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NIH Awards UMD $1.67M for Research on Reducing Bias and Promoting Diverse Friendships in Childhood

October 16, 2019
Contacts: 

Audrey Hill, audreyh@umd.edu 301-405-3468

COLLEGE PARK, MD—A $1.67 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will support University of Maryland College of Education research that promotes children’s friendships across different backgrounds and aims to reduce prejudice in childhood.  

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development award will fund research to evaluate the effectiveness of a classroom program comparing whether participants hold fewer gender, racial and ethnic stereotypes, more cross-group friendships and a greater sense of school belonging than children in the control group. 

The four-year study will address issues of equity, fairness and mutual respect in peer relationships, and aims to foster positive classroom environments that stimulate academic learning and achievement in schools, with inclusivity among children playing a key role.

“This is a very timely issue right now in our culture and country,” said Melanie Killen, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology and the project lead. “There are tensions and crises about inclusion and exclusion based on race, ethnicity and immigrant status, to name a few. Stereotypes are deeply entrenched by adulthood. The time for intervention is in childhood.”

Previous research has shown that social segregation has long-term detrimental effects on children’s physical, emotional and academic development. The “Developing Inclusive Youth” project, which includes Tracy Sweet, associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, is rooted in a three-year study funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Killen and Laura Stapleton, professor and associate dean of the college.

The research team’s in-classroom intervention program has students in grades 3–5 view a series of online, animated scenarios about peer social encounters. The first session, for instance, involves characters deciding whether to include a “new kid” in playing at recess; other scenarios include social interactions at a birthday party or in a science classroom that involve exclusion based on gender, race, ethnicity, immigrant status and wealth status.

Students are then asked to assess how they think the characters in the scenarios feel, evaluate decisions of peer inclusion or exclusion, and choose how they think the characters should react in the situation. Teachers, trained by the researchers, then facilitate classroom discussion about inclusivity based on the animated scenario. The discussion often results in students relating the scenario to real-life situations, Killen said.

“The science scenario, where a girl is excluded from a group project, came up in the classroom discussion and led one girl to tell the others that it was similar to when she wasn’t allowed to play soccer with the boys at recess. The boys said, ‘We didn’t know you wanted to play,’ and then publicly stated [in the classroom] that they’re going to help her. That’s a way to change norms and expectations,” she said.

The NIH grant will expand the “Developing Inclusive Youth” project beyond the feasibility study of 400 students in Montgomery County, Maryland, to additional schools in its public school system; the project has received interest from school systems in other states and countries as well. 

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University of Maryland Statement on Amicus Brief in Support of DACA - October 11, 2019

October 11, 2019
Contacts: 

Hafsa Siddiqi, hafsa@umd.edu, 301-405-4671

The University of Maryland has joined 164 colleges and universities across the nation to support a legal challenge to rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Filed in federal court last week and coordinated by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, the amicus brief seeks to advocate for the rights of roughly 700,000 young immigrants to study and work in the United States under legal protection. The brief further argues that revoking DACA status for the thousands of students across private, public and community institutions is not only unethical but unconstitutional. 

 

“As institutions of higher education, we see every day the achievement and potential of these young people, and we think it imperative for both us and them that they be allowed to remain here and live out their dreams,” wrote the signatories in the brief. “Once at college or university, DACA recipients are among the most engaged students both academically and otherwise. They work hard in the classroom and become deeply engaged in co-curricular activities, supporting communities on and off-campus. Indeed, it defies rationality to prevent the government from utilizing its discretion to protect this set of young people from removal.” 

 

On Nov. 12, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on a series of consolidated cases and determine whether the administration’s rescission of DACA was lawful.

 

DACA recipients help build and nourish Maryland’s robust community, from their academic excellence in research and science to their entrepreneurial and industrial spirit through business and the arts. The university will continue to identify avenues for offering support to our DACA students and advocate for a restoration of their legal protections.  

UMD Researchers Discover New Mechanism in Liver that Helps Prevent Infections

October 9, 2019
Contacts: 
Samantha Watters 301-405-2434, Leon Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A UMD team of researchers has made a breakthrough in understanding how our immune system deals with invasive fungal infections that are a major health threat, particularly to people who are immuno-compromized. Led by Meiqing Shi, associate professor with the University of Maryland Department of Veterinary Medicine, the researchers discovered a pathway in the liver by which immune system cells called macrophages capture  and “eat” fungi before the fungi spread to target organs like the brain and kidney. 

