Academics and research in the news

Study: Sperm cells’ age may play role in reproductive success

By Lily Bohlke  A new study found an association between what researchers are calling the biological age of sperm and reproductive success. While age is a major factor for women thinking of becoming pregnant, it is not often considered in male reproductive health, because men continually produce sperm throughout their lives. Dr. Rick Pilsner, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Wayne State University School of Medicine who led the study, said chronological aging – or the normal passage of time – does not always capture the aging process of the sperm. “Chronological age does not take into account the intrinsic [makeup of] your genes and how they function,” Pilsner explained. “As well as external factors such as environmental exposures, smoking, diet.” Pilsner reported initial findings showed a new measure, referred to as a “sperm epigenetic clock,” could be a way to predict biological fitness of a person’s sperm, and thus could be useful in predicting reproductive success. 
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Fighting flooding: Detroit community leaders and academic experts meet to tackle future issues

By Sabine Bickford Last June, many residents of Detroit faced massive structural, economic, and health issues when flooding caused by heavy rainfall overwhelmed many of the city’s aging and unrepaired storm and wastewater systems – particularly in East Side neighborhoods such as Jefferson Chalmers. Researchers say that a combination of inadequate local infrastructure and global climate change meant that neither the storm nor the damage should have come as too much of a surprise. “There have been several news articles out there saying ‘Well, we’re having 500-year events every year,’” says Wayne State University civil and environmental engineering department chair William Shuster. “But really it’s off the scale, and there’s no way to really characterize these rainfall events.” May resident have been facing similar struggles for years. A collaborative study by WSU, the University of Michigan, Eastside Community Network, and several other local organizations found that over 40% of Detroit households surveyed between 2012 and 2020 reported household flooding. “This is something that everybody’s been struggling with around the country, around the world,” said Shuster. “If you’ve got a city, you’re struggling with stormwater or wastewater.” In April, Shuster joined several other researchers for a roundtable discussion at the Wayne State campus on Detroit’s recent flooding and infrastructure issues. The conversation was a part of the University Research Corridor’s Hidden Health Threats tour that brought together researchers, policymakers, and other community leaders to discuss some of the most pressing environmental issues facing Michigan communities.

When progesterone works and when it does not

The most effective intervention to preterm birth is the administration of a natural hormone, progesterone, in patients at risk for premature delivery. Two categories of patients have been eligible for this treatment: those with a short cervix and those with a previous preterm birth. But research published this week by researchers of the Perinatology Research Branch at the Wayne State University School of Medicine indicates that progesterone is not effective in reducing the rate of preterm birth in women with a history of such birth. “We have advocated that vaginal progesterone reduces the rate of preterm birth in women with a short cervix. This evidence is solid and derived from multiple studies including randomized clinical trials, meta-analyses and implementation research,” said Roberto Romero, M.D., DMedSci, chief of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Perinatology Research Branch and professor of molecular obstetrics and genetics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. “Some people believe that vaginal progesterone is effective not only in women with a short cervix but also in patients with a prior history of preterm birth. We have completed a systematic review and meta-analysis that shows that this is not the case.” 
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(Opinion) Are we taking gen ed for granted?

By Jennifer Hart Jennifer Hart, associate professor of history at Wayne State University and chair of the university’s general education oversight committee and a planning and implementation fellow for gen ed assessment, wrote an opinion piece about the steps colleges can take to create more intentional, intelligible general education programs in light of recent survey results that show disconnects and how institutions can invest in general education. “At a base level, it would require viewing gen ed less as a series of requirements (the language used in the survey) and more as a coherent program with dedicated personnel drawn, in part at least, from the faculty and committed to program improvement. An intentional program requires, at minimum, curriculum management, assessment and policy development. A general education program that cuts across multiple departments and engages all undergraduate students is highly complex and requires unique and often much more intensive forms of communication and coordination than a traditional academic department or program,” she writes. Hart says that thinking about different program elements carefully and investing in personnel and support creates opportunities to further engage faculty and highlight the intentionality of a program. Hart writes that the survey results also raise questions about marketing in the event that that students don’t necessarily understand the value of gen ed. “At Wayne State University, we’ve worked with key campus offices to craft materials and share messages about gen ed before and during orientation and crated a new website called “Engaged Gen Ed” with expanding resources to support students, advisers and instructors. These efforts set a foundation and provide support for ongoing conversations students have with their advisers as they advance through their first year and beyond. Early, ongoing and consistent messaging is critical,” said Hart. She also references WSU’s annual award recognizing instructors for their contributions to the general education program as a way of creating a culture of recognition and appreciation, the celebration of student learning outcomes, and ongoing assessment and improvement efforts to support this vital teaching work.
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New measure of sperm age may be predictor of pregnancy success

