OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Nutrient slowed cancer cell growth in early-stage breast cancer

CORVALLIS, Ore. – One of the first clinical studies to look at the effect of sulforaphane on breast tissues of women diagnosed with breast cancer showed that this compound was well tolerated and slowed the growth of cancer cells, especially at early stages.

Sulforaphane is a compound found in broccoli and many other cruciferous vegetables, and it has long shown evidence of value in cancer prevention, researchers say.

This new research suggests it may ultimately play a role in slowing cancer growth as well – along with other proven approaches such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

The findings were published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research by scientists from Oregon State University and the Oregon Health & Science University.

“Our original goal was to determine if sulforaphane supplements would be well tolerated and might alter some of the epigenetic mechanisms involved in cancer,” said Emily Ho, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. 

“We were surprised to see a decrease in markers of cell growth, which means these compounds may help slow cancer cell growth,” said Ho, a co-author on the study. “This is very encouraging. Dietary approaches have traditionally been thought to be limited to cancer prevention, but this demonstrated it could help slow the growth of existing tumors.”

When better understood and studied, it’s possible that sulforaphane or other dietary compounds may be added to traditional approaches to cancer therapy, whether to prevent cancer, slow its progression, treat it or stop its recurrence, said Ho, who is also the endowed director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health, and a principal investigator with OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute.

This research was done with 54 women with abnormal mammograms who were scheduled for a breast biopsy and were studied in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. They received either a placebo or supplements that provided sulforaphane. The amount of sulforaphane they received would equate to about one cup of broccoli sprouts per day, if eaten as a food.

A number of studies in the past have found that women with a high intake of cruciferous vegetables – such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or kale – have a decreased risk of breast cancer. Research has also shown that sulforaphane, which is found at the highest levels in such foods, can modulate breast cancer risk at several stages of carcinogenesis and through different mechanisms.

In particular, sulforaphane appears to inhibit histone deacetylases, or HDACs, which in turn enhances the expression of tumor suppressor genes that are often silenced in cancer cells.

The intake of sulforaphane in this study did, in fact, reduce HDAC activity, as well as cancer cell growth.

Additional studies are needed to evaluate dose responses, work with larger populations, and examine the responses of other relevant molecular targets to either foods or supplements containing sulforaphane, researchers said. Some other studies have also suggested that different types of broccoli extract preparations may be more bioavailable for uses of this type.

This research was supported by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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Emily Ho, 541-737-9559

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Broccoli sprouts
Broccoli sprouts

Scientists say window to reduce carbon emissions is small

CORVALLIS, Ore. – At the rate humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth may suffer irreparable damage that could last tens of thousands of years, according to a new analysis published this week.

Too much of the climate change policy debate has focused on observations of the past 150 years and their impact on global warming and sea level rise by the end of this century, the authors say. Instead, policy-makers and the public should also be considering the longer-term impacts of climate change.

“Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years – and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years,” said Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and lead author on the article. “People need to understand that the effects of climate change on the planet won’t go away, at least not for thousands of generations.”

The researchers’ analysis is being published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland, who is past-co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I, said the focus on climate change at the end of the 21st century needs to be shifted toward a much longer-term perspective.

“Our greenhouse gas emissions today produce climate-change commitments for many centuries to millennia,” said Stocker, a climate modeler and co-author on the Nature Climate Change article. “It is high time that this essential irreversibility is placed into the focus of policy-makers.

“The long-term view sends the chilling message (about) what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era,” Stocker added. “It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.”

Sea level rise is one of the most compelling impacts of global warming, yet its effects are just starting to be seen. The latest IPCC report, for example, calls for sea level rise of just one meter by the year 2100. In their analysis, however, the authors look at four difference sea level-rise scenarios based on different rates of warming, from a low end that could only be reached with massive efforts to eliminate fossil fuel use over the next few decades, to a higher rate based on the consumption of half the remaining fossil fuels over the next few centuries.

With just two degrees (Celsius) warming in the low-end scenario, sea levels are predicted to eventually rise by about 25 meters. With seven degrees warming at the high-end scenario, the rise is estimated at 50 meters, although over a period of several centuries to millennia.

