Faculty News

In the Spotlight: Jacquie Kurland, Communication Disorders

Jacquie Kurland, Assistant Professor of Communication Disorders, recently received a five-year, $1.75 million grant to study neuroplasticity and mechanisms supporting language improvement in chronic aphasia, a speech-language disorder that frequently occurs following left-hemisphere stroke.

As Kurland explains, "Aphasia can affect any or all aspects of language including speaking and understanding spoken language, reading and/or writing. With brain injury from stroke, for example, people with aphasia know exactly what they want to say but they can’t access the words. In the end what we really want to do is increase the person’s functional independence, improve their language proficiency and maximize their quality of life."

In fact this work, which will focus on more severely aphasic individuals than typical studies, is innovative for its three-pronged approach using behavioral, neuro-imaging and quality-of-life measures to assess meaningful long-term improvements from intensive treatment plus a maintenance home therapy program.

Kurland and a full-time speech-language pathologist will conduct three one-year treatment experiments, enrolling eight different people per year who have chronic, moderate-to-severe aphasia. An important aspect of the study, supported by a National Institutes of Health grant, will be functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to characterize brain activity patterns that correlate with improved picture naming and to compare such patterns among treatment groups.

One of the key questions Kurland hopes to answer is which of two approaches, constraint-induced language therapy (CILT) or unconstrained language therapy (ULT), is most effective in helping people with aphasia to recover language skills and maintain them over time. In CILT, people are constrained to use only spoken words to communicate about pictured objects and actions during their therapy sessions. With ULT, they can use gestures, drawing, writing, pointing and facial expressions as well as speech.

Both therapies are expected to improve quality of life along with language skills, Kurland notes. But she expects the intense focus on speech in the CILT approach plus at-home practice to prove most effective and long-lasting. "We have anecdotal evidence that this type of training can improve such factors as confidence that can affect a person’s quality of life, but tools for measuring these changes are still being developed," she says.

"When a person has a stroke and aphasia, their social universe suddenly shrinks, they lose their job and the fulfillment of work and they have trouble communicating. Confidence can go way, way down. If we can offer improvement and boost their confidence to pick up the telephone or get out of the house and operate more independently, we’ll have succeeded."

Therapy for study participants, at no cost to them, will be intense, with daily three-hour sessions of speech and language treatment in the laboratory five days a week for two weeks using either CILT or ULT, followed by daily home practice sessions ("overlearning") and regular check-in sessions via video link.

Participants will undergo pre- and post-treatment diagnostic testing, including structural and functional MRI, and two post-treatment testing sessions at six months and one year after their therapy sessions. Kurland says she expects words that are trained and practiced, that is "overlearned" after CILT and ULT will show better maintenance in 12-month follow-up testing.

"The idea is to gradually improve one’s ability to verbally name an object or action that is pictured on a card. On the first day, it may be that a participant is unable to say ‘dog’ when shown a picture of a dog, but following the intensive practice retrieving first the word and then short phrases including the word, the connection between the concept and the word becomes more automatic."

In her experiments, the language researcher also looks for treatment-induced neuroplasticity, which is whether the brain’s structure and activities are changed by treatment as measured by analysis of the four fMRI tests per subject. A group of healthy, non-brain-damaged, age-matched subjects will serve as controls.

For information on eligibility to participate in this study, Kurland encourages persons with aphasia or their significant other to contact the Brain Research on Chronic Aphasia (BRoCA) lab at (413) 545-4008. The lab offers workshops for stroke survivors and family and a monthly support group. It also sponsors an annual Walk for Aphasia Awareness in downtown Amherst, held this year on April 14, 2012.

The aphasia research of Jacquie Kurland is featured in two new articles appearing in Health Care News and in the Springfield Republican. Kurland also recently appeared on WFCR. Follow the links to read more.

Conferences & Appearances

Peterman testifies for the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics

Jerusha Nelson PetermanJerusha Nelson Peterman, Assistant Professor of Nutrition, testified as an invited panelist on applications for community research for the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) in Silver Spring, MD on April 17, 2012. Her testimony came as part of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Confidentiality & Security’s two-day panel on “Next Steps for Community Data Use.”

The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics was established by Congress to serve as an advisory body to the Department of Health and Human Services on health data, statistics and national health information policy. It fulfills important review and advisory functions relative to health data and statistical problems of national and international interest, stimulates or conducts studies of such problems and makes proposals for improvement of the Nation’s health statistics and information systems.

