This story appeared first at news.wisc.edu.
Since the 1960s, tens of thousands of birds living on the Great Lakes have died during periodic outbreaks of botulism. The outbreaks have only become more common and widespread in recent years, leaving scientists who track the birds puzzled.
Setting out to understand the spiking outbreaks, ecologists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the U.S. Geological Survey turned to citizen scientists. In a USGS program, volunteers tracked bird deaths along Lake Michigan from 2010 to 2013 to discover what conditions lead to large die-offs. The researchers found that warm waters and algae — both of which have become more frequent over the years — tended to precede bird deaths, likely because they promoted the growth of botulism toxin-producing bacteria.
Benjamin Zuckerberg, a professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at UW–Madison, led the research. His team reports its findings Jan. 9 in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Their work could help improve bird monitoring programs by helping predict when botulism-related deaths are likely to spike.
Birds can contract botulism in much the same way people can: by eating food infected with the toxin-producing bacteria. The toxin leads to paralysis and death — often, in waterfowl, by drowning. To keep track of these deaths, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center created a citizen-science program called AMBLE (Avian Monitoring for Botulism Lakeshore Events) in 2010. Volunteers for the aptly named AMBLE regularly walked beaches in Door County, Wisconsin, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, recording the number of sick and dead birds of different species. Researchers at the center tested a sample of bird carcasses, and the majority tested positive for botulism.
The citizen scientists were indispensable for this research project, says Karine Princé, who is a postdoctoral research associate at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and is the lead author of the new report. Princé performed the botulism study while a postdoc in the Zuckerberg lab.
“With citizen-science programs, we are able to collect a lot of data at multiple spatial and temporal scales, which you can’t necessarily do in a university-led research program. It’s great that we can have access to this data,” says Princé.
Princé used satellite data to measure environmental conditions like temperature, water level and visible algae. When she lined up the environmental factors with records of waterfowl deaths, she found that botulism-related die-offs spiked when waters were warmer and algae growth was high. Many lakes have been warming with a changing climate, and clearer water caused by invasive zebra mussels provides more sunlight for algae to grow in thicker mats. Those conditions create the low-oxygen environments where the botulism toxin-producing bacteria thrive. These changes help explain why bird deaths have increased since the late 1990s.
The Zuckerberg team also found that die offs were synchronized within a roughly 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius from one location to another. That kind of spatial coordination could help monitor a wider geographic region with fewer people on the ground — data collected in one area could be applicable to a wide geographic region nearby. Princé also says scientists could watch environmental conditions to forecast when outbreaks are likely, and then send out more monitors to look for birds.
“It’s nice to have the citizens involved in this program. And I think citizen scientists are quite interested in learning more about the environment or the species they are monitoring,” says Princé. “And I think as scientists it’s very important that we share our results and share the output we can get from this program to keep people involved, because their involvement is crucial.”
“Without this citizen science program, we wouldn’t have been able to show what we’ve shown,” she adds.
This work was funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through an interagency agreement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency
Robin Mittenthal, who touched hundreds of student lives as manager, advisor, mentor and field course leader for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health, died suddenly this weekend following an accident at his farm.
“Robin was a very thoughtful, passionate family man,” says Sherry Tanumihardjo, professor of Nutritional Sciences and director of the undergraduate certificate. “His family was the most important thing to him. Some of this passion rubbed off in his mentoring of hundreds of students.”
Mittenthal managed the certificate program from just after its inception in 2011 to spring 2017, when he became center coordinator at the Upper Midwestern Regional Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease.
Employed by the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), he was a central contributor to the development and coordination of the undergraduate certificate. The program is co-sponsored by GHI and CALS.
— Trevor Cooper, MS (@TLCswerve) December 5, 2017
As an administrative manager, Mittenthal dedicated countless hours organizing the program and advising students. “Robin was involved right from the start of the undergraduate certificate in global health,” says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute. “The early success of the new program was due, in no small part, to his unfailing dedication and caring for the experience of each and every student.”
“Robin was an intelligent, caring and loved advisor by hundreds of students,” says Lori DiPrete Brown, associate director for education and engagement at the Global Health Institute and an undergraduate certificate leader. “He cared deeply about education, the environment and the way food systems related to health, but most importantly, his family was the center of his life.”
