Rafael Ortega, MD, the associate dean of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, has...
By Lisa Brown
24-hour fundraising drive for BU Annual Fund on April 30
The Boston University community includes 300,000 alumni and 29,000 parents around the globe, along with 30,000 students and 9,000 faculty and staff members. On Wednesday, April 30, the University will ask that far-flung group to come together for 24 hours—on campus and online—for the first-ever Giving Day.
The 24-hour fundraising drive will benefit the BU Annual Fund, which provides resources for the University’s schools, colleges, and athletic teams, as well as for scholarships and other initiatives. BU community members are encouraged to donate, participate in on-campus activities, and spread the word through social media. Donors can give to their choice of program or area within BU. But time is limited: Giving Day starts at 12:01 a.m. EDT on April 30, and ends at midnight EDT.
“This is an opportunity for alumni, students, parents, and friends to make a huge difference in a short period of time, uniting around a common goal,” says Dan Allenby, assistant vice president for Annual Giving. “Giving Day is all about participation; giving back to what made, or makes, your BU experience so great, supporting future students, and building community.”
To increase the impact of Giving Day, and to encourage and reward the philanthropy of other participants, BU trustee Stephen Karp (CAS’63) has issued a challenge: He will match, dollar for dollar, any gift of less than $1,000, and the first $1,000 of each larger gift.
To take advantage of the matching challenge, the Class Gift Committee is encouraging seniors to give to the Class Gift Campaign on Giving Day. “This is a great opportunity for students to take action and demonstrate why they love BU,” says Markiesha Ollison (CGS’12, SMG’14), the committee’s marketing chair. “I’m excited to interact with alumni. To students, alumni seem like distant cousins. But on a day like this, they seem more like brothers and sisters.”
Alumni, parents, and friends around the world are invited to get involved through social media. “It’s a time for alumni to reflect on the meaningful connection they have with the BU community,” says Mark DiCristofaro (CGS’06, COM’08), a film and TV producer based in Los Angeles. “For me, those connections have become clearer down the line.”
DiCristofaro plans to donate on Giving Day, in honor of those connections, and to say thank you to those whose contributions enriched his student experience. “At the College of General Studies and the College of Communication, enhanced facilities and equipment were donated by parents and alumni, and those had a direct effect on my BU experience,” he says. “And as a member of the golf team, I benefited from contributions from team alumni, which offset the cost of our travel and gear.”
Local alums can be a part of Giving Day across the Charles River Campus. At stations set up in the School of Management lobby, on Marsh Plaza, at the GSU Link, and at FitRec, student volunteers and BU staff members will answer questions, take donations, give away prizes, stage contests, and take photos and shoot videos to share online, so that alumni, parents, and others who aren’t on campus can be part of the fun for the day. And don’t forget to visit the photo booth on Marsh Plaza.
Social media activity
Participants can use the hashtag #BUGivingDay on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Vine posts to be part of the conversation—and to check out what others are saying about Giving Day. To show your support, switch your cover and profile photos to the Giving Day–branded versions available on the Giving Day website. After you donate, tell the community why, by posting your own video, photo, or testimonial using the #WhyIGivetoBU hashtag. Throughout the day, the BU Alumni Association will share #WhyIGivetoBU posts, and send out updates and bonus challenges, including opportunities to earn extra funds for individual schools and colleges.
Giving Day starts at 12:01 a.m. EDT on April 30, and ends at midnight EDT. Donate on April 30 here. Questions about Giving Day? Email email@example.com, call 800-447-2849, or visit the website. Learn more about all of the great reasons to give to BU here.
This Bostonia story was written by Alyce Nicolo (COM’07)
Gerard Doherty, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and chief of Surgery at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and has been elected as President of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeon (AAES). He will serve as President through 2015.
As president, Doherty will preside at council assemblies and the annual members’ assembly. He will appoint members to all committees, serve as an ex-officio member of each, appoint successors to open positions, and deliver the 2015 Presidential Address.
