of society’s biggest challenges, from ensuring supplies of fresh water to striving toward environmental justice, can best be met when scientists in the social and natural sciences work together,” says Tim Kratz, NSF program director for SESYNC. “SESYNC is very successful at facilitating these collaborations.”

Over the next five years, the center will:
•    Form new communities of scholars who will work with decisionmakers on transdisciplinary research;
•    Expand its program to immerse scientists in foundational concepts, theories and methods outside of their own training;
•    Build capacity for young scholars;
•    Diversify the socio-environmental synthesis community through joint programming with historically black colleges and universities, including Coppin State University in Baltimore;
•    Develop freely available synthesis education videos;
•    Increase opportunities for graduate scholars through training and team-based research opportunities; and
•    Grow the center’s communications capacity to publicize research results more broadly.

With this renewal, the center will continue its pursuit of actionable science at the intersection of social and environmental systems.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award Nos. DBI1052875 and DBI1639145). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of this organization.

“Use antimicrobials wisely,” Peter S. Jørgensen, Didier Wernli, Scott P. Carroll, Robert R. Dunn, Stephan Harbarth, Simon A. Levin, Anthony D. So, Maja Schlüter and Ramanan Laxminarayan, was published September 7, 2016, in the journal Nature.

“Nutrition: Fall in fish catch threatens human health,” Christopher D. Golden, Edward H. Allison, William W. L. Cheung, Madan M. Dey, Benjamin S. Halpern, Douglas J. McCauley, Matthew Smith, Bapu Vaitla, Dirk Zeller and Samuel S. Myers, was published June 15, 2016, in the journal Nature.
“Committing to Ecological Restoration,” Katherine Suding, Eric Higgs, Margaret Palmer, Christopher B. Anderson, Matthew Baker, John J. Gutrich, Kelly L. Hondula, Matthew C. Lafevor, Brendon M. H. Larson, Alan Randall, J. B. Ruhl and Katrina Z. S. Schwartz, was published in May 2015 in the journal Science.

“Psychological research and global climate change,” Susan Clayton, Patrick Devine-Wright, Paul C. Stern, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Amanda Carrico, Linda Steg, Janet Swim and Mirilia Bonnes, was published June 24, 2015, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Teleconnecting consumption to environmental impacts at multiple spatial scales,” Klaus Hubacek, Kuishuang Feng, Jan C. Minx, Stephan Pfister and Naijun Zhou, was published January 24, 2014, in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Special issue on “Working with wicked problems in socio-ecological systems: More awareness, greater acceptance, and better adaptation,” edited by Brian Head and Wei-Ning Xiang, was published in the October 2016 issue of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

“Recreational diver preferences for reef fish attributes: Economic implications of future change,” David A. Gill, Peter W. Schuhmann and Hazel A. Oxenford, was published January 28, 2015, in the journal Ecological Economics.

“Co-Adaptation is Key to Coexisting with Large Carnivores,” Neil H. Carter and John D.C. Linnell, was published July 5, 2016, in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Media Relations Contact: Mary Shelley 410-919-4810 mshelley@sesync.org

SESYNC's mission is to support synthetic, actionable team science on the structure, functioning and sustainability of socio-environmental systems. The center’s five core objectives are to: enhance the effectiveness of interdisciplinary collaborations among natural and social science research teams focused on environmental problems; build capacity and new communities of socio-environmental researchers; provide education programs to enhance interdisciplinarity and understanding of socio-environmental synthesis; enhance computational capacity to promote socio-environmental synthesis; and enhance relevance of socio-environmental research to decisions and behaviors via actionable scholarship. For more information on SESYNC and its activities, please visit www.sesync.org.

UMD/Morgan State EDA Center Leverages New Funding to Network Statewide University Resources

October 13, 2016

Maggie Haslam 202-258-8946

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland / Morgan State Joint Center for Economic Development (EDA Center) announced today that a new grant secured from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) will help fund a collaborative initiative that networks resources across the University System of Maryland (USM) to address economic challenges that face Maryland’s most vulnerable communities.

“This grant writes an important new chapter for UMD/Morgan State’s EDA Center,” said C. Scott Dempwolf, PhD, Director of the EDA Center. “By amassing the talent, work and ingenuity of Maryland’s research institutions with a common thread, we strengthen our efforts as individuals. Combined with the matching support of our partners, the EDA grant will help us continue our efforts through collaboration, research, teaching and economic development practice.”

Dempwolf will work with University System of Maryland’s new Vice Chancellor for Economic Development, Tom Sadowski, to develop a statewide network of economic developers working in and with USM’s 12 member institutions and two regional higher education centers. The network will connect economic research, resources and best practices across all of the institutions, strengthening the capacity of USM and its member institutions to translate Maryland’s investments in research and education into local economic development impact statewide. To accomplish this, Dempwolf will apply innovation network analysis tools developed under the EDA Center over the past five years. 