Mittenthal’s vibrant spirit as an advisor and educator predated his engagement with the certificate program. He served as an agricultural advisor with the Peace Corps in The Gambia during the mid 1990s and worked as a librarian and teacher for K-12 students.
— Aliya Iftikhar (@aliyazeba) December 4, 2017
At the Upper Midwestern Regional Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease, Mittenthal was responsible for coordinating partners in five states and tracking the center’s progress in addressing vector-borne disease challenges. Susan Paskewitz and Lyric Bartholomay, co-directors of the Center, admired the radiance Mittenthal brought with him.
“People have said so many amazing things about him — his passion for what he did, caring for students, sense of humor and intelligence,” Paskewitz says. “One of our students said he was like a perfect human being.”
In a GoFundMe campaign to contribute to the education savings accounts for Mittenthal’s children, Bartholomay wrote: “Robin Mittenthal had a rare gift for connecting to other people. He gave us his time, his undivided attention, his radiant smile, his stories that spanned an unbelievable repertoire of life experiences, his infectious enthusiasm, his thanks and his encouragement. In so doing, he touched lives of countless colleagues in entomology and CALS, of hundreds of undergraduate advisees in the Global Health certificate, and of the students, staff and colleagues in and surrounding a new center on campus for mosquito and tick-borne disease.”
UW senior KM Barnett met with Mittenthal last week about plans for next semester’s work at the center. The short meeting became two hours to visit about her long- and short-term career goals. She remembers: “At the end of the meeting, he said to me, ‘I am so excited for all the things you’ll do.’ His words warmed me with comfort and confidence. … I am grateful for Robin’s keen ability to listen and say the right thing at just the right time.”
Sweta Shrestha, program manager for the Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellowship Program at the Population Health Institute, worked closely with Mittenthal during her time as GHI’s assistant director for education, especially in the early stages of the certificate program. “He was larger than life, and he cared so deeply,” she says. “There are so many students he’s impacted. He wanted to nurture every student, and he did — he put everyone else ahead of himself. If a student needed a recommendation letter and he was up to his ears in work, he wouldn’t hesitate to say yes.”
Across campus, students mourn. Samuel Park, a senior with a Certificate in Global Health, remembers Mittenthal as a kind-hearted, passionate advisor. “He will forever be remembered as a shining light in the campus community who inspired many, many students to pursue careers in support of our collective health,” says Catherine Goslin (’17), who earned her undergraduate certificate.
A caring mentor and tireless advocate for students. You will be missed Robin. https://t.co/BUS67h7aM1
— Duncan Mahood (@DuncanMahood) December 5, 2017
— Eric Obscherning (@EricObscherning) December 4, 2017
During Mittenthal’s tenure, the certificate expanded to reach hundreds of students. It has become the largest undergraduate certificate on campus. “The connections he made across campus were incredible,” says Devika Suri, who worked with Mittenthal as an undergraduate certificate advisor. “Everyone knew him and respected him. He was able to bridge different areas of campus to bring people together and collaborate.”
Mitthenthal’s impact resounded across campus. Prior to working for the certificate, he served as chairman of the board overseeing the Eagle Heights Community Gardens while pursuing his Ph.D. in entomology, studying how organic fertilizer affected insect pests.
“He tried to infuse his love of the land and earth with his job,” Suri says. “Farming was his love and passion, and his dream was always to have a farm.”
A dream that came to life in Little Mammoth Berry Farm, LLC, a farm on a beautiful plot in Belleville, Wisconsin, that will reflect the energy and compassion of Mittenthal, it’s builder, for years to come.
Mittenthal was 43. He is survived by his wife, Daniella Molle, and their two children.
“He was a salt of the earth kind of guy,” Shrestha says. “He was so good, and so honest. The spaces he made for students were his way of showing how much he cared about global health, and the spaces the land makes for us.”
Mittenthal was remembered at grief sessions for faculty and staff, and students, Tuesday.
His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cress Funeral Home, 6021 University Avenue. Visitation for family and close friends begins at 10 a.m. His obituary has been posted.
To contribute to the GoFundMe campaign, click here.
By Yusra Murad/ December 6, 2017
Photo by George Hesselberg/Wisconsin State Journal
This story appeared first at news.wisc.edu.
In 2008, Kevin Gibbons began research in Uganda’s fishing communities. His goal, as a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was to understand how efforts to promote sustainable fisheries affected family income.
