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New Initiative Helps Families Create Healthy Futures

August 9, 2013
Contacts: 

Elliot A. Segal 301-652-5001

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland School of Public Health is partnering with the Prince George's County Public School System and a local community center to improve the health of underserved families in the area.

(L to R): Elliot A. Segal, Healthy Futures program director; Lisa Sampson, Judy Hoyer Family Learning Center program manager; Laura Barbee-Matthews, Early Childhood Programs supervisor, Prince George's County Public SchoolsThe Healthy Futures Program (HFP), a UMD School of Public Health initiative focused on maternal and child health, will collaborate with the Judy Hoyer Family Learning Center in Adelphi, Md., to create a field office where local residents can receive information about and assistance with accessing health resources and services. 

Prince George's County, where UMD is located, has far fewer primary care providers for the population compared to surrounding counties and has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Maryland. Only 46 percent of mothers receive prenatal care in their first trimester. Less than two percent of one-year-olds get lead screenings even though housing in the area frequently contains lead and the test costs a mere eight dollars. Many residents who are eligible for federally funded health services and benefits are unaware of or unable to access them. As Medicaid and other services become widely available through the Affordable Care Act, awareness and education will play an important role in increasing access.

"The Healthy Futures Program is actively reaching out to expectant mothers and children from birth to age five, helping to educate and improve access to care and care management," says  Elliot Segal, director of the Healthy Futures Program and a professor of the practice in the Department of Health Services Administration. "This is key to reducing child obesity early and preventing future chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease."

The UMD School of Public Health has been involved in the establishment of Maryland's Health Enterprise Zones – a program that seeks to reduce health disparities in underserved areas through incentives for health care providers and programs to locate in these neighborhoods. The school is also promoting the goals of the U.S. Department of Education's Promise Neighborhoods Initiative, run by CASA de Maryland in Prince George's County. The new Healthy Futures/Judy Hoyer Health Field Office will help individuals in these areas - particularly the Capitol Heights and the Hyattsville-Langley Park-Adelphi areas of Prince George's County  – obtain services such as Food Stamps/SNAP, medical assistance, family planning, and dental and vision services.

UMD School of Public Health students can receive academic credit or volunteer to serve as Healthy Futures interns, and are trained to recruit families to utilize health programs and other services available to them, said Healthy Futures director Elliot Segal. Students from the SPH departments of Kinesiology, Family Science and Behavioral and Community Health have already linked local families with needed services such as Food Stamps, dental care, child care, medical assistance and family planning services.

Junior Alaa El-Zein interns with Healthy Futures for about nine hours each week and is looking forward to helping staff the new field office. She has been in contact with dozens of community members to help them get access to health services and has visited several WIC clinics in the area to recruit others. She said the field office will be a valuable asset to the program.

"Now that we have a space it's going to be easier," she said. "We can actually have people come in and see us personally."

That personal contact could prove invaluable in setting many families on the path to a healthy future.

The Judy Hoyer Family Learning Center is the first of 25 child-development learning centers in Maryland named after Judy Hoyer, deceased wife of Congressman Steny Hoyer, U.S. Representative for Maryland's 5th congressional district. It was established to promote the school-readiness of local children through the school system and community partnerships. 

The Healthy Futures Program (HFP) was established by University of Maryland, School of Public Health, Department of Health Services Administration. The primary mission of HFP is to reduce childhood obesity, particularly among low-income young children and their families in Prince George's County. HFP aims to increase the receipt of prenatal and postpartum healthcare, as well as social services, among low-income women and their young children through partnerships and collaborations with public and private entities.

 

Photo (l to r): Elliot A. Segal, Healthy Futures program director; Lisa Sampson, Judy Hoyer Family Learning Center program manager; Laura Barbee-Matthews, Early Childhood Programs supervisor, Prince George's County Public Schools.

