Organizational Updates for ITC

From Vice Chancellor for Research Prasant Mohapatra

We have several changes within the ITC organization that we would like to bring to your attention. First, Bill Tucker, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Technology Commercialization returned to full retirement on July 31, 2022. We sure appreciate Bill stepping back in to help us since his initial entry into retirement. Bill provided exemplary leadership for technology transfer across the UC—in roles at UCOP and UC Davis. We are grateful for all his contributions.

During this transition, I appointed Denise Ehlen to serve as Interim AVC for ITC in addition to her existing role as AVC for Research Administration and Central Services. Since this appointment, Denise launched a strategic planning process with the ITC team to develop a roadmap to continue to provide best in class service to the research community. While much of that work continues, we are happy to report the following interim leadership appointments.

  • Eugene Sisman will serve as the Interim Director of InnovationAccess. Eugene is a seasoned and talented technology transfer professional with expertise in IP strategy. He will be instrumental in guiding the team through the leadership transition. Eugene and Denise will share responsibility for the InnovationAccess team.
  • Janine Elliott will serve as Interim Director of Venture Catalyst. Under her guidance, the team will continue to provide critical services and support to our innovators. Janine brings a strong entrepreneurial spirit, non-profit leadership acumen and operations expertise to the role.
  • Dianna Francis will serve as the Interim Contracts Team Leader bringing extensive MTA/DTA expertise and her experience as an IP Officer to this important position. The Office of Research has also engaged external consultants to support the Contracts Team in order to rebalance the equilibrium between workload and available resources.

Michael Carriere will continue to lead the Plant Variety Team.  Michael’s strong UCOP, UC Davis, and scientific expertise ensures continuity of services and a focus on meeting the needs of UC Davis innovators and the agricultural community.

Please contact Denise Ehlen if you have questions related to these changes or current needs.

Team Research Forum: The 17-Year Research Gap Problem

Despite acceleration in the pace of new discoveries and therapies, the delay between scientific evidence and clinical practice – a frequently-stated “17-year gap” – is of growing concern.  Shortening this 17-year gap between research and practice requires an increased understanding of what it takes to implement new research such that professional guidelines and clinical practice reflect the best and latest research.

Join the Office of Research and the UC Davis School of Medicine Friday, September 23rd at 10:30am for a conversation with UC Davis experts on how we can work toward reducing this gap by engaging in multidisciplinary and team research approaches at our institution and beyond.

Register for this event

 

Dr. Ulfat Shaikhulfat shaikh portrait

Dr. Ulfat Shaikh is the Director for Healthcare Quality at the University of California Davis School of Medicine and the Co-Director of the CTSC Healthcare Delivery Science Program. She is a board-certified pediatrician at the UC Davis Children’s Hospital. Dr. Shaikh’s expertise is in measuring performance in healthcare and supporting clinicians in designing, implementing and evaluating quality improvement initiatives. She has led training and coaching programs in health care quality improvement methods for public, private, and academic organizations.

 

Dr. Ted Wunted wun portrait

Ted Wun M.D., FACP, is the Associate Dean for Research for the School of Medicine, the director and principal investigator of the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC), and chief of hematology and oncology for UC Davis Health. He also serves as co-principal investigator of the California Cancer Reporting and Epidemiologic Surveillance (CalCARES) program, which manages the California Cancer Registry.

As Associate Dean for Research, Wun has broad oversight and responsibility for the research enterprise at the School of Medicine. The CTSC is charged with building the research teams of the future to improve human health, and is committed to enhancing the rigor of, and growing the breadth and depth of, research at UC Davis.

 

aubyn stahmer portraitDr. Aubyn Stahmer

Dr. Stahmer is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Director of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute. She is an expert in the translation of evidence-based autism research to community-based practice and delivery.

The main goals of her research include developing ways to help community providers, such as teachers and therapists, help autistic children and their families by providing high quality care. She is an internationally respected expert in the use of naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions which are validated treatments for autism.