This pathway explains why individuals with liver disease have enhanced risk of fungal infection, and also points to possible new therapeutic options for preventing these infections, which annually kill some 1.5 million people.

“Under intravital microscopy [a  tool to study cell biology in living animals], we can directly see how the KCs catch fungi in real time,” said Shi. KCs (Kupffer cells) are liver-resident macrophages that constitute some 90 percent of the total tissue macrophages in the body.

“This is a protective mechanism that is working once the fungus becomes invasive, or gets into the bloodstream, to prevent it from spreading. Stopping the dissemination process throughout the body is so important, because once you get dissemination, you get the disease, Shi said. “These findings suggest therapeutic strategies for preventing dissemination, and this could be applied across many types of fungal infections, since they work in similar ways.”

Fungal infections affect 1.2 billion people globally each year. In the current paper, Shi and colleagues specifically examined two types of fungi - Cryptococcus neoformans and Candida albicans. Both of these fungi, if disseminated to their target organs (the brain for Cryptococcus and the kidney for Candida), are fatal infections that are very difficult to treat once contracted. Cryptococcus, for example, is the main cause of meningitis. Each year, more than a million people are infected and contract meningitis, and 60 percent of these will die from the disease. HIV infection is the main risk factor for cryptococcal meningoencephalitis, but the use of immunosuppressive drugs also increases patient susceptibility.

“Cryptococcus and Candida are fungi that are actually everywhere,” says Shi. “People with healthy immune systems can usually control the fungi after infection, but once it gets into the bloodstream, either one of these fungi can get into the target organs and become fatal. For Cryptococcus, this is especially a problem for those with impaired immune systems, like HIV patients or organ transplant patients. Patients with liver disease are also more prone to Cryptococcus infection, and no one understood why before.” 

This new discovery that liver macrophages (KCs) are responsible for catching free fungi in the bloodstream to prevent further dissemination helps explain this phenomenon, since if the liver is impaired as it is in patients with liver disease, it would stand to reason that this protective mechanism would also be impaired. 

“This finding is very interesting and very unusual, because in the field of fungal infections, nobody focuses on the liver,” says Shi. “Researchers tend to look at the target organs like the brain or kidney. The liver is not a target organ, but it tries to clean out the fungus in the bloodstream. As the whole body is connected, this paper gives a more whole system approach to how fungal dissemination interacts in the entire body.”

With this whole body approach in mind, the discovery of this mechanism has implications not just for those with liver disease, but for the treatment of fungal infections as a whole by targeting this mechanism, preventing fungal dissemination, and treating invasive fungal infections. 

The paper, entitled “Fungal dissemination is limited by liver macrophage filtration of the blood,” is published in Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12381-5

This work is funded by the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, grant AI131219. 

UMD Prevention Research Center to Focus on LGBTQ Mental Health with new $3.75M from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

October 8, 2019
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake, kellyb@umd.edu, 301-405-9418

The University of Maryland Prevention Research Center (UMD-PRC) is working to improve

mental health and health care for LGBTQ+ people with new funding from the U.S. Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

 

Through a new cooperative agreement that supports a select group of national prevention

research centers, the CDC is funding the UMD-PRC’s research, service and training efforts with$3.75 million over five years (2019-2024).

 

“We are proud to be one of only 25 academic institutions to receive CDC funding for our

Prevention Research Center,” said Dr. Laurie Locascio, Vice President for Research at the

University of Maryland. “I am hopeful about the difference that our University of Maryland

research leaders can make in improving mental health for the underserved LGBTQ community across the United States.”

 

This initiative brings together a diverse team of researchers from the University of Maryland,

College Park’s School of Public Health, along with a growing coalition of LGBTQ+, mental health and health care organizations and community partners.

 

“The University of Maryland is a recognized leader in supporting LGBTQ health and wellbeing,” said Dr. Brad Boekeloo, a professor of behavioral and community health who is the director and principal investigator for the UMD Prevention Research Center. “In addition to our expertise in the School of Public Health, we have resources across the UMD campus, including the LGBT Equity Center, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQ Studies Program and the College of Education to support us in our mission to address LGBTQ+ mental health disparities. We also have students, community partners and people from the communities we want to serve on our team. We’re all working together to serve and lift up the most vulnerable LGBTQ people.”

