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Research

Nanotechnology project aims to provide miniature wearable air monitor
There's a bit of magician's art to what Ted Zellers is trying to do. As he explains it, he and his colleagues are trying to take an instrument the size of a small refrigerator and reduce it to the size of a sugar cube.

Zellers, professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health, and his fellow researchers are trying to miniaturize a gas chromatograph—a powerful analytical instrument capable of measuring complex mixtures of volatile organic chemicals at trace concentrations in a matter of minutes.

If the project is successful, workers in high-risk occupations ultimately will be able to wear this "MicroGC" as a means of monitoring and protecting them against chemical, and even microbial, exposures. The device also has important implications for homeland security, Zellers says.

It is one of several research projects currently being conducted under the auspices of the Center for Wireless Integrated Microsystems, an Engineering Research Center funded by the National Science Foundation and a consortium of companies. The center was launched in 2000 and is directed by Prof. Ken D. Wise of the College of Engineering. U-M is the center's lead university; Michigan State and Michigan Technological universities are partners.



New book provides expanded study on child sexual abuse
Greater emphasis on the danger of false allegations of child sexual abuse is misdirected; the attention should be placed on the danger of being sexually abused and not disclosing the abuse, a U-M professor says.

"Children have lost their voice," says Kathleen Coulborn Faller, a professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Family Assessment Clinic. "Although publicity about priest cases helps some, it has not turned the tide in favor of children."

Children who report sexual abuse must continue to meet a high threshold by providing a detailed account to authorities in order to be believed, she says. Only about 10 percent of the cases ever reach the criminal courts and about half are lost at trial, she says. Faller provides comprehensive coverage of child sexual abuse in her new book, "Understanding and Assessing Child Sexual Maltreatment" (Sage Publications Inc.).

 

 

 

This is your heart on drugs
The largest-ever study of cocaine users who suffered heart-related effects from taking the drug finds that a specially designed plan of emergency-room care for such patients can save both lives and money. Such plans have been in place for traditional chest pain patients for years, and many hospitals set aside part of their ERs to hold them for observation. But doctors have lacked criteria to help them decide how long to hold patients whose chest pain was caused by cocaineeven as millions of Americans are using the drug. By following the new study's standardized guidelines for testing and observation, doctors can determine after a few hours which patients can go home and which ones have a high risk for complications that should keep them in the hospital.

 
Dr. Jim Weber examines a heart scan at the Hurley Medical Center emergency department, which is staffed by U-M physicians. (Photo courtesy UMHS Public Relations)

The study's results, published in the Feb. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, are important because the number of cocaine-related heart complications has been increasing in recent years as cocaine use has become more widespread. But many patients whose cocaine use sends them to the ER with chest pain don't tell their doctors about their drug use, putting them at risk if they receive conventional emergency heart treatments that actually can worsen the effects caused by cocaine.

The lead author is Dr. Jim Edward Weber, a U-M emergency medicine physician and an assistant professor of emergency medicine, who led the study of patients at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. The study was made possible by cooperation between Hurley and the U-M Department of Emergency Medicine, whose physicians and residents staff the Hurley ER. Dr. Judd Hollander, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was the senior author. The principal investigator was Brenda Booth of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. In addition to Weber and Hollander, the paper's authors include Dr. Amit Kalaria, a former Michigan State University medical student now doing a residency in emergency medicine at Northwestern University; Dr. Greg Larkin of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; and Francis Shofer of the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to Weber and Booth, the follow-up study research team includes Dr. Rebecca Cunningham and Dr. Ronald Maio of the U-M Department of Emergency Medicine; and others from the University of Arkansas for the Medical Sciences.

FDA approves psoriasis treatment developed at UMHS
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a psoriasis treatment that was first developed in a U-M Medical School laboratory. Alefacept, a specially designed molecule that blocks a specific immune-system reaction involved in the painful skin condition, was approved for marketing Jan. 31 under the name Amevive. Biogen Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., will market the drug.

