Ohio State astrophysicists involved in stellar discovery

The Milky Way galaxy is surrounded by a halo of stars, as simulated in this image (courtesy Annika Peter, CCAPP)

Scientists are finding galaxies billions of light years away from Earth, yet there are still discoveries to be made right next door.

In January, data from the Dark Energy Survey — which utilizes an 8,000-pound camera mounted on an equally powerful telescope in the Andes Mountains to see deep into space — revealed 11 previously unknown stellar streams orbiting the Milky Way galaxy.

Stellar streams mostly reside on the outskirts (or “halo”) of the Milky Way, and they represent remnants of dwarf galaxies and star clusters that passed by the galaxy too closely and got torn apart by its gravitational pull. Only about 20 stellar streams had been identified in the Milky Way before this discovery, and locating so many at once is unprecedented, said Annika Peter, faculty member at Ohio State’s Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP), which is a key collaborator in the Dark Energy Survey(DES).

“The fact that we found so many streams so close together is surprising, and it tells us that, actually, the Milky Way has munched up quite a lot of these little galaxies over time,” said Peter, who is also a professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics.

This lends credence to astronomers’ belief that galaxies are formed from small galaxy building blocks over time, said Paul Martini, professor of astronomy and a member of CCAPP. “The stellar streams are relics of some of these building blocks,” and can provide a sort of fossil record for the Milky Way’s evolutionary history, he said.

In addition to clues about where these stars came from, follow-up measurements will help researchers build a better model of the distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way’s halo, Peter said.

“The orbits of these stars are really sensitive to dark matter,” she said, adding that some people are looking for “stream gaps” for evidence of smaller, starless dark matter halos in the Milky Way.

These types of discoveries are made possible with the enormous data sets produced by large-scale astronomical surveys like DES, though it’s “analogous to searching for a needle in a haystack,” Martini said.


Exploring approaches to save coral reefs — right here in Ohio

With their unique structures and breathtaking colors, coral reefs are one of the world’s most inspiring and appreciated natural wonders. They’re also greatly threatened by environmental stressors associated with climate change, including sea temperature rise and ocean acidification.

Some coral species are less sensitive to these climate shifts than others, and scientists have been trying to pinpoint the causes of their resilience in hopes of better managing reefs in the future.

Naturally, most research in this field is happening in coastal regions. But Andrea Grottoli, professor at The Ohio State University School of Earth Sciences, is conducting some of the world’s leading research on coral resilience — right here in Ohio.

Traditionally, scientists have examined the relationship between corals and their symbiotic algae (which gives them their color, as well as provides them with vital sources of energy) when studying resilience.

When under heat stress, corals may eject some of these algae, making them appear pale or “bleached.” If normal sea temperatures return, they can re-acquire algae, but prolonged stress leads to mortality, Grottoli said.

But there is likely another health component at play. Along with algae, corals also comprise intricate communities of unique and underexplored microbial organisms, collectively known as the microbiome.

Grottoli’s most recent study is the first to explore what role the coral microbiome plays in anatomical resilience under the combined effects of elevated temperature and acidity.

“A coral’s microbiome is thought to be a part of the immune system, just like it is in humans,” Grottoli said.


Tibetan ice core could reveal more than 600,000 years of climate history

Researchers from The Ohio State University are studying the oldest ice core ever drilled outside of the North and South Poles, thanks to an international collaboration co-led by Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor in the School of Earth Sciences.

The ice core — drilled from the Guliya Ice Cap in Tibet — may include ice that formed more than 600,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest ice samples ever recovered.

The ancient ice contains valuable information about past climate conditions on Earth, which scientists can compare with modern climate models to make predictions about the future. What researchers have found so far “provides dramatic evidence of a recent and rapid temperature rise at some of the highest, coldest mountain peaks in the world,” according to a university news release.

“The ice cores actually demonstrate that warming is happening, and is already having detrimental effects on Earth’s freshwater ice stores,” Thompson said.

In fact, temperatures in this region are rising at nearly 1.5 times the rate of temperatures at sea level, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Generally, the higher the elevation, the greater the rate of warming,” Thompson said.

Tibet also contains the world’s third-largest store of freshwater ice, and increased melting in the area, as well as in the Arctic and Antarctica, are greatly contributing to rising sea levels. Rapid glacial melting could eventually be catastrophic for the 1.5 billion people in Asia who depend on high-altitude glaciers for a fresh water supply during dry seasons and in times of drought.

