Report High-Tech Spectacles Ease Strain
under the knife aren't the only ones who end up with their share
of aches and pains after an operation. Many physicians grapple
with substantial neck and back strain by the end of a grueling
day in the surgical suite.
of Florida researchers say a pair of lightweight, high-tech
glasses could be the prescription for relief. They put the eyewear
to the test and found it helped prevent much of the discomfort
surgeons experience after performing minimally invasive procedures.
These operations usually require surgeons to peer at a small
video monitor placed at an awkward angle up to 10 feet away.
glasses project a 52-inch stereoscopic image about six feet into
space, enabling doctors to view the operative field no matter
where they turn their heads.
|Dr. Scott Schell demonstrates
eyeglasses he developed that project the view from microsurgical
equipment directly in front of the eyes so a doctor does not have
to twist in an unnatural and tiring position to watch a monitor.
or laparoscopic surgery has really been a dramatic and revolutionary
improvement in the performance of certain procedures, not only for the
safety and comfort of patients but also for cost and outcome,” said
Dr. Scott Schell, an assistant professor of surgery and of molecular
genetics and microbiology at UF’s College of Medicine. “But, in contrast
to standard operating procedure where surgeons stand and look down at
their hands while operating, during minimally invasive surgery the hands
may be pointed in a completely different orientation than where the
eyes are looking because the surgeons are not looking at a wound, they’re
looking at a screen. So in lengthy procedures, that practice increases
the possibility they could develop neck and back strain because they’re
not in a comfortable position.”
invasive procedures, surgeons make tiny incisions — some as small
as an eighth of an inch — and thread a fiber-optic camera through
a catheter to see inside the body. The operation is performed using
surgical instruments inserted through the incisions. Depending on
the operation, minimally invasive procedures can last anywhere from
30 minutes to eight hours.
the video-projection glasses can look down at their hands while operating
— a more natural and comfortable orientation, Schell said. The eyewear
resembles a large pair of sunglasses and weighs about 3.5 ounces.
“The glasses provide
a picture of what you’d see inside the abdomen if you opened up the
abdomen,” Schell said.
Melanie Fridl Ross
Could Protect Heart During Attacks
A team of University
of Florida researchers has used gene therapy to develop a tiny biological
machine that could one day be injected into heart attack-prone patients
to recognize and stop new heart attacks.
The UF team used
a harmless virus to deliver a combination of genes to animal heart
tissue that protected the tissue from heart attacks, according to
an article in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.
The virus sensed when the heart tissue began to experience hypoxia,
or oxygen deprivation, and switched on the protective genes, which
prevented the damage and scarring, called ischemia, that usually results.
It may take years,
but UF researchers say the technique of using such “vigilant vectors”
to transmit gene switches could be translated into treatments for
a host of other disorders as well, such as diabetes and stroke.
“The concept is
that we give an IV injection, and although the vector goes everywhere
in the body, it only works in the heart or other targeted organ or
tissue,” said Ian Phillips, the study’s principal investigator and
a professor and chairman emeritus of the UF College of Medicine’s
Department of Physiology. “It just waits there until the right moment
arrives to help the person.”
The UF team used
the adeno-associated virus, a commonly used gene carrier, to insert
the cardio-protective gene switch. The apparently harmless virus,
known as AAV, has unusual properties that make it ideal for transporting
corrective genes into human cells, including that it carries no DNA
of its own, Phillips said.
The UF team spent
two years developing the heart-attack-preventing gene “switch” using
a combination of genes from human and yeast cells, Phillips said.
Active only in heart
tissue, the switch “turns on” the protective genes during the four-
to six-hour window when hypoxia is known to lead to ischemia. This
defends the heart cells in the low-oxygen condition and subsequently
prevents damage to the heart tissue, Phillips said. When the hypoxia
goes away, the switch turns off again.
The research has
so far proved successful in animal tissue cultures and on a limited
basis in experiments with live rats, but Phillips said developing
experiments and treatment for people is still many years away.
Ian Phillips, firstname.lastname@example.org
Film Being Tested To Regulate Plant Growth
Sandra Wilson, assistant professor of environmental
horticulture, examines a wine sage plant grown in a greenhouse
covered in photo-selective polyethylene film. The new film,
which filters out far-red light waves, is used to keep plants
compact to ease shipping problems.