 

Beginning in 2009, the UMD Prevention Research Center focused on research to inform HIV

prevention plans and intervention programs in Maryland and the Washington, DC region. It will continue to partner with health departments and community organizations on its mission, now expanded to prioritize LGBTQ+ mental health and health care.

 

“The LGBTQ community faces significant barriers to health equity, ranging from policies and

practices that exclude rights and protections, to everyday experiences that are related to

discrimination, stigma and violence. These things keep LGBTQ people from living healthier lives,” said Dr. Jessica Fish, an assistant professor of family science and a core research scientist with the UMD-PRC. “So, the Prevention Research Center is dedicated to trying to elevate awareness, knowledge and competent training for mental health care providers so that it can be a pathway to wellness for this population.”

 

Among the UMD-PRC’s priorities, it will focus on implementing and evaluating a LGBTQ+ cultural competency training to equip mental health care providers with the sensitivity and knowledge needed to work with clients of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. The curriculum, which has been developed by Sean Lare and Michael Vigorito, two clinicians who are part of the PRC team, includes a combination of training and technical. It has already been delivered in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia by the UMD-PRC with a grant from the District of Columbia Department of Health over the last three years.

 

“I've heard the need from clinicians of how they can better support their LGB and transgender

clients and patients,” said Sean Lare, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in serving LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. “My work with the PRC offers a unique opportunity to develop that training program piece that will increase that capacity for individual providers in their one-on-one work with people, but also to influence the culture of the agency or organization they are working within.”

 

The UMD-PRC will assess the success of these trainings and how well mental health providers improved in their LGBTQ+ cultural sensitivity and competence through simulated online clinic sessions using actors. In addition to training mental health care providers and serving as a hub to connect providers, researchers, and LGBTQ+ individuals and allies, the UMD-PRC team also aims to provide the scientific evidence to inform health systems, policies and practices that support LGBTQ health.

 

Topics that PRC research will provide evidence to inform may include:

 

  • The creation of health insurance policies that are more inclusive of LGBT individuals and families, and sensitive to their mental health needs
  • Policies and legislation that would ban conversion therapy and other discriminatory pseudoscientific approaches
  • Support for LGBTQ youth and parents in child welfare systems
  • The creation of more gender-inclusive facilities
  • Increasing mental health care access for LGBTQ people in rural areas
  • Preventing substance abuse in LGBTQ youth

 

UMD-PRC Director Brad Boekeloo is proud of the niche that the UMD Prevention Research

Center is playing as one of the only academic research centers focused on the mental health and well-being of the LGBTQ community.

 

LGBTQ people face stigma, discrimination and violence in many settings, and may avoid medical care as a result. By increasing the availability of affirming and supportive mental health care for the community, Dr. Boekeloo and the UMD-PRC team hope that it may also increase the use of other health care services and create a pathway to overall wellness.

 

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Student Voter Participation at University of Maryland Increased by 27 Percent in 2018

October 7, 2019
Contacts: 

Patrick Saumell, 443-886-4084

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland today reported that student voting on campus was up in last year’s mid-year election, increasing to 46 percent in 2018 from a rate of 19.3 percent in 2014. The full campus report can be viewed here. 

UMD’s joint student and faculty chaired TerpsVote Coalition played a vital role in promoting voter education and engagement. Throughout the fall 2018 semester, TerpsVote led a campaign to engage students on voting through classroom presentations, registration drives, early voting buses, and free stamps and envelopes for absentee voting.

"Reaching a 46 percent student voting rate during a midterm election is a huge milestone, but we're already preparing for next fall’s presidential election,” said Patrick Saumell, Student Co-Chair for the TerpsVote Coalition. “Increasing student engagement requires reducing informational and psychological barriers to voting. As a result, we're working with student and faculty stakeholders to increase education about voting and promote a civically inclined campus culture over the next year."

The latest report is part of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, or NSLVE, conducted by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. The study shows that nationwide, the voting rates at participating college campuses doubled on average compared to the previous 2014 midterm. In 2018, the Average Institutional Voting Rate (AIVR) among campuses in the study was 39.1 percent, nearly 20 percentage points higher than 2014’s average turnout rate of 19.7 percent. Turnout increases were widespread, with virtually all campuses seeing an improvement over 2014.

