OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Research outlines how low-dose aspirin can help prevent cancer

PORTLAND, Ore. – Researchers have outlined for the first time a key mechanism by which low-dose aspirin may inhibit cancer cell proliferation and metastasis.

Aspirin reduces the ability of blood platelets to raise the levels of a particular protein that can support malignant cells and allow them to survive and spread, scientists say.

It has long been known that low-dose, or “baby” aspirin can have some benefits in protection against cardiovascular disease, and there’s increasing evidence it may be useful in cancer prevention as well – especially colon cancer. The new study reveals at least one of the ways the cancer inhibition may take place.

The research was published by scientists from Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University in AJP-Cell Physiology, with support from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and Altarum Institute.

Low-dose aspirin does not appear to directly affect cancer cells, the researchers said. Instead, it inhibits the normal function of blood platelets and reduces their ability to upregulate an “oncoprotein” called c-MYC, which plays an important role in cancer cell proliferation and survival.

“The benefit of aspirin may be due to its effect on blood cells called platelets, rather than acting directly on tumor cells,” said senior author Owen McCarty, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Oregon Health & Science University.

“Our work suggests that the anti-cancer action of aspirin might be in part as follows: during their transit in the blood, circulating tumor cells interact with platelets, which spur tumor cell survival by activating oncoproteins such as c-MYC. The inhibition of platelets with aspirin therapy reduces this signaling between platelets and tumor cells, thus indirectly reducing tumor cell growth.”

C-MYC in its normal biological role orchestrates the expression of more than 15 percent of all genes, including those involved in cell cycles, survival, protein synthesis and cell metabolism. But it also appears to be overexpressed, the researchers said, in a large number of human cancers, including colon, pancreas, breast, lung and prostate cancers.

“Early cancer cells live in what’s actually a pretty hostile environment, where the immune system regularly attacks and attempts to eliminate them,” said Craig Williams, a professor in the OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy, and co-author on the study. “Blood platelets can play a protective role for those early cancer cells and aid metastasis. Inhibition with aspirin appears to interfere with that process and c-MYC may explain part of that mechanism.”

Also of interest, the researchers said, is that this effect of aspirin on platelet function is as great at low doses as it is at the higher doses which are sometimes used to treat inflammation, headaches or pain. This is consistent with epidemiological studies which show that the anti-cancer benefit of aspirin occurs at these very low doses.

This is significant, because using low doses of aspirin allows clinicians to minimize the risk of bleeding, which is a serious concern with any antiplatelet medication.

Blood platelets in healthy biological systems play an important role in blood clotting after injuries, and also in the repair of the walls of blood vessels. Unfortunately, they have also been found to play a role in tumor survival, growth, proliferation and metastasis.

This study shows for the first time the ability of platelets to regulate the expression of the oncoprotein c-MYC in cancer cells. Elevated expression of c-MYC has been found in almost one-third of colon cancers and 42 percent of advanced pancreatic cancer, the researchers noted in the study.

Anyone considering use of low-dose aspirin should do so only in consultation with their physician, researchers said, in order to balance the potential benefits against known risks.

“Because the interaction between platelets and cancer cells is believed to occur early… the use of anti-platelet doses of aspirin might serve as a safe and efficacious preventive measure for patients at risk for cancer,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

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Craig Williams, 503-494-1598

williacr@ohsu.edu

New, complex call recorded in Mariana Trench believed to be from baleen whale

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.

“It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.”

Recorded via passive acoustic ocean gliders, which are instruments that can travel autonomously for months at a time and dive up to 1,000 meters, the Western Pacific Biotwang most closely resembles the so-called “Star Wars” sound produced by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia, researchers say.

The Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans, lies between Japan to the north and Australia to the south and features depths in excess of 36,000 feet.

Minke whales are baleen whales – meaning they feed by using baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from seawater – and live in most oceans. They produce a collection of regionally specific calls, which in addition to the Star Wars call include “boings” in the North Pacific and low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic.

“We don’t really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes,” said Nieukirk, lead author on the study whose results were recently published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. “The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn’t spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies.”

Nieukirk said the Western Pacific Biotwang has enough similarities to the Star Wars call – complex structure, frequency sweep and metallic conclusion – that it’s reasonable to think a minke whale is responsible for it.

But scientists can’t yet be sure, and many other questions remain. For example, baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year.