 

janice bell portraitDr. Janice Bell

Janice Bell is a Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. She also directs the School’s Family Caregiving Institute and the PhD program in Nursing Science and Healthcare Leadership. Dr. Bell’s work focuses on serious illness care models with a focus on family caregivers. She leads the evaluation of the Alameda County Care Alliance (ACCA) Advanced Illness Care Program, a lay “Care Navigator” intervention innovated by a consortium of San Francisco Bay Area African American churches to address advanced illness care disparities among persons with serious illness and their caregivers. Bell is also co-PI on project to evaluate the California state-funded expansion of services in the statewide Caregiver Resource Centers. This includes the roll-out of a new technology application called CareNavTM, a user-friendly tool designed to help families navigate the complexities of the caregiving journey by providing access to information, care consultation, resources and referrals.

2022 Chancellor’s Innovation Awards Honor Contributions to Society

June 28, 2022

By Neelanjana Gautam

The University of California, Davis, announced the recipients of the 2022 Chancellor’s Innovation Awards at an in-person event on June 16. The awards recognize faculty, community partners and industry leaders developing innovative solutions to improve the lives of others and address important needs in our global society.

“Innovation is at the heart of our mission at UC Davis,” said Chancellor Gary S. May. “We are driven to take action by creating new inventions beyond the boundaries of our campus. These award winners are groundbreakers who improve society as their innovations move out of the lab and into the world.”

The awards include Innovator of the Year, Innovative Community Partner and Lifetime Achievement in Innovation. The program is managed by the Office of Research.

“I would like to congratulate the recipients of this year’s awards and applaud their commitment to bringing forth solutions to important challenges,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research. “These honorees represent the bold and creative spirit common to UC Davis — to search beyond the expected and seek opportunities to make the world a better place.”

Innovators of the Year

The Innovator of the Year award recognizes faculty, staff, or teams whose innovative or entrepreneurial activities have had a measurable societal impact in the last year, or those whose activities or achievements in the last year have a very strong potential to make a significant impact in the future. Recipients receive $10,000, to advance their research or engage in community efforts.

Ermias Kebreab, professor in the Department of Animal Science, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Ermias Kebreab and colleagues have found an ingenious solution to reduce methane — a type of greenhouse gas — emissions from dairy cows. Research has shown that cow burps represent more than four percent of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Each year, one cow can belch 220 pounds of methane, contributing to climate change.

In 2018, the Kebreab lab started testing at the UC Davis Dairy barn to see if feeding seaweed to 12 Holstein cows would reduce methane emissions. The preliminary findings showed substantial reductions in methane, leading Kebreab to expand the testing with additional cattle in summer 2020. In that project, Kebreab and his team experimented with 21 beef cattle by adding a scant amount of seaweed to their daily diet. Through this work, they were able to prove that cattle which consumed doses of 80 grams (three ounces) of seaweed per day emitted up to 82 percent less methane in addition to a better weight gain compared to their herd mates. The findings published in the journal PLOS ONE have shown the importance of combining modeling and experimental research.

Kebreab’s innovative work on alternative cattle nutrition has been gaining worldwide attention for its climate friendly attributes as summarized in his TED talk. The impact of this discovery has huge implications on the livestock sector, the potential use of seaweed to curb methane emission from the ruminant industry, and the ways in which it can impact climate change globally.

 

Delmar Larsen, professor in the Department of Chemistry, College of Letters and Science

Delmar Larsen has developed an innovative solution to eliminate the barrier of high-cost textbooks on education and increase accessibility to students around the world. His work developing LibreTexts –– an internet library of free and open-source educational resources for K-12 and college courses –– has been recognized as an all-inclusive hub for student learning across the world.

