OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

OSU spinoff company NuScale to receive up to $226 million to advance nuclear energy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A promising new form of nuclear power that evolved in part from research more than a decade ago at Oregon State University today received a significant boost: up to $226 million in funding to NuScale Power from the United States Department of Energy.

NuScale began as a spinoff company based on the pioneering research of OSU professor Jose Reyes, and since has become one of the international leaders in the creation of small “modular” nuclear reactors.

This technology holds enormous promise for developing nuclear power with small reactors that can minimize investment costs, improve safety, be grouped as needed for power demands and produce energy without greenhouse gas emissions. The technology also provides opportunities for OSU nuclear engineering students who are learning about these newest concepts in nuclear power.

“This is a wonderful reflection of the value that OSU faculty can bring to our global economy,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU. “The research conducted by Professor Reyes, colleagues and students at OSU has been a fundamental component of the innovation at NuScale.”

NuScale has continued to grow and create jobs in Oregon, and is bringing closer to reality a nuclear concept that could revolutionize nuclear energy. The Obama administration has cited nuclear power as one part of its blueprint to rebuild the American economy while helping to address important environmental issues.

In the early 2000s at OSU, Reyes envisioned a nuclear power reactor that could be manufactured in a factory, be transported to wherever it was needed, grouped as necessary to provide the desired amount of power, and provide another option for nuclear energy. It also would incorporate “passive safety” concepts studied at OSU in the 1990s that are already being used in nuclear power plant construction around the world. The design allows the reactor to shut down automatically, if necessary, using natural forces including gravity and convection.

The Department of Energy announcement represents a milestone in OSU’s increasing commitment to university and business partnerships and its goals of using academic research discoveries to promote new industries, jobs, economic growth, environmental protection and public health.

“OSU has made a strong effort to build powerful partnerships between our research enterprise and the private sector,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “The DOE support for NuScale is a vote of confidence in the strategy of building these meaningful relationships, and they are only going to pick up speed with our newest initiative, the OSU Advantage.”

The Oregon State University Advantage connects business with faculty expertise, student talent and world-class facilities to provide research solutions and help bring ideas to market. This effort is in partnership with the Oregon State University Foundation.

News of the NuScale grant award was welcomed by members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation.

 

“Oregon State University deserves a lot of credit for helping to develop a promising new technology that the Energy Department clearly thinks holds a lot of potential,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Today’s award shows that investing in strong public universities leads to innovative technologies to address critical issues, like the need for low-carbon sources of energy, while creating private sector jobs.”

U.S. Rep. Peter De Fazio added, “Congratulations to NuScale and Oregon State University. This is a big win for the local economy.” 

“This is an exciting time for us, as our students and faculty get incredibly valuable real-world experience in taking an idea through the startup and commercialization process,” said Kathryn Higley, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiation Health Physics. “We continue to work with NuScale as it goes through its design certification process, and we are particularly proud of Jose Reyes for his vision, enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to this concept.”

OSU officials say the development of new technologies such as those launched from NuScale could have significant implications for future energy supplies.

“The nation’s investment in the research of small-scale nuclear devices is a significant step toward a diverse and secure energy portfolio,” said Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering at OSU. “Collaborative research is actively continuing between engineers and scientists at Oregon State and NuScale, and we’re proud and grateful for the role Oregon State plays in assisting them in developing cleaner and safer ways to produce energy.

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Rick Spinrad, 541-737-0662 or 541-220-1915 (cell)

Older, wealthier Oregonians most likely to take water conservation seriously

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A survey about water use and attitudes toward conservation among Oregonians has found that older, more affluent residents are most likely to take steps to conserve water.

Contrary to some past research, the Oregon State University analysis did not find significantly more conservation behavior among younger residents, those with more education, or those who live in urban, as opposed to rural settings.

The findings, published in The Social Science Journal, outline some of the challenges policy makers may face in motivating more people to conserve water, as the state increasingly will struggle to keep up with demand in the future.

“This research showed that most Oregonians clearly understand we are going to face water shortages in the future, although most of them say they haven’t yet been affected by this,” said Erika Wolters, an instructor of political science in the OSU College of Liberal Arts, which supported this study.

“We expected to find young people more involved in water conservation, but actually found the opposite,” Wolters said. “Gender also didn’t appear to play much of a role. Water conservation was most closely associated with age and income, possibly the ability to afford water-saving devices and interest in reducing costs.

