Academics and research in the news

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Wisconsin Supreme Court weighs balance of power in key environmental cases

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in two environmental protection cases with widespread ramifications for state government powers. The court has been asked to resolve disputes over the state’s authority to protect public waters from pollution and overuse, but the decision could influence nearly every aspect of state government and the balance of power between politicians who make laws and the state agencies tasked with carrying them out. One case involves regulation of water pollution; the other, large-scale withdrawals of water for irrigation. In both cases, environmental groups sued the DNR seeking stricter enforcement. On one side are conservation groups, which argue the Department of Natural Resources has the authority to protect public waters and enforce clean water standards. Industry groups and Republican lawmakers argue that power belongs to the Legislature. Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, a professor of political science at Wayne State University and co-author of a study on state legislative oversight, said the process works best when it’s done in a bipartisan manner, as it is in 13 states. “The cover story I guess is accountability … but really it’s interest group pressure,” she said. “Unless you figure out some way to get the party politics and interest group money and all the pressure out of it it’s just one more way to have political games of gotcha.”
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Particle mystery deepens, as physicists confirm that the muon is more magnetic than predicted

A potential chink in physicists’ understanding of fundamental particles and forces now looks more real. New measurements confirm a fleeting subatomic particle called the muon may be ever so slightly more magnetic than theory predicts, a team of more than 200 physicists reported this week. That small anomaly—just 2.5 parts in 1 billion—is a welcome threat to particle physicists’ prevailing theory, the standard model, which has long explained pretty much everything they’ve seen at atom smashers and left them pining for something new to puzzle over. “Since the 1970s we’ve been looking for a crack in the standard model,” says Alexey Petrov, a theorist at Wayne State University. “This may be it.” 
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Mass shootings leave emotional and mental scars on survivors, first responders and millions of others

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry, wrote a piece for The Conversation. “The deadly shootings of eight people in Atlanta on March 16 and 10 people in Boulder, Colorado, on March 22 brought heartache and grief to the families and friends of the victims. These events also take a toll on others, including those who witnessed the shooting, first responders, people who were nearby – and even those who heard about the shooting in the media. I am a trauma and anxiety researcher and clinician, and I know that the effects of such violence reach millions. While the immediate survivors are most affected, the rest of society suffers, too.”
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For thousands of Michigan students, the barriers to getting to school are steep

Of the 50,000 students who attend Detroit Public Schools, more than 29,000 counted as chronically absent — missing 10% or more days in a school year — in the 2019-2020 school year. Statewide, nearly 300,000 students counted as chronically absent that year, according to state data. A new report from Wayne State University's College of Education finds the reasons for chronic absences for Detroit students are complicated. The report illustrates the lengths parents often have to go to get their child to school, in the face of unreliable transportation options and precarious financial circumstances. "We have the highest chronic absence in the country of any large city by a lot," Sarah Lenhoff, a Wayne State researcher and professor, said. The findings from the study mirror what other education leaders around the state have anecdotally noticed about chronically absent students. A lack of transportation plays a role in student absences, Lenhoff said, but just blaming absences on transportation leaves out more nuanced factors. Systemic problems like unemployment, financial insecurity and crime all contribute to a school district's chronic absenteeism rate. In interviews with families for the Wayne State report, researchers found those systemic, societal issues collided with a family's circumstances.  "It was rarely as simple as, 'I just have no way of getting my child physically to school,' " she said. "Most families are not going to enroll in a school that they physically can never get to."  
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Can cities plan for equity? These southeast Michigan communities are leading the way