“It takes sea level rise a very long time to react – on the order of centuries,” Clark said. “It’s like heating a pot of water on the stove; it doesn’t boil for quite a while after the heat is turned on – but then it will continue to boil as long as the heat persists. Once carbon is in the atmosphere, it will stay there for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and the warming, as well as the higher seas, will remain.”

Clark said for the low-end scenario, an estimated 122 countries have at least 10 percent of their population in areas that will be directly affected by rising sea levels, and that some 1.3 billion – or 20 percent of the global population – live on lands that may be directly affected. The impacts become greater as the warming and sea level rise increases.

“We can’t keep building seawalls that are 25 meters high,” noted Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Entire populations of cities will eventually have to move.”

Daniel Schrag, the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University, said there are moral questions about “what kind of environment we are passing along to future generations.”

“Sea level rise may not seem like such a big deal today, but we are making choices that will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren – and beyond,” said Schrag, a co-author on the analysis and director of Harvard’s Center for the Environment. “We need to think carefully about the long time-scales of what we are unleashing.”

The new paper makes the fundamental point that considering the long time scales of the carbon cycle and of climate change means that reducing emissions slightly or even significantly is not sufficient. “To spare future generations from the worst impacts of climate change, the target must be zero – or even negative carbon emissions – as soon as possible,” Clark said.

“Taking the first steps is important, but it is essential to see these as the start of a path toward total decarbonization,” Schrag pointed out. “This means continuing to invest in innovation that can someday replace fossil fuels altogether. Partial reductions are not going to do the job.”

Stocker said that in the last 50 years alone, humans have changed the climate on a global scale, initiating the Anthropocene, a new geological era with fundamentally altered living conditions for the next many thousands of years.

“Because we do not know to what extent adaptation will be possible for humans and ecosystems, all our efforts must focus on a rapid and complete decarbonization –the only option to limit climate change,” Stocker said.

The researchers’ work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the German Science Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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Peter Clark, 541-737-1247, clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu;

Thomas Stocker, +41 31 631 44 62, stocker@climate.unibe.ch;

Daniel Schrag, 617-233-2554, schrag@eps.harvard.edu

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Rising sea levels will threaten residents of many countries.

Study: Fish assemblages can change rapidly along coast as water warms

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A modest warming of coastal waters can have a significant impact on juvenile fish assemblages in a period of just a few years, a newly published study has found, raising concern about the potential effects of climate change.

Such a shift is taking place on the Skagerrak coast of Norway, where more warm-water fish species have begun appearing over the past two decades while many populations of resident cold-water fish species have declined.

Results of the study have just been published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Studying the potential impact of climate change on coastal fishes has been difficult, researchers say, because few long-term records adequately address species diversity. But researchers at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research have been conducting what has to be one of the longest, most consistent surveys of near-shore waters ever undertaken – a key to understanding climate change effects.

“What we’re seeing is a clear influence of ocean temperature on the region’s juvenile fish community, which has changed in what is a very important fish nursery area,” said Caren Barceló, an Oregon State University doctoral candidate and lead author on the study. “It has implications for nursery habitats that have been around for decades.”

Barceló, who worked with Norwegian researchers on their beach seine surveys, said no new species had appeared in the waters of Skagerrak for nearly three decades beginning in the mid-1960s. Within the next 15 years, however, several pelagic, planktivorou species more characteristic of the Mediterranean arrived – for example, European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) and European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus).

Other warm-water species of fish present now were documented once before in the area, such as juvenile horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus), when the water warmed in the 1930s and ‘40s and then became less prevalent when it cooled. The corkwing wrasse (Symphodus melops) is another fish species that appeared during the earlier warm period, then became less prevalent for more than half a century – before returning during the latest warming.

Cold-water species that have been caught less frequently in this dataset over the past two decades include cod (Gadus morhua), pollack (Pollachius pollachius), and European eel (Anguilla anguilla).

One concern, the researchers say, is that the present warming is not an anomaly, rather a symptom of climate change that may worsen instead of going away. There may be other factors involved in the introduction of new species, noted Lorenzo Ciannelli, an Oregon State marine ecologist and co-author on the study.

“There are some unique elements happening today that distinguish the situation from the 1930s and ‘40s,” Ciannelli said. “Winds and currents are pushing warm water into the area in such a way that it suggests the pattern might be here to stay.