Peterman’s community-based research focuses on issues of food security, acculturation, and dietary choices in immigrant families. Her testimony helped to inform the panel on how building capacity in communities through research partnerships can strengthen the research process and help translate findings into community programs and applications.

Hamill delivers trio of keynote lectures

Joseph HamillJoseph Hamill, Professor of Kinesiology, recently appeared as the keynote lecturer at three conferences held over a two-week period in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Regarded as a leading expert in the field of biomechanics, and in particular the mechanics of the lower extremity during locomotion, Hamill shared his latest research findings with his peers.

On March 30, 2012, Hamill presented “The Case for Shod Running” at the Mid-West American College of Sports Medicine Symposium held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He followed that with an appearance in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on April 4, 2012. There, Hamill delivered “Altering Footfall Patterns: Implications for Running-Related Injuries” for the Biomechanics Interest Group Symposium. His travels concluded in Sydney, Australia on April 11, 2012, for the International Foot and Ankle Biomechanics Symposium, where he gave a keynote lecture titled “Rearfoot vs. Forefoot Footfall Patterns.”

Oransky delivers talk at TEDMED 2012

Ivan OranskyIvan Oransky, M.D., adjunct instructor in the online MPH in Public Health Practice program and executive editor at Reuters Health, was an invited speaker at TEDMED 2012. The annual conference was held this year on April 10-13 in the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Oransky delivered a talk titled “Is the ‘Disease Model’ Sick – Or Just Exhausted?” He argued that our current way of thinking about health, with its perverse incentives for both patient and health care provider, is driving up costs and anxiety while making us all more ill.

Fellow online MPH in PHP faculty member Marya Zilberberg, M.D., joined Oransky at TEDMED 2012 as a delegate. Zilberberg attended on a TEDMED Front-Line Scholarship, which is open to “anyone who is an innovator or leader or on the front lines of medicine, public service or research.” Zilberberg’s award covers the full registration cost for the TEDMED conference.

TEDMED is described as “a community of people who are passionate about imagining the future of health and medicine. Its curated audience includes thoughtful individuals from every realm of science, business, technology, government, religion, law, military, media and the arts.”

You can view Oransky's talk at TEDMED on his personal blog site. For more information on TEDMED, visit their website at www.tedmed.com.

Reich teaches workshop at Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health

Reich Thai WorkshopOn March 1-2, Nicholas G. Reich, Research Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, co-instructed a workshop titled “Forecasting Dengue Incidence and Outbreaks in Thailand” in Bangkok, Thailand with colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, where Reich received his PhD. The Field Epidemiology Training Program at the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand hosted the workshop.

The Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study, or MIDAS, sponsored Reich’s involvement in the workshop. MIDAS, an international research consortium, was established by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in 2004 as a “collaborative network of research scientists who use computational, statistical and mathematical models to understand infectious disease dynamics and thereby assist the nation to prepare for, detect and respond to infectious disease threats.” (For more information, visit their website at https://www.epimodels.org/.)

Reich and his colleagues designed the workshop to introduce new methodologies that help predict dengue incidence and provide early warning of outbreaks in Thailand. The researchers discussed two approaches to prediction and outbreak detection. The first focuses on using the frequency of Internet searches related to dengue to identify outbreaks before they are evident in case data reported to the Thai Ministry of Public Health. The second method uses spatial and temporal correlation of dengue incidence in different provinces throughout Thailand to estimate the probability of future outbreaks in each Thai province months into the future. Both methods are implemented in the open-source R software package, a free statistical analysis tool used by researchers worldwide. Reich and colleagues provided the participants with code for running the predictions and creating “weather-map” style risk maps of outbreaks in Thailand.

Reich and his collaborators have been working for several years with the Ministry to develop these methods and incorporate them into an easy-to-use software package. “We hatched this idea with our Thai collaborators a few years ago and have been putting the pieces together since then,” said Reich. “This was the first time that we showed them a version of the software. Many of the participants told us that they were excited about using it in their work to help them understand the current outbreak threats in Thailand. We think there is great potential for these methods to be used to inform public health response to infectious disease epidemics in Thailand.”

Graduates of the Thai Field Epidemiology Training Program, many of whom currently serve as epidemiologists for the Ministry throughout Thailand, were the primary participants in the workshop.

DiFulvio presents at the 2012 NASPA Conference

Gloria DiFulvioGloria DiFulvio, undergraduate program director for the Public Health Sciences major, joined Diane Fedorchak and Sally Linowski of University Health Services (UHS) as featured presenters at the 2012 NASPA Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention and Intervention Conference, held January 19-21 in Atlanta.