“You might think of glaciers as a savings account, in which snow (water) is deposited every year. Under today’s climate, more water is being withdrawn than is being deposited, and the account is dwindling,” said Thompson, adding that scientists also expect to see decreases in yearly precipitation.

He and his research team hope that studying the ancient ice will uncover parallels that exist between ice loss in tropical glaciers — such as those on the Tibetan Plateau — and climate processes elsewhere on the planet.

“Because [the Tibetan Plateau] is the highest and largest of Earth’s elevated regions, it plays a significant role in the global climate system,” he said.

The ice is currently being stored in a -22-degree (F) freezer at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC), said BPCRC post-doctoral research fellow Emilie Beaudon, adding that part of the core will be sent to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver for future investigations.

Though the ice is the oldest discovered outside the polar regions, scientists are unearthing even older ice in places like Antarctica. In August, scientists determined that an Antarctic ice core contained 2.7-million-year-old ice — the oldest ever recorded. From the ice they were able to find that 2.7 million years ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were less than 300 parts per million. Last year, atmospheric CO2 surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in 3.6 million years.

Collaborators on this project include Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Distinguished University Professor of Geography at Ohio State and Director of BPCRC; Mary E. Davis, Stacy E. Porter, Emilie Beaudon, Ping-Nan Lin, M. Roxana Sierra-Hernández and Donald V. Kenny, all of Ohio State; Tandong Yao, Guangjian Wu and Baiqing Xu of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research; and Ninglian Wang of Northwest University and Keqin Duan of Shaanxi Normal University, both in Xian, China.

Original Story

Komen Columbus looks beyond breast cancer to solve racial divides

The equation is simple: the more money and education you have, the more likely you are to be in good health.

The equation for reversing this trend, however, is a bit more complex.

Impoverished and minority populations have long suffered the burdens that stem from health inequity, such as higher rates of infant mortality, diabetes and heart disease and lower total life expectancy. The story of breast cancer has been no different.

Over the past five years in the U.S., the breast cancer mortality rate has gone down among white women, yet remained relatively stable among African-American women, according to a recent report from by Susan G. Komen Columbus on breast health disparities. The resulting inequality is significant.

Nationally, the breast cancer mortality rate is 40 percent higher for African-American women compared to white women, and 41 percent higher for African-American women in Franklin County, according to data from the National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: Susan G. Komen Columbus

Faced with this clear divide, Susan G. Komen, the parent nonprofit that oversees about 100 affiliates, saw the opportunity to dramatically improve breast health. Last summer, the foundation set an ambitious goal: to cut U.S. breast cancer deaths in half — from 40,000 to 20,000 per year — by 2026, said Julie McMahon, director of mission for Komen Columbus.

To make such a powerful improvement will mean taking extensive action to reduce breast cancer disparities. And with Komen already investing around $200 million into ongoing breast-cancer research and clinical trials across the country, Komen Columbus thinks the real platform for change will be found at the community level.

“Health care doesn’t happen in a vacuum; people can only make as healthy choices as the ones available to them,” McMahon said.

For African-American women, risk factors include a history of lower access to and engagement with the healthcare system, delays in follow-up care, lower-quality screening and treatment options and biological predispositions to aggressive breast cancers such as triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), McMahon said.

According to the Komen Columbus report, nearly half of African-American breast cancer deaths in the Columbus region occur in just five ZIP codes — North Linden, Whitehall, Northeast Columbus, Forest Park East and Southeast Columbus. Because these ZIP codes pop up for a lot of different issues, such as lack of education, employment and access to health insurance and care, those problems have also come under the lens, McMahon said.

“None of us can fix any of this alone,” McMahon said. “We’re figuring out how we can place all of these organizations and resources that we have — some of which have never worked together but do great work separately — together so that we can start making an impact.”

Down the road, McMahon and others at Komen envision a world where public services ranging from food and housing to early-childhood development and breast-cancer prevention become streamlined, so that when a woman is getting employment help or going to a diabetes consultation, she is also referred to screening or genetic testing for breast cancer, McMahon said.

“Over time this could become a paradigm change for communities where preventative health has never been a priority,” she said.

And it’s not just vulnerable populations among which there is room for improvement. Higher income women with private insurance could benefit from employers allowing work time to be used for appointments or increased availability of before- and after-hours appointments, as noted in the report.

Despite challenges ahead, such as a lack of available local data on health and ethnicity and potential future setbacks to the Affordable Care Act, Komen will keep working toward its goal of fostering communities “in which the color of your skin, your income and where you live doesn’t impact your chance of survival when someone tells you that you have breast cancer,” McMahon said.

