University Journal


The Great Hydrogen Hope Mouth-Watering Find
A New Threat to Manatees   Easing HIV Progression
Genetic Testing for Cancer   Engineering Celebrates 50 Years of Progress
New Facilities Put Business School in 'Executive Class'    University Logs on to Internet2

Researcher Fuels Clean Energy Effort

The Great Hydrogen Hope

AUniversity of Miami researcher has become one of the country's leading advocates of developing a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. The answer, he believes, is a hydrogen-based energy system that will also lessen our dependence on traditional fuels.

Professor T. Nejat Veziroglu, founding director of the University's Clean Energy Research Institute in the College of Engineering, has spent the last 25 years studying the potential benefits of utilizing hydrogen as a primary energy source. Veziroglu's research may play a vital role during the next century in helping to reduce the environmental degradation that comes from the industrialized world generating most of its energy by burning oil, natural gas, and coal.

T. Nejat Veziroglu photoSmog, global warming, greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, and acid rain are just some of the effects that have been attributed to a rise in the level of pollutants and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. According to studies conducted by the Clean Energy Research Institute, fossil fuels cause a staggering $3 trillion in damage to the global environment each year.

"Hydrogen is the energy system of the next century," Veziroglu says. In fact, it is already being used in critical applications. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the world's biggest consumer of hydrogen, using it as the principal fuel for space missions for three decades. The Europeans, Russians, and Japanese also run their space programs on hydrogen fuel.

The University's research into the use of hydrogen as a non-polluting, renewable energy source recently earned it a coveted "Center of Excellence" designation by the U.S. Department of Energy's Hydrogen Program. The designation is instrumental in helping institutions attract quality students and distinguished researchers as well as additional research funding and grants.

In the energy system envisioned by Veziroglu, hydrogen would be produced from water using all the available primary energy sources such as solar, nuclear, or fossil. The hydrogen energy would then be transported to energy consumption centers and used in virtually every application where fossil fuels are used today. When used as fuel, hydrogen combines with oxygen and produces water. The entire system becomes renewable and non-polluting when derived from a renewable energy source such as solar energy.

Critics cite cost as the major reason hydrogen energy is not widely pursued. Hydrogen is estimated to cost two or three times as much as fossil fuels do now.

However, Veziroglu points out, the cost of widespread conversion to hydrogen energy is small when compared to the estimated hundreds of billions of dollars in damage caused annually by pollution from burning fossil fuels.

Hydrogen advocates concede that more research is needed before this energy source can be put to widespread use. "Questions about hydrogen transportation, storage, and leakage must be answered," says Veziroglu, "but I think we have the ability to resolve those issues."


Discovery Supports Fifth Taste Bud

Mouth-Watering Find

Now there's even more reason for your mouth to water. Molecular evidence pointing to a receptor for a little-known fifth taste sensation called umami has been discovered by researchers at the School of Medicine. Unlike the sweet, sour, salty, and bitter tastes, umami is largely unknown in America. It was identified in 1908 by a Tokyo professor and translates from Japanese as "tasty" or "delicious."

Illustration"Of the five senses, taste is probably the least understood," says Stephen D. Roper, professor of physiology and biophysics in the School of Medicine and one of the investigators of the taste study. "Unlike other sensors in the body that detect the presence or absence of one substance or class of substances like an on/off switch, taste receptors are chemical sensors that have to be able to respond to an entire universe of chemical substances."

The umami taste is associated with monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive often used in Asian food to enhance its taste as well as its appearance. MSG is also found in other foods such as Parmesan cheese, meat, milk, and even tomatoes-all having that umami, or savory, meat-like taste.

To identify this taste receptor, Roper and Nirupa Chaudhari, associate professor of physiology and biophysics in the School of Medicine and co-investigator in the study, as well as collaborator Eugene Delay of Regis University in Denver, Colorado, relied upon a combination of molecular biology and behavioral taste tests by conducting conditioned taste-aversion analyses in laboratory rats.

"Taste research has taken off within the last ten years because the technology is now available to ask and answer critical basic science questions," Roper explains. "Advances in umami research is a perfect example."


Virus Discovery Prompts Concerns

A New Threat to Manatees

Scientists at the University of Miami have confirmed that viral infection is the cause of skin lesions on two Florida manatees inhabiting separate Florida Gulf Coast locations. With a total population between 2,500 to 3,000 manatees and last year's death toll at 415, there is cause for alarm.

"This is the first time we have ever found a virus in a manatee," says Gregory Bossart, a veterinarian and pathologist at the School of Medicine and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "[The presence of the virus] may have implications about the future health of the species and the coastal environment in which they live.

Manatee photoAfter analyzing biopsy tissue from the two manatees, Bossart found papillomavirus, a virus that causes skin lesions in a variety of mammals, including humans. Bossart and his colleagues were able to identify the virus by using electron microscopy and DNA molecular techniques at the University's Comparative Pathology Laboratory.

Bossart, who oversees manatee medical care at the Miami Seaquarium, says papillomavirus causes benign, rarely malignant, skin tumors that can lead to functional problems for infected animals.