Collaboration Top of Mind for New Clarice Smith Center Executive Director

August 7, 2013
Contacts: 

Erica Bondarev 301-405-0199

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has named long-time arts administrator Martin Wollesen as executive director.  Susie Farr, retiring this September, has served as executive director of the center for fourteen years. As executive director, Wollesen will provide innovative and strategic leadership for the Center's programmatic, educational and community activities.

The University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has named long-time arts administrator Martin Wollesen as executive director."We are extremely pleased to have Martin join the university.  He brings more than 20 years of experience in arts administration and higher education to the Clarice Smith Center," says Mary Ann Rankin, UMD's senior vice president and provost. "His experience creating meaningful and innovative arts programs that enhance student life and support community involvement will be a great asset to our campus."

In his new role, Wollesen will work closely with university leadership to advance the Center's mission; strengthen faculty and student collaborations; and cultivate new and existing community relationships. He will work in close collaboration with the School of Music and the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies to develop activities, programs and initiatives that support and enhance the learning environment. Wollesen will also play a key role in the Center's fundraising and development efforts.

"Martin has proven his strength and leadership in creating robust partnerships that integrate the arts across campuses and within local communities," says Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. "We are pleased to have another incredible arts advocate on our campus to enhance the visibility of the Center and continue to create important connections between students, faculty, staff, alumni, artists, and the community."

"I am thrilled to be joining not only one of the best campus-based performing arts centers in the country, but a world-class university as well," says Wollesen. "While honoring the achievements of the university by strengthening current programs and partnerships, we will build a new future by working collaboratively, strategically and globally to create greater depth and breadth of dialogue in the arts through the Clarice Smith Center."

Prior to joining the Clarice Smith Center, Wollesen served as director of university events at the University of California, San Diego, where he provided oversight, management, artistic direction and strategic development for the University Events Office's programs and services, that include significant campus traditions, large-scale concerts and a highly respected presenting arts program.

Wollesen concurrently served as artistic director for ArtPower! at UC San Diego, providing artistic guidance and strategic development for the university's premiere multi-arts presenting program in dance, music, spoken word and film. In this role, Wollesen developed the Innovator-in-Residence Program that explored the intersections between the sciences and the arts; and created The Loft, a performance lounge and wine bar, the only venue of its kind on a college campus.  He also created and implemented the Place Matters Project, the most comprehensive, interdisciplinary arts initiative in the university's history. Wollesen also created an individual giving program for ArtPower! that increased giving by 40 percent each season.

Wollesen was previously the director of education and associate director of programming for Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University. During that time, he created the "Encounter: Merce" project, the university's largest-ever interdisciplinary residency with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Prior to that, he was director of programming for University of California, Santa Cruz Arts & Lectures performing arts program. Wollesen held several other positions for UC Santa Cruz, including the Chancellor's inauguration coordinator and college programs coordinator for the university's Kresge College. He also holds a B.A. from the University of California at Santa Cruz. 

Martin currently serves on the board of directors for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and California Presenters. He previously served in various board roles with the Western Arts Alliance and San Diego Performing Arts League. In 2012, he was awarded the Western Arts Alliance Vanguard Award for innovation in the arts for The Loft as UCSD.

He will officially assume his duties at the Clarice Smith Center on Sept. 2, 2013.

UMD Taps Seasoned Fundraiser to Lead University Development Efforts

August 7, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Following the successful completion of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, the University of Maryland has appointed Mary Burke as the new assistant vice president of university development. In this role, Burke will provide overall leadership and management to the university development program, overseeing fundraising teams in all schools, colleges, intercollegiate athletics, planned giving and annual giving.

Following the successful completion of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, the University of Maryland has appointed Mary Burke as the new assistant vice president of university development."Mary brings incredible enthusiasm, leadership and strategic know-how to this position, and will be an invaluable asset to the division," says UMD Vice President for University Relations Peter Weiler. "Mary’s long list of accomplishments includes cultivating numerous million dollar gifts and repeatedly exceeding campaign and fundraising goals throughout her career."