To help commercial
nurseries keep plants uniform in size, University of Florida
researchers are testing colored plastic films that filter out
growth- promoting light waves.
an assistant professor of environmental horticulture with UF’s
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said the photo-selective
plastic film in her current experiment filters out far-red light,
which is responsible for stem elongation in plants.
“When grown in
a greenhouse covered with photo-selective film, plants respond
to subtle changes in the amount of far-red light they receive,”
Wilson said. “The goal is to inhibit stem elongation without sacrificing
industry prefers uniform plant size because it speeds plant establishment
in the field and makes it easier to pack and ship mature plants. Traditionally,
chemicals have been used to control plant height but, because of increasing
environmental concerns, researchers are seeking other methods to control
Wilson has been
testing the new film on subtropical annuals and perennials at UF’s
Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, where she
has obtained favorable results.
“Most plants grown
under the far-red light-absorbing film are about 25 percent shorter
than plants grown under clear film, which is used as a control standard
to compare effects of the colored film,” Wilson said. “The results
are comparable to plants treated with chemical growth regulators.”
Chemicals contracted with UF and several other institutions to test
the green film in various regions of the United States. Ohio State
University and Clemson are testing plants from their regions, and
UF is testing Southern plants.
“Because of Florida’s
warm climate, we can grow subtropical plants,” Wilson said. “This
was a good trial because many of the species we worked with in Fort
Pierce were traditionally ‘leggy,’ meaning they grow fast and are
extremely elongated. The good results with these plants bode well
for other species.”
Wilson said UF is
also testing the polyethylene film to determine if it degrades faster
in hot regions.
“One of the problems
we’ve encountered has been a short film life,” Wilson said. “The dyes
start to degrade after one year, so research is being conducted to
increase the stability of the dyes.”
In addition to ornamental
plants, the colored films have been used on food plants such as bell
peppers, tomatoes and watermelons.
Sandra Wilson, email@example.com
Via Power Outlets
Thanks in part to
University of Florida research, people soon will plug into home or
office outlets for more than just electricity.
Adapters and other
products will make it possible to use existing electrical wiring to
access the Internet, and to network computers and computing devices
such as printers. The “powerline networking” technology, which backers
say provides more consistent service than competing wireless systems,
could reduce the need for expensive cable installations in houses
or buildings built before the Internet boom.
“Power lines for
many years have been ignored as communication channel because they
were too noisy and unpredictable,” said Haniph Latchman, a UF professor
of electrical and computer engineering. “But recent advances at UF
and elsewhere have changed that scenario, and those advances are now
reaching the consumer.”
Latchman is among
four UF engineering researchers who have worked with engineers at
Ocala-based Intellon Corp. over the past two years in the research,
development, simulation and testing of the “no new wires” technology.
Intellon builds the computer chips at the heart of wall outlet adapters,
cards and other products that several companies plan to market nationwide.
Latchman said the
need for simple and effective local area networks, or “LANs,” is skyrocketing
as people add more computers to homes and so-called “smart” appliances
steadily become a reality. For example, IBM and Carrier recently announced
plans to sell an air conditioner adjustable via e-mail, allowing residents
to pre-set the temperature before they step in the door, he said.
Down the road, “intelligent” refrigerators are expected to automatically
note their contents’ shortages and even order groceries over the Internet.
The main barrier
to such developments is that millions of older homes are not equipped
with the computer cable that supports high-speed networks, and many
newer homes do not have the network cable in every room. Laptops and
handhelds, meanwhile, are most useful when they can access the network
virtually anywhere, such as poolside or on the patio.
were not designed for conveying high-frequency signals needed to send
and receive data, so they contain interference and noise. But UF and
Intellon researchers have developed ways to maintain clear communication,
The technology is
ideal for smart homes because it makes the network so accessible.
“If you plug in your fridge or A/C, they’re automatically part of
the network,” Latchman said.
Cell Suicide A
Possible Culprit In Heart Disease
have known for years that the heart is one of the first organs to
show the ravages of time. Now, two University of Florida researchers
say they know why: cell suicide.
In a study published
in the February issue of the American Journal of Physiology, researchers
at UF’s College of Health and Human Performance attempted to determine
why heart cells in older rodents die at much higher rates than those
of their younger counterparts.