The campus' nationally recognized environmental management approach to substance abuse prevention has helped decrease dangerous drinking among students by as much as 48 percent since 2005. NASPA, the foremost professional association in the student affairs field, has featured university experts at its prevention conference seven times in the past three years.

DiFulvio and Fedorchak, director of the BASICS alcohol and other drug abuse prevention programs at UHS, led "Digital Stories: Shining Light on Hidden Voices." The session explored this emergent research method as a tool for understanding and assisting vulnerable populations including gender variant youth and students struggling with addiction.

Fedorchak and Linowski, director of UHS' Center for Health Promotion and co-chair of the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking, also joined Dolores Cimini of the University at Albany for "Engaging Human Capital: Fostering Collaborations and Stakeholder Enthusiasm for Alcohol and other Drug Interventions." The team called on experiences at both schools to show how simple efforts can help evidence-based intervention programs succeed.

The NASPA conference brings together senior-level campus administrators, alcohol education specialists, health promotion and prevention staff, and researchers from the alcohol and other drug arena to focus on advancing knowledge of student affairs educators and information-sharing about alcohol and other drug use on college and university campuses.

Learn more at NASPA conference.

Honors & Awards

Grants Manager Linda Downs-Bembury receives Chancellor's Citation for Excellence Award

Linda Downs-Bembury Citation
From left: Chancellor Robert C. Holub, SPHHS Grants Manager Linda Downs-Bembury, Vice Provost for Undergraduate and Continuing Education Carol Barr.

Linda Downs-Bembury, Grants Manager for the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, recently received one of ten Chancellor’s Citation Awards for 2012. Chancellor Holub honored Downs-Bembury, along with the other Citation recipients and the Gerald F. Scanlon Student Employee of the Year award winners, at a reception held on May 2, 2012, in the Marriott Center.

“I was very surprised when I received the call that I’d won the award,” said Downs-Bembury. “I knew I’d been nominated, but I didn’t think there was any chance I’d receive it. I think I beamed for the next week.”

The Chancellor’s Citation Award program was implemented in 1985 as part of the university’s continuing effort to reward exemplary performance. The award recognizes and honors university staff members who have demonstrated outstanding performance in contributing their time and/or skills in helping the university achieve its goals and objectives. Specifically sought are examples of original contributions to the university, attainment of high-priority university objectives, performance “beyond the call of duty,” and achievement of significant improvements in productivity or savings in university operations.

“It’s particularly meaningful to receive this award,” Downs-Bembury added. “In terms of personal performance, I think this is the highest award you could receive. It meant a lot to me to be able to receive it under Chancellor Holub’s leadership.”

Recipients may be nominated by any member of the campus community. Richard Peltier, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, championed Downs-Bembury for the award.

“I nominated Linda because she’s a wonderful co-worker who helped me immensely as a junior faculty member here,” Peltier commented in a video testimonial played at the award reception. “Linda’s primary responsibility to us as faculty is to accept our scientific research proposals that come in the form of scientific jargon and convert it into the language that’s necessary for the funders. Linda puts the burden of writing the science on me, and she takes all of the administrative hassle and takes it upon herself to help with that process. I wanted to thank Linda for all her hard effort and the wonderful work she does every day.”

“I was very, very touched by Rick’s video,” said Downs-Bembury. “It’s infrequent that people have the time to say thank you, and to have someone say thank you in such a public forum was really touching.”

“I’m still amazed,” she added. “I want it to happen again.”

Downs-Bembury has served as the SPHHS Grants Manager for the past 9 years. She has been a university employee for nearly 31 years.

Delta Omega Honor Society welcomes new members

New Delta Omega Members 2012
From left: Faculty inductee Susan Hankinson, Rho Chapter President Margaret McCarthy, Student inductee Steven Atwood

The Delta Omega Honor Society, Rho Chapter, inducted two new members into its ranks at a luncheon held on April 25, 2012, in the Marriott Center. Rho Chapter President Margaret McCarthy welcomed Steven W. Atwood, V.M.D., M.D., M.P.H., as its 2012 student inductee, and Susan E. Hankinson, Sc.D., Professor of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, as its 2012 faculty inductee.

Election to membership is intended to recognize merit and to encourage further excellence in public health. Atwood, a recent graduate of the online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice program, was cited for academic excellence and demonstration of qualities of leadership in public health. Hankinson was recognized for her contributions to public health scholarship, teaching, research, and publication.
Delta Omega poster abstract winner Andrea Morand

McCarthy also recognized Andrea Morand, a graduate student in Kinesiology, as winner of the Delta Omega Honor Society’s poster abstract competition at this year’s SPHHS Research Day. Morand, who was awarded for her entry titled “Providing further construct validity for a newly developed measure of functional-living in older adults: Movement and Activity in Physical Space (MAPS),” discussed her research findings with luncheon participants.

