Health Generational Trauma AND Your Genes
HIV and Biotechnology
The Perfect Match
ART: A New Method for Treating Trauma Feeling Salty?
Saving the Coral Reefs, One Microbe at a Time
Innovation at the del Campo Laboratory
NOBEL PRIZES IN A NUTSHELL
From Distant Dream to Current Reality
Put Your Bottom at the Top of the List
2 | Generational Trauma
Those with Wings
Scientists or Fortune Tellers?
A tale of the end of time
An Imperfect Conquest
Exploring The Anchor Study
Yale Breathes New Life Into the Fight Against Chronic Lung Conditions
Seeds of change
DIDIER QUELOZ DIDIER QUELOZ DIDIER QUELOZ
Insulin & the Diabetes Public Health Crisis
Cover art by Sofia Mohammed
Research Profiles Direct Air Capture CO2-Reducing, Fuel-Producing, and Economically Viable
The Curta Calculator
Batteries Not Included
The Bacteria that Can Make it Rain
Honey, I Shrunk the Particles!
Research Profile on Ian Newman
Curing Paralysis, One Neuron at a Time
Trauma p. 6
In this issueâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s feature, Generational Trauma and Your Genes (p. 6), Geethika Kataru explores the powerful discovery that trauma, no matter its form, can become ingrained into our genes and passed on to future generations.
Research Profile on Sebastian Gallo
Exploring the History and Use of Nanoparticles
Should We Self-Experiment?
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Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to apply. 3
Core Staff Anuj Shah Shravya Jasti Carolina Mallar Parv Gondalia Aaron Dykxhoorn Leila Thompson Sneh Amin Mac Clifton Amirah Rashed
Editor-in-Chief Managing Editor Co-Copy Chief Co-Copy Chief Design Director Art Director Director of Photography Webmaster Secretary
Corey Fehlberg Trevor Birenbaum Wil Harris Kyle Alford Austin Berger Sofia Mohammad
Director of Finance Distribution Manager Director of Creative Writing Business Manager Director of Public Relations Director of Community Outreach
Roger Williams, M.S. Ed Victoria Pinilla
Editorial Advisor Board of Advisors Liason
When I feel overwhelmed by the rush of classes, onslaught of papers, and pressure of exams, I find it sobering to take a step back and look at the world around me. Seeing the hardship people face today—whether from the civil war in Syria, the bushfires in Australia, or even the epidemic of poverty in our local community— reminds me that so many people are constantly exposed to trauma. Now, as Geethika Kataru discusses in this issue’s feature, “Generational Trauma and Your Genes” (p. 6), new research is showing that mental and physical trauma becomes ingrained in our genes, a stark reminder that the inequality and pain we see in the world is never isolated to a single generation. As scientists, creatives, or professionals, alleviating the suffering in the world should always be in our minds and hearts. Later in this innovation-focused issue, Amirah Rashed highlights the brilliant Nobel Prize winners of 2019 (p. 22), while Leena Yumeen explores the consequences of a race for immortality (p. 36). I hope you enjoy this winter issue of Scientifica!
I hope that everyone had a happy and joyous holiday with family and friends. In this new year, take a moment to look back upon 2019 and years past, making an effort to improve upon your personal lives moving forward. In our world, innovation surrounds us—just recently, the International Consumer Electronics Show highlighted some of the most fascinating developments in technologies such as electric cars and foldable screens. We at Scientifica are always looking to innovate, and the opportunity to talk about science provides us with so much exciting content to feature. Whether it be new technologies to address climate change or continued progress into artificial organ creation, this issue will give you a glimpse of the many ways in which science has improved or is looking to improve our lives. The team and I wish you a very successful and productive new year. Thank you all for your continued interest and support.
Anuj Shah Microbiology and Immunology Class of 2021 Editor-in-Chief, UMiami Scientifica
Roger I. Williams Jr., M.S. Ed. Director, Student Activities Advisor, Microbiology & Immunology Editorial Advisor, UMiami Scientifica
4 | Generational Trauma
Scientifica Staff 2020 Board of Advisors Barbara Colonna Ph.D. Senior Lecturer Organic Chemistry Department of Chemistry Richard J. Cote, M.D., FRCPath, FCAP Professor & Joseph R. Coutler Jr. Chair Department of Pathology Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Chief of Pathology, Jackson Memorial Hospital Director, Dr. Jonn T. Macdonald Foundation Biochemical Nanotechnology Institute University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Michael S. Gaines, Ph.D. Assistant Provost Undergraduate Research and Community Outreach Professor of Biology Mathias G. Lichtenheld, M.D. Associate Professor of Microbiology & Immunology FBS 3 Coordinator University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Charles Mallery, Ph.D. Associate Professor Biology & Cellular and Molecular Biology Associate Dean April Mann Director of the Writing Center Catherine Newell, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Religion Leticia Oropesa, D.A. Coordinator Department of Mathematics *Eckhard R. Podack, M.D., Ph.D. Professor & Chair Department of Microbiology & Immunology University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Adina Sanchez-Garcia Associate Director of English Composition Senior Lecturer Geoff Sutcliffe, Ph.D. Chair Department of Computer Science Associate Professor of Computer Science Yunqiu (Daniel) Wang, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer Department of Biology * Deceased
SECTION EDITORS ETHICS NEWS RESEARCH HEALTH PROFILES
Trevor Birenbaum Siena Vadakal Alexandria Hawkins Abigail Adera Carolene Kurien
COPY EDITORS Gaurav Gupta Siena Vadakal Avi Botwinick Nikhil Rajulapati Giovanna Harrell Sean Walson Greg Zaroogian Abigail Adera Yashmitha Sadasivuni Leena Yumeen Sneh Amin Avery Boals
WRITERS Geethika Kataru Sanjoy Kundu Marissa Maddalon Snigdha Sama Amirah Rashed Setareh Gooshvar Sandy Taboada Trystan Yzaguirre Leila Thompson Christina Paraggio Anam Ahmed Leena Yumeen Kimberley Rose Ellie Martin Jeffrey Caldwell Riya Kumar Jasson Makkar Nicholas Leira Anastasiya Plotnikova Marc Levine
DESIGNERS Megan Buras Leila Thompson Aaron Dykxhoorn Sandy Taboada Emily Fakhoury Leena Yumeen
PhotograpHers Alexis Paul Raghuram Reddy Avery Boals Joseph Hughes Emily Fakhoury Leila Thompson
Megan Buras Anam Ahmed Varsha Udayakumar Sofia Mohammad Emily Fakhoury Leila Thompson
6 | Generational Trauma
by Geethika Kataru Design & Illustration: Emily Fakhoury
HE HUMAN BODY IS A MASTER OF MEMORY. Its ability to carry information through time, and even pass it on to future generations, is a unique one. From an evolutionary perspective, the way we remember and learn from extremely stressful situations is particularly important. However, the scars of traumatic events are more than just skin deepâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;they affect the molecular makeup of cells, right down to their DNA. Environmental and emotional stressors leave marks on the chemical coating of chromosomes in order to control the expression of genes needed for immediate survival. These changes above the DNA level can then be passed on to future generations. While this may seem like a claim of Lamarckian proportions, the inheritance of stress has been seen in animal experiments, and many scientists believe that this phenomenon is also relevant in humans. Incredibly, the descendants of those who lived through traumatic historical events tend to show the symptoms of their ancestorsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; mental turmoil. The theory that suggests how trauma is passed down from one generation to the next is called the transgenerational transmission of trauma (TTT). TTT proposes that traumatic environments can lead to a predisposition for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in future generations, since more than 30% of the variance associated with PTSD has a heritable
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component. One of the first epigentic studies about transmission of trauma was performed on the children of Holocaust survivors. Many of them reported having vivid and terrifying dreams, being unable to cope with daily stress, and falling easily into depressive episodes. Although they themselves had not lived through the horrors of World War II, they seemed to be predisposed to anxiety and depression. They showed distinct signs of being traumatized, especially when compared to their peers and other members of their generation who could be considered “normal” or “healthy.” For these children, inheriting the subconscious mind of a parent who had survived the Holocaust was detrimental to their development in a way that they could never have anticipated. Calculating exactly how epigenetics—the study of heritable changes in gene expression, rather than in the genetic code—works in humans is complicated. Experimental data is difficult to measure in human subjects because of challenges in tracking and predicting such variables across multiple generations. Model systems are set up using other mammals, as transmission of trauma is not limited to humans. In one study, male rats were conditioned to be fearful of a specific smell, as each time they were exposed to this smell they would endure a short electrical shock. The conditioned rats showed a change in DNA methylation, specifically of the M71 receptor, which is involved in sensing the odorant molecule acetophenone, a molecule used heavily in resins and fragrances. Surprisingly, the resulting changes in DNA methylation were seen not only in the brains of the conditioned rats, but in their sperm as well. Therefore, when they were mated with control females, the offspring in the next generation showed the same changes in the methylation of DNA, and similar fearful behaviors to the odors that their parents were conditioned to be fearful of. Similar results were found when in vitro fertilization was used to implant the experimental sperm in control females, further implying a biological, but non-DNA based, inheritance of the stress from the
8 | Generational Trauma
initial generation of rats. The very same concept can be applied to generations of human beings. The models set up in rats and other mammals provide insight into the way that epigenetics works to pass on the effects of trauma in humans. The applications of transmission of trauma can often be seen in racial and ethnic minorities. The Native American population, in particular, struggles under the weight of historical trauma, from colonization to the pressures of modern day reservation life. Through the loss of land, language, and culture, as well as disproportionally suffering from abuse and discrimination, the Native American population has faced chronic stressors that overstimulate stress response pathways built into the neural and endocrine systems. As a result, we observe increased DNA methylation of endocrine regulator genes and serotonergic genes, as well as decreased DNA methylation of inflammatory genes in the Native American population. These changes in gene expression lead to many health disparities, including increased rates of psychiatric disorders, drug and alcohol dependence, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. It also leads to a relatively shorter life expectancy. Because the trauma being inflicted on the Native population continues to this day, the effects it has on their epigenetics will continue to play a large part in affecting the physical and mental health of future generations. The impact of the idea of transgenerational transmission of trauma is immense and far-reaching. It suggests that historical events such as colonization and slavery, through the lasting epigenetic scars theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve left on minority groups, have played a role in establishing the socioeconomic differences and other health disparities we see in those same marginalized groups today. While the causes of these observed effects are undoubtedly partially social, more and more
experts today agree that the epigenetic effects from past trauma have also played an important role in shaping the life views, coping abilities, and overall adaptability of the descendants of marginalized populations. Groups and communities who have been pillaged, exploited, or otherwise disenfranchised are still recovering from these tragic events. A prime example is the â&#x20AC;&#x153;comfort womenâ&#x20AC;? of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, who were subject to rape and torture, the effects of which are still seen to this day in their descendants and are attributed to epigenetics. On an individual level, a stressor as basic as poverty can result in ingrained, multigenerational damage. When marginalized populations, even in the U.S. and here in our local community, are consistently exposed to disease, poor environmental conditions, unsafe home and work lives, and food insecurity, these factors compound on top of each other and can lead to a host of epigenetic changes, leaving descendants worse off and with less capacity to deal with the same stressors previous generations were exposed to. The result? Generation after generation of unalleviated trauma. We must remember that the health disparities of those who have faced historical trauma can be passed on to their descendants and will continue to alter the way their body functions, generations after the initial stressor. Our environment, built in part by these historical events, shapes our physical and mental health, and epigenetics can help us understand how the common experiences of marginalized people will continue to affect them and their children. Quicker than ever before, we are learning that the social and economic repercussions of historical wrongs are written into the molecules that build us. Developments in epigenetic research will shed light on these mechanisms, and are eagerly anticipated not only by the victims of today, but also by the children of tomorrow.
