Home » Bluegrass Market Review | UK researchers tackle health, energy and agriculture for the win-win

Bluegrass Market Review | UK researchers tackle health, energy and agriculture for the win-win

An Equine Race Trainer at the University of Kentucky’s SMRI simulates 3D motion capture technology similar to that used for video game development to better understand the demands of the equestrian athlete, injury prevention for over-use injuries and aid in developing return-to-ride protocols after injury.
An Equine Race Trainer at the University of Kentucky’s SMRI simulates 3D motion capture technology similar to that used for video game development to better understand the demands of the equestrian athlete, injury prevention for over-use injuries and aid in developing return-to-ride protocols after injury.

UK Sports Medicine Research Institute focuses on injury prevention, performance optimization

The University of Kentucky recently opened its Sports Medicine Research Institute, spearheaded by the UK College of Health Sciences and supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The 10,000-s.f. SMRI facility, part of the UK Nutter Training Facility on campus, will conduct research into injury prevention and performance optimization for professional and collegiate athletes, the tactical athletes of the U.S. military, and physically active people of all ages in Kentucky and beyond.

“Our research and scholarly endeavors offer the brightest hope for transformation and change for our Commonwealth and the broader world we serve,” said Dr. Eli Capilouto, University of Kentucky president. “This sentiment fuels the work of this university, and it fuels the work of the Sports Medicine Research Institute.”


Capilouto held the institute up as an example of the university’s efforts to collaborate across disciplines in addressing the challenges and disparities that face the commonwealth, noting that seven UK colleges are involved in the work of SMRI, in addition to personnel from UK HealthCare.There is no similar facility within 400 miles of Lexington.

SMRI is outfitted with sophisticated equipment to assess biomechanical, physiological, musculoskeletal and neurocognitive health and is supported by a team of eight core faculty, staff and research assistants and 40 affiliate faculty. In addition to its Lexington location, SMRI operates a facility in Camp Lejeune, N.C., where its team works directly with MARSOC – the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.

A biomechanics laboratory conducts motion analysis studies using 14 cameras and a dual-force plate system in the floor, like the technology used to make video games and animated movies. Equipment shaped like a horse simulates realistic movement for jockeys and
other equestrians.

There is also a neurocognitive lab that uses virtual reality to assess visual acuity, reaction times and balance, which are critical measurements for concussion recovery.

Other equipment is designed to measure oxygen consumption, workload and metabolic costs, physiological stress and the influence of sleep deprivation/fatigue, all of which are important contributors to musculoskeletal strength, endurance, operational performance and injury risk.

Scott Lephart, dean of the UK College of Health Sciences and SMRI founder, leads the $4.2 million Department of Defense grant that helped launch the institute. He said that the military can adapt from lessons learned in athletics and vice-versa.

“The elite warriors of the U.S. military are expected to be at peak performance in extremely dangerous and unpredictable situations, and there’s no room – either financially or personally – for them to sustain a preventable injury,” said Lephart, who is also UK Endowed Chair of Orthopaedic Research. “Our research with athletes both military and civilian is mutually beneficial, and it will result in strategies for injury prevention and performance for every walk of life.”

Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics, noted that the SMRI was not just a valuable resource for UK athletes, but for professional and youth athletes across Kentucky and nationally.

“This is yet another example of the power of partnership on our campus,” Barnhart said. “By working together, we are creating cutting-edge resources for athletes both here at UK and beyond. The efforts of SMRI will help minimize injury and maximize athletic performance in sports ranging from football to NASCAR and from basketball to horse racing.”

UK receives U.S. Department of Energy funding to further groundbreaking rare earth element research

The U.S. Department of Energy values University of Kentucky’s rare earth element research so much that it recently awarded UK researchers two projects totaling $12 million to develop and test REE recovery systems. It was part of $17 million DOE provided for four such projects.

UK’s novel REE research is born out of innovation and collaboration. Recipients of the two UK awards, the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) and the College of Engineering’s Department of Mining Engineering, continue to be at the leading edge in the hunt to recover rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts.

REEs are a series of 17 chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs are essential components of technologies spanning a range of applications, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. The demand for REEs has grown significantly in recent years, stimulating an interest in economically feasible approaches for domestic REE recovery.

Each UK project received $6 million and is expected to be completed by 2020.  The projects fall under two areas of interest: (1) bench-scale technology to economically separate, extract and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproducts, including aqueous effluents; and (2) pilot-scale technology to economically separate, extract and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproduct solids.