“Those with higher income may also have more time and resources to commit to the environmental causes they believe in,” she added.

The report suggested that if higher income is predictive of water conservation behavior, then efforts to motivate such behavior may need to consider discussion of rebates, incentives or other programs that would appeal to lower-income residents.

The study also concluded, however, that some water-saving practices are fairly common by many people of all ages, incomes and situations – things like washing full loads of laundry, repairing leaky faucets, watering plants less often.

Both climate change and population growth in Oregon and the West are expected to place much greater demands upon limited water supplies in the future, the report noted. And although Oregon has a reputation for being an environmentally progressive state – it was named number two in “America’s Greenest States” in one 2007 survey – it’s not as certain whether environmental attitudes will always translate directly into behavior.

This study of 808 Oregonians tried to determine what sociodemographic factors were most closely linked to water conservation behavior. It did find that most residents understand there’s a problem, and a majority of them take at least some personal steps to save water. But unlike some other research, the analysis did not find that young, female and urban residents were the ones most likely to conserve water. Only higher income was predictive of that behavior.

The research ultimately concluded that neither attitudes nor sociodemographics could completely predict environmental behavior, and that old, established habits and issues of self-identity may play a large role.

 

 

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Erika Wolters, 541-737-1421

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US Drought Monitor
Drought map


McKenzie River

Future water declines

Ethnic identification helps Latina adolescents resist media barrage of body images

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/1jKMGql

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A strong sense of ethnic identity can help Latina girls feel positive about their body and appearance, a new study concludes, even as this group slips further into dissatisfaction with themselves when compared to a media-filled world of unrealistic images of thin white women.

Identification and pride in their ethnic background can act as a partial buffer against a deluge of advertisements, magazines, television shows and movies that show white women in sexualized roles, researchers said, and help teenage girls feel more comfortable with themselves and their appearance.

Scientists say anything that can help is necessary as sensitive young teenagers compare themselves to an onslaught of thin and glamorous models portrayed by the media, and suffer as a result. One out of every two advertisements featuring women depicts them as sex objects.

Some past research has suggested that women of color were less vulnerable to concerns about body image, but the latest studies found that Latina girls are reporting body dissatisfaction at a rate similar to that of Caucasian girls.

“We’re in a perfect storm of dissatisfaction,” said Elizabeth Daniels, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University–Cascades.

“This is a serious problem among girls, and our media environment and consumer culture has been making it worse for some time,” said Daniels, who is an expert on gender, body image and youth development. “The issue of young teenagers feeling bad about their appearance is so prevalent that we now call it normative. In other words, it’s normal to feel dissatisfied with your body.”

Most adults have more real-life experience to help protect them, Daniels said, but impressionable adolescents too often feel seriously unhappy with their appearance, think about their bodies constantly, and are easily persuaded to buy the latest beauty products that advertisers tell them will help. For some, severe dissatisfaction can turn into an eating disorder.

But in this research, which studied 118 Latina girls ages 13-18, scientists found that a stronger sense of ethnic identity helped some girls feel positive about themselves. The analysis was done by showing images of white women taken from advertisements to separate groups of girls. Some images were “sexualized” in settings, such as wearing bikinis or lingerie; and others had more conventional, fully-clothed poses. The girls then created statements about how they visualized themselves.

Those who included reference to their ethnic identity – by saying something like “I am Latina” or “I am Hispanic” – tended to view themselves overall more positively. But Daniels pointed out that while the association with ethnicity appears to be helpful and partially protective, it’s not a panacea.

“Media images are typically very idealized, done with white women, using lots of makeup and photo techniques, and they create a great pressure on young women to live up to this ideal,” Daniels said. “They see more than five hours a day of this unrealistic depiction on television and elsewhere, and it’s a tall order for them to just ignore it. Even the model, Cindy Crawford, once said that ‘I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.’”

However, this study indicates that cultural pride can help. One participant in the study wrote in her statements that “I am a proud Latina” and “I am not a skinny toothpick and proud of it.”

The new findings were recently published in Body Image, a professional journal, by researchers from OSU and Gallaudet University.

The researchers also cautioned that the buffering effect of ethnic identity might not stand up when Latina girls are exposed to Latina media models – instead of the white women that dominate traditional advertising. Girls with strong ethnic identity might be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of viewing idealized media images of Latina women, the report concluded.

