VCU professor’s research introduces new non-physical effects on health

VCU professor and director of the VCU Center for Human Needs, Steven Woolf, M.D., M.P.H., has released research that basic human needs (like food security, housing, health, education and income) may affect physical health more than typical medical explanations.

Woolf’s research found, for example, the death rate from diabetes is three times higher for those who have not graduated high school than those who have.

The research was done as part of the Project on Societal Distress, in which Woolf and researchers at the VCU Center for Human needs examine major causes of societal distress in the United States. Their research provides policymakers with data about the populations affected by factors like food security, housing, health, education and income.

The project focuses on explaining how non-health factors can have an influence over physical health and is just one of the projects the VCU Center for Human Needs has been recognized for this year.

The center, established in 2007 and supported through grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, unveiled a County Health Calculator earlier this year (

The calculator is an online tool that shows the effects of a higher level of health care on a county or other populace. The calculator compares health care in areas whose residents have a higher level of education or income to those who do not. The calculator shows how mortality in the United States would be affected if more favorable socioeconomic conditions existed for a given population.

Brief from the VCU News Center

Massey Cancer Center presents studies to aid age-related diseases; cancer

Recent research from the VCU Massey Cancer Center has discovered mitochondrial mechanisms that could aid in cancer research as well as research for age-related diseases like Parkinson’s Disease, heart disease and hypertension.

Researcher and associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Medicine, Shirley M. Taylor, Ph.D., helped establish the field of epigenetics when she was a graduate student. Epigenetics is concerned with the process that controls which genes are expressed in the nucleus of the cell, which determines the cell’s biological characteristics.

Taylor and her colleagues have expanded the field by discovering enzymes in mitochondria that were previously only known to be present in nuclei. The study found two DNA modifications in mitochondria that perform specific functions in the nucleus of cells. One “silences” the expression of certain genes while the other can remove the “silencing” mark. Together, these two modifications act like a genetic on/off switch.

“In diseases such as cancer, epigenetic control is lost,” Taylor told VCU News Center. “Genes that should be switched on are switched off and vice versa, leading to uncontrolled growth. Our research indicates that errors in gene expression could be unfolding in mitochondria, possibly contributing to loss of mitochondrial function typical of cancer and a host of other age-related diseases.”

Taylor collaborated with Richard G. Moran, Ph.D., associate director for basic research at VCU Massey Cancer Center and professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the VCU School of Medicine. Other collaborators include doctoral students Lisa S. Shock, Prashant V. Thakkar and Erica J. Peterson from the VCU Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The study was partially funded by the National Cancer Institute and by a pilot project award from Massey.

Brief from VCU News Center

New underage drinking laws result in loss of license

Starting July 1, drivers under the age of 21 will face harder punishment if convicted of drinking and drinking.

The law says that drivers under 21 with a blood-alcohol level of .02 percent or higher can lose their license for a year and pay a fine of at least $500 or perform 50 hours of community service.

The bill was first introduced in 2008 by Del. Bill Janis (R-Henrico) and passed with a clause to phase it out in 2010 because the state feared it could lose federal law-enforcement funding if the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention deemed it a status offense. Status offenses are things that are crimes for juveniles but are not considered crimes for adults.

Janis re-introduced the bill as permanent legislation during the 2011 General Assembly session.

The bill will not change DUI charges and a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or higher will still warrant a DUI charge.

Brief from the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Noise ordinance to regulate city’s residential zones

On June 27, city councilman Charles Samuels proposed a new noise-control ordinance in place of a past ordinance that was deemed unconstitutional last year by Manchester District Judge Robert Pustilnik.

The new ordinance has the same provisions as in the past: city residents cannot create sound that is measured at 65 decibels or more between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in another person’s residence. The nighttime cap is 55 decibels and the ordinance defines nighttime to be from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Repeat violators of the proposed ordinance could face a Class 2 misdemeanor charge.

Unlike the old ordinance, the proposed one will only be enforced in areas zoned specifically for residential use and in multi-use or multi-family residences.

In addition to limiting where the ordinance is effective, the new one comes with guidelines of how “excessive noise” must be measured. In residential zones, police officers with decibel meters will be required to take measurements from the property of who complained, not the property where the noise is coming from.

Brief from Style Weekly

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