Municipal master plans set the tone for how communities handle many important issues like land use, transportation, housing, and recreation. But some municipal planners are just beginning to figure out how to use the city master plan work to set meaningful goals for advancing social equity in their communities. That's according to "Are We Planning for Equity?" a study published in November in the Journal of the American Planning Association by Wayne State University researchers Carolyn Loh and Rose Kim. Loh and Kim developed a plan equity evaluation tool and used it to analyze 48 comprehensive plans from communities across Michigan, measuring the degree to which they incorporated practices and recommendations to advance equity. Loh says a master plan can incorporate equity into its goals in many different ways. Housing goals can stipulate a wide range of housing sizes, price points, and types that appeal to people of diverse income levels. Transportation goals can emphasize the importance of public transit, particularly adjacent to new housing developments, for those who can't afford a car. Plans can establish goals for climate resiliency, taking steps to ensure that marginalized residents aren't disproportionately exposed to flooding or heat vulnerability. Economic development goals can seek to ensure that development benefits lower-income neighborhoods instead of just favoring high-rent downtowns. "Are you recommending accessible housing for a variety of folks, that's in a safe place, that's connected to a transportation system that's going to let them access the things they need?" Loh says. "If you had it in one sentence ... that's what you're looking for."  
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The exercise pill: How exercise keeps your brain healthy and protects it against depression and anxiety

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry, wrote an article for The Conversation about the benefits of exercise on the brain. “As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active. Over the years, as I picked up boxing and became more active, I got firsthand experience of positive impacts on my mind. I also started researching the effects of dance and movement therapies on trauma and anxiety in refugee children, and I learned a lot more about the neurobiology of exercise. I am a psychiatrist and neuroscientist researching the neurobiology of anxiety and how our interventions change the brain. I have begun to think of prescribing exercise as telling patients to take their “exercise pills.” Now knowing the importance of exercising, almost all my patients commit to some level of exercise, and I have seen how it benefits several areas of their life and livelihood.
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Want to fix the chronic absenteeism problem in Detroit schools? Start with transportation.

Transportation struggles aren’t the only reason chronic absenteeism is so pervasive in Detroit schools, but it is the most common reason so many students aren’t showing up for class on a regular basis, Wayne State University researchers say in a new report. About 50% of students in district and charter schools in Detroit are considered chronically absent, meaning they miss about 10% or more of the school year. The Wayne State researchers, who are part of the Detroit Education Research Partnership, warn that the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, and that seems to be validated by increased chronic absenteeism so far in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The researchers predict chronic absenteeism will get worse in the fall unless school and community leaders come up with new solutions for school transportation. As part of the study, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with Detroit parents, high school students, and school staff during the 2019-20 school year. They also analyzed attendance trends in the city.
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'Many jails still do not do any testing.'

Wayne County Chief Judge Timothy Kenny has been working to stop the spread of COVID-19. Through bond reductions and early releases, he's helped to send home over 400 inmates since last March. Close quarters, limited PPE, a high population due to mandatory sentencing guidelines and old buildings with poor ventilation have conspired to make correction facilities hotbeds for COVID-19. Michigan's prison system — the Michigan Department of Corrections — has gotten the most attention around this. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 135 inmates within the MDOC have died from COVID-19. One in two of the department's inmates have tested positive since March. But jails are battling many of the same issues. In addition to Judge Kenny — and others within the Third Circuit Court — pushing to release inmates, the jail has also ramped up its testing protocol, per Sheryl Kubiak, dean of Wayne State University's School of Social Work. Kubiak has worked with Chief of Jails Robert Dunlap to create a testing and contract tracing plan. "When COVID hit and we knew that the jail was in such trouble — we made a call and said what can we do to help," said Kubiak, who explained that at the time, they were just learning that people could have no symptoms and still transmit COVID-19. Working with Wayne State University's Medical School, they did a series of mass testing to find out what the prevalence rate was, decide who to isolate and make future plans.
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Researchers receive $1,894,271 grant to address new drug targets for diastolic dysfunction