Delta Omega is the national public health honor society within accredited schools and programs of public health. The purpose of the society is to encourage excellence in student scholarship and research, to recognize academic and professional achievement in the field of public health, and to promote continued effort in public health. Originally founded in 1924 at The Johns Hopkins University, the national Delta Omega Society has more than 70 local chapters in the U.S. and internationally. The Rho Chapter was founded at UMass Amherst in 1985 by Professor Emeriti Robert Tuthill and Howard Peters and Dean Emeritus William Darity.

Individuals must be nominated to join the Rho Chapter of the Delta Omega Honor Society. There are three categories of nomination: student, alumnus/a, and faculty. In addition to individuals in the Amherst on-campus programs, students in the Online MPH Program and in the UMass Worcester campus program are eligible for nomination for membership.

The Rho Chapter of the Delta Omega Society also co-sponsors, along with the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, the annual SPHHS Research Day held every spring.

Peterman named Family Research Scholar for 2012-2013

Jerusha Nelson PetermanJerusha Nelson Peterman, Assistant Professor of Nutrition, was among six UMass Amherst faculty members named as 2012-13 Family Research Scholars by the Center for Research on Families. She was selected to participate in the ninth cohort of the program on the basis of her promising work in family-related research.

The program provides selected faculty with the time, technical expertise, peer mentorship and national expert consultation to prepare a large grant proposal for their research support. A goal of the program is to bring together a diverse, multi-disciplinary group of faculty to foster innovation and collaboration across research areas related to the family.

Over the year, the scholars participate in an interdisciplinary faculty seminar that includes concrete instruction on the details of successful proposal submission and the resources of the university, individualized methodology consultation, and information about relevant funding agencies, which culminates with the submission of a research proposal to a major funding agency. For scholars, the program offers extra time through a course release, support and expertise. One current scholar lauds the program for giving him "the time, space, structure, and guidance to understand and get started in the world of large grants in a way that would not have been possible otherwise as an assistant professor." Since the program first began in 2003, 50 Family Research Scholars have submitted more than 136 proposals.

The Center for Research on Families' mission is to increase research on family issues, to build a multidisciplinary community of researchers who are studying issues of relevance to families, to connect national and internationally prominent family researchers with faculty and students, to provide advanced data analytic methods training and consultation, and to disseminate family research findings to scholars, families, practitioners and policymakers. Research at CRF encompasses disciplines as diverse as the life sciences, social sciences, public health and nursing, education, and natural resources. CRF is a research center of the College of Natural Sciences and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and has affiliated faculty from departments across campus.

Peterman will be researching the "Predictors and Dietary and Health Consequences of Food Insecurity in Immigrant Families in the U.S."

See the complete list of Family Research Scholars.

Norton receives Student Choice Award

Claire NortonClaire Norton, Lecturer and Undergraduate Program Director for the Department of Nutrition, has received the Residential First-Year Experience (RFYE) Student Choice Award. First-year students were given the opportunity to nominate a professor or instructor who had a profound influence on them during their first semester. Nominations were made for a variety of reasons, including: inspiring students to learn, hosting interesting and motivating lectures, going above and beyond to support first-year students, helping students adjust to college, challenging students to reach their full potential, and much more.

The RFYE Student Choice Award is organized by the Residential First Year Experience program in the office of Residential Life at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Rife receives SPHHS College Outstanding Teacher Award

Frank Rife, Associate Professor of Kinesiology, and Undergraduate Program Director and Chief Undergraduate Advisor for the Department of Kinesiology, has received the College Outstanding Teacher Award for the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. The award is sponsored by the UMass Amherst Provost’s Office and the Center for Teaching & Faculty Development, and given annually to honor individual faculty members for their teaching accomplishments.

Rife was recognized at the UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement and at the School’s Senior Recognition Ceremony. He was cited for his impact on students and contributions to the teaching mission at the university.

“I am honored to receive this award as it suggests that my major goal in teaching might be having a positive impact,” said Rife. “One of my major goals in class is to engage my students. I try to encourage them to challenge me, and I seek this by developing a questioning atmosphere in my classrooms where both civility and curiosity are valued. Basically I want students to be confident in what they know before they begin to apply what they have learned. The end goal is to encourage them to be better at making decisions based on sound and critical analysis and evaluation.”