Endocrine surgery is the discipline of surgical management of endocrine disorders, including the understanding of the disease process, and comprehensive care of surgical endocrine disease of the neck and abdomen. The AAES is dedicated to the science and art of endocrine surgery, and maintenance of the highest standards in clinical practice.
“Being chosen by my colleagues to fulfill this role is a distinct honor. The AAES has been my professional home throughout my career, and I admire the many achievements that we have made as a group to improve the care of patients, to advance the field, and to train the next generation of practitioners.”
Doherty’s clinical focus is endocrine oncology and comprises surgical diseases of the thyroid, parathyroid, endocrine pancreas and adrenal glands, as well as the surgical management of multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndromes.
Prior to coming to BUSM and BMC in 2012, Doherty spent a decade as chief of General Surgery at the University of Michigan Health System. He is the immediate past-president of the Michigan Chapter of the American College of Surgeons and has held multiple leadership positions in national and international professional groups, including the Board of Directors of the American Thyroid Association.
A graduate of Holy Cross and Yale School of Medicine, Doherty completed his residency at the UC-San Francisco, including Medical Staff Fellowship at the National Cancer Institute. He joined the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine in 1993 and became professor of Surgery there in 2001.
Egos in BU center take a backseat to sharing, progress, and promise
In the video above, CReM founders Darrell Kotton, Gustavo Mostoslavsky, and George Murphy discuss how they use iPS cells to study disease development, conduct drug screenings, and eventually to correct genetic mutations, with the goal of producing healthy tissues and organs for transplantation. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi
“Our mission is to decrease the burden of human suffering on the planet, help patients, and advance new knowledge.” —Darrell Kotton
With the motto Advancing Science to Heal the World the BU stem cell scientists who founded the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) could be pegged as starry-eyed idealists or scientific superheroes. Or perhaps a bit of both.
CReM codirectors Darrell Kotton, Gustavo Mostoslavsky, and George Murphy have established themselves as venturesome researchers who are willing to share their discoveries with almost anyone. And they do it for free—bucking the prevailing trend to patent, publish, and protect scientific breakthroughs. The trio’s “open source biology” is just one of the things they teach to the next generation of stem cell researchers at CReM.
Open source biology can seem antithetical to scientists in an extremely competitive field. One young researcher training at CReM recently approached Kotton, a School of Medicine professor of medicine, seeking advice on how to answer an outside request for a vial of stem cells that took several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants to develop. The obvious answer, the trainee assumed, was to tell the researcher to wait until the discovery was published.
Kotton saw it differently. “Our mission is to decrease the burden of human suffering on the planet, help patients, and advance new knowledge,” Kotton reminded him. “If this competitor of ours has the same goal, then we’re obligated to share this cell vial with them, because that’s going to achieve our mission.…which is not to get credit and to stroke our egos.”
A naïve response? “Here’s the thing that nobody talks about,” says Kotton. “If you behave in this way, people in our community quickly get the idea that the BU-BMC CReM are the good guys of science. At some point, the equation gets so lopsided that people almost feel embarrassed that they’re not sharing with you and so they tell you stuff, and the whole field starts to move forward.”
In fact, CReM founders say that increasing numbers of researchers are asking CReM to collaborate on grants, and foundations have begun to recognize that funding a CReM project very probably means that resulting knowledge, expertise, and reagents will be shared with other academic or nonprofit laboratories without restriction or exclusivity.
“I can’t emphasize enough how unique that was for the community,” says Mostoslavsky, a MED assistant professor of gastroenterology. “We have dozens of emails that testify to that, saying, ‘I must tell you this is the first time in my 30 years of being a scientist that someone replied and sent me stuff the same week of asking for it.’”
Still, Mostoslavsky says, there is a “fine balance that is not easy to achieve” between freely sharing their work and protecting it once research has advanced to the clinical stage. “That is a major undertaking,” he says. “It’s very expensive—no academic institution can support it—so we do need a company to move forward,” which also means they’ll need patented protection of intellectual property.