After the left ventricle of the heart contracts, it must relax efficiently to prepare to refill and supply the body with blood on the next beat.  An increasing number of patients — including nearly all patients with heart failure — suffer from impaired relaxation, which is part of a clinical syndrome known as diastolic dysfunction. Currently, treatments for impaired relaxation do not exist. A team of Wayne State University School of Medicine researchers led by Charles Chung, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology, recently received a $1,894,271 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to address the critical need for new drug targets and diagnostic indexes for diastolic dysfunction using novel biomechanical tests that ultimately can be translated into clinical practice. According to Chung, the project was inspired by his research team’s finding that how quickly the heart’s muscle moves is directly related to how fast the muscle can relax. The project will use unique experiments and imaging techniques to link mechanical properties of the heart with models of heart failure that occur in patients. “My lab’s main research focus is to understand how the heart muscle moves at the end of contraction and how this motion can speed up the force decline, or relaxation, of the muscle,” said Chung. “Major proteins in muscles called myosin, actin and titin control the force of each beat. When the heart muscle contracts, myosin binds to actin to generate force. Our lab is trying to determine if motion — and how fast the motion occurs — makes myosin let go of actin faster and make the muscle relax faster.” 
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Spotlight on the News: U/M & WSU legal experts Richard Primus and Jonathan Weinberg preview Trump impeachment trial

Spotlight on the News interviewed two Michigan legal experts about the second Donald J. Trump presidential impeachment trial. Guests included Professor Richard Primus of the University of Michigan Law School and Professor Jonathan Weinberg of Wayne State University Law School. Primus and Weinberg looked at the important constitutional issues and politics facing the U.S. Senate jurors who will judge this historic trial.
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Wayne State research team developing AI model to aid in early detection of SARS-CoV2 in children

Children have been less impacted by COVID-19 caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SAR-CoV-2) than adults. But some children diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 have experienced severe illnesses, including Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) and respiratory failure; nearly 80% of children with MIS-C become critically ill with a 2 to 4% mortality rate. Currently, there are no methods to discern the spectrum of the disease’s severity and predict which children with SARS-CoV-2 exposure will develop severe illness, including MIS-C. Because of this, there is an urgent need to develop a diagnostic modality to distinguish the varying phenotypes of disease and risk stratify disease. To prevent children from becoming critically ill from SARS-CoV-2, a team of Wayne State University researchers led by Dongxiao Zhu, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, are developing an artificial intelligence (AI) model to aid in the early detection of severe SARS-CoV2 illness in children.
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New podcast “Seizing Freedom” brings Black Americans’ Civil War stories to life

In recent months, the issue of social justice and its connection to systemic racism and oppression have led to significant shifts in our collective thinking about the ways white supremacy persists in so many aspects of American life. These important conversations have been long in the making. In addition to having frank discussions about biased policies and uprooting unconscious racism, this moment is also bringing to light the importance of narrative equity and having the kind of balance in storytelling that make audiences feel more connected to the media they consume. One new offering that is tied to this shifting media paradigm is the new podcast, “Seizing Freedom.” It takes listeners back to the lessons about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and into the work that Black Americans did to battle for and secure their own freedom. Kidada Williams is a Wayne State University professor, author and historian who studies what happened to African American survivors of racist violence. She’s also the host of the new podcast, “Seizing Freedom.” Williams says children are often not told about the role of African Americans in securing their own freedom. “If it’s not erased altogether, it’s distorted,” says Williams. “Coming up through school, we didn’t learn about Black people during the Civil War, we didn’t learn about Black people during Reconstruction,” she continues. “What was made clear to me when I raised questions was this was a White man’s war and a White man’s history of it.” She also shines light on the fact that the struggle for freedom didn’t come easy. ”Freedom isn’t something that’s given to African Americans. They had to seize it during the Civil War. And once they gained legal freedom, they had to work to make it real.”
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Researchers assess impact of family migration on infant well-being

While the number of immigrants from Arab countries to the United States has steadily increased over the past several years, family and child health research on this population remains scarce. To address this disparity, Dalia Khalil, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor in Wayne State University's College of Nursing, was recently awarded a two-year, $161,451 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. Khalil and her team will expand on her previous research on immigrant Arab American parents and families.
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Wayne State researchers use AI to bring micro-transit to hourly workers