“Some fish will move into a new area as adults, while other species disperse their eggs or larva and they then ride into new regions on the currents,” he added. “To make them ‘stick’ there may need to be a seeding process that allows the local population to develop.”

The key to understanding the assemblage shift in Norway is the extraordinary data set collected by Norwegian researchers. For the past 96 years, they have conducted an extensive coast-wide seine survey during the last two weeks of September, using the same style boats, the same locations and nets that were exactly the same size.

Only five survey leaders have coordinated the effort over 96 years, each one having trained with the previous leader for at least 10 years on the operation of setting and hauling the beach seine before taking over the project themselves.

“It began as a project to analyze the recruitment of juvenile cod in the region,” Barceló said, “but someone had the foresight a century ago to document all of the species  brought up in the nets – and they’ve kept it up ever since.”

Barceló, who worked with the Norwegians over two summers, is also analyzing fish surveys off the Oregon coast, investigating the long-term environmental variability and shifting marine fish assemblages.

She and Ciannelli are in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

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Caren Barceló, 541-737-3965, caren.barcelo@gmail.com;

Lorenzo Ciannelli, 541-737-3142, lciannelli@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Caren Barcelo works with Norwegian researchers.

New therapy halts progression of Lou Gehrig’s disease in mice

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University announced today that they have essentially stopped the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, for nearly two years in one type of mouse model used to study the disease – allowing the mice to approach their normal lifespan.

The findings, scientists indicate, are some of the most compelling ever produced in the search for a therapy for ALS, a debilitating and fatal disease, and were just published in Neurobiology of Disease.

“We are shocked at how well this treatment can stop the progression of ALS,” said Joseph Beckman, lead author on this study, a distinguished professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and principal investigator and holder of the Burgess and Elizabeth Jamieson Chair in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute.

In decades of work, no treatment has been discovered for ALS that can do anything but prolong human survival less than a month. The mouse model used in this study is one that scientists believe may more closely resemble the human reaction to this treatment, which consists of a compound called copper-ATSM.

It’s not yet known if humans will have the same response, but researchers are moving as quickly as possible toward human clinical trials, testing first for safety and then efficacy of the new approach.

ALS was identified as a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disease in the late 1800s, and gained international recognition in 1939 when it was diagnosed in American baseball legend Lou Gehrig. It’s known to be caused by the death and deterioration of motor neurons in the spinal cord, which in turn has been linked to mutations in copper, zinc superoxide dismutase.

Copper-ATSM is a known compound that helps deliver copper specifically to cells with damaged mitochondria, and reaches the spinal cord where it’s needed to treat ALS. This compound has low toxicity, easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier, is already used in human medicine at much lower doses for some purposes, and is well tolerated in laboratory animals at far higher levels. Any copper not needed after use of copper-ATSM is quickly flushed out of the body.

Experts caution, however, that this approach is not as simple as taking a nutritional supplement of copper, which can be toxic at even moderate doses. Such supplements would be of no value to people with ALS, they said.

The new findings were reported by scientists from OSU; the University of Melbourne in Australia; University of Texas Southwestern; University of Central Florida; and the Pasteur Institute of Montevideo in Uruguay. The study is available as open access in Neurobiology of Disease.

Using the new treatment, researchers were able to stop the progression of ALS in one type of transgenic mouse model, which ordinarily would die within two weeks without treatment. Some of these mice have survived for more than 650 days, 500 days longer than any previous research has been able to achieve.

In some experiments, the treatment was begun, and then withheld. In this circumstance the mice began to show ALS symptoms within two months after treatment was stopped, and would die within another month. But if treatment was resumed, the mice gained weight, progression of the disease once again was stopped, and the mice lived another 6-12 months.

In 2012, Beckman was recognized as the leading medical researcher in Oregon, with the Discovery Award from the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon. He is also director of OSU’s Environmental Health Sciences Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health to support research on the role of the environment in causing disease.

“We have a solid understanding of why the treatment works in the mice, and we predict it should work in both familial and possibly sporadic human patients,” Beckman said. “But we won’t know until we try.”

Familial ALS patients are those with more of a family history of the disease, while sporadic patients reflect the larger general population.