"The lesions can form on the skin above the eyes or on the mouth or genitals," Bossart says. The lesions are usually self-limiting and eventually go away, though they may return.

In recent years, unusual viral infections and tumors have been found affecting other marine mammals as well. Six cases of malignant tumors were found in bottlenose dolphins over a recent 18-month period. Additionally, the killer whale that was featured in the movie Free Willy previously developed skin lesions that, after analysis by Bossart, were proven to be caused by papillomavirus. Since then, other killer whales have been found to be infected with the virus.

Such may be the fate of the manatees. According to Bossart, papillomavirus is generally a host-specific virus, meaning it only affects a specific species to which it has adapted. Because of this specificity and its transmissibility, Bossart says the disease may now spread to other manatees.

With so many other problems facing manatees, such as red tide poisons and careless boaters, this latest threat may endanger more than the lives of these docile creatures. "These recent cases of disease in marine mammals may be a result of environmental degradation," says Bossart. "We have been using the ocean as our toilet for so long that we may now be seeing the results."


Coping with Stress May Help

Easing HIV ProgressionIllustration

Effectively dealing with stress, grief, and other unexpected life stressors may significantly help lower the rate at which HIV progresses in people already infected with the disease, according to a recent study by researchers at the School of Medicine.

The study examined a group of 372 HIV-infected men and found that an increase in life stressors, such as bereavement over the loss of a friend or loved one, can have significant detrimental effects on an individual's immune system.

Karl Goodkin, associate professor of psychiatry, neurology, and psychology in the School of Medicine, and his colleagues found that if the HIV-infected men took a more active approach to coping with various forms of psychological stress, the subsequent physical symptom burden was reduced significantly.

As part of the study, individuals were asked to participate in a bereavement support group comprised of psychotherapy sessions. The objective was to determine whether adopting such an intervention would help ease the progression of the HIV.

At the end of the study, participants possessed various positive immune results such as a favorable T4 lymphocyte count and a higher total lymphocyte count-measures that usually indicate that the virus has at least been contained and has not progressed to a more active level of replication associated with AIDS.

Conversely, another study by the group found that if an individual suffered from a high number of life stressors and incorporated a more passive coping style when dealing with them, the individual's total lymphocyte count decreased, indicating a weaker immunological system. Similarly, if an individual had decreased social support that resulted in added personal grief, the level of immune function also worsened.

According to Goodkin, the next step in bereavement studies will be to use these results to determine whether an increase in bereavement and stress will have a similar effect on HIV-infected women. For instance, will stress on women cause the HIV infection to progress at a faster or slower rate than in the men's study, and if so, what will happen to the progression of the disease when the women adapt similar coping mechanisms?

So far, the preliminary findings from investigating such an intervention with women infected with HIV have been quite encouraging. When the intervention was adapted for women, significant decreases in grief and distress were noted. In addition, there was an increase of positive life events, satisfactory social support, and active coping style.

Goodkin cautions that more substantial work on women with HIV infection must be completed to determine whether there really is evidence to indicate a higher rate of disease progression in women, related to bereavement, or other forms of stress, and what social support and active coping will do to that.

The women's study is expected to last about four years more, continuing through the year 2001. The study will analyze about 180 women, 120 of whom will be HIV-positive and 60 of whom will be HIV-negative. About half of each of those groups will be bereaved and the other half will be non-bereaved.

"Given that we expect to find similar, if not worsened, immunological decrements in women post-bereavement than the men's study, we would focus next upon a definitive study of similar support group intervention for women," says Goodkin.


Program Provides Answers and Support

Genetic Testing for Cancer

The ability to detect a genetic predisposition to a disease such as cancer is a wonder of modern science. But it can also be devastating for patients. That is why a comprehensive genetic testing program including counseling and other support services is so important.

The Courtelis Center for Research and Treatment in Psychosocial Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center offers one of the most comprehensive cancer genetic testing programs in the southeastern United States.

Directed by Fernando Arena, the Cancer Genetics Program offers advanced genetic testing to breast cancer patients and their family members, provides detailed information to at-risk individuals on what to expect from genetic testing, and offers additional support services, such as psychological counseling and stress management courses.

Genetic testing photoWomen with a strong family history of breast cancer, or those who simply want to know if they have a genetic predisposition to getting the disease, can now be tested for two of the genes that cause breast cancer.

The program, which entails three visits, is specially designed to allow the individual sufficient time to determine whether or not to proceed with the testing. On the first visit, patients meet with a board-certified geneticist to discuss the risks and benefits associated with genetic testing. Then, a complete psychological assessment is completed on the second visit to better determine how well the individual will handle the information.

"We want to get a sense of how the individuals are dealing with all of this information," says Sharlene M. Weiss, director of the Courtelis Center. "For example, is this something that they really want to do, or is this something that their families are forcing them to do?"

If the individual successfully completes all steps and still wishes to proceed with the cancer test, blood is then drawn and sent to a laboratory to determine if the individual is carrying the mutation for the gene.

Once the test results are in, both the psychologist and geneticist meet with the patient, usually in conjunction with close family members, to discuss the results at length.

