UT scientists make diabetes discovery

Friday, June 15, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 24

Researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center have discovered a chemical compound that could lower sugar levels as effectively as the diabetes drug Metformin but with a lower dose.

This report has been published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal. The research team includes scientists from UT and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Metformin, a pill that lowers the liver’s production of sugar and decreases risk of mortality, is currently recommended as a first line treatment for T2D [type 2 diabetes]. However, there is a need for alternative treatment options when patients are not as responsive to Metformin as their doctors would hope.

Along with his research team, Darryl Quarles, MD, UT Medical Group Endowed Professor of Nephrology, director of the Division of Nephrology, and associate dean for research in the College of Medicine at UTHSC, has been working with a specific protein called GPRC6A, which regulates sugar levels by simultaneously correcting multiple metabolic derangements that underlie Type 2 diabetes function.

With over 400 million people suffering from T2D worldwide, the global cost of medicine and prevention is close to a trillion dollars per-year. Frequently associated with obesity and Metabolic Syndrome, T2D is characterized by high blood sugar levels and other metabolic derangements that increases (often doubling) a person’s risk of an early death.

Quarles’ team needed to find a chemical that would activate this protein, so Jerome Baudry, Ph.D., formerly of UTK but now at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Jeremy Smith, Ph.D., Governor’s Chair at UTK and director of the Center for Molecular Biophysics at ORNL, employed sophisticated computer simulations using high-performance computing to screen potential chemicals that would trigger the desired activation.

Yellowstone Energy gets major DOE grant

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced up to $24 million in funding for projects as part of a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program for Modeling-Enhanced Innovations Trailblazing Nuclear Energy Reinvigoration.

Among the funded projects is one being developed by Yellowstone Energy of Knoxville with $2,599,185 for a reactivity control device for advanced reactors.

The Yellowstone Energy team seeks to develop a new reactor control technology to enhance passive safety and reduce costs for its molten salt reactor and other designs.

Materials embedded in the control rods will vaporize at elevated temperatures, producing a vapor that captures neutrons and slows reaction rates, even in the absence of external controls. The team will use simulation tools to determine the effectiveness of the control device and conduct a techno-economic analysis at the plant level to determine cost effectiveness.

“Nuclear energy is an essential component of the U.S. energy mix, and by teaming up with the private sector to reduce costs and improve safety, we are keeping America ahead of the curve in advanced reactor design and technology,” says U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “These next-generation ARPA-E technologies help us maintain our competitive, technological edge globally, while improving the resilience of the grid and helping provide reliable, baseload electricity to each and every American.”

Nuclear power generates nearly 20 percent of U.S. electricity, offering a reliable source of power that complements the country’s diverse portfolio of energy generation sources. Existing nuclear power plants, however, face comparatively high operational and maintenance costs.

MEITNER projects will leverage design, new manufacturing processes, and technologies to lower costs and increase the competitiveness of nuclear power. Funded projects will support advanced reactor designs that achieve lower construction cost and autonomous operations while also improving safety.

Bank contest offers student loan payoff

Farragut-based SouthEast Bank is holding a video contest in which the winner will receive $50,000 to pay off student loan debt.

Education Loan Finance is a division of SouthEast Bank, focusing on student loan debt refinancing and consolidation.

More than 44 million Americans have student loans that total nearly $1.4 trillion, the Brookings Institute reports. Student loan debt is now the second-largest source of household debt in the U.S. after home mortgages.

The contest, “Empower A Brighter Future,’’ requires contestants to submit a 20- to 120-second video demonstrating how the entrant is Empowering A Brighter Future and why or how the prize of $50,000 toward a current student loan would enhance that empowerment. Videos are being accepted until June 29 at www.elfi.wishpondpages.com/EmpoweredByELFI.

Complete contest rules can be found at www.elfi.com. The winner will be announced July 31.

Pilot Flying J seeks 45 new hires in East TN

Pilot Flying J expects to hire 5,000 workers for the summer, including 45 new employees in Knoxville.

The company is hiring seasonal and full-time positions for its area travel centers and convenience stores, including approximately 45 positions in East Tennessee.