HIV and Biotechnology A PERFECT MATCH
t’s the 1940s, and you’re venturing through the Guinean Forests of West Africa. The scorching heat coupled with the concern of contracting Malaria and Dengue Fever from mosquitoes is probably at the front of your mind. As food supplies run low, it seems like any source of food and water would help satisfy your insatiable hunger and thirst. However, unbeknownst to you, a deadly virus steadily spreads among certain mammals you might find appetizing. And, as reality would have it, as you and other wanderers consume animals like chimpanzees—the primary carriers of the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV)—the deadly virus mutates into the infamous Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Way to go! HIV is a virus that severely reduces the function of our immune system and gradually makes us vulnerable to a wide variety of pathogens. Eventually, it progresses to become the dreaded Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Prior to recent medical innovations, this incurable affliction had been synonymous to a death sentence. Over the decades following the 1940s, the virus spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world. Fast forward to the late 1970s and early 1980s, and rare types of pneumonia, cancer and other illnesses were being reported by physicians in Los Angeles and New York among a large number of homosexual men. These conditions were not present in people with healthy immune systems. For years, physicians were unable to find a successful cure to HIV, and this resulted in the loss of many lives, including famous celebrities like Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen. What makes HIV so difficult to eliminate? It’s the way it integrates itself within our genetic material to the extent that it
10 | Generational Trauma
BY SANJOY KUNDU ILLUSTRATION & DESIGN: LEILA THOMPSON
becomes one with our cells. More specifically, HIV is a retrovirus, belonging to a family of RNA viruses that insert their genetic material in the form of DNA into our cells so that they can successfully replicate and spread across our bodies. Since the end of the 20th century, scientists have tested and administered dozens of medications that have effectively reduced, but not completely eliminated, the viral load of HIV in humans. To elaborate upon the biomedical lingo, viral load is defined as the relative measurement of the amount of a virus in an organism’s bloodstream, typically measured in virus particles per milliliter. The treatments have shown some degree of promise by providing those with HIV with hope for much longer lives after diagnosis. But, even though scientists still haven’t found a complete cure, recent advances in biotechnology are on the verge of eradicating this sinister virus. In fact, in our very own region, the Miami Center For AIDS Research (CFAR), part of the Miller School of Medicine, functions as South Florida’s premiere center for HIV and AIDS research. Researchers at CFAR have recently focused on gene editing, a method of rewriting and throwing out infected genetic material so that the virus is suppressed to the point of nonexistence. One promising example of this is an AIDS vaccine that uses genetically engineered Herpesvirus. Just this year, scientists were able to achieve significant vaccine protection against AIDS in monkeys for the first time by administering several doses of the aforementioned vaccine over four months. Prior to this, only live, attenuated strains of SIV had been able to provide a similar degree of protection. The implications of the treatment don’t stop there. Although SIV is incredibly difficult to neutralize in Rhesus Macaques
monkeys, similar to HIV in humans, researchers found that monkeys exposed to the vaccine were completely protected against repeated intravenous SIV exposure. This was primarily due to the modified herpesvirus vaccine, which was made from rhesus monkey rhadinovirus (RRV), eliciting a longer-lasting cellular immune response to different strains of SIV. When coupled with the genetically combined recombinant strain, both the replicating RRV and noninfectious SIV were produced. This resulted in a profound synergistic effect that was efficient enough to elicit a powerful response to fight off and completely eradicate the SIV infection. Although this treatment is promising, scientists continue to investigate other avenues for a possible cure. An alternative approach from researchers at CFAR revolves around the idea of providing long-term viral suppression, making the virus’ negative immune system impacts negligible. Using this method, a single injection of anti-HIV monoclonal antibodies—antibodies that are all made by the same type of immune cell—was able to completely suppress the virus for almost three years in one monkey and for extended periods in two others. Dr. Ronald C. Desrosiers, Professor of Pathology and a renowned HIV researcher at CFAR says, “[Our] ultimate goal is to deliver these potent broadly neutralizing antibodies so that the patient is safe for life.” However, in contrast to the prior study of herpesvirus as a vaccine, this antiretroviral drug therapy treatment is not a permanent cure. Unfortunately, removal of the antiviral drugs results in a rebound of plasma viral loads in the vast majority of
individuals. Hence, repeated infusions are needed to maintain a noticeable protective concentration. In yet another new study, CFAR researchers used an adeno-associated virus (AAV) to deliver gene products into muscle cells, turning them into cellular “factories” that can produce the genetically engineered antibodies indefinitely. The results are astounding: after receiving a single injection of the AAV-delivered antibodies, the HIV viral load of one of the test monkeys dropped below the limit of detection, and has remained undetectable for more than three years. While the AAV delivery strategy did trigger a defensive immune system response that inactivated the antibodies in two other test monkeys, these subjects also maintained long-term viral suppression. Ultimately, Dr. Desrosiers claims that his current study provides a proof of concept that this approach could potentially deliver a fully functional cure of HIV around the globe. “One advantage to this AAV approach is that it could be readily applied throughout the developing world, specifically thirdworld countries, where antiretroviral therapies are not readily available,” he states. While he feels confident that his methods can help address the global epidemic, he also harbors an understanding that only time can tell the direction of future treatments. But indeed, it seems that within the next decade, advances in biotechnology will provide researchers with the tools needed to finally initiate clinical human trials, thus truly marking the beginning of the end for HIV.
“[Our] ultimate goal is to deliver these potent broadly neutralizing antibodies so that the patient is safe for life.”
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A New Method for Treating Trauma by Marissa Maddalon Design: Emily Fakhoury
ccelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is an emerging therapy used to treat PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other conditions like anxiety, phobias, and addiction. For those suffering from PTSD, ART targets the unresolved traumatic experiences and emotions that are stored differently in the brain. Usually, information is processed in the day, sorted at night, and then sent to the cerebral cortex for long-term storage. Unresolved experiences, on the other hand, are subcortical (stored below the cerebral cortex). Thus, these memories, especially those related to survival, are recalled and held on to. So when someone is faced with a situation that requires a fight or flight response, the body tries to recall this information so that it may respond in a way that increases the chance of survival. This understanding helps to partly explain the recurring flashbacks of traumatic events that some experience for years on end. ART is cleverly used to reprogram how these disturbing memories are stored in the brain so that certain images and sensations do not trigger intense emotional, physical, or physiological responses. Specifically, it targets and resolves the event that elicits the response, instead of just targeting the symptoms. One of the key points of this therapy is the back and forth eye movements that clients perform with the direction of the therapist. These eye movements are similar to those that occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep when the brain is processing information and consolidating memories. As the client is performing these eye movements, the therapist walks them through a traumatic memory (using guided visualizations) and helps them introduce and associate a positive sensation or feeling to that memory. This allows the brain to rewrite harmful memories and store them differently so that when the client recalls the memory, they recall the new positive sensation instead of re-experiencing traumatic physiological responses. On a more microscopic level, the key to ART is believed to be how it utilizes the natural memory consolidation mechanisms of the brain. Evidence shows that a person can actually rewrite old sensations by first activating a memory, replacing the original sensations associated with it with a new sensation or stimulus, and then reconsolidating the memory within a certain period. This can modify the memory at the level of DNA transcription. In essence, ART uses a combination of eye movements and the brainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s
12 | Generational Trauma
reconsolidation mechanism to help clients rewrite old traumatic memories. ART stems from another therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Both rely on eye movements and guided visualizations and may be used for a variety of mental problems. However, there are some key differences between the two. Since it focuses more directly on how negative images are connected with emotional or physical reactions, ART has a more procedural approach where clinicians are able to guide clients through a disturbing event to recode how the brain stores traumatic images and memory. EMDR, on the other hand, takes a free association approach that focuses more on content, where memories may come up and can be explored. However, this can cause memories to be left half-processed and can lead to clients fixating on distressing memories during the session, and hence requires a higher level of training and a longer session. Often, there seems to be skepticism surrounding ART. However, there are many benefits to this therapy. ART is effective and gratifying for clients who are able to overcome triggers in as few as one to five hour-long sessions. Research has indicated that many people experience positive, long-lasting results. Also, it helps prevent therapist fatigue or â&#x20AC;&#x153;burn out,â&#x20AC;? since clients do not need to talk about the traumatic event; rather, therapists guide clients through the entire process while patients visualise or think of the event on their own. However, since this therapy was created a little over ten years ago, in 2008, there is not as much evidence supporting it compared to decades-old therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy. There have been only a few case reports and one randomized controlled clinical trial. This randomized controlled clinical trial, conducted by the University of South Florida, showed a 94% treatment completion and found that ART may offer significant resolution of PTSD symptoms in less than five treatment sessions. It is also important to note that ART has firm roots in evidence-based, trauma-focused psychotherapies. Although ART is relatively new and may not be suitable for everyone, it provides a valuable new means of recovery for those affected by PTSD and other conditions.
An Interview with ART International This past summer, I interned at ART International, which aims to help people who suffer from PTSD by promoting and providing ART therapy. Here is what Patricia Thompson and Kelly Breeding, the Vice Chairman and Executive Director of ART International, respectively, had to say:
Could you describe the process of establishing ART International and how it has grown?
Patricia: ART International Training and Research is a grass-roots organization that was founded by Chris T. Sullivan. Sullivan became very interested in the therapy several years ago at a luncheon at the University of South Florida where he learned of the effectiveness of the therapy. He then decided to form a nonprofit organization to help people who suffer from trauma-related symptoms by providing the most effective and innovative therapeutic method possibleâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Accelerated Resolution TherapyÂŽ (ART). The first thing we had to do was reach a legal agreement with the developer/founder of the therapy so that ART International would have an exclusive license to use the intellectual property needed to train mental health providers in the therapy. At the same time, Kelly Breeding, the Executive Director, was hired, and she began creating the application to operate as a nonprofit organization, developing our Board of Directors, and the process to run the business. Once an agreement was reached, we began creating a three-year business plan and established a board of advisors who would help develop a strategic plan. Additionally, we hired a digital media firm and a public relations firm to assist with developing the ART International brand by marketing the therapy and scheduled training. We have seen tremendous growth over the past three years and have worked diligently to grow the number of training classes held and broaden the outreach to organizations nationwide in an effort to create partnerships to help expand ART.
What would you do differently? Patricia: As far as what we would do differently, we probably would have spent some time creating an organized office space before getting too far into running the business and offering training. Additionally, spending more time with the founderâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s business manager at the beginning would have been beneficial. We have learned a lot since we started and know that there is still much work to be done.
Could you tell me about the work your organization does? Patricia: ART International Training and Research Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which provides training in Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART Basic level) and SAF-T to licensed mental health clinicians, supports innovative research in ART, and educates others about ART.
Why do you believe in ART? Why are you choosing to support and put your time into it? Kelly: I believe in ART because I have seen how it can make significant progress in healing a client from trauma in just one therapeutic session. My involvement with ART International provides me the opportunity to apply my background in clinical social work across diverse populations with a specialization in trauma and life transitions as well as providing nationwide outreach for at-risk individuals and families.
Patricia: I became involved during the first study that Chris T. Sullivan funded over six years ago. Since I am not a mental health clinician, I struggled to understand how the therapy works. However, once I learned the science behind the brain and compared it to the protocol used during an ART session, I had an aha moment. It suddenly became very clear to me why people were having so much success. Time and time again, clients who have experienced ART hands down feel better and attribute gaining a new perspective on life from going through the therapy. We are both very passionate about what we do. We hope that ART is easily accessible to anyone who needs it anywhere in the United States.
How do you see ART International changing in the future and what are some future goals? Kelly: We truly believe that ART and other alternative therapies are going to change the face of mental health treatment as we have known it. Our future goals are to continue to advocate and educate the community at large on the power of trauma-informed care and how such tools can be applied to both treat traumas of the past and prevent future negative outcomes. We would like to continue to partner with organizations and broaden the reach of ART.