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Elizabeth Daniels, 541-322-3186

Large study shows pollution impact on coral reefs – and offers solution

CORVALLIS, Ore. – One of the largest and longest experiments ever done to test the impact of nutrient loading on coral reefs today confirmed what scientists have long suspected – that this type of pollution from sewage, agricultural practices or other sources can lead to coral disease and bleaching.

A three-year, controlled exposure of corals to elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus at a study site in the Florida Keys, done from 2009-12, showed that the prevalence of disease doubled and the amount of coral bleaching, an early sign of stress, more than tripled.

However, the study also found that once the injection of pollutants was stopped, the corals were able to recover in a surprisingly short time.

“We were shocked to see the rapid increase in disease and bleaching from a level of pollution that’s fairly common in areas affected by sewage discharge, or fertilizers from agricultural or urban use,” said Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an assistant professor in the College of Science at Oregon State University.

“But what was even more surprising is that corals were able to make a strong recovery within 10 months after the nutrient enrichment was stopped,” Vega-Thurber said. “The problems disappeared. This provides real evidence that not only can nutrient overload cause coral problems, but programs to reduce or eliminate this pollution should help restore coral health. This is actually very good news.”

The findings were published today in Global Change Biology, and offer a glimmer of hope for addressing at least some of the problems that have crippled coral reefs around the world. In the Caribbean Sea, more than 80 percent of the corals have disappeared in recent decades. These reefs, which host thousands of species of fish and other marine life, are a major component of biodiversity in the tropics.

Researchers have observed for years the decline in coral reef health where sewage outflows or use of fertilizers, in either urban or agricultural areas, have caused an increase in the loading of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. But until now almost no large, long-term experiments have actually been done to pin down the impact of nutrient overloads and separate them from other possible causes of coral reef decline.

This research examined the effect of nutrient pollution on more than 1,200 corals in study plots near Key Largo, Fla., for signs of coral disease and bleaching, and removed other factors such as water depth, salinity or temperature that have complicated some previous surveys. Following regular injections of nutrients at the study sites, levels of coral disease and bleaching surged.

One disease that was particularly common was “dark spot syndrome,” found on about 50 percent of diseased individual corals. But researchers also noted that within one year after nutrient injections were stopped at the study site, the level of dark spot syndrome had receded to the same level as control study plots in which no nutrients had been injected.

The exact mechanism by which nutrient overload can affect corals is still unproven, researchers say, although there are theories. The nutrients may add pathogens, may provide the nutrients needed for existing pathogens to grow, may be directly toxic to corals and make them more vulnerable to pathogens – or some combination of these factors.

“A combination of increased stress and a higher level of pathogens is probably the mechanism that affects coral health,” Vega-Thurber said. “What’s exciting about this research is the clear experimental evidence that stopping the pollution can lead to coral recovery. A lot of people have been hoping for some news like this.

“Some of the corals left in the world are actually among the species that are most hardy,” she said. “The others are already dead. We’re desperately trying to save what’s left, and cleaning up the water may be one mechanism that has the most promise.”

Nutrient overloads can increase disease prevalence or severity on many organisms, including plants, amphibians and fish. They’ve also long been suspected in coral reef problems, along with other factors such as temperature stress, reduced fish abundance, increasing human population, and other concerns.

However, unlike factors such as global warming or human population growth, nutrient loading is something that might be more easily addressed on at least a local basis, Vega-Thurber said. Improved sewage treatment or best-management practices to minimize fertilizer runoff from agricultural or urban use might offer practical approaches to mitigate some coral reef declines, she said.

Collaborators on this research included Florida International University and the University of Florida. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and Florida International University.

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Rebecca Vega-Thurber, 541-737-1851

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Coral research

Diver doing research


Bleached coral

Diseased coral


Nutrient dispenser

Nutrient dispenser


A video interview with
Dr. Vega-Thurber is also
available online:
http://bit.ly/IdPqAt

Drug interactions causing a significant impact on statin use

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has found that many people who stopped taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs were also taking an average of three other drugs that interfered with the normal metabolism of the statins.

The other drugs can contribute to a common side effect of taking statins - muscle pain – and often led people to discontinue use of a medication that could otherwise help save their life, researchers learned.

The interactions of many drugs with statins have been known of for some time, researchers said, but are not being adequately managed by physicians and pharmacists, who could often choose different medications or adjust dosages to retain the value of statin drugs without causing this side effect.

The research, done as part of a survey of more than 10,000 current and former statin users, found that use of medications which interfere with statin metabolism almost doubles the chance that a person will discontinue statin use due to muscle pain.