With more than 25 years of experience in higher education, Burke is an accomplished fundraiser and has a successful track-record in campaign planning, major gift fundraising and annual giving for several colleges and institutions. Most recently, as assistant vice president of development, principal gifts for The George Washington University, Burke worked across all schools and divisions to build and advance the principal gift market. Managing a portfolio of more than 60 principal gift prospects, Burke led a nearly 30 percent increase in principal gifts for the university over five years. She also briefly served as lead international fundraiser focusing on The Republic of Korea.

Prior to that, Burke led principle gifts for The Johns Hopkins University, where she directed fundraising efforts for gift prospects of more than $1 million. Burke has also held fundraising positions at The University of Pennsylvania, where she helped successfully close out The Wharton School's $425 million campaign.  Earlier in her career, she held fundraising positions at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University.

Burke earned a B.A. from Wellesley College and an M.B.A. from Boston University. She will officially assume her duties on Sept. 4, 2013.

Protein Key Found for Adults to Re-Learn How to See

August 6, 2013
Contacts: 

Heather Dewar 301-405-9267
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A new discovery by a University of Maryland-led research team offers hope for treating "lazy eye" and other serious visual problems that are usually permanent unless they are corrected in early childhood.

Illustration by Loretta Kuo.In a study of mice, the UMD-led team found that mice lacking in a particular neuronal protein called NARP did not develop amblyopia, also known as lazy eye.  Their discovery raises the possibility that treatments for humans aimed at this protein might allow correction of amblyopia, even late in life.

Amblyopia afflicts about three percent of the population, and is a widespread cause of vision loss in children. It occurs when both eyes are structurally normal, but mismatched – either misaligned, or differently focused, or unequally receptive to visual stimuli because of an obstruction such as a cataract in one eye.

During the so-called "critical period" when a young child's brain is adapting very quickly to new experiences, the brain builds a powerful neural network connecting the stronger eye to the visual cortex. But the weaker eye gets less stimulation and develops fewer synapses, or points of connection between neurons. Over time the brain learns to ignore the weaker eye. Mild forms of amblyopia such as "lazy eye" result in problems with depth perception. In the most severe form, deprivation amblyopia, a cataract blocks light and starves the eye of visual experiences, significantly altering synaptic development and seriously impairing vision.

Because brain plasticity declines rapidly with age, early diagnosis and treatment of amblyopia is vital, said neuroscientist Elizabeth M. Quinlan, an associate professor of biology at UMD. If the underlying cause of amblyopia is resolved early enough, the child's vision can recover to normal levels. But if the treatment comes after the end of the critical period and the loss of synaptic plasticity, the brain cannot relearn to see with the weaker eye.

"If a child is born with a cataract and it is not removed very early in life, very little can be done to improve vision," Quinlan said. "The severe amblyopia that results is the most difficult to treat. For that reason, science has the most to gain by a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms."

Quinlan, who specializes in studying how communication through the brain's circuits changes over the course of a lifetime, wanted to find out what process controls the timing of the critical period of synaptic plasticity. If researchers could find the neurological on-off switch for the critical period, she reasoned, clinicians could use the information to successfully treat older children and adults.

Researchers in Quinlan's University of Maryland lab teamed up with the laboratory of Alfredo Kirkwood at Johns Hopkins University to address two questions: What are the age boundaries of the critical period for synaptic plasticity, when it comes to determining eye dominance? And what developmental processes are involved?

Experiments in rodents suggested the timing of the critical period is controlled by a specific class of inhibitory neurons, which come into play after a visual stimulus activates excitatory neurons that link the eye to the visual cortex. The inhibitory neurons act as signal controllers, affecting the interactions between excitatory neurons and synapses.

"The generally accepted view has been that as the inhibitory neurons develop, synaptic plasticity declines, which was thought to occur at about five weeks of age in rodents," roughly equivalent to five years of age in humans, Quinlan said. But in earlier experiments, Quinlan and Kirkwood found no correlation between the development of these inhibitory neurons and the loss of plasticity. In fact, they found the visual circuitry in rodents was highly adaptable at ages beyond five weeks.