This past year, Rife taught two classes each semester: (1) a senior-level course entitled Wellness for All which includes the effects of lifestyle choices on health and fitness and also information on health disparities and possible solutions to reduce those disparities, and (2) a course in Fitness Management which provides some of the business-related skills that students will need in various careers in Allied Health. In addition to his teaching duties in the Kinesiology Department, he is the undergraduate program director and chief undergraduate advisor. Rife’s area of expertise is in campus wellness and fitness programs, as well as workplace wellness and health promotion programs and fitness management.

Bigelow receives SPHHS Outstanding Online Teacher Award

Carol BigelowThe School of Public Health and Health Sciences has named Carol Bigelow, Research Associate Professor of Biostatistics, as the 2012 recipient of the SPHHS Outstanding Online Teacher Award. The award, which is given annually by the School, recognizes excellence in online teaching.

Bigelow, who taught online courses in Introductory Biostatistics and Practical Data Management & Statistical Computing, was cited for her contributions to teaching in an online classroom environment. Her research interests are in the areas of clinical epidemiology, randomized trials, and cancer prevention.

“Dr. Bigelow teaches two of the most challenging online MPH courses, and does so brilliantly,” said Daniel Gerber, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of the online MPH in Public Health Practice program. “She has the ability to tailor the courses to each student’s unique ability, thereby ensuring success. She is also highly approachable, amiable, and willing to put in extra effort to assist her students. Her efforts are most appreciated by all who have the privilege of learning from her.”

“I’m so grateful to the students I’ve been able to reach,” said Bigelow. “It was a joint effort to say the least. This recognition is a wonderful encouragement to keep after the rest.”

Carbone named Director of Community Research Engagement

Elena CarboneCommonwealth Honors College has appointed Elena Carbone to serve as director of community research engagement. Her goal will be to identify faculty involved in community-engaged research and develop means to get outstanding honors students involved in this research.

Carbone is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition. Her research expertise is in community nutrition, especially regarding how people make behavioral decisions regarding diet and health practices. Based on her research findings, she has developed interventions for various target audiences, including adults and children, Latinos, and low-income and low-literate individuals.

Read more at Commonwealth Honors College.

Heffernan named Director of the Western Massachusetts Public Health Training Center

Dawn HeffernanThe School of Public Health and Health Sciences announced the hiring of the Western Massachusetts Public Health Training Center’s (PHTC) new director, Dawn Heffernan. As director, Dawn will oversee the center’s internship program, collaborative community-based projects, and training of community health workers and other frontline health workers.

Dawn joins the PHTC’s Team bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge in community health, chronic disease management, program development, and training and supervision of community health workers. Dawn is known throughout the state for her work in diabetes and chronic disease at Holyoke Health Center where she worked for the past eight years. She is welcomed back to the University where she completed her undergraduate and graduate studies in the School of Nursing.

Peltier receives Health Effects Institute’s New Investigator Award

Richard PeltierRichard Peltier, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, was recently selected as a recipient of the 2011 Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigator Award by the Health Effects Institute (HEI). The HEI is a nonprofit corporation chartered in 1980 as an independent research organization to provide high-quality, impartial, and relevant science on the health effects of air pollution.

The New Investigator Award is named after the late Dr. Walter A. Rosenblith, chair of the HEI’s first Research Committee and a former member of its Board of Directors. The award supports the work of a promising scientist early in his or her career, and is given based on the applicant’s potential for a productive scientific career in air pollution research, the support provided by the applicant’s institution, and the scientific merit of the research project and its relevance to HEI’s mission.

Peltier received the award for a project titled “Development of a new method for measurement of reactive oxygen species associated with PM2.5 exposure.” With the award, he plans to develop a new instrument that can quantify the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) caused by fine particulate matter (PM) exposure.

Grant News

Choe awarded grant to study robot-mediated stroke rehabilitation

Yu-kyong ChoeYu-kyong Choe, Assistant Professor of Communication Disorders, has been awarded a two-year, $109,251 grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to examine “Interdisciplinary Stroke Rehabilitation Delivered by a Humanoid Robot.”

Nearly three million Americans chronically experience the debilitating effects of stroke on their daily communication, dexterity, and mobility. Even at the chronic stage, stroke patients can make significant recoveries from these disabilities; however, intensive rehabilitation programs are rarely available or accessible for most stroke patients.

Choe’s research project will explore alternative methods of delivering needed therapy services. In collaboration with Roderic Grupen, Professor of Computer Science, Choe will utilize a humanoid robot to deliver both speech and physical therapy services to stroke patients.

