Saving lives through simulation

Lorrie Wong, Director, University of Hawai'i Health Science Simulation Center
Lorrie Wong, Director, University of Hawai'i Health Science Simulation Center
On entering the patient’s room to check on Mr. Kahui’s vital signs, a student nurse notices that he is having trouble breathing—then goes unconscious. The student immediately activates the rapid response team, the inter-professional
group that determines treatment and begins administering to Mr. Kahui, who is clinging to life.

A day at the hospital, trauma center or emergency room? Actually, it’s a day in class for these nursing students, who are working on Mr. Kahui, a high-fidelity manikin aka Sim Man. The School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene is home to several
such tools to enhance practical learning. The new $8 million UH Translational Health Science Simulation Center, opening in January 2012 in Webster Hall, will serve as a campus hub for interdisciplinary translational health science research, simulation and research education.

The Center provides a venue for students to learn in a range of care delivery settings, including a simulated operating room, intensive care unit, labor and delivery suite, ambulatory, and day home setting. “This is very important to our nursing students,” says Lorrie Wong, director of the Sim Center. “Our students will have real-life experiences that
cover all aspects of healthcare.” The 7,000-squarefoot, state-of-the-art facility will be used for clinical
simulation for students, educators, practicing healthcare providers and researchers.

Through this initiative, the existing simulation labs among the UH Nursing Programs on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawai‘i will be linked. Embraced by Hawai’i’s healthcare community as a shared resource, founding partners of the Center
are UH Mānoa, HMSA Foundation, Hawai‘i Pacific Health, The Queen’s Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente Hawai‘i.

Contact Dr. Wong at or see the website at

Top photo: Nursing students gain practical experience working on Sim Man, a high-fidelity manikin.

No small threat

Viruses causing epidemic vector-borne diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Viruses causing epidemic vector-borne diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes.
How’s this for an unnerving statistic? Infectious diseases kill more people worldwide than any other single cause – that’s according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A dengue outbreak in Hawai‘i in 2001 and a global resurgence of vector-borne and zoonotic infectious diseases, nearly all originating in Asia, led to the establishment of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research in 2003. The Center and its activities are generously supported by institutional funds and a grant from the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, of the National Center for Research Resources, of the National Institutes of Health.

Hawai‘i’s strategic location as a prominent international port and its geographic proximity and strong ties to institutions within Asia and the Pacific provide a unique setting from which to monitor the emergence and spread of newly recognized infectious diseases and to investigate outbreaks of well-known microbial infections of regional concern and global importance. The Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research is among a handful of research facilities in the world exploring this resurgence.

Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.
Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.
Said Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research, “Infectious diseases are among the most urgent public health and economic problems facing the Asia-Pacific region in the new millennium. In recent years, microbes newly emerging in Asia have caused major epidemics, resulting in significant loss of human lives and devastating economic consequences worldwide.”

Although the myriad factors responsible for the alarming global resurgence of infectious diseases are not fully understood, demographic and societal changes are likely contributors. That is, the unprecedented population growth since World War II has been one of the principal driving forces behind uncontrolled urbanization. Also, the rapid movements of people, animals (and their endo- and ecto-parasites) and commodities via jumbo jets and high-speed trains, along with the insidious breakdown of the public health infrastructure and the misplaced emphasis on curative rather than preventive medicine, have all contributed to the regional and worldwide resurgence of infectious diseases.

The NIH-funded center is a pillar program that draws on the complementary strengths and multidisciplinary expertise within the John A. Burns School of Medicine and the College of Natural Sciences. Because the prevention and control of infectious diseases demand expertise from more than a single discipline, the new center is anchored by the tenets of multi- and trans-disciplinary research, comprising elements of epidemiology and public health, community and family medicine, biobehavioral health, bioinformatics and biostatistics, and microbiology and immunology.

The Center’s overall vision is to become a regional translational science center of research excellence for new, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. And its mission is to develop and deploy improved rapid diagnostics, effective low-cost treatments and affordable vaccines for tropical infectious diseases, which disproportionately affect underserved ethnic minority and disadvantaged communities in the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information, visit:

Biocontainment suite for research on vector-borne and zoonotic viruses.
Biocontainment suite for research on vector-borne and zoonotic viruses.