Scientific soul mates
Kotton, Mostoslavsky, and Murphy met as Harvard postdoctoral fellows in the lab of renowned stem cell scientist Richard Mulligan, who is famous for his rigorous research and forthright style of mentorship. “It was more of a sink-or-swim methodology, where you really had to prove yourself,” says Murphy, a MED assistant professor of medicine. “Coming out of there, we were battle-tested and bombproof.”
The three gravitated toward each other as “scientific soul mates,” Mostoslavsky says. Long after fellow researchers had left the lab, they would gather for late-night pizza and animated discussions, probing one another’s data to test the strength of their work. “We were each other’s worst critics as well as biggest fans,” Kotton says. It was around that time that they began toying with the idea of conducting science their way—in a meticulous, yet open and collegial manner.
After completing his Harvard fellowship, in 2006 Kotton returned to MED, where he had done a fellowship previously, to launch his own lung stem cell lab. He confesses to “putting psychological pressure” on his friends to follow him to BU, and he is not at all unhappy that it worked. In 2008, Mostoslavsky came aboard, creating his own lab. He was followed soon after by Murphy.
Several events conspired to launch CReM on the Medical Campus. The founders discovered a strong advocate in David Coleman, Wade Professor and chair of the MED department of medicine, who emphasized the importance of a robust research presence on the Medical Campus. Kotton, Mostoslavsky, and Murphy had followed closely the rapid advance of stem cell biology since 2006, when scientists at the University of Kyoto developed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) by reprogramming an adult differentiated cell. A tinkerer at heart, Mostoslavsky was fascinated by the Kyoto process, but felt he could go one better. In 2008, he developed a more efficient tool to generate stem cells, called the stem cell cassette (STEMCCA). BU patented the tool, which has become industry standard.
In 2010, with STEMCCA and multiple publications under their belts, the trio established a virtual Center for Regenerative Medicine, with its own website, seminar series, and iPS cell bank carrying branded labels. All this was accomplished while working in separate labs, with Murphy’s and Mostoslavsky’s divided by floors within a building, and Kotton’s located across the street.
As the number of stem cell biologists, physician-researchers, and biomedical engineers grew on both BU campuses, the affectionately labeled CReM brothers felt it was time to pitch a physical center to BU President Robert A. Brown, who firmly backed the idea. Boston University and Boston Medical Center invested jointly in the endeavor, and in November 2013, CReM opened in its newly remodeled space on the second floor of 670 Albany Street.
In the video above, CReM founders discuss how they use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in their labs.
Clinical trial in a test tube
CReM’s mission is to advance stem cell research and regenerative medicine for the treatment patients, in particular those at BMC, with diseases such as cystic fibrosis, emphysema, sickle cell anemia, and amyloidosis. Investigators collect blood or skin cell samples, usually from patients at the Alpha-1 Center, the Center of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease, and the Amyloid Center, and reprogram them into iPS cells.
“Any cell can be reprogrammed,” says Mostoslavsky. “It’s a true biological rejuvenation. The cells really go back in time.” Researchers now have the ability to coax iPS cells—which uniformly carry a patient’s genetic mutations—into their desired cell line, such as lung, liver, or blood. (CReM’s iPS cell bank stores at least 13 such cell lineages.) Mostoslavsky says the resulting cells are “still a work in progress,” compared to those found in nature, but the process allows researchers to watch how an iPS-derived lung cell develops the early stages of cystic fibrosis. What took years to unfold in a patient takes days in the lab.
CReM investigators can screen drugs against patient cell lines to determine which medications are most effective for a specific genetic mutation—the “clinical trial in a test tube,” as Murphy calls it. “In theory,” he says, “you could develop therapies that are molded specifically for a particular patient with a particular disease.”