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FEELING SALTY? CHOOSE IODIZED! by Snigdha Sama Design: Emily Fakhoury Photography: Alexis Paul & Raghuram Reddy
or many Americans, getting groceries involves a simple drive or an eco-friendly walk to the nearest supermarket. As we calmly stroll through the aisles, we navigate towering columns of miscellaneous products in search of everything needed to successfully stave off hunger and starvation. As we pass the irresistible aisles of chips and cookies, we finally arrive at the messiah of both heart function and simultaneous dysfunction (in excess): salt. In this moment, comes the big question: iodized or regular salt? Whenever I go shopping with my mom, I watch as she unflinchingly grabs the box containing iodized salt. What is iodized salt, and how is it different from its regular counterpart? Iodized salt is table salt mixed in with small amounts of the trace element iodine. The element iodine is an essential micronutrient that is naturally present in some foods, especially in seafood and dairy products. In the small amounts that it is needed, iodine plays a crucial role in human metabolism and mental development. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your neck, releases thyroid hormones that control metabolism. Iodine is an essential part of these hormones. Iodine deficiencies lead to thyroid enlargement and can cause a lump called a goiter to appear. While its specific role in thyroid hormone production was only discovered within the last century, iodineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s medicinal capabilities were realized far earlier. Chinese writings dated back to 3600 BC recorded
14 | Generational Trauma
decreases in goiter size upon ingestion of seaweed and burnt sea sponge, which contain large amounts of the element. Several thousands of years later, in 1819, a Swiss physician named J.F. Coindet used iodine tincture (an elemental iodine in solution) to reduce the size of goiters in his patients. Iodineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s seemingly miraculous propensity to heal led to physicians prescribing it for countless other afflictions ranging from inflammation to gangrene. Even more significant than its effects on thyroid function, iodineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s role in fetal development is crucial, so much so that pregnant women are advised to take supplements if their iodine levels are flagged. Iodine deficiencies are associated with stillbirth and miscarriages. Furthermore, children of mothers with severe iodine deficiencies tend to have intellectual disabilities and growth disorders. This is not limited to extreme cases, as even slight iodine deficiencies can contribute to a lower IQ. In a study done in the 1930s, researchers compared the intelligence of children born just before 1924 (the year the iodization of salt began) and those born thereafter with a standardized intelligence test. In the initially lowest-iodine areas, the introduction of iodized salt had amazing results: men from this region born in 1924 or later had an average IQ that was 15 points higher than that of their predecessors. For Americans, iodized salt is so commonplace that we barely notice the ramifications of an iodine deficiency. During the 1920s, widespread iodization of salt began and this largely improved thyroid
function and reduced goiter appearance for millions of Americans. While iodine deficiencies were common a few generations ago, most middle-aged and younger Americans have never experienced it. The implementation of salt iodization through effective legislation has drastically reduced goiter occurrences and increased IQ values in adolescents. However, this is not the case for many other countries. Iodine deficiency still affects up to 2 billion people worldwide, including 285 million adolescents. Currently, iodine deficiency is the main preventable cause of brain damage in children, and so a lack of iodine has disastrous consequences for these iodine-deficient countries. In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study on the levels of urinary iodide in populations of different continents. Whereas only 9.8% of the population of the Americas were found to be iodinedeficient, this number was 42.6% in Africa, 39.8% in Southeast Asia, and 56.9% in Europe. As stated above, such low levels of iodine have the capacity to severely damage thyroid function and brain development. Moreover, while the presence of overt hypothyroidism (not caused by any sort of iodine deficiency) is roughly the same throughout the world, much higher rates of hypothyroidism correlate with lower iodine consumption. In Pescopagano, a notably iodine-deficient village in southern Italy, the prevalence of hypothyroidism was observed to be twice the value of those of iodine-sufficient countries in 1999. Many factors, such as living in areas in iodine-deficient soil, consuming goitrogens (which reduce intake of iodine in thyroid and include popular foods like soy, cabbage, and broccoli) and lacking adequate knowledge of the importance of iodine are the root causes of these deficiencies. Mandated salt iodization has solved this problem for some, but in many other areas, inadequate legislation and even less enforcement result in iodine deficiencies continuing to be an issue. While it is only considered a micronutrient, iodine in deficiency has effects on a population that certainly cannot be considered microscopic. From lowering IQ points to causing stillbirths, iodine deficiencies result in severe problems for those citizens living in iodinedeficient regions. The numbers of these regions are disappointingly high, and it is paramount that great attention be brought to this disparity.
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16 | Generational Trauma
Saving the Coral Reefs, One Microbe at a Time Innovation at the del Campo Laboratory by Anuj Shah
Photography: Emily Fakhoury and Leila Thompson
mages of dying corals and decimated aquatic wildlife dominate the news nowadays, but a new lab at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) is prepared to tackle the challenge of marine ecosystem change head on. Dr. Javier del Campo started his Marine Microbial Ecology Lab at RSMAS in February and has big plans for research here in South Florida. Originally from Catalonia, a region in Spain, Dr. del Campo arrived at UM with an impressive and extensive research background. He recently published work in the journal
Design: Anuj Shah
Nature regarding the discovery of a third major coral symbiont, an apicomplexan that lives in symbiosis with over 70% of the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s coral species. While most apicomplexans are usually parasitic, such as the malaria-causing apicomplexan Plasmodium falciparum that kills over 400,000 people a year, this new one is not toxic and instead contains some genes that may have once been used for photosynthesis. This suggests it may be in an evolutionary transition period, slowly shifting away from its sibling species. Dr. del Campoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s newly established lab plans to study marine
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microbiomes, ecology, and evolution within marine holobionts. A holobiont can be thought of as a host organism and all of the symbionts (such as smaller bacteria, single-celled eukaryotes, and even viruses) that live within the host. Incredibly, these holobiont units evolve as a whole, and much is still unknown about how this process takes place. Anthony Bonacolta, a graduate student in Dr. del Campoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lab, is excited to begin his research at the lab. As a UM grad who double majored in Marine Science and Microbiology & Immunology,
Anthonyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s love for the ocean grew during his time in college but started long before. Growing up along Floridaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s coast in Fort Myers, Anthony recalls enjoying a 7th grade snorkeling trip to the Keys, where he developed a fondness for the ocean and aquatic life at a young age. As a researcher, he cherishes the opportunity to study marine microbiomes, the tiny organisms that coexist with coral reefs and other species. We would never expect that the bacteria and other unicellular microbes within our bodies would have a massive impact on countless aspects of our well-being, but the human gut
RSMAS: Storied Past, Promising Future One of the RSMAS librarians, Ann Campbell, spoke at length about the impressive history of RSMAS. The library houses a massive globe with topographical details, one of only six of its kind in the world. The library is also home to the Biscayne Bay collection, a documentation of the marine environment and ecology of Biscayne Bay that environmental conservationists and government officials began cultivating in 1910. The storied past of RSMAS has helped to establish it as one of the premier locations for oceanic and atmospheric research, and the impressive work currently going on hints at a promising future for the institution.
18 | Generational Trauma
Anthony Bonacolta, a graduate student in the del Campo lab
microbiome is slowly being recognized as a major determinant of human health and development. Anthony revels in the fact that even more is yet to be discovered regarding the microbiomes of corals and other aquatic species. He hopes his research will be a step forward in decreasing the ongoing coral bleaching, in which rising water temperatures cause algal symbionts within coral to get expelled, leading to coral death. The media discussion around climate change and ocean health is filled with dismissive, irresponsible questions such as “Corals and other aquatic species are fascinating and beautiful, but why does their health matter to us? Wouldn’t humans still be okay even if these species disappear?” When asked about these issues, Anthony’s response was unequivocal—coral and aquatic health is human health. He went on to discuss how the two were far more closely linked than most people thought, describing the numerous ways in which coral reefs protect coastlines by reducing wave force and impact by up to 90%, which prevents flooding, maintains rock structure, and ensures our safety in coastal waters. This is crucial in areas such as South Florida, as coral reefs are one of the most important natural tools in protecting against hurricanes. In addition to their beauty, coral reefs help coastal cities attract tourists and maintain local economies, and they are also home to species such as sponges that
produce important biomedical resources, like natural medicinal compounds and metabolites. However, when these coral reefs die, they are replaced by algae which cannot provide the same structural support, animal habitats, and nutrients as before. Anthony explains that although corals make up a relatively small part of the ocean, a “disproportionately high number of aquatic species live on or around coral reefs.” To Anthony, the most apt way to characterize a coral reef is as an “oasis.” In what is otherwise nutrient-poor water, reefs provide nutrients and shelter to organisms such as sponges, lobsters, fish, and sea turtles. There is no doubt that Earth’s climate has fluctuated throughout the planet’s 4.5 billion year history. Temperatures have risen and fallen, ice caps have advanced and receded, and species have come and gone. However, despite this history, one fact remains undeniable—the rapidity with which the climate is changing in current times is unprecedented. It’s the swiftness of these changes that is causing species to disappear at astonishing rates, such as the stunning bleaching and death that coral populations have seen in recent decades. Never before in human history, and rarely in Earth’s history as a whole, has such blistering climate change occurred. Plants, animals, and other species simply cannot naturally adapt and evolve in time to combat these drastic environmental changes.
Sea gulls frequent the RSMAS beach and docks
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Fortunately, much of the work in Dr. del Campo’s lab and the other RSMAS labs is focused not only on characterizing the current climate change occurring, but coming up with innovative solutions to fortify aquatic species and help them survive the manmade onslaught they are facing. In hopes of discovering ways to help coral become more resilient, Dr. del Campo’s lab plans to study the coral bleaching process from a single-cell perspective in order to find out how the beneficial coral symbioses break down due to environmental factors. In addition, they plan to study stony coral tissue loss disease, a mysterious disease that arose off the coast of Florida around 2014 and has been wreaking havoc ever since. The disease has rapidly spread down to the Florida Keys and has even appeared in parts of the Caribbean. Not much is known about its cause or how it spreads, but the del Campo lab plans to study the microbiota that may be causing the disease and even attempt to culture them, which is a challenge in its own right. Another project the lab plans to start is an investigation into the microbiome of teleost fish, a group of fish that make up around 96% of current fish species. Teleost fish account for a large portion of the ocean’s calcium carbonate deposits, and studying the microbiota associated with these fish may give us insight into why this is so. Finally, the del Campo lab plans to collaborate with the Aplysia sea slug lab, which examines sea slugs for studies related to the nervous system and provides sea slugs to facilities around the world. Dr. del Campo and his team plan to investigate the sea slugs’ microbiomes as well, in order to better define the model organism. As Dr. del Campo gears up to begin collecting and analyzing
samples, the rest of RSMAS continues to stay active and make groundbreaking advances in countless fields. For example, Dr. Diego Lirman, whose lab studies reef protection and conservation, is heavily involved in the “Rescue a Reef” program, which aims to cultivate nurseries of corals and transplant them back into actual, degraded coral reefs. Dr. Chris Langdon, well known for his collaboration with David Attenborough and the “Blue Planet II” program, studies ocean acidification and the mechanisms by
which it causes coral to die and disappear. In order to study the innate immune defenses of corals and how they respond to diseases, Dr. Nikki Traylor-Knowles investigates the specific coral cellular responses to climate change and other stressors. Studying these diverse topics will undoubtedly allow Dr. del Campo and his fellow researchers to stay at the forefront of research and discovery, and to provide inspiration to others drawn to environmental and oceanic preservation.
Dozens of containers are carefully maintained for the artificial growth of coral
Aplysia sea slugs are grown for research into the nervous system
Many of the corals grown in the wet labs are eventually transplanted back into coral reefs
A wide variety of stony coral are grown in order to combat coral bleaching and death due to diseases
A peek inside the del Campo laboratory, where analysis of coral samples will take place
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NOBEL PRIZES IN A NUTSHELL by Amirah Rashed | Illustration & Design: Leila Thompson
NAT. MDCCC XXXIII OB. MDCCC XCVI
ehind each of the 2019 Nobel Prize-winning discoveries in the sciences—Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine—are brilliant scientists and ideas. These discoveries and developments have been revolutionary in advancing our understanding of science and in their contributions to future developments.
The lithium-ion battery powers our phones, laptops, and electric cars, and it may soon power a fossil fuel-free future. The first step towards creating the lithium-ion battery was during the oil crisis in the 1970s. Dr. Stanley Whittingham discovered an extremely energy-rich material which he used to create a cathode in a lithium battery. The cathode was made of titanium disulfide which has spaces to intercalate, or hold, lithium ions at a molecular level. Part of the anode was made from lithium metal which is a plentiful source of electrons. This led to the development of a battery that could supply just over 2 volts of electric potential. Dr. John Goodenough built on this by using a metal oxide instead of a
metal sulfide as the cathode. Using cobalt oxide, the battery was able to produce as much as 4 volts. Dr. Akira Yoshino used Goodenough’s cathode to create the first commercially-viable lithium-ion battery which employed petroleum coke, a carbon material, instead of reactive lithium. The advantage of lithium-ion batteries is that they are not dependent upon chemical reactions that break down the electrodes, but rather upon lithium ions flowing back and forth between the anode and cathode, allowing them to be rechargeable.
The work of Dr. James Peebles has transformed the field of cosmology, which is concerned with the studies of the origin and evolution of the universe. The Big Bang model describes the origin of the universe which arose from a state of extremely high temperature and density. About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe became transparent, which allowed light rays to travel through space. Traces of this radiation are still present today, and using theoretical tools and calculations, Peebles was able to discover physical processes from the beginnings of the universe. This showed us that only five percent of the contents of the universe are known to us. In 1995, Dr. Michael Mayor and Dr. Didier Queloz announced the very first discovery of an exoplanet, a planet outside our solar system, orbiting a solar-type star in the Milky Way. Using custom-made instruments, they were able to see the planet 51 Pegasi b, a gaseous ball comparable to the solar system’s biggest gas giant, Jupiter. This discovery started an astronomical revolution and led to the discoveries of over 4,000 more exoplanets. These discoveries are challenging our preconceived notions and are forcing scientists to rethink their theories on the physical processes behind the origins of planets. In the continuing search for more exoplanets, we may eventually find the answer to whether other life forms exist in the universe.