The process is known
as apoptosis. It’s what happens when a cell orders itself to stop
functioning, shrink and ultimately dissolve. Although apoptosis plays
a critical role in removing unwanted and potentially dangerous cells,
such as tumor cells, excessive apoptosis may contribute to the decline
in cardiovascular function with age, said Christiaan Leeuwenburgh,
director of UF’s Biochemistry of Aging Laboratory and one of the study
In their study,
Leeuwenburgh and Sharon Phaneuf, a third-year doctoral student, obtained
hearts from 6-, 16- and 24-month-old rats and isolated the heart cells’
mitochondria, which helps supply the cell with energy. In human terms,
the rats would have been roughly 20, 55 and 75 years old.
The scientists studied
cytochrome c, a mitochondrial electron transporter that becomes a
signal for cell death if it is released from the mitochondria. Phaneuf
found the hearts of older animals released greater amounts of that
cell-death signal than did the hearts of younger animals and may be
partly responsible for the increase in cell death.
is difficult, but estimates show a healthy elderly male without heart
disease or high blood pressure loses 30 percent of his heart cells,
said Leeuwenburgh, an assistant professor of exercise and sport sciences.
Phaneuf attribute the disorder to oxidative stress, a condition in
which cells have too many free radicals — destructive, highly reactive
molecules — and not enough antioxidants, which counteract the damaging
effects of aging.
The National Institute
on Aging and the Society for Geriatric Cardiology co-funded the study.
Puts Idle PCs To Work In “Computing Marketplace”
a nice thought in these economic doldrums: The computer sitting idle
at home while you’re at work could instead earn you some spare cash.
A University of
Florida engineering professor is leading an effort to create a way
to allow PC owners to sell their machines’ computing power online.
Michael Frank, an
assistant professor of computer and information science and engineering,
says millions of computers in people’s homes and offices spend hours
doing little more than running screen savers. Meanwhile, scientists,
corporations and public officials often need more computing power
than they can afford.
A free system that
allows PC owners to sell their personal machines’ processing power
to these and other customers as needed online would benefit everyone,
“There are markets
for all kinds of resources, everything from electricity to grain,”
Frank said. “The idea is to do the same thing with computers.”
Frank said more
than 50 million Americans are connected to the Internet, yet their
computers sit idle most of the time. Meanwhile, scientists studying
global weather patterns or genetics often need access to massive amounts
of computer processing and memory. Ditto computer graphics firms and
public officials and news organizations, who need added computing
These and other
groups may not have the money to invest in expensive supercomputers,
especially when they may need the computing power only occasionally,
Frank said. It would be far better if they could simply “buy” it online
from the millions of computer owners not using their full processing
As he described
it, “Imagine that the collective computational power of millions of
computers all over the world becomes a vast, liquid commodity, flowing
like an ocean between continents, fluctuating up and down in price
according to global needs and supply and demand.”
Frank and a group
of about two dozen faculty and graduate students are trying to engineer
this new approach.
They call it the
Open Computation Exchange & Auctioning Network, or OCEAN.
The network’s foundation
will be a software program freely available on the Web.
“It has to be so
easy to use and so simple that it grows and develops its own market
in a kind of grass-roots way,” Frank said.
The technical hurdles
are not minor. Ensuring people’s personal computers remain secure,
even as their central processing units and hard drives are accessed
via the Internet, is one issue. Another is creating a simple and safe
accounting and billing system.
Assuming there is
a healthy demand for the service, Frank estimated owners of up-to-date
PCs might be able to earn $50 per month to “rent” their processing
power. Some applications may require a permanent on-line connection,
others only periodic uploads and downloads.
Michael Frank, firstname.lastname@example.org
To House Cancer, Biotech &
appropriation of $2.25 million, approved by President George
W. Bush in November, will facilitate construction of an $80
million facility for genetics, cancer and biotechnology research
at the University of Florida.
building will be immediately west of the UF Health Science Center
at the intersection of Archer Road and North-South Drive and
will have its own utility plant. By locating it next door to
the Jerry and Judith Davis Cancer Center, an outpatient facility
of the UF Shands Cancer Center, planners hope it will be easy
|Terry Flotte, left, director of the
UF Genetics Institute, Sheldon Schuster, director of the Interdisciplinary
Center for Biotechnology Research, and Stratford May, director
of the UF Cancer Center, at the site of a planned $80 million
Cancer and Genetics Building.
are exploring cancer at the cellular, molecular and genetics levels
to collaborate with health professionals caring for patients.
