Stepping up safety

Published: UF Health Science Center Web site

Aired: Health in a Heartbeat Radio Series

By Melissa M. Thompson

Warmer weather is just around the corner. But before you fire up the barbecue, roast marshmallows around a crackling campfire or burn yard debris, consider some common precautions to help snuff out a serious childhood health risk.

The same warm-weather activities that create lasting childhood memories are some of the leading causes of pediatric foot and ankle burns in the southeastern United States.

In what is thought to be the largest such evaluation to date, University of Florida burn experts found that sixty-nine percent of one-hundred-fifty-five pediatric foot and ankle burns they reviewed were caused by children walking on hot ashes, coals and embers. Some injuries occurred a day or more after fires were thought to be extinguished. Most youngsters were barefoot or wearing footwear that didn’t fully cover their feet, such as sandals.

The findings were published in the Journal of Burn Care and Research. Two-thirds of the ash burns occurred after children came into contact with burning yard waste or garbage, nearly a third were caused by campfires and six percent involved a barbecue.

About half the total cases studied… which also included scald, flame or contact burns… were classified as second-degree burns. More than a third were third-degree burns, the most serious type.

Burns can be easily prevented by using common sense. Parental supervision and wearing closed footwear are key. But the best form of prevention? Step up safety by learning how to extinguish fires appropriately.

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Breezin’ Hot List: Viva Las Vegas Wedding Reception

Published: July 2, 2009, Breezin’ Entertainment Blog

Goal: Publicize Tampa event entertainment agency’s services while providing creative information about wedding trends

By Melissa M. Thompson

Maybe you’ve always wanted to elope on a whim in Vegas but never followed through. Maybe you’re a sucker for all things kitschy and cool, finding yourself drawn to the grit and glamor of The Strip’s hey-day. Maybe you just want to have tons of fun at your wedding reception. Whatever your inspiration, a Viva Las Vegas themed wedding reception might be what you’re looking for.

From blackjack and roulette gaming tables to showgirls and impersonators, you can transform your celebration from something guests have seen before to something they’ll never forget.

Show Girls
Our entertainment coordinators can work with you to secure the Vegas-style acts you feel will make your night memorable: Show girls to greet guests, Elvis Impersonators shaking their hips to your favorite Vegas-style songs, Cirque du Soleil-like performers to mesmorize guests.

Carry the theme through wedding favors from custom dice to scrumptious decorated cookies. Make your tablescapes stand out and go the distance with eye-popping details.

Clockwise from Left: Dice boxed favors by Good Things wedding favors; Vegas style favor cookies by Beaucoup featured on; Christian Louboutin heels; Red and Black tablescape by Real Simple’s Simply Stated Blog; Polka Dot Wedding Cake by Cheesecake and Crime

Vegas Inspiration

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Coming to America

UF occupational therapy professor Sherrilene Classen became an American citizen in May, 15 years after moving to the U.S. from her native South Africa.

UF occupational therapy professor Sherrilene Classen became an American citizen in May, 15 years after moving to the U.S. from her native South Africa.

Link to article: (see page 23)

Published: September 2008, The Post, University of Florida

By Melissa M. Thompson

UF assistant professor earns her stars and stripes after 15 years

Driving on the wrong side of the road — or learning to drive an American car, in five days, period — was hard enough to get used to, but then Sherrilene Classen, Ph. D., M.P.H., O.T.R., learned the truth about Smarties candies. They weren’t chocolate.

Three months after arriving in the United States, Classen, a native of South Africa, confessed to a friend she was craving the sweet treat. Expecting to find the familiar M&M-like candy sold in her home country, Classen almost gagged when the pastel spheres of pure sugar assaulted her tastebuds.

“My American friend got very excited, telling me that she could find (Smarties) for me right away,” said Classen, an assistant professor of occupational therapy in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions who was recruited to practice occupational therapy in the U.S. in 1993.

“She presented me with these nasty little clumps of sugar. They were totally awful.”

Fifteen years later, Classen has adjusted to life in the country she now calls home and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen during a ceremony in May. But the road to American life wasn’t as sweet as it seems.

Classen was born in Bloemfontein, the capital of South Africa’s Free State province, where she learned to care for herself at a young age. Her father died when she was 6, forcing her mother to work three jobs and leaving Classen to raise her brother and sister.

“I remember talking about (my siblings) as ‘the children’ even though my brother is only a year younger than me and my sister five years,” she said. “That was my normal I never look back at it as a bad thing, instead I have learned life lessons such as you never get deterred, and you never give up.”