“This is promising technology for modeling and analyzing innovation ecosystems,” said Sadowski. “This grant will help us better leverage USM and other public/private resources to foster strategic economic development efforts throughout Maryland.”

The EDA Center, which has operated from the campus of Morgan State University for the past four years, will reside within the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG), with offices in both College Park and Baltimore. The center’s presence in Baltimore will enhance the NCSG's continued work in the city and support new sustainable economic development opportunities throughout the state.

In addition to establishing a statewide network of university-based economic developers, the EDA Center will focus on three major objectives over the next five years:

  • Assist in the Development of Innovation Districts, Including Baltimore's Innovation Village. In Maryland, innovation districts—compact, transit and tech-wired mixed-use areas, anchored by institutions—are emerging in College Park and Baltimore, while several other communities around the state are in the investigation or planning stages. Morgan State University Professor of Planning and Interim Assistant Dean of the School of Architecture, Siddhartha Sen, PhD,  will work with the Mount Royal Community Development Corporation to create economic development strategies for Innovation Village, a newly designated innovation district in west Baltimore. Faculty/student-driven urban planning efforts at both universities will support the project. “I am excited by this opportunity to create economic development strategies for Innovation Village,” said Sen. “It will provide our students a wonderful opportunity for hands on experience in economic development and fits into our school’s mission of fulfillment and advancement of spatial justice, urban revitalization and sustainability. The project also ties very well into the university’s mission of giving significant priority to addressing societal problems, particularly those prevalent in urban communities.”
  • Provide Technical Assistance to Maryland Communities. Working both independently and with NCSG’s Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS), the University Center will provide economic development and urban planning technical assistance directly to Maryland communities. PALS is a campus-wide initiative at the University of Maryland that enlists faculty expertise and student ingenuity to offer fresh solutions to challenges facing Maryland communities. A Community Planning Studio course this year taught by Dempwolf will focus on maritime-related industries in and around the City of Annapolis and its maritime industrial districts. The studio will examine ways to grow maritime and related industries in Annapolis – including whether the development of maker-spaces and an innovation district make sense for the city.
  • Facilitate Technology Transfer, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship. Leveraging Dempwolf’s network analysis technology, the EDA Center will work closely with UM Ventures—a joint program in commercialization between University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB)—as well as university administration officials and staff, to implement new tools to help the university accelerate tech transfer, commercialization and entrepreneurship. “Innovation has emerged as a key driver of economic growth. Leveraging the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of our students and faculty requires us to forge partnerships and networks across institutions, connecting the ideas, talent and resources of the University of Maryland with other institutions, organizations and companies throughout Maryland and around the world into a dynamic, innovation ecosystem,” said Dempwolf.

The recent move to University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education will allow the EDA Center to take advantage of the NCSG’s vast research and mapping technologies, as well as collaborate with NCSG researchers on several projects. One such project, led by NCSG director Gerrit Knaap, PhD,  will offer technical assistance to economic development strategies for the Purple Line Corridor. As the Purple Line becomes a reality, the strategies will help communities focus their economic development efforts more effectively and complement work currently underway by the NCSG’s Purple Line Corridor Coalition.

“We are very pleased to add the Economic Development Center to the set of activities at the National Center for Smart Growth,” said Knaap. “Economic analysis has always been a strength of the NCSG and with the addition of the EDA Center, we look forward to expanding our work on innovation districts, smart cities, equitable development and deepening our connections to Morgan State, the University of Maryland Baltimore and the largest city in the state.”

The mission of the EDA Center is to provide targeted assistance to Maryland communities through research, workforce development and entrepreneurship, as well as business counseling services. The EDA Center also helps local organizations conduct preliminary feasibility studies, analyze data and convene customized seminars and workshops on topics such as regional strategic planning and capital budgeting. Over the past six years, the EDA Center staff, led by Sen, has created plans for the revitalization of Baltimore’s Morgan Community Mile, recently establishing a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS).

This new strategy provides a crucial framework for economic development in the 54 neighborhoods surrounding Morgan State University, while aiding community stakeholders and policy makers as they create a vibrant town-gown community in Northeast Baltimore. The EDA Center has also developed a series of online professional development and economic training courses for area planning professionals, created the first-ever CEDS for St. Mary’s County and produced an East Campus Development Plan for the University of Maryland, College Park. The work conducted in St. Mary’s County features an enhanced cluster analysis using innovation network modeling and analysis methods developed by Dempwolf. This unique tool can identify opportunities—such as start-ups and new technologies—that are often missed through traditional modeling.