Lights, camera, international action!

Producer Pan Zhengyu (Shanghai University) with actress Zhang Beiqin of BLIND LUCK, which is one of three film chapters in DESTINY, FORTUNE, LOVE shot in Shanghai, China June 2011.

College students at UH Mānoa’s Academy for Creative Media (ACM) and across the Pacific Ocean at Shanghai University’s School of Film and Television Arts have discovered that filmmaking is truly an international art.

In June and October for the past five years, student filmmakers from both universities have traveled to and from Shanghai and Honolulu as guests of each other’s campuses. In Mānoa, participants in the Student Media Art (SMART) Exchange Program have had their films shown at either the Shanghai International Film Festival or the Hawai‘i International Film Festival, further enriching their experiences as the next generation of career professionals behind the camera.

“This is the only program internationally where students from both programs make films together in China and Hawai‘i,” said ACM Chair Tom Brislin. “Just as important is the fact that both film festivals have a dedicated program for student films.”

For senior Lana Dang, one of six ACM students who participated in the program this past summer, the exchange program experience was life-changing. On first enrolling at UH Mānoa, Dang thought she’d follow in her father’s footsteps as an engineer, since she was particularly strong in math and science and her reasoning skills were impeccable. After her fifth semester, however, Dang had a change of heart and enrolled in ACM.

For three weeks, Dang and her classmates worked alongside counterparts from Shanghai University to produce three short films. “The exchange program forces participants to stretch personal boundaries and, in many cases, opens a student’s eyes as an artist,” she said.  “Shooting a film is a very stressful yet invigorating experience. Now add the element of filming in a different country where the majority of the crew speaks a different language and you can multiply that experience by ten.”

During their stay in China, the Hawai‘i students also learned that “filmmaking in Hawaii is not that different from filmmaking in China—especially when it comes to working on a student film.  Everything is so chaotic and disorganized, but at the same time very freeing and liberating,” added Dang.

ACM Professor Anne Misawa glows with pride at her students’ progress in 21 short days.  “These are transformative experiences for the students,” said Misawa.  “I have seen them blossom, not only as filmmakers, but as individuals who gain greater confidence and self-knowledge about what they want to do with their talents and how they want to contribute and interact with their global community.”

For more information, visit the ACM website at or contact ACM Assistant Professor Anne Misawa at 956-0752 or

Top photo:On the set of BLIND LUCK–Zhengyu Pan and actor Dongqing Su from Shanghai University from check out the video with director Laurie Arakaki (center)  and cinematographer Reynolds Barney, both from ACM.

Public Health collaboration

Officials from UH Manoa and Wuhan University are all smiles after signing an agreement initiating student and faculty exchanges.

A unique exchange program between the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS) and Wuhan and Fudan Universities – two of the most prestigious Schools of Public Health in China—is helping to foster groundbreaking research on a variety of topics covering public health and environmental sciences.

The program, which started in 2007, provides an opportunity for graduate students from the three institutions to perform research either in Hawai‘i or China two or three times a year.  More than 50 percent of faculty members from OPHS have also gone to teach or perform research in China.

Yuanan Lu, a professor of environmental health, and Jay Maddock, director of OPHS, co-founded the expanding program, which now has a long waiting list of high-caliber candidates eager to participate.

Patent-worthy research such as genetic analysis techniques used to perform quick spot checks on water supplies to detect disease causing pathogens, which came out of Lu’s lab last summer, contributed to the eight peer-reviewed articles that have been published or pushed into pre-press since the program began four years ago. Other published papers include the impact of the Three Gorges Dam, sexual behavior in Chinese college students, stress in the workplace and environmental health.

Students spend four to six weeks at the respective universities conducting research that includes laboratory and data analysis, study design and gathering results. “The UH-China Public Health Partnerships program has had a positive impact on all three schools increasing the ability of faculty and students to work in multi-country settings to address global health issues,” said Maddock.