“We want people to understand that we are moving to human trials as quickly as we can,” Beckman said. “In humans who develop ALS, the average time from onset to death is only three to four years.”

The advances are based on substantial scientific progress in understanding the disease processes of ALS and basic research in biochemistry. The transgenic mice used in these studies have been engineered to carry the human gene for “copper chaperone for superoxide dismutase,” or CCS gene. CCS inserts copper into superoxide dismustase, or SOD, and transgenic mice carrying these human genes die rapidly without treatment.

After years of research, scientists have developed an approach to treating ALS that’s based on bringing copper into specific cells in the spinal cord and mitochondria weakened by copper deficiency. Copper is a metal that helps to stabilize SOD, an antioxidant protein whose proper function is essential to life. But when it lacks its metal co-factors, SOD can “unfold” and become toxic, leading to the death of motor neurons.

There’s some evidence that this approach, which works in part by improving mitochondrial function, may also have value in Parkinson’s disease and other conditions, researchers said. Research is progressing on those topics as well. 

The treatment is unlikely to allow significant recovery from neuronal loss already caused by ALS, the scientists said, but could slow further disease progression when started after diagnosis. It could also potentially treat carriers of SOD mutant genes that cause ALS.

This work has been supported by the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Association, and gifts by Michael Camillo and Burgess and Elizabeth Jamieson to the Linus Pauling Institute.

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Joseph Beckman, 541-737-8867

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Copper, zinc superoxide dismutase
Copper, zinc superoxide dismutase

Forest corridors prove critical to biodiversity and pollination success in the tropics

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As tropical forests become increasingly broken up by roads, farm fields, pastures and other developments, corridors of trees provide vital pathways for pollinators and contribute to a rich diversity of plant species, scientists have confirmed.

A study at the Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica shows that when forests are linked by continuous corridors of trees, pollination has a greater likelihood of success. In contrast, when patches of forest are isolated from each other, pollinators are less abundant and plants frequently fail to reproduce.

More than 94 percent of flowering tropical plants and 75 percent of the worlds leading food crops require pollination by animals such as bees, bats and hummingbirds.

Researchers have found that forest corridors enable specialized hummingbirds that prefer such landscapes to travel longer distances from one patch of trees to another, increasing pollen exchange between forest patches. Such patches not only harbor more hummingbirds but also display greater rates of pollination than plants in areas that are isolated from each other.

These are among the results published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a technical journal, by scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and the Georg-August University Gottingen in Germany.

“This work presents tropical forest landowners with a simple, relatively inexpensive solution to enhancing biodiversity and pollination of native forest plants – connect forest patches with hedgerows and wooded corridors,” said Urs Kormann, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State. “This may complement national parks.”

“Wooded corridors remain abundant in many tropical landscapes,” said Matthew Betts, co-author and assistant professor at Oregon State. “But as agricultural land use is expanding rapidly, quick action will be required to avert the disappearance of corridor elements between fragments. Otherwise, there may substantial losses of connectivity between forest remnants, leading to accelerated biodiversity loss.”

The researchers performed field experiments and conducted observations to arrive at their findings. They measured rates of hummingbird visits to feeders and to live plants (Heliconia tortuosa) placed in forest patches. They tracked the flow of pollen from one patch to another and evaluated the presence of two groups of hummingbird species, one that prefers forested habitats and one that does not.

Simple wooded corridors can boost landscape connectivity for pollinators and animal-pollinated plants, the researchers wrote. Our findings may also apply to other organism groups that move along corridors, potentially providing other ecosystem services.

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Matt Betts, 541-737-3841; Urs Kormann, 0041-77-465-05-84 (Switzerland)

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Corridors1

Corridors2

Green hermit hummingbird

Over-hunting in Amazon threatens global carbon budget

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The vast forests of the Amazon store enormous amounts of carbon that help moderate the Earth’s temperature, but a new study shows that this carbon-storing capacity is being threatened by over-hunting.

Wide-scale reduction of fruit-eating large mammals – especially primates and tapirs – is changing the way seeds are dispersed in the Amazon and changing the composition of forests, the researchers say.