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DIDIER QUELOZ DIDIER QUELOZ DIDIER QUELOZ
PHYSIOLOGY AND MEDICINE The importance of oxygen to life has been known for centuries, but exactly how cells adapt to changes in oxygen levels has not. Until recently, we knew that the carotid body, adjacent to large blood vessels on both sides of the neck, contains specialized cells that sense the blood’s oxygen levels. It is also known that a key physiological response to hypoxia is the rise in levels of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which leads to increased production of red blood cells (erythropoiesis). But, how O2 controlled this process was unknown until recent times. Dr. Greg Semenza used gene-modified mice to study the EPO gene and found that specific DNA segments located next to the EPO gene mediated the response to hypoxia. Sir Peter Ratcliffe, in addition to Dr. Semenza’s research group, found that the oxygensensing mechanism was present in nearly all tissues, which showed that the mechanism was general and functional in many cell types. Dr. Semenza also discovered a protein complex that binds to the identified DNA segment in an oxygen-dependent manner, which he called the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF). HIF was found to consist of two different transcription factors, now named HIF-1α and ARNT. When oxygen levels are high, cells contain very little HIF-1α. However, when oxygen levels are low, the amount of HIF-1α increases so that it can bind to and thus regulate the EPO gene, as well as other genes with HIF-binding DNA segments. At normal oxygen levels, a small peptide, ubiquitin, is added to the HIF-1α protein and functions as a tag for proteins destined for degradation in the proteasome. The question then came to how ubiquitin binds to HIF-1α in an oxygen-dependent manner. The answer came from Dr. William Kaelin, Jr., who was researching von Hippel-Lindau’s disease (VHL disease), which is an inherited disorder that leads to dramatically increased risk of certain cancers in families with. Dr. Kaelin showed that cancer cells lacking a functional VHL gene express abnormally high levels of hypoxia-regulated genes, but that when the VHL gene was reintroduced into cancer cells, normal levels were restored. This
GREGG SEMENZA GREGG SEMENZA GREGG SEMENZA
meant that VHL was somehow involved in controlling responses to hypoxia. Other research groups found that VHL is part of a complex that tags proteins with ubiquitin for degradation in the proteasome. Ratcliffe and his research group then demonstrated that VHL can physically interact with HIF-1α and is required for its degradation at normal oxygen levels. In 2001, Kaelin and Ratcliffe showed that under normal oxygen levels, hydroxyl groups are added at two specific positions in HIF-1α. This modification, called prolyl hydroxylation, allows VHL to recognize and bind to HIF1α and explained how normal oxygen levels control rapid HIF-1α degradation with the help of oxygen-sensitive enzymes, prolyl hydroxylases.
51 Pegasi b Jupiter
Planet 51 Pegasi b is 47% less massive but 50% larger than Jupiter
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Wearable Tech From Distant Dream to Current Reality by Setareh Gooshvar Design: Aaron Dykxhoorn
he Apple Watch, FitBit, Google Glass, and even our very own Magic Leap are all examples of wearable technology that we as a society have used at varying degrees of success to make our lives easier, healthier, and more organized. Although the term itself has only been around since the 20th century, wearable technology has been a companion to the human race for many centuries. The first time we decided to augment our reality was with eyeglasses. First invented in the 13th century by Salvino D’Armati, glasses were the beginning of a long line of products and services created for the simple purpose of making life easier. In the 21st century, however, wearable technology has erupted in popularity. Not only are devices being used in the corporate and consumer sectors, but also in the realm of research as the importance of wearable technology in improving healthcare outcomes has repeatedly been demonstrated. Wearable sensors, which are devices either fabricated into wearable objects or interfaced directly with the body, have become essential in monitoring health and providing data to further advance care. Such devices are used in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). TempTraq, a device used for monitoring the temperatures of babies, comes as a soft patch that gently adheres
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to the baby’s skin and reports accurate, pertinent data. TempTraq is designed in such a way that the movement of the child and the nurses does not interrupt the functionality of the device. Additionally, these patches can actually be good for the psychology of the child’s parents. Without the tangle of wires of the typical NICU setup, parents can be allowed to hold their child without fear, alleviating their stress and allowing for some crucial familial bonding. The power of wearable sensors extends far beyond the NICU. They are currently proving themselves as powerful tools, helping to battle some of the most difficult human conditions. One such example was demonstrated by the work of the Xu Research Group at the University of Buffalo. Through the use of 3D printing, they created a heart model which was then used as a kind of skeleton for a biosensor web built upon it. The web itself functions as an electronic membrane complete with a network of sensors and electrodes. Fitting over the patient’s heart, the device is able to delegate different sensing mechanisms to their respective sensors, giving it the ability to function as an ECG, a strain sensor, pH sensor, and temperature sensor. Although its current abilities are limited to heart rate monitoring only, with further development and research, it may be able to function as a pacemaker by delivering electrical shockwaves to the heart to aid in regulating heart rate. Despite its somewhat humble beginnings, wearable technology has evolved throughout time to become a robust and powerful tool. Not only do these humble heroes monitor our daily health, but they also represent a new tidal wave of innovation in the field of healthcare research and implementation.
Put Your Bottom at the Top of the List
Exploring The Anchor Study
nal cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to the growth of abnormal cells within and around the anus, as well as in the cervix in women. While there has been a standard of care established to prevent cervical cancer by treating the implications of this virus, there has yet to exist concrete proof that this treatment does the same for anal cancer. Although anal cancer may seem to be rare, the incidence rates are higher than one would think, especially in those infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The Anchor Study is a national study that accepts participants who are HIV positive and over the age of thirty-five to be screened for HPV and anal cancer. These screening visits consist of a verbal consent, a blood draw, anal pap smears, a High Resolution Anoscopy (HRA), and a few biopsies. Once screened, if precancerous changes are found, the participant is placed into one of two arms of the study—monitoring or treatment. If placed into the monitoring arm, the patient repeats the HRA procedure every 6 months with the physician, and the high-grade, precancerous lesions are monitored closely for any changes, with biopsies taken at least once a year. If placed into the treatment arm, the same protocol is followed, with the addition of treatment for the high-grade lesions. Treatment can either be a topical cream which the patient applies themselves, or treatment of the lesions by hyfrecation or infra-red coagulation (IRC). The choice of the method of treatment is up to the physician and is determined after a conversation with the patient. So why does this all matter? As statistics show, the incidence rates (per 100,000 people per year) of anal cancer among HIV-positive homosexual males (men who have sex with men, or MSM) surpasses the annual number of new cases for that of lung and breast cancers. The Anchor Study estimates that “1 in 10 HIV+ MSM will get anal cancer over their lifetime.” The statistic for HIV-positive women and heterosexual males isn’t as clear. With that said, there is a lot of data missing for this very prevalent type of cancer. The Anchor Study aims to collect this information while answering the main question of the study: what should be the standard of care for anal pre-cancer? During my time in the Miami site of the study, I’ve seen the participant list grow, and the number of national screenings increase by thousands. The patient
by Sandy Taboada demographic in the Jackson Memorial Hospital site is unmatched by any other, in that there are patients from all different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Yet, these patients all work with their HIV diagnosis and take care of themselves more than some of us without the virus. They understand that the work that we are doing is important, and that in the end, either branch is beneficial to their health, and to anal cancer prevention. Although it may seem unfortunate to find cancer in an enrolled or a screening patient, the practice of looking closely at HPV and finding cancer early can save lives. Above all else, finding a standard of care for something that affects so much of our population is essential for the future of medicine. A special thank you to the Anchor Study team for this experience, and for your constant support of my endeavors and learning. You’ve all shown me the importance of our research, as well as what it’s like to work with such an amazing team of passionate people. source: anchorstudy.org
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Yale Breathes New Against Chronic by Trystan Yzaguirre
n recent years, there has been an alarming prevalence of deaths related to lung disease. The most effective way to counteract these lethal afflictions is through a lung transplant. Unfortunately, this is a daunting task: the transplant is a very high-risk procedure due to the invasive and dangerous nature of the operation, as well as the lengthy and mercurial road to recovery. All of these factors combine to make streamlining and safeguarding the process a priority for many biomedical engineers around the globe. Dr. Laura Nikalson, a professor of biomedical engineering and anesthesiology and an active ICU anesthesiologist, is one such engineering expert that is deeply bothered by the sheer number of her patients that endure permanent lung damage from diseases that can only be stopped using transplantation. This is the unfortunate reality since the lung is an organ that lacks the ability to heal itself. The problem is made worse by the fact that organs are not readily available, meaning that the percentage of people receiving transplants is very low. This tight supply is explained by the fact that only 15% of cadavers provide usable lungs. They also have an incredibly small window of time to be harvested, transported, and implanted. And beyond this, there is also a high risk of organ rejection. Even if a patient survives the dangerous surgery, they will have to be on immunosuppressive drugs for life. This is unavoidable and can only be solved by finding a way to make “custom” lungs for the person’s genetic makeup. Many have tried ways to increase the number of lungs available, and others here have made attempts to create synthetic lungs, but this has proven difficult given the complex nature of the organs. Yet, given the dire circumstances, Dr. Nikalson decided to use her 15 years of experience creating arteries via tissue engineering to spearhead the research to bring an end to the shortage of lungs. The biggest obstacle Dr. Nikalson and her team faced was finding a suitable “scaffold” for supporting the lung tissue. She decided to use a method that is popular among other types of transplants, which involves the use of detergents to harvest the lung tissue of rats and then removing all of the components and structures that could trigger an immune response. This leaves them with the “shell” of a fully functioning lung, which includes all mechanical properties and vasculature. Once the supporting tissue was taken care of in the
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Life Into the Fight Lung Conditions Illustration and Design: Megan Buras study, Dr. Nikalson’s next goal was to create a bioreactor to facilitate breathing and mimic the environment in which lungs develop within the fetus. A syringe pump was used to provide ventilation and allow the lungs to withdraw air, thus taking in liquid from the windpipe. And, inversely, when the pump pushed air out, the lungs began to return liquid. While this was occurring, proteins that allow the organs to inflate were produced normally inside the bioreactor. The researchers were able to foster the health and growth of the cells by recreating natural conditions, as well as by improving secretion clearance. They then cultured the tissue in the bioreactor for a week before transplanting it to rats. Remarkably, the tissue was able to exchange gas for several hours. The researchers’ data suggested that the same method could create human lungs, but stem cells would be necessary. The team believes it would take at minimum 10 years of continued work to consistently differentiate and sustain the lung tissue. When asked how she felt about the possibilities this research creates, Dr. Nikalson stated that “the potential advantage, in the long run, is that we could take a biopsy from a patient who needs a lung replacement, generate stem cells from that biopsy, and from those cells regenerate a whole lung that we could implant without it being rejected.” Armed with these results and optimism in her research, she also believes that this could be “a new era for organ transplantation.” This work has come a long way since its conception in 2010. In fact, in 2014, another research team managed to bioengineer a complete human lung. And now in 2019, we have several research teams that have been able to do the same. These breakthroughs have brought researchers closer than ever to being able to replicate this procedure in humans. Dr. Nikalson has said her hope is to be able to see this project end successfully in her lifetime. This research, once completed, would completely change the landscape of how lung diseases are treated. Not only would this drastically increase the lifespan of patients, but it would also increase the chance of success of the operations, both during the procedure itself and during a patient’s recovery. Essentially, the success of such research would bring hope to every patient suffering from these debilitating illnesses and ensure that as many people as possible get the transplants they need.
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seeds of change Infographic: Leila Thompson | Data: iucnredlist.org
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (I.U.C.N.) created their red list of endangered and threatened species in 1964 and since its founding, it has documented the drastic loss of global biodiversity. Of the several categories of species regulated and tracked worldwide, plants are by far the most listed in almost all of the I.U.C.N. Redlist categories, even more than mammals and birds.
Every year, thousands of species worldwide are reassessed and assigned various classifications within the I.U.C.N. Redlist system. The three plant species pictured were reclassified from “vulnerable” to “critically endangered” from 2018 to 2019.