The issue is of growing importance because statin drugs are some of the most widely used medications in the world, proven to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and decrease the risk of heart attacks, heart disease, strokes and death. About 20 million people in the U.S. now take statins, and new guidelines have just been issued to further expand the types of health conditions for which statins may be of benefit. Based on those guidelines, the number of statin users could increase to more than 30 million.

The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology by scientists from Oregon State University and four other universities or research institutes.

“We’ve known for some time of many medications that can interact with statins, but only now is it becoming clear that this is a significant contributor to the side effects, and often the reason some patients stop taking statins,” said Matt Ito, a professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy and president of the National Lipid Association, which funded this study.

“This issue is something physicians, pharmacists and patients all need to be more aware of,” Ito said. “There’s a lot we can do besides discontinue use of these valuable medications. You can change dosages, use drugs that don’t cause interactions, use different types of statins. Patients need to be proactive in understanding this issue and working with their health care providers to address it.”

Persons who have problems taking statins should discuss options with their physicians or pharmacists, Ito said, and not assume the drug has be to discontinued. A Medscape web site at http://reference.medscape.com/drug-interactionchecker also can help individuals learn more about possible interactions between statins and the full range of medications they may be taking.

Statins are usually well-tolerated, but in the recent survey, a muscle-related side effect was reported by 29 percent of participants. In former statin users, 62 percent of the people said that side effects, mostly muscle pain, were the reason they stopped taking the drugs.

There are many drugs that can interfere with statin metabolism, increase systemic exposure to the statin and raise the risk of this muscle pain, the researchers said in their report. This can include some common antibiotics, cardiovascular drugs, and others taken for treatment of cancer, mental health, HIV treatment and other conditions.

These interactions are not always adequately considered by physicians and pharmacists, however. One recent report found that as many as 20 percent of significant statin-drug interactions were missed in 64 pharmacies.

Besides drug interactions, statin side effects are also more common in women and associated with increasing age, history of cardiovascular disease, and some other conditions. Statin discontinuation has been associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity and death.

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Matt Ito, 503-494-3657

“Flipping the switch” reveals new compounds with antibiotic potential

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that one gene in a common fungus acts as a master regulator, and deleting it has opened access to a wealth of new compounds that have never before been studied – with the potential to identify new antibiotics.

The finding was announced today in the journal PLOS Genetics, in research supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

Scientists succeeded in flipping a genetic switch that had silenced more than 2,000 genes in this fungus, the cereal pathogen Fusarium graminearum. Until now this had kept it from producing novel compounds that may have useful properties, particularly for use in medicine but also perhaps in agriculture, industry, or biofuel production.

“About a third of the genome of many fungi has always been silent in the laboratory,” said Michael Freitag, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the OSU College of Science. “Many fungi have antibacterial properties. It was no accident that penicillin was discovered from a fungus, and the genes for these compounds are usually in the silent regions of genomes.

“What we haven’t been able to do is turn on more of the genome of these fungi, see the full range of compounds that could be produced by expression of their genes,” he said. “Our finding should open the door to the study of dozens of new compounds, and we’ll probably see some biochemistry we’ve never seen before.”

In the past, the search for new antibiotics was usually done by changing the environment in which a fungus or other life form grew, and see if those changes generated the formation of a compound with antibiotic properties.

“The problem is, with the approaches of the past we’ve already found most of the low-hanging fruit, and that’s why we’ve had to search in places like deep sea vents or corals to find anything new,” Freitag said. “With traditional approaches there’s not that much left to be discovered. But now that we can change the genome-wide expression of fungi, we may see a whole new range of compounds we didn’t even know existed.”

The gene that was deleted in this case regulates the methylation of histones, the proteins around which DNA is wound, Freitag said. Creating a mutant without this gene allowed new expression, or overexpression of about 25 percent of the genome of this fungus, and the formation of many “secondary metabolites,” the researchers found.

The gene that was deleted, kmt6, encodes a master regulator that affects the expression of hundreds of genetic pathways, researchers say. It’s been conserved through millions of years, in life forms as diverse as plants, fungi, fruit flies and humans.

The discovery of new antibiotics is of increasing importance, researchers say, as bacteria, parasites and fungi are becoming increasingly resistant to older drugs.