Back in 2008, when Larsen learned that nearly one quarter of the students in his chemistry class could not afford to buy the textbook for his course, he created ChemWiki, now known as LibreTexts, for students of chemistry so they could access course materials for free through their web browser. Since then, the project has expanded with a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. As external funding scaled up, Larsen engaged a team of undergraduate students and faculty to contribute and grow this resource, saving UC Davis students alone more than one million a year. Today, LibreTexts includes 15 libraries including chemistry, biology, business, history, statistics, Spanish and more, along with the new Ukrainian library while registering 850 million page views with 6.6 millennia of confirmed student reading. The site allows instructors to customize and quickly change material to meet specific needs of students and reflect current events. Importantly, anyone can contribute to the project including faculty, students and experts.

Its global impact was noticeable during the pandemic when the site proved to be a personalized resource for its 223 million student base and saw an especially rapid growth in traffic for its biology, physics and mathematics sections. The site has delivered 100K English-language pageviews to Ukraine and is scaling up operations to meet the educational needs of displaced students in Ukraine from the current war.

The online distribution aspect of ​​LibreTexts has saved students an estimated $50 million in textbook costs. Larsen hopes to see the platform adapted into a statewide infrastructure. In 2020, the project received a $1 million innovation grant, from the state of California’s Learning Lab, to build the free ADAPT homework system to accompany the textbooks. LibreTexts’ ability to democratize access to expensive STEM textbooks is especially important for diversity, equity and inclusion of first-generation college students, low-income students and minority-serving institutions in the sciences.

Lifetime Achievement Awards in Innovation

The Lifetime Achievement Awards in Innovation recognize researchers whose career accomplishments include innovations leading to a long-term positive impact on the lives of others and who are an inspiring influence for other innovators.

Jan Nolta, professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy and Internal Medicine, School of Medicine

Jan Nolta serves as the director of the Stem Cell Program and the UC Davis Gene Therapy Center in the Institute for Regenerative Cures at UC Davis Health in Sacramento. Nolta has gained reputation as a prolific scientist with over three decades of experience in human stem cells, gene therapy, and clinical trial development. She has been a tireless contributor to the field of regenerative medicine-related cures for a spectrum of diseases and injuries. She started her career helping to develop stem cell gene therapy treatments for “bubble baby disease.”

Over the past few years, Nolta has been collaborating with an interdisciplinary team including UC Davis Health professors Mehrdad AbediJoseph Tuscano, and Gerhard Bauer to pioneer the California CAR-T program for cancer patients. To advance this innovation, Nolta’s group is cultivating potent cancer killers to currently treat leukemia and lymphoma in relapsed patients, and which may tackle kidney, ovarian and bladder cancers down the line. The team is helping to facilitate change that would drive the cost of CAR-T therapies down while increasing accessibility so that life-saving, cutting edge therapies can be provided to all patients in an equitable manner.

Nolta’s current research is focused on developing therapies that will use mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to deliver factors for treating Huntington’s disease and other disorders and injuries. She is the scientific director of the Good Manufacturing Practice clean room facility at UC Davis, where stem cells of different types are being isolated or expanded for clinical trials.

Nolta has received multiple awards from the beginning of her career. Early awards include New Investigator Award in 1999; Research Career and Development Award, 1996; and an NIH award in 1997. More awards followed later including Huntington’s Disease Society of America Distinguished Leadership Award, 2008, California State University, Sacramento Distinguished Service Award, 2009, Excellence in Mentoring, and many more. She has published over 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts in the stem cell field and has been Editor-in-Chief for the Journal “Stem Cells” since 2013.

Nolta’s desire to serve the community and to make an impact in the lives of people has been one of the major driving forces for many of her career accomplishments. Her group focuses on “bench to the bedside” research, and she has been involved in numerous clinical trials of gene and cell therapy. As a first- generation faculty member, Nolta has been an advocate of a diverse science and healthcare workforce of the future and is currently leading or assisting with numerous training programs. Her passion is in training other first-generation students, and those from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences.