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more plants have been listed than any other category of species worldwide
1 mammal = 193 plants 1 fish = 6 plants
1 bird = 45 plants
For every individual species listed in all the other categories tracked by the I.U.C.N., plant species outnumber each one, often to a magnitude of ten or more, making them the most listed category on the Redlist.
1 reptile and amphibian = 5 plants
I.u.c.n. listed plants by world region caribbean: 837 europe: 1,122 oceania: 1,234 north america: 1,960 south america: 3,779 asia: 5,086 africa: 6,585 News | 29
& the Diabetes Public Health Crisis
by Christina Paraggio Illustration & Design: Leena Yumeen
hen it comes to scientific discoveries that have had a great impact on the world, there are always a few that come to mind before anything else—penicillin, for example, or nuclear weapons, or perhaps even the smartphone. Hundreds of years of research have led to pivotal advancements in all fields, but there are many discoveries that are taken for granted. Take insulin, for example. This hormone is the key to diabetes treatment, as it has been for almost 100 years. The official isolation and purification of insulin was done by a Canadian team at the University of Toronto, consisting of Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and John Macleod. Its first administration was successfully achieved in 1922. Just one year later the team was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine, underscoring the importance of this discovery and its expected impact on the world. One of the most incredible aspects of this discovery is the humanitarian character of these scientists. Banting, now in the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, was hailed not only for this discovery, but for his altruism, selling the patent to the University of Toronto for just $1 and claiming that insulin is for the world, not for himself. Not long after, insulin began to be mass produced to save lives. But let’s take a step back and review the basics. Insulin is a hormone naturally produced by the body, and it plays a crucial role in moderating blood sugar levels. When you eat, your blood sugar level rises. Insulin is secreted by the beta cells of the islet of Langerhans in the pancreas to trigger cells into absorbing the sugar present in the bloodstream. This is achieved by attaching to the cells and acting like a “key.” For people with diabetes, this process is as simple. In type 1 diabetes, a genetic autoimmune condition, the pancreas does not make its own insulin, and the beta cells have often been destroyed. In the case of people with type 2 diabetes, their pancreases do produce insulin, but their bodies are resistant to it or they do not produce enough. Insulin injections are the ticket to the management of type 2. Why an injection? Oral administration would not suffice, since it would be broken down through digestion and never reach the bloodstream. The scope of this discovery is monumental, especially as the number of people with diabetes grows each year. According to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 30.3 million, or about 1
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How Insulin Works
Consumed sugar is released into the bloodstream
The hormone insulin is released by the pancreas
3 Insulin binds to receptors that trigger the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream
11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
American Population with Diabetes Diagnosed Undiagnosed
in 11, Americans currently have diabetes, and diabetes ranked as the seventh most common cause of death in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association, there is a diabetes diagnosis every 21 seconds. These numbers are staggering, but projected trends are worse yetâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the ADA reported in 2015 that by 2050, the frequency of diabetes in the United States will rise to 1 in 3. Not only has insulin been indispensable in the past, but it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. This begs the questionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;how is it produced? Today, the most common strategy for the production of insulin is through the use of genetically modified bacteria. In nature, bacteria have chromosomal DNA, but they also possess a plasmid which contains about 5-100 genes, most of which confer some advantageous traits. This plasmid is frequently utilized by scientists to conduct experiments and create recombinant DNA within the bacteria. Insulin production is a great example of this. The plasmid is removed from the model bacteria, and the gene for human insulin production
is inserted. When the plasmid is returned to the bacteria, this gene is expressed, and insulin is produced. Once a suitable amount of insulin has been produced, it is harvested from the system and purified for sale and distribution. This is a simple enough production model, especially from a business standpoint, and costs are kept low. For one vial of insulin, which would last a patient about 28 days, the cost of production is between $2.28 and $3.42. Incredible, right? Not so much. Pharmaceutical companies charge approximately $1,251 per person per year for insulin. That breaks down to a little over $100 each month, creating a noticeable profit margin for the pharmaceutical companies and a major financial obstacle for many consumers. A study conducted at Yale University found that 25% of patients skip or ration their insulin doses due to the cost. Rationing refers to taking smaller doses than required in order to make their supply of insulin last longer before paying for a prescription refill.
According to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 30.3 million, or about 1 in 11, Americans currently have diabetes, and diabetes ranked as the seventh most common cause of death in the United States.
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My dear, how fare those wings? Carrying you confidently into those azure, velvet skies. Do you feel the wind, my dear? Gentle caresses of your face, ashen feathers soft rustles the only sound made by the sky. Falling, failing, flailing, a single feather slices through the air, breaking bonds, cutting currents, until it reaches its end. Grounded. But you, my dear, live high above while I, lost on this plane, gaze upwards at your majesty. Do I dare reclaim my place? Who am I to ask of such graces? No, work and grit will get me there. At least that is what I am told, by the rest of the feathers fallen here. Work they say, climb your ladder, fulfill your potential. Do they realize we are all the shaken off pieces of the creatures flying above, reveling in their good luck?
Those with Wings by Setareh Gooshvar Photography: Joseph Hughes Design: Leila Thompson
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Do you have the will? They jeer at us little feathers, feverish workers, bees in their hive, working until the last dregs are pulled away. Even so, we aspire, we are driven, to rejoin the sky. We remember or are told the remembrances of those before, of the joys unique to the sky. Resign yourself, my dear, for only those in the sky posses such a thing as free will.
SCIENTISTS OR FORTUNE TELLERS?
by Anam Ahmed
Photography: Avery Boals
f you could find out whether you would die within the next few years, would you? Although this might commonly be asked as an introspective question, this contemplation might actually become a realistic consideration. And surprisingly, it won’t be from a fortune teller predicting a catastrophic event leading to your death. Rather, it might just be a scientist telling you whether death is “in your cards” through the power of blood analysis and medical imaging. Normally, a doctor’s prognosis predicts the expected onset of a disease, such as cancer, and quality of life based on a patient’s risk scores and the statistics of other patients. However, this prognosis is by no means exact nor applicable across the board for different causes of mortality, especially due to the low number of variables considered.
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Design & Illustration: Megan Buras
Yet through the power of new technologies, researchers are finding ways to hone their predictive capabilities. Lately, studies utilizing machine learning and big data analysis are on the rise— while sole physicians can make educated predictions, computers can take into account variables and associations that humans simply do not have the cognitive power to. For example, Dr. Luis Eduardo Juarez-Orozco from the Turku PET Centre in Finland states that machines are able to process information at a greater analytical level than humans. “Humans have a very hard time thinking further than three dimensions (a cube) or four dimensions (a cube through time). The moment we jump into the fifth dimension we’re lost,” says Dr. Juarez-Orozco, referring to the deeper fifth dimension that deals mostly with probabilities. But this fifth dimension of data
analysis may just be what we need to assess all factors required to make life expectancy predictions. While multi-factorial algorithms are not within our scope of understanding, machines can make extensive connections with a large mass of data. Dr. Juarez-Orozco recently presented his own abstract entitled “Refining the long-term prognostic value of hybrid PET/CT through machine learning” at the International Conference on Nuclear Cardiology and Cardiac CT this past May in Portugal, which showed his team’s ability to engage in scientific fortune telling with the help of machines. Imaging and lab test data were obtained from 900 patients at risk for coronary artery disease, who were tracked for about 6 years for cardiac-related mortality or development of heart attacks. Astoundingly, using all of this data, the team’s model was able to predict heart attack or mortality with 95.4% accuracy. While that study targeted cardiovascular disease, another broader study was recently published in Nature Communications entitled “A metabolic profile of all-cause mortality risk identified in an observational study of 44,168 individuals.” Led by Dr. Joris Deelen from the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging, researchers were able to predict if patients would die within the next 5 to 10 years with around 80% accuracy using a blood test and machine learning or statistical analysis. They first identified 14 biomarkers in the blood that in high concentration are associated with either decreased or increased mortality. For example, higher levels of albumin or histidine are associated with decreased mortality while higher concentrations of glucose or lactate are associated with increased mortality. The study then created a metabolic biomarker score and adjusted it with conventional risk factors, such as age, sex and weight. Profoundly, the study managed to predict general mortality—death not linked to a specific cause—of patients of all ages. Both abstracts indicate that the purpose of these predictions is to help physicians decide their treatment path. For example, this information can be of great use when deciding whether or not to do a risky, invasive procedure on an elderly patient. But while the studies have significant accuracy and helpful implications, variables change and the studies could spark several ethical concerns if people took the predictions as a death sentence. Who would be tested? Even though the research targets high-risk patients, once the technology is out there, what’s to stop anyone from utilizing it? The blood test study specifically notes the goal for cost effectiveness, hinting at the larger application for the test beyond select patients. How would knowledge of death change the way people live? It’s expected, considering human nature, that people would try all within their power to prevent their death, which could include a positive change in lifestyle. However, this opens yet another inquiry: would it be possible, even knowing your fate, to prevent your seem-
ingly-destined outcome? According to the theme in Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex,” fate can’t be changed or cheated. And unlike in Greek mythology, this “fate” is personalized and based on data from the patient that, in combination, results in mortality; it’s not a specific event that one could trace back and stop, but rather a multi-factorial biological analysis. While some people say a mortality prediction could help them be better prepared, others say it would cause them to live in fear. Mass hysteria could easily arise with this knowledge. People might take YOLO (you only live once) as their last words and cross the fine line between living life to the fullest and creating a haphazard existence. How would this prediction influence other people? While we all like to put faith into humanity, we can’t deny that there are always people that will put money and material success before others. Knowing someone will die might encourage you to develop a meaningful connection with them or to resolve grudges, but it also can cause others with negative intentions to take advantage. “They won’t be around for much longer” could become an attitude that would allow people to dissociate themselves from fault for acts such as theft. And this mindset could also manifest among large corporations. We are aware of insurance companies using risk assessment algorithms to decide costs, but if this prediction data was readily available, it could change the game. Health insurance is already riddled with problems, and adding a mortality prediction would exacerbate them. Patients would be denied treatment coverage because of their mortality risk. Life insurance companies would have premiums priced through the roof. Beyond these impacts, if everyone were to know their date of demise, it would uproot our entire way of life. Terror management theory, a term developed by psychologist Sheldon Solomon from Skidmore College, states that humans use protective beliefs (eg. our lives have meaning) to fight off the paralyzing existential crisis. Now, imagine if this crisis was made continuous and unavoidable by a mortality prediction. People would grip tightly to their beliefs and disregard all others. When reminded of death, we become more nihilistic. This wide-scale revelation would make society even more destructive to the environment and itself, through wars, racism, and violence, all incited by fear. But fear not: this research is still in the testing phase. We aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and suddenly be able to find out when we will die. However, the technology is within our grasp. As always, pros come with cons and we must evaluate the ethical ramifications of predicting death, because once the knowledge is available, there’s no forgetting it.
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36 | Generational Trauma
An Imperfect Conquest
n a day and age when technology becomes increasingly integrated into life and human physiology, popular science media has run rampant with the idea of transferring the biological to the technological. From the age-old Matrix trilogy to the cortical stacks of Netflix’s Altered Carbon series, our directors and the masses have become enamored with the convergence of cellular biology and the digital age. But how do these seemingly far-fetched notions of dystopian worlds relate to our true futures? According to some neuroscientists, they may match closely. In fact, there’s a small, albeit growing, movement in favor of minduploading—recording the human consciousness and integrating it into a computing software. And for some researchers who see the failures of biomedicine in overcoming aging, it’s become a source of hope in the idea of living beyond the body—of immortality. But could we really upload our consciousness, living forever in a digital system and shedding the big blob of brain clay that runs us currently? It’s obvious even to the layperson that the brain can’t be easy to upload to a computer. How could you possibly turn minute-to-minute thoughts or deep existential ponderings into 1s and 0s in a software? And analyzing the figures, the task appears even more daunting: a piece of brain tissue small enough to lay on the tip ofthe finger contains around 50 million neurons that would need coding. But in labs across the country, scientists are still attempting to achieve this goal. One such researcher, Harvard neuroscientist Kenneth Hayworth, uses a device of his own partial engineering to construct neural networks, or three-dimensional models of connections between neurons in the brain. With his ambitious tech and developing neural map, he hopes to simulate consciousness digitally. “The human race is on a beeline to mind uploading: we will preserve a brain, slice it up, simulate it on a computer, and hook it up to a robot body,” Hayworth claims.
by Leena Yumeen It’s safe to say that this can sound downright disturbing to some. Indeed, Hayworth’s notions have garnered a fair amount of criticism from his colleagues. McGill neurobiologist Dr. Michael Hendricks argues that “science tells us that a map of [neural] connections is insufficient to simulate, let alone replicate, a nervous system, and that there are enormous barriers to achieving immortality in silico.” His evidence? Scientists currently can’t even simulate the mind of a worm. And yes—that’s even after mapping every single neural connection in their tiny bodies. But while controversy erupts in neuroscience, other up-and-coming tech fields are making their own stakes in the game of neverending life. The emerging field of cryonics—the use of low temperatures to preserve biological units—claims it holds the answer to the problem. Contrary to the common misconception, cryonics companies do a lot more than just freeze the body like one might freeze water into ice. Rather, they perform a process called vitrification. It’s far more complex and interesting than the former, and it keeps the body paused in biological time so that it may later be revived from the moment of “death.” And despite the spooky appearance of nitrogen ice coffins, the companies put forth a promising idea. Although we currently have no way to extend our lifespans, preserving those who are terminally ill or die of sudden causes might provide them a second chance if, in the future, we figure out how to resuscitate them. But even cryonics companies understand the enormity of that “if.” “The outcome of our procedures will not be known definitively until decades or even a century from now,” writes Alcor, one of the leading cryonics companies in the nation.