The center’s initiatives are being made possible by a $583,335 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in the Department of Commerce. The EDA grant will be matched by Center partners, including UMD’s Division of Research; the University of Maryland Baltimore; UMD’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education; Morgan State’s School of Architecture and Planning; and the Mount Royal Community Development Corporation in Baltimore (MRCDC) who, together will deliver a total of $1.17 million dollars to EDA Center projects over the next five years.

The EDA-supported University Center (UC) program is specifically designed to marshal the resources located within colleges and universities to support regional economic development strategies in regions of chronic and acute economic distress. EDA University Centers provide targeted assistance with research commercialization, workforce development and entrepreneurship, as well as business counseling services. The centers also help local organizations conduct preliminary feasibility studies, analyze data and convene customized seminars and workshops on topics such as regional strategic planning and capital budgeting.

To learn more about the University of Maryland U.S. EDA University Center and its projects, visit the Center’s website.

UMD Education Researchers Awarded $6.8M to Prepare Students with Disabilities for College, Workforce

October 12, 2016

Audrey Hill 301-405-3468

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland College of Education researchers Ellen Fabian and Richard Luecking received a $6.8 million grant from the Maryland State Department of Education to help students with disabilities prepare for postsecondary education or entry into the workforce upon high school graduation. The grant award was funded through a larger initiative by the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration, which provided $7.5 million to MSDE’s Division of Rehabilitation Services, as part of $39 million total in awards given to five states.

“Youth with disabilities lag behind their peers in college and career readiness,” explained University of Maryland College of Education professor Ellen Fabian, Ph.D. “Innovative programs that help students with disabilities enter the workforce represent an important investment in their long-term success.”

To ensure evidence-based outcomes, the project will include a randomized control design implemented across diverse school districts in Maryland, with 400 students with disabilities participating. Students enrolled in the research project will be those who are two years prior to high school graduation, largely 16 to 18 years old. The research will examine the most effective ways to use Pre-Employment Transition Services, which include work-based learning experiences and is one of the provisions of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

“This research is designed to help students with disabilities overcome barriers to employment or post secondary education,” said Sue Page, assistant state superintendent of the MSDE Division of Rehabilitation Services, which is leading the overall project. “Identifying effective interventions will help inform the field and the state of how to best support students with disabilities in achieving career goals.”

Fabian and Luecking’s research will feature Work-Based Learning Model Demonstrations, which may include touring employment sites, attending informational interviews, or help securing paid employment during high school. Other key components of the comprehensive project are early referral of youth to MSDE’s Division of Rehabilitation Services to connect them to services, as well as collaboration amongst the state, local educational agencies, and other key partners.

“Workforce participation of people with disabilities is low — estimates range from five to 45 percent of people with significant disabilities holding employment. Addressing the real challenges for youth with disabilities has the potential to significantly improve their adult employment prospects,” said University of Maryland College of Education Research Professor Richard Luecking, Ed.D.

Fabian and Luecking, both housed in the College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Higher Education & Special Education, have extensive experience conducting research with practical applications and are experts on issues related to special education and vocational training for people with disabilities.

Exposure to High Numbers of Pesticides Linked to Honey Bee Deaths

October 11, 2016

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Honey bee colonies in the United States have been dying at high rates for over a decade, and various agricultural pesticides—including fungicides, herbicides and insecticides—have been implicated in studies as playing a significant role.  Now,  the first study to systematically assess multiple pesticides has found that the number of different pesticides within a colony—regardless of dose—closely correlates with colony death.
The recent study, conducted by a University of Maryland-led research team, also suggests that some fungicides, often regarded as safe for bees, correlate with high rates of colony deaths. The study appeared in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

“Our results fly in the face of one of the basic tenets of toxicology: that the dose makes the poison,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at UMD and senior author on the study. “We found that the number of different compounds was highly predictive of colony death, which suggests that the addition of more compounds somehow overwhelms the bees’ ability to detoxify themselves.”

The researchers followed 91 honey bee colonies, owned by three different migratory commercial beekeepers, for an entire agricultural season. The colonies began their journey in Florida and moved up the East Coast, providing pollination services for different crops along the way. They also spent time in locations meant for honey production, as well as “holding areas” where beekeepers prepare large numbers of colonies for upcoming pollination contracts.

A total of 93 different pesticide compounds found their way into the colonies over the course of the season, accumulating in the wax, in processed pollen known as bee bread and in the bodies of nurse bees. At every stop along the beekeepers’ itinerary, the researchers assessed three different parameters within each colony: the total number of pesticides; the total number of “relevant” pesticides (defined as those above a minimum threshold of toxicity); and each colony’s “hazard quotient,” a measure devised by other researchers to integrate the total hazard posed to each colony by the cumulative toxicity of all pesticides present.
All three measures correlated with a higher probability of colony death or queen failure. In addition, the researchers found between five and 20 different pesticide residues in every sample of "bee bread" that exceeded a hazard quotient’s safety threshold. Honey bees typically store incoming pollen in an arch above the brood nest—the honey bee nursery (image at right). The nurse bees consume the stored pollen called bee bread and convert the proteins into brood food.