Maddock and Lu expect the thriving program to produce more promising research that will benefit and enhance the Hawaii-China connection.

For more information, visit the Office of Public Health Studies website at

Top photo: Exchange students from Wuhan and Fuhan Universities in China visit the State Capital.

Unparalleled views

Ask most people about Hawai‘i, and sun, surf and beaches may readily come to mind.  But ask individuals who are fascinated by the field of astronomy about the islands, and their eyes will light up for an entirely different reason.

Over the past four decades, the Aloha State has become the world’s most sought-after location for the construction of large ground-based telescopes. The arrival of these telescopes was strongly promoted by the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and, as a result, the IfA has become one of the leading astronomical research centers on the planet, with offices and laboratories on O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Island.

Within the next seven years, Hawai‘i will welcome four new telescopes that will be constructed at two superb observatory sites: the 3,000-meter peak of Haleakalā on Maui and the 4,200-meter peak of Mauna Kea on the biggest island of Hawai‘i.  Both high-altitude sites are known for their remarkable clarity, dryness and lack of atmospheric turbulence.

“With the excellent facilities already existing on Mauna Kea and Haleakalā, and with the next generation of the world’s most powerful telescopes expected to arrive soon, Hawai‘i will maintain an international leadership role in astronomy with its central position in the Pacific,” said IfA Director Günther Hasinger.

The first to arrive will be an addition to the existing Pan-STARRS telescope, PS1, which has been conducting survey operations since December 2009. PS1 is the most powerful survey system yet built with a 1.8-m primary mirror and an optical design that provides sharp images over an exceptionally large field of view.

In early 2013, a second Pan-STARRS telescope, PS2, will be installed about fifty feet north of PS1 on Haleakalā. The PS2 telescope and its camera are very close in design to PS1, with a few improvements based on IfA’s experience with PS1. Its features will allow astronomers to survey the entire visible sky in four nights to detect “killer asteroids,” supernovae and other transient objects. Data collected from PS2 will open up a new dimension in studies of the solar system, the galaxy, and the most-distant objects in the Universe.

The ultimate goal of the Pan-STARRS project is to build the PS4 observatory, which is expected to replace the 40-year-old UH 2.2-m telescope on Mauna Kea, the first large telescope built in Hawai‘i. PS4 will employ four optical systems and will help detect billions of star and galaxies, and millions of asteroids.

Solar scientists are always trying to predict how the sun will influence global changes here on Earth. “Our best models of what the sun is doing don’t work,” said IfA astronomer Jeff Kuhn, while explaining why we need the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) about to be built on Haleakala on Maui. The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a collaborative effort involving researchers from IfA and scientists from 22 other institutions around the world. The ATST will be the largest solar telescope ever built, and the largest single advance in solar research capabilities since the days of Galileo.

Climate changes, on timescales ranging from a few years up to the times over which cultures and civilizations grow and perish, are affected by the sun’s variability. As researchers have found in the past, there is no doubt that the sun has caused climate changes that make current trends in global warming look mild. “Unfortunately, we do not understand and cannot predict these effects even over the next decade,” said Kuhn, who serves as co-investigator on the project. “The ATST will allow us to see how magnetic fields affect the sun and the solar system environment between Earth and the sun.” The ATST is expected to have its “first light” in 2018.

Also scheduled for completion later this decade, at a location atop Mauna Kea, is the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Building on the success of the 10-meter twin Keck telescopes—now the world’s largest—the 30-meter primary mirror will be composed of 492 segments, giving the TMT nine times the collecting area of today’s largest optical telescopes. The TMT will enable astronomers to detect and study light from the earliest stars and galaxies and test many of the fundamental laws of physics.

“Thanks to its large mirror and advanced adaptive optics system, TMT will provide the sharpest images ever obtained of planets around the stars,” said IfA astronomer Mike Liu. “This will allow us to observe them in the process of forming and to measure their temperatures and compositions. Such measurements will tell us how our own solar system formed and if similar systems are common throughout the Galaxy.”