Results of the study are being published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Large mammals including spider monkeys and wooly monkeys are fruit-eaters that historically have made up most of the frugivore (or fruit-eating) biomass in these forests,” said Taal Levi, an Oregon State University ecologist and author on the study. “There are many tree species with large seeds that rely on these primates to spread seeds through the forest.

“These large-seeded fruit trees are also slow-growing and populate the forest with dense wood that sequesters a great deal more carbon than in typically stored in trees dispersed by wind or smaller frugivores,” Levi added.

As technology has advanced and firearms have spread through tropical forests, hunting success has improved and these primates have been extirpated from vast areas, Levi pointed out.

“When large primates and tapirs, which are the largest frugivores in the neo-tropics, are lost, forests are eventually populated by plants whose seeds are more likely dispersed by wind, rodents or birds,” Levi said. “It is not the same aggregation of plants and it is affecting the Amazon’s carbon-storing ability.”

In fact, the researchers say, over-hunting occurs over much larger areas than the total area of the Amazon forest affected by deforestation. A relatively small loss in the amount of carbon stored in trees can lead to enormous declines in the amount of carbon stored in these vast forests.

The analysis of 166 wildlife surveys across the Amazon basin documents the loss of large primates. Levi’s computer model projects that this will result in more than three out of four plots losing forest biomass, with a (conservatively) estimated average loss of 2.5 to 3 percent.

Tapirs are another key seed disperser that is sensitive to over-hunting. When tapirs are lost in addition to large primates, nearly nine out of 10 plots will lose forest biomass with the loss (conservatively) projected to average about 5.8 percent.

“The loss of 2.5 to 5.8 percent of biomass may not sound like a lot,” Levi said, “but in an area as vast as the Amazon, the impact could be huge – a projected 313 billion kilograms of carbon not being absorbed.”

Levi said the economic value of such a loss on the world carbon markets could range between $5.91 trillion and $13.65 trillion.

The researchers studied data from 2,345 one-hectare forest plots scattered across the Brazilian Amazon containing nearly 130,000 large trees. Simulations showed that 77 to 88 percent of these plots will lose above-ground forest biomass when the forests are over-hunted and trees that require large primates or tapirs to regenerate are replaced by other trees on the same plots.

Carlos Peres, a research ecologist with the University of East Anglia and lead author on the study, said the research uncovers an important – and perhaps under-appreciated – link between wildlife and climate change.

“Amazonian forest wildlife has been declining through a combination of habitat destruction, habitat degradation and overhunting since the 1950s,” Peres said, “but until now there was a poor understanding of the status of wildlife populations in hunted forests that otherwise remain intact and free of human disturbance.

“We show that dense-wooded, large-seeded Amazonian tree species are replaced by light-wooded trees that produce smaller seeds, which continue to be dispersed in over-hunted forests by more resilient smaller mammal and bird species,” he added.

Levi said trying to manage the forests by manually dispersing seeds would be impractical because of the vastness of the Amazonian forests. There also is evidence that seeds that go through the digestive tract of large mammals are more likely to germinate having been cleansed of flesh that attracts fungal pathogens and other natural enemies.

“Seeds that fall from trees contain a lot of pulp,” Levi said, “and in tropical climates become excellent petri dishes for fungus to colonize.”

The researchers say the key to protecting optimal forest composition is to recognize the importance of hunting and better manage it.

“These findings highlight an urgent need to manage the sustainability of game hunting in both protected and unprotected tropical forests, and place full biodiversity integrity, including populations of large frugivorous vertebrates, firmly in the agenda of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) programs,” the authors noted in the article.

Other authors on the PNAS article are from the National Institute of Amazonian Research and Fiocruz Amazonia.

 

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Taal Levi, 541-737-4067, taal.levi@oregonstate.edu

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Photo of grey wooly monkey (by Carlos Peres): https://flic.kr/p/Crcxvt

Oregon State launches humanitarian engineering program

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The Oregon State University College of Engineering has recently launched a humanitarian engineering program like few others in the nation, partly as a response to a growing number of students who want to make an impact both locally and globally.

Undergraduate students can now minor in this field, taking classes that emphasize the importance of socio-cultural, economic, environmental and resource management factors. Work in ethics, social justice and cross-cultural communication is also part of the program.