And then a series of “smack yourself on the forehead” moments caused him to switch gears from fishery management to the problem of access to health care.
Today, Gibbons is executive director of Health Access Connect (HAC), a non-profit that merges microfinance and health-care access in Uganda. HAC lends to taxi drivers wanting to buy a motorcycle. In return, the driver agrees to spend three days a month transporting government health workers to nearby villages for a monthly clinic.
Gibbons received his Master’s degree from UW–Madison in 2012 in conservation biology and sustainable development.
The first head-smack occurred during interviews at a fishing community on the shore of Lake Victoria, when he learned that villagers were still dying of HIV/AIDS, even though the government was offering free, effective medicine just three miles away.
A second bit of enlightenment occurred at a remote island on Lake Victoria. “It was a very exotic trip, and I was enjoying myself,” Gibbons recalls. “When I asked about life on the island, my source said, ‘If I could leave, I would leave tomorrow. If I get sick, if a mother is in labor, or a child breaks an arm, it’s an eight-hour boat trip’” to the nearest clinic. Gibbons adds, “Afterwards, I didn’t see those hours-long motorcycle and boat rides in the same way.”
As Gibbons and HAC co-founder Carolyne Ariokot were incubating ideas to bridge the gap, a friend asked Gibbons for a loan to buy a motorcycle to use as a taxi, which is a standard way to get around in rural Uganda. “Mike Nsubuga walked me through the business,” Gibbons says. “Motorcycles cost $1,300, so most guys rent, which makes for an expensive, unstable livelihood.”
By 2014, he and Ariokot began to see a solution in micro-finance loans that would provide income and health transport.
Although treating HIV/AIDS had been the initial impetus for thinking about expanding the reach of existing health services, the goal has broadened.
“There are issues of privacy,” says Gibbons. “If that’s all we did, you would know that patients were HIV-positive. Also, there is demand for other services.”
Frequent clinic services include HIV and malaria testing, vaccines for children, family planning and perinatal care.
All care is delivered by government employees, Gibbons emphasizes, with HAC simply providing transport to and from the villages.
Lisa Naughton, who is chair of the department of geography at UW–Madison, says Gibbons was “a great communicator and a force for good in the world.” Naughton, who has studied the links between poverty and the environment in Uganda, says “you find people in the poorest remote areas, languishing, ill at home, because they can’t even get $3 to get to a clinic in a nearby town.”
With HAC’s win-win approach, she says, “A lot of young men are helping their homes and families by becoming motorcycle taxi drivers.”
Health Access Connect now has three full-time and three part-time employees. Motorcycle loans are just the start. HAC has bought four ambulance trailers that can trail behind a motorcycle, is surveying health access in Uganda, and it’s hiring. “The common thread is that we are always trying to serve the health needs of those in remote areas,” Gibbons says.
At present, HAC’s bread and butter is the micro-finance enabled transport of health workers. For the 18-month term of the loan, one motorcycle and its driver serve three villages with a monthly clinic. Then, if the driver has paid the loan every week, “he owns the motorcycle and is not obligated to drive for us,” Gibbons says. “At that point, we may keep them on retainer, or take the money and loan it out for another motorcycle.”
Committing three days will trim the driver’s income, “but it’s a great loan and a great opportunity,” Gibbons says. Over the 18-month course of one loan, he says, that driver can enable 2,625 people to be treated. “And it’s no problem at all to find guys who want a loan.”
Health Access Connect starts its annual fund-raiser on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28.
This story appeared first at news.wisc.edu.
In a comprehensive and complex molecular study of blood samples from Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, published today (Nov. 16, 2017) in Cell Host & Microbe, a scientific team led by the University of Wisconsin–Madison has identified signatures of Ebola virus disease that may aid in future treatment efforts.
Conducting a sweeping analysis of everything from enzymes to lipids to immune-system-associated molecules, the team — which includes researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of Tokyo and the University of Sierra Leone — found 11 biomarkers that distinguish fatal infections from nonfatal ones and two that, when screened for early symptom onset, accurately predict which patients are likely to die.
With these results, says senior author Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virology professor at the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, clinicians can prioritize the scarce treatment resources available and provide care to the sickest patients. Kawaoka is also a member of the GHI Advisory Committee and received a 2017 GHI Seed Grant to catalog viruses circulating among West Africans with an eye to improving diagnoses, identifying new viruses and, potentially, preventing the next epidemic.