Innovative Community Partner Award

AgStart/Lab@AgStart

Although startup incubators and office co-working spaces are not novel ideas, when AgStart was founded in 2012 through collaboration between the University of California Davis and a regional non-profit, the AgStart program was one of the first in the country focused exclusively on supporting innovators in Agriculture and Food technology. For much of its first decade, AgStart existed as a ’virtual’ incubator supporting entrepreneurs with mentorship, education, community, and connections to resources in our California Ag-&-Food ecosystem.

In May 2021 the program blossomed to include The Lab@AgStart, the largest wet-lab incubator for startup companies in California’s Central Valley region, which gives innovators and startup entrepreneurs access to sophisticated wet-lab and food lab facilities and equipment, along with office and co-working space.  The lab is a member of the UC Davis (DRIVE™) Network of Venture Catalyst, and it’s managed by Michael Clayton, a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of domestic and international experience in the social venture space.

The Lab@AgStart is now fully-occupied with startup company researchers and currently houses several UC Davis spinouts, including PheronymMyFloraDNAPrism BioBCD Bioscience and Astrid Pharma, among others. These and other startups at AgStart employ UC Davis Ph.D. graduates as well as providing employment experiences for undergraduate interns. The speed with which startup companies filled the Lab@AgStart facility demonstrates the pent-up demand for ag-tech and food/biotech related infrastructure in the region. In its first year of operation, startup companies residing at the incubator created over 24 new full-time professional jobs and brought over $45 million in private capital investment to the region.

About the awards program

The UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovation Awards program was established in 2016 to celebrate the university’s innovative contributions to the regional and global community. The program is run by Venture Catalyst, a unit within the Innovation and Technology Commercialization division of the Office of Research.

The call for nominations for this year’s award was issued in March 2022.

Nominations were reviewed by a selection committee consisting of past recipients, representatives from the Office of Research, external partners and delegates named by the deans of various UC Davis schools and colleges. Committee members rated each nomination based on a predetermined protocol evaluating the uniqueness of the innovation(s) and their potential societal impact. Recommendations from the committee were then submitted to the chancellor and provost and executive vice chancellor, and vice chancellor of research for final approval.

Media contact(s)

AJ Cheline, UC Davis Office of Research, 530-752-1101, acheline@ucdavis.edu

2022 Chancellor’s Innovation Awards Nominees

  1. Soheil Ghiasi

Fetal Pulse Oximetry Device

  1. Jan Nolta

California CAR-T cells program

  1. Gang Sun

Reusable, biodegradable cold storage technology

  1. Delmar Larsen

LibreTexts project as a collaborative platform for the creation and broad dissemination of high-quality educational resources

  1. Keith Watenpaugh

UC Davis Backpack, human-digital ecosystem that protects and sharing critical educational documentation, creative work, and research for young people fleeing war, civil dislocation, natural disaster, or facing uncertainties in immigration and residency

  1. Samuel King

Anti-fraud software

  1. Antoinette Banks

Expert IEP – equitable and inclusive learning experiences

  1. Amir Zeki

Using inhaled statins to treat the severe respiratory disease known as COVID-19

  1. Peter Havel

UC Davis Type-2 Diabetes Mellitus (UCD-T2DM) Rat model

  1. Ermias Kebreab

Seaweed supplementation to reduce methane emissions in cattle

  1. Michele Barbato

Wildfire resilient earthen construction

  1. Diana Farmer

Stem Cell treatment for Spina bifida

  1. Elizabeth Foraker

SEED Scholars improve employment opportunities and develop independence in students with intellectual disabilities

UC Davis Enabled Startup Developing Technology to Combat Degenerative Diseases

June 7, 2022

By Neelanjana Gautam

In 2020, an estimated 5.8 million Americans aged 65 years or older had Alzheimer’s disease. This number may well hover around 14 million by 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Years of research led by UC Davis Professor John Voss may play an important role in treating Alzheimer’s and other protein misfolding diseases that occur in the brain.

Voss, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, is developing a unique approach to treating such protein misfolding diseases by using paramagnetic molecules to diagnose and monitor the disease conditions. His contributions in this field led to the launch of ParaMag Biosciences, a company which recently executed license agreements to access foundational intellectual property and commercialize new technologies developed at the UC Davis.