“We are always looking for team members who wake up excited to be part of our team and to deliver the experience our guests know and expect from us,” says Paul Shore, vice president of talent acquisition at Pilot Flying J. “Our care and commitment to our team members originated 60 years ago as a small family-owned company by a Korean War veteran, and we are proud to offer our team of over 27,000 employees a family-like work environment with great opportunities and benefits.”

City has plans for Magnolia-area building

A vacant, city-owned building in the Magnolia Avenue Warehouse District could potentially become a new center for artisans, craftsmen and makers.

The 6,033-square-feet building is at 1200 McCalla Avenue and was recently opened up for a public tour, including staff from the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and the City of Knoxville.

Bird on the Wire Studios, Overcoming Believers Church, Gray Hodges, and Smart & Becker and the residences in the next-door Electric Co. Lofts building are part of the area.

“The public response was encouraging,” says Dawn Michelle Foster, the city’s redevelopment director. “There’s a lot of interest. This block has immense redevelopment potential. In fact, we’re already seeing significant private investment.”

This month, the city is expected to issue a request for proposals, and officials say they wants to sell the unused property and bring it back to life as a privately-owned entrepreneurial hotspot.

Last year, Smart Growth America visited Knoxville for a three-day community assessment on small-scale manufacturing in the Magnolia Avenue Warehouse District. One of the SGA staff recommendations was to transform vacant City-owned properties into maker space by giving priority to proposals that highlight incorporating small-scale manufacturing tenant space.

Big Ears sets dates for 2019 festival

The Big Ears Festival has announced the dates of its 2019 event. The innovative cultural experience in music, film and art is set for March 21-24, 2019.

The festival lineup of curated artists will be revealed in phases during the coming weeks and months.

“We are deeply grateful to the national and local patrons, sponsors and supporters who make Big Ears possible and support our work as a non-profit organization to champion creative expression in Knoxville,” says Carissa Stolting, Big Ears managing director.

“As a thank you to our individual donors, we launched a benefits program called the Friends of Big Ears, which offers all kinds of perks to donors, including special experiences between now and the festival and a discount on 2019 passes.’’

The Big Ears Festival is expanding and enhancing ticket packages, including launching new perks for the VIP Sonic Explorer ticket. New offerings include access to exclusive kick-off and after-party events and more.

MFA theatre program recognized as 16th best

The University of Tennessee has received national recognition for its Master of Fine Arts in theatre for the second consecutive year.

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the program 16th among the 25 best MFA acting programs in the United States and the United Kingdom. The program was ranked 20th last year.

“Last year the Hollywood Reporter updated the methods they use to evaluate MFA programs,” says Jed Diamond, head of acting at UT.

“They continued to improve their research this year, and as a result we moved up four places. This is a more accurate reflection of all we offer here at UT.”

In the training studio, MFA graduate students analyze and practice the elements of art and craft. They are then able to apply this training alongside established professionals before a live audience in UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre. Students have the opportunity to perform in up to 11 mainstage productions during their three years of training and earn an Actor’s Equity Association membership card along the way.

Parkside Plaza acquired by Viking Partners

Knoxville’s Parkside Plaza has been purchased by Viking Partners Fund III, LLC, a private equity real estate investment firm.

Parkside Plaza is a 100,340-square-foot, five-story Class A office building located in Turkey Creek, a mixed-use retail, office and entertainment complex in Farragut in west Knoxville.

The building features a three-story entry atrium and has access and visibility from I-40/75 and ample surface parking.

Morristown PD gets new body cameras

The Morristown Police Department is now using Axon Body-worn cameras.

The 100 cameras were partially funded by a Department of Justice grant that covered about 40 percent of the cost. The MPD has been using a variety of body-worn cameras since 2009.

The technology allows the department to more efficiently share body-worn camera footage with prosecutors.

Axon cameras have a battery life that will allow for the camera to last the officer’s entire shift. The new body-worn cameras contain a hard drive that allows up to 64GB or approximately 23 hours of video footage or pictures to be stored.

This system automatically uploads evidence via a secured connection in docking stations, eliminating the need for SD cards like previous cameras. When a photo or video is accessed in the secured evidence system, an audit trail is created.

Officers do not have access to delete or alter anything captured on the camera.