“If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” said Nieukirk, part of the team at the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a partnership between OSU and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed.”

The call is tricky to find when combing through recorded sound data, Nieukirk explains, because of its huge frequency range. Typically acoustic scientists zero in on narrower frequency ranges when analyzing ocean recordings, and in this case that would mean not detecting portions of the Western Pacific Biotwang.

“Now that we’ve published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound,” Nieukirk said. “More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what’s making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Dwarf minke whale

OSU Press publishes first guide to Oregon freshwater fishes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first comprehensive guide to Oregon’s freshwater fishes has been published by the Oregon State University Press.

Written by Professor Emeritus Douglas Markle in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State, the guide includes tips on identifying the state’s 137 known species and subspecies, along with photos and illustrations of native and non-native fish.

“A Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Oregon” is available in bookstores, by calling 1-800-621-2736, or by ordering online at osupress.oregonstate.edu

The guide includes information about Oregon’s most iconic fishes – including Chinook and coho salmon – as well as those species not as well-known, such as sculpins and minnows. Markle notes that the number of introduced, non-native fishes continues to increase and “they often are responsible in part for the decline of native fishes.”

“The book is a great guide for anglers and others who may encounter a fish that they cannot easily recognize,” said Marty Brown, marketing coordinator for the OSU Press. “Many groups of Oregon fishes are difficult to identify because of their size, diversity of forms, or lack of study, and there are ongoing debates about the actual number of species and subspecies of fish in the state.”

The guide covers fish both large and small. The white sturgeon is Oregon’s largest freshwater fish, reaching sizes of up to 19 feet and 1,800 pounds, and it is the most long-lived reaching estimated ages of close to 100 years. Among the smaller fish are minnows, which are the largest family of fishes in Oregon, and include such species as the Oregon chub and Umpqua chub – species only found in this state.

Markle is a long-time faculty member at Oregon State who parlayed a childhood interest in aquarium fish into a career teaching and conducting research on deep-sea fishes, coral reef fish, and a variety of freshwater fishes.

In addition to the many color photographs in “A Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Oregon” are numerous illustrations by well-known fish artist Joseph R. Tomelleri.

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Marty Brown, 541-737-3866, marty.brown@oregonstate.edu;

Doug Markle, 541-737-1970, douglas.markle@oregonstate.edu

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Freshwater Fishes of Oregon

Douglas F. Markle

Douglas Markle

New study shows impact of Antarctic Ice Sheet on climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have known for decades that small changes in climate can have significant impacts on the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now a new study suggests the opposite also is true. An international team of researchers has concluded that the Antarctic Ice Sheet actually plays a major role in regional and global climate variability – a discovery that may also help explain why sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere has been increasing despite the warming of the rest of the Earth.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Nature.

Global climate models that look at the last several thousand years have failed to account for the amount of climate variability captured in the paleoclimate record, according to lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

The research team’s hypothesis was that climate modelers were overlooking one crucial element in the overall climate system – an aspect of the ocean, atmosphere, biosphere or ice sheets – that might affect all parts of the system.

“One thing we determined right off the bat was that virtually all of the climate models had the Antarctic Ice Sheet as a constant entity,” Bakker said. “It was a static blob of ice, just sitting there. What we discovered, however, is that the ice sheet has undergone numerous pulses of variability that have had a cascading effect on the entire climate system.”

The Antarctic Ice Sheet, in fact, has demonstrated dynamic behavior over the past 8,000 years, according to Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“There is a natural variability in the deeper part of the ocean adjacent to the Antarctic Ice Sheet – similar to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or El Niño/La Niña but on a time scale of centuries – that causes small but significant changes in temperatures,” Schmittner said. “When the ocean temperatures warm, it causes more direct melting of the ice sheet below the surface, and it increases the number of icebergs that calve off the ice sheet.”

Those two factors combine to provide an influx of fresh water into the Southern Ocean during these warm regimes, according to Peter Clark, a paleoclimatologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“The introduction of that cold, fresh water lessens the salinity and cools the surface temperatures, at the same time, stratifying the layers of water,” Clark said. “The cold, fresh water freezes more easily, creating additional sea ice despite warmer temperatures that are down hundreds of meters below the surface.”