Developmental biology and drug screenings are now CReM’s bread and butter, but its founders keep in mind what they call their long-term “Apollo projects,” such as genetically engineering iPS cells to correct patients’ mutations. The resulting healthy cells could be cultured and multiplied to regenerate a transplantable organ that wouldn’t be rejected by the patient’s body. That particular medical breakthrough would mean Kotton’s wife would need to look for a new job. Camille Kotton is a transplant infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Kotton jokes that his “goal is to put her out of business.”
Kotton has been collaborating with a team of MGH researchers using a technology called lung decellularization and recellularization, which strips the organ of its cells and repopulates it with genetically engineered copies that lack the patient’s original mutation. Theoretically, the reprogrammed cells could multiply, fill the lung’s scaffolding, and someday be used for transplantation.
Kotton, who thinks it will be possible eventually to re-create lungs via 3-D printing technology, is collaborating on this with Christopher Chen, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering.
Meanwhile, Murphy dreams of brewing blood. “The human body makes 2.5 million red blood cells every second of every day,” he says. “How does one contend with that from a research platform?” He thinks they will be able to “harness molecular cues” that exponentially increase the amount of artificial blood they can produce in vitro. Such a discovery could eliminate the need for blood donation in the United States and—even more urgent—in Third World countries, where the practice is not widely accepted.
Another of Murphy’s Apollo projects is boutique blood, or the development of small batches that could be produced for people who suffer from sickle cell anemia or the blood disorder beta thalassemia and require transfusions of rare blood types.
Researcher as healer
In the past four years, word has spread about the CReM founders’ work to the point that as well as the emails from potential collaborators who want access to their work, they now get email from patients who either suffer from the particular disorders they study or have children who do.
The latter are heartrending. “‘We will sign whatever you want us to sign, and we don’t care how experimental your platform is, we would still like to use it to save our kid,’” Murphy recalls reading. He explains that although his team is working hard to find new treatments, right now there are no current stem cell therapies for their child’s condition. Asked when they might be available, he replies, “‘Sooner than you think.’ That’s vague, but it’s hopeful. And it also is the way that we see things.”
Kotton likes to tell a story that underscores CReM’s potential. He and his colleagues were approached about a child who suffered from severe cardiac arrhythmias. Their labs developed iPS cells from the boy’s skin cells and differentiated them into heart muscle cells, then sent them to researchers in New York City, who screened them against a series of drug regimens until they found a winning combination. After three months on the medication, the boy’s arrhythmia decreased from 100 incidents per month to zero.
“This success story represents, I believe, the first human being on planet Earth to be helped by the new iPS cell technology,” Kotton says. “If there is one patient who can benefit from these cells, then surely there are myriad more for generations to come.”
BUSM researchers have discovered that the anti-seizure drug ezogabine, reduced alcohol consumption in an experimental model. The findings, reported in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, may lead to more effective treatments for alcoholism.
Excessive consumption of alcohol is one of the leading causes of illness and death in the U.S. and has significant negative economic impact by limiting the productivity of workers and necessitating huge health care expenditures.
According to the researchers, this study provides the first evidence that alcoholism can be treated by this newly discovered mechanism that helps to regulate brain activity known as Kv7 channel modulation. “This finding is of importance because ezogabine acts by opening a particular type of potassium channel in the brain, called the Kv7 channel, which regulates activity in areas of the brain that are believed to regulate the rewarding effects of alcohol,” explained lead author Clifford Knapp, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM. “This research indicates that drugs that open Kv7 channels might be of value in the treatment of alcoholism,” he added.
Previous studies conducted by this research group helped to establish the value of anti-seizure drugs as medications to treat alcoholism. However, further research needs to be conducted to establish that the effects of this drug result primarily from its actions on Kv7 channels. “Because of the close proximity of the doses at which ezogabine reduces drinking and those at which it is reported to produce motor impairment, it is still important to continue to investigate how selective the actions of ezogabine are on the neuronal mechanisms that control alcohol consumption,” said Knapp.
The researchers believe these finding will encourage the search for other drugs that act on this system to discover more effective treatments for alcoholism.
This work was supported by the NIH Grant R01AA015923 (to senior author Domenic A. Ciraulo, MD) and by funds received from the Gennaro Acampora Charitable Trust Fund.