“Our studies will open the door to future precise ‘epigenetic engineering’ of gene clusters that generate bioactive compounds, e.g. putative mycotoxins, antibiotics and industrial feedstocks,” the researchers wrote in the conclusion of their report.

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Michael Freitag, 541-737-4845

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Pigment produced

Pigments produced



Fungal infection in corn

Fungus on corn

Cascadia Lifelines Program begun to aid earthquake preparation

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and eight partners from government and private industry this month began studies for the Cascadia Lifelines Program, a research initiative to help improve critical infrastructure performance during an anticipated major earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

The program, coordinated by the OSU School of Civil and Construction Engineering, will immediately begin five research projects with $1.5 million contributed by the partners. Recent work such as the Oregon Resilience Plan has helped to define the potential problems, experts say, and this new initiative will begin to address them in work that may take 50 years or more to implement.

Looming in Oregon’s future is a massive earthquake of about magnitude 9.0, which could significantly damage Pacific Northwest roads, bridges, buildings, sewers, gas and water lines, electrical system and much more.

“Compared to the level of earthquake preparedness even in California and Washington, it’s clear that Oregon is bringing up the rear,” said Scott Ashford, director of the new program. He is the Kearney Professor of Engineering in the OSU College of Engineering, and an international expert who has studied the impact of subduction zone earthquakes in much of the Pacific Rim – including Japan’s major disaster of March, 2011.

“Most of Oregon’s buildings, roads, bridges and infrastructure were built at a time when it was believed the state was not subject to major earthquakes,” Ashford said. “Because of that we’re going to face serious levels of destruction. But with programs like this and the commitment of our partners, there’s a great deal we can do to proactively prepare for this disaster, and get our lifelines back up and running after the event.”

Those “lifelines,” Ashford said, are the key not just to saving lives and minimizing damage, but aiding in recovery of the region following a disaster that scientists say is a near certainty. The list of participating partners reflects agencies and companies that understand the challenges they will face, Ashford said.

The partners include the Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland General Electric, Northwest Natural Gas, the Bonneville Power Administration, Port of Portland, Portland Water Bureau, Eugene Water and Electric Board, and Tualatin Valley Water District.

“When I studied areas that had been hard-hit by earthquakes in Chile, New Zealand and Japan, it became apparent that money spent to prepare for and minimize damage from the earthquake was hugely cost-effective,” Ashford said. “One utility company in New Zealand said they saved about $10 for every $1 they had spent in retrofitting and rebuilding their infrastructure.

“This impressed upon me that we do not have to just wait for the earthquake to happen,” he said. “There’s a lot we can do to prepare for it right now that will make a difference. And we have the expertise right here at OSU – in engineering, business, earth sciences, health – to get these programs up and running.”

The initial subjects OSU researchers will focus on in the new program include:

  • Studies of soil liquefaction, which can greatly reduce the strength of soils and lead to road, bridge, building and other critical infrastructure facility failure;
  • Cost effective improvements that could be done to existing and older infrastructure;
  • Evacuation routes for Oregonians to use following a major earthquake;
  • Tools to plan for hazards and anticipate risks;
  • Where and how earthquakes could trigger landslides in Oregon.

Ashford said the consortium will seek additional federal support for the needed research, and also more partners both in government and private industry.

OSU will also continue its collaboration with PEER, the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, which includes work by the leading academic institutions in this field on the West Coast. The Cascadia Lifelines Program will add an emphasis on subduction zone earthquakes, which can behave quite differently and produce shaking that lasts for minutes, instead of the type of strike-slip quakes most common in California that last for tens of seconds. And the utility lifelines work will be focused on the specific challenges facing Oregon.

Aside from some of the infrastructure not being built to withstand major earthquakes, Oregon and the Willamette Valley may face particular risks from liquefaction, in which soil can develop the consistency of “pea soup” and lose much of its strength. Liquefaction helped cause much of the damage in Japan, which has still not recovered from the destruction more than two years after the event.

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Scott Ashford, 541-737-4934

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Sinking structures

Sinking structures


Video of liquefaction in Japan:

http://bit.ly/dK6mfa

 

Excess omega-3 fatty acids could lead to negative health effects

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new review suggests that omega-3 fatty acids taken in excess could have unintended health consequences in certain situations, and that dietary standards based on the best available evidence need to be established.

“What looked like a slam dunk a few years ago may not be as clear cut as we thought,” said Norman Hord, associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and a coauthor on the paper.