The TMT is a joint partnership involving the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Department of Science and Technology of India, and National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences are also participating in the project.

Pardon the puns, but the ongoing observation at the IfA is that things are definitely looking up.  For more information about the Institute for Astronomy, visit

Top photo: The Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope atop Haleakalā captures celestial objects above Hawai‘i with its unique Gigapixel Camera and sophisticated computerized system. Photo by Rob Ratkowski © 2010 PS1 Science Consortium.

Leading diverse cancer research

Since cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, the research undertaken by the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is even more critical and compelling.  One of the Center’s largest and most ethnically diverse research projects is the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC), which follows more than 215,000 men and women primarily of African-American, Japanese, Latino, Native Hawaiian and Caucasian origin, including more than 70,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders living in Hawai‘i.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1993, the MEC is being conducted at the Center and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. The ethnic diversity of Hawai‘i and California has made it possible to develop this large study with its unique representation of minority populations.

Established to examine lifestyle risk factors, especially diet and nutrition, as well as genetic susceptibility (an inherited tendency to react more strongly to particular exposures) in relation to the causation of cancer, every cohort member completed a specially designed, self-administered, 26-page baseline questionnaire on entry to the MEC Study (between 1993-1996). The questionnaire included an extensive quantitative diet history as well as background information and medical, medication, physical activity and female reproductive histories.

In addition to the baseline questionnaire, a four-page questionnaire was sent in 1999-2001 and another 26-page questionnaire was sent in 2003-2008 to gather additional information. Biological specimens (mainly blood and urine samples) were collected from selected members of the cohort, starting in 1996, but the main collection took place from 2001-2006. These specimens enable the research team to study dietary components measured in blood and urine in relation to cancer risk, and also the interaction between genetic susceptibility and diet.  Biological specimens on more than 70,000 cohort participants are being stored in special low temperature freezers in Hawai‘i and California.

The study will test many different hypotheses related to diet and other factors in order to determine why different ethnic groups have different risks of developing cancer and other chronic diseases. Some of the study’s goals are to improve understanding of ethnic/racial differences in cancer occurrence and bring important benefits to Hawai‘i and the Asia Pacific region, with the hopes of preventing cancer and other chronic diseases in the populations of the U.S. and rest of the world.

Dr. Larry Kolonel

Said principal investigator Dr. Larry Kolonel, “No other study of this type encompasses such diverse ethnic populations.  As a result, we are an essential participant in many national and international scientific collaborations that seek to understand how diet and genetics contribute to cancer causation, and how the knowledge we are gaining will help reduce the burden of cancer in Hawaii and globally.”

For more information on the MEC study, visit

Turning waste into resource

Michael Cooney
Michael Cooney
The sustainability movement is pushing forward in new directions, with innovative concepts being developed by researchers around the globe.  Among them is Michael Cooney, an associate researcher with the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, who is leading a group of researchers to develop a simple and a relatively cost-effective way to convert solid and liquid waste into energy and useful products, such as soil amendments. Their efforts—literally a million-dollar idea—will help enrich our soils and conserve our natural resources over the next 10 years.

A recent campus-wide $1 million sustainability competition administered by the Office of Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, won by Cooney and faculty from various departments, will advance a two-fold venture that he hopes will create pathways for local companies through incorporation of UH developed technologies that produce energy and soil enhancers.

The winning two-year project, titled “Water, Energy and Soil Sustainability,” will help support research to evaluate the treatment of liquid waste streams through application of high-rate anaerobic digestion and solid waste through the application of flash carbonization.  The two processes will also be integrated to produce treated biochar, or agricultural waste turned into a soil enhancer that holds promise to aid soils for growth of energy crops and food crops.

In one component of this project, field soils on Maui are currently supporting high yields from Jatropha curcas, an energy crop that is receiving serious consideration among researchers and farmers in Hawai‘i.  The fast-growing, drought-resistant, tropical oil-bearing plant is rich in fatty oils that can be converted to biodiesel.

