Academics and research in the news

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."
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In China, women fill gap in heavy-labor industries

A labor shortage caused by low birthrates and an aging population is pushing employers to recruit more women to build high-rises, maintain rail tracks and drive trucks, among other roles. These women—one-third of China’s 286 million rural workers outside the farm sector—mark a demographic shift in the country. Women are filling the labor shortage, albeit for far lower wages than their male counterparts, while finding jobs closer to home to care for elderly parents who once looked after their children while they worked far away. Women are also gaining work flexibility and financial freedom. Sarah Swider, a sociologist at Wayne State University who researched construction sites for over a decade, said few women worked in construction when she first visited China in the early 2000s. A building boom then drove up labor costs and made workers harder to find, opening the door to women. “As the economy continued to grow, they couldn’t get young men. They couldn’t get old men, they couldn’t get anyone,” Swider said. “Younger men found other jobs that were less difficult. That’s when they started hiring women.” Women’s presence on construction sites has grown so much that employers have set up new separate living spaces and bathrooms for them, Swider said. Some pretend to be married to a male worker to avoid sexual harassment, she said. But the women perform double duty: Apart from the normal labor jobs, such as moving bricks and making cement, women do laundry and cook for the male workers. And they are generally paid on average about half as much as their male counterparts, Swider said. “I never met a woman who’s paid the same,” she said.
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House committee investigating Capitol insurrection has a lot of power, but it’s unclear it can force Trump to testify

Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science, Kirsten Carlson, wrote an article for The Conversation. “In the intensely partisan atmosphere surrounding the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, will the committee be able to get the information it needs? The American people, said Republican House member Liz Cheney, “deserve the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation for Jan. 6.” In opening statements link takes to a paywall at the first hearing held on July 27 by the House select committee investigating the attack, Cheney and other committee members said that an accurate record of the events on Jan. 6 - and in the time that led up to it - is essential to understanding the factors contributing to the attack so that future attacks may be prevented. The committee has several tools for shedding light on the events of Jan. 6 and ensuring that the American people learn the truth about what happened. Transparent, research-based, written by experts – and always free.”
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Critical race theory: politics enters the classroom

According to experts, critical race theory is really an academic and legal theory first developed in the 1970s in response to the civil rights movement. According to those railing against it, it will teach young students they are racists and White supremacists, and rewrite Black History and those of “others,” including indigenous people. “The goal of critical race theory is that people existed besides the typical European narrative that we see in text books,” said Truman Hudson, Jr., EdD, instructor, College of Education, Wayne State University. “We don’t need to have separate narratives; we’re the United States, yet we’re not united. We’re teaching separateness. It’s looking through a multicultural lens. It does not look at Black, White, Arab, Jew – it lifts up everyone’s story. As long as we continue to look at education and race through a separate lens, we’ll end up with separate and unequal, which is what happened. It hurts all kids when we don’t look at race through a culturally sustaining pedagogy. We’re missing all these stories, the richness by all these people that don’t look like the people in these textbooks. The richness adds to all of our lives when we build on this space. It shouldn’t be us versus them. Our future generations need to know. It’s okay to say the country is an experiment that we’re still trying to figure out – it’s okay to make people feel uncomfortable talking about it. The amendments to the Constitution show growth. They helped establish justice, of where we want to go. Education helps us grow, and the more we learn, we can continue to grow.”
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Historic floods fuel misery, rage in Detroit

City officials have repeatedly pointed to climate change as the main culprit in last month’s flood, when Detroit was overwhelmed by as much as 8 inches of rain in less than 19 hours. Weather stations in and around Detroit set records for the most amount of rainfall within a 24-hour period during the storm, according to the National Weather Service. Thousands of basements were flooded, causing widespread damage and prompting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency. The White House has since issued a disaster declaration, freeing up federal funds. The storms offer a foreboding glimpse of Detroit’s new reality in a warming world: flooding intensified by high water levels on Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. And the floods have also churned up debate about the management of Detroit’s aging flood-control system and whether officials are taking steps to harden the system against what’s becoming a regular drumbeat of record-setting storms. Lyke Thompson, a professor of political science and director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, agreed. “The people in the city that are better off live in neighborhoods that have better infrastructure for removing the water from the neighborhood,” Thompson said. “And whites left the city in droves decades ago, so most of the city of Detroit is occupied by people of color. So, if the city has a problem, they have a problem. And the city has a problem.” Detroit’s outer suburbs, he said, are on higher ground with newer infrastructure, while lower-lying neighborhoods experience flooding and leaks on a regular basis. Those same houses, he said, are getting “whammy after whammy because we’re having repeated 100-year floods, and the residents can’t cope with it.” Thompson and other researchers have documented those trends in a study that found recurrent residential flooding in Detroit is far more prevalent than previously thought, disproportionately affects Black residents and may contribute to a greater incidence of asthma. Of the 6,000 homes in Detroit surveyed, researchers found almost 43% had experienced flooding, and neighborhoods like Jefferson Chalmers are especially vulnerable.