“We are seeing the potential for negative effects at really high levels of omega-3 fatty acid consumption. Because we lack valid biomarkers for exposure and knowledge of who might be at risk if consuming excessive amounts, it isn’t possible to determine an upper limit at this time.”

Previous research led by Michigan State University’s Jenifer Fenton and her collaborators found that feeding mice large amounts of dietary omega-3 fatty acids led to increased risk of colitis and immune alteration. Those results were published in Cancer Research in 2010.

As a follow-up, in the current issue of the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, Fenton and her co-authors, including Hord, reviewed the literature and discuss the potential adverse health outcomes that could result from excess consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

Studies have shown that omega-3s, also known as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), are associated with lower risk of sudden cardiac death and other cardiovascular disease outcomes.

“We were inspired to review the literature based on our findings after recent publications showed increased risk of advanced prostate cancer and atrial fibrillation in those with high blood levels of LCPUFAs,” Fenton said.

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, which is one of the reasons they can be beneficial to heart health and inflammatory issues. However, the researchers said excess amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can alter immune function sometimes in ways that may lead to a dysfunctional immune response to a viral or bacterial infection.

“The dysfunctional immune response to excessive omega-3 fatty acid consumption can affect the body’s ability to fight microbial pathogens, like bacteria,” Hord said.

Generally, the researchers point out that the amounts of fish oil used in most studies are typically above what one could consume from foods or usual dosage of a dietary supplement. However, an increasing amount of products, such as eggs, bread, butters, oils and orange juice, are being “fortified” with omega-3s. Hord said this fortified food, coupled with fish oil supplement use, increases the potential for consuming these high levels.

“Overall, we support the dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association to eat fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout or sardines, at least two times a week, and for those at risk of coronary artery disease to talk to their doctor about supplements,” he said.

“Our main concern here is the hyper-supplemented individual, who may be taking high-dose omega-3 supplements and eating four to five omega-3-enriched foods per day,” Hord added. “This could potentially get someone to an excessive amount. As our paper indicates, there may be subgroups of those who may be at risk from consuming excess amounts of these fatty acids.”

Hord said there are no evidence-based standards for omega-3 intake and no way to tell who might be at health risk if they consume too high a level of these fatty acids.

“We’re not against using fish oil supplements appropriately, but there is a potential for risk,” Hord said. “As is all true with any nutrient, taking too much can have negative effects. We need to establish clear biomarkers through clinical trials. This is necessary in order for us to know who is eating adequate amounts of these nutrients and who may be deficient or eating too much.

“Until we establish valid biomarkers of omega-3 exposure, making good evidence-based dietary recommendations across potential dietary exposure ranges will not be possible.”

Sanjoy Ghosh from University of BC-Okanagan, Canada and Eric Gurzell from Michigan State University also contributed to this study, which was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Diabetes Association.

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Norman Hord, 541-737-5923

Breakthrough in study of aluminum should yield new technological advances

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon today announced a scientific advance that has eluded researchers for more than 100 years – a platform to study and fully understand the aqueous chemistry of aluminum, one of the world’s most important metals.

The findings, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, should open the door to significant advances in electronics and many other fields, ranging from manufacturing to construction, agriculture and drinking water treatment.

Aluminum, in solution with water, affects the biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and anthrosphere, the scientists said in their report. It may be second only to iron in its importance to human civilization. But for a century or more, and despite the multitude of products based on it, there has been no effective way to explore the enormous variety and complexity of compounds that aluminum forms in water.

Now there is.

“This integrated platform to study aqueous aluminum is a major scientific advance,” said Douglas Keszler, a distinguished professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and director of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry.

“Research that can be done with the new platform should have important technological implications,” Keszler said. “Now we can understand aqueous aluminum clusters, see what’s there, how the atomic structure is arranged.”

Chong Fang, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, called the platform “a powerful new toolset.” It’s a way to synthesize aqueous aluminum clusters in a controlled way; analyze them with new laser techniques; and use computational chemistry to interpret the results. It’s simple and easy to use, and may be expanded to do research on other metal atoms.

“A diverse team of scientists came together to solve an important problem and open new research opportunities,” said Paul Cheong, also an OSU assistant professor of chemistry.

The fundamental importance of aluminum to life and modern civilization helps explain the significance of the advance, researchers say. It’s the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, but almost never is found in its natural state. The deposition and migration of aluminum as a mineral ore is controlled by its aqueous chemistry. It’s found in all drinking water and used worldwide for water treatment. Aqueous aluminum plays significant roles in soil chemistry and plant growth.