U.S. Rep. Karen
Thurman, who advocated on behalf of the university for the latest
federal funds, said, “The building will provide a valuable research
environment for scientists to discover the genetic abnormalities that
cause cancers and other diseases, and to develop effective ways to
treat the patients.
facility will help to encourage collaboration among scientists from
various backgrounds, speed the process of discovery and, ultimately,
save lives,” Thurman said.
A $6.5 million biotechnology
research pavilion — a new home for the Interdisciplinary Center for
Biotechnology Research (ICBR) — will be the first part of the complex
to be built. The pavilion will feature laboratories designed and equipped
to help scientists explore the genetic makeup of humans, animals and
ICBR director, views the future facility as a crossroad for scientists
in the field of genetics and other life sciences at the molecular
level. He said scientists working in the pavilion will be able to
sequence and analyze DNA and individual genes, analyze cells via flow
cytometry, develop genetic markers for use in conservation biology
and identify protein markers that signal environmental contamination
The genetics section
will be occupied by close to 40 researchers, along with their support
teams from the UF Health Science Center, UF’s Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Museum of Natural History. The
building will house the C.A. Pound Laboratory and the Maples Center
for Forensic Medicine.
Dr. Terence Flotte,
director of the UF Genetics Institute and the Powell Gene Therapy
Center, said some of the key genetics research projects will include
the development of human gene therapy, the Floral Genome Project to
track the relatedness and biodiversity of plant species throughout
evolutionary history and the Maize (corn) genome project to identify
key genes involved in disease resistance and the nutritional quality
of food crops.
Dr. Stratford May,
director of the UF Shands Cancer Center, says close to 40 UF scientists
and 300 support personnel will work in the cancer research laboratories.
Expert Helps Promote Tropical Fish Standards
poisoning may be the stuff of murder mysteries, but it seems
an unlikely way for tropical fish or coral reefs to die.
what can happen, though, when divers in Southeast Asia use cyanide
to capture valuable fish for sale to the aquarium trade, says
a University of Florida expert who’s helping to evaluate standards
handling and sale of saltwater tropical fish and invertebrates
such as coral, sea anemones and shellfish.
||Sherry Larkin examines
a saltwater tropical fish at a pet store in Gainesville. Larkin,
a food and resource economist, is helping to evaluate standards
for proper capture, handling and sale of saltwater species for
the aquarium trade.
The divers use plastic
squirt bottles filled with a diluted cyanide solution to stun fish
long enough to net them, said Sherry Larkin, assistant professor with
UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“The practice is
common in Indonesia and the Philippines, which supply 85 percent of
the world’s saltwater aquarium fish,” Larkin said.
The cyanide may
later kill the target fish and harm nontarget species, live coral
and even the divers themselves, she said. In some areas, entire reef
ecosystems are in danger of being destroyed.
“People take shortcuts
because it’s profitable,” she said. “We need to remove the profit
motive. That’s what industrywide quality control standards could do.”
Larkin, a food and
resource economist, is part of the first attempt to develop such standards,
led by the Marine Aquarium Council, an international, nonprofit organization
based in Honolulu. In November, the council, also known as MAC, launched
a certification program to establish and enforce voluntary guidelines
for every link in the industry chain that brings marine aquarium organisms
from their native waters to retail consumers.
“If a fish is MAC-certified,
everybody knows what they’re getting,” Larkin said. “They know destructive
collecting practices weren’t used and that the fish was handled with
appropriate regard for its health.”
With 1 million saltwater
aquarium hobbyists, the United States accounts for more than half
the worldwide demand for marine aquarium organisms, said Paul Holthus,
executive director of MAC. While captive breeding efforts are slowly
increasing, about 98 percent of marine ornamental fish and invertebrates
currently sold are captured in the wild.