Smart Columbus: Oh, the places we’ll go

In small government offices and crowded boardrooms, the future of urban transportation is transpiring right here in Columbus — the U.S. Department of Transportation’s first Smart City.

The wheels started turning for Smart Columbus last summer, when the city won the USDOT’s Smart City challenge over cities such as Austin, Portland and San Francisco. The roughly $415-million venture, supported by federal and private funds, has several focus areas, including transportation access, smart logistics and sustainable transportation.

From real-time traffic/parking data to charging stations for electric cars to driverless shuttles around Easton, the city hopes to become a model for communities around the nation, said Brandi Braun, assistant director for the Columbus Department of Public Service.

“How people want to move — and the way people should move — is changing, and the Smart Columbus grants are allowing us to prepare for that future,” Braun said, adding that the city’s initial proposals to the USDOT must be implemented by 2020.

The movement aims to both attract new jobs and sectors to the city as well as provide better access to existing ones, Braun said. For example, six autonomous vehicles will make routes within Easton Town Center “to address first- and last-mile challenges in one of the city’s largest job centers” by dropping individuals off directly in front of where they work, according to the city.

Another issue that Smart Columbus hopes to address is the lack of mobility in communities like Linden.

“Mobility options are not equitable — not everyone lives within walking distance of their nearest bus stop; not everyone can afford a car,” Braun said. “The one-car-one-person model doesn’t work for everyone.”

If there were better access to transportation, more people could be empowered to connect themselves to jobs, education, health care and more.
This is the thought behind the bus rapid transit — a transit system designed to be more efficient than a traditional bus service but less pricey than a light rail or metro system — that COTA will implement along a 15.6-mile stretch of Cleveland Avenue between downtown and Polaris Parkway, said Marty Stutz, vice president of communications, marketing and customer service at COTA.

The new transit line, called CMAX, will operate in mixed traffic along with regular COTA service, but traffic-signal priority technology will allow CMAX buses that are behind schedule to shorten the length of a red light or keep a light green longer, Stutz said. CMAX was in the works well before the Smart City grant was announced, but because it will serve transit-dependent areas like Linden the project became “a great platform to collaborate with Smart Columbus,” said COTA spokeswoman Lisa Myers, adding that CMAX is on track to launch in January 2018.

COTA is also working with Smart Columbus on designing a smart pass payment system that would work for COTA buses, car2go cars, CoGo bikes, taxis, Uber, Lyft and others, Stutz said. This would allow those without access to smart phones or bank accounts to use services like Uber by loading the smart pass with cash at a neighborhood kiosk.

The other challenge facing Columbus is traffic and parking congestion — an issue that will certainly need to be addressed if the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s population-increase estimate of 1 million new residents by 2050 holds true.

“Neighborhoods that are crowded with people and cars can suffer because it’s too difficult for people to come visit, shop or even live in a community where parking is tight,” Stutz said. “The more options you provide to people, the more opportunities they have to enjoy your town.”

The solution here is to provide real-time parking, traffic and event information through an information portal so people can find available parking before they travel, Braun said. The system could also aid commercial truck drivers making deliveries in the downtown area by allowing them to schedule routes and deliveries when traffic and space are optimal.

Smart Columbus also aims to incorporate more electric vehicles into public and private fleets, encourage electric vehicle adoption by installing charging stations across the city and more, Braun said.

Along with furthering mobility and sustainability goals, COTA believes that increased use of alternate and public transportation will make Columbus more appealing in general.

“When people are outside of their cars walking, riding a bike or using transit — that’s the kind of sidewalk activity that energizes neighborhoods and makes communities more attractive,” Stutz said.

Although there’s a ways to go, Smart Columbus “really has the ability to transform the lives of our residents,” Braun said.

This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch on April 26, 2017 in the special print section Careers in Transportation.

As addiction rises, so does need for specialized doctors

Opioid overdose claimed the lives of more than 33,000 people in the U.S. in 2015, according to a report released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

That’s more than double the fatal opioid overdoses that occurred in 2005, found the report, which analyzed and compiled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System.

Over that same time period in Ohio, opioid-related deaths — including deaths from prescription opioids (such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl) and heroin — rose 430 percent, from 489 in 2005 to 2,590 in 2015, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The nation has taken multiple steps to curb opioid addiction in recent years, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed in 2016 and allots $181 million per year to fighting the opioid epidemic. CARA was the first major federal addiction legislation in 40 years.