These results are currently being used in greenhouse trials on corn to evaluate how best to apply biochar to less productive soils as a means to duplicate the field trials. Though more assessments are necessary, positive results have been found for soils amended with treated biochar.  “Preliminary characterizations of the soil supporting this productivity are suggesting that the attractive yields are due to water and nutrient retention capacity of the soil,” said Cooney. “It is our hope we can show that treated biochar added to poor soils can actually support growth leasing to yields that compete with those currently achieved on Maui with the Jatropha crop.”

Other projects in the works include making biochar out of dried anaerobic sludge and evaluating its value as an energy source or soil amendment/fertilizer. “If that proves successful, there is the potential to carbonize a solid waste—that is currently sent to landfill—and turn it into a product that produces revenue,” said Cooney.

Cooney’s project team includes researchers and students from UH Mānoa’s Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Science Program, the Shidler College of Business, Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute and the Department of Oceanography.  He is also working with Shidler’s Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship and E-Business, which is funding business, law and science graduate students to develop business plans evaluating the Jatropha crop growth as a commercial business in Hawai‘i.

Green companies in Hawaii have also taken note of Cooney’s research and collaborated with him on various projects. “One key output of about our program is an effort to develop research agreements with local companies that permit the evaluation of UH technology around commercial processes that have in place,” said Cooney, “with the hope of adding value to their existing production processes through the energy efficient treatment of liquid and solid waste streams, and in a manner that potentially helps them develop new product streams.”

For more information, visit the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute website at

Top photo: Artist rendering of high-rate anaerobic digesters being put in place at the Hawaii Kai Wastewater Treatment facility.

Solving an image problem

A close-up view of the small, custom-developed marker that is placed on the body in the revolutionary system that allows MRI machines to compensate for a patient’s slight movement.  Photo courtesy of The Queen’s Medical Center.
A close-up view of the small, custom-developed marker that is placed on the body in the revolutionary system that allows MRI machines to compensate for a patient’s slight movement. Photo courtesy of The Queen’s Medical Center.
Anyone who’s ever had a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan knows the daunting procedure.  The patient must lie completely still in a tomb-like MRI chamber for up to 45 minutes while the head or body is scanned for medical diagnostic purposes.  But what if the patient is a fidgety young child, or someone writhing in pain from an injury or disease, or an elderly person suffering from dementia?  In those instances, holding completely motionless in the MRI machine—even for five minutes—is difficult if not impossible. 

The challenges associated with undergoing this demanding procedure range from the medical to economic to humanistic.  If a lot of movement occurs during MRI scans, the images become so blurry that they are not interpretable by radiologists, meaning patients must return the next day to undergo sedation or full anesthesia before trying the process again.  With the cost of an MRI billed at approximately $1,000 an hour, all of those degraded, unacceptable images result in U.S. hospitals chalking up more than $1 billion annually in lost revenues.  And families fret when their loved ones, especially keiki and the elderly, are traumatized by the claustrophobic, frightening process of an MRI, or must undergo full anesthesia and its accompanying risk of complications in order to lie completely still.

Now Dr. Thomas Ernst, a physicist at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and his research associates in the U.S. and Germany have invented a revolutionary system to allow MRI machines to compensate for a patient’s slight movement—making the procedure less intimidating and more effective in diagnosing medical problems.

Ernst heads up JABSOM’s Neuroscience and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Program, whose advanced 3-Tesla MRI scanner was funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a White House Office, and is located at The Queen’s Medical Center near downtown Honolulu.  The prototype is eliciting impressive early results and raves, especially from the specialists charged with reading MRI scans, whose resolutions are so high at 1 millimeter or 1/20th of an inch that it takes very little motion for the images to become degraded.  

“This is important to radiologists, because they say the patients who need the scans the most are the patients who move the most,” explains Ernst.  “These are the young or the elderly, or those who have head trauma, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors—so it doesn’t help to tell them not to move, because they just don’t understand the instructions or are in pain.” 

Ernst’s team, part of a joint venture with The Queen’s Medical Center, has developed a novel technique in which a small, custom-developed marker is placed on the body.  This marker is read by a camera that tracks movement in real time at 100 snapshots per second and then relays that information back into the scanner.  “So, as you move, the scanner locks itself on the marker, and the result is that the MRI scan has no blurring,” says Ernst. 

