. . i / ,,, ,-
UF SPIN-OFF COMPANIES
FORESHADOW STATE S
L ,r Mir ![ '.. nr Oli-. in _i ,. 1 .. ,:-J. Ir rl,.
'',. lir, Hi...... rirl,.Ji ,, ,.r in- in O i ,. LI, En,
His main point was that the nation's clean energy inno-
vators will help bring about energy independence while
creating new jobs and industries to drive economic recovery.
One of his leading examples was Sinmat, a Gainesville
startup featured in this issue. Sinmat is engineering bet-
ter ways to build microchips used in smart energy systems
such as efficient lighting. The president introduced Deepika
Singh, who founded Sinmat with her husband Rajiv, a UF
professor of materials science and engineering.
President Obama told Deepika and the other innova-
tors, "It's said that necessity is the mother of invention.
At this moment of necessity, we need you. We need some
What's true for the nation is also true for this university,
for this region and for Florida.
Like most other universities, UF faces severe cuts due to
the state's steep fall-off in tax dollars. At the statewide level,
Florida is struggling to find its way now that the mainstays
of housing and tourism are in such sad shape.
PEOPLE IN THE TECH
COMMUNITY SAY SUCCESSFUL
ON FOUR PILLARS: EXCITING
INVESTMENT, AND GOOD LOCATION.
Research, technology transfer, startups in Obama's
word, "inventiveness"- all offer a proven path to a better
For evidence, we need only look to the past.
People in the tech community say successful commercial-
ization rests on four pillars: exciting technology, entrepre-
neurship, investment, and good location.
We have demonstrated success in all four areas here at
the University of Florida.
"The Today Show" this winter featured WiPower,
another UF spin-off profiled in this magazine. Also, the
BBC was in town not long ago to film a segment on
Sharklet Technologies, which makes a unique antimicro-
bial coating for medical devices. These are just two of sev-
eral startups that have drawn national attention in recent
4 Summer 2009
SPECIAL ADVERTISING REPORT
Vice President for Research
Progress Corporate Park
Sid Martin Biotechnology Development Incubator
We also have a track record of successful entrepreneurs.
Look no further than Progress Corporate Park, adjacent
to the Sid Martin Biotechnology Development Incubator.
Some 1,200 people work in the park currently 85 percent
at successful UF spin-offs.
Investment is another strength. To be sure, the downturn
has made it tough to attract angel and venture funding,
but last year UF spin-offs cracked the $100 million mark
in venture funding. And, since the Sid Martin Incubator
was founded in 1995, its current and former occupants have
brought in at least $300 million in private investment dol-
lars as well as $100 million in grants.
Last but not least, there is a lot going on in this region.
We are part of the Florida High Tech Corridor Coun-
cil, which works to bolster the technology industry in a
23-county region throughout central and North Florida.
More locally, the Sid Martin Biotechnology Development
"IT'S SAID THAT
NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER
OF INVENTION. AT THIS
MOMENT OF NECESSITY, WE
NEED YOU. WE NEED SOME
Incubator is full, with nine companies occupying all of its
The City of Gainesville's incubator, the Gainesville
Technology Enterprise Center, is also full, with nine of its
Indeed, there is so much demand for startup support that
earlier this spring we made the decision to pursue another
incubator on the Alachua General Hospital property.
In our proposal to the federal Economic Development
Administration for a major grant, we argued that nurtur-
ing small, innovative companies is essential to restoring and
diversifying Florida's economy. The more we can do on this
score, the better, and this new incubator can add another
vital pillar of support.
Study: Alcohol Aff
Older Adults Mor
Older, active people
who have a drink or two
might be more impaired
afterward than they think,
according to a report from
versity of Florida research g
the Journal ofStudies on Al
Although people 50 or
the study metabolized alcol
larly to how younger people
performed worse on special
having moderate amounts
and did not always realize
were impaired. Soon after
hol, older adults also took
five seconds longer to comic
than their counterparts wh
have a drink.
ects to apply the brakes," said lead author
-e Sara Jo Nixon, a psychiatry professor
at I F'< McKnight Br-in Institute. "It
lice between a
'-,ck and not-a-
SI oni- .i In,_,:l.. "
,.,p ", in -', )7, an esti-
cuuoo U, i maed 12,y98 people were
killed in crashes involving
older in alcohol-impaired drivers,
hol simi- according to the National
e did, they Highway Traffic Safety
1 tests after Administration.
of alcohol More than half of adults
when they older than 55 drink socially,
having alco- according to a 2008 report
on average from the Substance Abuse
plete a test and Mental Health Services
o did not Administration. But few stud-
ies have focused on the
I hat doesn't sound like short-term effects
much, but five seconds is a big of social drink-
difference if you're in a car and need ing among older adults.
Mite Could Put The Bite
On Chilli Thrips
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Previous research mainly investigated
consumption of large amounts of
alcohol at one time, and generally in
young people. But results from stud-
ies of younger adults might not be
applicable to older people because of
age-related declines in cognitive skills,
as well as changes in how alcohol is
metabolized and removed from the
Nixon's group aimed to expand
understanding of the effects over
time of moderate levels of alcohol
consumption in healthy, active older
"You want to know how long does
it take for them to become sober
enough to engage in potentially dan-
gerous activity such as driving," Sul-
The study involved 68 nonsmok-
ers one group ages 50 to 74 and a
comparison group ages 25 to 35 -
who had at least one drink a month.
Within each group, some individuals
irn .,ici -i-n -....d t l[ r-n,.ia ,i r.. p ri ,..l .
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6 Summer 2009
SPECIAL ADVERTISING REPORT
were given alcohol while others were
given a placebo beverage that did not
elevate their breath alcohol levels.
When a person consumes alcohol,
concentration in the blood builds to a
peak, then dissipates. During the first
phase of the metabolic process, alco-
hol has a stimulating effect. During
the second phase, there is a sedative
or depressive effect.
During each phase at 25 min-
utes and 75 minutes after alcohol con-
sumption, respectively participants
were given tests that required them to
draw lines connecting numbered and
lettered dots on a paper, in chronologi-
cal order, without lifting the pen from
the paper. They were timed and evalu-
ated for how many errors they made.
The first test involved numbers,
while the second involved alternating
between numbers and letters. Those
tests give clues about a person's men-
tal processing related to movement,
and about the ability to mentally
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shift from one problem-solving strat-
egy to another. The researchers also
asked participants to rate on 10-point
scales how intoxicated they felt, and
how much they thought the alcohol
impaired their performance.
Older adults who had alcohol
took longer to complete the tasks
than younger adults who had alcohol.
But there was no such age differ-
ence between the older and younger
groups that had not had alcohol. The
researchers found that even though
blood alcohol levels for participants in
both groups rose at a similar rate right
after drinking and reached the same
peak, the older adults did worse on
tests. That suggested the performance
gap seen after moderate amounts of
alcohol was not because of age-related
differences in how the body processes
the substance, but rather because of
other factors influencing how alcohol
affected the individuals.
In the test portion during the
"stimulating" alcohol phase, older
adults who had alcohol were slower
than those who had not had any. In
contrast, alcohol seemed to give the
younger group a performance boost
during that phase.
During that same post-drinking
phase, when the older adults were
impaired, they didn't think they were.
And in the second phase an hour
and 15 minutes after having alcohol -
older adults thought their performance
was impaired, even when it wasn't.
"An older person might say 'Really,
I feel all right, I'm sure I can drive,'"
Sullivan said. "But the study shows
that you can't always take someone at
So what advice would Nixon give
to active, older adults?
"If you have a couple of drinks at
dinner, sit around, have dessert -
don't drive for a while."