Alefacept traces its roots to research done at U-M in the mid-1990s by a team led by former dermatology faculty member Dr. Kevin Cooper. The University and Biogen share the patent on the engineered molecule with Cooper, who now is chair of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University. The U-M Health System (UMHS) played a major role in the advanced-phase clinical trials that demonstrated alefacept's ability to ease or clear the painful symptoms of psoriasisrelief that continues even after treatment stops.

Dermatologist Dr. Charles Ellis, who has no financial connection to the patent, was selected to help design and lead the Phase II and III studies because of his long experience studying and treating the immune response in psoriasis. Ellis is associate chair of dermatology at UMHS and chief of dermatology at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

Ellis shared leadership of the study with Dr. Gerald Krueger, a professor of dermatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Low libido? New patch may help bring relief to women
It's not a subject that most women feel comfortable discussing among themselves or sometimes even with their partners. However, low sexual libido, a previously understudied condition, is starting to gain more attention from women and medical researchers alike.

Although there currently are no medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of low female libido, women experiencing a decreased sexual desire shouldn't give up hope.

A new one-year study being conducted by the U-M Health System's Women's Health Program, as well as at other sites throughout the United States, Canada and Australia, may help bring relief to women experiencing low libido. The study will examine whether or not a testosterone patch can improve low libido in post-menopausal women who have experienced a decline in their sexual well-being and use hormone therapy. This new investigational therapy, developed by Proctor & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, is a thin, nearly transparent patch worn on the abdomen.

The U-M study's principal investigator is registered nurse Nancy Reame, professor in the School of Nursing and a research scientist in the U-M Reproductive Sciences Program.

Employees with high health risks take more time away from work
People with high health risks such as smoking, obesity and illness cost employers billions of dollars annually in the form of absenteeism, short-term disability and workers' compensation, according to the U-M Health Management Research Center (HMRC).

A HMRC study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine confirms that high-risk individuals take more time off from work, adding lost productivity to their already higher share of health care costs. "We believe this is the first study to evaluate the combined costs of scattered hours of absence, short-term disability and workers' compensation into a single measure of total time away from work cost," says Douglas Wright, HMRC research associate and the study's author.

Wright examined the relationships between health risks, health status and time away from work costs of 6,220 employees of Steelcase Inc., a manufacturing company based in Grand Rapids.
—Pat Materka, HMRC

Book: Most women think too much
Most women think too much, and overthinking leads to depression, an inability to move forward and wrecked emotional health, according to ground-breaking research detailed in psychology Prof. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema's new book.

 

A new follow-up study building on her years of research, to appear in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, shows how overthinkers are more susceptible to alcoholism.

Overthinking—endless torrents of negative thoughts and emotions often triggered by something as fleeting as a sarcastic remark from a friend, relative or co-worker—is the focus of "Women Who Think Too Much: How To Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life" (2003, Henry Holt and Co.). Nolen-Hoeksema found that overthinking is a national epidemic among young and middle aged adults but is relatively rare among older adults, that overthinking contributes to severe depression and anxiety—especially in women and that women are significantly more likely than men to fall into overthinking and to be immobilized by it. —Joseph Serwach, News Service

 

Major trends in Michigan’s economy: Labor shortages and high-skilled jobs
Although Michigan's unemployment rate is at its highest level in 10 years, the labor shortages of the late 1990s will be the rule, rather than the exception, in the next several decades, according to a study by U-M and Michigan Future Inc.

"Reports on employment don't usually start with population, but demographic trends are shaping employment in Michigan," says researcher Donald Grimes of the U-M Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. "Michigan's population is both aging and growing slowly. If these trends continueand they are likely to do sothis will almost inevitably mean that for several decades new entrants into Michigan's labor market will fall short of employers' need for new workers."