Larkin is conducting
research to predict possible demand for MAC-certified organisms from
saltwater aquarium hobbyists.
will be critical to our success,” Holthus said. “They need to ask
retailers for MAC-certified organisms. We’re planning awareness campaigns
for major markets like New York and Los Angeles.”
Sherry Larkin, email@example.com
Therapy Could Delay, Control Parkinson’s
A team of researchers
has demonstrated that the injection of two corrective genes into a
specific brain region generated significant restoration of normal
limb movement in rats with a chemically induced form of Parkinson’s
The findings — by
a team of researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville
and Lund University in Lund, Sweden — were published in March in the
online journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Anders Bjorklund of Sweden and Ronald Mandel from UF said the strategy
that proved effective in the rodents is not a cure for Parkinson’s
disease but is expected to lead to a better method for delaying and
controlling symptoms of the progressively disabling condition.
delivery of two selected genes, coupled with a powerful gene-activating
agent, works like a pump to prime the production of L-dopa, which
is then converted into dopamine by appropriate nerve cells in the
brain,” said Mandel, a professor of neuroscience with UF’s McKnight
Brain Institute and the UF Genetics Institute.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter
that plays a lead role in coordinating limb movements.
were completely reversed in rats that had near-total Parkinsonian
lesions on only one side of the brain, meaning that some of their
dopamine-producing cells remained intact. These partial lesions mimic
the kind of damage found in people with the disease, according to
the scientists. Even in the rats with complete destruction of dopamine-producing
cells, the delivery of gene therapy resulted in a limited amount of
restored motor function.
I was surprised by this successful outcome, since our previous experiments
in the same animal model failed to result in restored motor function,”
said Mandel, adding that one key to success was to figure out how
much L-dopa the corrective genes need to generate to produce long-lasting
The experiment that
helped the rats regain motor function involved a single injection
of two different genes, each packaged separately along with the selected
gene promoter in a gene-transport molecule (vector). Both genes code
for enzymes essential to triggering production of L-dopa.
Based on prior discoveries
by Bjorklund, the researchers injected these genes into the striatal
region of the forebrain, the destination point of dopamine-producing
cells. When the injected vectors land in this area, they deposit their
payload of genes, which are “turned on” by the gene-promoter to initiate
Videotapes of the
rats moving about in tall clear-glass cylinders illustrate the spontaneous
behavior regained after gene therapy. Initial tapes show healthy rats
exploring the sides of the cylinder with their front paws while walking
around on their hind legs. After the induction of Parkinsonian lesions,
the rats can be seen dragging one limp and rigid front paw while exploring
their environment with the normal front limb. In videos taken after
gene therapy, the same rats demonstrate normal function of both front
Mandel said the
effectiveness of gene therapy in the Parkinsonian rats generates hope
that the therapy can eventually be applied in humans, with the potential
to double the time a person with Parkinson’s disease will respond
well to standard medications. Typically a patient responds well to
medication for three to five years, but the beneficial effects gradually
diminish because side effects begin to reduce the therapeutic value
of the drug.
“We anticipate gene
therapy will offer a way to help patients with Parkinson’s disease
live many years longer free of disabling symptoms,” Mandel said.
Ronald Mandel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Helping Develop Wind-Resistant Homes
In an effort
to protect Florida residents from hurricane devastation, the
University of Florida has joined feceral agencies and private
businesses to develop affordable wind-resistant homes.
project is part of a federal initiative to aid windstorm mitigation
efforts in several states, said Pierce Jones, an energy extension
specialist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Jones helps coordinate efforts by UF, an architect, a builder,
a mortgage lender, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
extension specialists Craig Miller, left, and Pierce Jones examine
a cutaway model of a window while discussing how high winds can
cause windows to fail at the three points - the frame, sash or
in 1992 caused Florida’s housing industry to re-evaluate not only
construction methods but also strategies for insuring and financing
homes,” Jones said. “The Florida National Quality Demonstration Project
is a comprehensive approach to these challenges.”
One long-range goal
of the project is to persuade builders statewide to adopt new construction
methods in hurricane-prone coastal areas, said Perry Green, an assistant
professor with UF’s civil and coastal engineering department.
“Builders are convinced
by results,” Green said. “We’ll need to prove our ideas work, that
they’re cost effective and marketable. Ultimately, UF will develop
educational programs to teach builders to use these ideas.”