Humanitarian engineering emphasizes science and engineering-based solutions that help to improve the human condition, access to basic human needs, the quality of life or level of community resilience. OSU’s program is one of only a few in the nation based in an academic curriculum.

The program reflects an engaged concept of service and the university’s historic land grant mission, officials say. Through it, students will explore case studies of development projects and a historic perspective on humanitarian interventions.

One OSU student who understands that concept is Grace Burleson, a graduating senior majoring in mechanical engineering. She grew up as a missionary child and was raised by parents with a passion for helping underserved populations.

“When I got to college, I loved my engineering coursework but never got excited by applying it to things like cars or computers,” said Burleson. “I began research in humanitarian engineering and landed an internship in Uganda, working where I developed a sustainable business plan for the construction, distribution and maintenance of BioSand water filters.”                    

As a formalized academic program, humanitarian engineering will contribute to the effort of the OSU College of Engineering to become a recognized model as an inclusive and collaborative community.

“The program is attracting a more diverse group of prospective students than is typically attracted to engineering, including women,” said mechanical engineering professor Kendra Sharp, who directs the program, and was appointed the first Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering.

OSU is also one of just 10 universities nationwide to offer a Peace Corps Master’s International program in engineering. The university was the first in Oregon to join this initiative, which allows graduate students in several disciplines to get a master’s degree while doing a full 27-month term of service in the Peace Corps.

Multiple student organizations, including Oregon State’s award-winning Engineers Without Borders chapter and the American Society of Civil Engineering student chapter, have also been working on water, energy and other projects in the developing world. 

“Students at Oregon State receive an accredited engineering degree, so adding on this minor opens many more doors and perspectives with how we look at engineering,” said Burleson. “It creates a gateway for really exciting and impactful projects.”

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Krista Klinkhammer, 541-737-4416

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Kendra Sharp, 541-737-5246

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Engineering outreach
Engineering study in Uganda

Liver recovery difficult even with improved diet, but faster if sugar intake is low

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Liver damage caused by the typical “Western diet” – one high in fat, sugar and cholesterol that’s common in developed countries such as the United States – may be difficult to reverse even if diet is generally improved, a new study shows.

The research, published today in PLOS ONE by scientists from Oregon State University, found that a diet with reduced fat and cholesterol helped, but did not fully resolve liver damage that had already been done – damage that in turn can lead to more serious health problems, such as cirrhosis or even cancer.

This study, done with laboratory animals, showed that diets low in fat and cholesterol could in fact aid with weight loss, improved metabolism and health. But even then, if the diet was still high in sugar there was much less liver recovery, the scientists concluded.

The findings are significant, scientists say, because liver problems such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are surging in the U.S., affecting 10-35 percent of adults and an increasing number of children. The incidence of this problem can reach more than 60 percent in obese and type-2 diabetic populations.

“Many people eating a common American diet are developing extensive hepatic fibrosis, or scarring of their liver, which can reduce its capacity to function, and sometimes lead to cancer,” said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute, and corresponding author on this research.

“There’s a lot of interest in finding ways to help the liver recover from this damage, but this research suggests that diets lower in fat and cholesterol, even if they help you lose weight, are not enough,” Jump said. “For more significant liver recovery, the intake of sugar has to come down, probably along with other improvements in diet and exercise.”

The issues are both serious and complex, the researchers said.

“Everyone recognizes this is a serious problem,” said Kelli Lytle, an OSU doctoral candidate and lead author on this study. “We’re trying to find out if some of the types of dietary manipulation that people use, such as weight loss based on a low fat diet, will help address it. However, a common concern is that many ‘low-fat’ food products have higher levels of sugar to help make them taste better.”

Weight loss does appear to help address some of the problems associated with the Western diet, the research shows. But according to this study, a diet with continued high levels of sugar will significantly slow recovery of liver damage that has already been done.

Complications related to liver inflammation, scarring and damage are projected to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020, the researchers noted in their study. Such scarring was once thought to be irreversible, but more recent research has shown it can be at least partially reversed with optimal diet and when the stimulus for liver injury is removed.

In this report, scientists studied two groups of laboratory mice that had been fed a “Western diet” and then switched to different, healthier diets, low in fat and cholesterol.