At a gathering of students, faculty and staff a plaque was unveiled celebrating the Medical Student Residence (MSR) official certification by the U.S. Green Building Council as LEED Gold.
“We are here to celebrate our LEED certification, which is a tribute to our Facilities department,” said BUSM Dean Karen Antman, MD. “They planned for sustainable design and construction because it is the right thing to do and that over the long term it is less expensive to run and maintain.”
LEED, an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally-recognized green building certification system. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in March 2000, LEED provides a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. It promotes sustainable building and development practices.
This is the second building on the Medical Campus to achieve LEED certification. The first was 670 Albany Street in January 2008. Throughout the University eight buildings have been certified and this is the fifth to achieve Gold.
“The MSR is more than a building, it is a learning community for our students,” said BUSM Associate Dean for Student Affairs Angela Jackson, MD. “They walk together to class. They know each other so much better because they live here together. The MSR community has expanded to include Medical Campus students who use the Field of Dreams that surrounds the building for recreation and to grow vegetables in the garden.”
The MSR was designed and built with the goal of reducing waste sent to landfills, conserving energy and water, providing a healthier and safer indoor environment for its occupants, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some highlights of the sustainable building strategies used at the MSR include:
- 18 percent more energy efficient than required by the building code
- Rainwater harvesting for landscape irrigation
- 40 percent water use reduction through efficient plumbing fixtures
- 88 percent of construction waste was recycled
- 33 percent recycled content of all construction material
Arguments counter city councilman’s attempt to ban Biosafety Level 4 research
In a discussion whose outcome may determine if Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) will conduct research involving pathogens such as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, speakers for and against research at BioSafety Level 4 (BSL-4) faced off last night at a lengthy Boston City Council hearing on a proposed ordinance to ban that level of research in the city. The ordinance was put forth by Councilman Charles Yancey, who told the standing-room-only crowd that he feared that BSL-4 research could pose a serious risk to the health and safety of the community.
While Yancey and several opponents of BSL-4 research tried to persuade the city council to support the ban, proponents, including Barbara Ferrer (SPH’88), director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), and M. Anita Barry director of the BPHC Infectious Diseases Bureau, argued that reliable safety precautions have been put in place. Representatives of the biotech industry also spoke in favor of BSL-4 research, maintaining that banning BSL-4 research would inhibit the growth of life sciences research in Boston.
Ferrer told the council that Boston has the toughest safety regulations on infectious disease research of any city in the country. She said that while there are 15 labs in the country that conduct research at BSL-4, Boston is the only city whose public health authorities regulate the permitting and inspection of the labs. She said the nine labs in Boston that currently conduct research at Biosafety Level 3 are also strictly regulated by the Public Health Commission. Ferrer told the council that her agency has been preparing for BSL-4 research since 2006 and has trained hundreds of police officers and firefighters to respond to potential emergencies.
Gloria Waters, a BU vice president and associate provost of research, told the council that she cares very much about NEIDL not only in her BU role, but also as a person whose family lives in the area. “BU and Boston Medical Center attract researchers and students who want to make the city a safer place to live,” said Waters. “No research will be classified, and details of all research are open for public consumption.”
Ronald Corley, NEIDL associate director and a BU School of Medicine professor and chair of microbiology, emphasized the promise of a research lab that can bring together expertise in many disciplines, such as chemistry, microbiology, and engineering.
“The great discoveries in science these days are coming from these kinds of multidisciplinary efforts,” he said. “The University’s mission is educating the next generation of scientists.” Corley said the mission of NEIDL is to develop vaccines, diagnoses, and therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases. “The NEIDL is not going to produce biological weapons, and it is not going to do classified research,” he said.
Thomas Robbins, chief of the BU Police Department and executive director of public safety at BU, described the elaborate procedure designed to transport pathogens to NEIDL. He said every delivery is tracked with two GPS devices, one on the delivery vehicle and one in the package containing the pathogen. Robbins also talked about extensive background checks, including psychological screening and drug screening, of all NEIDL employees.