Czerne M. Reid
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Biomarker May Show
'Root' Of Colon Cancer
To truly kill colon cancer and
eliminate the risk of recurrence,
it is important to kill the "root"
of the disease, according to a
University of Florida College
of Medicine surgeon.
"It's like a dandelion if
you don't kill the root it just
keeps coming back," said Dr.
Emina Huang, a UF colorectal
surgeon, who added that colon and
rectal cancers have high recurrence
and spread rates, especially if the
disease is not found until advanced
Her findings, featured in April in
the journal Cancer Research, identify a
biomarker for colon cancer stem cells
that she believes will help researchers
further evaluate the cancers' origins
and progression. The discovery sheds
light on the cancer stem cell theory,
an idea that has arisen because cancer
cells and stem cells share many quali-
ties, including the ability of cancer
stem cells to demonstrate self-renewal.
The research determined a protein
called aldehyde dehydrogenase 1, or
ALDH1, can be used to identify, iso-
late and track these ultra-resilient cells
throughout the development of malig-
nant colon or rectum disease. Previ-
ously used markers cannot as precisely
track colon cancer stem cells.
"Without a better handle on what
cells might be contributing to cancer
metastases and recurrence, we won't
have any targets to go after," said
Huang, an associate professor in the
UF department of surgery and a mem-
ber of the Program in Stem Cell Biol-
ogy and Regenerative Medicine at the
UF College of Medicine. "This gives
us a potential target."
According to the American Cancer
Society, about 150,000 Americans are
diagnosed each year with colorectal
cancer, and more than 50,000 die
from the disease. In addition to the
potential advances in therapeutic
strategies, Huang said having a more
direct target to explore will benefit
progress in the areas of diagnostics
In collaboration with Dr. Bruce
Boman, a professor of medical
oncology at Thomas Jefferson
University in Philadelphia, Huang
chose to evaluate ALDH1 because
of its known association with breast,
brain and other cancers. In addi-
tion to being a strong marker for
malignant colon stem cells, the
researchers believe ALDH1 may be
a marker for benign colonic stem
cells. Whether these two types of
colonic stem cells are one of a kind
still needs to be determined.
Researchers implanted human
colon tissue cells into mice and
analyzed the resulting growth.
Although normal cell tissue was
evaluated, it never replicated in
the mice only the tissue that
was malignant grew. Compar-
ing ALDH1 patterns with that of
the previously used markers, the
researchers found ALDH1's pres-
ence was much more targeted,
suggesting a way to more definitively
i.,n rcify colon cancer stem cells in the
* ',r':nal tissues.
They also noted that ALDH1
indicated an increasing number
of colonic stem cells throughout
the progression of colon tissue's
transformation from normal
cells to premalignant cells to
cancerous cells. These find-
ings support the theory that an
increase in ALDH1 expression
marks the tumor growth in colon
i ncer stem cells.
Although the theory that cancers
are seeded by cancer stem cells is still
becoming scientifically accepted,
Huang said she thinks that in every
cancer there is a small fraction of cells
capable of reproducing the cancer. If
these unique cells are not killed or
removed during treatment, the cancer
will not be entirely destroyed.
While changes in patient care are
most likely years away, she says the
findings give researchers an immedi-
ate target to focus on as they try to
develop new medical interventions
and optimize treatment regimens to
completely kill the disease.
Potentially, tumors could be exam-
ined to determine if there is an over-
whelming expression of the biomarker,
or tests taken to determine if the
biomarker may be circulating in the
bloodstream scenarios that could
possibly indicate a worse outcome,
thus signaling the need for more
"The next step is to look at some of
the predisposing conditions and see if
the pattern is suggestive of anything
we can do in the prevention mode,"
said Huang, who noted that people
with inflammatory bowel disease, for
example, have a higher risk of cancer.
Emina Huang, EminaHuang@surgery.ufl.edu
8 Summer 2009
SPECIAL ADVERTISING REPORT
Vitamins Might Help
Prevent Hearing Loss
Vitamin supplements can prevent
hearing loss in laboratory animals,
according to two new studies, bring-
ing investigators one step closer to the
development of a pill that could stave
off noise-induced and perhaps even
age-related hearing loss in humans.
The findings were presented at the
Association for Research in Otolaryn-
gology's annual conference by senior
author Colleen Le Prell, a researcher at
the University of Florida.
The supplements used in the
research studies are composed of anti-
oxidants beta carotene and vitamins
C and E and the mineral magne-
sium. When administered prior to
exposure to loud noise, the supplements
prevented both temporary and perma-
nent hearing loss in test animals.
"What is appealing about this vita-
min 'cocktail' is that previous studies
in humans, including those demon-
strating successful use of these supple-
ments in protecting eye health, have
shown that supplements of these par-
ticular vitamins are safe for long-term
use," said Le Prell, an associate profes-
sor in the UF College of Public Health
and Health Professions' department of
About 26 million Americans have
n.l.i i,.. . 'i. Loiri _i loss, according
to the National Institute on Deafness
and Other Communication Disorders,
the agency that funded the studies.
In the first study, UF, University of
Michigan and OtoMedicine scientists
gave guinea pigs the vitamin supple-
ments prior to a four-hour exposure to
noise at 110 decibels, similar to levels
reached at a loud concert. Researchers
assessed the animals' hearing by mea-
suring sound-evoked neural activity
and found that the treatment success-
fully prevented temporary hearing loss
in the animals.
In humans, temporary noise-
induced hearing loss, often accompa-
nied by ringing in the ears, typically
goes away after a few hours or days as
the cells in the inner ear heal. Because
repeated temporary hearing loss can
lead to permanent hearing loss, the
scientists speculate that prevention of
temporary changes may ultimately
prevent permanent changes.
In the second, related study in
mice, UF, Washington University in
St. Louis and OtoMedicine research-
ers showed that the supplements
prevented permanent noise-induced
hearing loss that occurs after a single
loud sound exposure. The researchers
found that the supplements prevented
cell loss in an inner ear structure
called the lateral wall, which is linked
to age-related hearing loss, leading the
scientists to believe these micronutri-
ents may protect the ear against age-
related changes in hearing.
The research builds on previous
studies that demonstrated hearing loss
is caused not just by intense vibrations
produced by loud noises that tear the
delicate structures of the inner ear, as
once thought, said Josef Miller, who
has studied the mechanisms of hearing
impairment for more than 20 years
and is a frequent collaborator of Le
Prell's. Researchers now know noise-
induced hearing loss is largely caused
by the production of free radicals,
which destroy healthy inner ear cells.
"The free radicals literally punch
holes in the membrane of the cells,"
said Miller, a professor of communi-
cative disorders at the University of
Miller is the co-founder of
OtoMedicine, a University of Michi-
gan spin-off company that has patent-
ed AuraQuell, the vitamin supplement
formula used in the studies.
The antioxidant vitamins prevent
hearing damage by "scavenging" the
free radicals. Magnesium, which is
not a traditional antioxidant, is added
to the supplement mix to preserve
blood flow to the inner ear and aid in
Colleen Le Prell,firstname.lastname@example.org
IL 4111011 0h
Smallpox Shown To
University of Florida researchers
have learned more about how smallpox
conducts its deadly business discov-
eries that may reveal as much about
the human immune system as they do
about one of the world's most feared
In findings published in May in
the Proceedings of the National Acad-
emy ofSciences, scientists describe how
they looked at all of the proteins pro-
duced by the smallpox virus in concert
with human proteins, and discovered
one particular interaction that disables
one of the body's first responders to
"This virus that 1-. -i
killed more human-
than any other
about how the
system works," said
Grant McFadden, a
professor of molecular genet- sm
ics and microbiology at the College
of Medicine and a member of the UF
Genetics Institute. "I'm always amazed
at how sophisticated these pathogens
are, and every time we look, they have
something new to teach us about the
human immune system."