He said the project
currently focuses on designing homes that can withstand peak wind
gusts of at least 140 mph, equivalent to Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson
Hurricane Scale, which ranks storms based on wind speed. Category
3 is the third-most severe ranking, with peak gusts of 141 to 165
“Since Jan. 1, 2002,
more stringent wind-loading requirements have taken effect in coastal
and inland areas,” said Craig Miller, a UF energy extension specialist
in Gainesville. “Some one- and two-family dwellings will have to withstand
peak gusts of 130 to 150 mph. So this project should be of interest
Bill Zoeller, a
senior architect with Steven Winter Associates, a Connecticut-based
building systems research and design firm, is designing a prototype
home with poured-in-place concrete exterior walls and light-gauge
steel interior framing.
“We’re still developing
some components, like impact-resistant windows, reinforced garage
doors and roof attachments,” he said. “These homes should be affordable
and sell for about the same as typical Central Florida construction.”
Designs for the
prototype should be completed by next spring, said Kirk Malone, regional
vice president of construction for Mercedes Homes in Melbourne.
“If all goes well,
we hope to build a prototype soon afterward,” Malone said. “Eventually
we’d like to develop several models, all incorporating the same wind-resistant
features, and put them on the market commercially.”
The Florida effort
is part of the federal National Quality Demonstration Project, created
to address ongoing concerns about hurricane damage to the Gulf and
Atlantic coasts, said U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon.
Funding for the
project was provided by grants from FEMA and HUD, Weldon said.
Pierce Jones, email@example.com
Perry Green, firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig Miller, email@example.com
AIDS Vaccine Headed To Market
University of Florida researcher who helped discover the feline immunodeficiency
virus has developed a feline AIDS vaccine that could be available
to cat owners by this summer.
The vaccine — developed
by Janet Yamamoto, a professor at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine
— was approved for sale by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
in March. Kansas-based Fort Dodge Animal Health has received a license
to market the product, which is expected to be available through veterinarians
as early as this summer.
“This is the first
product to ever be made available for preventing this viral infection,”
said USDA spokesperson Jim Rogers. “For that matter, it’s the first
time any type of vaccine to prevent any type of animal immunodeficiency
virus infection has ever been approved for commercial use.”
FIV has many biological
similarities to the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the cause
of human AIDS. For that reason, approaches to protecting cats from
FIV are relevant to the development of human AIDS vaccines.
vary, between 2 percent and 25 percent of the global domestic cat
population is believed to be infected with the virus, according to
“It is generally
believed that transmission of FIV takes place through bite wounds
inflicted during fighting, and no cat-to-human transmission has ever
been reported,” Yamamoto said. “However, we are looking into this
Cats with FIV develop
symptoms in three stages.
“In the acute initial
stage, cats show loss of appetite, transient fever, lethargy and have
a low white blood cell count,” Yamamoto said. “Many cats recover from
the initial phase and become lifelong carriers of the virus. In the
second stage, the cats exhibit no overt symptoms. In the third stage,
however, cats experience severe weight loss, and secondary infections
that become resistant to treatment or frequently recur.”
technology is based on viruses from cats called “long-term nonprogressors,”
so named because the animals have been infected with FIV but take
a long time to show symptoms of the disease.
“These strains take
a long time to cause disease, and once symptoms do occur, the disease
is milder,” said Yamamoto. “Instead of rapidly destroying the immune
system, the virus hangs around at low levels in these cats and stimulates
the immune system, allowing it to respond more effectively.”
Yamamoto and Niels
Pedersen of the University of California, Davis first discovered the
feline virus in 1986. Yamamoto has continued to study the virus and
its pathogenesis, which provided the foundation for developing the
UF and the UC Davis
jointly hold the patents for the FIV vaccine, and the two institutions
have reached agreement with Fort Dodge to explore the use of the FIV
vaccine for commercial applications, said Bin Yan, assistant director
of life sciences at UF’s Office of Technology Licensing.
Fort Dodge Animal
Health is a division of New Jersey-based Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.
Stem Cells Regenerate Heart Tissue In Mice
In a study that
may eventually provide hope for millions suffering from disease-damaged
hearts, University of Florida researchers have transformed adult bone
marrow stem cells from humans into heart muscle cells that remained
healthy and functioning in mice for more than two months.