Researchers at Wayne State University are working to bring micro-transit solutions to those who live in affordable housing so they can get to their jobs. The National Science Foundation is helping to fund the project. Micro-transit, which exists between traditional transit options such as buses and ride-hailing technology, is designed to complement public transportation. Detroit and other cities have begun to adopt the concept, the researchers say, as a means of increasing coverage and reaching more people, particularly in low-density or low-income areas. However, there is a shortcoming — the service often isn’t available on paths between areas of affordable housing and employment opportunities. “With the rise of artificial intelligence and increasingly available smart mobility data, the vision of this research project is to create a dynamic routing-prediction system based on learning the hourly mobility patterns between jobs and housing,” says Dongxiao Zhu, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Wayne State, and the project’s principal investigator. The researchers will design an artificial intelligence-assisted micro-transit system that transportation officials can deploy to better adapt to place and time variations in the mobility patterns of hourly workers. Geocoded socioeconomic data can be used to identify and reduce mobility disparities. “The research innovation is expected to provide immediate, low-cost, effective public transit solutions that benefit vulnerable communities in Detroit by significantly reducing transit risk, commute time and distance, and trip cost,” says Zhu.
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COVID Update: New variants complicate future of pandemic in Michigan

Wayne State University’s Dr. Paul Kilgore discusses the latest developments around COVID-19 and what Michiganders can do to remain vigilant in slowing the spread of the virus. Many people are hopeful that the COVID vaccine is a light at the end of a nearly year-long tunnel that has taken Americans very far away from what life was like pre-pandemic. But now, as Michigan and other states are struggling to get the vaccine distributed, there’s an even bigger obstacle: The emergence of several new variants of the coronavirus. “The virus is actually changing its genetic code. It’s changing over time. All viruses do that, and we expected it from the beginning,” says Kilgore, associate professor and director of research at Wayne State University Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He’s also the principal investigator at Henry Ford Health System’s testing of Moderna’s vaccine trial. As far as the severity of COVID-19 symptoms in the new variants, Kilgore says there is some research indicating that these mutations could create more complicated cases of the virus. In looking ahead to how these new variants could impact the future of life in Michigan and throughout the country, Kilgore says, “I think there’s a chance this gets worse before it gets better in the next several weeks.”
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Metro Detroiters react to Whitmer's State of the State address focusing on COVID-19, roads

It was a State of the State unlike any other, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking to Michiganders virtually from her Capitol office on Wednesday night. As expected, the governor focused heavily on the pandemic, vaccinations, the state's economy and schools. Despite the year it's been, the governor had a sense of optimism about the road ahead and that's something people noticed, including a political science professor at Wayne State University. Professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson was encouraged overall by the governor's address. She says bipartisanship will be key to the administration reaching its goals in 2021. Whitmer also addressed education. She's previously said she'd like to see students return to the classroom by March 1. “I think it’s going to be important just to get the younger kids back at least in smaller groups," Thompson said. “I’m a little bit concerned about how fast we’re going to be able to get the teachers vaccinated.”
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Wayne State secures more than $5 million in NIH funding for cerebral palsy research

The National Institutes of Health is supporting a Wayne State University School of Medicine physician-researcher’s work at preventing and treating cerebral palsy in the form of two new five-year R01 grants worth a collective $5.59 million. The principal investigator on both projects is Sidhartha Tan, M.D., professor and co-division chief of Neonatology in the Department of Pediatrics. Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood, caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control his or her muscles. Tan obtained his first R01 last May for “Potent Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase Inhibition for Prevention of Cerebral Palsy,” which will provide $2,393,590 over the half-decade award period to test new, promising drugs aimed at a preventive cure for the condition. “These are new drugs aimed at brain condition called neuronal nitric oxide synthase. New information about how these drugs act, how they affect brain cells and how effective they are in an animal model of cerebral palsy will be very valuable for future translation to clinical use in humans throughout the world,” Tan said. His second, a multiple principal investigator award launched Dec. 15, is “Probing Role of Tetrahydrobiopterin in Cerebral Palsy by Using Transgenic Rabbits.” The grant will provide $3,197,644 in funding over five years to explore whether an essential enzyme co-factor is involved in brain injury before birth. The cellular and genetic basis of brain regional injury will be investigated using an animal model in which genes have been altered by genetic engineering methods, as well as advanced methods of magnetic resonance imaging.
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Sensor shows promise for continuous heart and lung health tracking