With researchers from the Univer-
sity of Alberta, the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention and a private
company called Myriad Genetics, UF
researchers for the first time systemati-
cally screened the smallpox proteome
- the entire complement of new pro-
teins produced by the virus during
interactions with proteins from human
These protein-on-protein interac-
tions resulted in a particularly devas-
tating pairing between a viral protein
called G1R and a human protein
called human nuclear factor kappa-B1,
which is believed to play a role in the
growth and survival of both healthy
cells and cancer cells by activating
genes involved in immune responses
"One of the strategies of the virus
is to inhibit inflammation pathways,
and this interaction is an inhibitor of
human inflammation such that we
have never seen before," McFadden
said. "This helps explain some of the
mechanisms that contribute to small-
pox pathogenesis. But another side of
this is that inflammation can some-
times be harmful or deadly to people,
and we may learn a way to inhibit
more dangerous inflammation from
Si, llp..l.: is blamed for an
timated 300 million
century alone, and out-
breaks have occurred
most continuously for
i iousands of years. The
,1'ease was eradicated by
virus a worldwide vaccination
campaign, and the last case of small-
pox in the United States was in 1949,
according to the CDC. The last natu-
rally occurring case in the world was
in Somalia in 1977.
With the exception of stores of the
virus held in high-containment facili-
ties in the United States and Russia,
smallpox no longer exists on the plan-
et. Since it was no longer necessary for
prevention, and because the vaccines
themselves were risky, routine vaccina-
tion against smallpox was stopped.
However, public health concerns
regarding the possible re-emergence
of the virus through bioterrorism have
led to renewed interest in the develop-
ment of treatments for the disease and
Best Protectors From
Bullies? Girls Rule!
Playground bullies may meet their
match from where they least expect -
in the ranks of kids who are anti-bul-
lies and most of them are girls, a
new University of Florida study finds.
"Boys may be more likely to bully,
but girls are more likely to defend
those being bullied," said Jim Porter,
who did the research for his doctoral
dissertation in counselor education at
UF. "While a lot of attention has been
devoted to bully prevention programs,
very little recognition is given to kids
who jump in and try to stop the bully-
ing or comfort the victim."
These playground defenders merit
attention because research shows that a
majority of school shootings are com-
mitted by students who have been bul-
lied, and victims of bullying are at risk
for dropping out of school, suffering
from depression and bullying others,
10 Summer 2009
SPECIAL ADVERTISING REPORT
Porter said. Thirty percent of students
in sixth- through 10th-grade report
some experience with bullying, either
as a victim or perpetrator, he said.
Schools overlook good Samaritans
as they are putting a growing number
of bully prevention programs in place,
in some cases relying on peer media-
tion where students resolve the dis-
putes themselves, with mixed results,
"What is missing in these programs
is they don't incorporate children who
are already known to help victims," he
said. "Understanding kids who defend
against bullying may reveal a new ave-
nue toward preventing school-related
Porter surveyed 168 females and
101 males about how they believed
their mother, father, best friends and
favorite teachers would expect them to
respond if they encountered another
student being bullied. The offensive
behavior included hitting, shoving,
name-calling, teasing and ostraciz-
ing. Participants attended four middle
schools in North Central Florida and
were between the ages of 10 and 15.
Peer pressure can be a good thing,
the study found. Students said teach-
ers and parents were more likely than
best friends to expect them to try to
stop a bully, but they were more likely
to actually intervene if the message
came from a best friend. And more
girls than boys reported feeling pres-
sure from friends to come to a victim's
aid, Porter said.
Eighty-five percent of girls sur-
veyed said their best friend would
expect them to defend or help a bul-
lying victim, compared with only 66
percent of boys, Porter said. In con-
trast to this 19-point percentage gap,
there was only a 1- to 3-percentage
point difference in expectations for
boys and girls' behavior by teachers,
mothers and fathers, he said.
Being female or having more femi-
nine traits as measured by a gender
identity scale also increased the likeli-
hood that a student would defend a
bully, the survey findings showed.
"Gender stereotypes that girls are
more nurturing and boys are more
aggressive definitely play out in how
we expect boys and girls to behave,"
he said. "Somehow we communicate
these expectations to kids and it can
affect their behavior."
Schools may be the ideal place to
try to help change those ideas, said
Porter, who is now a counselor at Ala-
chua Integrative Medicine in Alachua.
"The news sometimes suggests that
violence makes schools a hazardous
place to be, but schools also are where
we can learn how to get along with
others and become adults," he said.
Giving a role in bully prevention
programs to bystanders who step in to
defend the victims on the playground
and in the classroom fits in with the
recent trend in educational psychology
toward positive reinforcement, Porter
"There was a time when people
were more likely to think of punishing
bad behavior," he said. "Now there is
a push toward finding and rewarding
Porter said he has always been
interested in the subject of bullying
because he was often beat up as a "new
kid" moving from one community
to another. "I never understood but
always wanted to discover why some
students were able to jump in and help
others," he said.
Focusing on defenders illustrates
dramatic changes in public attitudes,
"There was a time when bullying
was not researched because it was con-
sidered normal childhood behavior,"
he said. "It was thought of as being
part of growing up this learning to
determine a pecking order, and mak-
ing people stronger and weeding out
Bullying expert Drew Nesdale, a
psychologist at Griffith University
in Queensland, Australia, said this
research suggests that a little recog-
nized and under-used source of help
might be found in the victims' peers.
"Interestingly, the fact that children
who help might be responding to the
expectations of others is consistent
with research that has identified the
powerful effect of the norms or expec-
tations of others on their behavior."
A STRANGE-LOOKING SALAMANDER PROVIDES A WINDOW
INTO HOW VERTEBRATES REPAIR THEMSELVES
ith flaring red gills that jut out of a milky white
body, and round, black eyes that never blink,
the axolotl salamander has been trolling tropical
pools for 300 million years.
But only in recent years have scientists begun to appre-
ciate the axolotl's amazing ability to repair injuries that
would leave humans and other mammals paralyzed -
"The axolotl is the champion of vertebrate regeneration,
with the ability to replace whole limbs and even parts of
its central nervous system," says Edward Scott, a professor
of molecular genetics and microbiology in the UF College
of Medicine and director of the McKnight Brain Institute's
Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.
While worms, starfish and other invertebrates can per-
form wondrous feats of regeneration some starfish can
completely regenerate from a single, remaining arm the
axolotl is a vertebrate, with hind limbs and forelimbs -
like us. That makes them the closest relative to humans
that can regenerate spinal cords, limbs, internal organs and
substantial amounts of brain.
The question is why axolotls regenerate so well, while
people, by comparison, do not.
The answer is important enough for the National
Institutes of Health to invest $2.4 million in a Grand
Opportunity grant to Scott and co-investigator Dennis
Steindler, executive director of the McKnight Brain Institute.
The grant is funded through the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Working in association with the UF-led Regeneration
Project, an international collaboration of life scientists, their
objective is to create the genomic tools necessary to compare
the extraordinary regenerative abilities of the axolotl with
established mouse models of spinal cord injury, stroke, trau-
matic brain injury and other neural conditions.
One way to do this is to "turn off" the creatures' regener-
ative abilities, then see if they can be turned back on again.
At the MBI's Stereotactic Radiosurgery Laboratory, three
axolotls hover serenely in a water-filled plastic box, only the
gentle flutter of their blood-red gills betraying life.
Scott places one of the salamanders in the sights of a
linear accelerator, which will deliver precise doses of radia-
tion to the animal's liver and spleen, two organs that seem
to be the source of its blood stem cells.
"What we want to accomplish here is something like an
axolotl bone marrow transplant," Scott says.