The proposed study will compare two treatment conditions: robot-mediated and computer-mediated. In the robot-mediated condition, patients will complete word-retrieval tasks and upper-limb exercises delivered by a humanoid robot. In the computer-mediated condition, the same tasks and exercises will be presented on a laptop computer. Choe predicts that the robot-mediated condition will yield better outcomes in both speech and physical functions because of the interactive engagement and the resultant patient-robot interactions.

Choe’s research holds the potential for clinical research as well as clinical practice. The robot-mediated treatment program can deliver highly structured therapy activities, and it can ensure the consistency of tasks across therapy sessions and across treatment conditions. Choe envisions future projects utilizing the humanoid robot as a reliable research tool to further test various aspects of interdisciplinary stroke rehabilitation.

To learn more about Choe’s project or to participate in the study, please call her (413-545-4297) or e-mail her (ychoe@comdis.umass.edu).

Van Emmerik leads research team examining impact of soldier's equipment load

Van Emmerik Research Team
From left: Mike Busa, Luis Rosado, Richard Van Emmerik, Chris Palmer, Jongil Lim and Darnell Simon at a Viet Nam memorial on campus. Photo courtesy of UMass Amherst.

A team of researchers led by Richard Van Emmerik recently received a 2.5-year, $975,000 grant through the Navy Health Research Center in the Department of Defense to study how the average 100-lb. equipment load carried by soldiers, which can be even heavier in some missions, affects their survivability, likelihood of injury and ability to carry out missions.

"Load is not a new issue for field commanders to consider," says Van Emmerik, who is director of the Sensory-Motor Control Laboratory. "But while past studies typically focused on how load affects gait and the lower body, we will for the first time look at how the upper body, trunk and head coordinate in a soldier who is burdened by a heavy load, which is a fundamentally different and a more complex situation."

Doctoral candidate Christopher Palmer, an Army employee who is an expert in motor control and military performance and a key member of Van Emmerik's team, adds, "To us, gait is just the beginning. We'll introduce a visual search task and track the coordination of upper body, postural control and visual acuity. No study has yet added all these, plus other factors, together in a realistic way to look at how load affects the soldier's ability to perceive threats, his or her operational effectiveness and survivability in combat."

Findings will also have practical significance for firefighters, police, rescue workers and others who must wear helmets, body armor, backpacks or other equipment while carrying out their duties.

The Kinesiology research team, which includes doctoral students Mike Busa and Luis Rosado, with postdoctoral fellows Darnell Simon and Jongil Lim, will recruit highly trained infantrymen as laboratory subjects who will be tested with no load as well as while carrying a variety of loads between 70 and 120 lbs. for the studies.

Van Emmerik notes, "Biomechanics has taught us a lot over the past 30 years about load and locomotion, stamina, oxygen use, energy use and so on. We'll expand to look at whether load affects reaction time, visual attention to critical details and the ability to discriminate friend or foe. We'll set up some fairly realistic tasks such as having a soldier jump off the back of a truck, scan an area, and then immediately hit targets in a marksmanship test."

In preliminary tests, Palmer says, they have used participants who are "fresh" and not fatigued. But as work progresses, they plan to also conduct tests with women and with subjects who are tired to see if they have trouble recognizing friend or foe on a radio call or taking a marksmanship test wearing night vision goggles, for example. "We'll add different layers of stress in a smart progression so that we can understand what each layer is adding to the challenge."

Overall, the Kinesiology research team would like to be able to report to the military a great deal of new knowledge about the physical and mental trade-offs and limitations that come with soldiers carrying heavy loads, and of which a field commander can be aware.

"We'd like to contribute to commanders being able to make better decisions about what can be accomplished under certain conditions," Van Emmerik says. "For example, if the protective equipment has to be x, y and z, where can you expect the sharp drop in performance and how can you balance that with mission success?"

Reich receives UMass Amherst Open Education Initiative Grant

Nicholas ReichNicholas Reich, Research Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, was recently selected as a recipient of an Open Education Initiative Grant by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The grant comes as part of a joint incentive program by the Provost’s Office and the University Libraries to encourage faculty to use existing technology and information resources to support student learning.

The high cost of commercial print textbooks is a growing concern for students and their families. The Open Education Initiative provides grants based on competitive proposals designed to support faculty to use non-traditional educational resources as an alternative to the traditional textbook.

Reich received a $1000 grant for his proposal to develop a statistical computing course that will utilize freely available resources for statistical learning, such as the popular software program R. He will deploy this alternative curricular resource strategy for his Introduction to Statistical Computing and Data Visualization course to be taught during the Fall 2012 semester.