At 14, she was hired as a hairdresser’s weekend receptionist. She hasn’t stopped working since, financing her way through college at the University of the Orange Free State, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. While working as an occupational therapist in South Africa, she received shiny pamphlets adorned with American flags and promising opportunity, education and security. This was enough to lure Classen away from her family and friends in search of a better, more adventurous life.

Today, Classen is excited to participate in activities many Americans take for granted — such as voting in the 2008 presidential election. As she thinks about casting her vote for the first time in November, she can’t help but remember her family in South Africa, where violence and crime are tearing communities apart.

“Few are excited about life in South Africa or hopeful about the country’s future,” she said. “But here, the stuff that excites me is just normal stuff for Americans. How powerful is it to read the Declaration of Independence and really understand those words? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In many developing countries, including South Africa, those are just empty words or wishful thinking.”

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Science’s next generation

Naa Sika Williams, a UF senior majoring in exercise physiology, was one of several premed and graduate-school bound students from across the country to participate in UF National Institute of Health Summer Research Program this year. She and other students in the program spent their summers in labs like these doing research.

Naa Sika Williams, a UF senior majoring in exercise physiology, was one of several premed and graduate-school bound students from across the country to participate in UF National Institute of Health Summer Research Program this year. She and other students in the program spent their summers in labs like these doing research.

Link to article:

Published: September 2008, The Post, University of Florida Health Science Center

By Melissa M. Thompson

UF program gives undergrads research experience

When most 12-year-olds were doing their homework or playing pickup games of basketball with their friends, Dennis McLeod was in a lab surrounded by white coats and microscopes.

With a nudge from his mother, McLeod participated in research opportunities annually and today boasts a rich resume with experience in labs across the United States and Canada. Now 23, McLeod, who graduated in May with degrees in biology and Spanish from Morehouse College in Atlanta, is proof that early exposure to science can mold a child’s career path. But he said he knows there are kids who are not so lucky.

“I think we need more programs only geared toward students with zero research experience,” he said. “I can give you a list of 100 kids today who can’t get that experience.”

Researchers at the UF College of Medicine are trying to change that. This summer, McLeod and more than a dozen premedical and graduate school-bound students from universities across the country participated in UF’s National Institutes of Health Summer Research Program, a program aimed primarily at undergraduate minority students who are interested in medical research.

“The short-term goal of the program is to introduce bright young students to the world of medical research,” said Charles E. Wood, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of physiology and functional genomics in the College of Medicine and principal investigator of the NIH training grant that funds the program. “It is our hope that those students who are successful will become future academicians and help to solve the most pressing problems for which we now have no solution.”

Students are assigned faculty mentors who take them to their labs and assign research projects throughout the eight-week program. At the end of the program, participants present their findings to professors and their peers.

For Naa Sika Williams, a UF exercise physiology senior, the experience taught her the value of trial and error in the scientific process. She worked on a project involving antibodies and antigens and how they relate to cancer cells in mice.

The project provided an early lesson in the ups and downs of discovery. During her first attempt at culturing cells, the cells died.

“They just told me not to worry just to learn from my mistakes and move on,” she said.

The main benefit of the research boot camp is to help students stay competitive and on par with their peers in the medical and graduate school admissions process.

“When you read (research) in biology books it’s not the same as seeing it done and how much work goes into it,” Williams said. “If this program wasn’t here, I probably wouldn’t have done research. There are still students out there who will not have done research before they apply (to medical school).”

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Obesity risk linked to history of chronic ear infections


Link to release:

Published: Aug. 14, 2008, University of Florida and Health Science Center Web sites

Press generated: Calgary Herald (Canada), Vancouver Sun (Canada), Medical News Today, Middleton Journal (Ohio), Daily Advance (North Carolina), Austin American Statesman (Texas), Gainesville Sun, KTBS-TV ABC 3 Shreveport (LA)

By Melissa M. Thompson

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — More than 5 million children cope with the agonizing ache of ear infection annually, but a new discovery suggests damage to taste nerves caused by the common childhood ailment might increase the risk of obesity later in life, say University of Florida College of Dentistry researchers.

Chronic ear infections appear to trigger a preference for high-calorie food, leading to increased consumption and excessive weight gain in adulthood, said Linda Bartoshuk, a UF expert on the sense of taste and genetic variations in taste perception. She reported study findings from health surveys establishing the link at today’s (Aug. 14) annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston.