Not having to lie absolutely still is welcomed by patients, and means that tykes as young as three to four years of age can lay in the MRI scanner while watching kiddie movies through little binoculars and earphones, and may be entertained in the MRI chamber for as long as 30-45 minutes without sedation or anesthesia.  “It’s a good thing, especially for the children,” says Ernst, who believes the new marker technique will be ready for commercialization within a few years.  “Plus, if you can make technology less expensive, you make it more accessible—which means more people can benefit from an MRI.”   

Team members include researchers from UH Mānoa (including his physician wife at JABSOM, Dr. Linda Chang), the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, University of Wisconsin, Medical College of Wisconsin, and Universities of Freiburg and Magdeburg in Germany.  Together, they are solving an image problem that can save lives.

For more information on the Neuroscience and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Program, contact Ernst at or see the website at

Top photo: Dr. Thomas Ernst of JABSOM poses with a young patient at the advanced 3-Tesla MRI scanner at The Queen’s Medical Center. Photo courtesy of The Queen’s Medical Center.

Breaking down plastics

Image of microbial cells and biopolymer granules (bar 500 nm).
Image of microbial cells and biopolymer granules (bar 500 nm).
In a world where plastic bags and plastic bottles are consumed in the millions annually, the fight to reduce such waste seems a daunting battle. Consumers are doing their part by becoming more socially aware about these environmental issues and making a conscientious effort to buy products and technology that are sustainable and eco-friendly. In response, Jian Yu, an associate researcher with UH Mānoa’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and his team, are creating new technology to meet the increasing demands in the marketplace.

Yu’s research has led to the creation of thermoplastic materials from renewable feedstocks, such as agricultural wastes and food processing byproducts. The bio-based plastics, called PHA (polyhydroxyalkonoate) bioplastics, are completely biodegradable and biocompatible, whereas their petroleum-based counterparts are not. Petroleum-based plastics are not biodegradable and eventually find their way to the open seas, killing hundreds of thousands of birds, fish and other marine animals every year. “Compared to the conventional plastics, bioplastics consume less fossil energy and release much less greenhouse gases as indicated by numerous life-cycle analysis,” said Yu.

Biodegradable plastics were introduced about 20 years ago when a biochemical company had a successful pilot production of the biopolyesters from glucose and propionic acid. The bioplastics were used to make various goods such as shampoo bottles, credit cards, syringes and containers.  While its ecofriendly properties were groundbreaking at the time, the high costs associated with producing the product prevented it from being widely marketed.

A chemical/biochemical engineer by training, Yu was excited by the research that could lead to new technologies to bring down the high cost of production.  “I first investigated if cheap but complicated raw materials such as food scraps could be used for biopolymer production by microbial organisms,” said Yu.

His research was successful and gained recognition from his peers, including a published paper in Environmental Science and Technology in 2002. “Now, the technology has been used for other cheap feedstocks, such as sugar molasses, a residue from sugar manufacturers, and crude glycerol waste discharged from biodiesel production,” shared Yu. “We are able to achieve a very high special productivity rate for commercial production.”

Yu’s PHA bioplastics technology consists of three parts, including (1) pretreatment of feedstocks into suitable substrates for a special type of microbial organism, (2) high cell density fermentation for biosynthesis of biopolyesters, and (3) solvent-free recovery and purification of biopolyesters to make the final product of bioplastics.

At the end of fermentation process, their cells can accumulate 60-70 percent biopolyester of their mass.  In order to purify the biopolymer for bioplastics, the rest of the 30-40 percent of residual cell mass must be removed in a cost effective way. One conventional technology relies on organic solvent extraction, which is not only expensive, but also environmentally unfriendly. “We developed a new technology in which no organic solvent is needed, and at the same time, the cell debris generated from recovery process can be reused in biopolymer production,” added Yu.