Opponents of BSL-4 research at the hearing argued that safety studies of the lab conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were inadequate, and that NEIDL was constructed in “an environmental justice community” without sufficient dialogue with residents. Roxbury-based community activist Claire Allen claimed that BU failed to adequately communicate with local residents during the initial planning stages of the NEIDL construction. “We have never tried to compete with BU,” she said. “We are the most polite protestors in the world.”
Mel King, a longtime community leader and former executive director of the New Urban League of Greater Boston, said the community surrounding NEIDL was never asked if it wanted a biological research lab in its backyard. King, who repeatedly referred to the lab as a “bio-terror lab,” called for ending all research at all biosafety levels.
Mary Crotty, a nurse attorney for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said she had opposed NEIDL since 2005, and feared that local hospitals were not prepared to handle a “surge” of medical emergencies that might result from an accident.
Construction of the $200 million NEIDL facility was completed in September 2008, but controversy and litigation have kept much of the building’s 192,000 square feet of laboratory space closed. The lab is part of a national network of secure facilities dedicated to the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments to combat emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.
Last year, after legal challenges to a NIH assessment of risks associated with BSL-3 and BSL-4 research, US District Court Chief Judge Patti Saris ruled that a Final Supplementary Risk Assessment was sound, and that such research could be conducted safely at the BU Medical Campus site. The risk assessment examined a series of scenarios and potential consequences of procedural failures, including containment system failures and malevolent acts.
In a 76-page opinion, Saris found that “the NIH provides sufficient scientific support for its ultimate conclusions that the risks to the public are extremely low to not reasonably foreseeable, and the differences between the Boston location and the suburban and rural sites are not significant. In light of the benefits of placing the lab in an urban area like Boston, which provides opportunity for expert medical research collaboration, and the low risk of harm to the public, NIH’s decision is rational.”
In March of last year, the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs gave approval for the lab to conduct research at Biosafety Level 3 and Biosafety Level 4. Since then the lab has received additional required approval for BSL-3 research, and scientists at the lab are now gearing up for BSL-3 tuberculosis research that could someday stem the disease’s lung lesions in humans and prevent TB transmission by coughing. Research at Biosafety Level 4 requires a wait for further approvals from state courts, the Boston Public Health Commission, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An editorial in the April 13 Boston Globe advised readers that passage of Yancey’s ordinance “would be to overestimate any danger that the biolab poses to nearby residents—and to retreat from the singular role that Boston plays as the world’s greatest repository of life-saving expertise.”
The Globe cited the elaborate security measures that protect the lab, including perimeter fencing and walls that would resist truck bombs, auxiliary generators, a requirement that scientists who work in BSL-4 biohazard areas clean up after themselves and assist with medical emergencies that occur in biohazard areas, and elaborate biometric security systems in high-level laboratory areas that require the presence of two scientists, “reducing the possibility that one scientist working alone with pathogens could spirit a vial outside.”
The newspaper also pointed out that Yancey “had been invited more than once to tour the lab but hasn’t yet done so.”
The Boston City Council is expected to decide whether or not to vote on Yancey’s proposed ordinance in the coming weeks.
This BU Today story was written by Art Jahnke. Amy Laskowski did additional reporting for this article.
Approximately 40 students, staff and faculty from Boston University’s Charles River and Medical Campuses performed an impromptu lunchtime concert today for the caregivers at Boston Medical Center to commemorate the anniversary of Marathon tragedy.
The event was personal; some of the musicians were friends with BU student Lu Lingzi, who died from injuries sustained from the bombings and others who were injured at the Finish Line, many from the College of Fine Arts.
The performance, which lasted approximately 15 minutes, included an instrumental performance of Danzon no. 2 by composer Arturo Marquez and a musical and choral performance of “You Raise Me Up.” Watch the video.