The discovery may help explain why sea ice has expanded in the Southern Ocean despite global warming, the researchers say. The same phenomenon doesn’t occur in the Northern Hemisphere with the Greenland Ice Sheet because it is more landlocked and not subject to the same current shifts that affect the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“One message that comes out of this study is that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is very sensitive to small changes in ocean temperatures, and humans are making the Earth a lot warmer than it has been,” Bakker said.

Sediment cores from the sea floor around Antarctica contain sand grains delivered there by icebergs calving off the ice sheet. The researchers analyzed sediments from the last 8,000 years, which showed evidence that many more icebergs calved off the ice sheet in some centuries than in others. Using sophisticated computer modeling, the researchers traced the variability in iceberg calving to small changes in ocean temperatures.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers an area of more than 5 million square miles and is estimated to hold some 60 percent of all the fresh water on Earth. The east part of the ice sheet rests on a major land mass, but in West Antarctica, the ice sheet rests on bedrock that extends into the ocean at depths of more than 2,500 meters, or more than 8,000 feet, making it vulnerable to disintegration.

Scientists estimate that if the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise some 200 feet.

Other authors on the study include Nicholas Golledge of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and Michael Weber of the University of Bonn in Germany.

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

Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de

Study finds less fragmentation in muzzleloading and black powder cartridge rifles

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study found that traditional bullets for muzzleloading rifles and black powder rifle cartridges fragment less upon impact and may leave far fewer lead fragments in game than a modern high-velocity rifle bullet.

The findings suggest that hunters using those styles of guns may have a reduced risk of secondary lead poisoning from consuming game meat, and that there may be a reduced risk to scavenging animals as well, compared to ammunition for modern rifles that also contain lead. 

Results of the study, by researchers in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, have been published in the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management.

Bullet fragmentation has been well-described in many modern, high-velocity rifles, but not for black-powder cartridge rifles or muzzleloading firearms, said Clinton Epps, a wildlife ecologist at Oregon State and co-author on the study. 

“There is a lot more complexity to the lead versus non-lead ammunition discussion than many people realize and the black powder/muzzleloader niche of hunters needs to be included in the conversation,” Epps said.

To study the fragmentation, the researchers evaluated a traditional .54 caliber round ball and a modern-designed .54 caliber conical bullet for muzzleloaders and two types of .45-70 caliber black powder rifle cartridges, and compared them with a modern, lead-core high-velocity bullet (Remington Core-Lokt) for a .30-06. 

They found that the modern .30-06 bullets retained a mean 57.5 percent of their original mass, with the remaining 42.5 percent fragmenting. Mean mass retention for muzzleloader and black powder cartridge bullets ranged from 87.8 percent to 99.7 percent.

“We tested penetration and fragmentation for each bullet type in both water and ballistics gel,” said Dana Sanchez, an OSU wildlife Extension specialist and lead author on the article. “Obviously, these kinds of artificial tests cannot replicate conditions in the field, but the striking differences in fragmentation suggests follow-up tests on game animals harvested in actual hunting situations may be warranted.” 

Muzzleloaders use black powder, typically made from charcoal, potassium nitrate and sulfur, and loaded from the muzzle using loose components rather than self-contained cartridges. Traditional hunting bullets for muzzleloaders are round balls made of pure lead and wrapped in a cloth patch to engage the rifling. Because of their low velocity and low potential for expansion, most states require muzzleloaders to have larger (greater than .45) calibers than modern high-velocity rifles.

“The speed of a bullet is a key factor in fragmentation, although there are other variables,” said Epps, who is a rifle builder, ballistics specialist and a hunter. “Black powder cartridges and round balls don’t go as fast, so they have to use a bigger bullet, which tends not to break apart as much.” 

Muzzleloader hunting is popular in many states, especially in the Midwest and the South, where special seasons allow hunters to use this method in addition to traditional rifle and archery hunts. Oregon has special muzzleloader tags for deer, elk and pronghorn antelope. Hunting with muzzleloaders and black powder rifles remains a comparatively small niche among hunters and the researchers emphasize that their study was solely intended to provide information on fragmentation that had been missing.

Oregon allows use of both lead and non-lead ammunition in big game hunting. And while non-lead ammunition choices for modern firearms are increasingly more available, Epps said, “non-lead options for muzzleloaders and other older-style firearms are still limited and may not function well in all rifles.” 

David Taylor, a graduate student in OSU’s Department of Integrative Biology, also was an author on the study and conducted the field work as part of an undergraduate project funded in part by the Undergraduate Research, Innovation, Scholarship and Creativity program at Oregon State.