The NSLE is the only national study of college-student voting. It is based on the voting records of more than 10 million students at more than 1,000 colleges and universities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia; IDHE does not receive any information that could individually identify students or how they voted. The study provides reports to the University of Maryland and participating colleges and universities, which use them to support political learning and civic engagement, as well as to identify and address gaps in political and civic participation.

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Part of Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) is an applied research center focused on college and university student political learning and engagement in democracy. IDHE researchers study student voting, equity, campus conditions for student political learning, discourse, participation, and agency for underrepresented and marginalized students. IDHE's signature initiative, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, or NSLVE, (https://idhe.tufts.edu/nslve) is a service to colleges and universities that provides participating institutions with tailored reports of their students' voting rates. Launched in 2013 with 250 campuses, the study now serves more than 1,000 institutions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

TerpsVote is a non-partisan campus coalition working to promote voter engagement at the University of Maryland. TerpsVote's efforts range from increasing voter registration to spreading civic education to prepare UMD's student body for local, state, and national elections. For the fall of 2019, TerpsVote's primary goal is educating UMD to increase comprehension and engagement on voter procedures, local elections, and the census.

 

New statistical method delivers first comprehensive global picture of the mutual prediction of atmosphere and ocean

October 6, 2019
Contacts: 

Lee Tune media relations 301-405-4679, Eviatar Bach researcher

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- University of Maryland (UMD) scientists have carried out a novel statistical analysis to determine for the first time a global picture of how the ocean helps predict the low-level atmosphere and vice versa. They observed ubiquitous influence of the ocean on the atmosphere in the extratropics, which has been difficult to demonstrate with dynamic models of atmospheric and oceanic circulation. The results are published today in the Journal of Climate, “Local atmosphere–ocean predictability: dynamical origins, lead times, and seasonality.”  

The research draws on a classic statement often heard in introductory statistics classes that “correlation is not causation.” Clive Granger was a Nobel-laureate mathematician who came up with a novel method to address this issue by distinguishing correlation from causation. 

“The Granger method relies upon a simple but important notion that a cause precedes its effect, and should improve the prediction of reffect in the future. We realized that this could be a powerful method to study the interactions between atmosphere and ocean, and to provide a global picture of how well they predict each other,” said applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei, an Environmental Systems Scientist at UMD. “This method sheds light on both the potential to better predict regional climate as well as the nature of the interactions.” 


World renowned climate scientist J. Shukla calls the new paper by University of Maryland scientists “a very important paper in the history of predictability research.”


“There are many physical processes that govern the interaction between the atmosphere and ocean,” said lead author Eviatar Bach, PhD student in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (AOSC) at UMD. “For example, wind blowing on the ocean surface creates currents, and the sea surface heats up the lower atmosphere. These interactions between the atmosphere and ocean play a major role in climate and our ability to predict it, so understanding their geographical structure is important.”

“It has been known that in the tropical oceans, the ocean is predominantly driving the atmospheric changes, while in the extratropics the atmosphere generally drives the ocean,” said co-author Eugenia Kalnay, Distinguished University Professor of AOSC at UMD. “I developed a dynamical rule to determine the direction of the forcing in 1986, and others have addressed this question using climate models. This study provides a definitive answer.”

The basic Granger method was introduced in 1969, but the authors “cleverly applied it for the first time to atmosphere and ocean data," said Juergen Kurths, Head of Complexity Science Department at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who was not a co-author. Kurths is a prominent physicist who has developed many novel mathematical methods for studying climate and other nonlinear systems. 

“The most novel finding of this research is that the method of Granger causality found the ocean to influence the atmosphere almost everywhere in the extratropics,” said Samantha Wills, a postdoctoral researcher at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, who was not a co-author. “This can be a challenging task given that the atmosphere dominates air–sea interaction in the extratropics, and the influence of the ocean on the atmosphere is not much larger than internal variability.”

“This had not been demonstrated by previous General Circulation Model experiments. Although there have been a few special cases where it has been shown that mid-latitude sea-surface temperatures have a significant impact on the atmosphere, this relationship was not known to be as ubiquitous as this paper has shown,” said J. Shukla, University Professor at George Mason University, who was not a co-author. Shukla is a world renowned climate scientist who pioneered studies of predictability.