In their latest research the UMD-led team looked "one synapse upstream from these inhibitory neurons," Quinlan said, studying the control of that synapse by a protein called NARP (Neuronal Activity-Regulated Pentraxin). Working with two sets of mice – one group genetically similar to wild mice and another that lacked the NARP gene - the researchers covered one eye in each animal to simulate conditions that produce amblyopia.

The mice that were genetically similar to wild mice developed amblyopia, with characteristic dominance of the normal eye over the deprived eye. But the mice that lacked NARP did not develop amblyopia, regardless of age or the length of time one eye was deprived of stimulation.

The study, published in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Neuron, demonstrated that only one specific class of synapses was affected by the absence of NARP.  Without NARP, the mice simply had no critical period in which the brain circuitry was weakened in response to the impaired blocking vision in one eye, Quinlan said. Except for the lack of this plasticity, their vision was normal.

"It's remarkable how specific the deficit is," Quinlan said. Without the NARP protein, "these animals develop normal vision. Their brain circuitry just isn't plastic. We can completely turn off the critical period for plasticity by knocking out this protein."

She and her fellow researchers say that since there are indications that NARP levels vary with age, the discovery raises hope that a treatment targeting NARP levels in humans could allow correction of amblyopia late in life, without affecting other aspects of vision.

Funding for this research was provided by the National Eye Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

Timber Rattlesnakes vs. Lyme Disease

August 6, 2013
Contacts: 

Karen Lips 240-393-5397
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The scientific name of the timber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, is a sign of the fear and loathing this native North American viper has inspired for centuries. But new research by a team of University of Maryland biologists shows the timber rattlesnake indirectly benefits humans by keeping Lyme disease in check. The team's findings, presented today at the annual conference of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, highlight the potential benefits of conserving all species – even those some people dislike.

An adult male timber rattlesnake can remove 2,500 to 4,500 of the ticks that carry Lyme disease each year. Photo credit: Ed KabayHuman cases of Lyme disease, a bacterial illness that can cause serious neurological problems if left untreated, are on the rise. The disease is spread by black-legged ticks, which feed on infected mice and other small mammals. Foxes and other mammal predators help control the disease by keeping small mammal populations in check. The decline of these mammal predators may be a factor in Lyme disease's prevalence among humans.

Timber rattlers are also top predators in Eastern forests, and their numbers are also falling, so former University of Maryland graduate student Edward Kabay wanted to know whether the rattlers also play a role in controlling Lyme disease.

Kabay used published studies of timber rattlers' diets at four Eastern forest sites to estimate the number of small mammals the snakes consume, and matched that with information on the average number of ticks each small mammal carried. The results showed that each timber rattler removed 2,500-4,500 ticks from each site annually.

Because not every human bitten by an infected tick develops Lyme disease, the team did not estimate how many people are spared from the disease because of the ecosystem service that timber rattlesnakes provide. But Kabay, who is now a science teacher at East Chapel Hill High School, and his research colleagues will talk about the implications of their findings at 4:20 p.m. today, Aug. 6, 2013, in Room 1011 of the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Timber rattlesnakes are endangered in six Eastern states and threatened in five more.

"Habitat loss, road kills, and people killing them out of fear are the big issues," said Kabay's advisor, associate biology professor Karen Lips. "They are non-aggressive and rarely bite unless provoked or stepped upon."

Lips directs the UMD graduate program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology. Her research focuses on the ecology, evolution, and conservation of amphibians, with interests at multiple scales (including populations, communities, and ecosystems), and with special interest in how amphibians are affected by emerging infectious disease and global change.