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Clint Epps, 541-737-2478, Clinton.epps@oregonstate.edu; Dana Sanchez, 541-737-6003, dana.sanchez@oregonstate.edu

Chemical trickery corrals ‘hyperactive’ metal-oxide cluster

CORVALLIS, Ore. – After decades of eluding researchers because of chemical instability, key metal-oxide clusters have been isolated in water, a significant advance for growing the clusters with the impeccable control over atoms that’s required to manufacture small features in electronic circuits.

Oregon State University chemists created the aqueous cluster formation process. It yielded a polyoxocation of zinc, aluminum and chromium that is not protected by the organic ligand shell that is usually required to capture such molecules from water.

“Our discovery is exciting in that it provides both new fundamental understanding and new materials, and useful applications are always built on a foundation of fundamental understanding,” said May Nyman, a professor of chemistry at Oregon State.

Metal oxides – compounds produced when metals combine with oxygen – serve a variety of important purposes. For example, titanium dioxide is a catalyst that degrades pollutants, and aluminum oxides and iron oxides are coagulants used as the first step in purifying drinking water.

“Metal oxides influence processes everywhere,” Nyman said. “They control the spread of contaminants in the environment. They are the touchscreen of your cellphone. The metal-oxide cluster forms are in your body storing iron and in plants controlling photosynthesis. Most of these processes are in water. Yet scientists still know so little about how these metal oxides operate in nature, or how we can make them with the absolute control needed for high-performance materials in energy applications.” 

Results of the research by the OSU College of Science’s Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry were recently published in the journal Chem.

“We devised some synthetic processes so we can trick the clusters into forming,” Nyman said. “The main thing that we do is control the chemistry so the clusters grow not in the solution where they are highly reactive, but only at the surface, where the water evaporates and they instantly crystallize into a solid phase. Once in the solid phase, there’s no danger of reacting and precipitating metal oxide or hydroxide in an uncontrolled way.”

The clusters created in the research are spherical, contain about 100 atoms, and measure 1 nanometer across.

“Once we have synthesized these, we can prepare a solution of them, and they’re all exactly the same size and contain the same number of atoms,” Nyman said. “This gives us control over making very small features.

“The size of the feature is controlled by the size of the cluster. All metals on the periodic table act differently, and only a few have the right chemistry that behaves well enough to yield these clusters. For the rest of them, we need to innovate new chemistries to discover their cluster forms. The transition metals are particularly hard to control, yet they are earth-abundant and some of the most important metals in energy and environmental technologies.”

Metal-oxo clusters are usually isolated from water with ligands – molecules that protect the cluster surface and prevent precipitation of metal hydroxides.

In this study, an OSU team that included graduate students Lauren Fullmer, Sara Goberna-Ferron and Lev Zakharov overcame the need for ligands with a three-pronged strategy: pH-driven hydrolysis by oxidative dissolution of zinc; metal nitrate concentrations 10 times higher than conventional syntheses; and azeotropic evaporation for driving simultaneous cluster assembly and crystallization at the surface of the solution.

Meanwhile, the team’s computational collaborators in Catalonia provided a deeper understanding of the most stable arrangement of metal and oxygen atoms in the cluster.

“Contrary to common cluster growth, the fully assembled cluster is never detected in the reaction solution,” Nyman said. “Because the reactive clusters do not persist in solution, uncontrolled precipitation of metal hydroxide is avoided. In this sense, we have discovered a new way metal oxides can grow.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Metal-oxide crystals

Despite evolutionary inexperience, northern sockeye manage heat stress

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sockeye salmon that evolved in the generally colder waters of the far north still know how to cool off if necessary, an important factor in the species’ potential for dealing with global climate change.

Sockeyes, which spawn in fresh water and spend two to three years in the Pacific Ocean, range from southern Alaska south to the Columbia River.

Research by Oregon State University revealed that sockeyes at the northern edge of that range, despite lacking their southern counterparts’ evolutionary history of dealing with heat stress, nevertheless have an innate ability to “thermoregulate.”

Thermoregulation means that when their surroundings warm up too much, the fish will seek cooler water that precisely meets their physiological needs. A study conducted by an OSU researcher at an Alaska lake during a heat wave shed light on sockeyes’ ability to find the water temperatures they need.

Multiple earlier studies had demonstrated thermoregulation behavior among sockeye salmon at lower latitudes, but northern populations’ behavioral response to heat stress had largely gone unexamined.