Moreover, the study's estimates of the spatial structure of predictability could help to further advance the science of coupled data assimilation, the nascent field that attempts to leverage the interactions between atmosphere and ocean to improve climate prediction.

“The ability to anticipate changes to the ocean or atmosphere based on information from the other system provides society with the opportunity to prepare for future impacts, such as to agriculture and fisheries,” said Wills.

“This is a very important paper in the history of predictability research,” said Shukla, “It will surely inspire further research by the predictability research community. In particular, this paper identifies geographical regions on the globe over which there exists potential predictability which can be harvested for improving operational predictions.”

Members of the press can direct inquiries and receive a copy of the paper by contacting the corresponding authors, Eviatar Bach (ebach@umd.edu) and Safa Motesharrei (ssm@umd.edu).

Credits: Greta Easthom conducted the interviews with non-co-author experts who are quoted above.

The paper was published Open Access today, 2019 October 7 in the Journal of Climate, at https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0817.1

 

University of Maryland, City of College Park Host College Park Day

October 3, 2019
Contacts: 

University of Maryland: Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

City of College Park: Ryna Quinones, 240-487-3508

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland and the City of College Park will host the 10th annual College Park Day on Saturday, October 5, 2019 from 12-6 pm at the College Park Aviation Museum.The annual event includes tons of free fun activities and performances. Activities include touch-a-truck and snow-plow painting, a gigantic kids zone, arts n crafts, face painters and more.  

The day’s many performers include Funsho Adenugba, an alum of both UMD and NBC’s show The Voice, who sings and plays guitar and piano; Fantasm, Baltimore Sun’s 2019 Readers Choice for Maryland’s Best Party Band; and UMD student groups Gymkana (acrobatics and gymnastics) and Dacadence (co-ed acapella). A full list of performances can be found here.

There also will be food and drink for purchase, an appearance by Testudo and entry to the College Park Aviation Museum is free during the event! 

 

Analysis of U.S. Labor Data Suggests 'Reskilling' Workers for a 'Feeling Economy'

September 30, 2019
Contacts: 

Roland Rust Researcher, Greg Muraski Media Relations  301-405-5283

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Being able to solve problems and analyze data will not be the keys to your success in the future, says marketing professor Roland Rust at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. Artificial intelligence will soon have that covered. If you expect to have a viable career, you better get in touch with your emotions, he says, because the "Feeling Economy" is coming.

 The first wave of AI already has replaced humans for physical repetitive tasks like inspecting equipment, manufacturing goods, repairing things and crunching numbers. That shift started way back with the Industrial Revolution and gave rise to our current Thinking Economy, where employment and wages are more tied to workers’ abilities to process, analyze and interpret information to make decisions and solve problems. But be prepared, because AI is already starting to take over those thinking tasks, Rust says.

 “It means that if humans want jobs, they better get good at feeling,” Rust says. “Things like interpersonal relationships and emotional intelligence will be much more important.”  Even though people skills have always been important, what the researchers conclude is that the value of these skills will soon be of unprecedented importance.

Rust and Maryland Smith finance professor Vojislav Maksimovic, along with Professor Ming-Hui Huang of National Taiwan University, have been studying this shift. They sifted through U.S. Department of Labor data about work tasks associated with jobs and the people who perform those jobs, covering millions of workers throughout the U.S. economy. They coded the things people report doing in their day-to-day jobs as physical tasks, thinking tasks or feeling tasks and compared the breakdown for each job in 2006 and 2016. Their results reveal a profound shift across the board toward feeling tasks, a big indication that the move to a Feeling Economy is already under way.

Their paper, The Feeling Economy: Managing in the Next Generation of Artificial Intelligence” (https://go.umd.edu/wBf), appears in the most recent issue of the peer-reviewed California Management Review that examines how AI will change business.   

 “This is something that is going to hit people before they know it,” says Rust. “It’s already happening. We’re already seeing the shift in feeling as being more important, not only in terms of employment growth, but in terms of compensation growth. There is greater compensation growth in feeling than there is in thinking. This is really across the board – you name a job and we can show a shift from thinking to feeling.” 

Take the job of a financial analyst, for example. Think that sounds pretty quantitative and thinking-oriented? No so, says Rust. The research reveals it has become much more feeling oriented in the last 10 years. “People are using more AI-powered tools that can do a lot more of their analytical work for them, and what’s left in their job is to hold people’s hands and to reassure them about things like stock market dips,” he says. Going forward, those “feeling” skills become even more critical. 