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It’s an acknowledgement that the optimism that cryonics has built its legacy upon may simply not pan out. However, that’s not to say that biotechnological progress isn’t being made in the modern day. As researchers learn more about the processes behind aging and cellular death, they also uncover more about the secrets to their reverse. Currently, the most popular theory of aging is based upon telomeres. Functioning as dense fibers at the tips of our chromosomes, telomeres protect our DNA from damage by capping its ends, just like shoelace aglets. But each time our cells divide, these strands of telomeres are snipped ever-so-slightly. As they inevitably run out, the cell “ages” and dies once it is unable to divide without snipping its own DNA. Armed with this understanding, researchers across the globe are currently attempting to rewind time for our cells by lengthening their telomeres. In fact, Dr. John Cooke, department chair of cardiovascular sciences at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, claims that his laboratory has done just that. His research focus is the cells of progeria patients—children with a condition that causes them to age far too fast. By prompting diseased cells to produce more telomerase, Cooke has been able beyond this, the general signs of by his treatments. “What we’ve shown is that when we reverse the process of telomere shortening in the cells from these children and lengthen them, it can reverse a lot of the problems associated with aging,” says Cooke. This new molecular fountain of youth seems to open a world of possibilities. Why not lengthen our cells’ telomeres until we effectively extend our life expectancies? Unfortunately, the flip side of our biology may have its own ramifications. While shortened telomeres lead to DNA damage, the lengthening of telomeres is a mechanism that could be exploited by cancer cells to survive and proliferate through the body. And while certain mice studies have found that long telomeres increase longevity and health, human
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research has observed that they are correlated to certain types of lung cancer, melanoma, and leukemia. So, sadly, the verdict just isn’t clear enough for our generation to expect a “forever 20s” treatment anytime soon. Whether your bets are placed on a bio-silicon revolution or genetic modification, only time can tell the fate of current research and, subsequently, our lives. However, youthful as we are, we certainly have the luxury
As researchers learn more about the processes behind aging and cellular death, they also uncover more about the secrets to their reverse. of waiting as our biological code is cracked and new treatments are rolled out. And despite the mixed results of research, tech moguls and scientists will remain strong in their pursuit of the secret to immortality.
A Tale of the End of
Time by Kimberley Rose Photography: Alexis Paul Design: Aaron Dykxhoorn
hey stood and watched the horizon grow dim. It was the last sunset—for this world, at least. The eldest stared as the sky became a blazing crimson, much different from the pink and orange hues of her childhood. A childhood that seemed eons ago. Then again, it was. Years pass as quickly as days when time becomes irrelevant—it was a blessing and a curse to all of them. No one remembered how long it had been since they were the experiment that went right. Multitudes of civilizations rose and fell, and rose again, before their eyes. Each had their own quests, yet none had succeeded in recreating this group’s peculiar condition. And so they outlasted their creators, and everyone else that attempted to continue those lucky scientists’ research. There was no one left to tell them what made them the way they were, seemingly frozen in time—some would even dare say immortal—and so there was no one to tell them what would happen next.
All that was left to do was wait. The mortals that were left here had made attempts at sheltering themselves, in the vain hope that they would survive the force of the supernova. The woman could barely remember the time that she learned about the end of the world. In that time, she still knew what it was like to grow, what it was like to fear death. Of course, she had assumed that she would be dead long before this was ever to happen. The sky lit up in a blinding flash of white. The observers held each other close as they watched their mother star rapidly expanding, inching closer and closer to its demise. The temperatures would rise far beyond anything this section of their galaxy had ever witnessed before. Would they be burnt into oblivion along with everything else? Would this be their final day? Or would they outlast this too, condemned into drifting through space until a new home could be found, and destroyed, and found again? Their creators had been so focused on immortal beings, they had failed to account for their mortal universe. This group would be the only ones to know their fate. The end of time had begun.
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Direct Air Capture CO2-Reducing, Fuel-Producing, and Economically Viable
by Ellie Martin Design: Leila Thompson
hotosynthesis, the well-known process of converting carbon dioxide into energy with the help of sunlight, is perhaps one of natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most important and fascinating chemical reactions. Its carbon-converting abilities have led to efforts, such as reforestation and afforestation, to reduce harmful greenhouse gas levels that trap solar energy and effectively increase global temperature. The only problem with these methods is that it can take years for forests to grow, and afforestation (the process of planting trees where there previously were none) can compete with land needed to meet the agricultural production demands of our growing global population. But what if we could replicate the photosynthetic process using technology? That is essentially what direct air capture, a new technology capable of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, aims to do. Currently, only three notable companies are involved in direct air capture (DAC) operations, and their primary functions range from underground sequestration to conversion into fuel, plastics, and concrete. The first, Carbon Engineering, is located in Canada and operates through a closed chemical loop. The loop begins with a strong hydroxide solution
40 | Generational Trauma
that absorbs CO2 and converts it into a carbonate. The carbonate solution is then shaped and dried into small calcium carbonate pellets, which are heated until the CO2 is released in a pure and compressed form for further use, leaving behind calcium oxide. This calcium oxide is ultimately hydrated so that it can be used as the hydroxide capture solution in the first step. The second company, Climeworks, is Switzerlandbased. Climeworks operates through a filter to which CO2 becomes chemically bound. Once the filter is saturated, the CO2 is heated, released, and collected in a concentrated form while the remaining â&#x20AC;&#x153;purifiedâ&#x20AC;? air is released back into the atmosphere. The third and final company, Global Thermostat, is based in New York. Unfortunately, their exact carbon removal process has not been disclosed. What differentiates direct air capture from traditional carbon capture methods is the fact that, rather than requiring a set up directly adjacent to CO2emitting warehouses, direct air capture plants can be installed anywhere. This means higher flexibility with cheaper and faster transportation of end products. As mentioned previously, direct air capture also covers a wide range of services. One primary purpose of
DAC is to create “negative emissions” by injecting captured carbon dioxide into geological reservoirs, mimicking how CO2 is absorbed naturally. While direct air capture hasn’t been implemented at large enough scales to significantly reduce CO2 levels (yet!), it has the unique ability to produce commonly-used materials that are low-carbon or carbon-neutral, since it’s essentially just recycling CO2 emissions already present in the atmosphere. For example, oil and gas tycoon ExxonMobil recently closed a deal with Global Thermostat to launch a “DAC-to-fuel” operation. DAC-to-fuel may be key to the transition from oil-based transportation to carbon-neutral electric, since synthetic fuels operate normally in gasoline and diesel engines, and emissions are offset by the carbon extraction processes used to make them. DAC-to-fuel is especially enticing because it offers a new energy source that could help combat the global energy crisis. Interestingly enough, the manufacture of materials such as cement, plastic, and steel serves as the third
biggest contributor of greenhouse gases globally. Luckily, direct air capture has also been directed towards the manufacturing of carbon-neutral concrete and plastic. Even more fascinating is the discovery that injecting CO2 into cement (to reduce its carbon footprint) actually makes the material stronger and more durable. A frequently-cited argument against direct air capture is that the technology is too expensive to be realistically implemented at a large scale. Up until recently, this appeared to be the case. New investments by Bill Gates, Zurich Cantonal Bank, and more, however, appear to be pushing these companies towards commercialization. A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report last October estimated that DAC will be economically competitive with traditionally-sourced oil once CO2 extraction prices approach $100-150 per
ton of carbon. Since then, Carbon Engineering has reported CO2 extraction prices as low as $94/ton at scale, and Global Thermostat has reported prices of $120/ton (predicting it can eventually reach $50/ton at scale). At this point, we can only sit back and watch how large-scale implementation of DAC pans out. Despite DAC’s myriad benefits, there are still a number of drawbacks that need to be addressed. For example, direct air capture operation and implementation requires considerable energy input that could be counterproductive to the task at hand. For this reason, it is crucial to look at the full life cycle of carbon capture and storage solutions. Direct air capture is commonly applied towards enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process in which CO2 is pumped into oil fields, releasing trapped oil while remaining underground. While net carbon emissions would still be low compared to traditional oil sourcing, there’s a chance this process could prolong oil usage and hinder the transition to carbon-neutral and electric transportation (although electric vehicles have a long way to go in terms of mileage and price). Carbon injection requires thorough communication with the communities it directly affects to ensure that natural landscapes won’t be destroyed. The knowledge that carbonremoving technologies like these exist could also decrease incentives to cut back on carbon footprints. And, of course, DAC is only capable of removing small percentages of atmospheric CO2 at a time. Ultimately, direct air capture has the ability to play a significant role in the battle against climate change (as well as the energy crisis), so long as it continues to grow in practicality and is used in conjunction with other sustainable energy practices—including traditional carbon capture technologies, reforestation, renewable energy investments, increased efficiency of solar cells and hydropower, and tighter environmental policies. In other words, cutting back on greenhouse gas usage is just as valuable as efforts to actively remove anthropomorphic emissions. It is important to remember that such a massive undertaking is going to require not one, not a few, but hundreds of different angles running simultaneously if we truly want to save the planet.