"ULTIMATELY, A/H.AT MAKES THE
AX)OLOTL A GREAT MODEL FOR
PEGENEP.,ATION IS THAT THE MODEL
SYSTEMS 'v'E ARE MOST FAMILIAR
WITH MICE AND HUMANS -
DO NOT REGENERATE VERY WELL."
- ED SCOTT
TI I animals' opaque, white body comes in handy. A
I-.-il I-r light reveals their internal organs. No sophisticated
i ir, i necessary.
I Iey're ugly, but in a cute way," Scott says. "You can
pl r i,- illy see through them, even when they are adults, and
ir Ip. us to do some amazing things."
Slie idea is to disrupt the axolotl's regenerative abil-
ir, rid then see if it can be restored with transplanted
rI ni cells. Researchers will be able to follow the origin,
ni.. .vement and destination of the cells using green
fluorescent proteins. When produced by genetically
modified cells, these proteins have the useful qual-
ity of glowing vivid green under ultraviolet light.
"Axolotl stem cells look very different than
human ones and are concentrated in different
areas of the body," Scott says. "You can flush
the bone of the axolotyl and get maybe 50
Cells. However, the liver and spleen are full
of them, which mirrors the embryonic stages
of humans and mice. Hopefully we will track
stem cell migration from fetal liver to bone
marrow through this process."
This experiment is but a single step toward deter-
nni ng whether the axolotyl's regenerative talent is dor-
i Lnr within humans, ready to be revived with new drugs,
r~ il_' r. or treatments. Axolotls and humans share about 90
p r'ea- r of their genes, and the team has already referenced
Il ir. in and mouse genes with axolotl counterparts.
1 iUlrimately, what makes the axolotl a great model for
r i. r i tion is that the model systems we are most familiar
Irl mice and humans do not regenerate very well,"
'S-. ,rr ws. "By comparing how a mammal and a salamander
r ".. n to injuries, we can identify genes or proteins that
.. n now add back to the mammalian system to make it
The issue of what controls organ regeneration was
named among the top 25 major questions facing scientists
14 Summer 2010
in the next quarter century by Science magazine in 2005.
With medical science adding years to the human lifespan,
the importance of rebuilding and restoring old tissue and
organs is growing. But science had to enter the 21st cen-
tury to begin to take advantage of the highly regenerative
axolotl as a model for human disease.
"Only now have new genetic, molecular and cellular tech-
nologies, as well as scientific knowledge of the salamander,
mouse and human genomes and 'regeneromes,' risen to a level
where scientists can compare systemwide responses to injury,"
Steindler says. "I am extremely hopeful with the discoveries
being made in comparative regen-
erative biology that the questions
surrounding cell and tissue regen- ... ......- :...
eration in the human following
injury or disease are going to be ....
Steindler founded the Regenera-
tion Project in 2007 as an interna-
tional effort to overcome barriers
that have limited progress in
regenerative biology and medicine.
Featuring annual think tank-style
meetings of stem cell and devel-
opmental biologists, biomedical
engineers, genomic researchers and
clinicians, the initiative promotes
information sharing across dispa-
rate scientific fields.
It would be unlikely at most
symposia, but quite reasonable at a
Regeneration Project meeting, for .........................
a molecular cell biologist from the Green fluorescent p
Max Planck Institute in Germany, track where cells tri
a urological surgeon from W ake ..............................................
Forest University in North Carolina, a tissue engineer from
the University of Pittsburgh and a stem cell biologist from
the University of Florida to engage in a conversation about
The glue that holds these diverse interests together are
research fellows, another Regeneration Project innovation.
Introduced as the "experiment within the experiment" by
Steindler at the first project meeting, the fellows enhance idea
sharing and conduct joint experiments to find answers in the
biological systems of simple animals that can be applied to
the more complex tissue reconstruction needed in humans.
"It is going to take broad, multidisciplinary collabora-
tions across a number of scientific fields to improve health
care, but we are making that happen," Steindler says. "I
think the Grand Opportunity (GO) grant shows that these
efforts are recognized and valued on a national level."
"We are bringing together the best of the developmental
biology world with the best of the stem cell world and start-
ing the conversation, with the focus on how to get regenera-
tion to work in a mammal," adds Scott. "Essentially, our
body can heal itself, and that's why many of us live to be
80. But we can't do things like grow an arm or finger as we
did in the early stages of our development. We want to learn
how to turn those systems back on in people."
GO grants are intended to support research that lays the
groundwork for whole new fields
,of investigation with the promise
S of advancing biomedical research
and improving health care.
"This important model of
regeneration is one of several
being developed in organisms
that can repair themselves, using
genetics to find links to mam-
mals," says Naomi Kleitman,
repair and plasticity program
director at the National Institute
of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke. "We'll continue to watch
the progress of these exciting
studies to ensure that discover-
ies of genes that promote regen-
~eration are one day applied to
.... t improving human health."
The Regeneration Project is
................................................ also supported by the Thom as
in allows scientists to H. Maren Foundation and the
in the axolotl's body. Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson
................................ Research Endowment, the UF
Office of the Vice President for Research, and an anony-
Maren, a founder of the UF College of Medicine who
died in 1999, was a staunch advocate of using comparative
organisms to solve human health problems. His studies of
marine life led him to understand the chemistry and biology
of an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase, which influences
the production and flow of fluid in the eyes, brain, spinal
cord and lymph system.
The result was the development of dorzolamide, a top-
selling drug for glaucoma that goes by the trade name
Trusopt. Royalties from Trusopt support the Maren Foun-
dation and Maren's example helped inspire the Regeneration
Project, Steindler says.
"I AM EXTREMELY HOPEFUL WITH
THE DISCOVERIES BEING MADE
IN COMPARATIVE REGENERATIVE
BIOLOGY THAT THE QUESTIONS
SURROUNDING CELL AND TISSUE
REGENERATION IN THE HUMAN
FOLLOWING INJURY OR DISEASE ARE
GOING TO BE ANSWERED."
- DENNIS STEINDLER
"Dr. Maren's wife, Emily, told me her husband valued
the strategy of selecting the right organism to answer sci-
entific and medical questions, and that he was familiar
with axolotl studies," Steindler says. "He invented Trusopt
because of comparative biology, looking at sharks and other
marine animals. In that same way, we want to arrive at a
technique that can regenerate spinal cord tissue and other
tissues of the body."
An authority in adult human brain stem cell biology,
Steindler is exploring the potential of what are known as
multipotent astrocytic progenitor cells to treat disease and
spinal cord injury in humans through their ability to trans-
form into a limited number of needed cell types, such as
neurons the brain's workhorse cells.
Axolotls apparently have the same sort of cells in their
brains. The difference is the axolotl cells can repair a vast
amount of damage in comparison with their human cousins.
Malcolm Maden, a professor of biology at UF and a Regener-
ation Project member, has shown that axolotls can regenerate
up to a third of their brain matter in six weeks, reproducing a
structurally sound, functional brain.
Maden has also found hope for recreating some of
the axolotl's regenerative capacity in humans through his
research on the salamander's limbs.
In a paper last year in the journal Nature, Maden and
six colleagues found that cells from the salamander's
different tissues retain the "memory" of those tissues when
Standard mammal stem cells operate the same way,
albeit with far less dramatic results. They can heal wounds
or knit bone together, but not regenerate a limb or rebuild
a spinal cord. What's exciting about Maden's findings is
they suggest that harnessing the salamander's regenera-
tive wonders is at least within the realm of possibility for
human medical science.
"I think it's more mammal-like than was ever expected,"
says Maden. "It gives you more hope for being able to some-
day regenerate individual tissues in people."
Also, the salamanders heal perfectly, without any scars
whatsoever, another ability people would like to learn how
to mimic, Maden says.