A novel technique to measure the age of male sperm has the potential to predict the success and time it takes to become pregnant, according to a newly published study by researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. “Sperm epigenetic clock associates with pregnancy outcomes in the general population,” published in the journal Human Reproduction, found that sperm epigenetic aging clocks may act as a novel biomarker to predict couples’ time to pregnancy. The findings also underscore the importance of the male partner in reproductive success. “Chronological age is a significant determinant of reproductive capacity and success among couples attempting pregnancy, but chronological age does not encapsulate the cumulative genetic and external – environmental conditions – factors, and thus it serves as a proxy measure of the ‘true’ biological age of cells,” said J. Richard Pilsner, Ph.D., lead author of the study. Dr. Pilsner is the Robert J. Sokol, M.D., Endowed Chair of Molecular Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of Molecular Genetics and Infertility at WSU’s C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development. “Semen quality outcomes utilizing World Health Organization guidelines have been used to assess male infertility for decades, but they remain poor predictors of reproductive outcomes. Thus, the ability to capture the biological age of sperm may provide a novel platform to better assess the male contribution to reproductive success, especially among infertile couples.”

New sources sought for rare earth elements to stop reliance on China

By Lily Bohlke  Michigan researchers have received a $3.1 million grant to study potential new sources of rare earth metals and how to process them. Rare earth metals are a set of 17 elements found in the earth’s crust, and are a key component of many high-tech processes from military technology to electronic devices, batteries for electric cars and magnets in wind turbines. The U.S. relies on China for 80% of our rare earth metals, and the prices have spiked over the last year. The lead researchers for the project are Matthew Allen, chair and professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Timothy Dittrich, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at Wayne State University. “After we recover the rare earth elements, instead of just putting them in a hazardous-waste landfill, we’re also looking at ways to use those for building materials and other uses so that we don’t have these other problems that we’re creating as we’re recovering rare earth elements,” said Dittrich. 
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Crain's Saturday Extra: Health care needs help, how to spend $6B and some Lewis College of Business backstory

Health care disparities in Black, Brown and impoverished populations are well documented, but the outcomes have never been as obvious as during the pandemic. For instance, in 2020, Black people were 2.1 times more likely than white people to die from COVID-19 in the U.S. In Michigan last year, roughly 30 out of every 1,000 Black people living in Michigan could expect to die from COVID-19, according to data published by Brookings Institution last March. To improve access to health care, the system must go mobile, said Dr. Philip Levy, professor of emergency medicine at Wayne State University and chief innovation officer for Wayne Health. Levy's practice is attempting to reinvent the model by putting primary preventive care on wheels and meeting patients where they live in an attempt to overcome systemic problems by treating chronic conditions like high blood pressure. The pandemic has also led to the most critical staffing crisis the industry has ever faced. Nationally, roughly 30 percent of nurses have either quit or been terminated during the pandemic. 
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Diet changes and a 10-hour daily eating window can bring health benefits

Avoiding fast foods, soda pop and processed foods can help prevent a condition called metabolic syndrome, or MetS for short. Diet changes often are far more powerful for preventing disease than the treatments we get when problems such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes are fully developed. The old saying is true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A syndrome means we diagnose a condition by a constellation of findings without a single definitive test. These are factors for MetS: Abdominal obesity Low HDL cholesterol High triglycerides Elevated fasting blood levels of glucose Elevated blood pressures This syndrome is present in an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population. and probably more than that among Detroiters. Those with MetS have a fivefold increase in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2) and twice the risk for heart disease over five to ten years. While there are obese individuals who don't show MetS, the diagnosis has become more common with a rise in the percentage of people worldwide who are overweight or obese.
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Therapy dogs help students cope with the stress of college life

Christine Kivlen, assistant professor (clinical) of occupational therapy in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, wrote an article for The Conversation detailing the benefits of therapy dog programs for college students. As the demand for mental health counseling continues to increase, more colleges are using therapy animals as a way to improve student mental health. Such programs, more formally known as canine-assisted interventions – can improve student well-being while helping students achieve a stronger sense of belonging, cope with being homesick and lonely, and lessening their anxiety and stress. College students who spent even just ten minutes petting a dog or cat saw significantly decreased cortisol levels, which are known to indicate stress.
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COVID-19 infection increases risk for preeclampsia reported by WSU and PBR investigators

A newly published study found that women who contract COVID-19 during pregnancy are at significantly higher risk of developing preeclampsia, the leading cause of maternal and infant death worldwide. The research, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, shows that women with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy had 62% higher odds of developing preeclampsia than those without the infection during pregnancy. The research was led by Roberto Romero, M.D., DMedSci, chief of the Perinatology Research Branch and professor of molecular obstetrics and genetics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, and Agustin Conde-Agudelo, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., adjunct professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “This association was remarkably consistent across all predefined subgroups. Moreover, SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy was associated with a significant increase in the odds of preeclampsia with severe features, eclampsia and HELLP syndrome,” said Dr. Romero.