Voss has been working in the area of structural biology, specializing in protein dynamics and assembly, since he joined UC Davis in 1998. In 2017, Voss received the Science Translation and Innovative Research (STAIRTM) Grant offered by Venture Catalyst – within the Innovation and Technology Commercialization division of the UC Davis Office of Research. The award afforded Voss and his team the opportunity to demonstrate early proof-of-concept and gain access entrepreneurial and technology commercialization support resources to advance the innovation.

Understanding Protein Misfolding

When proteins lose the native structure either by mutation or environmental effects, they are typically identified and cleared by the cell.  However, elevated levels of misfolded proteins —accumulating either by increased production or decreased clearance — can lead to disease. In the disease pathway, oxidative stress and associated inflammation in response to aggregates of misfolded proteins act as critical mediators of cell death. Protein misfolding can lead to not only Alzheimer’s, but several disorders, including neurodegenerative and skeletal muscle diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Voss’ research has been primarily focused on protein structure and dynamics. He studies molecular switching in proteins, as well as protein folding and assembly. Voss explains that intrinsically disordered or misfolded proteins don’t necessarily retain a single well-defined architecture or structure. “Instead, they move around a lot and tend to aggregate or misfold, and therefore are much harder to pin down,” he said.

Voss has been particularly interested in these types of proteins to understand how they work with their high levels of intrinsic disorder. “We can get a lot of information by looking at how things move and how much order disorder they have,” said Voss.

Novel Approach to Treating Alzheimer’s Disease

The goal was then to design a mechanism that can enter cells and prevent the toxic event of protein misfolding. To carry out this work, Voss and his team have developed a tool called Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) spectroscopy, which introduces “spin probes” –– unique paramagnetic molecules with unpaired electrons –– that can bind on to these misfolded proteins and report on their dynamics and degree of aggregation.

Collaborative studies with Lee-way Jin of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center led to the observation that these spin probes carry some unique properties, such as, they can deliver potent antioxidant activity in a catalytic manner. Based on this observation, Voss embarked on designing spin probe agents that can assemble around the neurotoxic proteins and reduce their toxicity in cells.

Another key property of the innovation results from the ability of the agents to generate contrast in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which then can be used as a diagnostic tool and understand the course of treatment. “We use this approach to address problems in several biological systems, including those related to cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases,” said Voss. “Unlike available imaging methods, the MRI contrast does not involve metals, eliminates radiation exposure to the patient, and is less expensive — enabling greater patient access,” said Voss.

Voss used the STAIR grant to get access to imaging instrumentation, collected specimens from animals as well as from patients in the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center, and used them to validate the hypothesis that these paramagnetic molecules can be used in a diagnostic manner.

They performed in vivo tests to synthesize and demonstrate the effectiveness of nine novel small molecules, co-invented by Ruiwu Liu, a research professor in the School of Medicine. They also conducted lead optimization studies of therapeutic activities and used imaging instrumentation to better correlate the contrast signal with identifiable brain structures.

Voss’ laboratory has engineered a series of proprietary spin-labeled agents that preferentially bind to aggregates of misfolded proteins and provide neuronal protection from toxic effects of amyloid-beta. These molecules have been termed paramagnetic amyloid ligands (PALs) as they are not only neuroprotective but also can be visualized in the brain with MRI. Voss’s efforts with the Davis-based ParaMag Biosciences are aiming to bring the UC-licensed PAL technology to patients.

Media Contact

AJ Cheline, UC Davis Office of Research, 530-752-1101, acheline@ucdavis.edu

Validate Your Startup Idea and Technology through the Customer Discovery method at the Spring 2021 UC Davis I-Corps Virtual Immersive Short Course

UC Davis Venture Catalyst is collaborating with the Bay Area Node for the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program to host the Immersive Short Course training for teams with a university connection and technology innovation based on discoveries in fundamental science and engineering.