In their study "Michigan Workers in the Boom Years: Employment and Employment Earnings, 1991-2000," Grimes and Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., identify five major forces that will drive the Michigan economy for years to come. They say the state will face structural labor shortages for the foreseeable future; Michigan workers can expect a continuation of the trend of high pay for high skills; employment increasingly will become centered on office work rather than jobs at factories and stores; an abundance of low-wage workers will continue to be employed; and the state economy will remain heavily dependent on motor vehicle manufacturing, which will continue to be the primary engine that drives the Michigan economy.
—Bernie DeGroat, News Service

When weight goes up, so do costs for employers
Effective worksite weight control programs could bring about substantial savings in medical costs for employers and help prevent overweight- and obesity-related diseases, U-M Health Management Research Center (HMRC) research shows.

The study of 177,971 employees, retirees and adult dependents of General Motors Corp. showed a consistent relationship between medical costs and progressively higher categories of overweight and obesity, according to HMRC lead author Fei-Fei Wang and senior research analyst Shirley Musich.

The study, published in January's American Journal of Health Promotion, is the first to examine the relationship between median medical costs and the six weight groups defined by the National Heart, Lungs and Blood Institute in 1998.
—Pat Materka, HMRC

Diversity management hinges on firm’s learning capabilities
Why are some companies able to manage diversity in the workplace so successfully and to prevent or quickly resolve discrimination lawsuits, while other firms seem to be grappling constantly with diversity and discrimination problems?

The answer, says Lynn Perry Wooten of the Business School, may depend upon a firm's corporate culture and its ability, or inability, to learn from experience and make appropriate changes in organizational behavior. "Despite the widespread focus on diversity issues from both scholars and practitioners and the frequency and notoriety of discrimination lawsuits, we are surprised at the difficulty some organizations continue to have with diversity management," says Wooten, assistant professor of corporate strategy and international business. "Firms seem to squander these learning opportunities and, as a result, remain susceptible to future discrimination lawsuits."

In an essay, "When Firms Fail to Learn: The Perpetuation of Discrimination in the Workplace," in the Journal of Management Inquiry, Wooten and co-author Erika Hayes James of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business analyze the widely publicized experiences of major companies that have faced discrimination lawsuits.
—Claudia Capos, Business School

Researcher helps resolve conflict between exotic birds and eco-tourists
Brazil's Pantanal, a vast wetland situated in the center of South America, has become the next frontier for leading-edge eco-tourists in search of ever more exotic flora and fauna. "It's where people go after they've been to Africa," says Shannon Bouton, a Ph.D. student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
Wood stork. (Photo courtesy Shannon Bouton)

Bouton has published the results of her unique study of a wading bird colony in the Pantanal in the February issue of Conservation Biology. The article, co-authored with the University of Florida's Peter Frederick, is titled "Stakeholders' Perceptions of a Wading Bird Colony as a Community Resource in the Brazilian Pantanal." Unlike other research projects that consider only the biological effects of tourism, Bouton has combined her biological research with a study of how the colony serves as a resource for the local community.

Her practical suggestions for meeting the twin goals of managing and developing tourism and conserving the colony have attracted the attention of top government officials and diplomats in Brazil and have made her study site at Porto da Fazenda a model for similar efforts in the region.

HR professionals add greater value to companies
Human resource professionals, once heavily focused on transaction-processing, now are assuming a more influential role as strategic contributors who create and facilitate a corporate culture that drives top-line growth and profitability, according to a survey released by the Business School's Executive Education Center.

The 2002 Human Resource Competency Study reports that HR competencies and practices now impact nearly 10 percent of business financial performance, more than double the influence five years ago. As the trend toward outsourcing and electronically processing transactional work continues, HR professionals increasingly will have the time and focus to be able to add greater strategic value, the study shows.

"We found that in high-performing firms, HR is becoming more of a strategic contributor," says Wayne Brockbank, professor and director of Human Resource Executive Programs at the Business School. "Strategic contributions include culture management, disciplines of fast change, mobilizing the organization for tightly integrated responses to competitive pressures and enhancing the quality of strategic decision-making."

The HR Competency Study has been conducted four times in the last 15 years by Brockbank and Business School colleague David Ulrich. It has involved more than 26,000 participants.
—Claudia Capos, Business School

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