UK CAER will work on the project awarded to Physical Sciences Inc. of Andover, Mass. The project will use coal fly ash physically processed near Trapp, Ky., as its feedstock. The fly ash is a byproduct of combusting Central Appalachian bituminous coal in a power plant boiler. The select portion will be shipped to a Pennsylvania location for subsequent processing to produce the final rare earth product. In addition, researchers will evaluate recovery of other useful materials from the fly ash.

Jim Hower, a principal research scientist at CAER and a research professor in UK’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, and Jack Groppo, a professor in UK Mining Engineering and principal research engineer at CAER, will serve as co-principal investigators on the grant. 

UK’s Department of Mining Engineering will oversee the second project, which builds on a pilot led by mining engineering Professor Rick Honaker. The research will use two sources of coal preparation (coal washing) byproducts as feedstock for recovery of REEs. The team will also recover dry, fine coal from the feedstock material. The first location for installation and testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant in Perry County, Ky., that processes Central Appalachian bituminous coal. The second location for testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant that processes Illinois Basin bituminous coal near Nebo, Ky.

Department of Mining Engineering faculty members Groppo and Assistant Professor Josh Werner are co-principal investigators on this project, which will also receive assistance from the Kentucky Geological Survey.

UK researchers unraveling the powerful psychological impact of branding

Branding’s power can improve athletic performance. That is one of the interesting findings University of Kentucky marketing faculty in the Gatton College of Business and Economics are uncovering via the consumer related research they conduct.

Aaron Garvey, an assistant professor of marketing, researches consumer behavior, looking at the psychology of how consumers act, think and feel. One of his studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that brands can improve human performance through purely psychological means that are unrelated to functional differences in a branded product’s materials, craftsmanship or design. In other words, consumers who strongly believed that a branded product would improve their athletic performance did perform better.   

“In our research, we examine whether the mere belief that a particular brand is effective at enhancing performance can actually result in better performance outcomes, while holding product functionality constant,” Garvey said. “That is, we examine if brands can induce a placebo effect upon performance.”

Another of Garvey’s studies shows that putting eco-products in the hands of consumers represents a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, it encourages environmentally responsible behavior among consumers who are already prone to engage in it, while at the same time decreasing environmentally responsible behavior among consumers who are already less environmentally conscious.

Consumers who already embrace green living will see an initial eco-product purchase as a reminder of their commitment to the environment, Garvey said.  But that’s not the case with everyone.

“For those who aren’t typically inclined to go green, purchase of an eco-product leads these less environmentally invested consumers to avoid further eco-product purchases,” Garvey said. “They feel they’ve done their good deed and don’t seek out environmentally friendly products in their next immediate purchases.”

These findings lead Garvey and his research colleagues to recommend marketing eco-products in a way that promotes ongoing environmental responsibility.

Meanwhile, new research by Adam W. Craig, assistant professor of marketing in UK’s Gatton College, finds new parallels between idealized body images in advertising and consumer spending.

The study, titled “Costly Curves: How Human-like Shapes Can Increase Spending,” was published in the June 2017 issue of Journal of Consumer Research. And shows how even subtle reminders of idealized bodies can encourage overweight consumers to overspend.

“In our research, we show that exposure to body cues (i.e., shapes) can have unintended consequences on seemingly unrelated behavior, such as spending,” write the authors. “We demonstrate that seeing a thin (vs. wide) human-like shape leads high-body-mass-index (BMI) consumers to make more indulgent spending decisions.”

The authors found that mere reminders of the thin-body ideal can cause overweight consumers to feel worse about their own abilities, including less capable of managing their spending impulses. In general, when consumers feel less capable, they tend to show lower motivation for control.

These findings suggest that consumer advocates should be wary of reinforcing the link between weight, self-control and financial achievement, as doing so can be counterproductive for consumers trying to control their behavior. The implications are particularly important given the negative consequences such messages could have on consumer debt and spending.

UK’s Research Building 2: Bridging health gaps in Kentucky

Construction is underway on a new collaborative research facility dedicated to addressing health disparities in Kentucky.

This $265 million building (funded half from the state of Kentucky, half from university resources, including private gifts) is scheduled to open in summer of 2018. By investing in this state-of-the-art research facility, the University of Kentucky is investing in the health of citizens of the commonwealth.

Two unique areas of focus will distinguish the building:

Research that focuses on cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases including stroke and substance abuse. These conditions have a major adverse impact on the health of those in the commonwealth, contributing to death rates from each disease that rank within the top 10 states of the nation.