"If we can figure out why the axolotl does this bet-
ter than the human and mouse," says Steindler, who has
begun cell transplant studies using axolotls and mice,
"then we are really going to get somewhere in human
As discoveries are made, more researchers will want to use
the axolotl as a model for exploring regenerative techniques,
which in turn will cause more grant applications to the NIH
for axolotl research. In that event, UF and other Regenera-
tion Project scientists will be well positioned to apply for the
In the short term, regeneration scientists are working to
elevate the axolotl to the level of scientific mainstays such as
roundworms known as Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly
Drosophila melanogaster, and, the king of the model organ-
isms the mouse as a tool to study biological processes
and human disease and injury.
Arlene Chiu, a scientific adviser for the Regeneration
Project and director of New Research Initiatives at Beckman
Research Institute of the City of Hope in San Francisco,
thinks axolotl research could increasingly appeal to the NIH
because it touches on many of the institute's priorities, includ-
ing application of genomics, development of treatments,
16 Summer 2010
invigoration of the biomedical research community and
Besides that, the model has something special.
"The axolotl is the highest, most complex organism that
can still do this clever trick of completely reconstructing a
whole body part in adulthood," Chiu says. "I like to think
of it in construction terms where we need both the materials
such as bricks and beams and the architect's plans. In regen-
erative medicine, can we learn where the biological blueprint
resides, and understand the basis of restoring and reorganiz-
ing many different types of lost cells and tissues? Muscles,
bones, nerves and blood vessels all have to be reconstructed
at the right time and in the right place, all in perfect coordi-
nation with the original biological master plan.
"It may sound like science fiction, but the reality is the
salamander is able to do all of these things," she says. "We
are not so far removed that we can't relate to them, learn
from them and try to apply their secrets to improve our
capacity to regenerate." 0
Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
Dennis A. Steindler
Joseph J. Bagnor/Shands Professor of Medical Research and Director, McKnight
BY JEAN FEINGOLD
4 million years ago, Antarctica was covered
by a beech forest. 33 million years ago it
3 4 was covered in ice.
Ellen Martin has spent her career trying to understand
what climatic changes occurred all those eons ago and what
they can tell us about the future.
"We must look to the past to understand how the climate
system works," says Martin, a professor in UF's Department
of Geological Sciences. "My research focuses on understand-
ing the complexities of the climate system by looking at the
record left behind in the rocks."
Rocks buried thousands of feet beneath the southern
By studying the chemical composition of microscopic
rocks and fossils found in cores drilled from the ocean floor,
Martin is getting a clearer picture of the processes that lead
to the dramatic climate change in Antarctica.
"Antarctica has a very interesting history," Martin says.
"We think of it as a huge, ice-covered continent, but that
happened about 33.7 million years ago in roughly 300,000
years, which is very fast in geological time. Before that, it
was a green forest."
Martin's research relies on sediment cored from deep
beneath the ocean floor by scientists on the research vessel
The vessel, operated by an international consortium
called the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, travels the
world's oceans on two-month expeditions to gather samples
from below the sea floor. In addition to the approximately
25 scientists and graduate students on each expedition, hun-
dreds of researchers like Martin utilize the cores.
Over the past decade, Martin has pioneered several
innovative techniques for using cores to measure the pre-
In a paper in the journal Science in 2006, Martin and
a graduate student described how they used a rare element
found in tiny fish teeth to date the opening of the Drake
Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific at the southern tip
of South America. The passage created a circular current
around the pole and scientists wondered if it contributed to
Antarctica's sudden cooling.
Scientists have long puzzled over this rapid cooling
because it occurred in a very warm era when levels of carbon
dioxide were three to four times current levels.
Theorists had suggested the plummeting temperatures
could be related to the opening of the Drake Passage, but
before Martin's research it was unclear whether the opening
and development of the circumpolar current occurred before
or after the cooling.
Scanning Electron Microscope image of mineral skeletons of radiolarians, tiny zooplankton that live in
the surface waters of the ocean. When these organisms die, their skeletons contribute to the underlying
ocean sediment. Image courtesy ofAnn Heatherington, UP Department of Geological Sciences.
Geologist Ellen Martin may have been one of the
few people walking across a frigid University of Florida
campus this winter who wasn't wondering whether all
the tall about "global warming" was just hot air.
But for someone who's looking at global climate 34
million years ago. a change in the local weather is no
"Weather is a daily atmospheric state. whether
it's raining, windy, what the temperature is," she says
"Climate is defined as a 30-year average of weather. It is
Martin points out that the mean annual global
temperature. averaging readings for every part of the
whole world, has increased by 0.7 degrees Centigrade
over the past century.
"Florida's cold winter was balanced by. for example.
how hot it was in Vancouver during the Olympics,"
Martin says "So you can't just look at one place or
one short time period and tall< about global climate
Global warming is a climate phenomenon Local cold
temperatures are a weather phenomenon. The two
should not be confused "
Martin's approach was to analyze isotopes of the
metal neodymium, which is absorbed by fish teeth
the size of grains of sand lying on the ocean floor.
Because neodymium has a chemical signature that
varies depending on whether it came from the Atlan-
tic or Pacific, Martin was able to show that water was
moving between the two oceans at least 40 million
"Before that current developed," Martin says,
"water traveled from the equatorial region to Antarc-
tica and back, carrying heat from the subtropics to
While the opening of the Drake Passage could
have precipitated the plunge in temperatures because
it isolated Antarctica from that warm water, the tim-
ing wasn't quite right.
"Our research suggested the ice could not be
strictly a consequence of cold water circulating
around Antarctica," Martin says.
So she started thinking about other ways of look-
ing at the climate, especially the CO2 levels, around
the time of the cold shift.
"The alternative explanation is that global concen-
trations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such
as CO,, became low enough to let Antarctica freeze,
which is the focus of my current research," Martin
says. "Once it started to get cold enough, the ice
reflected sunlight away, so it got colder and more ice
Martin applied to the National Science Founda-
tion's Marine Geology and Geophysics Program for
funding to continue her studies and was awarded a
three-year, $295,000 grant through the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In all,
Department of Geological Sciences faculty have
been awarded $1.87 million in federal stimulus
money to date.
The new research uses lead isotopes found in
ocean sediment to understand the kind of rock
weathering occurring on Antarctica during the big
"When rocks are weathered on a continent, it can
happen two different ways," explains Martin. "There's
physical weathering from wind or rain or glaciers,
which breaks big rocks into little rocks. And then
there's chemical weathering when water and CO2
from the atmosphere combine to form carbonic acid,
which di~snlveh1 rck "
"THE bEST A TC:,
Only chemical weathering removes
CO2 from the atmosphere, so signifi-
cant chemical weathering at the time
of the great cooling could indicate CO2
levels were changing.
The challenge was that there was no
reliable way to differentiate chemical
and physical weathering in the geologic
"One goal of this research is to
develop a new technique to determine
the chemical and physical weathering
history on Antarctica during this big
climate transition," she says. "In geolo-
gy, we are constantly looking for some-
thing we can read in the rock record
that can tell us about a fundamental
process like this. We don't currently
have a good proxy for determining
the weathering regime, to determine
whether it's chemical or physical."
So Martin and doctoral student
Chandranath Basak are developing
UI IjCDE R'f ,I THE
IC:i.1F'LE CITIES CF THE
CLI [.lATE ', S TEI.1 l' B
B, L C':'IIl G -T THE
PE-COIDP LEFT BEHHIIC' III
THE POC':-:" K ",.