Sleep debt hampers brain function up to a week later, study finds

We’ve all been there: whether it's pulling a late-night study session, nursing a newborn baby at 4 a.m., or working long hours to meet a deadline, a lot can come between you and your pillow. You may chalk up sleep debt as an inescapable part of life. But a growing body of sleep-medicine research is shedding light on just how much damage too little sleep can cause. New research suggests that recovery from sleep deprivation (many days of it, in particular) may not be so easy. The effects of sleep deprivation on the brain’s attention and cognitive processing abilities may linger as long as a week after we’ve returned to a regular sleep routine, warns a new study, published September 1 in the journal PLoS One. Ultimately, you should think twice before you pull another all-nighter. While you may feel refreshed after a subsequent good night’s rest, your body may still feel the effects of your late nights, says James Rowley, MD, a professor of critical care and sleep medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit. This research is more evidence that you can’t quickly make up for lost sleep if you’re chronically sleep deprived, he says. “In the long run, it’s better to avoid the sleep debt in the first place and try to get seven hours of sleep consistently seven nights per week.” 
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Wayne State University granted $7M for cannabis research for veterans

By Jake Bekemeyer  The State of Michigan has awarded Wayne State University in Detroit a $7 million grant to investigate the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis to improve military veteran patients’ quality of life and reduce post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive symptoms that can precede suicide. The grant was awarded as part of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ Marijuana Regulatory Agency’s 2021 Veteran Marijuana Research Grant Program. Leslie Lundahl, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the WSU School of Medicine, is the lead principal investigator on the five-year project — Wayne State Warriors Marijuana Clinical Research Program: Investigating the Impact of Cannabinoids on Veteran’s Behavioral Health. 
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Scientists use mathematical concepts to analyze fMRI data

Research led by a Wayne State University Department of Mathematics professor is aiding researchers in Wayne State’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences in analyzing fMRI data. fMRI is the preeminent class of signals collected from the brain in vivo and is irreplaceable in the study of brain dysfunction in many medical fields, including psychiatry, neurology and pediatrics. Andrew Salch, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics in Wayne State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is leading the multidisciplinary team that is investigating how concepts of topological data analysis, a subfield of mathematics, can be applied to recovering “hidden” structure in fMRI data. “We hypothesized that aspects of the fMRI signal are not easily discoverable using many of the standard tools used for fMRI data analysis, which strategically reduce the number of dimensions in the data to be considered. Consequently, these aspects might be uncovered using concepts from the mathematical field of topological data analysis, also called TDA, which is intended for use on high-dimensional data sets,” said Salch.
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The war in Afghanistan: Michigan experts weigh in on what could’ve been done differently

On Monday, President Joe Biden addressed the American people after the United States began evacuating Afghanistan. The Taliban now controls the country and Kabul, its capital city, for the first time since the U.S. invaded the country almost 20 years ago. Saeed Khan is a senior lecturer of Near East and Asian Studies at Wayne State University. Khan says American involvement in the region has a history of nation-building, and many Americans do not realize that the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan predates 9/11. “American involvement, to be accurate, is not just the last 20 years in Afghanistan. It actually goes back to 1979 in our efforts to fight a proxy war against the Soviet invasion there.” He thinks that the U.S. insisting the Taliban not be a part of the new government in any way was a mistake. “So here we find them without bringing the Taliban to the table earlier, understanding that they were not only going to have a seat at the table but that they were going to be dictating perhaps what was going to be on the menu, what needed to occur.”
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The science and art of managing automotive suppliers: Lessons from the global chip shortage

The Global Chip Shortage rages onward and, as of July, has resulted in more than one million unmanufactured vehicles in the U.S. alone and could reportedly extend into 2023. The major question of how such a massive mismatch between supply and demand could exist has multiple answers with several, unrelated root causes (e.g. pandemic affects on usage patterns, an impactful fire at a major Japanese plant caused by an electrical overload), however one of the most frequently suggested reasons was a mismanagement of the supply chain. “When the drop in automotive sales at the beginning of the pandemic happened, automotive companies just halted their orders. There was an implicit tradeoff there: saving cashflow and avoiding potential obsolescence,” said Timothy Butler, professor of global supply chain management, Wayne State University. As Butler points out, another key example of tradeoffs is single sourcing versus competitive sourcing. “If you single source and the supplier goes on strike or has such a catastrophe, you have a single point of failure,” cautions Butler. “Additionally, if that desirable supplier is also single-sourced to your competitor, you might have risks in sharing Intellectual Property.” So what have we collectively learned, if anything? “We all have to admit that hindsight is 20/20,” states Butler, “but these types of problems happen over and over again. Each is viewed as a one-off, but it’s the same thinking that undermines the successful endings.”
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Wayne State executive master's program attracts auto supply chain managers