Bartoshuk’s preliminary study findings suggested a link between the infections and obesity. Researchers from other academic institutions confirmed the discovery with data from three independent studies.

“We have known for a long time that ear infections can damage taste because the major taste nerve, the chorda tympani nerve, passes through the middle ear on its way to the brain,” said Bartoshuk, a presidential endowed professor of community dentistry and behavioral science affiliated with the McKnight Brain Institute’s Center for Smell and Taste. “When we learned that taste damage can intensify non-taste sensations from foods, all of the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.”

When ear infection pathogens damage the main sensory taste nerve it can intensify sensations produced by fatty foods. This heightens the preference for those foods and can lead to weight gain, Bartoshuk said.

In 1993, Bartoshuk and her students began collecting general health information from written questionnaires distributed during taste lectures she gave across the country. Since 1993, she has surveyed more than 6,500 people ages 16 to 92. With age, those individuals who had moderate to severe histories of ear infections gained weight at a faster rate than those who had never had an ear infection. Of respondents over 30 years old, 39 percent of those with no history of chronic ear infections were overweight or obese, whereas 51 percent of those with ear infections were overweight or obese.

In addition, UF researchers found that those with ear infections liked sweet foods such as cookies and milk chocolate 14 percent more than those without ear infections. And they liked high-fat foods such as mayonnaise and butter 18 percent more than those without ear infections.

In a supporting study examining the predictors of obesity in Puerto Rican children, obese children were more likely to have experienced ear infections.

“One public health consequence of these observations may well be to alert parents and pediatricians to the long-term consequences of childhood earaches,” said Jim Weiffenbach, a retired researcher from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Knowledge of a sensory basis for this class of over-nutrition might allow for the development of new obesity prevention strategies.”

UF researchers and National Institutes of Health researchers are now examining whether tonsillectomies also influence weight gain. They suspect the procedure can damage other taste nerves, which might affect weight in a similar manner.

“Obesity is heavily inherited,” Bartoshuk said. “But (ear infections) are not genetic. This is environmental and this is something you can stop.”

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Researchers find cancer-inhibiting compounds under the sea


Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D.

Link to release:

Published: Aug. 07, 2008, University of Florida Web site and Health Science Center Web site

Press generated: St. Petersburg Times,, WUFT Gainesville, Gainesville Sun, Science Daily (Natl), Therapeutics Daily, Environmental News Network, Yahoo! India

By Melissa M. Thompson

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida College of Pharmacy researchers have discovered a marine compound off the coast of Key Largo that inhibits cancer cell growth in laboratory tests, a finding they hope will fuel the development of new drugs to better battle the disease.

The UF-patented compound, largazole, is derived from cyanobacteria that grow on coral reefs. Researchers, who described results from early studies today (Aug. 7) at an international natural products scientific meeting in Athens, Greece, say it is one of the most promising they’ve found since the college’s marine natural products laboratory was established three years ago.

An initial set of papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society also has garnered the attention of other scientists, and the lab is racing to complete additional research. The molecule’s natural chemical structure and ability to inhibit cancer cell growth were first described in the journal in February and the laboratory synthesis and description of the molecular basis for its anticancer activity appeared July 2.

“It’s exciting because we’ve found a compound in nature that may one day surpass a currently marketed drug or could become the structural template for rationally designed drugs with improved selectivity,” said Hendrik Luesch, an assistant professor in UF’s department of medicinal chemistry and the study’s principal investigator.

Largazole, discovered and named by Luesch for its Florida location and structural features, seeks out a family of enzymes called histone deacetylase, or HDAC.  Overactivity of certain HDACs has been associated with several cancers such as prostate and colon tumors, and inhibiting HDACs can activate tumor-suppressor genes that have been silenced in these cancers.

Although scientists have been probing the depths of the ocean for marine products since the early 1960s, many pharmaceutical companies lost interest before researchers could deliver useful compounds because natural products were considered too costly and time-consuming to research and develop.

Many common medications, from pain relievers to cholesterol-reducing statins, stem from natural products that grow on the earth, but there is literally an ocean of compounds yet to be discovered in our seas. Only 14 marine natural products developed are in clinical trials today, Luesch said, and one drug recently approved in Europe is the first-ever marine-derived anticancer agent.

“Marine study is in its infancy,” said William Fenical, a distinguished professor of oceanography and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of California, San Diego. “The ocean is a genetically distinct environment and the single, most diverse source of new molecules to be discovered.”