“Knowing that the
cells are able to be transplanted successfully into the heart may
one day enable the application of this stem cell population to human
disease,” said Dr. Barry Byrne, co-director of UF’s Powell Gene Therapy
Center and one of the authors of the journal article published in
Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.
muscle, adult cardiac muscle damaged by deficient blood flow lacks
the ability to regenerate, resulting in irreversible heart tissue
death. UF scientists found that within two weeks after human bone
marrow stem cells were injected into the coronary arteries of a type
of immunodeficient mice, the stem cells differentiated into heart
muscle and adopted many of the characteristics of the surrounding
tissue. The study was conducted in an effort to expand knowledge about
the transformational abilities of human bone marrow cells, but UF
researchers say the technique may be able to be tested within two
to three years in people with heart damage.
“We were able to
examine the new cells in the heart tissue and see the characteristic
patterns of protein expression in cardiac cells,” said Byrne, an associate
professor in the UF College of Medicine departments of pediatrics,
and molecular genetics and microbiology. Byrne conducted the study
in conjunction with scientists from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
and Baltimore-based Osiris Therapeutics. It was funded by Osiris and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
provide a detailed snapshot of the regenerated stem cells’ behavior
in the heart tissue, far beyond patterns of gene expression,” Byrne
In the current study,
a type of stem cells called human mesenchymal stem cells — which give
rise to skeletal muscle tissue — that were derived from the bone marrow
of four volunteers differentiated into heart muscle cells called cardiomyocytes
in mice that lacked the ability to mount an immune response against
the human cells. The stem cells were injected into the coronary arteries
of the left ventricle, and a portion of them settled in the heart.
At various points
over a two-month period, the heart tissue was analyzed to determine
implantation and differentiation of the stem cells using marker genes
and immunofluorescent staining for common cardiac proteins.
In 12 of 16 mice,
implanted stem cells were found dispersed throughout the myocardium
at four days. Over time, these cells began to take on the form and
function of the surrounding cardiomyocytes and, after 14 days, became
indistinguishable from the rod-shaped heart muscle cells. Byrne and
other UF scientists are continuing the research and now are studying
the ability of human bone marrow stem cells to regenerate heart muscle
cells in animals with various types of heart muscle injury, such as
In an effort to
improve safety and effectiveness, they also are investigating an alternative
method of delivering the stem cells to damaged heart tissue in conjunction
with gene therapy vectors now used primarily to carry corrective genes.
Barry Byrne, firstname.lastname@example.org
Researcher: Beach Mice Face Extinction
twin menaces of hurricanes and beachfront development appear poised
to wipe out Florida’s most diminutive coastal native — the beach
mouse — according to new research led by a University of Florida
Scientists at UF
and Auburn University have concluded that the few remaining populations
of beach mice on the Florida and Alabama coasts are in “substantial
danger” of extinction from hurricanes and continuing loss of habitat
to development. In research on four remaining populations — including
the last known populations of a Perdido Key subspecies — the researchers
predicted the populations have a 37 to 57-percent chance of extinction
in 25 years and a 59 to 80-percent chance in 50 years. Their conclusions
already are being borne out: Since the research was conducted, one
of the Perdido Key populations has gone extinct, although another
population of the subspecies has been reintroduced elsewhere on the
“We asked, ‘What
would be the chance that beach mice will persist in the future if
we consider the effects of catastrophic events such as hurricanes?’”
said Madan Oli, a UF assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation
and lead author of a paper on the research that appeared this year
in the journal Biological Conservation. “Unless we increase our efforts
to conserve habitat and take other measures, the answer doesn’t look
The beach mouse,
Peromyscus polionotus, is small and nocturnal. It ranges in color
from nearly white to brown, depending on the color of the surrounding
soil. The mice once occurred throughout the coastal regions of Alabama
and western Florida, but the spread of commercial and residential
development has slashed their numbers and fragmented their populations.
Today, only about a dozen small populations remain on the Gulf coast,
composed of four endangered subspecies and one not listed as endangered
Oli, Nicholas Holler
of the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Michael
Wooten, an associate professor of biology at Auburn, focused on four
populations near the Florida-Alabama state line.