When:
2:00- 5:00 pm, Monday, April 25, Wednesday, April 27, and Wednesday May 4, 2022

Who:

Teams of 2-4 members comprised of university-affiliated students, staff and/or faculty working on a science or engineering innovation who want to learn more about taking a product from idea to being used out in the world.

What is it?

The Immersive Short Course training is focused on helping early-stage teams who have a fundamental technology, engineering, or business model innovation learn how search for a scalable business model through the Customer Discovery methodology.  The three online sessions will teach teams to identify and refine their Value Propositions and Customer Segments, which are essential to de-risking ideas and achieving product-market fit.  Outside of class, teams are expected to conduct at least 15 interviews with potential customers as part of the Customer Discovery process.  Participants can expect to spend 20-30 hours outside of class on interviews.

Why participate?

In addition to benefitting from the initial Customer Discover process to vet your ideas, applicable teams that complete the Immersive Short Course with instructor endorsement may qualify for the National Innovation Corps Teams program, which includes a $50k grant for customer discovery and supplemental training.  Many teams that complete the national program have a much higher funding rate, including investment and National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, which provide up to $256k in seed capital to conduct research and development.

Next steps:

Applications for the Immersive Short Course are open through April 11, 2022.  Selected applicants will be contacted about 10 days before the first day of class to schedule a team interview call with the I-Corps instructor. Learn more about requirements & apply here!

Questions?

Please contact Janine Elliott, Associate Director for New Venture Resources, UCD Venture Catalyst:  jafelliott@ucdavis.edu

2022 Annual Research Expo

About the Event

The annual UC Davis Research Expo is a one-day event that showcases the latest research-related insight, resources, opportunities and tools to help you advance your research. The event includes exhibits, presentations, workshops and opportunities to network with potential collaborators. We welcome you to enjoy the full event or attend portions that are of particular interest.

New this year, will be partnering with Seed Central to offer an extended afternoon session devoted to ag innovation, where we will bring experts from various specialties together with industry partners. This additional section will include a workshop, presentation and networking event. The Research Expo is an anchor event in the weeklong celebration of Davis Discovery Days.


Who should attend: Faculty, post-docs, staff, research administrators, students and industry partners involved in research.

Cost: Free

When: Wednesday, May 11, 2022, from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mondavi Center & UC Davis Conference Center

COVID-19 Related Information: We will be following all Campus Event Guidelines. Events will be held in person, but options to stream online will be made available upon request.


Register Today or Learn More >

Renaming the John Muir Institute of the Environment to Be More Inclusive

The UC Davis Chancellor’s Leadership Council approved a recommendation to rename the John Muir Institute of the Environment (JMIE) to the Institute of the Environment. The recommendation emanated from a naming committee appointed by JMIE leadership.

The impetus for establishing the naming committee was due to a growing concern about the use of the Muir name and its impact on the inclusive vision held by the Institute — to focus on a collaborative, transdisciplinary 21st century environmental Institute working toward an equitable and sustainable future.

“Although the committee recognized that John Muir made important environmental contributions and achievements for land conversation, they concluded that the name does not symbolize positive elements of the current environmental and climate justice movement for all people and all communities,” said Isabel Montañez, director of the Institute of the Environment.

The recommendation to rename the institute is the culmination of a long process that began in the summer of 2020 with the formation of a naming committee charter by JMIE leadership to conduct a formal evaluation of the Institute name. The JMIE Naming Advisory Committee comprised a 19-member, highly diverse group of people representing current Institute program directors, Native American studies scholars, African American studies scholars, physical scientists, social scientists, humanities scholars, legal scholars and graduate students. An independent consulting group facilitated the process.

The Naming Advisory Committee met for a total of seven 90-minute meetings, listening to invited speakers offering a range of perspectives and reflecting on documented accounts from several resources that captured Muir’s life, experiences, environmental movements, conservation efforts and his relationship with Indigenous people. After thoughtful deliberations and a robust review process, the committee recommended, with full consensus, to change the name of the Institute.