Lips is most widely known for her work studying, and trying to prevent, the world-wide loss of amphibian species that has been called the great amphibian extinction mystery. Read her personal, compelling account of 15 years of leading involvement in this effort in a May 15, 2013, Scientific American blog: "What If There Is No Happy Ending? Science Communication as a Path to Change." Follow her on Twitter @kwren88.

Povich Center Announces Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith Award

August 5, 2013
Contacts: 

Dave Ottalini 301-405-1321

The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism announces the creation of The Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith AwardCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism announces the creation of The Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith Award to be presented annually in conjunction with the Shirley Povich Symposium. The award will go to a sports journalist or broadcaster who has made significant contributions to racial and gender equality in sports.

"All someone has to do to see how important Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter Wendell Smith was to Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball is to see the movie, '42,'" said Povich Center Director George Solomon. "And Baltimore Afro American columnist Sam Lacy was just as important. Both men worked tirelessly over the years–writing, lobbying and cajoling MLB's owners, many of them resistant, into trying to see the importance of integration to the future of not only the sport of baseball but to the country."

"Wendell Smith and Sam Lacy pushed sports owners, media, corporations, players, Halls of Fame, fans–really, everyone involved in sports–to end segregation and racism and admit all athletes to top competition," said Margaret Engel, executive director at the Alicia Patterson Journalism Foundation. "They possessed a courage and determination that changed sports forever."

The winner will be chosen by a committee comprised of Kevin Blackistone (visiting professor, Merrill College and commentator, ESPN's "Around the Horn"), Mary Byrne (sports managing editor, USA Today), Engel, Garry Howard (editor, The Sporting News), Diana Huffman (Baltimore Sun distinguished lecturer, Merrill College), Greg Lee (sports editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sentinel and president of the National Association of Black Journalists), George Solomon (director, Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism) and Rick "Doc" Walker (commentator, ESPN-980, Comcast SportsNet).

"For the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism to annually cite a current journalist whose values and determination in seeking justice and equality in sports honors these two great journalists," said the Povich Center's Solomon."Hopefully, more journalists and broadcasters will follow in their footsteps, and students will come to understand more fully what these men accomplished."

About Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith
Sam Lacy was an African-American and Native American sportswriter who was a reporter, columnist, editor and TV/Radio host. He worked for the Washington Tribune, the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American where he wrote about baseball's need for integration and Jackie Robinson's ascent to the Major Leagues. He was the first African American member of the Baseball Writers of America Association. He won the Red Smith Award for contributions to sports journalism in 1998. Lacy died in 2003 at the age of 99.

Wendell Smith was an African-American sportswriter who covered the Negro leagues for many African-American newspapers and boxing for the Chicago Tribune. He was also a TV sports anchor in Chicago and sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Smith was a chronicler of Jackie Robinson for the Pittsburgh Courier and is credited with encouraging Branch Rickey to give Robinson an opportunity to play in the major leagues. Smith died in 1972 at the age of 58.

UMD Honored for Excellence in Sustainable Dining

July 31, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

NACUFS Sustainability AwardsCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland's Dining Services was honored for excellence in sustainable dining as the grand prize winner of the Sustainability Awards, announced during the National Association of College & University Food Service (NACUFS) National Conference.

The NACUFS Sustainability Awards annually recognize member institutions that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the promotion and implementation of environmental sustainability, specifically as it relates to campus dining operations. The grand prize winner is honored for modeling exemplary excellence in the pursuit of a sustainable dining practice, resulting in a significantly reduced environmental impact and providing a best practice model for the NACUFS membership.

"We are extremely proud of the department’s sustainability efforts that led to this honor," says Allison Lilly, sustainability and wellness coordinator for UMD's Dining Services. "The NACUFS award is the result of collaboration and dedication demonstrated by the entire Dining Services team alongside the campus community. Our waste management program is a success because the entire campus works together to make it possible. We are thankful to the students for their energy and ideas to push the Green Dining Program forward." 