To gauge the populations’
chance of survival, the researchers drew on data gathered by Wooten
and other scientists who had spent several years in the 1980s and
1990s using live traps to collect and count mice at the sites. They
analyzed the data with computer models using a method known as population
Their results are
not promising. For one thing, the scientists’ estimates of actual
numbers of remaining mice are quite low. At only one of the four sites
did estimates top 1,000 mice during the six or more years when the
populations were sampled, while low numbers for the years reached
50 mice or fewer for all the sites.
“I think if you
take a particular population, almost any of them has a high probability
of extinction within 100 years — that’s probably a normal function
of their biology,” Wooten said. “It’s just that now, with so few populations,
that fluctuation poses a threat to the species.”
The problem is that
hurricanes have the potential to wipe out mouse populations — thanks
to coastal development, Oli said.
On undisturbed lands,
beach mice live on dunes but retreat to nearby scrub dune habitat
when a hurricane destroys their burrows or temporarily eliminates
seeds such as sea oats that constitute their diet, Oli said. While
most frontal beach zones remain intact, scrub habitat is ideal for
beachside development and has become increasingly scarce as condominiums
and houses sprout along the coast. As a result, the mice have no refuge.
Not only that, in
undisturbed areas, mice living in scrub habitat can repopulate frontal
dunes after catastrophes, whereas if the scrub is gone, that option
is closed off.
“You’re saving beautiful
as well as valuable habitat,” Wooten said.
Madan Oli, email@example.com
Kingsnakes Are Disappearing From Florida
The kingsnake, so
named because it eats poisonous snakes and is immune to their venom,
is rapidly disappearing from Florida, according to new research by
a University of Florida scientist.
Once common throughout
the state, the kingsnake has vanished from many Florida counties,
said Kenneth Krysko, a UF student who researched the snake’s ecological
status as part of his doctoral dissertation. Causes may include habitat
loss, overzealous collection by reptile fans or dealers and loss of
“They’re not nearly
as abundant as they used to be, and we don’t know why,” said F. Wayne
King, a professor and herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural
History and the chairman of Krysko’s dissertation committee.
vary widely, but most kingsnakes have light-colored bands, blunted
heads and reach a maximum length of slightly over six feet.
Kingsnakes are unusual
among snakes because their diet includes other snakes, including poisonous
ones such as rattlesnakes, and they are immune to snake venom. Kingsnakes
are also relatively docile, a quality that makes them popular in the
reptile trade and has contributed to their plight, Krysko said.
For his research,
Krysko culled scientific literature, museum collections and scientists’
field notes for examples of kingsnake sightings or records in Florida
dating back to 1858. The resulting geographic database suggests that,
while the snakes once occupied at least 54 of Florida’s 67 counties,
their range has shrunk considerably in recent decades. Records indicate
the existence of kingsnakes in only 23 counties between 1990 and 1999,
despite an increase in the number of collectors and herpetologists
in the field.
Krysko said loss
of the snake’s favored habitat in woods near water bodies is one factor
contributing to its decline. Much of the habitat that remains is disconnected,
meaning the snakes cannot share genes with neighboring populations.
threat is the spread of non-native fire ants, which some scientists
believe target kingsnake eggs and young. Still another danger is that,
as predators at the top of the food chain, kingsnakes may ingest damaging
or deadly levels of heavy metals and pesticides, Krysko said.
There were at least
four formerly large populations of kingsnakes statewide, including
at Paynes Prairie in Alachua County. King said it was easy to find
kingsnakes on the prairie in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
“Now, they’re gone,”
he said. “They don’t exist on the prairie as far as we know.”
Only one kingsnake
population, south of Lake Okeechobee in the sugar cane plantations,
remains healthy, Krysko said. Kingsnakes flourish in this area because
the sugar cane fields and irrigation canals support large populations
of snakes and other rodents, he said. Ironically, the planned Everglades
restoration threatens this population because it will replace some
sugar cane farms, he said.
“We’ve created this
great habitat there for this species that has declined everywhere
else,” he said.
Krysko and King
said the study’s findings indicate that the kingsnake should be protected
by the state of Florida. Florida currently has two snakes on its “threatened”
list: the Atlantic salt marsh snake and eastern indigo snake.