They are processing 370 small core
samples, each just 3 inches long, col-
lected by the JOIDES Resolution in the
1990s from five different sites in the
extreme southern Atlantic and Indian
Each sample is analyzed in two ways. First, microscopic
fossils provide information about the composition of the
ancient seawater. Then, silicate rock fragments are ana-
lyzed to learn about the chemical composition of ancient
"We then compare lead isotopes from the seawater and
rock records," explains Martin. "When they are the same, it
indicates Antarctica was experiencing chemical weathering.
When they are different, it implies Antarctica was subject to
more physical weathering."
Preliminary analysis of sediments from one site found that
the lead isotopes from the seawater and rocks were similar
when CO2 was high and Antarctica was green, indicating
there was much more chemical weathering which helped
reduce CO,, leading to the buildup of ice. Analysis of samples
after ice had formed showed distinct isotopes for the two frac-
tions, suggesting much more physical weathering. In between,
the signals were mixed.
"The point is to expand this to other places and times
where we don't know what to expect," she notes. "It will help
develop a tool for future studies that can be used to learn
more about changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations."
Martin says climate is an extremely complex system that
is hard to decipher based on human time-span observations.
"The CO2 we put into the atmosphere today will be there
for 100 years. It will take a million years for all of the CO2
humans have generated already to go away," Martin says.
"We must look to the past to understand how the climate
system works. The best way to understand the complexities
of the climate system is by looking at the record left behind
in the rocks." 0
Ellen E. Martin
Professor, Department of Geological Sciences
S I ..11 .. .. ......... ., e.h tm l
Explore 2 I
UF COMPUTER ENGINEERS ARE DEVELOPING WAYS FOR ROADS AND CARS TO TALK TO EACH OTHER
BY MEGAN E. GALES
R ed means stop. Green means go. Yellow ... well,
yellow might be out of a job.
Imagine a system of roads connected to each
other through a wireless network. With sensors
at every intersection, on road signs and potentially in
cars themselves, information flowing freely among them all.
With a grant of more than half a million dollars from the
National Science Foundation and funded by the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, computer engineer
Shigang Chen and transportation engineer Yafeng Yin hope
to develop a system that's part transportation, part commu-
nication, and spans entire cities.
The idea is to turn a city's existing pervasive traffic
infrastructure into a pervasive communications infrastruc-
ture, Chen says. The sensors and wireless nodes would need
power. Traffic lights and telephone poles carry power.
"So if we can install wireless devices at these places, we
have the power supply," Chen says. "And these wireless devic-
es would be able to communicate among themselves or with
other nearby wireless devices to form a wireless network."
And because the wireless nodes would be right there with
the sensors, they could easily share the information the sen-
sors collect. Applications become virtually limitless because
the Intelligent Road's communication network would be a
Chen, an associate professor at the University of Florida,
says the network would create a real-time traffic map, from
which congestion could easily be monitored. If a wireless
device maybe a souped-up GPS unit in a vehicle
tapped into the map, the driver could pick a route based on
distance and traffic conditions, and avoid what could have
been an unpleasant commute.
Cameras and other sensors could help dispatchers send
the right kind of emergency personnel because accidents
could be assessed remotely. The architecture of the network
would not require the video to be sent back to a central
location only; video feeds could be accessed from anywhere
in the city.
Gone would be the yellow-light dilemma zone, where a
driver must quickly decide between a difficult stop or the
risk of running a red light, says Yin, a civil engineer who
brings transportation systems expertise to the iRoad project.
Because sensors would communicate with each other, the
traffic light would realize a car was approaching, and could
postpone the yellow light slightly to give the driver a chance
to make it through the intersection without feeling the need
to slam on the brakes.
By sending a signal to a wireless device in a vehicle, sen-
sors on road signs could warn a driver of impending danger
- such as a sharp curve in the road for a car traveling at a
high speed, or a car approaching too quickly from the other
direction when making an unprotected left turn.
Many modern roads already have sensors in the pave-
ment at intersections. When vehicles travel across them, the
magnetic field of the vehicles triggers the sensor and sends a
signal to a control box on the side of the road. The control-
ler in turn assigns green light times for the signal according-
ly. These sensors measure traffic volume, density and flow,
but they have no way of communicating with each other.
Lily Elefteriadou is director of UF's Transportation
Research Center, a nearly 40-year-old highly respected
interdisciplinary research center sought out for its ability to
analyze and solve transportation issues.
"New technologies help us predict traffic flows better -
better than the flow that's at the intersection, and help us
coordinate better because you can anticipate the amount of
traffic that you're going to have much better," Elefteriadou
She says there is a lot of research being done in trans-
portation technology right now, either to provide additional
information about traffic in order to more effectively opti-
mize the system, or to provide drivers with more informa-
tion so they can manage their travel more efficiently. TRC
studies show people are generally not bothered if they know
how long their trip will take and can plan accordingly.
"People get frustrated when they think that their trip is
going to take half an hour, and it takes an hour and a half,"
Elefteriadou says. "That's the most frustrating part."
The 95 Express project in Miami is an example of one
way technology can be used to ease congestion on crowded
roads. The first phase of the project was launched in Janu-
ary, and the second phase is expected to follow in a couple
of years. It uses a variable pricing strategy, where express
lanes on Interstate 95 are reserved for those willing to pay a
toll to use the lanes. Mass transit vehicles and registered car-
poolers can use the express lanes for free. Drivers who don't
want to pay and aren't carpooling or driving a city bus can
use the general purpose lanes for free.
"But if you're in a hurry and you're willing to pay, then
you can use the managed lanes," Elefteriadou says. "And the
worse the congestion, the higher the price."
Right now, tolls range between 25 cents and $2.65, but
may go as high as $6.20 in extreme conditions.
Elefteriadou says the project is an attempt to minimize
congestion, as well as to encourage people to use mass
transit. TRC is currently working on a project to analyze
the impact of 95 Express, but she says generally speaking it
Another approach is Orlando's new variable speed limit
project on Interstate 4. In this case, transportation authori-
ties attempt to manage congestion as well as safety by man-
"When they detect that there's congestion at one point,
they're trying to lower the speeds upstream so that you don't
have rear-end collisions as people are approaching the con-
gested area," Elefteriadou says.
It's like a crowd trying to leave a packed stadium after
a game. When everyone is doing their own thing, it takes
a long time. Get people to follow an established order, and
everyone gets out of the stadium faster. Follow the order,
increase the throughput.
"If everyone follows the speed limit, you actually end up
traveling faster," says Yin, an assistant professor at UF.
Practically speaking, though, getting drivers to comply
with the variable speed limit can be difficult, he says.
But what if the variable speed limit was also connected
to sensors in vehicles that physically limited the maximum
speed? It's this kind of question that keeps Yin awake
at night. The network he and Chen propose would be
capable of imposing such restrictions, if auto manufacturers
equipped vehicles with the right sensors. It's a touchy subject
at best, though.
"On the one hand, I think people don't like to have their
vehicles being controlled," Elefteriadou says. "However,
from a traffic and a systems perspective, you can optimize
operations much better if you have that kind of control over
There would be no bottlenecks, there would be no con-
gestion. Think of how a large crowd of people moves slowly
up a staircase, but quickly on an escalator as long as no
one treats the escalator like stairs.
Words like bandwidth, protocol and frequency roll off
Chen's tongue like water, and he explains how wireless net-
works work with elementary ease. But setting up a citywide
wireless communications network isn't as simple as Chen's
explanation makes it sound. It takes a lot more digital
oomph to keep a network of this kind of caliber going. So
much so that wireless network's capacity for data transfer
- its bandwidth becomes an issue. Bandwidth is funda-
mentally limited by the frequency range made available for
wireless communication. It's easy to increase a non-wireless
network's bandwidth: just run more cables. But adding
more wires isn't exactly an option for wireless systems.
