Focus on Faculty
Gallion & Baker Professor of Law
Nicole Huberfeld’s scholarship focuses on the cross-section of constitutional law and federal healthcare programs, and her recent article “Federalizing Medicaid” was cited in Justice Ginsburg’s opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld healthcare reform. Huberfeld says she was genuinely surprised with Ginsburg’s citation: “It is incredibly gratifying to know that someone who can actually have influence in the law and policy has read my work, or at least her clerks have—either way, that’s fine by me. The Court, in the end, made everyone happy and everyone unhappy. Those who believe the individual mandate is key to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be pleased that is was upheld, but the way that the decision was written opens the door to further litigation and narrowing Congressional authority.” Huberfeld’s article deconstructs the history of Medicaid and explains that the ACA is a step toward federalization. “It’s a big philosophical change to include everyone under 133 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid has never been structured that way because we’ve held over a view from Elizabethan England that some people are deserving of our assistance and some people need to make it on their own. The ACA eliminates that concept of ‘deserving poor’ by making everyone eligible, and the article argues that’s a good step in the right direction.” Medicaid’s state-by-state differences are problematic. “If you watch what the states do over time, they tend to expand the program when they feel flush, and they severely restrict it when it’s a recession. There’s no experimentation in care delivery—it’s all in cost cutting and it tends to be irrational.” Huberfeld joined the UK College of Law in 2005 and teaches constitutional law and healthcare law. She is also a bioethics associate in the UK College of Medicine, where she regularly lectures.
John C. Hubbard Professor of Chemistry
John Anthony, who came to UK in 1996 and is an organic chemistry professor, is a pioneer in organic materials—things that are made from carbon instead of silicon. With grants from the U.S. Navy, NSF, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, as well a number of industrial sponsors, Anthony’s research focuses on organic thin-film transistors (for flexible flat-panel displays), organic solar cells (for low-cost generation of electricity) and organic light-emitting diodes (for high-efficiency lighting). “Carbon is a lot more versatile than silicon. Silicon is a rock. You are very limited in how you can shape it. Plastics are carbon, whether you’re talking saran wrap or a Kevlar, bulletproof vest. You have a lot more choices in shape.” Carbon is also cheaper because it takes less energy to produce materials. “We’re working on bulk hetero-junction organic photovoltaics. Those big words describe a process that’s ridiculously simple. You take a sheet of plastic, you slather on our organic ink solution, and as the solvent evaporates, the materials just spontaneously organize into a working solar cell. You put a set of electrodes on top and you can convert sunlight into electricity.” Anthony’s research team is also exploring passing a transparent sheet of plastic through an ink-jet printer, loaded with his proprietary ink, to make lightweight, flexible solar cells. This discovery might revive the print industry. Full-color, high-resolution printing plants could convert to solar cell production, once Anthony’s team identifies the ideal, low-cost material set. Co-founded by Anthony and CEO John Beran in 2005 and based in Louisville, Anthony’s company Outrider Technologies develops organic semiconductors for the electronics industry. The company has licenses with global technology giant 3M, and Outrider has paid UK nearly $850,000 in royalties since 2007 from license agreements for compounds developed by Anthony.
Ann L. Coker
Verizon Wireless Endowed Chair in the Center for Research on Violence Against Women
Recruited to UK in 2007, Ann Coker is an expert in the health effects of intimate partner violence. Her research includes a CDC-funded, $2 million, five-year program “Green Dot Across the Bluegrass” that focuses on bystander violence prevention. “We go to 26 high schools across Kentucky and survey every boy and girl once a year—20,000 people.” This high-school program is based on a UK-originated program, also called Green Dot, which has been shown to affect the social norms that tolerate violence. “People think because domestic violence happens in someone else’s home, it doesn’t affect them. A lot of people know violence is occurring, but they keep quiet because they think they’re supposed to,” explains Coker. “The issue is how to engage men to essentially help other men understand that violence is not acceptable. We focus on men and women, but men are probably more important in terms of reducing violence.” Coker is also conducting a first-of-its-kind study on the affect of “partner interference” with women’s cancer outcomes. Funded by NIH, this $1.86 million, five-year study found 14 percent of the 1,200 women surveyed reported that a current partner’s controlling or interfering behavior has impeded her ability to get cancer treatment. “We ask questions like ‘How did your partner react to the diagnosis?’ and ‘Is your partner/family supportive in allowing you to time to recover from chemo?’ Those are the kinds of things that will affect her ability to recover mentally and physically, and may also play a role in her long-term survival.” Coker is the associate dean for research and a professor in epidemiology in the College of Public Health, and faculty in obstetrics and gynecology in the College of Medicine.
Dr. E. Vernon Smith & Eloise C. Smith Endowed Chair in Macular Degeneration Research
Jayakrishna Ambati is a professor of physiology and professor and vice-chair of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the College of Medicine. Ambati has devoted his life's work to making blindness due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—the leading cause of blindness in hundreds of thousands of people each year—a thing of the past. Since coming to UK in 2001, Ambati has assembled a team of top-tier scientists and clinicians from around the world to help solve the puzzle of macular degeneration. Ambati’s team discovered the first animal model of age-related macular degeneration, and discovered Soluble Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor 1 (sVEGFR1), a protein that prevents blood vessels from growing into the cornea of the eye. His team also discovered how siRNA (Small Interfering RiboNucleic Acid) drugs, which were widely believed to work via the mechanism of RNA interference, were generically stopping blood vessel growth by triggering an immune response even without entering cells or triggering RNA interference. This blockbuster study may have saved the vision of people who could have otherwise lost vision if exposed to first-generation siRNA drugs, and helped guide the creation of safer, second-generation siRNA drugs. This study was published in 2008 in Nature and featured in the New York Times. His most recent discovery pinpoints why cells in the retina die in the "dry" form of AMD. Ambati's lab identified an enzyme called DICER1 that is deficient in the eyes of people with the advanced form of dry AMD. As the levels of DICER1 go down, a toxin called Alu RNA accumulates and activates inflammasome, which causes cell death in the retina. These findings were published in 2011 in Nature and in April 2012 in Cell.