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BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED by Jeffrey Caldwell Design: Aaron Dykxhoorn
42 | Generational Trauma
aving the ability to add, subtract, divide, and multiply at the tip of our fingers is something that is taken for granted today. However, there was a time when a basic four-function calculator spanned an entire desktop, and the only means of portable calculation was a slide rule (which, as it sounds, is a device containing three or more ruler-like scales which slide along each other to perform division, multiplication, and so on). It was during this time that the Curta Calculator arrived on the market. Being the first pocket calculator is noteworthy in and of itself, but what makes the Curta truly unique is that it is a mechanical calculator—that means no batteries, no circuitry, and no electronics. Although that may seem peculiar today, mechanical machinery was the norm for centuries. By the time of the Curta, people had explored all manner of mechanics to create clocks, music boxes, typewriters, calculators, and much more. In fact, mechanical calculators can be traced all the way back to the seventeenth century with devices like Pascal’s Pascaline and Leibniz’s Stepped Reckoner. During the interim, the goal to manufacture more powerful and more portable calculators was selfapparent; yet, it would take over two centuries to create a calculator of the Curta’s small size and impressive functionality—a testament to the achievement that is the Curta Calculator. Alongside the unique circumstances surrounding its conception, the Curta is distinctive in form and
function. It’s most striking feature is the large crank on top of its black cylindrical body. That, in combination with its small size, has earned the Curta many comparisons to a coffee grinder. Despite being rather compact, the Curta is a fully featured calculator, more so than many desktop-sized mechanical calculators of its time. It can add, subtract, multiply, divide, perform root extractions, and more with the right know-how. For the basics, it only takes a bit of observation and practice. A set of sliding knobs surrounding the cylinder allows for numbers to be inputted; manipulating the crank will determine the operation performed with said number. Additionally, the top of the cylinder can be rotated to change how many times the operation is performed (by powers of ten). On top of the cylinder is a counter which displays the number of operations performed (turns of the crank). Additionally, the results are also displayed on top, up to eleven digits. With eleven digits, the Curta has a higher level of precision than many modern pocket calculators. Additionally, it is capable of dealing with decimals and percentages. That verbal description may sound cumbersome but with practice, it could be quite agile. For example, it was the preferred calculator for rally car drivers and other professionals for decades. To proceed with a description of the internal mechanisms of the Curta would require a lengthy discussion of the many intricate interactions present between the 600+ parts. The complexity of the Curta was not the only thing which made it difficult to produce; the Curta’s creator Curt Herzstark faced great adversity in his life, and it is astonishing that he was able to ever bring the Curta to market. Curt Herzstark was born July 26, 1902, in Vienna, Austria, to Samuel and Marie Herzstark. Samuel decided to establish the Austrian Calculating Machines Manufacturing Company in 1905 with the monetary assistance of a banker named Gustav Perger. He studied the calculators of the day and sought to improve them, with the majority of his early work being based on Charles Xavier Thomas’ arithmometer. It took little time for the business to become successful enough to pay off the debt with interest. However, the onset of the First World War came soon thereafter, and Austria’s economy would suffer significantly because of it. In turn, the company was forced to switch to manufacturing for the war effort in order to survive. During this time, Curt went through high school and then college, all in preparation so that Curt could successfully take his father’s place as the owner of the factory. After college, Curt performed a variety of duties in the factory, from sales to engineering. Samuel even had Curt work outside his factory to ensure that he would become a well-rounded engineer and businessman. In 1926, competitors were creating big machines, which were ever more expensive and electric, but Curt noticed that the market was missing something—a portable calculator. It was then that he began working on his magnum opus. By 1937, he had almost completed his plans for the Curta, but there would be a major delay in finishing the device—the Second World War. German officers demanded that every technical factory be repurposed for use in the war effort. This living arrangement, though tough, would permit Curt some safety and stability during this time. However, the higher-ups would come after him in 1943 because of the presence of English radios in the factory. Curt, being ethnically half-Jewish, was sent to a concentration camp called Buchenwald, while the other workers in the factory were sent to prison or even killed on the spot. Curt’s position as a technician secured him some protection in the camp because the officers there thought that the Curta would make
a great birthday present for Der Führer, Adolf Hitler. Fortunately, Curt did not have to wait and see if his invention would please Der Führer, as U.S. troops rescued him in 1945. By this time, Curt’s plans for the Curta were fully fleshed out, and all he needed was the funds for it. At first, he searched in Weimar, but the danger of being deported to the Soviet Union to become an involuntary industrial engineer was too high. Curt decided his only option was to go on a long and arduous journey back to his family factory in Vienna. Upon arriving in Vienna, Curt was met by some agents that the country of Liechtenstein had sent out in search of engineering talent. Curt was brought to the Liechtenstein Palace in Vienna to be informed that the Prince approved of his invention and wanted to fund its production. Curt happily accepted and by 1948, despite all the difficulties, the Curta was finally manufactured and shipped for sale. It was internationally successful and would be the final device that Curt would work on before retiring. In 1961, the first all-electronic desktop calculator arrived on the market; a decade later the first truly “pocket” electronic calculators arrived, and they were more portable and economical than the Curta. By 1972, the Curta ceased production—its time in the spotlight was over. Now, the Curta is a relic from a bygone era where mechanics were the uncontested king, driving everything small and large. However, the Curta did not end up as rubbish like many of the calculators which preceded and followed it. In fact, collectors value the Curta more highly than its initial asking price, even when adjusting for inflation. The ingenuity and workmanship that Curt Herzstark placed in his calculator have imbued it with intrinsic value beyond its functional utility. It is much like fine mechanical watches that are valued highly for their beauty and time-honored craftsmanship, despite not being able to compete with the price and precision of quartz watches—another affirmation of the notion that hard work will ultimately be recognized and appreciated by others.
“...What makes the Curta truly unique is that it is a mechanical calculator—that means no batteries, no circuitry, and no electronics.” Research | 43
Pseudomonas Syringae A The Bacteria that Can Make it Rain
he Bacteria hat Can Make it
by Riya Kumar Design & Photography: Emily Fakhoury
lthough it is popularly believed that water has a freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, pure water droplets can be found unfrozen in the atmosphere at temperatures reaching nearly -40 degrees Fahrenheit. These supercooled droplets have the capability of freezing into ice crystals in the presence of ice-nucleating particles. There are several different ice-nucleating particles in the atmosphere. However, researchers believe that bacterial ice nucleation proteins have a profound effect on the supercooled droplets we see in the atmosphere. Bacterial ice nucleation proteins (INPs) allow certain bacteria to produce ice nuclei at comparatively high temperatures (approximately 23 degrees Fahrenheit). These proteins are heavily present in the plant bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae, where they are known as InaZ proteins. Because their INPs are on the outer membrane of the bacterium, P. syringae can interestingly display their effects on water even if the bacteria are alive or dead. With water freezing at higher temperatures, these proteins affect the formation of ice or rain in the atmosphere and can severely damage infected plants and promote frost injury. Ice-nucleation proteins (INPs) work by orienting water molecules in certain positions to promote freezing at warmer temperatures. The bacterium can not only arrange water molecules into organized patterns, but it can also transfer thermal energy from the water droplets to itself, leading to a crystal ice lattice structure. Interestingly, P. syringaeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s INPs promote the formation of ice nucleation from 6 degrees Fahrenheit to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Pseudomonas syringae can infect a variety of plants including apple, wheat, and pea treesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in fact, they can infect most of the economically important plant species. However, they can also be found in non-agricultural locations, such as the clouds. Current research predicts that there is a positive correlation between the presence of P. syringae and the formation of precipitation in the atmosphere. Bioprecipitation, precipitation caused by bacteria, is an important area to study, as it could influence the water cycle on a larger scale. Scientists have also mimicked the atmospheric conditions caused by P. syringae in a laboratory setting. This research further confirms the presence of P. syringae in rain, snow, and the atmosphere, and enhances the idea that the bacteria disperses through the global water cycle. Current research is set out to understand how to manipulate the bacteria in the
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atmosphere in order to promote rainfall, an investigation that could serve useful in aiding arid areas. P. syringae has also been seen in commercial use. Snomax, used to produce artificial snow, is known to be an ice inducer due to its use of dead P. syringae. Snomax extracts the extracellular ice-nucleating proteins from the organism. After they undergo fermentation, the proteins are separated from the fluid and processed through special filters in order to form a slurry, a semiliquid mixture. The slurry is frozen and freeze-dried, producing the artificial snow. Snomax insures that any remaining bacteria at this point are killed through the additional processes. The safe use of this bacterium to create artificial snow has been of great use for ski resorts all around the world. P. syringae also has extensive uses relating to food production, as it has the ability to help preserve frozen foods. By increasing the freezing point of food, businesses lower their expenses and prevent the spoilage of their food. More research needs to be done in order to control this bacteria so that its effects on plants, food, and the environment as a whole remain positive. Overall, Pseudomonas syringae is an important icenucleating bacteria that has unique qualities useful in several different areas of research. It is one of the most prevalent plant bacteria, and can injure a vast majority of plants through frost injury. The bacteriaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s capability to affect the food industry, atmosphere, and the production of snow is incredible. Current research emphasizes the power that the bacteria has globally, but more research is undoubtedly needed to manage the bacteria within these settings.
I Shrunk the Particles!
Exploring the History and Use of Nanoparticles
by Jasson Makkar Design & Photography: Emily Fakhoury
anoparticles. We hear about them often when the media tries to highlight the advances made in scientific and technological research, but what are they? A nanoparticle is defined as any particle with a structure within 1 to 100 nanometers (one billionth of a meter) in size. With this extremely small size, nanoparticles have a reduced effect of gravity, and rely more heavily on electrostatic forces and other smaller attractions. Additionally, this allows for the use of these molecules for acting on objects the size of individual cells, opening the doors for applications never before explored, particularly those in electronic development and drug delivery. Despite the prevalence of this “new” technology, nanotechnology has been in the works for over 50 years. The term ‘nanometer’ was first coined by Richard Zsigmondy for characterizing particle size that was measured in gold colloids using a microscope. Nanotechnology was said to have been born in a lecture at Caltech called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” The lecture highlighted the possibilities of particles to be manipulated through the movement of individual molecules and even atoms, to construct these compounds tailored for specific uses. The concept of technology being possible at such a minute scale began booming in the early 1980s and the term ‘nanotechnology’ was first coined in the novel, “Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology.” One of the premier ideas of this time was to create a nanoscale machine that could constantly replicate itself and other nanomachines like it. Despite the brilliant ideas popping up at this time, the tools for
In Dr. Shanta Dhar’s NanoTherapeutics Research Laboratory, in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the UM Miller School of Medicine, nanoparticles are at the forefront of disease treatment and prevention. Various types of polymeric, biodegradable nanoparticles are being used to treat a diverse array of diseases, everything from glioblastoma and prostate cancer to atherosclerosis. In addition, the lab is even synthesizing smaller fluorescent quantum dots for imaging purposes, to track the larger nanoparticles’ distribution within cells, tissues, and entire organisms.
building these particles had not yet been developed, and the level of precision required was too difficult to achieve. However, since then, the technologies available for this molecular manipulation have improved greatly and new synthesis methods have been developed. Modern day nanotechnology began with the development of carbon nanotubes in 1991. These extremely small hollow tubes are formed from the rolling of graphene or other carbon compounds in a lattice structure. This discovery brought nanotechnology to the attention of the entire scientific community, and the real world application of these discoveries was finally brought to light. After this increased interest in the field of nanotechnology, funding for research in this emerging technology began to be of great importance throughout the country and the world. The future of this technology can help combat many of the prevalent diseases and disorders that humanity faces today through its applications in biosensing/bioimaging (diagnostics), drug delivery systems, biomaterials. Nanotechnology is also being used for the construction of units within computer chips for smaller and faster processing speeds. Nonetheless, as human exposure to nanoparticles continues to grow, there are concerns of the potential health and environmental risks. These nanoparticles may be effective in dealing with what they were synthesized for, but could have unforeseen effects, such as what was seen with the drugs DDT or thalidomide in the past. The field of nanotoxicology studies the potential health impacts of nanoparticles and works to ensure the protection of global health from the exponential proliferation of these particles. This is an arduous process, as these scientists must understand and test the ways in which different molecular pathways are affected by the presence of the nanoparticles. However, as technology expands, this is being done with artificial intelligence to test interactions with thousands of enzymes and drugs simultaneously. With proper implementation, these risks can be minimized and nanotechnology can continue to advance. The potential benefits of nanotechnology are immense and its full potential will continue to be sought after by the scientific community for years to come.
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Should We Self-Experiment?
iohacking as a movement involves the study of biology and anatomy by individuals who often experiment on themselves. When I first heard the term biohacking, I was a freshman in college studying biomedical engineering. I felt intimidated by my field, and had no clue how to join research or get an internship. I was eager to join a scientific and philosophical movement whose guiding principle was autonomy over one’s body and thoughts, and most importantly possessed a low barrier of entry. I decided to order an implantable microchip online. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and looks like a piece of glass with some copper wire inside. It has a unique identifier code that can be used as a password, and can hold about 2 kilobytes of data which is about 1,000 words in a plain text file. The piercer that put in the chip didn’t even charge me for implanting the microchip because he found it fascinating. Today, I mainly use my implant as a party trick to show friends, and keep a copy of my medical records on it just in case. Yet while I haven’t experienced any side effects after three years, this doesn’t mean this was entirely safe, and it’s likely that the chip is coated in a biofilm of bacteria. The trend of biohackers performing their own dangerous experiments, with little understanding of the ethics and scientific standards required to perform them safely, continues today. Self-experimentation will always occur, but it is up to the professional scientific community to teach scientists instead of shunning their experiments for being unsafe. Implantable microchips exemplify how biohacking can be used responsibly if proper regulation is in place. The technology has become increasingly popular in Sweden, where people have trust in their companies, governments, and banking. Swedish citizens can do anything from making payments, buying train tickets, or even unlocking their houses with a microchip implant. To Americans, many of whom mistrust certain aspects of society, having a permanent identification chip sounds Orwellian and has even been rumored to be ‘the mark of the beast.’ The cultural dichotomy between Sweden and the U.S. has led to varied use of implantable
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by Nicholas Leira Photography: Alexis Paul Design: Anuj Shah
microchips, but highlights that this technology has the capability to be useful in a responsible and regulated setting. On July 30th, 2019, California Bill SB-180 limited the sale of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, a recently developed genome editing tool) products for self-administered applications in response to a broad movement of “do it yourself” (DIY) science. This is the first instance in which the sale of the genetic engineering technology has been limited in the United States. Josiah Zayner best represents the DIY science movement. His company, The Odin, sells DIY CRISPR kits. Recently he was injecting himself with CRISPR with the claim that it could potentially cure herpes. Zayner admits that his experiment would likely have no impact and that it was mostly done as a stunt, but he views himself as a social activist, highlighting the bureaucracy that medicine is confined to. While Zayner’s methods of using CRISPR are questionable, members of traditional academia have also struggled with the ethics of CRISPR. He Jiankui created the world’s first two genetically modified babies. It is still unclear whether the genetic modifications he performed on the babies will help or hinder them as the gene he inserted into their DNA has been linked to reduced overall life expectancy. A lifetime of study on these babies will be needed to understand the effects of CRISPR, and even though there has been no scientific literature released related to the experiment, there will surely be similar stories appearing soon trying to imitate the experiment. As a whole, it’s clear that self-experimentation, whether it be through microchip implantation, CRISPR use, or a method yet to be determined, must progress with caution if we are to truly improve our health and well-being.