While it may seem obvious that any fish would move around to find the water temperature it needed, prior research has shown thermoregulation is far from automatic – even among populations living where heat stress is a regular occurrence.

“Often what’s happened has been counterintuitive, so we had no idea what to expect,” said Jonathan B. Armstrong, assistant professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Fish and Wildlife, the lead author on the study. “About 40 million sockeye return to Bristol Bay every year. These huge salmon runs are a big part of the regional culture and economy, so how these fish respond to climate change will have very real effects on people’s lives. It’s encouraging that the sockeyes showed this innate capacity to respond.”

Results of the research were recently published in Conservation Physiology.

Armstrong and his collaborators at the University of Washington worked in 2013 at Little Togiak Lake – one of five major lakes in the Wood River watershed that drain into Bristol Bay, a fishery that produces nearly 70 percent of all the sockeye salmon caught in the United States. Bristol Bay is close to the 60-degree latitude that marks the northern boundary of the sockeyes’ primary range.

Adult sockeye salmon return to the Wood River system from the Bering Sea in early summer, then mature and develop secondary sexual traits before spawning later in the summer or at the beginning of fall.

During the time between entering fresh water and spawning, the fish group together in their lake’s epilimnion – the upper, warmer level of water in a thermally stratified lake. Usually the fish congregate, or stage, near tributary inlets and along shorelines.

During a staging period of unusually warm weather – maximum daily air temperatures hovered around 80 degrees for a week, the second-warmest heat wave on record – researchers used a seine to capture fish and outfitted 95 of them with devices that logged water temperatures at 20-minute intervals.

What they learned from the 40 recovered temperature loggers was that when the epilimnion temperature rose above about 12 degrees Celsius, or about 53 degrees, the fish thermoregulated by moving to tributary plumes or to deeper water.

By swimming away from the rising temperatures, the fish expended 50 percent less energy during the warmest conditions – 64 to 68 degrees – than they would have had they stayed put.

“The hotter it is, the more energy they burn, but these fish don’t just want the coldest water possible,” Armstrong said. “If they were cars looking for maximum fuel efficiency, they’d just find the coldest water, but instead it’s a Goldilocks sort of thing - they’re looking for not too warm, not too cold.

“They want their system to go fast enough for them to go through maturation before they spawn, where they go from these silver torpedoes to these crazy, exaggerated beasts of sexual selection with a red body and green jaws.”

Armstrong noted the broader message of the study is what it says about the ability of animals to exploit the kinds of diversity of temperature and diversity of habitat found in ecosystems that are intact and not heavily developed.

“There’s all this diversity and connectivity up there,” Armstrong said. “Fish have lots of options for coping with warming or environmental change in general.

“When we develop watersheds, we often simplify habitats and take away these options. In our research we are constantly stumbling across new and interesting ways that fish and wildlife thrive by exploiting diversity in temperatures, often at small spatial scales that would be very easy to overlook. This study is one more example of how all the little details matter, and they could be what save animals from climate change, or at least reduce the impacts.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039 

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Sockeye salmon

Improving child-teacher interactions can reduce preschoolers’ stress levels

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A school-based intervention that promotes warm and caring interactions between a teacher and child can reduce the child’s stress in the classroom, a new study has found.

The intervention was designed for teachers of preschool-aged children and focused on fostering close teacher-child relationships through one-on-one play. Children who participated in the intervention showed reduced levels of the hormone cortisol, an indicator of stress, said Bridget Hatfield, an assistant professor in Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and lead author of the study.

Researchers believe it is the first time a study has examined the relationship between a teacher-child intervention and a child’s cortisol levels in an early childhood education setting.

The findings highlight the importance of the relationship between child and teacher, and underscore the value of warm and caring interactions, including one-on-one play time between a child and his or her teacher, Hatfield said.

“The big message here is that positive relationships between teachers and students matter,” she said. “What a teacher does in the classroom, the way they behave, their positivity and supportiveness, has an enormous impact on the children and their health.”

The findings were published recently in the journal Prevention Science. The co-author of the paper is Amanda Williford of the University of Virginia. The research was supported in part by grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and the American Psychological Association.

About 61 percent of children under the age of five spend time in formal childcare and education settings such as preschool. Past research has shown that this setting may increase children’s stress, which in turn can lead to disruptive classroom behavior.