“What we’re expecting is ‘people-people’ will be the ones who will be the big successes,” says Rust. “This is different from how it is right now and how people assume it’s going to be in the future.” 

Since AI can do more of the thinking tasks, firms need to recruit people who can perform well in feeling tasks and jobs, say the researchers. People management, working with others, emotional intelligence and negotiation skills are already in strong demand and will continue to be top skills for the future.

As the Feeling Economy emerges, the nature of all jobs will change, so companies and individuals should prepare, says Rust. Organizations need to manage differently, with more emphasis on feeling, empathy and emotional intelligence. The companies that take advantage of this trend will be the most successful, he says. There will be new opportunities for feeling-oriented companies and products. This also creates opportunities to pull ahead in the global market, says Rust. 

Individual workers can safeguard their jobs by enhancing their feeling and empathetic skills and gravitating toward jobs that emphasize those tasks. The most successful workers will be those who can manage relationships in an empathetic and emotionally intelligent way. Managerial jobs need to be more people-oriented and feeling-conscious. This may give the edge to women for their emotional intelligence, say the researchers. The “people” person becomes much more valuable than the anti-social tech geek. 

Rust says there are also big implications for education at all levels, where more emphasis is needed on developing emotional intelligence.

“You certainly don’t need to worry about things like multiplication tables,” he says. “You can do that on a machine, and everybody’s cell phone will do that for them. That kind of skill is just useless.” 

Rust says we better get used to the idea of AI doing more. He thinks AI will eventually even take over most of the emotional tasks of relating to people. And as AI gets more sophisticated, there’s no going back, he says. “The genie is out of the bottle.”

Rust, with Huang, is working on a book on this topic and discussed the findings in a recently recorded video: https://go.umd.edu/wBY.

Full-text copy of the study is available to media on request. Contact Greg Muraski: gmuraski@rhsmith.umd.edu

 

 

UMD Researchers to Investigate Effects of Fetal Exposure to Opioids

September 27, 2019
Contacts: 

 Audrey Hill 301-405-3468

College Park, MD—University of Maryland researchers will conduct an unprecedented investigation into how fetal exposure to opioids affects children’s brain development and health outcomes as part of a sweeping National Institutes of Health initiative to apply scientific solutions to help reverse the nation’s opioid crisis.

Researchers led by Distinguished University Professor Nathan A. Fox, of the College of Education, will examine how brain growth is affected by pre- and postnatal opioid exposure and how that causes cognitive and behavioral changes in childhood.

The University of Maryland’s award is one of 375 grant awards across 41 states made by the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2019 to apply scientific solutions to reverse the national opioid crisis through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term, or the NIH HEAL Initiative. The National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study addresses an urgent public health need: the use of opioids by pregnant women and mothers has increased by 300% since the early 2000s, with the number of newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome, caused by withdrawal from drugs they were exposed to in the womb, increasing by approximately 400%. In 2016, more than 31,000 babies were born with the  syndrome, causing symptoms including tremors and sleep problems.

“We know very little about the effects of early exposure to opioids on brain development,” said Fox, of the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology and a renowned expert in child development. “There has never been a national study of even normative brain development during the early years of life. Our research will help fill a gap in understanding of the basic science of early brain development, as well as identify the effects of early drug exposure on the brain, along with prevention strategies.”

The University of Maryland is part of a five-institution consortium that is laying the groundwork through this initial study for a large-scale national, 10-year longitudinal study that examines the effects of in utero exposure to opioids on children through the age of 8.

The 18-month study will begin in October, with a research team that includes Professor Brenda Jones-Harden of the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and psychology Associate Professors Tracy Riggins and Elizabeth Redcay, and Luiz Pessoa, professor of psychology and director of the Maryland Neuroimaging Center. 

Unlike many previous studies, the project will not only examine fetal exposure to opioids like fentanyl and prescription painkillers, but also include pregnant women who are poly-drug users. Following babies as they develop will allow researchers to better understand how opioid and other drug use, in combination with family, environmental and socioeconomic factors, influences babies’ development through childhood.