Both of the improved diets caused health improvements and weight loss. But one group that was fed a diet still fairly high in sugar – an amount of sugar comparable to the Western diet - had significantly higher levels of inflammation, oxidative stress and liver fibrosis.

More research is still needed to determine whether a comprehensive program of diet, weight maintenance, exercise and targeted drug therapies can fully resolve liver fibrosis, the study concluded.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Donald Jump, 541-737-4007

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Sugar problem
Sugar intake too high

Thousands of landslides in Nepal earthquake raise parallels for Pacific Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research teams have evaluated the major 7.8 magnitude subduction zone earthquake in Gorkha, Nepal, in April 2015, and identified some characteristics that may be of special relevance to the future of the Pacific Northwest.

Most striking was the enormous number and severity of landslides.

Many people understand the damage that can be caused to structures, roads, bridges and utilities by ground shaking in these long-lasting types of earthquakes, such as the one that’s anticipated on the Cascadia Subduction Zone between northern California and British Columbia.

But following the Nepal earthquake – even during the dry season when soils were the most stable – there were also tens of thousands of landslides in the region, according to reconnaissance team estimates. In their recent report published in Seismological Research Letters, experts said that these landslides caused pervasive damage as they buried towns and people, blocked rivers and closed roads.

Other estimates, based on the broader relationship between landslides and earthquake magnitude, suggest the Nepal earthquake might have caused between 25,000 and 60,000 landslides.

The subduction zone earthquake expected in the future of the Pacific Northwest is expected to be larger than the event in Nepal.

Ben Mason, a geotechnical engineer and assistant professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, was a member of the Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance team that explored the Nepal terrain. He said that event made clear that structural damage is only one of the serious threats raised by subduction zone earthquakes.

“In the Coast Range and other hilly areas of Oregon and Washington, we should expect a huge number of landslides associated with the earthquake we face,” Mason said. “And in this region our soils are wet almost all year long, sometimes more than others. Each situation is different, but soils that are heavily saturated can have their strength cut in half.”

Wet soils will also increase the risk of soil liquefaction, Mason said, which could be pervasive in the Willamette Valley and many areas of Puget Sound, Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, especially along the Columbia River.

Scientists have discovered that the last subduction zone earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest was in January 1700, when – like now - soils probably would have been soggy from winter rains and most vulnerable to landslides.

The scientific study of slope stability is still a work in progress, Mason said, and often easier to explain after a landslide event has occurred than before it happens. But continued research on earthquake events such as those in Nepal may help improve the ability to identify areas most vulnerable to landslides, he said. Models can be improved and projections made more accurate.

“If you look just at the terrain in some parts of Nepal and remove the buildings and people, you could think you were looking at the Willamette Valley,” Mason said. “There’s a lot we can learn there.”

In Nepal, the damage was devastating.

Landslides triggered by ground shaking were the dominant geotechnical effect of the April earthquake, the researchers wrote in their report, as slopes weakened and finally gave way. Landslides caused by the main shock or aftershocks blocked roads, dammed rivers, damaged or destroyed villages, and caused hundreds of fatalities.

The largest and most destructive event, the Langtang debris avalanche, began as a snow and ice avalanche and gathered debris that became an airborne landslide surging off a 500-meter-tall cliff. An air blast from the event flattened the forest in the valley below, moved 2 million cubic meters of material and killed about 200 people.

Surveying the damages after the event, Mason said one of his most compelling impressions was the way people helped each other.

“Nepal is one of the poorest places, in terms of gross domestic product, that I’ve ever visited,” he said. “People are used to adversity, but they are culturally rich. After this event it was amazing how their communities bounced back, people helped treat each other’s injuries and saved lives. As we make our disaster plans in the Pacific Northwest, there are things we could learn from them, both about the needs for individual initiative and community response.”

Aside from landslides, many lives were lost in collapsing structures in Nepal, often in homes constructed of rock, brick or concrete, and frequently built without adequate enforcement of building codes, the report suggested. Overall, thousands of structures were destroyed. There are estimates that about 9,000 people died, and more than 23,000 were injured. The earthquake even triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 19 people.