A growing executive master's degree program at Wayne State University offers students a flexible opportunity to build skills specific to the automotive and complex manufacturing fields. John Taylor, chairman of the university's Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management in the Ilitch School of Business, and Lori Sisk, a lecturer and career coach in the school, talk about the program, which is also designed as a pipeline of talent for Detroit-area supply chain businesses. 
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The aching red: Firefighters often silently suffer from trauma and job-related stress

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry, wrote a piece for The Conversation. “Images of tragedy, loss of entire communities and the terrible destruction wrought by deadly wildfires in the West have sadly become all too common. But the public hears relatively little about the suffering of the firefighters who risk their lives and are away from their families for days and weeks at a time…While the choice to become a firefighter often stems from a passion for, and a mindset of, helping others and saving lives, being constantly exposed to death, injury and suffering comes with a cost. Cumulative stressors include the physical toll on the body, long working hours, work-related sleep disturbance and an inability to attend to daily family life. I am a psychiatrist and trauma expert who often works with first responders as well as refugees and victims of war crimes. While many people think of firefighters as the happy heroes, the real-life, day-to-day experiences of these heroes can have real consequences for their mental health that remain largely invisible to the public eye.”

NIH award to tackle early infant morbidity due to increasing incidences of food allergies

A Wayne State University School of Medicine researcher has been awarded a $1.93 million, five-year grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to study the impact of maternal immunoglobulin D (IgD) transferred to the fetus during pregnancy and its impact on protecting against food allergies. Kang Chen, Ph.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology will use the grant, “Mechanism and function of transplacental IgD,” to tackle early infant morbidity due to increasing incidences of food allergies. “This project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will allow our research team to elucidate the mechanisms of the placental transfer of IgD and determine if maternal IgD promotes neonatal immune protection against food allergy,” said Chen. “Our studies have shown that maternal IgD specific to vaccines or food acts as a specific and prophylactic fetal immune education cue to protect neonates against food allergy. Our research will have a major impact on our understanding of the origin of allergies in newborns and children.” Chen’s  study is expected to reveal the unique functions of maternal IgD — an ancient yet still mysterious antibody — in neonatal immune function that maternal Immunoglobulin G (IgG) does not have, and aims to have a profound impact on improving neonatal health by directing the design of IgD-targeting maternal vaccines or adoptive immunotherapies.
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Orwell’s ideas remain relevant 75 years after ‘Animal Farm’ was published

Mark Satta, assistant professor of philosophy, wrote an article for The Conversation. “Seventy-five years ago, in August 1946, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was published in the United States. It was a huge success, with over a half-million copies sold in its first year. “Animal Farm” was followed three years later by an even bigger success: Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” In the years since, Orwell’s writing has left an indelible mark on American thought and culture. Sales of “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” jumped in 2013 after the whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked confidential National Security Agency documents. And “Nineteen Eighty-Four” rose to the top of Amazon’s best-sellers list after Donald Trump’s Presidential Inauguration in 2017. As a philosophy professor, I’m interested in the continuing relevance of Orwell’s ideas, including those on totalitarianism and socialism.”
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"Just keep that person alive": Michigan's harm reduction strategies prevent opioid overdoses

While the COVID-19 crisis has held Michigan's attention for the past year and a half, a different deadly epidemic is taking an increasing number of Michiganders' lives. From 2000 to 2018, opioid overdose deaths have grown tenfold in Michigan. And according to Amy Dolinky, senior advisor of Michigan opioids strategy with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), those numbers grew by another 14% in the past year. The state has a seven-pillar strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, one of which is sometimes controversial, yet also quickly gaining recognition and acceptance for its effectiveness: harm reduction. Harm reduction involves expanding access to naloxone and sterile syringes, aiming to minimize harmful effects for those who are using opioids. With funding from MDHHS. Wayne State University professor Brad Ray has spearheaded efforts to put naloxone vending machines into Michigan's county jails and other accessible sites. "The struggle is: How do you get to the people who are going to use naloxone? Jails seemed like a really good opportunity to do that," Ray says. Ray notes that vending machines have been highly effective elsewhere in the country. Los Angeles County has distributed over 34,000 naloxone doses since it began installing vending machines in jails in 2020. So far in Michigan, jails in Monroe, Jackson, Delta, and Kalamazoo counties have the vending machines. Individuals being released can grab a naloxone kit for free, complete with instructions, on their way out. Ray has ordered 10 more of the customized vending machines. Sites in Kent, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Alpena counties are each slated to receive one. "Just keep that person alive," Ray says. "They can't get clean or in recovery if they're dead. Sometimes it takes time."