On March 30, Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced a measure that limits the maximum length of narcotic painkiller prescriptions from 90 days to seven days (five days for minors). The law would not apply in certain situations such as hospice/palliative care. While these are steps in the right direction, there are still areas of improvement that need to be addressed, according to addiction medicine doctors.

“No. 1, there aren’t enough quality treatment programs, especially for younger patients,” said Dr. Steven Matson, chief of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine and medical director at Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center.

The patients Matson sees in Nationwide Children’s Medication Assisted Treatment for Addiction program typically began dabbling in drugs at around age 11 and gradually transitioned to using heroin, he said.

“When we see these youth, they’re in pretty bad shape, injecting eight to 10 times a day,” Matson said, adding that only around 9 percent of drug-addicted adolescents ever receive treatment.

Coupled with the lack of treatment options is a lack of public care for addiction, said Brittany Hovden, admissions and intake coordinator for Get Real Recovery, a detox and substance abuse treatment center in Orange County, Calif.

This is reflected in the high cost of addiction treatment for all ages, said Dr. Shawn Ryan, president of the Ohio Society of Addiction Medicine and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

“Insurance companies have somewhat begrudgingly started paying something, but there’s still not a robust reimbursement structure for addiction treatment, or mental health in general,” Ryan said.

Treatment costs associated with opioid addiction can add up fast, as the most successful approach involves a combination of medication — like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone — and psychosocial intervention, Hovden said.

“The incredible craving and withdrawal are so great that if you don’t quiet that [with medication], it’s really hard for patients to actually participate in any sort of behavioral treatment, which they need to get better,” Matson said.

Yet not enough doctors are educated in addiction medicine to successfully expand availability of quality treatment, Matson said. “Although most doctors can recognize addiction, I think most are pretty limited in knowing how to respond to it.”

The field of addiction medicine — which encompasses internal medicine, psychology, mental-health counseling and public health, among others — has been around for decades, but wasn’t recognized as an official medical subspecialty by the American Board for Medical Specialties until 2015.

“We have to look at the entire patient in the complex bio-psycho-social disease state,” Ryan said. “I spend my time trying to figure out how in the world we are going to train more physicians to do this.”

Many primary-care physicians lack the time or energy to go through 2,000-plus hours of training in addiction medicine, as most are expected to see 30 patients a day in order to maintain a viable practice, Ryan added. Even if they had the skills, “it’s not feasible to see a patient in 12 minutes and address their complex medical and psychological issues,” he said. “There’s a general failure of American medicine involved in this.”

Along with increasing accessibility of quality addiction treatment, Matson hopes to see more effort go toward prevention.

“There isn’t a lot of science that shows what works best to prevent addiction, and we need to keep searching to find that,” he said.

Where transportation is headed in 2017

Nearly every single product you own or interact with was transported via air, rail, sea or road so that it could be shipped directly to you or the store where you purchased it.

While most don’t often ponder the ins and outs of transportation, it is a key facet of our everyday lives. Transportation enables us to move goods, trade goods and travel from place to place — three essential features of civilization. Without it, economies around the world would crumble.

The U.S. freight transportation system moved an average of 49.5 million tons of goods valued at $52.7 billion per day in 2015, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Trucks carried more than 60 percent of that weight and value.

From drivers and dispatchers, logisticians and techies and mechanics and engineers, hundreds of thousands of individuals are required to make sure the transportation industry keeps running smoothly. And as the global population increases, so will the amount of goods that need to be produced and transported. In meeting that need, some big realities face the industry that never stops moving, including:

Autonomous trucking
Amid ongoing research and testing of self-driving trucks, questions remain for when and how the technology will be implemented. Some industry experts — including cofounder of leading autonomous-truck company Otto Lior Ron — said it could become mainstream in as little as 10 years, if safety and regulations challenges can be solved. Otto had its first success in Colorado in late 2016, when one of its trucks successfully made it from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs without a driver to deliver 50,000 beer cans.

Locally, the work has begun to transform a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 between Dublin and East Liberty into a Smart Mobility Corridor — a testing ground for autonomous driving technologies, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. This will include tests with self-driving trucks and truck platoons, or two electronically connected trucks operating in tandem, which could also reduce the need for drivers.

“Truck platooning technology could bring less potential for human error and make the roads more efficient,” said Michael Ferrando, recruiting and training manager for ODW Logistics, a Columbus-based, third-party logistics company that provides transportation, warehousing and supply-chain support.