The reconnaissance effort in Nepal was made possible by support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the OSU College of Engineering, and other agencies and universities around the world.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Ben Mason, 541-737-2014

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New approach to medication counseling shown to be highly effective

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It takes about one minute longer, but pharmacists who employ an unconventional, interactive patient counseling technique can more than double the chance that people will understand key issues on how to take, understand and manage their use of prescription drugs.

A new study just published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association provides compelling evidence that this technique could significantly improve the understanding of drug use and storage, possible side effects, what to expect from a medication and what to do if something isn’t working.

“This approach to prescription drug counseling has now been shown to be a dramatic improvement over conventional methods,” said Robert Boyce, director of pharmacy services in the Student Health Center Pharmacy at Oregon State University, and corresponding author on the study. “This is the first real analysis to prove that it works, and that the approach could be extremely important for health care in America.”

Historically, pharmacists who provided patients with information about their prescription medications – when that was done at all – most often used what was called a “lecture format,” essentially a one-way form of communication that was often referred to as reading off the label. The efficacy of this system varied widely, and gave little assurance that patients had heard and understood a range of details about the drug they were preparing to take.

By contrast, Boyce co-developed an alternative approach during a 21-year career with the Public Health Service pharmacy program of the Indian Health Service, a federal health program for American Indians and Alaskan natives. It emphasizes a questioning of patients on their understanding of the drug they have been prescribed, and answers questions about whatever they don’t understand.  It’s a discussion, not a presentation.

The concept, Boyce said, was released in 1991 to every school and college of pharmacy, and is now gaining much wider acceptance across the nation. This study, which included a survey of 500 participants at four community pharmacies in Oregon, is the first of its type to confirm the value of the new approach. A lead author was Naomi Lam, a pharmacy resident at the OSU Student Health Center Pharmacy at the time of the research.

In this approach, patients are asked three basic, open-ended questions, relating to the name and purpose of the medication; how to use and store it; and what possible side effects there might be, and what to do if they occur.

The new study found that 71 percent of patients using the new counseling approach could answer all three questions correctly, compared to 33 percent of patients who were instructed with the conventional system.

With either approach, most people understood what medication they were taking and what it was for. However, with the new system, four times as many people understood how and when to take their medication, and also could answer basic questions about adverse effects.

According to this study, the average time it took pharmacists to use the new counseling system was a little over two minutes, compared to 75 seconds for conventional counseling.

“For a busy pharmacist, some might suggest this is a significant additional amount of time,” Boyce said. “But when you compare that to the risks of something not going right when a patient does not understand what the specific directions are, or what to expect from their medication, the additional effort seems minimal.”

Patient counseling about medications, Boyce said, is still an evolving aspect of health care. Prior to federal legislation that became law in January, 1993, which mandated pharmacist counseling for Medicare patients receiving new prescriptions, pharmacist counseling was quite variable, and often not done at all.

Since that time, all but three states in the country have enacted laws that require patient counseling on medication, or an offer to counsel, be made available. As a result, the activity of counseling is far more common. The alternative system being proposed, however, has the ability to take such counseling and make it far more effective, Boyce said.

“This approach to counseling can find out what a patient does and doesn’t understand,” Boyce said. “It’s especially important when it comes to drug efficacy and side effects. If a medication isn’t working properly, patients learn what actions to take. If they experience side effects, they know better how to handle it and when to contact their doctor or pharmacist.”

The conversational, interactive approach also becomes highly favored by patients once it is implemented, Boyce said. People better remember what they heard and discussed, feel as if they are being listened to, and they appreciate the attention, he said. Gaps in understanding are addressed during the conversation and before moving on to the next question.

Some common sense concerns can also be immediately identified with this format, which may be less obvious in conventional counseling. A patient may have hearing problems; language barriers; or cognitive circumstances that must be considered. An immediate understanding of that can significantly improve the level of communication.

Previous research has shown that when people do not understand the proper use of their medications, adherence rates plummet. Also, studies show that patients are most interested in information on adverse effects, but that this topic historically was one of those least discussed by both doctors and pharmacists.

The study suggested that additional research with more groups be done to verify the value of the new system. It also outlined stages of improvement as pharmacists adapt to the new approach, become more comfortable with it and increase both their speed and communication effectiveness.

 

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Robert Boyce, 541-231-7323