Wireless networks transmit information using radio waves
of a certain frequency. A wireless device, whether it's a laptop
in the living room or a piece of hardware on top of a traffic
light, encodes information as radio signals and sends it to a
router. The router receives the information, decodes it and
sends it through a wired connection to the Internet. Because
information flows both ways, the process works in reverse,
Similarly, devices like radios, televisions, cell phones and
even garage door openers rely on certain radio frequencies
to send and receive information. The trick is that technol-
ogy in all of its forms must share the air. If they all tried to
24 Summer 2010
Shigang Chen believes
and communication systems
will help speed .,ff.
through busy intersections
like this one in Gainesville.
use the same frequency, they would block each other's signal
and none would work. In the United States, the Federal
Communications Commission regulates the use of frequen-
cies and allocates to wireless networks a specific, finite
frequency range. And just as the amount of cable in a wired
network determines its capacity, so the frequency spectrum
dictates a wireless network's bandwidth. The Average Joe's
wireless home network transmits at a frequency of 2.4 GHz
and uses a networking standard called the 802.11 protocol.
Most wireless technology, in fact, is geared toward this kind
of wireless networking, Chen says.
But trying to use this kind of protocol for a system as
robust as the one the researchers envision is like trying to
use a garden hose to extinguish a house fire.
Therein lies Chen's challenge: to establish a new theory
in protocols for the sophisticated management of wireless
"Even though a lot of research has been done," Chen
says, "not many large-scale wireless network systems like
this have been deployed."
The trick, Chen says, is to manage the traffic on the net-
work in order to make better use of the bandwidth. Various
kinds of traffic still on the network, not the road will
need to be prioritized, also. For example, emergency services
would always need to be able to send and receive the infor-
mation it needs. If digital congestion slows the network, the
system must be able to detect the bottleneck and reroute
network traffic around it in order to recover.
Another red flag the system must be able to detect is
compromised nodes. Chen says his team will develop secure
protocols to protect the system, study all possible attacks
they can think of and program it accordingly. But to truly
ensure the security of the system, there must be a way to
detect and isolate any node featuring the fingerprints of a
Programmers with good intentions will be encouraged
to develop applications. Chen says the researchers plan to
develop an engineering framework that will allow efficient
leverage of the system.
Chen hopes to take iRoad to prototype stage in about
three years. In many ways, the implementation of this kind
of technology depends on government, auto makers and
consumers. Yin calls it a chicken-and-egg problem: who
will come first? Toward that end, the U.S. Department
of Transportation created a program called IntelliDrive.
The program brings together the three groups in an effort
to connect vehicles and roadway infrastructure and make
transportation in the U.S. easier and safer and per-
haps even crashless. IntelliDrive resonates with the iRoad
"That's the vision we have," Yin says. "We think the next
generation of transportation should be this way." 0
Associate Professor, Department of Computer and
Information Science and Engineering
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering
UF's INSTITUTE ON AGING IS LEADING EFFORTS TO
KEEP OLDER AMERICANS MOVING LONGER
BY CZERNE M. REID
shortly after moving from Rome, Italy to Memphis,
Tennessee, Marco Pahor was walking to work as
he had done every day for years when a police
officer asked if his car had broken down.
While living in Europe, Pahor typically got several hours
of exercise daily by walking to and from public transporta-
tion, taking stairs and bicycling in the course of his daily
"In Italy, you exercise to live," he says. "When I moved to
Memphis I realized that you have to exercise to exercise."
Now at the University of Florida, Pahor runs most morn-
ings and weight trains at the gym a few times a week.
Being physically active is not just a way of life for the
53-year-old Pahor, who has been director of the UF Insti-
tute on Aging since 2005. It is a major focus of the research
program he leads. His mission, and that of the institute,
is to use multidisciplinary basic, clinical and translational
research and training programs to help older adults main-
tain their health and physical independence.
The institute builds on a long tradition of aging research
at the University of Florida, where geriatric studies have
been conducted in various disciplines since 1951, when the
first baby boomers were entering kindergarten.
As the boomers advanced in age, UF also advanced in
its studies of how to help them enjoy good health in their
Today, UF is well-positioned to be an authoritative
voice on aging and geriatrics. Florida is the nation's
"oldest" state, with nearly 19 percent of its 18 million resi-
dents older than 65. As the retiree population of the state
grows, Florida has the opportunity to lead the nation in
the science of aging.
UF has embraced that challenge through the Institute on
Aging. In recent years the institute has blossomed, recruit-
ing top researchers, conducting leading-edge research and
winning multi-million-dollar grants from the National
Institutes of Health and other agencies.
They include the largest grant ever to the university -
$64 million from the National Institute on Aging to pursue
a conclusive answer about whether physical activity can help
older adults retain their mobility longer. The first two years
of the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders,
or LIFE, study is covered by $29.5 million through the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The six-year LIFE study will compare the long-term effec-
tiveness and practicality of a physical activity program and a
successful aging health education program among seniors.
Many studies have shown that regular exercise improves
physical performance, and the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services recommends that adults engage in
at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes
of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, as well as
Still, little is known about whether exercise actually helps
prevent major movement disability, defined as the inability
to walk a quarter of a mile, or four blocks.
"We all know that physical activity is good for our
health, but the definitive evidence of whether it can prevent
UF's Oak Hammock retirement community is a natural laboratory for Marco Pahors research.
disability in older people whether you can prevent them
from being unable to walk is lacking," Pahor says.
Ultimately, about 1,600 participants will be randomly
assigned to take part in either a structured physical activity
program that includes moderate-intensity physical activity
such as walking and exercises to improve strength, bal-
ance and flexibility, or in a successful aging program that
includes health education workshops and supervised stretch-
ing. Individuals will be followed for about four years.
The study is being conducted at UF and seven other
institutions around the country: Northwestern University,
the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Stanford
University, Tufts University, the University of Pittsburgh,
Wake Forest University Health Sciences and Yale University.
The results of this study have important implications
for public health in a rapidly aging society and will fill an
important gap in knowledge in geriatric medicine, Pahor
and a colleague wrote in a January commentary in the jour-
nal Archives oflnternal Medicine.
The study will also provide valuable information about
the impact of physical activity on a range of health condi-
tions, and make a mark on clinical practice and public
health policy. In the end, that means a benefit to individuals
as well as to the wider society, the researchers say.
In January, the National Institutes of Health awarded the
institute another $15 million in recovery act funds for the
construction of a 40,000-square-foot building to house its
programs. The one-stop facility which includes clinical
research suites, laboratories, and lifestyle intervention ame-
nities such as an indoor walking track and demonstration
kitchen will make it easier for older adults to take part in
clinical trials, and strengthen connections among existing UF
research centers. Those include the Claude D. Pepper Older
Americans Independence Center, the Clinical and Transla-
tional Science Institute and the newly established Cognitive
Aging and Memory Clinical Translational Research Program.
The building project will create or retain an estimated
376 jobs, three quarters of which will be construction-relat-
ed. The others include 30 faculty positions as well as gradu-
ate assistants and support and administrative staff.
Scheduled to open in 2015, the four-story building is
being designed according to LEED Platinum certification
standards of the United States Green Building Council.
Platinum is the highest of a four-level rating system aimed
at responding to environmental challenges such as respon-
sible use of resources, reduction of pollution and making
indoor spaces conducive to good health and well being. The
new building incorporates features to improve indoor air
quality through the use of low-emission building materials,
efficient energy production and use through photovoltaic
cells, and light sensor technologies and water conservation
technologies. The project also calls for prevention of con-
struction activity pollution and reduction of light pollution
from the completed building.
With more than 90 active NIH and other grants totaling
more than $160 million, the new Institute on Aging build-
ing promises to be a busy place.