According to Moisès Fernández Via, Arts Outreach Program director, “The goal of the event was to provide the BMC community with an unexpected moment of collective shared beauty.”
All BU Medical Campus faculty, staff and students are encouraged to stop by Talbot Green for the fun, interactive BUMC Earth Day Festival.
- Bring hard-to-recycle items: batteries, Styrofoam, printer ink and toner cartidges, etc.
- Bring your bike for a tune-up and free lights
- Bring your old clothes and help us reach our 100 ton donation goal of clothing to Goodwill
Cheer on BMC’s Marathon Team
At noon there will be a Team BMC pep rally for the 104 BMC runners participating in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Don’t miss free food (while supplies last)! Test drive a new Lincoln automobile, receive a gift card and BMC will receive a donation from Lincoln.
BUMC Earth Day Festival
- Thursday, April 17
- 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
- Talbot Green
Boston University researchers have learned new information about the consequences of overeating high-calorie foods. Not only does this lead to an increase in white fat cell production, the type prominent in obesity, but it also leads to the dysfunction of brown fat cells, the unique type of fat that generates heat and burns energy.
This study is the first to describe how overeating causes brown fat cells to “whiten.” Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the results illustrate the important role that a healthy diet plays in overall health and the pivotal role that brown fat plays in metabolism.
Using experimental models, the researchers demonstrate that over-nutrition leads to a cellular signaling dysfunction that causes brown fat cells to lose neighboring blood vessels, depriving the cells of oxygen. In turn, this causes the brown fat cells to lose their mitochondria, which leads to their inability to burn fatty acids and produce heat. This collapse can have far-reaching effects on the development of metabolic conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
“If we go back to when humans were hunter-gatherers, days could pass between when they could eat, so it was a survival advantage to be able to store excess energy in white fat cells,” said Kenneth Walsh, PhD, director of the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the study’s senior author. “What served us so well as primitive organisms is now hurting us because we have a continuous food supply and are accumulating too many white fat cells.”
The study results highlight the important relationship between fat tissue and the cardiovascular system and indicates that the cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol that contribute to blood vessel damage, could also lead to the dysfunction of brown fat cells.
“In addition to the expansion of white fat cells, our study shows that overeating causes brown fat cells to get locked into a death spiral, leading to their ultimate dysfunction,” said Walsh, who also is professor of medicine at BUSM. “More research needs to focus on whether stopping these activities from happening in brown fat cells could help combat obesity.”
This study was led by Ippei Shimizu, MD, PhD, an instructor of medicine in the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute. Funding for this study was provided in part by the National Institutes of Health under grant award numbers HL081587, HL68758, AG034972, HL116591 and HL120160.
Projects will increase academic flexibility, raise global signature
Geography and time are playing less of a role than they once did in higher education, and the Digital Learning Initiative’s first seed grants for online innovation are taking full advantage of the trend.
Thanks to these EdTech grants, medical professionals will soon earn microcredits for skills they didn’t have time to learn in their graduate school years. Dozens of Chinese graduate students will attend orientation before, not after, they arrive in Boston. Students of Korean, Hindi, and Urdu will be able to access grammar lessons on their smartphones, and undergraduates considering study abroad will get a firsthand view of life in Italy, Spain, and England before they get on a plane.
“Education is a process that prepares people for success and happiness in life,” says Chris Dellarocas, director of the DLI, which develops BU’s MOOCs (massive open online courses) and which awarded the University’s first EdTech grants last semester. “Every single dimension of this process has room for innovation and improvements through technology. BU needs to be on the forefront of innovation on all those dimensions.”
BU’s Council on Educational Technology & Learning Innovation (CETLI), which established the DLI last year, sent out the first call for distance learning proposals last spring to gather ideas from faculty and staff. Applicants were asked to consider three focus areas: expanding academic flexibility for University students, leveraging assets unique to BU, and supporting or extending BU’s global signature. Since choosing the awardees late last fall, Dellarocas, who is also a School of Management professor of information systems, DLI associate director Romy Ruukel, and members of a selection committee have been working with faculty and staff to develop their visions.