The highest number of pesticides accumulated in the colonies early on, shortly after beekeepers placed colonies into early season flowering crops like apples and blueberries. Honey production stopovers and holding areas offered the bees some respite from further contamination.

The study results also suggest that some fungicides, which have led to the mortality of honey bee larvae in lab studies, could have toxic effects on colony survival in the field. In the current study, pesticides with a particular mode of action also corresponded to higher colony mortality. For example, the fungicides most closely linked to queen deaths and colony mortality disrupted sterols—compounds that are essential for fungal development and survival.

“We were surprised to find such an abundance of fungicides inside the hives, but it was even more surprising to find that fungicides are linked to imminent colony mortality,” said Kirsten Traynor, a postdoctoral researcher in entomology at UMD and lead author on the study. “These compounds have long been thought to be safe for bees. We’re seeing them at higher doses than the chemicals beekeepers apply directly to the colonies to control varroa mites. So that is particularly concerning.”

The current study borrows a concept from human cancer research: the “exposome,” or the sum total of chemicals an organism is exposed to over its lifetime. But instead of looking at individual bees, the researchers assessed each colony as a single “superorganism” that functions as a single, cohesive unit.

Within this framework, the researchers tracked the death of queen bees, which is a life-threatening event for the colony as a whole. In some cases, a colony is able to create a new queen, but if those efforts fail the entire colony will die. In the current study, colonies with very low pesticide contamination in the wax experienced no queen events, while all colonies with high pesticide contamination in the wax lost a queen during the beekeeping season.
“This is a huge problem for beekeepers currently. Not long ago, a queen would typically last up to two years. But now many commercial beekeepers replace the queens in at least half of their colonies every spring in the hopes that this will prevent premature queen deaths,” Traynor explained. “Even with such measures, many queens still don’t make it through one season.”

The research team did not find a significant contribution from neonicotinoid pesticides. These compounds, derived from nicotine, are currently some of the most common pesticides in use globally. Because of their ubiquitous use, neonicotinoids have received significant media attention for their potential role in honey bee declines.

“We just did not find neonicotinoids in the colonies,” vanEngelsdorp explained. “There were some trace residues of neonicotinoids in a few samples, but not nearly on par with other compounds. However, it’s possible we did not test the right matrix—we did not test nectar, for example—or that the product breaks down faster than others in the collection process or that neonicotinoids are simply not very prevalent when crops are flowering.”

Because industrial practices have changed since the researchers collected the data for this study, Traynor and vanEngelsdorp acknowledge that further research could reveal new patterns in the relationship between pesticides and honey bee health. But the current study nonetheless offers some important insights for beekeepers and farmers alike.

“We have to figure out ways to reduce the amount of products that bees are exposed to while still helping farmers produce their crops,” vanEngelsdorp said. “This will require careful examination of spray plans, to make sure we only use the products we need, when we need them, in order to reduce the number of products bees are exposed to while pollinating different crops.”

UMD Names Varshney Interim Vice President for Research

October 7, 2016

Elise Carbonaro 301-405-6501

Amitabh VarshneyCOLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland has appointed Amitabh Varshney, Ph.D., Interim Vice President for Research, effective October 3, 2016. In this role, Varshney will provide strategic leadership to support the continued growth of UMD's $560 million research enterprise.

Varshney joined the UMD Department of Computer Science faculty in 2000, and since 2010, has served as director of the UMD Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). A leader in interactive visual computing research, Varshney’s work has focused on exploring the applications of high-performance computer graphics and visualization in science, engineering, and medicine. His research results are being used in climate modeling, plasma physics, nanomanufacturing, the design of buildings, cars, and submarines, medical imaging, gene sequencing, and the creative arts. He has engaged in research collaborations with a variety of partners in industry and government agencies.

As part of the UMD-University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) strategic partnership, Varshney helped bring together scientists and clinicians from both institutions to establish a multi-disciplinary Center for Health-related Bioinformatics and Bio-Imaging (CHIB), tasked with solving grand challenges in personalized medicine and health care.

Varshney is an elected fellow of IEEE, a recipient of the IEEE Technical Achievement Award and a NSF CAREER Award. His B.Tech is from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 

Varshney succeeds Patrick O'Shea, Ph.D., the previous Vice President and Chief Research Officer of UMD, who was recently named the next president of University College Cork in Ireland. A national search for the permanent UMD Vice President for Research will be launched soon. Varshney will continue in his role as Interim Vice President for Research until the completion of the search.





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