Please visit http://guides.library.umass.edu/oer for more information on Open Education Resources.

For more information on the R Project for Statistical Computing, please visit http://www.r-project.org/.

Kinesiology doctoral students LaBarbera, Xin receive ACSM Foundation Research Grants

Ling Xin and Kate Labarbera
From left: Ling Xin and Kate LaBarbera

Kate LaBarbera and Ling Xin, Kinesiology doctoral students, have been awarded research grants from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Foundation. The ACSM Foundation awards research grants for doctoral students up to $5,000 for a one-year period. The awards are to be used for experimental subjects, supplies, and small equipment needs.

The ACSM Foundation Doctoral Student Research Grant program awarded LaBarbera for a proposal titled “NF-κB and muscle damage effects on endothelial cells.” LaBarbera hopes to gain a better understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of muscle repair and regeneration. In order to do this, her study will focus not only on muscle cells, but also on the cells that contribute to the skeletal muscle environment, including pericytes and endothelial cells. Pericytes are a type of cell that associates with endothelial cells, which form capillary vessels. The aim of her project is to determine how pericyte NF-κB, a transcription factor that regulates many cellular processes including proliferation and muscle damage stimulus, affects endothelial cell proliferation in vitro. She also hopes to identify the cytokines involved in the signaling process between pericytes and endothelial cells. This would identify for the first time that endothelial cells are important for muscle regeneration.

Xin received her award for a proposal titled “Attenuated inflammation: contralateral repeated bout effect.” Her research examines the phenomenon of “repeated bout effect” (RBE), in which a second strenuous exercise session causes less damage to the same muscle used in the initial session. Her previous research has shown that RBE also occurs in the opposite (contralateral) leg. The mechanisms to explain this finding are not known. Her project will examine if the contralateral RBE is due to a blunted inflammatory response involving nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB), which is believed to be an important stimulator of inflammation after damaging exercise. The identified molecular and cellular mechanisms involving NF-κB from this project may be important in the development of interventions to enhance contralateral RBE while setting up rehabilitation exercise for a unilaterally immobilized limb and in identifying targets of future therapies to facilitate recovery from injury.

The ACSM began its Foundation Research Grant Program in 1989. In 2011, the program awarded approximately $111,000 among 19 research students.

Media & Publications

Online MPH-PHP program highlighted in Continuing & Professional Education promotional spot

The online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice degree program is highlighted in a new promotional spot produced by Continuing & Professional Education. The promo features MPH-PHP alum Marie Meckel. View the promo below!

Foulkes' research could improve testing, resource use for treating AIDS in poorer countries.

Associate ProfessorOne of the major problems that has slowed progress toward universal access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) to treat AIDS in developing nations has been limited availability of laboratories and trained medical staff to conduct blood tests of immune system CD-4 T-cell levels that indicate when to start ART.

Now, Andrea Foulkes, Associate Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, with colleagues at Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute and elsewhere, propose a tool for prioritizing laboratory-based CD-4 cell count testing by linking cell counts to other patient data. They report details of their new “prediction-based classification” (PBC) system in the current issue of PLoS Medicine. Researchers in the United States, Argentina, South Africa, Canada, the U.K. and Malaysia took part in the study at seven sites around the world.

Foulkes, who with others at UMass Amherst has been actively driving this research, says, “By using these new statistical tools, we can decide how to allocate resources to the patients who need them the most. In other words, we identify which patients are most likely to benefit from secondary testing.” PBC could reduce by nearly 57 percent the number of CD-4 tests needed during the first year of ART.

The study is a retrospective analysis that modeled CD-4 counts from 1,000 HIV-infected individuals. The researchers used estimates derived from the model to predict, from CD-4 counts taken at the start of treatment plus white blood cell counts and lymphocyte percentage measurements taken later, whether CD-4 counts would be above the threshold recommended for starting ART and how a patient would do over time.

Dr. Luis Montaner at the Wistar Institute says, “Our algorithm could be used as a triage tool to direct available laboratory CD-4 testing capacity to high-priority individuals, that is, those likely to experience a dangerously low CD-4 count.” He and colleagues believe that with additional testing and refinement, their PBC system could increase the ability of medical and laboratory facilities in poorer countries to maintain AIDS treatment.

“Our data raises the possibility that we could save money in order to save more lives,” Montaner points out. Foulkes, Montaner and colleagues say that more studies are needed to demonstrate the long-term feasibility, clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the PBC approach and whether the accuracy of its predictions can be improved.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, The Philadelphia Foundation and The Wistar Institute.