“For many of these children, this initial exposure to opioids is only the first in a series of challenges they experience that may affect their health and development, and could lead to ‘a crisis cascade’ as they age and interact with school systems and social services,” Fox said. “Our research aims to take a holistic approach to early childhood exposures in order to pinpoint critical areas and timelines for intervention, which will help guide the response to this major public health concern.”

In the initial phase, the University of Maryland researchers will recruit 20 pregnant women (and their infants  at age 3 months), including those who use opioids, and 20 12-month olds and 20 2.5 year-old children from diverse populations at Howard University Hospital and George Washington University Hospital. The study will carefully address ethical concerns relating to the topic of opioid use in pregnancy, and will include an external Community Advisory Board to provide strategic guidance on legal and ethical questions.

In addition to Maryland, the consortium includes Brown University, Harvard University at Boston Children’s Hospital, Boy’s Town in Omaha, Nebraska, and Avera Health in South Dakota, allowing them to recruit from rural areas that have been hardest hit by the opioid crisis.

The NIH Heal Initiative

The National Institutes of Health launched the NIH HEAL Initiative in 2018 to improve prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction and enhance pain management. The initiative aims to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder and overdose, and achieve long-term recovery from opioid addiction.

“It’s clear that a multipronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain, and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who launched the initiative in early 2018. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”

Coastal Birds Can Weather the Storm but Not the Sea

September 26, 2019
Contacts: 

Christopher Field, 860-798-3981 

 

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- How can birds that weigh less than a AA battery survive the immense power of Atlantic hurricanes? A new study in Ecology Letters finds that these coastal birds survive because their populations can absorb impacts and recover quickly from hurricanes—even storms many times larger than anything previously observed.

 

“Coastal birds are often held up as symbols of vulnerability to hurricanes and oil spills, but many populations can be quite resilient to big disturbances,” explains lead author Christopher Field, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). “The impacts of hurricanes, in terms of populations rather than individual birds, tend to be surprisingly small compared to the other threats that are causing these species to decline.” 

 

Field and colleagues from five other universities studied the resilience of four species of coastal birds, including the endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow. The researchers developed simulations that allowed them to explore how disturbances like hurricanes would affect the birds’ populations over time. They started with models that project population sizes into the future based on the species’ birth and death rates. The research team then subjected these populations to simulated hurricanes that killed a certain number of birds. Because they were using computational simulations, the researchers were able to look at the full range of potential hurricane sizes—from storms that caused no bird deaths to storms that were more severe than anything ever observed. 

 

The researchers found that the four coastal species were able to absorb the impacts of storms across a wide range in severity. For example, the study found that a storm could cause mortality for a third of Saltmarsh Sparrows and Clapper Rails in one year, and it would still be unlikely that their populations would deviate significantly from their trajectories over time. 

Resilience can be defined in many ways, so Field and colleagues borrowed concepts from classical ecology and applied them to bird populations. They used these concepts to better understand the risk that these species could face from storms that are strengthening because of climate change. The research team looked not only at the ability of populations to absorb impacts, but also the birds’ ability to recover over time after large disturbances. Two of the species in the study, Saltmarsh Sparrows and Clapper Rails, are declining, largely from increased coastal flooding caused by higher sea levels. The researchers found that populations were often able to recover from large storms within 20 years, even when populations continued to decline from other threats, such as regular flooding.

 

If coastal birds are resilient to hurricanes, does that mean they will be resilient to climate change? “It’s tempting to focus on dramatic events like hurricanes, especially as they get stronger from climate change,” Field says. “But less visible threats like sea-level rise and increased coastal flooding are here to stay, and they are they are going to continue to drive coastal birds, like Saltmarsh Sparrows, toward extinction.”

 

Chris Elphick, a coauthor on the study from the University of Connecticut, suggests that there are lessons here for people too. “After a big event like a hurricane, we often rush to rebuild and improve coastal resilience without thinking as much as we perhaps should about the longer-term chronic changes in the system. Obviously, we need to respond to the damage done, but addressing the gradual, less noticeable changes, may be just as important to coastal communities in the long run.”

This research was funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), National Science Foundation, and Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Birds. 

Read the full article at Ecology Letters

 

About SESYNC

The University of Maryland's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis brings together the science of the natural world with the science of human behavior and decision making to find solutions to complex environmental problems. SESYNC is funded by an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation. For more information on SESYNC and its activities, please visit www.sesync.org.

 

 

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