A small, liquid-filled sensor can continuously and accurately measure heart and lung sounds, detecting cardiac problems or shortness of breath at an early stage, something which could warn heart failure patients of health deterioration and also help pick up early signs of infections such as Covid-19. Many of us own smart watches or fitness trackers, a large number of which now include heart rate monitors. However, while their accuracy has improved, they offer fairly limited information about heart health. They mostly measure heart rate by shining a green light through the skin, a method called photoplethysmography, which controversially works much better on lighter rather than darker skin. Heart sounds, such as those heard by a stethoscope, can give a more accurate picture of heart health as they can pick up inconsistencies of rhythm as well as rate. But have been historically harder to track using a wearable device. To try and get round this problem, Yong Xu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Wayne State University, and his team have developed a small flexible sensor that can be worn continuously on the chest to measure heart and lung sounds. “Heart and respiration activities offer pivotal physiological and pathological information through mechano-acoustic signals. Continuous monitoring of these signals has the potential to significantly improve the diagnosis and management of many cardiovascular and respiratory diseases,” emphasizes Xu.
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Macomb County government has a new look in 2021

Prior to the November general election, three of the five Macomb County offices up for grabs were held by Democrat party members. The Macomb County Board of Commissioners was also a Democratic majority. But on Nov. 3, the positions of prosecutor and clerk/register of deeds shifted from Democrat to Republican, leaving the position of sheriff as the lone Democrat-held seat. Now, Peter Lucido is prosecutor and Anthony Forlini is clerk, while Larry Rocca, Candice Miller and Anthony Wickersham remain in their roles of treasurer, public works commissioner and sheriff, respectively. For the BOC, a couple commissioners indicated that it is the first time in the county’s history that the board has a Republican majority. So what does that mean for the people of Macomb County? Maybe not much, according to officials and experts. Wayne State University Professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson said she looks at county government in her Michigan politics class. She has been a political science professor at the university since 1991. When it comes to county government, she said for the position of public works commissioner, she would want one with a civil engineering background, regardless of party identification. Sarbaugh-Thompson believes placing a political party next to one’s name on a voting ballot helps voters decide. “On a ballot as long as Michigan’s, how do you figure out who you want for different positions, when you’ve never heard of these people?” Sarbaugh-Thompson said. “Many voters pick things based on party cues. It at least gives you a ballpark feel at the angle a particular candidate would come at an issue.”
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From 1963 to 2021, Detroit’s struggle for civil rights spans decades and generations

Melba Boyd is a lifelong Detroit resident and distinguished professor of African American Studies at Wayne State University. Boyd has seen Detroit through its many forms and leadership. She had just graduated high school and was preparing to go to school at Western Michigan University when the Detroit 1967 Rebellion broke out. “The ‘67 rebellion was a critical moment in Detroit history and certainly in my own memory as a Detroiter. The incident was sparked as a consequence of an encounter with the police and these encounters were very frequent, unfortunately, and were almost always directed at people of color,” Boyd said. Almost a year after the ‘67 Rebellion, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As a young academic, this event directed her course of study and her interest in activism. “I’ll always remember that, because two days before [King] was killed, I turned 18, and in terms of my adult life, it really set forth you know what I was going to be about and eventually activism and academia have been my purpose,” Boyd said.