Multidisciplinary research that approaches the problem from numerous fields and perspectives – health care researchers (both basic and clinical), public health, behavioral sciences, agriculture outreach and extension, economics and engineering – working in close proximity and collaboratively to develop solutions to these complex problems.

The design and focus of the building come with a specific scientific underpinning.

“We know that so much of discovery today – whether at the cellular or community level – happens at the intersection of disciplines,” said Lisa Cassis, UK’s vice president for research. “This facility is being designed to foster discovery and collaboration so that what happens in labs and in the course of basic research can be translated to answers and solutions at the community level.”

Specifically, the new facility also will focus work and attention on health disparities in Appalachia, a region with some of the most pronounced rates of chronic diseases in the country.

The new building will be linked to other major research space in the heart of the campus, the Biological Biomedical Research Building and the Lee T. Todd Jr. Building (formerly the BioPharm Building), further fostering collaborative and multidisciplinary work. The connecting conduit building, serving as the spine of the complex, has been named the Appalachian Translational Trail, as it will house the nucleus of translational researchers who bring together all disciplines.

UK study: Ag generates $2.3 billion annual economic impact in Fayette County

Agriculture and the businesses that support it are responsible for one in 12 jobs in Fayette County and $2.3 billion in annual output, according to a study by the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky.

“Fayette County’s economy is diverse, with significant employment in manufacturing, professional services and health care sectors. Production agriculture alone is a relatively smaller industry,” said Alison Davis, CEDIK director and agricultural economics professor in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Fayette County, however, remains the leading producer of horses and ponies in the country. Additionally, Fayette County claims a larger share of agricultural activity than surrounding counties.”

Traditionally, employment associated with agriculture has been confined to production. But the CEDIK study examined the total ag cluster, which is not only production agriculture but businesses that produce agricultural inputs, wholesale and retail businesses and service-based businesses that are dedicated to agriculture, such as veterinary, finance, recreation and transportation.

Study authors Davis and Simona Balazs maintain that including these types of businesses shows the true importance of the agricultural sector in the area.

When the agricultural cluster is defined to include companies with all their business related to agriculture in the county, it is estimated that 14,091 jobs are attributed to the cluster, with an additional 1,724 jobs directly and indirectly associated with the hospitality sector in Lexington.

“Without an agricultural base in the county, many of the supporting businesses that employ these workers would not exist,” Davis said.

It is estimated the ag cluster contributes $8.5 million to the local tax base through payroll taxes.

The horse industry plays a vital role in the local tourism industry, with horse racing, farm tours and the Kentucky Horse Park drawing tourists from across the country. Study authors estimate that Keeneland generates $51 million from out-of-county visitors for accommodations, restaurants, gasoline and other retail establishments. Based on an annual average of 250,000 tourists, the Kentucky Horse Park generates $31.3 million for the same types of businesses.

In addition to the $2.3 billion in annual output, the researchers found that the county’s agricultural cluster generated more than $1.3 billion in additional income, profits and dividends.

The researchers looked at the effect of a loss in production agriculture due to the increasing pressures on land use. They found that if production agriculture declined by 10 percent or $54.5 million, there would be an overall additional decrease of more than $26.5 million in output.

The Fayette Alliance, Fayette County Farm Bureau and Kentucky Thoroughbred Association-Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Inc. commissioned the study. The full study can be found online at http://fayettealliance.com/16090-2/.

UK by the Numbers

ASTeCC Campus Incubator

24 companies located on-site and 1 virtual company

11 faculty R&D labs

5 university centers

56 graduate companies since 1994

IP Development, Patents,
Licenses in FY 2017

54 disclosures

19 full patent applications, 20 provisional patent applications

601 worldwide patent assets

40 new patents

$2.39 million in gross patent revenue

117 total active license and option agreements

13 new licenses and options, including 8 to start-up companies

University of Kentucky sees increase in grant funding for FY 2017

• Grant & contract awards to UK totaled $331.3 million, an increase of $14.8 million from FY 2016

• Federal agencies awarded UK $178.3 million, 53.8% of UK’s total awards

• National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants totaled $113.9 million

• National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaled $14.5 million

• State agencies awarded UK $90.7 million

• Industry awarded UK $18.1 million

Coldstream by the Numbers

Coldstream Research Campus,
Fiscal Year 2017

51 organizations

2,100 employees

22 buildings, 3 owned by UK

1.37 million square feet of floor space

91% available space occupied