Children who have frustrating or difficult relationships with their teachers also have shown decreased academic success in kindergarten and their challenging behaviors may increase in intensity as they get older.

“If a child can’t develop a healthy stress response system in early childhood, it limits their ability to develop strong school-readiness skills,” Hatfield said. “That’s why these early teacher-child relationships are so important.”

Hatfield and Williford wanted to see if an intervention designed to improve child-teacher interactions could reduce stress levels in children with challenging behaviors.

In all, 70 teachers and 113 children participated in the study. They were divided into three groups: one group was designated as “business as usual” and the children did not participate in any special activities; one group participated in a “child time” intervention; and one group participated in an intervention called “Banking Time.”

In the child time intervention, the child and teacher spent time playing one-on-one but the teacher was not given any specific guidance or instructions from a consultant for the play period.

Banking Time is a much more formal intervention, designed to foster sensitive, responsive interactions between a teacher and a child, creating a relationship the child and teacher can use as a resource during times of challenge in the classroom.

“When you ‘bank time’ with a child and that relationship, you’re building equity,” Hatfield said. “Then if a conflict arises, you can make a withdrawal.”

To build that relationship, the teachers and children participating in the study had one-on-one play sessions. Consultants directed the teachers in key elements of the program: allowing the child to lead the play sessions, carefully observing and narrating the child’s behavior, describing the child’s positive and negative emotions, and being available as an emotional resource.

Using saliva samples that were assayed for cortisol, researchers found that children whose teachers participated in the Banking Time intervention showed declines in cortisol levels during the school day compared to those in the business as usual group.

Children in the child time intervention also showed some benefits from the one-on-one time, but they were not as significant. Hatfield said additional research is needed to better understand the effects of the Banking Time intervention and what, in particular, is having the positive impact on the teacher-child relationship.

“Is it one thing, or a combination?” she asked. “We know there is something meaningful about that one-on-one time within Banking Time and we want to know more about how we may be able to incorporate that into classrooms every day.”

It may difficult for preschool teachers and early childhood educators to spend 15 minutes a week in one-on-one play with each child in their class, Hatfield said, but even small, positive, one-on-one interactions could have a valuable impact over time.

“Spending even five minutes, once a week in a one-on-one with a child can help you get to know them, what they think and what they might be interested in,” she said. “That investment could pay off during a challenging time later on. It’s the quality of the time that matters.”

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Bridget Hatfield, 541-737-6438, Bridget.hatfield@oregonstate.edu

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Bridget Hatfield

Bridget Hatfield

Parenting classes benefit all, especially lower-income families

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Parenting education can improve the skills of every mom and dad and the behavior of all children, and it particularly benefits families from low-income or otherwise underserved populations, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

Researchers examined a sample of more than 2,300 mothers and fathers who participated in parenting education series in the Pacific Northwest between 2010 and 2012. The series, designed to support parents of children up to 6 years old, typically lasted nine to 12 weeks and consisted of one one-hour session per week led by a parent education facilitator. There was no fee for participants. 

The study, part of a growing partnership between the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative to increase access to parenting education for all families, may remove some of the stigma attached to parenting education, which has historically been associated with court orders for parents who’ve run afoul of child-protective laws.

“Parenting education works across the board,” said John Geldhof, an OSU assistant professor of behavioral and health sciences. “All parents can benefit. The way people typically learn parenting is from their parents and from books, and often times what they’ve learned is out of date and not the best practices for today. All parents – high income, low income, mandated, not mandated – can benefit from evidence-based parenting education.”

Neglectful or otherwise ineffective parenting strategies, which can be heightened by economic strain, can put children in jeopardy. While many parenting practices can lead to favorable outcomes in children, research indicates that the optimal combination usually features high levels of support and monitoring and the avoidance of harsh punishment. Those positive outcomes include higher grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance use, better mental health and greater social competence.

Findings of the OSU research, recently published in Children and Youth Services Review, indicate that parent education series serving predominantly lower-income parents resulted in greater improvements in their skills and their children’s behaviors compared to series serving higher-income parents.

“The results provide preliminary evidence that parenting education may be most effective when it targets underserved populations,” said lead author Jennifer Finders, a graduate student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Another thing that’s exciting - the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative classes that are offered are general in content, and we’re seeing evidence that they’re being adapted for diverse families. This suggests that the local parenting educators are implementing the programs with fidelity and also with flexibility.”