“I echo the Committee’s and the Chancellor’s Leadership Council’s suggestion that the renaming of the Institute provides an opportunity to assign a name for the Institute that inspires a positive legacy and that conveys to the campus and external communities an inclusive call to action to address and solve the grand environmental and social challenges that Californians (and the world) currently face,” said Montañez. “We need to decouple the Institute’s name from one that elicits a positive legacy for some but a harmful legacy to others.”

Beth Rose Middleton, a professor in the Department of Native American studies and the associate director of Environmental and Climate Justice at the Institute of the Environment added, “John Muir was a leading preservationist, but he also disparaged and dismissed Miwuk and Paiute people whose homeland (Yosemite) he fought to protect. Our hope in changing the name is to create a more inclusive vision of environmental studies and sciences.” Middleton was also a member of the Naming Advisory Committee.

Moving forward, the Institute of the Environment will consider new naming options that honor both the vision and mission of the Institute and the bond between the land and the people who have stewarded it for millennia.

For more information about the Institute of the Environment, visit their website or contact Director Isabel Montañez.

New Research Shows Predictors for Diabetes are Different for Black and White Women

Candice Price photo

Candice Price’s research on Black women could provide a clue for understanding the physiological and molecular mechanisms of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease development in this community. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

By Neelanjana Gautam

Over 34 million adults in the United States, roughly 1 in 10, have diabetes. That rate is even higher within the Black community, particularly in Black women. This is often attributed to an increased prevalence of obesity in Black women — since being obese is the strongest predictor for type 2 diabetes — but new research suggests the link is not so simple and that special consideration for risk factors may need to be adjusted in this population.

Candice Price, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has been studying the mechanisms for developing cardiometabolic diseases, including diabetes in Black women, since her postdoctoral research days. Contrary to existing studies demonstrating that Black women are more insulin resistant (a precursor to diabetes) than their white counterparts, she wanted to understand whether the prevalence, or risk for developing insulin resistance, is greater in Black communities.

Price feels that a greater prevalence could potentially be linked to other biomedical and environmental factors as opposed to worse insulin resistance itself, which could be due to some underlying medical conditions. Her research on Black women could provide a clue for understanding the physiological and molecular mechanisms of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease development in this community.

Reexamining Traditional Biomarkers to Assess Insulin Resistance

For Price, a first crucial step was to assess whether the traditional biomarkers of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes risk, such as adiposity measures (body mass index or BMI, body weight, waist circumference, waist-to-hip and waist-to-height ratios, body fat percentage), apply similarly to Black women as they do in white women, given the same levels of insulin resistance.

To find answers, Price and her team conducted a steady-state plasma glucose test between two groups of Black and white women to measure peripheral insulin resistance (which was not considered in previous studies), fat distribution, and adipocyte characterization.

They found that the traditional adiposity measures, despite being good predictors in white women, failed to predict insulin resistance in Black women. Instead, despite being lower in Black women, fasting triglycerides (TG) and TG/HDL-cholesterol ratio strongly predicted insulin resistance in Black women, as did high-density lipoprotein (HDL). They also found that hepatic fat and visceral adipose tissue, also lower in Black women, correlated with insulin resistance in both groups.

“This indicates that using BMI as a primary assessment for assuming or predicting insulin resistance in Black women is not reliable on its own,” Price said.

These findings open a discussion around the prevalence of obesity status and stigma, and whether simply looking at the body fat percentage, BMI and waist circumference are sufficient for predicting the risk of diabetes in Black women, or if there is a need for better race and sex-based biomarkers for metabolic risk profiling.

“This suggests to us that we really need to start reexamining the cut points of the traditional biomarkers that were really established from primarily white cohort studies, and whether the same could be said for Black women,” said Price. “Weight is still a factor in both, but the amount of weight deemed to be unhealthy may be at a higher level in Black women. In other words, having a BMI of 26 kg/m2 is considered overweight in the general population. However, recent studies demonstrate that this BMI may not actually be unhealthy in Black women; the cutoff is at a higher BMI.”