Studying Ebola in animal models is difficult; in humans, next to impossible. Yet, in Sierra Leone in 2014, a natural and devastating experiment played out. In September of that year, an Ebola outbreak like no other was beginning to surge in the West African nation. By December, as many as 400 Ebola cases would be reported there each week.
That fall, Kawaoka sought access to patient samples. He has spent a career trying to understand infectious diseases like Ebola — how do they make people sick, how do bodies respond to infection, how can public health officials stay at least a step ahead?
“Here, there is a major outbreak of Ebola. It is very rare for us to encounter that situation,” says Kawaoka, who is also a professor of virology at the University of Tokyo.
Yet blood samples were proving difficult to obtain and people continued to die.
Then, just weeks before Christmas, Kawaoka learned about a colleague in his very own department at UW–Madison, a research fellow from Sierra Leone named Alhaji N’jai, who was producing radio stories for people back home to help them protect themselves from Ebola. The pair forged a fortuitous partnership.
“He knows many people high up in the Sierra Leone government,” says Kawaoka. “He is very smart and very good at explaining things in lay terms.”
By Christmas, Kawaoka, N’jai and Peter Halfmann, a senior member of Kawaoka’s team, were in Sierra Leone.
“On the first trip, Alhaji took me to Parliament and we talked to a special advisor to the president, then the vice chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone,” says Kawaoka. “We got the support of the university, which helped us identify military hospitals and provided space. We went to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the chief medical officer and we explained what we hoped to do.”
By February of 2015, Kawaoka and other select senior researchers on his team, including Amie Eisfeld, set up a lab in a military hospital responding to the outbreak in the capital city of Freetown (the researchers never entered patient wards). With the approval of patients and the government of Sierra Leone, health workers collected blood samples from patients after they were diagnosed with Ebola and at multiple points thereafter.
They obtained 29 blood samples from 11 patients who ultimately survived and nine blood samples from nine patients who died from the virus. The samples were transported to the lab where Kawaoka’s experienced and expertly trained team inactivated the virus according to approved protocols. Blood samples were subsequently shipped to UW–Madison and partner institutions for analysis.
For comparison, the research team also obtained blood samples from 10 healthy volunteers with no exposure to Ebola virus.
“Our team studied thousands of molecular clues in each of these samples, sifting through extensive data on the activity of genes, proteins and other molecules to identify those of most interest,” says Katrina Waters, a biologist at PNNL and a corresponding author of the study. “This may be the most thorough analysis yet of blood samples of patients infected with the Ebola virus.”
The team found that survivors had higher levels of some immune-related molecules, and lower levels of others compared to those who died. Plasma cytokines, which are involved in immunity and stress response, were higher in the blood of people who perished. Fatal cases had unique metabolic responses compared to survivors, higher levels of virus, changes to plasma lipids involved in processes like blood coagulation, and more pronounced activation of some types of immune cells.
Pancreatic enzymes also leaked into the blood of patients who died, suggesting that damage from these enzymes contributes to the tissue damage characteristic of fatal Ebola virus disease.
And, critically, the study showed that levels of two biomarkers, known as L-threonine (an amino acid) and vitamin D binding protein, may accurately predict which patients live and which die. Both were present at lower levels at the time of admission in the patients who ultimately perished.
“We want to understand why those two compounds are discriminating factors,” says Kawaoka. “We might be able to develop drugs.”
When Ebola virus leads to death, experts believe it is because of overwhelming viral replication. Symptoms of infection include severe hemorrhaging, vomiting and diarrhea, fever and more.
Kawaoka and his collaborators hope to better understand why there are differences in how patients’ bodies respond to infection, and why some people die while others live. The current study is part of a larger, multicenter effort funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“This may be the most thorough analysis yet of blood samples of patients infected with the Ebola virus.”
“The whole purpose is to study the responses of human and animal bodies to infection from influenza, Ebola, SARS and MERS, and to understand how they occur,” Kawaoka explains. “Among the various pathways, is there anything in common?”
In the current Ebola study, the team found that many of the molecular signals present in the blood of sick, infected patients overlap with sepsis, a condition in which the body — in response to infection by bacteria or other pathogens — mounts a damaging inflammatory reaction.
And the results contribute a wealth of information for other scientists aimed at studying Ebola, the study authors say.