Finders called the results “really great preliminary findings.”

“Now we need to better understand the mechanisms that underlie the findings so we can tailor programs to specific families in exciting ways for research and for practice,” she said. “This highlights the need for future research that continues to involve the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative and other researchers at OSU and elsewhere. We think parents are gaining knowledge of child development, tools for dealing with the stresses of parenting, and social networks.”

The collaborative includes among its leadership Shauna Tominey, assistant professor of practice and parenting education specialist at OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children & Families, part of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. The parenting education series the collaborative offers are delivered at no cost to the parents.

“Given that the gap is widening between the white, middle-class population of children and children belonging to the growing low-income and Latino populations, examining the relative impact of parenting education programs across these diverse populations is essential,” Finders said. “We think parenting education can have the greatest impact by adapting existing curricula to be culturally relevant and sensitive to diverse children and families’ needs.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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John Geldhof, Ph.D.

John Geldhof

Recovering Latina breast cancer patients report big gaps in 'survivorship' care

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Breast cancer patients in one of the United States’ largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority groups are likely to experience numerous gaps in care following their primary treatment, research from Oregon State University suggests.

Seventy-four Latina women who’d had breast cancer participated in the “survivorship” care research, recruited through support groups and health fairs. The subjects, ages 30 to 75, took part in semi-structured focus groups that used a question guide crafted by a task force of academic researchers and community partners such as the American Cancer Society. Approximately half of the women were low-income, uninsured or publicly insured.

“Results indicate numerous gaps and unmet needs in Latinas’ survivorship care experiences, including problems with finances, continuity of care, unmet needs for information, and symptom management,” said Carolyn Mendez-Luck, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and one of the authors of the study. 

The California Breast Cancer Research Program provided primary funding for the research. Results were recently published in Public Health Nursing. 

Optimal survivorship care, according to the Institute of Medicine, includes the prevention of recurrence, new cancer and late effects of cancer treatment; the monitoring or surveillance for cancer and medical, mood and social issues; interventions for the effects of cancer and its treatment; and coordination among specialists and primary care providers to ensure all health needs are met.

“Many survivors experience persisting symptoms including fatigue, pain, depression and sleep disturbance, but until recent years, survivorship has been relatively neglected in education, clinical practice and research,” Mendez-Luck said.

People of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Central and South American descent comprise 17.6 percent of the U.S. population, and about 10 percent of the women in the Hispanic/Latino population will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.

Latina women are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages than non-Hispanic whites and also face linguistic and cultural barriers to diagnosis and treatment, including modesty; spiritual beliefs that cancer is God’s punishment; de-prioritizing their own health care in favor of their roles as mother and wife; and passivity in interactions with health care providers out of respect for their authority.

In addition, there are often financial hurdles - more than 25 percent of Latina women live in poverty and lack health insurance.

“Understanding the cultural context in which women receive care is important,” Mendez-Luck said.

Women in the study sample expressed confusion and anxiety associated with a lack of information regarding future surveillance and treatment once primary care concluded. Many were unsure who was to be in charge of their treatment in the future, what the right schedule was for follow-up examinations, what self-care activities were recommended, and what to expect regarding their physical and psychological well-being.

“Among the women in our focus groups, survivorship care plans were scarce,” Mendez-Luck said. “The vast majority of participants reported never having heard of them, or associated them with a completely different meaning - making a plan for how their families could carry on after they were gone.”

The research also showed that depending on the person, “survivor” could have negative or positive connotations.

“Negative perceptions included feelings that being identified as a cancer survivor was depressing, victimizing and stigmatizing,” Mendez-Luck said. “Also, that thinking about the cancer could potentially contribute to an increased likelihood of a recurrence, either by ‘tempting fate’ or from the stress brought on by negative thinking.”

Positive views, the professor noted, included feeling special, strong, and blessed by God. Many survivors felt they had a special purpose for living, often including a mission to serve others.

“A survivorship care plan is meant to be this living document for you and your care providers, a document a patient can follow through this entire process of what’s going on with the cancer and what she can do to stay healthy and reduce the chances that the cancer will return,” Mendez-Luck said. “It makes the patient truly a partner in her own care with health providers. But that’s not happening, clearly, at least not for these women. There’s an enormous opportunity there for improvement.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Carolyn Mendez-Luck

Carolyn Mendez-Luck