The Importance of Fat Distribution and Role of Sugar Intake

The Black population, Price said, has been a disproportionate consumer of sugar-sweetened beverages compared to any other race or ethnic group in the U.S. due to unfair targeted marketing and poorer food environments. Her pilot study stems from her efforts to reduce health disparities in Black women by focusing on prevention as well as understanding how sugar-sweetened beverages can increase the risk for cardiometabolic diseases.

When asked if sugar consumption or body weight plays a larger role, Price replied, “Sugar plays a larger role. The most important factor about sugar is that its effects on increasing cardiometabolic disease risk factors are direct and do not require weight gain. High sugar consumption can also cause weight gain, but the type of weight gained is the critical difference. Sugar promotes fat storage in the liver and visceral depot (fat stored around our organs), whereas the same number of calories provided as a complex carbohydrate promotes fat to be stored in subcutaneous depots.”

Learn more >

Barn Raising Mural Painting Event on March 26 Set to Inspire Climate Activism in the Central Valley

By Neelanjana Gautam

As part of an effort to spread awareness on climate change and agricultural issues in the Central Valley, Sustainable UC Davis in partnership with the UC Davis Institute of the Environment and the One Climate Initiative launched a 21st-century “barn raising” mural competition over fall quarter 2021 for undergraduate and graduate students.

To mark the conclusion of the mural design competition, the winning design will now be painted on a local almond farmer’s barn off County Road 102 between Davis and Woodland on March 26.

For the competition, students were asked to identify a climate-related agricultural issue in the Valley, take a stance on it, and then develop a mural proposal that visually communicates that position to the public. Rachael Dal Porto, a current graduate student in civil and environmental Engineering won the first prize in the competition out of 27 submissions. Her design, “Hungry for Connection”, will be painted on the barn. The event will serve as an opportunity for community members to join in and paint a portion themselves (similar to a life-size paint by numbers). A local professional muralist, Leon Willis will be in charge of painting a sufficient component to ensure the mural is successful.

Ashley Green, director of development, Strategic Initiatives, has been working with big climate activists Mike Russell and Steve Shaffer for a year who were looking for avenues to connect with students. After many inspiring rounds of discussions, they thought art could be a potent space for students to generate conversation around climate change. In recent years, the Central Valley has often been fraught with threats emanating from climate change — from low lying rivers and charred vegetation to extreme heat, water shortages and harvesting concerns — thus, the challenge lay in designing a contest that would hinge on two questions:  How might agriculture be part of the climate solution in the Sacramento Valley? How do we visually communicate this message to inspire local action?​​​ “So we brought the project under our One Climate Initiative, because it really fits with our mission,” said Green.

The project was led by Emily Schlickman, an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental design who got connected to the vision of making art a medium to inspire change. She conceived the mural design project in fall 2021. Schlickman led a seminar where students got to interact with artists and muralists from all across the United States working on climate change messages. The seminars were designed to inspire students to think about the ways they can effectively communicate climate change using paint as their primary medium of messaging. Importantly, these sessions helped students brainstorm ideas and develop proposals.

Schlickman and her team also brought in local experts dealing with climate and cultural practices which provided students with the necessary resources to understand the efforts of the farming community in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

According to Schlickman, many progressive initiatives addressing climate change undertaken by the agricultural community often go unheard because of lack of visibility. She also sees this project as a catalyst for expanding the network and developing a larger vision of addressing climate issues in the Central Valley.

“Our dream would be that this turns into a climate art trail. Perhaps, barns and silos that are embedded in the agricultural landscape can be used as canvases in the future, so it can become a destination for people to go and learn about climate activism,” concluded Schlickman.

Click here to register and join this community event on March 26.

Media Contact

AJ Cheline, UC Davis Office of Research, 530-752-1101, acheline@ucdavis.edu

Resources

Mural Design Challenge

Challenge Overview

The winning design