The full, freely available journal article can be found online here on PLoS Medicine’s website.

Zilberberg authors book on how to evaluate medical literature

Marya ZilberbergMarya Zilberberg, M.D., M.P.H., adjunct faculty in the online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice program, has authored Between the Lines: Finding the Truth in Medical Literature. The book is available in print and e-book format through EviMed Research Press.

Between the Lines aims to educate readers from all walks of life about how to evaluate some of the claims behind today’s health news headlines. Dr. Zilberberg seeks to demystify the nuances of such details as what constitutes a valid scientific question, how to judge whether the study design is appropriate, how to identify common threats to validity, and how to evaluate a study’s conclusions. Between the Lines is written for a broad audience ranging from journalists and healthcare professionals to students and those who are interested in becoming a savvier consumer of medical information.

Zilberberg is the Founder, President and CEO of EviMed Research Group, a research and scientific communication consultancy specializing in epidemiology, evidence-based medicine, health services and outcomes research. In addition to her position with the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, she serves as a Senior Fellow at the Jefferson School of Population Health, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA. She has authored or co-authored over 150 peer-reviewed articles, scientific presentations and book chapters, including systematic reviews, meta-analyses and cost-effectiveness models. She blogs at Healthcare, etc.

You can listen to Zilberberg discussing her book on New England Public Radio here. To obtain a copy of Between the Lines, visit the book web site.

Bertone-Johnson writes invited commentary for the Archives of Internal Medicine

Elizabeth Bertone-JohnsonElizabeth Bertone-Johnson, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, has co-written an invited commentary for the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

In the commentary, Bertone-Johnson and co-author JoAnn Manson discuss a new study by Italian researchers suggesting that a single ultra-high dose of vitamin D may help women with painful menstrual periods and allow them to forgo the use of painkillers. Bertone-Johnson and Manson recommend larger trials with a longer follow-up to confirm the benefits and weigh them against the potential long-term risks associated with such high doses.

The new study, along with Bertone-Johnson and Manson's commentary, are receiving additional press coverage at CBS News and MedPage Today. To read their commentary, click here.

Alhassan's research featured in UMass Amherst's Report on Research 2011

Sofiya AlhassanThe work of Sofiya Alhassan, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, is featured prominently in the UMass Amherst Report on Research 2011. The article discusses Alhassan’s efforts to combat childhood obesity and diabetes through an approach focusing on both dance and family. Her work is cited as having the potential to have an immediate effect on families in Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as on the university’s efforts to increase its collaboration with the city.

Read the full UMass Research Report 2011. Alhassan’s story can be found on page 10 of the PDF file.

Freedson answers question in a new "Ask the Experts" column for Runner's World

Patty FreedsonPatty Freedson, Chair of the Department of Kinesiology, explains why walking pedometers are more suitable for measuring steps than distance covered in a new "Ask the Experts" column appearing in Runner's World.

Read her answer.

Braun quoted in Reuters Health story on sedentary behavior

Barry BraunBarry Braun, Associate Professor of Kinesiology, comments in a Reuters Health story on a new study that finds that taking a break to walk around every 20 minutes, rather than staying seated for hours at a time, helps reduce blood glucose levels and insulin after eating.

Read the article.

Kent-Braun quoted in NY Times article on new research linking physical activity with better sleep

Jane Kent-Braun, Professor of Kinesiology, is quoted in a New York Times article about new research linking physical activity with better sleep. A 2011 study done at UMass Amherst showed that there is a very strong correlation between sleep quality and physical activity.

Read the article.

Ronnenberg comments on the "Vitamin D" dilemma in Supermarket News health blog

Alayne RonnenbergAlayne Ronnenberg, Associate Professor of Nutrition, comments on "The Vitamin D Dilemma" in "Refresh: A whole health blog" published on the Supermarket News website. She contributes several different factors to the worldwide problem of Vitamin D deficiency.

Read the article.

Clarkson provides commentary in CBS News Healthwatch article on muscle soreness

Priscilla ClarksonPriscilla Clarkson, Professor of Kinesiology and Dean of the Commonwealth Honors College, comments on a study that shows massage can help sore muscles recover from hard exercise. Clarkson, who studies post-exercise muscle soreness, says the new study didn’t look at whether massage reduced pain.

Read the article.

Bertone-Johnson's Vitamin D research cited in MSN Health article

Elizabeth Bertone-JohnsonThe research of Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, is cited in a story appearing in MSN Health on how vitamin D may affect mental health, especially in winter when many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder.