January, 2007 Vol. 32 No. 1
Download this issue PDF

Search Malamalama

Published January 2007

Research News

Gauging the impact of grief on cancer survival and quality of life

Surviving multiple bouts of cancer left University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Assistant Professor of Psychology Cheryl Ramos convinced that each day of life is a gift. It also left her determined to identify specific challenges faced by cancer survivors living in rural Hawaiʻi and gauge whether stressful life events, traumatic grief, social support and use of complementary and alternative medicine are predictors of cancer status and quality of life.

Big Island residents diagnosed with cancer within the past year who are willing to participate in the study by completing a series of surveys can call 808-756-2075.


Seniors stop medication after coverage loss

drawing of senior pondering prescription drug options - by Kelly Hironaka

One in four seniors cut back on their use of prescribed medication after their health plan stopped covering brand-name drugs, even when they retained coverage for generic drugs.

The study, published in the Sept. 14, 2006, issue of American Journal of Managed Care, has implications for the 23 million elderly people enrolled in the new Medicare Drug Benefit plan, where some health plans are trying to bridge a "coverage gap" in benefits by providing coverage for generic but not brand-name drugs.

The issue of affordable medicines also affects nearly 204,000 Hawaiʻi residents who don’t have drug benefits, says University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health Chien-Wen Tseng, who conducted the study with colleagues at UCLA.

Read the journal article.


Students discover broken heart, present winning research

A second-year University of Hawaiʻi medical student identified the first Hawaiʻi case of broken heart syndrome. Described in Japan and first documented in the United States just two years ago, the medical condition strikes as chest pain and signs of a heart attack, usually in an individual who has recently suffered the death of a loved one. The victim’s arteries aren’t clogged, however, and misdiagnosis as a heart attack could result in unnecessary treatment that can cause severe bleeding. Stephen Chun studied case histories of the syndrome, officially Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, in UH’s Program for Medical Education in East Asia. His identification of the condition in a Hawaiian woman during a clinical skills preceptorship was confirmed by supervising physicians and will be published in the International Journal of Cardiology.


Advance in in-vitro fertilization

Thirty years after he developed a sperm injection technique now widely used in human infertility clinics, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Emeritus Professor Ryuzo Yanagimachi has shown that an added step can improve the chances of success. In the latest research, sperm cells were treated to remove the head sac, or acrosome, before being injected into an egg. Under normal circumstances, enzymes in the acrosome help the sperm penetrate the egg’s outer shell. In the injection method, however, it can interfere with development of the fertilized egg. The results were published Nov. 7, 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read the full article.


Virus compounds asbestos cancer risk

A synergism of asbestos fibers and a virus called SV40 has been implicated in malignant mesothelioma, a very aggressive cancer of membranes lining the chest and abdominal cavities. An international team led by the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi Researcher Michele Carbone discovered that human cells and hamsters infected with SV40 are more likely to develop malignancies when exposed to asbestos, even at levels normally considered safe. Millions of people were exposed to SV40 through contaminated polio vaccines produced between 1955 and 1978. The finding may suggest preventive therapeutic strategies to reduce the risk of developing an increasingly prevalent disease that now kills 2,000-3,000 Americans each year, usually within a year of diagnosis.


Hans Christian Andersen: a fairy tale life or legendary lie?

girl posing next to statue of Hans Christian Andersen

Rumors about storyteller Hans Christian Andersen’s parentage persist in popular Danish media despite extensive biographical, historical and literary research. University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Lecturer Kirsten Mollegaard examines how the legends reflect on both the 19th-century society that created them and the modern society that perpetuates them.

"Was he, as one legend persists, the illegitimate lovechild of a prince and noblewoman? Or was he really, as the official version maintains, born in great poverty to a washerwoman and a cobbler?" she asks. Andersen himself dropped hints of personal significance in the tale of the ugly duckling as royal swan.

Mollegaard presented her reflections on the cultural significance of the debate at the 2006 International Society for Contemporary Legend Research Conference in Copenhagen. "Denmark’s self-representation remains largely nostalgic and retrospective because it continues to revolve around Andersen’s idyllic fairy-tale template with a fixed class structure, fixed gender roles and the wonder element of the fairy tale," she observes. The legend offers an ordered history with a happy ending to those unsettled by the disintegration of traditional social class distinctions.


Mānoa establishes Confucius Institute

Confucius Institute logo

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Center for Chinese Studies will be home to one of 11 Confucius Institutes in the United States. The institute will promote education about Chinese language and culture.

Plans call for developing a Chinese language teacher certification program and online Chinese language curriculum for grades K-12 plus summer language immersion sports camps, weekend classes and online lessons for executives and an online resource base linking U.S. and Chinese communities.


Study identifies who’s homeless

homeless report cover

One in three residents of Hawaiʻi homeless shelters is under age 18. A little more than one in ten people receiving homeless services is a military veteran. Most adults receiving such services have at least a high school education and many are employed.

Those are among the findings of a report issued in November 2006 by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Center on the Family and the Homeless Programs Branch of the Hawaiʻi Public Housing Authority. "Homeless Service Utilization Report: Hawaiʻi 2006" provides state- and county-level demographic data about clients of 35 programs serving the homeless.

Download a PDF of the report.


Long-term care insurance incentives don’t work

To limit Medicare liability when aging baby boomers require long-term care, some states are offering tax credits and other subsidies to encourage self-insurance. The only problem? It isn’t working. A report by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Public Policy Center found that even the most generous subsidies fail to increase the number of people buying long-term care insurance. Partnership programs that shield assets for people who buy the insurance don’t appear to be effective either—and could actually increase the Medicare burden, says David Nixon, the study’s author.

Download a PDF of the full paper.


Saturn’s moon may shed light on Earth’s atmosphere

Saturn's moon Titan

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Associate Professor Ralf Kaiser is leading an international, interdisciplinary group of researchers to study the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan.

Hydrocarbon-based atmospheric layers on Titan have unique properties allowing for preservation of astrobiologically important molecules. The preserved molecules may yield vital clues on the chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere a few billions of years ago and lead to a greater understanding of the origin and chemical evolution of the solar system. The $2.4 million project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

See the website on the group’s Feb. 5–7, 2007 workshop on Titan observations, experiments, computations and modeling.


Lucky accident reveals seafloor volcanism

Scientists didn’t mourn the loss of seismometers placed 8,000 feet underwater on the East Pacific Rise off the coast of Mexico. The array was set in place three years ago at a site of known seafloor spreading. When most of the instruments failed to surface on command last April, a Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientist found indications that a recent volcanic eruption had occurred.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa oceanographer James Cowen and colleagues rushed to the site with a sled-mounted camera, which revealed lost seismometers locked in lava. They also recorded a series of earthquakes associated with the formation of new seafloor. Geochemist Ken Rubin and others followed with a manned submersible. The newly formed rocks they collected can be compared with older samples to reveal information about crust formation. Some of the findings appear in a November 2006 issue of the journal Science.

Read the abstract.


Surprise volcanoes suggest old mantle melt

Near the western edge of the Pacific tectonic plate, the discovery of small volcanoes where they weren’t expected suggests the existence of a partial melt in Earth’s upper mantle.

An international team including University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa geophysicist Stephanie Ingle discovered the volcanoes on the Pacific plate where it sinks below the Eurasian plate beneath the Pacific Ocean near Japan. Volcanism is expected on the overriding, rather than the subducting plate, but the scientists found volcanic rocks full of vesicles that form when gases escape from erupting lava.

Reporting in the journal Science, the team hypothesizes that the underlying asthenosphere contains trapped, preexisting melt, which escapes from fractures created as the plate enters the subduction zone.

Read the abstract.


Role reversal: giant planet influences star

heavenly bodies

Tau Bootis is a star located about 50 light-years from Earth. It is much like our sun, except that its three- day rotation matches the three-day orbit of a massive planet, about 1,000 times the size of Earth.

Based on observations from the Canada–France–Hawaiʻi telescope, Mānoa astronomer Evgenya Shkolnik and French colleagues determined that the unusual star–planet relationship disrupts the star’s magnetic field, rendering it 100 times weaker than a typical refrigerator magnet.

Additional studies are planned this spring.


Farm salmon spread sea lice

juvenile salmon with sealice on it

Sea lice from salmon farms can have severe impacts on wild salmon, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa scientist Neil Frazer reports.

Farm salmon introduce high levels of the parasite into wild fish migration routes, which normally have low levels of sea lice. Researchers estimate that up to 95 percent of wild juvenile salmon are killed by parasites from salmon farms.

Read the October 17, 2006 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences..


Mauna Kea bug preservation

Researchers working with the Office of Mauna Kea Management are studying the wēkiu bug (Nysius ēkiucola), an endemic species found only on the upper elevations of Mauna Kea. The wēkiu is unique in a genus of seed-eaters as it is a scavenger-predator that dines on dead or dying insects blown up from lower elevations.

Since its discovery in the 1970s, the wēkiu’s population has declined, and researchers are trying to determine the bug’s range, learn about its biology and find ways to preserve this rare insect in the wild. Funding is provided by the management office and Mauna Kea observatories.


Scientists piggyBac on gene research

Because viruses are efficient at getting into cells’ DNA, scientists have used them as a delivery mechanism in gene therapy. But complications arise when viruses trigger immune reactions or activate cancer-causing genes.

So University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa molecular biologist Stefan Moisyadi and colleagues in the United States and Switzerland studied the ability of DNA segments called transposons, or jumping genes, to do the job. They reported in the Sept. 25, 2006, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition that piggyBac, a transposon first identified in a cabbage-eating moth, may be the best candidate.

Widely used in insects, piggyBac shows promise in mammalian cell lines as well. Transposons could be used in cancer treatment to deliver genes that protect normal cells from radiation damage as well as manipulating immune response or correcting genetic disorders such as hemophilia or muscular dystrophy.

Read the full article.


Shearwaters are well traveled

chart of how the Shearwater birds travel

Sooty shearwaters from New Zealand breeding colonies are remarkable migrators. The birds range the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Chile and Antarctic waters to the Bering Sea in figure eights that cover nearly 40,000 miles in about 200 days.

David Foley, of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, was part of an international team that collected data from geolocating archival tags on the longest animal migration ever recorded electronically.

Writing in the Aug. 14, 2006, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team hypothesizes that the migration pattern is influenced by global wind circulation patterns with stopovers where feeding grounds are most productive. Because the birds operate on a global scale, scientists believe they may serve as an important indicator of climate change and ocean health.

Read the full article.


Regents’ research medalists announced

Recipients of the 2006 Regents’ Medal for Excellence in research are Mānoa’s Associate Professor Milton Garces of the Hawaiʻi Institute for Geophysics and Planetology; Assistant Professor Albert Kim, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Astronomer Tobias Owen of the Institute for Astronomy. The award recognizes their scholarly contributions that expand the boundaries of knowledge and enrich the lives of students and the community.

Read more about the Regents’ research medal awardees.


Student research award

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa undergraduate research scholar Ramon Christopher V. Go received the Best Oral Presentation award during a National Institutes of Health summer research symposium. He presented results of a Pacific Biosciences Research Center study on zinc permeation and its possible role in diabetes. He worked with PBRC’s Meredith Hermosura under a program to increase the number of minorities in biomedical research.