"The Institute on Aging initiative is very important to the
state and the nation," says Win Phillips, UF's vice president
for research. "Major support from the National Institutes of
Health enables the University of Florida to take a national
leadership position in this important endeavor."
28 Summer 2010
One of the early successes under Pahor's tenure was a
winning bid to establish a coveted Claude D. Pepper Cen-
ter at UF, one of only 11 around the country. UF's Pepper
Center is focused on addressing the problem of muscle loss
during aging, a condition called sarcopenia.
"Over time, muscle shrinks as fat expands," Pahor says.
"We are looking for novel ways to slow this process, but
right now nothing beats the benefits of physical activity."
Pahor began his commitment to aging at the bedside, for
16 years practicing geriatric medicine in Italy and conduct-
ing research on arrhythmia and damage to the aging heart.
In 1990, his interest in conducting large population
studies on cardiovascular disease led to a career-defining
meeting with Jack Guralnik, chief of the Laboratory of
Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry at the National
Institute on Aging, who was in Italy teaching a three-week
course on the epidemiology of aging.
"He was clearly one of the star students in the class he
was very knowledgeable and highly motivated to do good
work," Guralnik says. "It was just obvious to me then that he
was really dedicated to doing really good science in aging."
When Guralnik invited Pahor to become a visiting scien-
tist at NIH, Pahor seized the opportunity. For three years,
he traveled from Italy several times a year to participate
in large epidemiological projects at NIH and at the Johns
The NIH experience convinced Pahor he should relocate
"I realized that if I wanted to continue in this area I'd
be more likely to succeed on this side of the Atlantic Ocean
than the other," he says.
Pahor spent three years at the University of Tennessee
Health Science Center in Memphis studying aging and
hypertension. He then moved to Wake Forest University
in North Carolina to head the prestigious Sticht Center on
Aging and Rehabilitation, and became engaged in physi-
cal activity research. He led Wake Forest's successful effort
to renew its Pepper Center and restructured the center to
expand its focus from behavioral science to include transla-
tional science, integrating biological sciences and genetics.
It was during this period that the seeds of the LIFE study
began to germinate, when a pilot study found that the rate
of onset of mobility disability was lower among a group of
older adults who engaged in a structured exercise program
for a year, compared with a group of seniors who took part
in a health education program for the same length of time.
That and later, larger studies have contributed to what
Pahor called in his Archives ofInternal Medicine commen-
tary "a growing body of evidence that has given legs to the
hypothesis that the promotion of physical activity may be
the most effective prescription that physicians can dispense
for the purposes of promoting successful aging."
In late 2004 the UF College of Medicine was looking to
reinvigorate its aging research program and Pahor was ready
for a new challenge.
"When I looked at his CV my first reaction was, why
would he want to move," says Craig Tisher, then dean of
the College of Medicine. "He had a very strong program at
But Pahor saw an opportunity at UF to create and shape a
program that would bring together researchers from around
the campus as part of the same multidisciplinary team.
In addition to assuming leadership of the Institute on
Aging, Pahor was named chair of a new Department of
Aging and Geriatric Research, which focuses on finding
ways to prevent disabilities that keep people from perform-
ing basic activities of daily living, such as walking, eating,
taking care of personal hygiene or just getting out of bed.
The institute employs a multidisciplinary approach,
incorporating basic laboratory science as well as human trials
to identify potential areas in which to intervene.
Today the institute's talented epidemiologists, exercise
physiologists, geneticists, physicians and other experts work
under one umbrella toward a common goal. The institute has
recruited talented senior and junior faculty over the years who
are taking innovative approaches to the science of aging.
Professor Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, chief of the biology
of aging division, leads a team that is working to identify
cellular processes that lead to the loss of various functions
such as sight and hearing in the elderly. The group is also
investigating the molecular mechanisms by which processes
such as programmed cell death influence loss of muscle mass
in the elderly.
Junior faculty members, such as assistant professors Todd
Manini and Stephen Anton, also are actively engaged in a
number of studies, including a clinical trial of whether res-
veratrol, a compound found in red wine and dark-skinned
grapes, can help improve memory and physical functioning
in older adults.
And leading the team forward is Pahor, who still takes
the stairs every time. O
Director, Institute on Aging
.. I ... ..I I I,,
Florida Innovation Hub at UF Expected To Lead Downtown Gainesville Job Growth
C construction began in June on the Florida Innovation culture," said Win Phillips, UF's vice president for research.
Hub at UF, a "super incubator" at the newly desig- "Creating this Florida Innovation Hub allows Florida to
nated Innovation Square site between the university leverage UF's massive research base for the benefit of the
and downtown Gainesville that is designed to promote the state as it transitions to a more innovation-based economy."
development of new high-tech companies. The grant is one of the largest of its kind ever awarded by
The project is being funded through an $8.2 million the Economic Development Administration's Atlanta region-
grant from the federal Economic Development Administra- al office, said EDA regional representative Philip T Trader.
tion and $5 million from the university. "We are pleased to partner on this project with the Uni-
The 45,000-square-foot facility will nurture start-up versity of Florida," Trader said. "It is exactly the type of proj-
companies in much the same way as the Sid Martin Biotech ect EDA likes to fund because of the impact it can have on
Incubator in Alachua. But the Florida Innovation Hub will helping to create jobs for the state of Florida, particularly in
also become home to the university's main commercialization emerging, technology-driven sectors of the economy."
efforts. The building is scheduled for completion by Decem- UF is nationally recognized for its efforts to commercial-
ber 2011. ize research and averages about 10 new technology-based
The hub will provide technology start-up companies con- companies each year, said Jane Muir, associate director of
nected with the university with office space, laboratories, UF's Office of Technology Licensing and principal author of
conference rooms and other capabilities. In addition, it will the EDA grant proposal.
house UF's Office of Technology Licensing and UF Tech While companies located in an incubator are four times
Connect, the main commercialization offices for the univer- more likely to succeed than those that are not, according
sity. to the National Business Incubator Association, enhancing
"The hub will serve as a catalyst to get innovation from the incubator concept by co-locating it with the university's
university laboratories into the marketplace, where it can main commercialization offices is a new model the university
have an impact on the world while creating jobs in Florida," believes will yield even better results, Muir said.
said UF President Bernie Machen. "This is a super incubator," Muir said. "By putting all the
Programs and activities at the hub will bring together players in the same building, we expect the synergy that's cre-
entrepreneurs, investors, students and service providers to ated to accelerate our ability to create companies."
maximize the university's ability to create technology-based Muir added that as these companies mature in this facil-
companies for purposes of commercializing more of the ity and graduate into their own space nearby, they will create
research conducted at UF demand for restaurants, hotels and other businesses to serve
"The economic downturn showed us how important it is the growing workforce.
for Florida to diversify its economy beyond tourism and agri-
UF's proposal to EDA emphasized the statewide impact
of the project, given the university's strong ties to tech-
transfer efforts throughout the state, including partnerships
with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and Enterprise
"The Florida Innovation Hub is more than a bricks-and-
mortar undertaking," said David Day, director of the Office
of Technology Licensing. "We envision this project will
enable us to create numerous start-up companies that will
locate in the Gainesville area as well as throughout the state."
The project is also the anchor for Innovation Square, an
ambitious plan to develop the rest of the property over the
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Officials foresee mixed use for the remaining acreage,
possibly including both public and commercial spaces. Plans
for the new site will continue to develop over the next year,
Machen said. Funding for the property's long-term develop-
ment likely will come from a variety of sources, public and
private, depending on the nature of the project at hand.
Looking beyond the Innovation Hub and the surrounding
property, community leaders believe the Second Avenue cor-
ridor will add a vital element to the community by creating
an unbroken bridge between the UF campus and downtown