Post consumer waste sorting station @ the South Campus Dining RoomUMD's Dining Services was first awarded the Gold Medal for Waste Management for its community engagement program, which put them in the running for the grand prize. The community engagement program features expanded post-consumer compost collection, streamlined waste sorting, the reusable carryout program and collaboration with the Food Recovery Network. Additionally, student activism and volunteerism through the creation of a Green Dining Internship Program, a Sustainable Food Working Group, and a Peer Education Volunteer Program serve as cornerstones of the educational program supporting this effort.

For additional information on the university's green dining initiatives, visit http://dining.umd.edu/greendining.

Climate Changes Will Produce Wine Winners and Losers

July 30, 2013
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In the not too distant future, your favorite French wine may not come from its namesake region or even from France!

Climate change is altering growing conditions in wine producing regions and in coming decades will change the wines produced there, in some cases shifting to new areas the growth of grape varieties long associated with regions further south, says leading climate scientist and wine expert Antonio Busalacchi of the University of Maryland.Climate change is altering growing conditions in wine producing regions and in coming decades will change the wines produced there, in some cases shifting to new areas the growth of grape varieties long associated with regions further south, says leading climate scientist and wine expert Antonio Busalacchi (pictured right) of the University of Maryland.

"Climate change will produce winners and losers among wine growing regions, and for every region it will result in changes to the alcohol, acid, sugar, tannins, and color in wine," says Busalacchi, who directs the UMD Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and chairs the World Climate Research Programme's Joint Scientific Committee and the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

Busalacchi and research assistant Eric Hackert have analyzed climate change impacts on 24 of the world's major wine producing regions; providing snapshots of what conditions will be like at the middle and end of this century. Busalacchi notes that several Champagne houses already are looking at land in Sussex and Kent in southern England as potential sites for new vineyards because as climate warms the region is becoming more hospitable to quality grape growing. The soil type in the region, as seen in the white cliffs of Dover, is similar to the chalky substrate of Champagne, and the cost of land is 30 times less than in France.

"Vineyards in higher latitudes, at higher altitudes or surrounded by ocean will benefit from climate change with more consistent growing seasons and a greater number of favorable growing days," he says.

"These include the Rhine in Germany, U.S. states Oregon and Washington, the Mendoza Province of Argentina and New Zealand." says Busalacchi who comes from a family of restaurateurs, is an advanced sommelier and operates a wine and vineyard consulting firm

Bordeaux and some other regions will suffer compressed growing seasons that yield unbalanced, low acid wines that lack complexity.On the other hand, Bordeaux (pictured left) and some other regions will suffer compressed growing seasons that yield unbalanced, low acid wines that lack complexity.  South Africa and South Australia, likely will see declines in wine production due to severe droughts, according to Busalacchi. More generally, extreme events such as heat waves that shut down photosynthesis and hail storms that can ruin a chateau's annual production in a matter of minutes will become more commonplace.

In both warm and cooler regions, one result will be the same; wines will lose their traditional character.

"Taken to an extreme, a wine from the Left Bank of Bordeaux may move away from the classic aromas of cedar cigar box, blackcurrants and green pepper and more toward the full, rich, spicy peppery profile of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the Southern Rhone," says Busalacchi. "Given that most grapevines produce fruit for 25 to 50 years, grape growers and wine makers must consider the long term when determining what to plant, where to plant, and how to manage their vineyards."

Building Climate Understanding
The University of Maryland is a national leader in collaborative research to understand our earth and its changing climate. As part of that work, UMD has major research partnerships with federal agencies in earth science, climate and energy research. These include a NOAA-supported Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites; the long-standing cooperative agreement between UMD's Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center; and the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the university and the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 

To aid individuals, institutions, industries and governments in effectively planning for and responding to climate change impacts, UMD's CIRUN initiative (Climate Information: Responding to User Needs) is building diverse partnerships among climate scientists, behavioral and social scientists, engineers, agricultural scientists, public health and risk management experts and private and public sector decision makers.