Attacking Alzheimer’s Research Profile on Ian Newman By Marc Levine Photography: Anuj Shah Design: Aaron Dykxhoorn
“results are never exactly what you expect,
but we are beginning to piece together a bit of story.”
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an Newman’s research today is impressive and advanced, but he had a much simpler start to his scientific endeavors. His first memories of experimenting with science in his Western Massachusetts home include pouring vinegar on alkaline rocks and studying the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. In addition to his impromptu home experiments, Ian was further inspired to nurture his interest in science by his father, who holds a PhD in electrical engineering. These factors set the foundation for a passion in science that was sustained throughout his middle school and high school years. A current junior and biochemistry major, Ian fondly recalls the support his instructors gave him throughout his early education, commenting, “the best teachers I had [in high school] just so happened to be my biology and chemistry teachers. I owe a lot to them and make a point of visiting them at the end of every school year.” Even with his love for science, Newman was not always certain he wanted to be a biochemistry major. He strongly considered pursuing a finance major, but in the end decided he preferred the inherent relevance of the field of biochemistry to understanding the living world around us. When Newman isn’t doing research or studying for his biochemistry classes, he enjoys playing soccer and hanging with friends in his fraternity.
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Newman currently conducts research in the lab of Dr. Wahlestedt, the director of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The lab is made up of a diverse group of researchers, with interests ranging from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) to addiction studies. The unifying theme among all the projects is a focus on epigenetics and drug discovery at the molecular level. Newman has been a part of the Wahlestedt lab group for a year and a half now, and this semester he had the opportunity to spearhead his own project. Newman explained that the relevance of his project begins with the story of AD. Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease associated with loss of memory and cognitive function. AD patients are characterized by the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in their brains. AD is the most common cause of dementia among older adults, and when compared with other major causes of death such as cancer and heart attack, AD stands out as the only one increasing annually. Notable too is the fact that it is one of the only diseases with no known treatment to slow its progression or ameliorate the disease symptoms. These worrying statistics drive much of the work that Ian and his lab are involved in. As Ian states, “considering the impact of
Alzheimer’s disease, our mission at the CTI is centered around the search for therapeutics and a better understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of such diseases.” During his time in the lab, Ian has been a part of three major projects. The first project was the creation of a human AD model cell line. This project included the use of micelle-based transfection and viral transduction with neuron-like cells in order to induce an Alzheimer’s-like state. The second project was the evaluation of a novel therapy for AD. This therapy involves the combination of low-dose ionizing radiation and treatment with a histone deacetylase inhibitor on microglial cells with the goal of protecting healthy cells and ameliorating disease symptoms. The final project is the one in which Ian has taken the lead in planning and developing. Here, Ian has been working to characterize the gene and protein ECSIT (evolutionarily conserved signaling intermediate in Toll pathway), a potential disease hub in dementia, in the context of the AD model cell line. “ECSIT is an interesting protein since it serves as point of contact between mitochondrial biology and inflammation,” Ian states. “Since both of these are known to be dysregulated in AD and suffer with aging, ECSIT could prove to be a link between the different branches of AD pathology.” Newman has been working to transiently knockdown ECSIT expression in an AD model, neuron-like cell line using short hairpin RNA (shRNA). Ian remarks, “results are never exactly what you expect, but we are beginning to piece together a bit of story.” Ian has had various mentors during his time as an undergraduate. He notes that Dr. Myers has been an influential mentor and friend ever since he took BMB 145 with Dr. Myers his freshman year. This introductory class gave Newman his first taste of research in a lab setting, through what Dr. Myers calls “research bootcamp.” In his current lab, Ian mentioned he owes a lot of gratitude to Natalie Ricciardi, Dr. Volmar, and Dr. Wahlestedt. “The entire Wahlestedt group has been very welcoming, but Natalie in particular has invested a lot of her time helping me out. I would definitely say I look up to her as a mentor.”
When conducting research, failure is very common and a natural part of the process. When asked about a time that he failed, Ian responded with a grin, stating “the first time I ran a gel, I oriented the wells so that they began near the positive side. The negatively charged DNA then ran towards the positive side and right off the gel. That was an embarrassing moment, but it taught me an important lesson. I realized that it is more important to understand the basis of what you are studying than to just memorize it. This way, you can reason it out when you are stuck, or you forget. Now I approach my research and work in classes with the same mentality.” Ian believes that success in a lab only comes when you connect things you learn outside lab with things that you are learning about in the lab, or as Dr. Myers would put it, “CrossFit for the brain that would aid in the development of ‘dendritic arbors’.” Ian has gained a lot from his involvement with research. Besides all the material he has learned, he has gained proficiency in a number of different scientific techniques, patience, and a great group of connections. His experiences in the lab have also solidified his decision to pursue a PhD following his time as an undergrad. Beyond that, he mentions an interest in finding the intersection between science and business through work in either pharmaceutics or drug discovery. To help set himself up for a position like this, he is currently finishing up a minor in management at the UM Business School and will be taking business classes abroad at the University of Edinburgh in the spring of 2020. This coming summer, he hopes to be accepted to the Novartis Scientific Scholars program in Boston so that he can continue his involvement in therapy-driven, cutting edge research. His advice to anyone hoping to get involved in research is simple: “Do it—it is much easier than most people think to get involved in research. The UGR and UConnect have great resources available to help make research a reality, and once you’re in a lab, it’s on you to make the most of your experience. Though it can be daunting being the only undergraduate in a lab full of graduate students and post-docs, if you throw your best effort into it, I can guarantee you will be glad you did it.”
“...once you’re in a lab, it’s on you to make the most of your experience. Though it can be daunting being the only undergraduate in a lab full of graduate students and postdocs, if you throw your best effort into it, I can guarantee you will be glad you did it” Profiles | 49
Curing Paralysis, OneResearch Neuron at a Time Profile on Sebastian Gallo By Anastasiya Plotnikova Design: Aaron Dykxhoorn
s I approach Sebastian Gallo in the UC, I am instantly reminded of the various instances I have come across his name. I first met Sebastian at a Toppel graduate school application workshop—when I say met, I mean I heard his presentation on his time as a Knight-Hennessey summer scholar at Stanford University. While working at the undergrad research office, I heard about his work at the undergraduate Research, Creativity and Innovation Forum. I have also seen him highlighted as one of the five accomplished students selected to attend a research conference for students from across the Atlantic Coast Conference. I knew interviewing Sebastian for a research profile for Scientifica was not going to be boring. Sebastian, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, is the only undergraduate researcher in Dr. Abhishek Prasad’s human neural interfaces lab. As an HHMI Bridge Scholar, Sebastian has long been interested in biological innovation through research. Upon transferring from Miami-Dade College via the rigorous bridge program in 2015, he got involved in investigating the molecular mechanisms behind multiple sclerosis in Dr. Roberta Brambilla’s laboratory, one of the labs involved in the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. When asked how he got involved with Prasad lab, Sebastian described a key moment that sparked his interest in the engineering aspect of biomedical engineering. While waiting in the lobby at the Miami Project, he witnessed a woman use a bionic exoskeleton to help her maneuver and alleviate the debilitating effects of paralysis.
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Amazed, Sebastian reached out to Dr. Abhishek Prasad, describing how captivated he was by the cutting-edge work Dr. Prasad’s lab was doing. As someone outside of the field, I quickly became fascinated by the methodologies that labs like Dr. Prasad’s lab are using to cure paralysis. The information Sebastian gathered from the Prasad lab website was enough to convince him to switch majors and start his journey in biomedical engineering. For Sebastian, the biggest appeal of the lab was the brain-computer interface; the lab hosts the only fully implantable system in the United States. As Sebastian recalled his first impression of the lab, he recounted the story of a woman who didn’t have the capacity to move her own hand, but was once again able to pick something up and drop it through the brain-computer interface the lab had constructed. Currently, the lab is working on five projects, all of which Sebastian is involved in. Normally, Sebastian is in the lab collecting signals two days a week, but this week in particular, he was needed at the lab for four out of the five days—nothing short of impressive. Collecting signals and deciphering them is part of the emerging brain-computer interface, which makes possible the movement of a limb that is otherwise paralyzed. As Sebastian carefully explained in colloquial terms, the lab uses an implantable stimulation system from Medtronic, originally used for sensing, that has been implanted on the surface of a volunteer subject’s brain to allow the subject to control mobility devices like prosthetic limbs. Essentially, a person’s thoughts are turned into movements.
“Things need to change,
and I want to be part of it.” The system uses the same basic concepts true of the human body, in which firing synapses create different electric potentials that stimulate a variety of motor pathways, which then respond by allowing movement. But instead of using the spinal cord as a medium through which to pass signals, the system the lab is developing uses a device to mediate the signals recorded by the computer. This offers a host of avenues for future research, including the possibility of implementing “electrophysical therapy” for paralysis patients. Novel studies in stroke patients have revealed that functional improvement is much more pronounced in patients who consciously think about their movements and retrain those motor pathways compared to patients who passively go through physical therapy. To provide evidence of this, Sebastian described how a stroke patient in the Prasad Lab regained movement of his thumb through the therapy. The real investigative work of the lab lies in obtaining and deciphering these signals. So far, the team has found different patterns based on movement or the absence of movement in the test subject. The next step for this technology is to create algorithms to decode the variety of different states, such as whether the subject is moving to the left or right. This novel work, being done in collaboration with labs at MIT, is just one of the ongoing projects that Sebastian is lending his time and talents to. Researching this system now is vital so that future therapies can allow patients more degrees of freedom and functionality. When I asked about the feasibility of these implants in real-world scenarios, Sebastian didn’t skip a beat in describing how this is another project that he is specifically interested in pursuing. As it turns out, there are three main types of implants: those inside the brain, on the surface of the brain, or on the surface of the skull. While implants inside the brain yield the clearest signals, the issues with the brain implant revolve around the invasive nature of the procedure, which includes an immune response and possible scar-tissue formation, and in turn, loss of signal quality. The implant on the surface of the skull is the least invasive, but yields muffled signals. Therefore, the implant on the surface of the brain is the Goldilocks implant—but uncertainty still clouds the new field. “Not a lot of people want to take the risk,” Sebastian said, when explaining why this incredible technology is not being developed at astronomical rates. Clearly, the new field needs to implement accessible technologies, and while they are collaborating with numerous cosmopolitan medical technology companies, Sebastian himself is also on the frontlines of developing a more compact portable interface, akin to an app
that can decode signals collected by the implant. Yet no progress is made without challenges, a concept Sebastian is familiar with. While he always knew he had an affinity for helping people, Sebastian was not as inclined to pursue an extended mathematics curriculum. But he persevered, and welcomed the challenges associated with classes up to calculus 3. When asked about his plans following his graduation in May, Sebastian’s response was humbling. In the near future, he is looking to intern with medical technology companies to gain insight into the production aspect of biomedical engineering. Ultimately, he hopes to combine his research, clinical experience, and engineering prowess to obtain his MD/PhD and work in translational medicine that will directly ameliorate the devastating consequences of paralysis. Clearly, he has found a niche in innovation and design, which shows from his numerous accolades and triumphs, including the establishment of UM’s first and only undergraduate robotics club and his attendance of the Global Leadership Seminar in Austria. Yet, he has also tapped into the human side of medicine, drawing from his mom’s experiences as a nurse and his own patient interactions in the lab. Sebastian’s experiences have helped shape him into a fine researcher and person, which was apparent even in a 30-minute interview. As I parted ways with Sebastian before he left for a casual catch-up with fellow researchers, he mentioned what was likely the best line to describe himself as a researcher. “Things need to change, and I want to be part of it.”
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