EdTech grants provide faculty with an opportunity to develop ideas that are out of the box or that push the envelope beyond traditional education methods, says CETLI cochair Azer Bestavros a College of Arts & Sciences professor of computer science and director of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. Bestavros says online technology encourages “flexibility on both sides: for the teacher to try pedagogies that are impossible to do face-to-face…and for students to be flexible about when and where they take courses.”
Faculty at the College of Communication were among those who welcomed the grant announcement. For the past five years, COM has seen a steady increase in the number of Chinese graduate students applying to its programs, quadrupling from 10 registered students in 2009 to 44 in 2013. The faculty welcomed the students, but saw that many struggled with the cultural nuances or classroom expectations taken for granted by native-born colleagues.
“We felt that we have an obligation to do all we can within reason to ensure success,” says Stephen Quigley, a COM associate professor of public relations. Along with Micha Sabovik (COM’96,’06), a COM assistant dean, Quigley is co–principal investigator of the college’s seed grant. “We saw this as an amazing opportunity to erase the geography” and facilitate Chinese graduate students’ transition to BU, he says.
COM will use its EdTech grant to pilot a series of summer online workshops and a weekly webinar that give entering Chinese graduate students an opportunity to ask questions about anything from culture and the English language to internships and professions. When they arrive in the fall, students will attend monthly seminars that focus on English writing and speaking. Current students and alumni from China will help faculty plan and present material. The experience is free and is optional for this year’s incoming class, but Quigley says it could someday become a two-credit course.
Gail March (CFA’73), a School of Medicine assistant professor and director of instructional design and faculty development, proposed the creation of the BUSM+ Medical Education Badge Program. The EdTech program would award digital badges—similar to Boy Scout and Girl Scout merit badges—to medical professionals who complete up to 10 online sessions covering lifelong learning skills. Enrollees would display their badges in electronic portfolios, CVs, or on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
March’s pilot course, Teaching and Learning, will be available in October, and she envisions three more courses—Curriculum Design, Academic Leadership, and Medical Education Research—covering skills, she says, that medical students and professionals want to learn, but often don’t have time to pursue in traditional classes.
Gisela Hoecherl-Alden, a CAS assistant dean, director of language instruction, and a professor of the professional practice in German, will use her EdTech grant to reimagine how languages can be taught online. “Up until now, there’s been no real technology platform to replicate what we do in a classroom,” she says.
Working with an Information Services & Technology team, Hoecherl-Alden plans to identify software that facilitates oral and written instruction in a virtual classroom, with enrollment held to a maximum of 16 students. Beginner Korean, Hindi, and Urdu will be the trial courses, but Hoecherl-Alden believes many others could follow once the technology is perfected. Fall classes will feature some online segments, and—if the template works well—spring classes might be fully online. The EdTech project will allow more students from around Boston, and around the globe, to access the University’s language courses.
“Once the beginning levels have usable templates,” she says, “it will be much easier to move advanced courses online.”
Willis Wang, vice president and associate provost for global programs, and his team of Charles River Campus and international colleagues will use their EdTech grant to develop online courses that enhance study abroad students’ predeparture preparation, in-country experience, and reentry to the United States.
Using technology that will be available as early as spring 2015, the courses will also provide students with a “platform to reflect on what they’ve learned and measure it,” Wang says.
Ruukel points out that each of the projects is still an experiment. “We want them to be successful experiments,” she says, “but they can also be a proof of concept.” She says the COM course could someday become required curriculum for Chinese graduate students, or serve as a template for other schools and colleges welcoming international students into their degree programs.
Dellarocas and Ruukel are now sorting through the second round of EdTech grant proposals, which have a new set of focus areas: potential MOOCs, how to enhance the residential experience, and how to reduce the cost of a BU education or increase the University’s revenue stream.
Although the latest round of grants was officially due by January 31, Dellarocas says, “if people really have some ideas and they have a burning desire to implement them, they can approach us at any time.”