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Marquette Research News

more vast stretches of rain forest, they rapidly hinder a forest’s ability to store atmospheric carbon in forest trees, potentially on a scale that could accelerate climate change. When Schnitzer and his team published their new findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in October, The New York Times broke the story. Soon, news outlets worldwide, including Smithsonian Science News and The Australian, picked it up. “This has far-reaching ramifications,” Schnitzer told one of the media sources. “The effects of lianas on trees dramatically alter how carbon is accumulated and stored in tropical forests.” LAUREN BROWN

UPDATES Looking deeper inside the body’s master clock Dr. Jennifer Evans, assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Health Sciences, was first featured in the 2015 edition of Discover for her research on the suprachiasmatic nucleus: the body’s “master clock” in the brain. Recently, the neuroscientist received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund her continued work studying the effects of biological rhythms on human health, specifically related to neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and depression. “This ‘master clock’ is made up of a network of nearly 20,000 neurons, which all need to coordinate to ensure that biological processes happen at specific times throughout the day,” Evans says.

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marquette university discover 2016

“Disruption of this network is linked to a vast number of diseases, including depression, obesity and cancer.” These diseases and health problems are prevalent in shift workers, representing 15 percent of American wage earners. But Evans says the issue has even wider relevance because clock dysfunction is also incurred during aging, jetlag, and nighttime light exposure from increased use of computers and smart phones. “The link is there, but we need to better understand how this coordination behavior adjusts in a changing environment,” Evans says. “To do this, it is imperative that we identify the mechanisms and molecules through which these neurons communicate.” With the new grant, Evans can spotlight specific cell types and see how their functions fit into the bigger picture of the master clock, something she was unable to previously do. “If you think of these cells as an orchestra, how they work together in harmony, I was like a blind conductor,” she says. “I could understand that they were working together, but I was unable to visualize the differences. This grant will allow us not only to see the cells work together but to develop tools for labelling those differences.” JESSE LEE

Intervention extension Since she was profiled in Discover in 2014, Dr. Angelique Harris has concluded that a health care systems change is needed to help residents of Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood.

In an “intervention” project that ended in June 2015, Harris helped devise new approaches for female residents in the neighborhood — 80 percent of whom report being overweight — to encourage healthier lifestyle choices. Now, the associate professor of social and cultural sciences is working with women and men in the neighborhood, but she has found that the residents simply face too many problems for these interventions to be successful in the long term. Instead, she is embarking on a project to train physicians and other health care providers and then plans to assess the effects on patients of these provideroriented interventions. “The thing we can do as researchers to have more of a direct impact is to work with people who already are in the community — doctors and clinicians — and have them take into account that the people are traumatized so that they understand what limitations they do have to access health care,” Harris says. Most people don’t face the myriad issues that these residents do, including high crime, unemployment and incarceration rates. Add to that little time to exercise, no workout facility in the neighborhood and no neighborhood grocery store for residents to buy healthy food. “I’ve never heard the word ‘stress’ used so much until I worked on this project,” she says. Harris and her research team, including Marquette senior Christina Nelson, have applied for a Medical College of Wisconsin grant to fund a workshop to help plan this new project. JOE DIGIOVANNI

Discover Magazine 2016  
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