Aluminum is ubiquitous in cooking, eating utensils, food packaging, construction, and the automotive and aircraft industries. It’s almost 100 percent recyclable, but in commercial use is a fairly modern metal. Before electrolytic processes were developed in the late 1800s to produce it inexpensively, it was once as costly as silver.

Now, aluminum is increasingly important in electronics, particularly as a “green” component that’s cheap, widely available and environmentally benign.

Besides developing the new platform, this study also discovered one behavior for aluminum in water that had not been previously observed. This is a “flat cluster” of one form of aluminum oxide that’s relevant to large scale productions of thin films and nanoparticles, and may find applications in transistors, solar energy cells, corrosion protection, catalytic converters and other uses.

Ultimately, researchers say they expect new technologies, “green” products, lowered equipment costs, and aluminum applications that work better, cost less and have high performance.

The research was made possible, in part, by collaboration between chemists at OSU and the University of Oregon, through the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry. This is a collaboration of six research universities, which is sponsored and funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Douglas Keszler, 541-737-6736

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Aluminum in manufacturing

Aluminum manufacturing

Nanotech system, cellular heating may improve treatment of ovarian cancer

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/18PLoY4

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The combination of heat, chemotherapeutic drugs and an innovative delivery system based on nanotechnology may significantly improve the treatment of ovarian cancer while reducing side effects from toxic drugs, researchers at Oregon State University report in a new study.

The findings, so far done only in a laboratory setting, show that this one-two punch of mild hyperthermia and chemotherapy can kill 95 percent of ovarian cancer cells, and scientists say they expect to improve on those results in continued research.

The work is important, they say, because ovarian cancer – one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in women – often develops resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs if it returns after an initial remission. It kills more than 150,000 women around the world every year.

“Ovarian cancer is rarely detected early, and because of that chemotherapy is often needed in addition to surgery,” said Oleh Taratula, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy. “It’s essential for the chemotherapy to be as effective as possible the first time it’s used, and we believe this new approach should help with that.”

It’s known that elevated temperatures can help kill cancer cells, but heating just the cancer cells is problematic. The new system incorporates the use of iron oxide nanoparticles that can be coated with a cancer-killing drug and then heated once they are imbedded in the cancer cell.

Other features have also been developed to optimize the new system, in an unusual collaboration between engineers, material science experts and pharmaceutical researchers.

A peptide is used that helps guide the nanoparticle specifically to cancer cells, and the nanoparticle is just the right size – neither too big nor too small – so the immune system will not reject it. A special polyethylene glycol coating further adds to the “stealth” effect of the nanoparticles and keeps them from clumping up. And the interaction between the cancer drug and a polymer on the nanoparticles gets weaker in the acidic environment of cancer cells, aiding release of the drug at the right place.

“The hyperthermia, or heating of cells, is done by subjecting the magnetic nanoparticles to an oscillating, or alternating magnetic field,” said Pallavi Dhagat, an associate professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and co-author on the study. “The nanoparticles absorb energy from the oscillating field and heat up.”

The result, in laboratory tests with ovarian cancer cells, was that a modest dose of the chemotherapeutic drug, combined with heating the cells to about 104 degrees, killed almost all the cells and was far more effective than either the drug or heat treatment would have been by itself.

Doxorubicin, the cancer drug, by itself at the level used in these experiments would leave about 70 percent of the cancer cells alive. With the new approach, only 5 percent were still viable.

The work was published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics, as a collaboration of researchers in the OSU College of Pharmacy, College of Engineering, and Ocean NanoTech of Springdale, Ark. It was supported by the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon, the PhRMA Foundation and the OSU College of Pharmacy.

“I’m very excited about this delivery system,” Taratula said. “Cancer is always difficult to treat, and this should allow us to use lower levels of the toxic chemotherapeutic drugs, minimize side effects and the development of drug resistance, and still improve the efficacy of the treatment. We’re not trying to kill the cell with heat, but using it to improve the function of the drug.”

Iron oxide particles had been used before in some medical treatments, researchers said, but not with the complete system developed at OSU. Animal tests, and ultimately human trials, will be necessary before the new system is available for use.

Drug delivery systems such as this may later be applied to other forms of cancer, such as prostate or pancreatic cancer, to help improve the efficacy of chemotherapy in those conditions, Taratula said.

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