So what are the chances of an individual getting cancer if the test results are positive? Until recently, studies indicated that if individuals carried the mutation, they had an 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetime-a significantly high number, Weiss explains. She notes, however, that these studies were based on statistical predictions performed on high-risk families over an extended period of time and may be slightly skewed. Newer, more recent studies seem to reveal more optimistic data indicating that approximately 56 percent of individuals who test positive for the mutation are likely to get cancer. (Women who test positive for the mutations also are at an increased risk for getting ovarian cancer.)

"It is very important for people to understand that we are still finding out a lot about these mutations and how they may affect women," says Weiss. "Remember, we have discovered how to test for two of the mutations, but there are probably others out there. Even if they test negative for this one, they still may be at risk, especially if there is a lot of cancer in their family."


Engineering Celebrates 50 Years of Progress

Rodney Ludder (B.S.I.E. '49) recalls sweating bullets during his mechanical drawing class, but not because of nerves. Ludder, a retired industrial engineer now living in Melbourne Beach, Florida, was among the first students enrolled in the College of Engineering when it first opened its doors in 1947.

"We took that drawing class in a large, unair-conditioned wooden barrack," he explains.

The College of Engineering has come a long way since then. Not only does the college have air-conditioned classrooms, it also utilizes state-of-the-art computers, lasers, and robotics equipment.

Engineering photo"We've gone from pocket protectors and slide rulers to personal digital assistants and computers, but the constant in the equation remains the same," says M. Lewis Temares, dean of the College of Engineering.

Temares, who was selected as the college's 11th dean in 1994, introduced the theme "Re-Engineering for the 21st Century."

"Engineers, well-educated and trained engineers, move the economy and lead the corporations. Their talent, discipline, and brains are creating the 21st century leaders," Temares explains.

What began 50 years ago as a School of Engineering with four undergraduate programs and approximately 400 male students, is today a highly respected College of Engineering offering more than 30 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs. The college has grown to include more than 950 undergraduate and graduate students-over 200 of whom are women. In addition, approximately 125 international students representing more than two dozen countries across the globe now attend the college.

The College of Engineering originally grew out of the demand for technical training on the part of returning veterans of World War II. Engineering was one of the most popular fields of study elected by "G.I. Bill" students, who often wanted to capitalize on the technical training they had received during their military service. In its early years, the school benefited from extra drawing tables and other basic laboratory items that were left over from several war training and war surplus programs.

Students today have access to some of the most powerful computers on campus, 47 engineering labs, and other high-tech learning facilities such as the Edward H. Arnold Center for Confluent Media Studies. The Arnold Center allows students from engineering and other disciplines at the University to experiment with the latest in multimedia technology. The center has already been used to help create a num-ber of award-winning student projects.

"Working with computers is integral to most of our classes," says Grace Ng, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering. "Instead of sweating over drawings and making constant revisions, we use computers to change the variables in a matter of milliseconds."

Ng represents another major change that has occurred at the college during the past 50 years-the growing number of women entering the field of engineering. More than 20 percent of students now enrolled in the college are female.

"The field of engineering is most certainly opening up for women," says Linda Hanagan, assistant professor of architectural and civil engineering. While the growth has not been as explosive as in other professions like law and business, Hanagan says women engineers can expect a rewarding career. "Women are most definitely being welcomed by the engineering profession."


New Facilities Put Business School in 'Executive Class'

The School of Business Administration has enhanced its facilities with a state-of-the-art auditorium and executive education center. The new structures add 48,000 square feet to the school.

The 310-seat Storer Auditorium and the James W. McLamore Executive Education Center were established in honor of renowned entrepreneurs.

Business School photoNamed for George B. Storer, the founder of Storer Communications, the auditorium was made possible by a commitment from Peter Storer (B.B.A. '51), a former University trustee, and his wife, Virginia Parker Storer (B.B.A. '51), through the George B. Storer Foundation. The auditorium will serve as the venue for the school's speaker series, meetings of the M.B.A. and undergraduate classes, and other special events.

The McLamore Executive Education Center, named for the late James W. McLamore, Burger King co-founder and former chairman of the University's Board of Trustees, was funded by Burger King co-founder David Edgerton and the Burger King Franchise Owner's Association. The center features two executive lecture facilities, six breakout discussion rooms, a full dining area, and related support facilities designed to accommodate 80 executives. Simultaneous translation capabilities provide translation services to international executives.

The center will provide business professionals with executive education and leadership development programs as well as customized classes taught by the school's faculty.


University Logs on to Internet2Internet illustration

The University of Miami will be one of the first universities in the nation to be part of Internet2, the new high-powered computing network being developed for university and government researchers. The selection was announced in February by President Bill Clinton.

The original Internet, intended for government and academic use, has become crowded with commercial traffic, making it too slow for the needs of scientists and engineers. The new network will allow scientists and engineers across the country to collaborate and share powerful computing and information resources.

"By building an Internet that is faster and more advanced, we can keep the United States at the cutting edge of Internet technology," says Clinton.

The University will receive a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund hardware and software for the connection. The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science will be the first UM campus to use Internet2 for a weather study being conducted with NASA. Eventually all campuses will be linked.

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