The history of pharmacy traces its roots back thousands of years to plants growing on Earth’s continents, used by ancient civilizations for medicinal purposes, Fenical added. Yet only in the past 30 years have scientists begun to explore the organisms in Earth’s oceans, he said. Fewer than 30 labs exist worldwide, and research dollars have only become available in the past 15 years.

HDACs are already targeted by a drug approved for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma manufactured by the global pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Inc. However, UF’s compound does not inhibit all HDACs equally, meaning a largazole-based drug might result in improved therapies and fewer side effects, Luesch said.

Since 2006, Luesch and his team of researchers have screened cyanobacteria provided by collaborator Valerie Paul, head scientist at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce. They check the samples for toxic activity against cancer cells and last year encountered one exceptionally potent extract — the one that ultimately yielded largazole.

To conduct further biological testing on the compound, Luesch and his team have been collaborating with Jiyong Hong, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry at Duke University, to replicate its natural structure and its actions in the laboratory.

Luesch said that within the next few months he plans to study whether largazole reduces or prevents tumor growth in mice.

Luesch has several other antitumor natural products from Atlantic and Pacific cyanobacteria in the pipeline.

“We have only scratched the surface of the chemical diversity in the ocean,” Luesch said. “The opportunities for marine drug discovery are spectacular.”

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Into the sunset

Link to article: (SEE PAGE 23)

Published: July 2008, The POST, University of Florida Health Science Center

By Melissa M. Thompson

photo by Sarah Kiewel

photo by Sarah Kiewel

Longtime administrator Jerry Kidney retires

It’s the middle of May and Jerry Kidney is so close to retirement he can almost smell it. But instead of dreaming about the brisk air surrounding his 20-acre surrogate home in Maine, Kidney’s thoughts are focused solely on his son.

His adopted son Greg, an Army corporal, was wounded when a terrorist’s bomb exploded near his Humvee in Baghdad. Just two weeks away from his June retirement, Kidney’s office phone rings with updates from his wife and the hospital in Texas, where his son is recovering.

“We all look forward to retirement as a time to set aside usual responsibilities and pursue new experiences,” said Kidney, who has since retired as assistant vice president for health affairs for administrative support. “But sometimes reality sets in and through no act of our own, priorities get reset. We are thankful that Greg is alive, that he did not receive worse injuries … but that’s little consolation to the family of Greg’s buddy who lost his life in the explosion.”

Even as the father of six grapples with life’s speed bumps, he’s forced to find time to prepare for the retiree lifestyle. And it shows.

Among collections of cardboard boxes and half-eaten, orange-and-blue candy gifts remain nearly a dozen framed photographs of his ever-expanding brood that will no doubt be fixtures in his office until he officially moves out.

But for now, the family photos remind him of his New England roots, and his journey to the South. Born and raised in Maine, Kidney was accustomed to small-town life. He was valedictorian of his graduating class of 72 students. After graduating from college, he taught high school math and later moved to a job in higher education to provide for his growing family. In 1982, the man who admits he had never been south of Boston before he was 24 decided to interview for a job at UF, where he has been ever since.

“I’ll miss the good people I see around here every day,” he said. “But I’m so looking forward to (retirement). I love change. I think after we come back from Maine, it won’t be long before I look for something that gets me up in the morning.”

Well-known for his good nature and large family (he proudly announces he will be the grandfather of eight by Christmas), Kidney said all he wanted to do was retire without fuss or fanfare while riding quietly off into the sunset. But for someone who touched so many lives at UF and in the Gainesville community, it was difficult for Kidney to make a quiet exit.

“Jerry is going to be someone who takes so much institutional knowledge with him that he’s going to be hard to replace,” said Tom Harris, associate vice president for health affairs and Kidney’s longtime
lunch buddy. “He’ll do anything to help anybody and he never says, ‘It’s not in my job description.’ ”

Farewell festivities included a reception attended by four generations of Kidney’s family as well as friends and colleagues who gathered to reminisce. A hallway display pays tribute to the man of many talents with a montage of newspaper clippings and photographs. There’s Kidney riding his cherry-red Honda motorcycle. Acting in the Gainesville Community Playhouse’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House. He does it all.

Kidney said he will remain active in the community because his family will stay in Gainesville for nine months of each year and travel to scenic Maine during the summer. It might be beautiful there, but he’s not looking forward to footing the fuel bill.

“I bought a humongous fifth wheel (camper), and we’ll haul it up there and stay for the summer,” he said. “Down in the cafeteria, they have shrimp that’s 50 cents a piece. I fi gure it will cost me one shrimp per mile all the way up to Maine.”

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