Kawaoka says he is grateful to UW–Madison, University Health Services and Public Health Madison and Dane County for assistance, particularly with respect to his research team’s travel between Madison and Sierra Leone. Each provided protocols, monitoring, approval and other needed support during the course of the study.
“I hope another outbreak like this never occurs,” says Kawaoka. “But hopefully this rare opportunity to study Ebola virus in humans leads to fewer lives lost in the future.”
By Kelly April Tyrell, UW communications/ November 16, 2017
THE STUDY WAS FUNDED BY A JAPANESE HEALTH AND LABOR SCIENCES RESEARCH GRANT; BY GRANTS FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ON INNOVATIVE AREAS FROM THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION, CULTURE, SPORTS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF JAPAN; BY EMERGING/RE-EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES PROJECT OF JAPAN; AND BY AN ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPLEMENT TO GRANT U19AI106772, PROVIDED BY THE U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES, PART OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH. SUPPORT WAS ALSO PROVIDED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF SCIENTIFIC COMPUTING AT THE ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MOUNT SINAI AND BY A GRANT FROM THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF GENERAL MEDICAL SCIENCES (P41 BM013493). SOME ANALYSES WERE PERFORMED AT THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOLECULAR SCIENCES LABORATORY, A NATIONAL SCIENTIFIC USER FACILITY SPONSORED BY THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY OFFICE OF BIOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH.
The Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is pleased to welcome Professor Susan Paskewitz as the keynote speaker for the 14th annual Global Health Symposium: Advancing Health in Uncertain Times. The symposium begins at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
Paskewitz is professor and chair of the Department of Entomology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She also is co-director of the Upper Midwestern Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the GHI Advisory Committee. Her research focuses on medically important arthropods, including ticks and mosquitoes, and the human pathogens they transmit. She also teaches classes in global health and medical entomology.
The annual symposium provides a forum for the UW-Madison global health community to showcase recent work and connect with each other. The evening includes oral and poster presentations and a closing panel on a global health hot topic.
Watch this page for more details and registration information.
Call for abstracts
The call is open to members and partners of the UW-Madison community who are addressing global health and disease. From basic research to education to applied projects in the field, the symposium hopes to showcase the full spectrum of UW-Madison global health activity. We encourage and welcome presentations from all disciplines—from arts, agriculture, and business, to education, engineering, and humanities, to all of the health sciences and more.
Following the keynote address, selected oral presenters will deliver their work in 15-minute (including time for questions), concurrent sessions. Posters will be available for viewing all evening, and a poster session follows the presentations. Hors d’oeuvres will be served during the networking reception that closes the evening.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI) is pleased to announce the application period is open for its 2018 grants and awards. This competitive grant program is designed to support global health efforts of faculty, staff and graduate students across campus, fostering the Wisconsin Idea locally and globally.
This year, the Institute will offer a new grant, the Henry Anderson III Graduate Student Award in Environmental, Occupational and Public Health, in addition to Graduate Student Research Awards, Visiting Scholar Awards and Faculty and Staff Travel Awards. There will be no Seed Grant awards in 2018.
An expert on environmental and occupational disease, public health, epidemiology, disease and exposure surveillance, Henry Anderson III, M.D., is an adjunct professor in the Department of Population Health and former chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. With the graduate student award, he hopes to support students pursuing research in the area of environment, occupation and global health.
The deadline for GHI grant applications is 11:59 p.m. January 29, 2018.
- Henry Anderson III Graduate Student Award in Environmental, Occupational and Public Health supports graduate students interested in pursuing research in those topic areas. Application information is available here.
- Graduate Student Research Awards supports doctoral students pursuing work in any relevant discipline whose graduate work will enhance global health activities on the UW-Madison campus and beyond. Grants of up to $5,000 each will be awarded. Application information is available here.
- Visiting Scholar Awards brings visitors to UW-Madison who substantially enhance global health activities on campus in collaboration with a sponsoring UW-Madison faculty member or faculty team. Grants of up to $8,000 each will be awarded. Application information is available here.
- Faculty and Staff Travel Awards are available for UW-Madison faculty and staff who are GHI affiliates. They can be used for international travel related to educational and research activities. Grants of up to $2,500 each will be awarded. Application information is available here.
By Ann Grauvogl/ November 9, 2017