Curbing air pollution
Since 2010, new trucks come equipped with a system to accommodate diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), a solution sprayed into the exhaust stream of diesel vehicles to break down air-polluting nitrogen oxides into nontoxic nitrogen and water, Ferrando said.

“There’s also discussion of transitioning to a 30 or 40 percent electrical unit in trucks, which would help us greatly reduce emissions and get us further away from fossil fuels,” he added.

Changing consumer behavior
It’s no secret that the internet has rapidly changed the way that people buy, sell and physically obtain products. Today, long-standing retailers such as Macy’s and Sears have closed storefronts nationwide while Amazon is set to hire 100,000 new full-time and 30,000 new part-time employees over the next year or so.

In central Ohio alone, Amazon has opened two distribution centers and three data centers since 2015, providing roughly 2,120 new jobs to the region.

When products made by thousands of different manufacturers have to be shipped to millions of people’s doorsteps on an on-demand basis, tracking shipments and planning transportation becomes far more complex.

“In many cases we’re working with guaranteed delivery times, which makes it even more imperative to get the product where it needs to be,” Ferrando said.

Dynamic business models
The increasing complexity and fracturing of supply-chains means that carriers want more transparency in tracking their shipments and companies that can provide that will likely have the upper hand.

It also means that new, nontraditional transportation business models are emerging — like companies that use software to match deliveries with local available shippers, such as Convoy and Cargomatic.

There will undoubtedly be more industry transitions to address, such as constantly changing government regulations and technologies, but in the meantime, the transportation industry will keep on moving.

Original article

Keeping women’s health at heart: Closing gender gap in heart-disease awareness, health care

Cardiovascular disease has long been the No. 1 killer of both men and women older than 20, claiming more lives per year than all forms of cancer combined, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Yet decades of gender disparity in research, prevention and health care have left women at a disadvantage.

Compared to men, women are less likely to recognize cardiovascular disease as their leading cause of death, know the symptoms of a heart attack or receive aggressive diagnosis and treatment, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease and stroke took the lives of nearly 400,000 U.S. women in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent available data. That’s one in three female deaths — breast cancer causes one in 31.

But the AHA has made notable progress toward reversing these trends since launching its Go Red For Women initiative in 2004.

Go Red For Women not only raises awareness about cardiovascular disease in the female population, but also in the medical community, by providing women-specific treatment guidelines, pushing for equal gender representation in clinical trials and much more, said Brianne Harman, communications director of the AHA’s central Ohio division.

“Through outreach directly from Go Red For Women, roughly 293 fewer women die each day from heart disease and stroke,” Harman said, adding that since 1997, awareness among women that cardiovascular disease is their No. 1 health threat has increased from 26 percent to 56 percent.

Awareness among African-American and Hispanic women is significantly lower, according to the AHA.

And since 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable through education and lifestyle change, Harman said, awareness is key.

“As an African-American female, it is a badge of honor to lead the charge toward heart disease research and preventive care,” said Kimberly Blackwell, CEO of PMM Agency and chair of the 2017 Go Red For Women in Columbus.

One way Go Red raises awareness is through National Wear Red Day, which is held the first Friday in February, falling this year on Feb. 3. More than 2,000 U.S. landmarks will light up red, including Columbus City Hall.

Columbus will host its 13th Go Red For Women luncheon on Feb. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, as one of 180 Go Red luncheons across the country, Harman said.

The top risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, according to the CDC. Other risks include poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol use.

“Your family history is another thing that should definitely be discussed because that’s a big risk factor, and one that you can’t control,” she added.

Another issue is that women are more likely than men to experience nontraditional heart-attack symptoms, such as jaw pain, neck/back pain, pain down one side of the arm, nausea and fatigue, among others.

Misunderstanding these signals can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, Harman said. Fewer women survive their first heart attack than men, according to the CDC.

But advances are on the horizon.

The AHA has set a goal of reducing death and disability from cardiovascular disease and strokes in Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020.

The organization is on track to meeting the goal, with a decrease in deaths and disabilities every year since 2010, with the exception of 2016, Harman said.

And after a push for more gender-specific research, the FDA is now required to report on how many clinical trial results are documented by gender. The AHA has given more than $3.3 billion to cardiovascular-disease research — second only to the U.S. government.

Get involved in Go Red For Women by registering with the initiative at goredforwomen.org.

This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch’s Go Red For Women special section on Feb. 1, 2017.