The technology shows real potential. He already has a commercialization plan in place and has filed two patents on the technology, which is being used in a pilot plant in Europe. “The pilot plant has been built up according to our specifications and has been running successfully, providing data for scaling up to a commercial production,” said Yu. The company that operates the plant has invested $2 million to establish a central testing center in Honolulu, Hawaii, that will provide characterization and analysis service to its global manufacturing and markets.

In terms of waste reduction, Hawaii will see the benefits of Yu’s research. With large quantities of biomass generated by the state every year, the “green garbage” can be used as renewable feedstocks to make the bioplastics using their biorefining technologies.  “We have no oil resource for a petrochemical industry, but it is highly possible to have a manufacturing industry based on its plentiful renewable resources,” added Yu.

Although the price to make bioplastics is still higher than those of oil-based plastics, Yu believes his research will lead to technologies that can reduce the high production cost and bring the bioplastics to the consumers at a competitive price, in hopes of averting a mass environmental disaster. “The product exhibits good properties and can compete with similar products if the production cost can be reduced to a level widely accepted in the markets,” said Yu. Until then, consumers can count on more green products to hit the marketplace for years to come.

For more information, visit the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute website at

For more about the exciting research now being conducted at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa read Inspiration to Innovation – the Chancellorʻs Report 2011-2012 (pdf).

Top photo: Yu sits in front of a bench top bioreactor in which microbial cells are cultivated for biopolymer production.

Joining doctors and nurses


Joint training of nursing and medical students at JABSOM's Kaka'ako campus.

The first-ever, joint training of UH Mānoa nursing and medical students was a distinct hit with students.

Comments during a talk-story session included a nursing student saying she learned, “Doctors are people, too, not just super-human robots who know everything!” A medical student then explained that MD students sometimes feel intimidated around nurses. “There’s different levels of knowledge,” said the MD student. “There’s going to be certain things we know the nurses won’t know, and things the nurses know that we don’t. We will benefit from taking turns, covering for each other and teaching each other to have an improved understanding that will help the patient.“

The new joint curriculum between the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) and the School of Nursing & Dental Hygiene emphasizes that both doctors and nurses need to “speak the same language” to better care for their patients. The entire first year class of 66 medical students and 56 brand-new nursing students gathered for a half-day session on interprofessional communication, led by a JABSOM physician/educator and a nursing professor.

Held at JABSOM’s Kaka’ako campus, the September 2 session was the first of a series of planned educational activities to bring the students of both schools together. 

“These students are in their first semester of health care professions study at UH Mānoa, and the intent is to have them learn each others roles at the beginning of their careers to bring an interdisciplinary approach to patient care,” said Stephanie Marshall, the nursing school’s Director of Community Partnerships.

The Institute of Medicine has estimated that the number of annual deaths in hospitals due to medical errors or “preventable adverse events” exceed the number of deaths attributable to motor vehicle accidents (43,458), breast cancer (42,297) or AIDS (16,516), according to JABSOM’s Dr. Damon Sakai, Director of the Office of Medical Education. “Many medical errors begin with poor communication. This is supported by research analyzing the chain of events that occur when mistakes are made,” he added.

“The partnership between the nursing and medical schools is one concrete way to reduce the potential for deadly errors,” said UH Mānoa Chancellor Dr. Virginia Hinshaw.

“I strive as Chancellor to fulfill our university’s goal of serving as a multi-cultural global experience in a Hawaiian place of learning,” Hinshaw said. “No programs better epitomize this ideal than the John A. Burns School of Medicine and our School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. I can see in your faces our multi-cultural society – our mission is to provide you with training and community service programs that expose you to a multitude of international experiences, so that we produce physicians and nurses who are equipped and devoted to improving the health and well-being of Hawai’i and the Pacific.”

“Mahalo to all of you for dedicating yourselves to careers in health care,” Hinshaw told the students. “No other field more directly impacts the well-being of our families and loved ones in Hawai’i and beyond – and nothing would make me prouder than to place my own future welfare in the care of outstanding health professionals like you,” she said.

Top photo: Nursing and medical students in a small-group “breakout” session on communication.