Exercise May be the Best Medicine for Alzheimer's

July 30, 2013
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – New research out of the University of Maryland School of Public Health shows that exercise may improve cognitive function in those at risk for Alzheimer’s by improving the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory. Memory loss leading to Alzheimer’s disease is one of the greatest fears among older Americans. While some memory loss is normal and to be expected as we age, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, signals more substantial memory loss and a greater risk for Alzheimer’s, for which there currently is no cure. 

The study, led by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, provides new hope for those diagnosed with MCI. It is the first to show that an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improved not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI).The study, led by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, provides new hope for those diagnosed with MCI. It is the first to show that an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improved not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI). The findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency – basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task,” says Dr. Smith. “No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise.”

Recommended Daily Activity: Good for the Body, Good for the Brain
Two groups of physically inactive older adults (ranging from 60-88 years old) were put on a 12-week exercise program that focused on regular treadmill walking and was guided by a personal trainer.  Both groups – one which included adults with MCI and the other with healthy brain function – improved their cardiovascular fitness by about ten percent at the end of the intervention. More notably, both groups also improved their memory performance and showed enhanced neural efficiency while engaged in memory retrieval tasks.

The good news is that these results were achieved with a dose of exercise consistent with the physical activity recommendations for older adults. These guidelines urge moderate intensity exercise (activity that increases your heart rate and makes you sweat, but isn’t so strenuous that you can’t hold a conversation while doing it) on most days for a weekly total of 150 minutes.

Measuring Exercise’s Impact on Brain Health and Memory
One of the first observable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is the inability to remember familiar names. Smith and colleagues had study participants identify famous names and measured their brain activation while engaged in correctly recognizing a name – e.g., Frank Sinatra, or other celebrities well known to adults born in the 1930s and 40s. “The task gives us the ability to see what is going on in the brain when there is a correct memory performance,” Smith explains.

Tests and imaging were performed both before and after the 12-week exercise intervention. Brain scans taken after the exercise intervention showed a significant decrease in the intensity of brain activation in eleven brain regions while participants correctly identified famous names. The brain regions with improved efficiency corresponded to those involved in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, including the precuneus region, the temporal lobe, and the parahippocampal gyrus.

The exercise intervention was also effective in improving word recall via a “list learning task,” i.e., when people were read a list of 15 words and asked to remember and repeat as many words as possible on five consecutive attempts, and again after a distraction of being given another list of words.

“People with MCI are on a very sharp decline in their memory function, so being able to improve their recall is a very big step in the right direction,” Smith states.

The results of Smith’s study suggest that exercise may reduce the need for over-activation of the brain to correctly remember something.  That is encouraging news for those who are looking for something they can do to help preserve brain function.

Dr. Smith has plans for a larger study that would include more participants, including those who are healthy but have a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, and follow them for a longer time period with exercise in comparison to other types of treatments. He and his team hope to learn more about the impact of exercise on brain function and whether it could delay the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

UMD Soars to #14 on Forbes' Top Public Colleges List

July 29, 2013
Contacts: 

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

The University of Maryland ranks #14 among public colleges, according to Forbes' 2013 list of America's Top Colleges.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland ranks #14 among public colleges, according to Forbes' 2013 list of America's Top Colleges. In the 6th annual rankings, the university also ranks #40 among research universities and #73 among all U.S. colleges, up from #168 in 2012.

According to Forbes, the list focuses on student satisfaction, post-graduate success, student debt, graduation rate and nationally competitive awards.

"Providing broad access to the highest quality education is a task that has never been more important to our children, our state and our nation," says UMD President Wallace Loh. "Forbes' new ranking is particularly gratifying because it stresses academic excellence, the impact of a quality education, and affordability.  With strong support from our state leaders, the University of Maryland is succeeding in meeting these goals."

UMD is also ranked #19 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, The Institute of Higher Education, which ranks the world’s top universities based on research, puts UMD at #38 in the world and #29 among U.S. universities.

The full list of America's Top Colleges is available here.

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